edward July 22, 2015 8:24 AM

hmmm, curses

we should try them against hackers. “Who Ever Hacketh Unto This System Or In Some Efil Way Removes Information From It…”

CallMeLateForSupper July 22, 2015 8:59 AM

Wonderful article. I love old objects.

“If anyone should steal it, let him know that on the Day of Judgement the most sainted martyr himself will be the accuser against him before the face of our Lord Jesus Christ”

A new “sig” for email. But first, both “steal” and “Lord Jesus Christ” would have to be suitably replaced: TLAs insist they don’t steal, and there are many millions of non-christians.

Anselm Lingnau July 22, 2015 9:36 AM

In ancient Rome, if your stuff got stolen you would retroactively give it to a god as a gift. Roman gods don’t like it if their stuff gets stolen, and therefore bad and undesirable things would supposedly start happening to the thief.

JB July 22, 2015 9:55 AM

That sounds like the joke:

John and Steve are walking down the street, when a man approaches them with a gun and demands they hand over their wallets. John says to Steve, taking some money out of his pocket, “Remember that $20 I owe you?”

only with a god as Steve.

Not sure Jupiter would be pleased by that bit of gamesmanship.

paul July 22, 2015 10:00 AM

For believers, theft was a venial sin, so adding a curse to a book was an upgrade. I’d think it also marked a book as really, truly not intended to leave the original precincts, so someone who was found with it couldn’t claim it had been lent, or just found, or whatever other excuse came to mind. Maybe it was the DVD FBI warning of its era…

But does anyone else remember a software license from the mid-80s that became briefly famous, in which the user supposedly agreed that if they pirated the software they forfeited their soul to the devil?

V July 22, 2015 10:36 AM

@ CallMeLateForSupper

Curses: the modern version is the FBI/INTERPOL unskippable “warning” at the top of DVDs.

Yossarian July 22, 2015 10:41 AM

Music/Movie/Book distributors should try using curses to discourage pirates. It should be every bit as successful as the legal/technological efforts they make and a darn sight cheaper.

scruffy July 22, 2015 11:01 AM

“FBI Anti-Piracy Warning: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of a copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to five years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.”

FBI Anti-Piracy Warning Seal

Clive Robinson July 22, 2015 12:24 PM

Hmm, maybe the curses did work on “Christians” but, as we know from the identity threads sown into Tora etc Hebrews did not rely on God to identify them.

Many years ago I used to know a “Conservator” from a well known historic palace (their boss was Dr Lucy Worsley who makes BBC documentries as well these days). And we chated about curses and similar on paintings, in ceremonial gowns and books. They appear to be most common in bequests, from those wishing to have prayers and other things done to keep their imortal souls in heaven. From idle musing over a pint or three in the “Kings Arms” one day it was joked that maybe the curse was actually enforced by the deceased, a bit like a Pharaohs curse is supposed to work.

The article mentions the “rough finish” of the chains, well it’s actually not that surprising they were hand made often by smiths apprentices with lots to learn. But also they are made of soft iron, which as any historic arms collctor / conservor will tell you absolutly does not like human sweat which causes corrosion especialy pitting. And the chain on a book would get touched much more frequently and with considerable less thought than the pages (especially illuminated pages that could take a month to copy paint and guild).

In later libraries you see shelf “slats” that are hinged with a hasp to apply a lock to and shelfs would sometimes be lined with lead or pewter to protect the books and ceder would used to help repel certain beatles and their eggs and boring lava.

edge July 22, 2015 12:25 PM

The chained books remind me of the Octavo in the Terry Pratchett’s discworld series. They’re there to protect the reader, not the book.

Bob Paddock July 22, 2015 2:14 PM


“software they forfeited their soul to the devil?”

I’ve had that buried in the legalese of my software installer, no one once has commented on it. I assume no one has read it in about a decade.

Alan Kaminsky July 22, 2015 3:41 PM

“If you install an illegal copy of [popular operating system], may you be cursed with a thousand viruses.”

Hmmm, that happens even if you install a legal copy . . .

Dirk Praet July 22, 2015 7:45 PM

Anybody remember Umberto Eco’s “The Name of The Rose”, in which Brother Jorge had coated the pages of Aristotle’s Second Work with poison as to prevent others from spreading its subversive content? Way more effective than any curse.

albert July 23, 2015 1:37 PM

I like the curse idea. It might work better than my standard copyright notices.
Since stealing is forbidden in most religions, the appropriate god or gods can be invoked. Atheists (and businesses) can be referred to the lawyers 🙂

Meg July 24, 2015 9:02 AM

Great read. I vaguely recall from a lecture in library design that chained libraries in monasteries were a solution to ensure proper organization of information before library classification systems were developed. Books were chained to prevent theft but also to facilitate a properly curated library.

sneaky reader July 24, 2015 2:30 PM

A non trivial side effect of the chains is that you can see at a glance who is reading what book. This feature would have been desireable to some.

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