Think Piece

Greek to Me: The Hellenism of Early Print

by guest contributor Jane Raisch

The difficulties of printing Greek are something of a refrain amongst its earliest printers. “Anyone who criticizes me is quite unjust and ungrateful,” the acclaimed printer of the classics, Aldus Manutius, complained in the preface to his Herodotus, Hesiod, and Theognis (1496), “I would not wish them anything worse than that they too should one day print Greek texts.”[1] For Aldus and other printers in the incunabular period, printing Greek did indeed pose genuine, technical challenges. Unlike Latin, Greek is accented, not only above but also below the line, and determining the most efficient and cost-effective way to render its accents in movable-type was an ongoing problem. Additionally, the so-called “Greek humanist hand” popular in the late fifteenth century incorporated a number of complex ligatures, abbreviations, and flourishes which required cutting even more distinct pieces of type. And while Aldus’ Greek type design would ultimately become the standard, influencing the appearance of printed Greek for the next two centuries, exploring various experiments with Greek typography in the incunabular period (and the decades just after), especially the innovations of the Byzantine scholar, Janus Lascaris, reveals the dynamism and creativity that surrounded early attempts to reconstruct ancient Greek via print.

A few decades before Aldus and Janus Lascaris, the Cretan émigré and printer Demetrius

Sweynheym and Pannartz’s Lactantius (1470). Image provided courtesy of the Albert & Shirley Small Special Collections Library, University of Virginia.

Damilas addressed the challenges of printing Greek in the dedication to his edition of the Erotemata of Constantine Lascaris (1476), the first book to be printed entirely in Greek: “with difficulty I have found at last how Greek books might be printed too, not only in the composition of the letters which is sundry and complex in Greek, but especially in those places marked with accents, which is certainly a difficult business and it requires no little consideration.”[2] Before Damilas’ Erotemata, Greek text had been printed, but only as quotations or proper names within primarily Latin texts. The Lactantius of Sweynheym and Pannartz (1470) is perhaps the most famous example. These earliest attempts to print Greek, however, used noticeably reduced, sometimes non-existent, systems of Greek accents, making Damilas’ introduction of fully accented Greek type a crucial innovation. Nonetheless, printers after Damilas continued to experiment with and refine various strategies for typographically representing accented Greek on the printed page.

Lascaris Erotemata
Demetrius Damilas’ Erotemata of Constantine Lascaris (1476). Image provided courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Printing, indeed even learning, Greek in this early period was further inflected by a certain amount of controversy. As Simon Goldhill has explored in Who Needs Greek?, learning Greek was initially met with resistance by certain clerics who perceived it as a threat to Christian Latinity. In the early sixteenth century, the monk Nicolaus Baecham went so far as to declare, in an attack on Erasmus’ new translation of the Greek New Testament, that Greek was “the font of all evil”[3] (Goldhill, 26). Erasmus himself was both a great champion of Greek studies and actively involved in the world of early Italian Greek print: a friend of Aldus, Erasmus spent many months at the Aldine Press in Venice perfecting his Greek and working on various scholarly Greek projects. According to Erasmus, the suspicion surrounding Greek (and even Hebrew) went beyond just reading the language or translating scripture. In his famous Letter to Martin Dorp, Erasmus mocks  “certain individuals who pass for serious scholars” who “hastened to implore the printer, in the name of everything sacred, not to allow the insertion of a single world of Greek or Hebrew: these languages were fraught with immense danger and offered no advantage, and served only to satisfy men’s curiosity.”[4]

This anxiety Erasmus describes links the visual potency of simply representing the Greek alphabet on the page to an almost perverse voyeurism; seeing, not even reading, Greek is a prelude to disaster. And indeed, since the number of literate individuals who could read Greek in this period was tiny, viewing rather than comprehending would have been the more common form of readerly engagement. The visual design of Greek letters on the page, then, carried a particular significance: implicitly shaping how both readers and non-readers of Greek encounter the newly recovered language via a kind of extra-textual legibility.

Aldine Hero and Leander
Aldus Manutius’ first edition of Hero and Leander (1494(?)). This offers an example of one of Aldus’ earliest Greek types in which a number of abbreviations, ligatures, and flourishes are visible. Image provided courtesy of the University of California, Los Angeles, Special Collections.

Aldus elected to base his type off of contemporary Greek handwriting, the “humanist hand” that the Byzantine scholars directly involved in the dissemination of Greek learning used themselves to copy Greek manuscripts. Accordingly, in his letter requesting a privilege to protect his new Greek type design (1495), Aldus specifically lauded the ability of his type to “print so well and so much better in Greek than can be written with a pen.”[5] In choosing handwriting as his model, however, Aldus ran into the problem of ligatures and abbreviations. As we can see in his earliest attempts to print Greek, such as his first stab at Hero and Leander (1494?), his type was replete with complicated conjoined letters and even more elaborate abbreviations that required (and still require) their own decipherment. While later Aldine Greek types reduced the number of these special characters, as we can see in his edition of Julius Pollux (1502), Aldine Greek texts needed an astonishing number of pieces of type in order to be printed.

