800-1000) The epic poem Beowulf survives in a single manuscript housed in the British Library. Like many others, it originally belonged to Sir Robert Cotton, a 17th-century collector.
Cotton catalogued his manuscripts using a unique system: Each bookshelf in his library had the bust of a different Roman emperor atop it. The letters of the alphabet denoted which row, and the number indicated the book. Thus the Beowulf manuscript was on the Vitellius shelf, on the first (A) row, and was the 15 th book in. Cotton bound the original manuscript together with an unrelated one. A 1731 fire in Cotton's library severely damaged the manuscript, which was scorched along the edges. Luckily, a Danish scholar
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