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Horace’s Odes: Holding a 282-year old Book


Holding the 1731 edition of Horace’s Odes is a strange feeling. Never mind that the book is entirely in Latin; some things, like possessing a 282 year old book, are so overwhelming that they transcend language.

This book, well-bound and still very readable after nearly 3 centuries, was published in Edinburgh in 1731 – the same year, the same place, famed natural historian John Walker was born. Across the Atlantic, and on a related note, Benjamin Franklin opened the first library in the U.S.A, in Philadelphia on November 8 1731.


1731 is also the year composer J.S. Bach premiered his now-lost St Mark Passion, and composed and performed his famous Wachet Auf. The same year, fellow composer G.F. Handel premiered his opera Poro in London, and piano-inventor Cristofori passed away.


Closer to home, and in far darker circumstances, 100,000 people died in a terrible earthquake in Beijing on November 30 1731. The East India companies (British and Dutch) were just beginning to consolidate their colonies in South and South-East Asia.


These events seem so far away that they’re practically unreal, but a book that survives from then till now testifies to the reality of the past. How many people have held this book? Who were they, and what did they experience? That a book written in 1st century BC Rome should be printed in18th century Edinburgh and then find its way to Singapore in the 21st century is truly remarkable.