Budget wisdom to be found in classic text, says professor


A RARE book by the Roman philosopher Cicero, which lay undiscovered in the Law Library at the King's Inns in Dublin, was shown to the media yesterday.

On Old Age - De Senectute, published in 1535, remained hidden for 200 years after it was rebound in the Law Library with another Cicero text, On Duty, and was not subsequently identified on the joint binding or in the hand-written library catalogue.

The well-preserved, ornate book was found by Prof Colum Kenny of Dublin City University while researching a lecture on Cicero he will deliver tomorrow.

"As part of the work for the lecture I set about ferreting out every volume of Cicero they had in the library.

"Nobody had noticed the two prints had been rebound together in the 19th century. As I was reading the first, I discovered the second, and set about trying to discover what it was," he said.

A visit to the Bodleian Library in Oxford, which also holds one of the 11 surviving copies of the short text, confirmed the discovery.

Yesterday he suggested Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan could learn a thing or two from Cicero.

Describing the text as a "really good read", Prof Kenny said it dealt with the importance of treasuring the elderly for their wisdom and experience and allowing them to enjoy the fruits of their labours.

"Brian Lenihan is a barrister. Maybe if he'd spent more time in the King's Inns reading Cicero he could have avoided his run-in with the elderly in the Budget," he said.

Prof Kenny will deliver his lecture in the Kings Inn's Library today at 5pm. His talk, On Lawyers, their Obligations and the Cicero collection at the King's Inns Library is part of a series on legal bibliography organised by Hugh M Fitzpatrick.

The newly-discovered book will remain in the Law Library. It will be kept in a safe but will be made available to researchers.

It was printed in London in 1535 by John Bydell, who learned his trade from Wynkyn de Worde, a pupil of William Caxton, who was the first man to operate a printing press in England.

Prof Kenny said On Old Age would have been extremely popular at the time of publication. "They were the original paperbacks," he said.

Of the other surviving copies of On Old Age, eight are in Britain and two are in the United States.

Prof Kenny has researched the controversy over non-legal books sold off by the King's Inns in the 1970s.

He said despite an impression that the entire collection was sold at Sotheby's in London, the intervention of prominent figures such as Mary Robinson helped prevent further auctions going ahead.

A "very significant" collection of non-legal books had been retained, he said.