The Library of Babel
by Jorge Luis Borges
Translation by BabelFish

The universe (that others call the Library) is made up of an indefinite number, and perhaps infinitely, of hexagonal galleries, with vast wells of ventilation in means, surrounded by the lowest railings. From any hexagon the inferior and superior floors are seen: interminably.

The distribution of the galleries is invariable. Twenty shelves, to five long shelves by side, cover all sides two less; its height, that is the one of the floors, exceeds as soon as the one a normal librarian. One of the free faces gives a narrow vestibule, that ends at another gallery, identical to first and all. To izquirda and right of the vestibule there are two very small cabinets.

One allows to sleep of foot; another one, to satisfy the final necessities. That way it passes the stairs spiral, that abisma and rises towards the remote thing. In the vestibule there is a mirror, that faithfully duplicates the appearances. The men usually infer of that mirror that the Library is not infinite (if it really go to what that false duplication); I prefer to dream that the burnished surfaces appear and promise the infinite… The light comes from spherical fruits that take the name of lamps. There are two in each hexagon: cross-sectional. The light that they emit is insufficient, incessant.

Like all the men of the Library, I have traveled in my youth; I have peregrinated in search of a book, perhaps of the catalogue catalogue; now that my eyes almost cannot decipher what I write, I am prepared to die to few leguas of the hexagon in which I was born. Dead, will not lack pious hands that throw me by the railing; my grave will be the insondable air; my body will sink long and it will corrupt and dissolve in the wind generated by the fall, that is infinite.

I affirm that the Library is interminable. The idealists argue that the hexagonal rooms are a necessary form of the absolute space or, at least, of our intuition of the space. They reason that a triangular or pentagonal room is inconceivable. (the mystics try that the éxtasis reveals a circular camera to them with a great circular book of continuous back, that gives all the return of the walls; but its testimony is suspicious; its words, dark. That cyclical book is God.) Básteme, so far, to repeat the classic opinion: The Library is a sphere whose exact center is any hexagon, whose circumference is inaccessible.

To each one of the walls of each hexagon five shelves correspond; each shelf locks up thirty and two books of uniform format; each book is of four hundred ten pages; each page, of forty lines; each line, of eighty letters of black color. Also there are letters in the back of each book; those letters do not indicate or imagine what the pages will say. I know that that inconexión, sometimes, seemed mysterious. Before summarizing the solution (whose discovery, in spite of its tragic projections, is perhaps the capital fact of history) I want to recall some axioms.

First: The Library exists ab aeterno. That truth whose immediate colorario is the future eternity of the world, no reasonable mind can doubt. The man, the imperfect librarian, can be work of the chance or the malevolent demiurges; the universe, with its elegant dowry of shelves, enigmatic volumes, untiring stairs for the traveller and latrines for the seated librarian, only can be work of a God. In order to perceive the distance that there is between divine and the human, it is enough to compare these robust tremulous symbols that my fallible garabatea hand in the cover of a book, with the organic letters of the interior: precise, delicate, negrísimas, inimitablemente simétricas.[1]

The second: The number of orthographic symbols is twenty-five. That verification allowed, three hundred years ago, to formulate a general theory of the Library and satisfactorily to solve the problem that no conjecture had deciphered: the nature informs and chaotic into almost all books. One, that my father saw in a hexagon of circuit fifteen ninety and four, consisted of perversely repeated letters MCV from the line first to the last one. Another one (very consulted in this zone) is a mere labyrinth of letters, but the penultimate page says to Oh time your pyramids. It is already known: by a reasonable line or the straight news there is leguas of foolish cacophonies, of verbal fárragos and incoherences. (I know of an uneven region whose librarians repudian the superstitious and vain custom to look for sense in books and compare to the one to look for it it in the dreams or the chaotic lines of the hand… They admit that the inventors of the writing imitated the twenty-five natural symbols, but maintain that that application is accidental and that the books nothing mean in himself. That opinion, already we will see is not absolutely deceptive.)

During long time one thought that those impenetrable books corresponded to past or remote languages. It is truth that the oldest men, the first librarians, used a different language asaz of which we spoke now; it is truth that miles to the right the language is dialectal and that ninety floors above, is incomprehensible. All that, I repeat it, is truth, but four hundred ten pages of unalterable Ms C V cannot correspond to any language, by rudimentary dialectal or that is. Some insinuated that each letter podia to influence in the subsequent one and that the value of MCV in the third line of the page 71 was not the one that can have the same series in another position of another page, but that vague thesis did not prosper. Others thought about cryptographies; universally that conjecture has been accepted, although not in the sense in that they formulated his inventors.

