World Treasures of the Library of Congress - Beginnings

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Throughout the inhabited world, in all times and under every circumstance, the myths of man have flourished, and have been the living inspiration of whatever else appeared out of the human body and mind. It would not be too much to say that myth is the secret opening through which the inexhaustible energies of the cosmos pour into human cultural manifestation. Religions, philosophies, arts, the social form of primitive and historic man, prime discoveries of science and technology, the very dreams that blister sleep, boil up from the basic, magic ring of myth.

Joseph Campbell

Chronicles of Java

This illuminated manuscript in old Javanese tells the history of Java and the spread of Islam by saints and rulers up to 1647. It seeks to give the state of Mataram legitimacy by finding its beginnings in multiple sacral sources and traditions and by describing an earlier ruler and ancestor as having been blessed by a Muslim saint, practicing Hindu asceticism, and having married the goddess of the southern ocean. The elaborate "carpet page" is typical of Islamic manuscripts elsewhere. This manuscript is a copy of one originally produced in the late seventeenth century.

Babad Tanah Jawi,1862. Page 2. Manuscript. Southern Asian Section, Asian Division, Library of Congress (43)

Early History of Hungary

Containing numerous woodcuts of Hungarian kings as well as battle scenes such as the one shown, Chronicae Hungariae by Ja'nos Thuro'czy (ca. 1435-ca. 1489) is recognized as the most comprehensive Hungarian historical work of its period. An official under King Matthias Corvinus (1458-1490), Thuro'czy based the early sections on existing chronicles and manuscripts, to which he added interpretations. For the period after 1386, he consulted primary sources such as diplomatic records and the correspondence of significant historical figures.

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Armenian National Epic

Composed between the tenth and thirteenth centuries, the Armenian national epic, known as Sasunts'i Dawit (David of Sasun) or Sasna Tsrer (The Daredevils of Sasun) intertwines and preserves Armenian traditions from the pagan past with the religious beliefs of this long-Christian people then living under Islamic rule. In this prose retelling of the epic by the noted twentieth-century Armenian author, Nairi Zaryan (1900-1969), artist M. Sosoyan colorfully portrays Mher the Great, father of the epic's hero, David, slaying a lion in the presence of military leaders and elders. Thereafter he was known as "the Lion, Mher."

Nairi Zaryan. Sasna Davit' (David of Sasun). Erevan, Armenia: 1966. Near East Section, African and Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress (40.3)

Origins of French Monarchy

This five-volume history on the origins of the French nation and the development of its monarchy was written by the Benedictine Bernard de Montfaucon (1655-1741), a noted scholar of antiquity. Along with many other historical writers of the period, Montfaucon sought to establish a modern national identity in France's Greco-Roman past. This work, one of the most important of the period, set the standard for historical method and stimulated numerous other works on the origins of the modern European state.

Bernard de Montfaucon. Les monumens de la monarchie francoise, qui comprennent l'histoire de France. . . . (The Monumens of the French Monarchy). Right image. Paris: J.-M. Gandouin P.F. Goffart, 1729-1733. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (46)

To be unacquainted with events which took place before our birth is always to remain a child. Intelligent existence loses its meaning, without the aid of history to bring recent events into direct continuity with the past.

Marcus Tullius Cicero, 46 B.C.

Hayk Enters Armenia

Armenians trace their beginnings to the hero Hayk, who led their successful rebellion against Babylon and emigration to the new homeland of Armenia. Armenians call themselves Hay and their country "Hayastan" after their hero. This lithograph, which shows the hero and his conquering troops with Mt. Ararat and the ark of Hayk's reputed ancestor Noah in the background, is from the enormously influential Patmutiwn Hayots, considered the first history of Armenia composed according to modern historiographical methods.

Mikayel Chamcheants. Patmutiwn Hayots (History of Armenia). Venice, 1784. Page 2. Near East Section, African and Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress (40)

Two Holy Cities

This Muslim prayer book shows the two holiest cities of Islam: Mecca and Medina. Mecca is the most sacred city in Islam, where the Prophet Muhammad was born and lived for the first fifty years of his life. It is also where the Ka`bah is found, the holiest sanctuary in Islam called the "house of God" (Bayt Allah). Muslims throughout the world pray facing in the direction of Mecca and the Ka`bah. Medina is the second most sacred city in Islam, where the Prophet Muhammad sought refuge, died, and was entombed.