Aldine Pollux
Aldus Manutius’ first edition of Julius Pollux’s Onomasticon (1502). This offers an example of one of Aldus’ later Greek types, in which fewer examples of abbreviations, ligatures, and flourishes are visible. Image provided courtesy of the University of California, Los Angeles, Special Collections.
Greek Anthology(1)
Janus Lascaris and Lorenzo de Alopa’s editio princeps of the Greek Anthology (1494). This was the first book to feature Lascaris’ striking Greek font, using both small and large uppercase letters. Image provided courtesy of the Bancroft Library.

An original alternative to Aldus’ design came from Lascaris, the prominent Byzantine scholar, who, in collaboration with the Florentine printer Lorenzo de Alopa, developed a Greek type that took not contemporary handwriting but rather ancient Greek inscriptions as its visual model. While this was not it and of itself so uncommon (Latin types had been using inscriptional letters for a few decades), what was exceptional was Lascaris’ choice to make the entire font uppercase inscriptional letters. In other words, Lascaris did not envision the lettering of ancient inscriptions as models primarily suited for titles or headings (as they were in Latin types), but rather as the most elegant and practical way to print entire works. Lascaris, therefore, designed his type to include both small and large uppercase letters and debuted this new type in the first edition of the Greek Anthology (1494). In the dedicatory epistle of his Greek Anthology, Lascaris justified his unorthodox choice by appealing to both the aesthetic dimensions of type design and the technical exigencies of cutting type:

Taking this new opportunity of printing, which will be so useful for students of literature, I set myself to rescue the elements of Greek letters from misshapen and really unbecoming corruption. When I thought of the letter-forms provided now for use in printing, which are not convenient for engraving and cannot be properly fitted to each other, I took all the more care to seek out the primary form of the letters [priscae literarum figurae], long out of use, and I provided a model for the printers adapted to the technical processes of printing by the engravers and craftsmen.[6]

While Aldus celebrated the ability of his press to present Greek on the printed page in a way that exceeded the writing of a pen, Lascaris shifts the emphasis away from the solely visual and from the end product alone. He imagines print’s intervention in Greek cultural recovery to involve every step in the printing process, beginning with the engraving and cutting of type. Seen from this perspective, where the appearance of the page is only one dimension of what print means, the ancient practice of carving stone for inscriptions and the Renaissance practice of carving metal pieces to make type do indeed seem to be analogous material procedures. The abbreviations Aldus dutifully reproduced were also the product of a scribal culture where rapidly transcribing and recording information was essential, something print makes essentially irrelevant.  Thus, while Lascaris’ typeface was unsurprisingly short-lived (he only printed six other texts in his all-capitals font), it reveals not merely the innovative energy that surrounded the early printing of Greek, but also the layers of legibility, of significatory possibility, understood to operate within the early Greek printed page.

Looking closely at the ways in which the earliest printers addressed these challenges, we can begin to understand how the material concerns of Greek print, from the sources used in the graphic design of the typefaces to the technical challenges of translating an alphabet from manuscript to moveable type, were themselves inflected by multiple material contexts, ones that stretched from the contemporary Hellenism of the fifteenth century back to Greek antiquity itself.

Jane Raisch is a doctoral student at Berkeley in the Department of Comparative Literature. She focuses on the reception of Greek in Early Modern English literature and the intersection between scholarship and poetics.

[1] Aldus Manutius, The Greek Classics, ed. and trans. Nigel Wilson (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2016), 25.

[2] Richard Breaden, “The First Book Printed in Greek,” Bulletin of the New York Public Library. 51 (1947): 3.

[3] Erica Rummel, Erasmus and His Catholic Critics I, 1515-1522 (Nieuwkoop: De Graaf, 1989), 139. Also cited in: Simon Goldhill, Who Needs Greek?: Contests in the Cultural History of Hellenism (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 26.

[4] Erasmus, “Letter to Martin Dorp,” in Praise of Folly, trans. Betty Radice (New York: Penguin Classics, 1985), 242.

[5] Nicholas Barker, Aldus Manutius and the development of Greek script & type in the fifteenth century (New York : Fordham University Press, 1992), 92.

[6] Barker, 39n21.

Further Reading:
Robert Proctor, The Printing of Greek in the Fifteenth Century. Oxford: Printed for the Bibliographical Society at the Oxford University Press, 1900.

Barker, Nicholas. Aldus Manutius and the development of Greek script & type in the fifteenth century. New York: Fordham University Press, 1992.

Simon Goldhill, Who Needs Greek?: Contests in the Cultural History of Hellenism (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002).


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Institutions and Fragments: “A Portrait of Antinous, In Two Parts” at the AIC

By guest contributor Luke A. Fidler

The postwar art museum has increasingly served as a site of artistic intervention, whether through sanctioned forms of institutional critique (Fred Wilson’s pointed rearrangements of the collections at the Maryland Historical Society and the Seattle Art Museum, for example) or unsanctioned action. Museums like the Kolumba (the former Cologne Diözesanmuseum) have taken note, juxtaposing their medieval and modern collections in an attempt to lend older art a frisson of novelty and to speak to the postmodern mal d’archive. In a similar vein, this small show at the Art Institute of Chicago (running through August 28, 2016) frames the museological archive as an archaeological site, ripe with potential finds.

