A long overdue book has finally been returned to a London library after almost 50 years. The book is an edition of the play called Querolus and was meant to be returned to UCL Libraries way back in summer 1974, meaning that it would have lapped up a whopping £1,254 in library fines – at 10p per day.
The anonymous borrower of the book returned it with a cheeky note stashed inside. It read: “Dear Librarian, I fear this book is some 50 years overdue! Please don’t just throw it out, now that I’ve taken the time and trouble to return it. It must be an ‘antique’ by now.”
The book is a comedy from the fifth century CE that tells the story of a magician attempting to cheat a poor man of his inheritance. It is written in Latin and is the only complete Roman play to survive apart from the plays of Plautus, Terence and Seneca.
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(Image: Steve Cadman)
Luckily, the library holds several editions of this work, including online access to the two earliest editions of the work from the sixteenth century: 1564 (Daniel) and 1595 (Rittershusius and Gruter) as well as three later editions in print: 1880 (Havet), 1978 (Brożek) and 1994 (Jacquemard-Le Saos).
Suzanne Traue, Subject Liaison Librarian, who opened the mysterious parcel, said: “I returned from 18 months of working from home to find rather a lot of books on my desk with no note to indicate who they were from, or why they’d been sent to me.
“So, to be honest, my first thought when I saw the padded envelope on my desk was ‘Oh no, not another one’. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this book came with a note, but I think my jaw may literally have dropped when I read it!”
Professor Gesine Manuwald, Head of the Department of Greek & Latin, who researches Roman drama said: “It is amazing to see such loyalty from a former user of the UCL Library that they bring back a book after almost 50 years.
“In a sense this book is ‘antique’ since it dates from 1875, but it is still the most recent edition of the work in the standard Teubner series of scholarly editions of ancient Greek and Latin texts. While this edition is now also available on Google Books, it is great to have access again to a hard copy of the original 1875 edition.
“This late antique play is a great piece of evidence in showing how drama developed after the period of classical antiquity and is waiting to be explored by today’s scholars.” While UCL encourages customers to return their books on time so that other users can read them, automatic renewals have been in place at the university since March 2021.
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