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  • Muhammad ibn Sulayman al-Jazuli. Kitab Dala'il al-Khayrat wa Shawariq al-Anwar fi Dhikr al-Salah 'ala al-Nabi al-Mukhtar (The Guide Book of Blessings and Enlightenment [that comes from] Invoking the Chosen Prophet in Prayer). Page 2. Copy of original fifteenth century manuscript, circa 1720. Near East Section, African and Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress (40.1)

  • Muhammad ibn Sulayman al-Jazuli. Kitab Dala´il al-khayrat wa Shawariq al-Anwar fi Dhikr al-Salat ´ala al-Nabi al-Mukhtar (The Guide Book of Blessings and Enlightenment [that comes from] Invoking the Chosen Prophet in Prayer). Page 2. Copy of original fifteenth century manuscript, circa 1718. Near East Section, African and Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress (40.2)

  • Muhammad ibn Sulayman al-Jazuli. Kitab Dalail al-Khayrat wa Shawariq al-Anwar fi Dhikr al-Salat ala al-Nabi al-Mukhtar (The Guide Book of Blessings and Enlightenment [that comes from] Invoking the Chosen Prophet in Prayer). Copy of original fifteenth century manuscript, Istanbul, 1780. Near East Section, African and Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress (40.2A)

A History of Three African Peoples

When this translation from the original Xhosa text, written by Reverend John Henderson Soga, was published in 1930, the work was considered to be "the first considerable attempt made by an educated man of Bantu descent and in touch with Bantu tradition, to present the History of his people." The linguistic term "Bantu" refers to a group of more than 500 languages spoken by peoples living mostly in Central, Eastern, and Southern Africa.

John Henderson Soga. The South-Eastern Bantu (Abe-Nguni, Aba-Mbo, Ama-Lala). Page 2. Johannesburg: Witswatersrand University Press, 1930. General Collections, Library of Congress (41)

First Icelandic Settlements

Originally compiled in twelfth-century Iceland, the Landnámabók lists the origins, descendants, and landholdings of Iceland's first settlers, who arrived from Norway in the ninth and tenth centuries. Traditionally, the first Icelandic settler was Ingólfr Arnarson, a Norwegian who came ashore at what is now Iceland's capitol, Reykjavík, in 874. Landnámabók, known as the "Book of Settlements," literally means "land-taking book." Some of the lively biographies in this work served as the basis of Icelandic sagas.

Author unknown. Landnámabók. Sagan Landnama vm fyr stu bygging Islands af nordmønnum (Book of Settlements: Land-taking Saga of the First Colonization of Iceland by the Northmen). Skalhollte: H. Kruse, 1688. Rare Book and Special Collections, Library of Congress (42)

Fundamental Laws of Iceland

This copy of the Jónsbók (John's Book), an Icelandic legal code, is noteworthy for its unusual Gothic script and decoration. The rule of law was important to medieval Icelanders, as they settled in the new land and established their society. The Jónsbók is a collection of laws imposed on Iceland by the Norwegian king in 1280 and was recorded in many manuscripts and early printings by the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Copies were in great demand because Icelandic boys were required to memorize the code, and men carried the book to every courthouse meeting.

Jónsbók (John's Book), ca. 1637. Manuscript. Rare Book Collection of the Law Library, Library of Congress (42.1)

Founding of Rome

This illustration portrays the mythic founders of the city of Rome, the twins Romulus and Remus. According to the myth, the twins were sons of the god Mars by a mortal princess, were abandoned as babies, and later rescued by a she-wolf, who suckled them on the Palatine Hill. This depiction is in a copy of a rare guidebook for pilgrims to Rome. Both the text and the illustrations were printed from woodcut blocks, a method soon abandoned with the advent of printing with movable type.

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The Founding of Tenochtitlan

According to legend, the tribal god Huitzilopochtli led the Aztecs/Mexica to a spot where an eagle sat atop a prickly pear cactus (tenochtli) growing out of a rock and told them to build their capital there. This symbol now graces the Mexican flag. This image first appeared in the Codex Mendoza, a pictorial history of the Aztecs/Mexica, presumably prepared for the first viceroy of New Spain, Antonio Mendoza, ca. 1541. The original reposes in the Bodleian Library, Oxford University.

