A wonderful book in so many ways!

Special Collections and Archives / Casgliadau Arbennig ac Archifau

NPG 6790; John Donne by Unknown English artist Portrait of John Donne by Unknown English artist, oil on panel, circa 1595. Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery

This week’s cataloguing efforts have uncovered another noteworthy item in the Cardiff Rare Books Collection: a first edition of Biathanatos (London, 1644) by John Donne.

The full title of the book is Βιαθανατος : a declaration of that paradoxe, or thesis, that selfe-homicide is not so naturally sinne, that it may never be otherwise. Wherein the nature, and the extent of all those lawes, which seeme to be violated by this act, are diligently surveyed. The paradox was a literary genre popular during the English Renaissance in which the author puts forth an argument in support of a thesis which contradicts common sense or questions a commonly-held belief. As a young man, Donne wrote several paradoxes, generally on comparatively trivial subjects such as, “That old Men are more Fantastique then younge,” or “Why…

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