The find in question is a fragment of a mid-second century marble portrait head of Antinous, Hadrian’s teenage companion whose untimely end in 130 CE sparked an unprecedented wave of memorialization (below). Controversially deified after his death, he was repeatedly rendered in a distinctively individuated style. The Art Institute’s fragment, comprising most of his face and his distinctive curls, typifies this wave of production. It entered the museum’s collection in 1922 after being removed from its original bust and remounted as a quasi-bas-relief. A fine example of imperial carving, it compares favorably to a slightly earlier bust of Antinous as Osiris presented here as comparison.

Fig. 1.jpg
Fragment of a portrait head of Antinous (mid-2nd century A.D. Roman. Gift of Mrs. Charles L. Hutchinson; Art Institute of Chicago)

About a decade ago, scholars noted the fragment’s similarity to a heavily-restored bust of Antinous in the collection of the Palazzo Altemps (below). The Altemps work features an eighteenth-century face stuck awkwardly to a second-century head, the join between old and new sculpture clearly articulated by a line running down the cheek, under the jaw, and across the tousled locks. A battery of tests, supplemented by the wizardry of 3-D printing and laser-scanning, determined that the Art Institute’s fragment had, indeed, been lopped off the Altemps bust at some past point. The museum is not wrong to claim this as a significant discovery. In a rare turn, we can examine the particularities of a story too often told in generalities, for the long life of a Roman sculptural object, ravaged by time, taste, and restoration, gets some real specificity. Although it’s unclear exactly when the bust and fragment parted company, their rich modern biographies are telling.

Fig. 2.jpg
Monica Cola, Roberto Bonavenia, Francesco Borgogni, Franco Trasatti, Studio M.C.M. srl., Rome. Bust of Antinous, 2015–16. © The Art Institute of Chicago

They show us, for example, how early modern collectors broke apart ancient objects and recontextualized them according to their tastes. They show us how one statue could multiply into two, how a bust could beget a bas-relief which could turn into a more explicitly orphaned fragment. How an English (probably) sculptor could sculpt a facsimile of Antinous’ visage in the eighteenth century (probably) for a faceless bust thanks, no doubt, to the obsessive antiquarian collection of Roman medals and statues. The stories of the sculptures’ early modern afterlife—not to mention their susceptibility to contemporary analysis—are bound up with Hadrian’s relentless imaging of his dead companion in a recognizable, replicable form.

The curators have smartly used the show to reflect on the conditions that enabled the objects’ reunification. (Unfortunately, however, they eschew any critical reflection on those conditions’ limits or negative consequences. To my mind, this is a missed opportunity to engage thorny questions of method, collecting, institutional practice, and display, to name but a few issues occluded by the show’s occasionally triumphalist tone.) The captions, wall text, and object selection frame the fragments in a story of connoisseurial sleuthing and trans-Atlantic technological gumption. A large portion of the exhibition space is given over to a long video replete with interviews. Differently-scaled models and prints of the Art Institute fragment and the Altemps bust surround the objects. One model, marked by the glossy sheen of contemporary facture, recombines them in a spectral approximation of how Antinous would have appeared before its dismemberment. A selection of ancillary objects—including a portrait of Charles L. Hutchison, the Art Institute’s first president who also purchased the fragment—attempt to place the fragment with respect to the taste of fin-de-siècle American collectors, while other ancient and early modern comparanda help contextualize other key moments when the objects were altered.

And so, this show is as much about the way museums tell complex, object-centered stories to the general public as it is about the genuine historical insights afforded by the busts and their models. If material objects are uniquely positioned to make the past legible, how should museums best interpret the ways those objects register the vicissitudes of taste? The fragment and bust are exciting testimony to interdisciplinary, inter-institutional collaboration. But they are also testimony to the means by which museums and collectors have historically proved hostile to the integrity of art objects, severing illuminations from medieval codices and chiseling the faces of Roman busts. If Hadrian desired overly much to keep Antinous whole through art, perhaps it’s worth querying our own desire for unification too

Luke A. Fidler is a PhD student in the Department of Art History at the University of Chicago.

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Dressing Up in Late Antique Egypt: A Review of ISAW’s ‘Designing Identity’

by contributing editor Jake Purcell

One of the joys of being in New York is the relative plethora of late-antique objects scattered throughout the city. The Met does not exactly have a late antique room, but, in a corridor gallery alongside a staircase, you can make your way around the Mediterranean from a Roman case to a Byzantine case and across many cases of various Germanic groups (Visigothic, Frankish, or Avar, to name a few). The pieces of Germanic metalwork collected by J.P. Morgan that did not make their way to the Met share a room with cuneiform tablets and seals at the Morgan Library, also home to some famous late antique manuscripts. Recently, the Cloisters hosted a number of late Roman and Germanic rings that were part of the Griffin Collection, some of which are still on display. The numerous university libraries serve as another source of material: in a couple of weeks, my students will visit a handful of late antique papyri in Columbia’s Rare Books and Manuscripts Library.

To these treasuries, we can now add the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World—at least, until May 22. The exhibition Designing Identity: The Power of Textiles in Late Antiquity includes more than fifty textile objects (and a handful of non-textile items), almost all of which were probably associated with Egypt between about the third and seventh centuries CE. Curator Thelma K. Thomas assembled a diverse collection of stunning items on loan from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Dumbarton Oaks, the Brooklyn Museum, the University of Michigan’s Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, the Cleveland Museum of Art, and the Met, among other institutions. The result is a delightful and refreshingly current exhibition that teaches its viewer what to make of an unfamiliar and occasionally opaque corpus of material.

