Ruth O’Hara, Collections and Content
Study of the classical world has been a staple of this University for centuries. The Russell Library’s classic’s collection, which was amassed largely by the early professors of St. Patrick’s College, is eclectic covering all areas of the ancient world and indeed it transcends disciplines. So, besides Homer and Virgil, for example, sit the poems of Catullus, the theological tracts of Ambrose of Milan, and the philosophical musings of Aristotle. One blog can’t hope to capture the extent and range of such a collection so, instead, I just want to look at some of the ways that we in the Russell Library continue to foster interest in this diverse subject area by integrating it into the research, teaching and life of the University.
We have found our classics collection to be a really useful resource for postgraduate students, for example, who engage with primary source material from a research perspective. One source we have used in this context is a copy of the Notitia Dignitatum, an administrative list which delineates the leading imperial offices, both civil and military, in the eastern and western empire of the later fourth and fifth centuries CE. The Russell Library holds three copies of this text dating from 1623, 1665 and 1729. It is a unique source, with nothing like it surviving from this period and, therefore, study of it raises many questions which permit few sure answers. For that reason, we emphasise that, like most texts here in the Russell Library, the Notitia Dignitatum needs to be considered as whole and studied alongside other sources which offer a view of the late Roman bureaucracy. Thanks to the breadth of our classics collection, the Russell Library offers researchers a unique opportunity to attain a varied and more rounded view of what was a complex period of history.
Exploring the provenance of our classics collection, who may have owned the books and why and when they were brought to Maynooth, is another interesting way to better understand our collection. I have included here a 1533 edition of Nicolai Perotti’s interpretation of Horace’s Odes. Horace was a Latin lyric poet who wrote during the time of the Emperor Augustus (63 BCE-14 CE). I like this text for its marginalia and the stamp and bookplate noting that it came to the Russell Library as part of the bequest of Cardinal J. F. D’Alton. John Francis D’Alton taught Ancient Classics and Ancient Greek in St Patrick’s College and served as its President from 1936. He was later made Primate of All Ireland. By continuing to provide such information in our catalogue records we aim to help researches in their interrogation and understanding of our classics material.
The fact that works from the classical past still inspire researchers and visitors alike is testament dynamism of the subject and the nature of our collection. We look forward to continuing to help our users shed light on our ancient texts and what they can tell us about our past as well as our present.