In The Library of Babel by Jorge Luis Borges, the reader learns:

There are five shelves for each of the hexagon's walls; each shelf contains thirty-five books of uniform format; each book is of four hundred and ten pages; each page, of forty lines, each line, of some eighty letters which are black in color.

From this quote we learn a significant amount about the books, but it is still unclear whether the books are of the exact same length.

  • 1
    (You might enjoy The Library of Babel.)
    – user80
    Jan 26, 2017 at 11:17
  • @Emrakul Oh, I have seen that. I am looking for a good book in it, though.
    – Benjamin
    Jan 26, 2017 at 11:17
  • The representation on libraryofbabel.info would agree with my interpretation: libraryofbabel.info/bookmark.cgi?hsov,f279
    – Benjamin
    Jan 26, 2017 at 11:29
  • 1
    It seems your quote confirms that they are the same length, unless it's the word "some" you're questioning?
    – tobiasvl
    Jan 26, 2017 at 11:34
  • 1
    @tobiasvl It is and Emrakul is reading the Spanish for a better sense of things.
    – Benjamin
    Jan 26, 2017 at 11:37

1 Answer 1


I'd strongly speculate that the rows are 80 characters each.

The original Spanish is as follows:

A cada uno de los muros de cada hexágono corresponden cinco anaqueles; cada anaquel encierra treinta y dos libros de formato uniforme; cada libro es de cuatrocientas diez páginas; cada página, de cuarenta renglones; cada renglón, de unas ochenta letras de color negro.

Notably, the primary cause for doubt (the phrasing of some 80 letters) is still there in Spanish, and is actually a little stronger in its conveying the idea of an approximation. "Some" in English doesn't necessarily mean there's deviation; it can just be a color word.

But what in English is written as "some 80 letters which are black in color" is written in Spanish as "de unas ochenta letras de color negro." The key word in Spanish is unas - it's not actually strictly necessary, and adds a little bit of ambiguity, because here, it just means "approximately" or "about." It can still be a color word in Spanish, but I think that's less likely. If Borges wanted to say that, yes, they are exactly 80 letters, Borges would probably have left it at "de ochenta letras."

...but, just before that, Borges does say "...libros de formato uniforme," and enumerates exactly the ways that the books in "uniform format." The linking of the books' uniform format and eighty-letter rows in the same sentence heavily implies that all the rows in all the books are 80 characters long.

If you want to doubt that there are 80 characters in a row, there's definitely a reason to, but I don't think it's a very good one.

  • A better reason to doubt that there are 80 characters in a line is that if you don't break words in the mi- ddle, not all books can be broken up into lines with exactly 80 characters in them (which would kind of defeat the point of the story). So I would assume that what Borges meant was approximately 80 chara- cters per line.
    – Peter Shor
    Jun 12, 2019 at 23:25
  • @PeterShor I would doubt this explanation because the passage as a whole is not concerned with diegetic practicality. The text tries hard to divorce the reader from thinking about what is or isn't physically possible, and I would believe that 80 chars/line is a part of that. Though, no one can claim to know what Borges was thinking based solely on what he wrote.
    – user80
    Jun 12, 2019 at 23:29

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