Designing Identity conceives of identity principally as a set of choices about personal and household adornment that yield a display. The various objects demonstrate how a wealthy, mostly eastern Roman elite could thus express “ideals of self, household, and society through materials, techniques, and the types and decorations of garments and furnishings.” The first gallery shows how this might work through a case study of different uses of specifically Dionysian motifs in different household items. A second room demonstrates a large chunk of the range of possibilities for expression, often within categories like Christian or pagan, abstract or figurative, starkly minimalist or boldly colored.

'Designing Identity' has a lot of delightful twists. Take this hanging (fifth century, possibly from Egypt, now belonging to the MFA) with a servant dressed in a tunic who is pulling back a curtain in a stone arcade. How often do premodernists get to see cloth depicted in cloth, let alone alongside stone and flesh and in such vivid polychromy? Elsewhere in the same gallery, there are three complete tunics: one for an adult, one for a child, and one for a doll.
‘Designing Identity’ has a lot of delightful twists. Take this hanging (fifth century, possibly from Egypt, now belonging to the MFA) with a servant dressed in a tunic who is pulling back a curtain in a stone arcade. How often do premodernists get to see cloth depicted in cloth, let alone alongside stone and flesh and in such vivid polychromy? Elsewhere in the same gallery, there are three complete tunics: one for an adult, one for a child, and one for a doll.

Textiles emerge as an extremely effective source for talking about elite identity. They were widely traded, and so a wide range of choices were likely to have been available to eastern Roman elites. Textiles were also valued highly—by weight, silk cost more than ivory or silver. Finally, it’s so easy, given their relative rarity now, to forget how ubiquitous textiles were in the late-antique world. The category “textile” includes clothes, other kinds of personal adornment, wall hangings, and furniture coverings, to name a few of the types of object on display. Textiles also reflect a version of identity that is firmly grounded in materiality. The exhibition explains how linen and dyed wool were paired to create dramatic contrasts of dark and light, how thicker threads of linen were used to weight down the bottom of tunics so they would drape properly, and how threads of different thicknesses could be fused to generate sculptural effects. Identity here is not abstract philosophizing, but the product of resources, labor, and expertise.

The exhibition asks a lot of the visitor. The panels themselves do some serious heavy lifting: whether it be narrating late antiquity as something other than the fall of Rome, explaining the techniques used to produce textiles, providing an overview of the different associations that Dionysus could have, and teasing out the complicated geometry and cosmology behind some of the more abstract patterns. It is often left to the viewer to combine all of this information to determine how any individual object might display identity. Smaller acts of historical imagination are explicitly encouraged along the way, however—perhaps as a way of encouraging the viewer to practice. For example, the exhibition often describes how a textile might be draped over a piece of furniture in situ, and asks the viewer to imagine a room coated in hangings and also awash in portable objects of silver and ivory.

Identity in the late antique world is a big, hairy topic of scholarly research. In fairly basic strokes, there are the persistent questions of antiquity about what it meant to be Roman, made even more obscure in late antiquity by the fracturing of the empire into western and eastern portions. What were the elements of Romanitas and Hellenism? Turning to the Germanic groups, to what extent is it helpful to think of the distinctions among them as ethnic distinctions? Scholars have done a lot of work to break down the idea of a culture package in which language, material culture, and personal characteristics must all go together, but how do these elements relate to one another, and what constrains the range of possible expressions that an individual can make with, say, a tunic?

Designing Identity does not set out to raise all of these questions, most of which emerge concretely only when zooming out beyond Egypt to the late antique world more broadly. (The move need not have been quite so big—late antique textiles, and Egyptian textiles in particular, traveled widely; and could be used, for example, to wrap relics in Merovingian Gaul.) The exhibition does, however, provide a set of tools for thinking in specific ways about how identity functioned in the context of late antique Egypt: identity emerged out of a set of choices intended to convey social standing, function, and belief to a viewer through objects.

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Hellenism and the Materiality of Greek Books in Renaissance Italy

by guest contributor Anna Gialdini

In the Preface to the Magnum ac perutile Dictionarium (1523), Janus Laskaris put words into the mouth of his pupil Guarino Favorino about Favorino’s ethnic identity. Favorino argued that while his parents were Italian, he himself was Greek. ‘How, then’, he is asked ‘can you be Greek?’ ‘From the bottom of my soul,’ he replies, ‘My Greek studies serve as proof; […] I am a Greek within an Italian [body]’.

A copy of the Anthologia Graeca (1494) printed by Lorenzo de Alopa in 1494. Notice the raised bands on the spine, non-projecting endbands, and how the bookblock is smaller than the boards.
A copy of the Anthologia Graeca (1494) printed by Lorenzo de Alopa in 1494. Notice the raised bands on the spine, non-projecting endbands, and how the bookblock is smaller than the boards.

