World Treasures of the Library of Congress - Beginnings

But for man, no rest and no ending. He must go on, conquest beyond conquest. First this little planet and all its winds and ways, and then all the laws of mind and matter that restrain him. Then the planets about him, and, at last, out across immensity to the stars. And when he has conquered all the deeps of space, and all the mysteries of time, still he will be beginning.

H.G. Wells, 1936.

Opening Genesis

This elongated initial letter and bold rendering of "In the Beginning" in red ink make this one of the most powerful and evocative titlepages in printing history. T.J. Cobden-Sanderson, the founder of the Doves Press, commissioned Edward Johnston to design the first page of this typographical masterpiece. The Doves Press Bible is one of the monuments of the Arts and Craft Movement that swept Great Britain and America at the end of the nineteenth century.

The English Bible, Containing the Old Testament and the New. London: The Doves Press 1903-05. Rosenwald Collection, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (3)

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The beginning, as the proverb says, is half the whole.

Aristotle (384-322 BC)

Mandala of Auspicious Beginnings

This is the first mandala in a set of 139 that were painted in the nineteenth century to serve as aids to a compilation of Mahayana Buddhist teachings. In Mahayana Buddhism, the ideal is the Bodhisattva, one who has taken the vow to become a Buddha, an enlightened one. The mandala, a symbol of the universe in Buddhist cultures, depicts the three great Bodhisattvas who represent the power, wisdom, and compassion of the Buddhas. This mandala was placed first in the collection to invoke the blessings of the Bodhisattvas, and serve as a dedication to the entire collection.

Bsod-nams-rgya-mtsho. “Three-Deity Mandala of the Auspicious Beginning” in Chibetto “mandara” shusei, (Tibetan Mandalas: The Ngor Collection). Tokyo: Kodansha, 1983. Reproduction. Japanese Collection, Asian Division, Library of Congress (2) Courtesy of Kodansha International Ltd., Tokyo

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The Origins of Taoism

Taoism is one of the earliest religions in the world and derives from the worship of nature. Established during the Dong Han Dynasty (25-220) in China, it has influenced all aspects of Chinese society for 1800years. The "eight immortals" is the most famous folktale of Chinese Taoism. This rare scroll depicts many events including the eight immortals' battle with the Dragon King of the Ocean, shown here. In order to tame the dragon, the eight immortals use their super powers to move the soil of the great mountain of the east, to fill the ocean.

Zhao Boju. Ba Xian (The Eight Immortals), ca.1150. Scroll painting. Chinese Rare Book Collection, Asian Division, Library of Congress (2.1)

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Almost in the beginning was curiosity.

Isaac Asimov, 1965.

The Koran's First Chapter

This nineteenth-century hand-copied Koran in Arabic is open to the Fatiha, the opening chapter of Islam's holy book. In seven very short verses, the Fatiha sums up man's relation to God in prayer. The first verse "In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful" is said out loud by Muslims at the beginning of every major action they undertake each day: before a prayer, before a meal, before work, before travel, before a public speech, and so forth. It is one of the most important phrases in the Arabic language.

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