Five hundred years ago, the head of a hexagon superior [2] gave with a as confused book as the others, but that had almost two leaves of homogenous lines. He showed his finding a traveling decoder, that said to him that they were written up in Portuguese; others said to him that in yiddish. Before a century the language could settle down: dialecto samoyedo-lituano of the guaraní, with flexions of classic Arab.

Also the content was deciphered: analysis slight knowledge combinatorio, illustrated by examples of variations with limitless repetition. Those examples allowed that a genius librarian discovered the fundamental law of the Library. This thinker observed that all the books, by diverse that are, consist of equal elements: the space, the point, the comma, the twenty-two letters of the alphabet. Also it alleged a fact that all the travellers have confirmed: It does not have in the vast Library, two identical books.

Of those incontrovertible premises it deduced that the Library is total and that their shelves register all the possible combinations of the veintitantos orthographic symbols (number, although vastísimo, not infinitely) that is everything what is possible to express: in all the languages. Everything: the meticulous history of the future, the autobiographies of arcángeles, the faithful catalogue of the Library, thousands and thousands of false catalogues, the demonstration of the deceit of those catalogues, the demonstration of the deceit of the true catalogue, the gnóstico gospel of Basilides, the commentary of that gospel, the commentary of the commentary of that gospel, the verídica relation of your death, the version of each book to all the languages, the interpolaciones of each book in all books, the treaty that Beda could write (and did not write) on the mythology of sajones, the lost books of Tacitus.

When one proclaimed that the Library included all books, the first impression was of outlandish happiness. All the men felt like gentlemen of an intact and secret treasure. There was personal or no world-wide problem whose eloquent solution did not exist: in some hexagon. The universe was just, the universe abruptly usurped the limitless dimensions of the hope. In that time it was spoken much of the Vindications: prophecy and vindication books, that always stop vindicated the acts of each man of the universe and kept arcane prodigious for its future. Thousands of codiciosos left the native hexagonal candy and stairs were sent above, been urgent by the vain intention to find their Vindication. Those travelling ones disputed in the narrow runners, would proferían dark curses, strangled in the divine stairs, threw deceptive books to the bottom of the tunnels, died despeñados by the men of remote regions. Others went crazy… The Vindications exist (I have seen two that they talk about to people of the future, perhaps nonimaginary people) but the finders did not remember that the possibility that a man finds hers, or some pérfida variation of hers, is computable in zero.

Also the explanation of the basic mysteries of the humanity was expected then: the origin of the Library and the time. He is likely that those serious mysteries can be explained in words: if the language of the philosophers is not enough, it multiforms Library will have produced the inaudito language that are required and the vocabularies and grammars of that language. Already for four centuries the men have been tiring the hexagonal… There are official, inquisidores finders. I have seen them in the performance of his function: they arrive always tired; they speak of stairs without steps that almost killed them; they speak of galleries and stairs with the librarian; sometimes, they take the book closest and they leaf through it, in search of words infames. Visibly, nobody delay to discover nothing.

To the riotous hope, it happened, as he is natural, an excessive depression. The certainty of which some shelf in some hexagon locked up precious books and of which those precious books were inaccessible, seemed almost intolerable. A sect blasfema suggested stopped you look for them and that all the men shuffled letters and symbols, until constructing, by means of an improbable gift of the chance, those canonical books. The authorities were forced to promulgate severe orders. The sect disappeared, but in my childhood I have seen old men that long they were hidden in the latrines, with metal discs in a prohibited tumbler, and weakly they imitate the divine disorder.

Others, inversely, thought that the fundamental era to eliminate useless works. They invaded the hexagonal, they exhibited credentials not always false, they leafed through with annoyance a volume and they condemned whole shelves: to his hygienic rage, ascético, it must the foolish perdición of million books. Its name is execrado, but who deplore the “treasures” that its frenzy destroyed, negligen two well-known facts. One: the Library is so enormous that all reduction of human origin is infinitesimal. Another one: each unit is only, irreplaceable, but (as the Library is total) there are always several hundreds of thousands of imperfect facsimiles: of works that do not differ but by a letter or one it eats. Against the general opinion, I dare to supposition that the consequences of the depredations committed by the Purifiers, have been exaggerated by the horror that those fanatics caused. The delirium was urgent to conquer books of the Crimson Hexagon: books of format smaller than the natural ones; omnipotentes, illustrated and magical.

Also we know of another superstition of that time: the one of the Man of Libro. In some shelf of some hexagon (the men reasoned) a book must exist that is the number and the perfect compendium of all the others: some librarian has crossed it and is analogous to a God. In the language of this zone vestiges of the cult of that remote civil employee still persist. Many peregrinated in search of Him.