In Renaissance Italy, Greek studies became increasingly popular with the augmented availability of texts and teachers after the fall of Constantinople. Antiquarianism and Hellenism fostered collections of Greek books, programs at local institutions of learning, and patronage. Some scholars were content with reading, discussing, and speaking Greek. Aldus Manutius famously founded a Nea Akademia, the statute of which dictated that members were expected to only address each other in Classical Greek and those who failed to do so would be fined. Other humanists chose to don the Greek dress physically. While Janus Laskaris imagined Favorino in Italian garb, the Paduan Augusto Valdo, Favorino’s colleague in Rome, wore Greek clothes after an extended sojourn in Greece. The King of France, Charles VIII, liked to be depicted in Byzantine apparel, but for a very different reason: he nursed a dream of becoming ‘King of the Greeks’, as a popular prophecy of the time promised, terrifying the population of Italy during the turbolent years of the Italian Wars. He even bought the title off the last descendant of the Byzantine Emperor Constantine XI, Andreas Palaiologus, who died in poverty in Rome in 1502. Not that any power in Europe recognised the French monarchs’ sense of entitlement to the throne of Byzantium (in fact, both the Russian Tsar and the King of Spain thought the title would do nicely for them): but significantly, it does give us some hints to the different reasons why European élites came to look favourably upon ‘Greek’ objects. Identities came with a number of cultural and political implications, and what one wore, read, or owned could communicate them quickly and effectively.

One object that both scholars and men of power owned, and that ideally sits at the centre of the cosmos of ealy modern ideologies and culture, is books. Italians (and Venetians in particular, as Venice was home of the largest Greek community of the time) knew perfectly well not just what Greek men looked like, but also how to tell a Greek book from an Italian one. Venice was the largest hub for Greek books in Europe: most Greek texts were printed, copied, sold there, and brought over from previously Byzantine territories. It was also one of the main locales of production of Greek-style bookbindings, sometimes still called ‘alla greca’ (though the modern, if perhaps duller, but less ambiguous term for such bindings is ‘Greek-style‘).

A Venetian-made genuine Greek-style binding on a fifteenth-century Greek manuscript (Milan, Biblioteca Braidense, Braid. AF.X.47)
A Venetian-made genuine Greek-style binding on a fifteenth-century Greek manuscript (Milan, Biblioteca Braidense, Braid. AF.X.47)

Identifying how Greek a Greek-style binding made in Western Europe is can be tricky. In the last two years, I have surveyed over 350 Greek-style bookbindings (out of about 1000 surviving), most of them made in and around Venice. Around two thirds of the bindings are genuine, meaning that they replicate all the features of Byzantine bindings: (1) smooth spines given by unsupported structures, as opposed to spines with ridges given by sewing supports common in Western Europe from the Middle Ages onwards, (2) projecting endbands running along the edge of the boards, (3) bookblocks cut to the same size as the boards, as opposed to projecting boards, (4) grooved board edges, (5) and triple or double interlaced straps.

Bookbindings in which these characteristics are mixed with Italian, French, or other features, are called ‘hybrid Greek-style’. Plain genuineness and hybridism, however, are hard to come by. Even Byzantine bindings could lack grooved board edges from time to time, for reasons that are yet to be completely understood; and at the same time as Greek-style bindings became fashionable and then declined in Italy, Islamic, Armenian, and Western-European traditions were welcomed into Post-Byzantine binding practices.

In Greek-style bindings made in Italy, sometimes the individual components of a binding were the result of a mix between Greek and Italian traditions. Such hybridity could be intentional or merely circumstantial. Investigating structures and materials unveils all sorts of different situations in terms of agency, know-how, cultural contacts, and financial means. The binder might never have heard of Byzantine techniques before and not completely understand them, for instance. It is interesting to note that hybrid bindings seemed to be produced in most areas up to the turn of the sixteenth century. After the 1490s, there was a higher degree of sophistication, with bindings more genuine or more deceptively genuine-looking, at least in Venice. This coincided with the beginning of Aldus Manutius’s printing enterprise and the work of the only known Italian-based Greek binder who lived in Padua.

The funerary monument of Alvise Trevisan († 1528) in the Basilica di San Zanipolo, Venice). Note the Greek-style fastenings and the grooved edges of the boards. (Photo courtesy of the author.)
The funerary monument of Alvise Trevisan († 1528) in the Basilica di San Zanipolo, Venice). Note the Greek-style fastenings and the grooved edges of the boards. (Photo courtesy of the author.)

This corpus is only a fraction of what was originally produced, but it tells us that Greek-style bindings were sufficiently widespread that the intellectual elites of Western Europe knew how to tell them apart from other books. The Milanese philologist and physician Cesare Rovida, for instance, wrote to Gian Vincenzo Pinelli, one of the most famous Italian scholars and book collectors, that he was desperate to retrieve a manuscript of Aristotle that once belonged to Ottaviano Ferrari, his teacher and an acquaintance of Pinelli. ‘It is a folio size; in a fairly ancient script; […] the binding is not in the Greek style.’ (‘Non é legato alla \foggia/ greca, ma con altro modo’) (Milan, Biblioteca Ambrosiana, MS S 107 sup., f. 8). Pinelli clearly knew what a Greek-style binding was; he owned six. The Mantuan Giangiacomo Arrigoni wrote a letter to Zacharias Kalliergis, requesting his copy of Hesiodus to be bound in the Greek-style (ἑλληνιστί), a rare example of a patron’s specific request in the bookbinding business. Greek-style bindings also make some appearances in visual sources and in inventories, another sign that they made a book memorable or an object of prestige. The library of Cardinal Niccolò Ridolfi included a printed copy of Lucian ‘bound in the Greek style‘ (‘ligato al greco’), and several volumes that belonged to Fulvio Orsini were also identified by their Greek-style bindings (‘ligato alla greca‘, passim).

