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the Complete Review
the complete review - prefaces

The Greek Classics

Aldus Manutius

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To purchase The Greek Classics

Title: The Greek Classics
Author: Aldus Manutius
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: (1495-1514) (Eng. 2016)
Length: 320 pages
Original in: Latin
Availability: The Greek Classics - US
The Greek Classics - UK
The Greek Classics - Canada
La voce dell'editore - Italia
  • Edited and translated by N.G.Wilson
  • Collects the Prefaces from the Aldine press editions of the Greek classics
  • Also includes ten appendices to Aldine editions, including by other authors
  • This is a bilingual edition, with the Latin (and sometimes Greek) original facing on the pages facing the English translations

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Our Assessment:

(--) : fascinating literary-historical glimpse from the beginning of the print-era

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
BMCR . 4/8/2016 Anne Mahoney
Renaissance Quarterly . Spring/2017 Oren Margolis

  From the Reviews:
  • "While this book is clearly of historical interest, it is also a fun collection of essays for browsing in. It gives a reader some sense of the excitement of reading Greek at the dawn of the 16th century, when each new publication in Greek was an event. (...) Wilson's own translations are lucid, and in the few places where Aldus's Latin doesn't quite make sense, he simply says so. The footnotes are helpful, identifying the people Aldus mentions as well as his various addressees, identifying Aldus's quotations and allusions to classical authors, and occasionally pointing out a mistake." - Anne Mahoney, Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Aldus Manutius (Aldo Manuzio) founded the famous Aldine Press in Venice near the end of the 15th century, specializing in the publication of Latin and Greek classics and making them accessible to a much larger audience. The Greek Classics collects Manutius' prefaces to the Greek works he published (while a companion volume, Humanism and the Latin classics, also in the I Tatti Renaissance Library-series, collects the prefaces to the Latin works), as well a small variety (ten pieces) of supplementary material, including some by other authors, on these Aldine publications. While a two-volume Italian edition of the prefaces has long been available, this volume collects and makes this material readily accessible to English-speaking readers for the first time. As in all the books in the I Tatti-series, the original -- mostly Latin, though liberally sprinkled with classical Greek, and with some entirely in Greek -- is printed facing the English translation.
       The prefaced books cover many of the best-known Greek classics -- including the collected works of Plato, the Iliad and the Odyssey, much of Aristotle, most of the plays of Sophocles, Euripides, and Aristophanes -- as well as contemporary supporting material, such as Greek grammars and a dictionary.
       These are prefaces, rather than introductions to the books in question, and Manutius generally uses the space in part as dedication to those supporting publication, as well as often grumbling about the difficulties he faced, and complaining about (and explaining the inevitability of) mistakes arising in the printing and editing processes. So these are not insightful introductions into the classics, as readers would get in contemporary editions of these same works, but rather tend to focus more on the specific editions of the day.
       Quite a bit of this is of literary-historical interest -- Manutius, for example, explaining that his collected Aristophanes is Lysistrata-less because, at the time: "barely half of it could be obtained". There is also some judgment about the value of the works themselves, Manutius praising the authors and emphasizing their value -- including, notably, Aristophanes:

For people wishing to learn Greek there is nothing more suitable, nothing better to read.
       It's not all praise, though -- he really wonders what the hell is up with Philostratus' "Life of Apollonius of Tyana', going on at considerable length in criticizing the work he nevertheless publishes, in what is by far the longest and most commentative of these prefaces. But he sums up his disappointment early on:
I cannot recall ever reading anything worse or less deserving attention; not only did it all see fantasy and like old wives' tales, but it was tasteless and very stupid. So I cannot easily describe the annoyance and boredom I felt whiile reading it.
       Manutius also repeatedly makes the case for a Greek revival, noting both that, while many are fluent in Latin, few are in Greek (and, of course, suggesting his volumes -- several of which also include Latin translations of the printed Greek text -- can be most helpful in remedying this situation).
       Manutius isn't humble about what he's doing, recognizing the importance of his work -- "We have decided to devote our whole life to benefiting mankind" -- and often remarking how much effort he puts into the work, and under how much time pressure he is ("You can scarcely believe how busy I am"). The commercial aspect of printing also is often mentioned -- "I am unable to print without substantial funds" -- and there's considerable cajoling and nudging for support in one form or another.
       Printing mistakes remain a major issue, and he frequently apologizes for them and the difficulty of dealing appropriately with them -- explaining his errata lists and the likes. He does note that sometimes it is very difficult to get it right, starting with the source:
I do not undertake to correct the texts: in some of them one would need Oedipus to make conjectures, because they are so damaged and corrupt that not even the author, if he were returned to life, would be able to remove the errors; but I do undertake to make every effort to ensure that the printed texts are at least more correct than the exemplars.
       These prefaces are more revealing about the intellectual scene in ca. 1500 Venice and Europe than about the authors and works that are printed, but they are certainly interesting small nuggets of intellectual history, and it is nice to have them collected like this. While having the original Latin (and Greek) accessible is welcome too, admittedly Manutius' prose is rarely so remarkable that one feels the need for the original -- the English-translation-gist suffices for the most part. (Given the extensive quoting and references, however, it's certainly far better to have the original texts available as well.)
       More of historical than purely literary interest, The Greek Classics is certainly of particular value to anyone involved in the study of anything from early print-publishing to the reception and spread of classical Greek literature in Renaissance Europe. With many (succinct and to-the-point) endnotes, a thorough index, and in a solid translation, it is a beautifully presented and useful reference volume and, if not necessarily a book to simply read through, it is an appealing one to dip into.

- M.A.Orthofer, 21 September 2017

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The Greek Classics: Reviews: Aldus Manutius: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Aldus Manutius (Aldo Manuzio; ca. 14511515) founded the Aldine press.

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© 2017-2022 the complete review

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