The strange journey of Hernando Colón’s Book of Epitomes to Denmark

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How many books have you lost throughout your life? Trips, moves, loans… works from each person’s private library that disappear and begin a journey in the hands of other readers. That’s what happened to Hernando Colonson of Christopher Columbus, with the Book of Epitomes, an immense work in which the author reviewed and summarized the history of the more than 2,000 books that he treasured in his library. The existence of this catalog was known because it was included in the inventory of Hernando’s estate after his death. But there was never any clue where he was. It was the year 1539. Since then, Hispanists from all over the world have been fascinated by that work, which by chance they located in 2019 in the Royal Library of Denmark. Since that moment, a group of four Hispanicists studies the work of Columbus, page by page – all in Latin, except one – in a great project for Hispanic culture.

In charge of this is the Danish professor Morten Heiberg, who explained yesterday to the Kings Felipe and Letizia the importance of this unique book, which they were able to see during the second day of the State visit to Denmark. “The Book of Epitomes has always been here, but the thing is that no one knew what it was, because the first pages are missing,” he says in conversation with EL MUNDO. The work was in the library, among the books donated by the Icelandic Arni Magnússon, but no one identified it. Until a Hispanist, after seeing some fragments in Latin, pointed out that the book could have a link with the Columbian Library in Seville: «In 2019 the certainty of what work it was was established. The book has been here for centuries and we think it could have arrived in 1650, but it is one of the many hypotheses we have. That is why four Hispanists are currently working with the book to investigate its origin and how it arrived in Denmark.

In the preview, Heiberg explains: “The majority of the book is written in Latin because it is based on other works written in that language. But there is a text in Spanish written by Hernando Colón». It is a summary in Spanish of the translation of a book in French, which is why Heiberg and his team point out that he wrote it in Spanish respecting the language of the work, “but it could also be because of his links with the humanists of the time like Nebrija, who wanted to spread Spanish. The book is missing about 150 pages, epitomes that Heiberg thinks must be somewhere in the world, but that have not appeared. In addition to this unique copy, in the university library there are 20 other Spanish manuscripts that do not know how they got there.

Another of the treasures linked to Spain in this library are some letters between Miguel de Unamuno and Carl Bratli, editor of the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, whom the author of Niebla admired. So much so that he asked Bratli to give him Danish lessons so he could read to him in the original language. Professor Katrina Andersen has been studying the relationship between Unamuno and Kierkegaard for years and how the Dane influenced the Spaniard’s work: «Unamuno has the complete works of Kierkegaard in his library in Salamanca and the letters we have here are a testimony to the sympathy that “I felt with Danish thought,” he says.

In one of the three letters shown to the kings, the writer complained about how closed-minded the Danes are towards everything foreign and stated that Bratli changed his attitude towards Spain after knowing “the spirit of the Spanish popular Catholic soul.”

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