These individuals were high-profile scholars, and among the group of collectors who owned the most genuine Greek-style bindings that also contain Greek texts. They mostly had these bindings made in Venice. Johann Jakob Fugger also had hundreds of his manuscripts not only copied, but bound there. At the same time that he was leading the Fugger firm in the 1550s, he was also accumulating one of the largest libraries of his time, including approximately 300 Greek and Hebrew manuscripts bound in the Greek style (most of them genuine, with few exceptions).

MS Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Cod.graec. 61, bound in Venice for Johann Jakob Fugger.
MS Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Cod.graec. 61, bound in Venice for Johann Jakob Fugger.

Could Fugger read the books he collected so avidly and had bound so beautifully? He certainly was not an uneducated man; but it does not appear that he could Greek, much less Hebrew. A letter by his librarian, the philologist Hyeronimus Wolf, is often cited by German historians to support Fugger’s competence in the classical languages, but it only seems to confirm that Johann Jakob had mastered Italian, French, and Spanish in an impressively short time. An admirable feat, indeed: but no proof that he used his Greek books much.

On the other hand, the fact that Fugger has been remembered as a scholar for the past 450 years – that, in fact, many clamed that his insatiate hunger for books contributed to sending the family firm into bankruptcy – speaks clearly of the power of material culture. And it takes someone who is fully aware of the same intellectual strategies to challenge them. After enjoying Fugger’s hospitality in 1551, Roger Ascham (who would go on to teach the young Elizabeth Tudor her Greek) described his visit to his host’s library in enthusiastic terms, but accused Fugger of having no authentic interest in Greek texts or in sharing them with the rest of the world. No matter the allure of the bindings in his library, to Ascham Fugger was nothing but a βιβλιοτάφος, a ‘burier of books’.

Anna Gialdini studies Greek-style bookbindings in the Veneto in the fifteenth and sixteenth century at the Ligatus Research Centre at the University of the Arts London.

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Two Editors and their Theophrastus

by guest contributor Richard Calis

In an earlier post I reported on the philological endeavors of Pieter Fontein and his strong interest in the marginalia of Isaac Casaubon. As I would like to underline here, this was much more than a story about one individual and his—rather personal—engagement with the scholarship of a previous generation. For Fontein as well as for Casaubon, Theophrastus was one of those learned authors from antiquity with whom early modern scholars were wont to converse in their studies. Machiavelli dressed up for his Livy, Petrarch admired his Cicero, Casaubon and Fontein shared their Theophrastus. A closer look at their lives illustrates this point neatly.

Fontein’s orderly transcription of Casaubon’s annotations. By permission of the Special Collections of the University of Amsterdam. Shelf mark: OTM: Hs VII D19.
Fontein’s orderly transcription of Casaubon’s annotations. By permission of the Special Collections of the University of Amsterdam. Shelf mark: OTM: Hs VII D19.

Let us first consider Fontein again, who was reading Casaubon’s marginalia when he was editing Theophrastus’ Characters. As he went through the book and copied out Casaubon’s notes, he ordered them neatly, one below the other: almost more of a copyist than a reader. Casaubon, by contrast, had scrawled out his notes all over the place in his characteristically hieroglyphic handwriting—reflecting the practice of an annotator reading with pen in hand. In decoding this handwriting, Fontein made a selection of notes that he deemed worthy of copying out. Although his exact selection criteria are still somewhat of a mystery to me—the legibility of Casaubon’s annotations is a serious possibility—many notes reveal a certain philological or lexical orientation, explicating phrases and suggesting emendations.

Casaubon’s scattered marginal notes. By permission of the Special Collections of the University of Amsterdam. Shelf mark: OTM: Hs VII D17.
Casaubon’s scattered marginal notes. By permission of the Special Collections of the University of Amsterdam. Shelf mark: OTM: Hs VII D17.

In many ways this made sense, considering that Fontein, like Casaubon, was making an edition of an author whose textual tradition was puzzling at best and whose oeuvre included complicated works of science and philosophy. Any lexical information that could unlock the text’s philological mysteries—especially coming from one of the period’s leading authorities—must have been invaluable. But as Fontein read on and on he must have grown more and more frustrated as well. When he finally reached the Characters, found on seven pages towards the end of the book, he discovered that his sixteenth-century champion had annotated the entire book, but sadly left the treatise that Fontein was editing untouched.

Final page of Casaubon’s commentary. Bodleian Library, Oxford. Shelf mark: MS Casaubon 7.
Final page of Casaubon’s commentary. Bodleian Library, Oxford. Shelf mark: MS Casaubon 7.

Yet the fact that Casaubon left those pages blank makes sense, too, when we realize that Casaubon was not using this book only when he had set himself the task of editing Theophrastus. In fact, the book in question is part of a larger web of paper and parchment that once filled Casaubon’s study. The first thread that we can unravel is a manuscript that is now in the Bodleian Library (MS Casaubon 7). Casaubon filled this notebook in the 1580s with what would become the draft of the edition of the Characters that he published in 1592. Furthermore, a copy of this first edition in the British Library (525.a.10.)

