There’s a certain charm in old books and texts – maybe it’s the feel of the paper, the smell of a good binding, or the eloquent use of language that makes them so irresistible. Whatever it is, there’s one ancient book that has captured the imaginations of scholars and laypeople alike more so than any other…
The Codex Gigas, better known as The Devil’s Bible.
Weighing in at a hefty 165 pounds, The Codex Gigas is thought to be the largest book in the world. Scrawled across its pages supposedly made from donkey skins, are a wide range of various texts. Measuring 36 inches tall, 19.7 inches wide, and 8.6 inches thick, the entire book is bound with old wood wrapped in leather and held in place by ornately fashioned metal.
Half of The Codex is the Old and New Testaments from the Vulgate Bible which is a late fourth century translation of the Bible that in the 16th century became the official Latin Bible of the Catholic Church.
The testaments are separated by antiquities of the Jews written by Josephus and a copy of De Bello Iudaico’s Encyclopedic Etymologae which is a document that summarizes knowledge from Isidore, a Christian Bishop. There is also grammar and rhetoric about the earth, the universe, buildings, metals, war, ships, humans, animals, medicine, law, religions, and the hierarchies of saints and angels.
There are also different medical texts by Hippocrates and other important people of the era, some type of encyclopedia, a calendar, and various medical spells, such as an elaborate medical formula for treating epilepsy. Among the various texts contained in the book is one on exorcism.
One of the most valuable texts is the chapters on Chronica Bohemorum that was created between 1045 to 1125 and is believed to be the oldest and best transcript of the Chronica. The Chronica is the history of Bohemia from the beginning until 1125. It was written by Cosmas of Prague who came from a knightly family of Bohemia and became an ordained priest and historian.
While most of the Codex is written in Latin, there are some texts in Hebrew, Greek, and Slavic. Some of the individual letters are adorned with miniature decorations, ornate borders, different letter designs and decorated initials all highlighted in colorful shades of red, blue, yellow, green and gold. There are also different illustrations such as the Kingdom of Heaven. However the most famous illustration is that of the Devil which is 19.7 inches tall.
The Author of the Codex Gigas
The actual author of the Codex is shrouded in mystery although some scholars believe it was created by Herman the Recluse, who was a member of a Benedictine monastery in the Czech Republic. It was then turned over to a Cisterician monastery where it stayed until it was bought by another Benedictine monastery in Brevnov.
From there it’s believed it was taken to Prague in 1594 to become part of the Rudolf II collection. At the end of the Thirty Year War that ended in 1648 Rudolf the 2nd’s entire collection was confiscated by the Swedish as part of the spoils of war. It stayed at the Swedish Royal Museum until as recently as 2007. Finally it was returned to Prague on loan and now rests in the Czech National Library.
One of the most popular stories surrounding the author of the Codex involves a monk that was sentenced to death because he broke his vows. It’s said that he made a pact with Satan to write the book in one night in order to prove to his peers that he was worthy of being a monk.
Other than this story, not much is really known about the author. However what is known is that the codex contains no typo’s even though it is all written by hand. The handwriting reveals that the entire book was written by one person and the ink, made from various insects is the same throughout the entire book.
This seems almost impossible because the ink should have changed because bugs change from year to year and the ink would be different every time a new batch of insects were used. In addition, experts believe it would have taken the skins of over 160 donkeys to make the paper the codex is written on.
Experts also believe that it would take one person writing every day twenty-five to thirty years to write this book.