Today the plagiarism is certainly more usual given the enormous intellectual production and the ability of modern computer tools which have reduced the work of copying and plagiarism to “copy and paste” of word processors. But these modern tools are also effective to detect and locate the plagiarist.
So sometimes remarkable plagiarism are discovered, in recent months we have witnessed the forced resignation of some politicians when it is discovered that the doctoral thesis, whit them they supported the training, were a simple theft of the work and efforts of others.
They are not rare today controversies generated by some works of famous authors which remember too much another one or literary awards rather loosely granted.
Well, Vitruvius tells us the case of a poetry competition at the famous Library of Alexandria in which a clever librarian, Aristophanes of Byzantium, who knows the library materials and their placement on the shelves, discovered an unscrupulous plagiarizing poet who intended to pass as original it that was only a copy of the work placed on the shelf of the Library.
This was only possible, apart the extraordinary mind of Aristophanes, also by the perfect organization and management of the Library of Alexandria.
For better understanding the text, I will reproduce three intact paragraphs of the Preface of Book VII of his work De Architectura.
Vitruvius, VII, preface. 4-7
The kings of the house of Attalus having established, under the influence of the great charms of literature, an excellent library at Pergamus to give pleasure to the public, Ptolemy also was aroused with no end of enthusiasm and emulation into exertions to make a similar provision with no less diligence at Alexandria. Having done so with the greatest care, he felt that this was not enough without providing for its increase and development, for which he sowed the seed. He established public contests in honour of the Muses and Apollo, and appointed prizes and honours for victorious authors in general, as is done in the case of athletes.
These arrangements having been made, and the contests being at hand, it became necessary to select literary men as judges to decide them. The king soon selected six of the citizens, but could not so easily find a proper person to be the seventh. He therefore turned to those who presided over the library, and asked whether they knew anybody who was suitable for the purpose. Then they told him that there was one Aristophanes who was daily engaged in reading through all the books with the greatest enthusiasm and the greatest care. Hence, when the gathering for the contests took place, and separate seats were set apart for the judges, Aristophanes was summoned with the rest, and sat down in the place assigned to him.
A group of poets was first brought in to contend, and, as they recited their compositions, the whole audience by its applause showed the judges what it approved. So, when they were individually asked for their votes, the six agreed, and awarded the first prize to the poet who, as they observed, had most pleased the multitude, and the second to the one who came next. But Aristophanes, on being asked for his vote, urged that the poet who had least pleased the audience should be declared to be the first.
As the king and the entire assembly showed great indignation, he arose, and asked and received permission to speak. Silence being obtained, he stated that only one of them—his man a poet, and that the rest had recited things not their own; furthermore, that judges ought to give their approval, not to thefts, but to original compositions. The people were amazed, and the king hesitated, but Aristophanes, trusting to his memory, had a vast number of volumes brought out from bookcases which he specified, and, by comparing them with what had been recited, obliged the thieves themselves to make confession. So, the king gave orders that they should be accused of theft, and after condemnation sent them off in disgrace; but he honoured Aristophanes with the most generous gifts, and put him in charge of the library.(Morris Hicky Morgan. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. London: Humphrey Milford. Oxford University Press. 1914.)
Reges Attalici magnis philologiae dulcedinibus inducti cum egregiam bybliothecam Pergami ad communem delectationem instituissent, tunc item Ptolomaeus infinito zelo cupiditatisque incitatus studio non minoribus industriis ad eundem modum contenderat Alexandriae comparare. cum autem summa diligentia perfecisset, non putavit id satis esse, nisi propagationibus inseminando curaret augendam. itaque Musis et Apollini ludos dedicavit et, quemadmodum athletarum, sic communium scriptorum victoribus praemia et honores constituit.
His ita institutis, cum ludi adessent, iudices litterati, qui ea probarent, erant legendi. rex, cum iam sex civitatis lectos habuisset nec tam cito septumum idoneum inveniret, retulit ad eos, qui supra bybliothecam fuerunt, et quaesiit, si quem novissent ad id expeditum. tunc ei dixerunt esse quendam Aristophanen, qui summo studio summaque diligentia cotidie omnes libros ex ordine perlegeret. itaque conventu ludorum, cum secretae sedes iudicibus essent distributae, cum ceteris Aristophanes citatus, quemadmodum fuerat locus ei designatus, sedit.
Primo poetarum ordine ad certationem inducto cum recitarentur scripta, populus cunctus significando monebat iudices, quod probarent. itaque, cum ab singulis sententiae sunt rogatae, sex una dixerunt et, quem maxime animadverterunt multitudini placuisse, ei primum praemium, insequenti secundum tribuerunt. Aristophanes vero, cum ab eo sententia rogaretur, eum primum renuntiari iussit, qui minime populo placuisset.
Cum autem rex et universi vehementer indignarentur, surrexit et rogando impetravit, ut paterentur se dicere. itaque silentio facto docuit unum ex his eum esse poetam, ceteros aliena recitavisse; oportere autem iudicantes non furta sed scripta probare. admirante populo et rege dubitante, fretus memoriae certis armariis infinita volumina eduxit et ea cum recitatis conferendo coegit ipsos furatos de se confiteri. itaque rex iussit cum his agi furti condemnatosque cum ignominia dimisit, Aristophanen vero amplissimis muneribus ornavit et supra bybliothecam constituit.