Title page of the 1592 edition with marginal notes by Casaubon. British Library, London. Shelf mark: 525.a.10
Title page of the 1592 edition with marginal notes by Casaubon. British Library, London. Shelf mark: 525.a.10

bears a set of handwritten corrections and additions that Casaubon himself put in the margins. Many of these marginalia, in turn, were incorporated in the second edition that Casaubon had published in 1599. And the story does not end here. The British Library also holds a copy of this second edition (1089.h.7.(2.)), containing another set of corrections and additions in Casaubon’s hand, which (not surprisingly) ended up in the third edition of the work, published in 1612.

These books thus reveal how for over twenty years Casaubon kept coming back to his Theophrastus. The work grew almost organically as he continued reading, revising, and expanding. In the 1599 edition, for instance, he included a new set of character sketches recently discovered in a manuscript in the Palatine Library at Heidelberg, while also correcting numerous mistakes from the first edition.

But this, admittedly rather technical, story of early modern scholarship is not just one about marginalia and printed editions. Intriguingly, entries from Casaubon’s diary give us a first glimpse of how the boundaries of the personal and the professional sphere blurred. In this invaluable document, Casaubon recorded his prayers, lamented the death of his friends, complained that he could not get any work done, but also listed which authors he had been reading—including, repeatedly, Theophrastus. On December 4, 1598, for instance, Casaubon lost valuable time at lunch, but decided to tackle Theophrastus’ De Causis Plantarum in the evening—”a rather precise work.” As always, this was reading with pen in hand: the emendations, suggestions, and other scribbles that he left in the margins of this text happened to be the exact same ones that Fontein so carefully transcribed some two hundred years later.

Yet what the diary does not tell us is that Casaubon also scrutinized the detailed commentary that Julius Caesar Scaliger (1484-1558), a notorious scholar of a previous generation, had written on the treatise. As he was reading the 1541 opera omnia Casaubon referenced Scaliger more than a few times in his marginal notes. These marginalia, in turn, talk to the ones that he left in his personal copy of Scaliger’s commentary (British Library C.109.p.22(1)).

Title page of Scaliger’s 1566 commentary on Theophratus’ De causis plantarum, annotated by Casaubon. British Library, London. Shelf mark: C.109.p.22(1).
Title page of Scaliger’s 1566 commentary on Theophratus’ De causis plantarum, annotated by Casaubon. British Library, London. Shelf mark: C.109.p.22(1).

Casaubon’s diary thus opens a world that the marginalia with their fragmented nature could only hint at. But it is only when read in tandem that these documents start fleshing out in considerable detail some of the laborious days and nights that Casaubon spent on Theophrastus’ works. What is more, they reveal the intimate bond that Casaubon, I believe, had forged with his ancient philosopher over the years. The physician who attended Casaubon at his deathbed recalls how Casaubon, seriously ill after having been taken on a trip to Greenwich on June 24, 1614, uttered his last words. Before a final prayer to God Casaubon remarked, with a sense of great cynicism, that Theophrastus had managed to live almost a hundred years in assiduous study, but fell ill and died after attending the marriage of a cousin. The implications were not lost on his audience.

Theophrastus thus stayed with Casaubon until the very end—as he did with Fontein, who, when his last days were nearing, kept the Theophrastiana that he collected close. And so the lives of two scholars—who were separated by centuries, but connected by a shared interest in an obscure Greek philosopher—mirrored each other in intricate ways. As they read more and more of Theophrastus’ works and of the scholarship of a previous generation, they discovered their own world and found, I would suggest, even themselves.

Richard Calis is a second-year Ph.D. student in history at Princeton University. He has worked for Annotated Books Online (@AboBooks)—which provides online access to three of Fontein’s books—and is predominantly interested in book history, marginalia, news, and the various cultures of the Medieval and Early Modern Mediterranean.

Think Piece

Making a Case for Bishops’ Authority in the Second and Seventeenth Centuries

By Madeline McMahon

Later (c. 1000) depiction of Ignatius’s martyrdom (Menologion, Wikimedia)

In 1644, James Ussher, archbishop of Armagh, published the letters of two early Christian martyrs: Polycarp and Ignatius (Polycarpi et Ignatii Epistolae (Oxford: Lichfield, 1644)). Both were bishops in the eastern Roman Empire and both met their deaths (one at the stake, the other apparently “as food for wild beasts”) in the early second century. Not unusually, Ussher’s edition had a facing Latin translation as well as the original Greek. The Latin text was an “old” translation taken from the collation of three manuscripts, but even more exciting was the “other ancient version of the Ignatian letters, published now for the first time from two manuscripts found in England” that Ussher added (ibid., title page, my translation). While not the Greek original, this “ancient verison” was a translation of the authentic letters of Ignatius—a group of documents that had been (and continue to be) plagued with scholarly doubts about interpolation (Louth, 55). Ussher attributed the Latin translation he discovered to the thirteenth-century English bishop of Lincoln Robert Grosseteste, because Grosseteste’s quotations of the letters matched the Latin in this manuscript and because before his time Ignatius was only cited through other sources in medieval England.