During a century they tired the diverse courses in vain. How to locate venerated the hexagonal secret that provided with accomodations it? Somebody proposed a regressive method: In order to locate the book To, to previously consult a book B that indicates the site of A; in order to locate book B, to previously consult a book C, and thus until the infinite thing… In adventures of those, I have lavished and consumed my years. It does not seem to me ínverosímil that in some shelf of the universe is a book total[3 ]; request to the ignored Gods that a single man one, although is, he does thousands of años!-lo has examined and read. If the honor and the wisdom and the happiness are not for me, that are for others. That the sky exists, although my place is hell. That I ultrajado and am annihilated, but who at a moment, a being, Your enormous Library is justified.

They affirm the impíos that the silly thing is normal in the Library and that the reasonable thing (and even the humble and pure coherence) is an almost miraculous exception. They speak (I know it) of “the febrile Library, whose risky volumes run incessant albur to change in others and that all affirm it, deny it and they confuse it like a divinity that is delirious”. Those words that not only denounce the disorder but that they also exemplify it, well-known they prove his terrible taste and its desperate ignorance.

In effect, the Library includes all the verbal structures, all the variations that allow the twenty-five orthographic symbols, but not a single absolute silly thing. Useless to observe that the best volume of the many hexagonal that I administer titles combed Thunder, and another one the plaster cramp and another Axaxaxas mlö. Those proposals, at first sight incoherent, without a doubt are able of a cryptographic or allegorical justification; that justification is verbal and, ex- hypothesi, already figure in the Library. I cannot combine characters


that the divine Library has not anticipated and that in some of his secret languages they do not lock up a terrible sense. Nobody can articulate a syllable that is not full of tendernesses and fears; that it is not in some of those languages the powerful name of a God. To speak is to incur tautologías. This useless and palabrera epistle already exists in one of the thirty volumes of the five shelves of one of the countless hexagonal-and also its rebuttal. (a number n of possible languages uses the same vocabulary; in some, the symbol library admits the correct definition ubicuo and lasting system of hexagonal galleries, but library is bread or pyramid or any other thing, and the seven words that define it have another value. You, who you read to me, are safe to understand my language).

The methodical writing distracts to me of the present condition of the men. The certainty of which everything is written annuls or afantasma to us. I know districts in which the young people prosternan themselves before books and kiss with barbarism the pages, but do not know to decipher a single letter. The epidemics, the heretical discords, the peregrinations that inevitably degenerate in banditry, have decimated the population. I create to have mentioned the suicides, every year more frequent. Perhaps they deceive the oldness and the fear to me, but I suspect that the unique human-the species is about to to be extinguished and that the Library will last: illuminated, solitary, infinite, perfectly immovable, Navy of volumes precious, useless, incorruptible, secret.

I finish writing infinite. I have not interpolated that adjective by a rhetorical custom; I say that he is not illogical to think that the world is infinite. Who judge it limited, they postulate that in remote places the runners and stairs and hexagonal can inconceivably stop-the as is absurd. Who imagine it without limits, they forget that she has the possible number of books. I dare to insinuate this solution of the old problem: The library is limitless and periodic. If an eternal traveller crossed it in any direction, would verify after the centuries that such volumes are repeated in the same disorder (that, repeated, would be an order: the Order). My solitude is glad with that elegant esperanza.[4]

Sea of the Silver, 1941

[ 1 ] The original manuscript does not contain figures or capital letters. The score has been limited the comma and the point. Those two signs, the space and the twenty-two letters of the alphabet are the twenty-five sufficient symbols that it enumerates the stranger. (Note of the Publisher).

[ 2 ] Before, by each three hexagonal was a man. The pulmonary suicide and diseases have destroyed that proportion. Memory of unspeakable melancholy: Sometimes I have traveled many nights by runners and stairs polished without finding a single librarian.

[ 3 ] I repeat It: it is enough that a book is possible so that exists. The impossible thing is only excluded. For example: no book is also stairs, although without a doubt there are books that discuss and deny and demonstrate that possibility and others whose structure corresponds to the one of stairs.

[ 4 ] Letizia Alvarez Toledo has observed who the vast Library is useless; strictly speaking, a single volume would be enough, of common format, form in body new or body ten, that consisted of an infinite number of infinitely thin leaves. (Cavalieri, at the beginning of century xvii, said that all solid body is the superposition of an infinite number of planes.) The handling of that vademecun silky would not be comfortable: each leaf apparently would be unfolded in other analogous ones; the inconceivable central leaf would not have misfortune.