Diagram Prize…continued, Epicurus, and Rome

how to pooDiagram Prize

The 2014 Diagram Prize has been awarded once again to purveyors of scatological titles.

How to Poo on a Date: The Lovers’ Guide to Toilet Etiquette” was the hands-down winner with “The Origin of Feces” close on its tail, squeezing out a second place. To get to the bottom of this story, check here.

Wolrdcat gives only 5 locations for the winner; but the runner-up gets over 300 locations and yes, we have a copy.


Having recently read Daniel Klein’s Travels with Epicurus : a journey to a Greek island in search of a fulfilled life, here are some of the things I learned:

epicurusEpicurus said:

Not what we have, but what we enjoy constitutes our abundance.

Nothing is enough for the man to whom enough is too little

Eating without a friend is the life of the lion or the wolf.

I also learned that “prefa” is a Greek card game and “Ossa” is the Greek goddess of rumour and gossip, a great name for a blog.

Happy Birthday, Rome

rome 2And finally, on 21st of April (Easter Monday) I celebrated Parilia (the name given to the annual festival celebrating the founding of Rome) by looking at some guidebooks and maps to the city daydreaming about when I would return. And because it wasn’t built in day, Rome is 2767 years old.


And the winner is… Living with Crazy Buttocks (2002)

I don’t read the winners of the National Book Award, the Booker or the Giller Prize or any other major literary prize.

But I do read the winning titles of the Diagram Prize, which is bestowed on the book with the silliest title. I’m almost certain that the titles are better than the books themselves. Furthermore, the pleasure or gratification is instantaneous. Why waste time reading the book?

The 2013 winner is Goblinproofing One’s Chicken Coop, by Reginald Bakeley.  To my disappointment and surprise, it beat God’s Doodle: the Life and Times of the Penis, by Tom Hickman.  It lost by this much.

In 1978, to fend off boredom at the Frankfurt Book Fair, some book distributors (Diagram Group) thought it might be a “passe-temps” to offer a prize for the most bizarre book title. That year the prize went to Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice. I was blissfully unaware that some mice actually sported vestments.

Some of my favorite winners are Greek Rural Postmen and Their Cancellation Numbers (1996), Cooking with Poo (2011), and what might be considered a companion volume, How to Shit in the Woods: An Environmentally Sound Approach to a Lost Art (1989). Worldcat shows, that somehow, 173 libraries acquired the 1989 edition, while 253 opted for the 1994 reprint.  Cracks in the approval plans?

Only 3 libraries dared purchase Cooking with Poo -all of them Australian. If scatological titles don’t sit well with you, perhaps The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America: A Guide to Field Identification (2006) or Butterworths Corporate Manslaughter Service (2001) might pique your interest. The last named should be a futuristic detective novel, but it isn’t.

Fresh out of Iibrary school, I considered purchasing The Madam as Entrepreneur: Career Management in House Prostitution (1979) if only to prominently display the book cover as I rode the subway, but I was finishing Sophie’s Choice (Styron) and promised myself Shibumi (Trevanian) next.

I eagerly anticipate the list of contenders for the 2014 Prize; be still my beating heart.

Oxyrhynchus: City of the sharp-nosed fish

I was looking at some of the titles received in the Collection Services area and noticed a volume that brought to mind the story of Grenfell and Hunt.

In 1896, supported by the Egypt Exploration Fund, these two British classicists journeyed to Egypt in search of papyri. One hundred miles south of Cairo, around the village of el-Behnasa they noticed curiously-shaped sand mounds that did not look like natural formations. After some digging they realized they were in the village’s garbage dumps. But in this rubbish, over a period of five years, they gradually unearthed 500,000 papyrus rolls and fragments, the world’s largest cache of papyrus manuscripts.

At the end of the nineteenth century, when Grenfell and Hunt were digging, El-Behnasa was a small wind-wept desert village, but it once was Oxyrhynchus, a prosperous Greco-Roman city.  It was ruled by the Romans, but the written and spoken language was Greek. Oxyrhynchus (“sharp-nosed”) was named for a species of Nile fish that in Egyptian mythology devoured the genitals of Osiris, Lord of the Dead.  The papyri written in Arabic, Coptic, and Latin; but mostly in Greek. They packed the papyri in conveniently-shaped Huntley and Palmer biscuit tins (700 of them) and placed the tins in wooden crates. The crates were taken by camel to the port of Alexandria and then shipped to Oxford. The papyri then had to be carefully cleaned, related fragments pieced or matched together, and then deciphered. It is taking decades.  Among the finds:  an almost complete text of Euclid’s Elements, school exercise books, private and official letters, fragments of works by Sophocles, Menander, Sappho, a biography of Euripides, religious texts including parts of the Gospels, and thousands of legal documents.

The discoveries are described and reported in The Oxyrhynchus papyri, published by the Egypt Exploration Fund.  Images of the fragment(s) are presented on one page with translation(s) and annotations provided on the opposite. The first volume was published in 1896; I was looking at volume 78 that had just been received in Collections. The Library has every volume published since 1896.

Arthur Surridge Hunt, disheartened and depressed, following  the death of his only son from complications following minor surgery, died shortly thereafter in 1936.

Bernard Pyne Grenfell had suffered several nervous breakdowns before he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. He was admitted to the Murray Royal Institution for the Insane in Perth, Scotland  and died there in 1926.

Genfell, Hunt and their successors submitted detailed reports about the archeological process in Reports to the Egypt Exploration Fund. The Library has many of those Reports.

The earliest images or representations of el-Behnasa  are the  etchings and drawings of  Vivant Denon, an artist who accompanied Napoleon on his “expedition” to Egypt.

Denon’s works are in Rare Books and Special Collections.

Hugh MacLennan’s doctoral dissertation at Princeton was on Oxyrhynchus

Phoebe Apperson Hearst, convert and promoter of the Bahai faith and mother of William Randolph, was a benefactress supporting Grenfell and Hunt’s travels and excavations to Egypt, through the Egypt Exploration Fund…..but that’s another story.

Regards, from my office “in the quiet and still air of delightful studies”