Scholarly and Technical Publications


  Scholarly publications and presses       Classical works       Scientific texts

Scholarly publications and presses

The earliest printers were craftsmen and businessmen, but by the end of the fifteenth century people began to enter the trade with a scholarly agenda as well. Among the most important of these were Aldus Manutius (1450-1515) of Venice and the Flemish Josse Badius (1462-1535), who worked in Lyon and Paris.

Aldus was a teacher of Latin and Greek literature who entered the printing business in the early 1490s with financial support from Platonic scholar Pico della Mirandola. He specialized at first in the publication of Greek classics, and then adopted a program of publishing carefully prepared texts of classical Greek and Latin authors in portable inexpensive editions, such as this 1509 edition of the Roman poet Horace. For these compact editions, Aldus pioneered the use of the italic typeface designed for him by Francesco Griffo as a companion to his Roman type.

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Q. Horatii Flacci poemata.
Venice: Aldus Manutius, 1509.

Gift of Mr. & Mrs. Paul W. Bruton, '29.

Lorenzo Valla.
De voluptate ac vero Laurentii Valle declamationes
ac disputatioes in libros tris contracte.

Paris: in Aedibus Ascenianis, 1512.

Gift of Phyllis Goodhart Gordan, '35.

Badius received his scholarly training in Italy before joining the Trechsel printing firm in Lyon in the early 1490s, where he was responsible for editing humanist and church texts. He moved to Paris at the end of the decade, where he received financial backing from the wealthy publisher, Jean Petit. He built his reputation as a publisher of annotated editions of Greek and Latin authors, as well as such humanist writers as Lorenzo Valla (1406-1457), and his printing house served as a gathering point for the leading French humanists.

Aside from his scholarly accomplishments, Badius is known for his printer's device, one of the earliest illustrations of the printing process. The device shows Badius (left) and his assistant (from his edition of William of Ockham's Dialogorum libri septem adversus haereticos, Lyon: Johann Trechsel, 1494).

Classical works

The revival of interest in classical antiquity meant that printers readily found a market for the writings of Greek and Roman authors. In Paris, for example, a third of the books printed in 1500 were classical titles. While the process of recovering and distributing classical texts had been going on for more than a century before printing, the multiplication of printed copies made it possible for many more people to become familiar with classical writers, and helped to ensure that the lesser known works would survive.

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Strassburg: Johann Reinhard Gruninger,
1 November 1496.

Gift of Howard Lehman Goodhart.

The plays of the Roman writer Terence were among the most popular theatrical works of the time, with nearly 70 printed editions by 1500. This handsome Strassburg edition contains numerous hand-colored woodcuts, including full-page illustrations at the beginning of each play that introduce the characters and show the connections between them. The reproduction shows the illustration for the play "Andria". This edition also includes such scholarly tools as commentaries surrounding the text of each play and an extensive index.

Scientific texts

Scientific texts constituted about ten percent of the books printed in the fifteenth century, although only a small number of these would fall into a modern definition of science. Many of the earliest books were printed versions of the medieval encyclopedias that fell out of fashion soon thereafter. Of the new books, the most popular subject was astrology. Nonetheless, books of lasting scientific importance were printed, particularly the works of classical scientists and mathematicians. As a result of printing, their writings became more widely known and studied.

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Elementa geometrica.
Venice: Erhard Ratdolt, 25 May 1482.

Gift of Howard Lehman Goodhart.

The book shown here was the first printed edition of Euclid, issued by the German printer Erhard Ratdolt (1447-1527), probably based on the Latin manuscript by Adelard of Bath. Ratdolt set up his printing shop in Venice in 1476 and soon became known for his mathematical and astronomical books with diagrams. Euclid posed a special problem for the early printers because of the need for large numbers of diagrams closely connected to the text. Ratdolf prepared more than 400 separate woodcuts for this book, although they are not always lined up precisely with the proposition they illustrate.

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Bryn Mawr College Library Special Collections. February 22 - June 1, 2001