Frances F. Berdan and Patricia Rieff Anawalt, ed. Facsimile of the Codex Mendoza. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992. Page 2. General Collections, Library of Congress (50)

Early Biblical Atlas

Dutch cartographers from the sixteenth through the seventeenth centuries often prepared maps with biblical themes for publication in their ornate world atlases or as separate illustrations for their Bibles. In this publication, six biblical maps were bound as a collection, representing one of the first separately published biblical atlases. This particular map, which focuses on the era of the Patriarchs, includes Nineveh, Haran, and Ur, and the area through which Abraham and Jacob traveled to reach Canaan, their promised land.

Nicolaes Visscher I (1618-1697). “De Gelegentheyt van ´t Paradys ende ´t landt Canaan, mitsgaders de eerst bewoonde landen der Patriarchen,” in Korte Beschryvinge van de Landschappen des Werelts. [Amsterdam: 166-?]. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress (51.2)

Map showing Abraham's Travels

Dutch cartographers from the sixteenth through the seventeenth centuries often prepared maps with biblical themes for publication in their ornate world atlases or as separate illustrations for their Bibles. This English edition of the first modern world atlas, The Theatre of the Whole World, compiled by Abraham Ortelius (1527-1598), contains a section of maps illustrating classsical and biblical history. This particular map focuses on the beginnings of the Jewish nation by depicting the life and travels of the patriarch Abraham. It not only highlights the promised land of Canaan, but also includes an inset showing Abraham's journey from Ur in Babylonia and marginal vignettes illustrating the major events in his life.

Abraham Ortelius. “Abrahami Patriarchae Peregrinatio, et Vita,” in The Theatre of the Whole World. London: John Norton, 1606. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress (51.3)

How Bali Became an Island

An acclaimed painter and illustrator born in Mexico City, Miguel Covarrubias (1904-1957) traveled to Bali twice in the early 1930s and subsequently published The Island of Bali (1937). This page, from the working draft of the book, tells the legend of how Bali became an island when the Javanese king emphasized the banishment of his son to Bali by drawing a line through the sand connecting the two lands.

Miguel Covarrubias. “The Island of Bali.” Typescript, ca. 1936-37. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (52)

Ethiopia's National Saint

This manuscript tells the story of St. Takla Hymnot (d. ca. 1313), a central figure in the establishment of Ethiopian national identity. In the left illustration, Takla defeats sorcerers, witch-doctors, and demon-worshipers. At right, he converts his long-time enemy, King Motalame of Damot, to Christianity. Takla is credited with restoring the monarchy that claimed descent from Solomon and the Queen of Sheba as well as many miracles. For example, when the Devil cut a rope he was climbing to a hill-top monastery, Takla sprouted the six wings with which he is often shown and flew to safety.

Gadla Takla Hymnot (The Life and Miracles of Takla Hymnot). Ethiopia: n.d. African and Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress (52.1)

Book of Kings

Beloved by those in the Iranian world since its creation in the tenth century, the Persian epic Shah Namah by Firdawsi (940-1020) is justifiably considered one of the great treasures of world literature. A repository of the history and literary devices of Persia before Islam, it combines these older elements with motifs prevalent in the Islamic world to present a view both grand and intimate. Here in a sixteenth century miniature the hero of the epic, Rustam, is tossed into the sea by the demon Akwan.

Firdawsi. Shah Namah (Book of Kings). Illuminated manuscript leaf, ca. sixteenth century. Page 2. Page 3. Near East Section, African and Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress (54.1)

First Map of Mexico City

Soon after his arrival in present-day Mexico, Hernán Cortés (ca. 1484-1547) wrote letters justifying his actions to his sovereign, Emperor Charles V (reigned 1519-1558). In his second letter, dated 1524, Cortés described for the emperor his founding of Mexico City over the ruins of the Aztec/Mexica capital of Tenochtitlan. The original of this first map of Mexico City was probably made by Aztecs/Mexica as a gift to Cortés in 1519 and shows the central locations of the Aztec city as well as those for new structures Cortes planned to build on its ruins.

Foldout map of Mexico City in Praeclara Ferdinadi Cortesii de Noua maris Oceani Hyspania narratio...Carolo Romanor u imperatori. . . . (The Second Letter Sent to His Sacred Majesty the Emperor, Our Sovereign, by Don Fernando [Hernán] Cortés, Captain General of New Spain.) Nuremburg: F. Peypus, 1524. Rosenwald Collection, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (59)

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