Books for the News, Classics

Happy Birthday, Thomas Jones

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It was his birthday, so it’s fitting that Thomas Jones had a piece in the London Review of Books yesterday on The Birthday Book, Holt N. Parker’s translation of the third century Roman scholar Censorinus’ meditations on that most personal of holidays. Expanding the concept of the birthday to comment on everything from music and history, to astronomy and astrology, Censorinus’ book is a sublime picture of the universe as it was conceived by the Romans. But, as Jones notes, though the work has had significant influence on western culture, until now it has only been accessible to those who read Latin:

Though this is its first translation into English, The Birthday Book enjoyed many centuries of popularity. “It has come down to us through a large number of manuscripts from as early as the beginning of the eighth century AD,” Parker says, and “was among the earliest books printed in Europe, with a first edition in 1497, and new editions in 1498 and 1500, with eight more in the 16th century alone.” Copernicus and Kepler were both familiar with it. And even if the book itself has since fallen into obscurity, its form is recognizable in such modern assemblages as Schott’s Miscellany or Does Anything Eat Wasps?

The Birthday Book has long been cherished by classicists and poets, but with this graceful and lively new translation—accompanied by an illuminating introduction and detailed notes—Holt Parker unearth’s one of the Roman world’s lost treasures for modern readers.
We previously posted an excerpt from the book.