(c) National Trust, Hatchlands; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
James Ussher in 1654. (c) National Trust, Hatchlands; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Ussher’s discovery of an authentic version of Ignatius’s letters in the translation of a learned English bishop had political ramifications—or so he hoped. Ignatius’s letters, in addition to containing the first recorded uses of “Christianity” and “catholic church,” are also among the earliest texts about bishops. Ignatius repeatedly insisted that congregations he wrote to obey their bishop. Such demands took on new meaning in the debates of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation. While Ussher’s new version dismissed the spurious “Long Recension,” which Catholics quoted frequently (Louth, ibid), Ussher also hoped that Ignatius’s letters would speak to his fellow Protestants. He was making a last stand for episcopacy, and of a particular kind. In November 1640, the Long Parliament discussed the powers of the English bishops and wound up revoking the power of Convocation (a kind of committee of English bishops) to create canons and directives without parliamentary appeal. In March 1641, the Lords voted to create a committee to discuss religious matters, including church government. Ussher was among the divines advising that committee. He circulated his manuscript of the Reduction of Episcopacy to the form of Synodical Government, a kind of reconciliation of episcopacy with presbyterian synods, around this time (Abbott, “James Ussher and ‘Ussherian’ Episcopacy, 1640 – 1656”). He further promoted primitive (or limited) episcopacy by having books supporting episcopacy printed in Oxford. Just a few years before the edition of Ignatius, he published writings by stauch defender of episcopacy, Jacobean bishop of Winchester Lancelot Andrewes and others that upheld the antiquity of bishops. Yet Ussher’s eagerness to find texts supporting episcopacy meant that he published works that conceived of bishops very differently from his particular model.

The letters of Ignatius might seem an obvious text for anyone defending the role of bishops in the church. The Syrian bishop’s most popular epistle is a rather gory and unusual appeal to the Romans: “pray leave me to be a meal for the beasts” (trans. Staniworth and Louth, 86)! All of Ignatius’s letters were written en route to his martyrdom, on a journey that took him from his diocese of Antioch to Rome. Along the way, the Christian populations of various cities welcomed him or sent representatives to wish him well along the way. He thus met a number of bishops—including the bishop of Smyrna, Polycarp—and also seems to have sensed dissent from the orthodoxy they defined. Ignatius conceived of the bishop as part of an earthly hierarchy that mirrored that of heaven: “it is for the rest of you to hold the deacons in as great respect as Jesus Christ; just as you should also look on the bishop as a type of the Father, and the clergy as the Apostolic circle forming His council; for without these three orders no church has any right to the name” (Letter to the Trallians, 79). The church on earth corresponds to the divine. According to Henry Chadwick in a classic short article, it is this Hellenistic and even gnostic idea that makes sense of Ignatius’s repeated praise of bishops’ silence (“The Silence of Bishops in Ignatius”). Ignatius’s claim that “[t]he more reserved a bishop is seen to be, the more he ought to be respected” seems at odds with his demand that a bishop should dictate orthodoxy and that the prayer of “the bishop together with his whole church” is especially potent (Letter to the Ephesians, 62). It is also very different from the late Roman bishops who coopted the figure of the classical philosopher in order to speak truth to power (Brown, Power and Persuasion in Late Antiquity). In Chadwick’s view, though, “God is silence; therefore when men see their bishop silent, the more reverence they should feel towards him, for it is then that he is most like God” (171-2).

Scholarly debate on Ignatius’s silent bishops continues, but we should not ignore that Ignatius was a bishop himself. We have no letter from Ignatius to his own diocese of Antioch, but he mentioned his flock, asking the Trallians to “[r]emember my Syrian church in your prayers (though I do not deserve to be called a member of it, since I am the last and least of them all)” (82). He told the Philadelphians, “News has come to me that, in response to your prayers and your loving sympathy in Christ Jesus, peace now reigns in the church at Antioch in Syria. It would therefore be very fitting for you, as a church of God, to appoint one of your deacons to go there as God’s ambassador…to offer them your felicitations” (95). It is possible that Ignatius acted as a scapegoat of some sort to ease intra-Christian tensions in Antioch by going to Rome (Brent, 44-5). This might help explain why he usually had rhetorical recourse to his identity as a soon-to-be martyr rather than as bishop. When asking the Trallians to obey their bishop, “whose very gentleness is power,” he notes, “I am measuring my words here…I could well write more forcibly on his behalf, if it were not that as a condemned prisoner I have not thought myself entitled to use the peremptory tone of an Apostle” (80). For Ignatius, authority was a paradox.

Perhaps nowhere is that clearer than his chains, which literally spoke for him: “These chains which I wear…utter their own appeal to you to continue in unity” (81). As a criminal condemned to death, he is a holy figure, transient and marginal but therefore accorded special honor. Ignatius is probably the prototype for the later holy men Peter Brown describes carrying chains, “associated in the Near East…with the status of a political prisoner fallen from his high estate” (Society and the Holy, 182). He highlighted the role of bishops, but spoke from outside that role in order to do so. In fact, he leveraged his civil and legal status as a prisoner. Like his seventeenth-century editor, he circulated texts in order to defend the role of bishops in a volatile religious moment. Ultimately, he did so very differently—where Ussher argued from precedent, Ignatius used paradox.