Treasure of the Month

Magdalen’s Aldines

24th March 2016

Aldus Manutius (c.1450–1515) was a hugely influential early printer, and Magdalen is lucky to have a collection of works published by him. The Magdalen College Library Hilary Term 2016 exhibition was dedicated to his memory, written by Geri Della Rocca de Candal and Christine Ferdinand, and this Treasure is an extract from that exhibition catalogue.

Aldus Manutius’s gift to the history of early printing is one of innovation: it includes, among other legacies, the introduction of the italic script into print, the modern use of the semicolon, and, arguably the most important of all innovations, at least from the point of view of reading practices, the introduction of Latin and Greek classics in the then rather unusual pocket format, the octavo, radically changing the way humanists came to use and read their books.

Aldus Manutius was born in Bassiano, near Rome, around 1450. After studying in Rome, in the mid-1580s he became the tutor of Alberto Pio (1475–1531) and his younger brother Lionello (1463–1480), princes of Carpi. Aldus’s friendship with his former pupils later led Alberto Pio to become one of the earliest supporters of the Aldine press. Around 1490 Aldus moved to Venice, and in 1495 he opened shop.

Manutius represents one of those very rare cases in which a talented scholar also happens to be an exceptional entrepreneur. Not only did Manutius possess a knowledge of Greek that few other Western scholars of his time could match, but he also mastered the art of printing very swiftly and skilfully, gaining an almost perfect understanding of its technicalities, and often finding and suggesting elegant solutions to complex aesthetic and typographic problems.


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Constantinus Lascaris, Erotemata
Venice: Aldus Manutius, 1494/95
Magd. Arch.C.I.1.24


Arguably Manutius’s earliest printed edition, Lascaris’s Erotemata (Questions) was, together with Chrysoloras’s Erotemata, the most popular introduction to the Greek grammar and language during the Renaissance. The text is structured in the same way as modern FAQs on a website would be: a simple question on a particular aspect of the Greek grammar, followed by a simple reply (for example ‘How many declensions are there in Greek?’ – ‘In Greek there are x declensions’, and so on).

This volume is one of a gift of Aldine books given in 1956 by Arthur M. Woodward (1883–1973), former Exhibitioner. In its previous life, the book was probably originally owned by a Brother Michael Hermans of Rottweill, according to a sixteenth-century inscription on the first page; part of monastic collection in Undenstroff in 1647; and in the library of F. Marcis Feryberger (inscription on page 2).

The gold-tooled binding is by Riviere & Son.


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Aldus Manutius the Younger, Orthographiae ratio
Venice: Paulus Manutius, 1561
Magd. o.2.28


One of the strengths of the Aldine press was the extreme care with which the aesthetics and accuracy of printing were dealt with, down to the smallest detail. Aldus, for instance, employed one of the most outstandingly talented punch-cutters of his day, Francesco Griffo, to design, among other things, the first-ever cursive type. This Italian type was so popular that it has since become widely known as ‘italic’. Aldus also contributed towards a number of changes in punctuation, introducing, among other things, the semicolon. This attention to detail was carried on by his heirs: Aldus the Younger (1547–1597), his grandson, published, aged fourteen, an influential treatise on Latin spelling and punctuation.

Again, this is part of the Arthur M. Woodward gift that came to the College in 1956. It bears the armorial bookplate of the Earl of Cromer, as well as the signature (dated 1902) of another owner, H.C. Hoskier (1864–1938), biblical scholar and textual critic.

This copy of Orthographiae ratio has been rebound in a luxury modern binding with Aldus’s printer’s device gold-tooled on both the upper and lower boards.


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Aristotle, Opera
Venice: Aldus Manutius, 1495–98
Magd. Arch.B.II.1.12–13


The monumental editio princeps of Aristotle, in five large folio volumes, was published by Aldus Manutius between 1495 and 1498. It was his first major undertaking, and, with its colossal size, it outclassed, by far, any previous endeavour in Greek printing. For the first time since Late Antiquity the original Greek text of Aristotle had regained wide circulation throughout Europe, with a huge impact on Western scholarship.

Volume 1 of Magdalen’s set was bequeathed to the College by Thomas Stanbridge, one of the schoolmasters of Magdalen College School, in 1525. Stanbridge had died in 1522 or 1523, leaving the College a number books; the College paid 20d. for twelve of them to be chained. The other volumes of the Aristotle came from John Goodyer’s (1592–1664) bequest of his internationally important collection of botanical books.

The binding is from the ‘Grenvelle bindery’ in Venice, c.1545. It is constructed of tan goatskin over pasteboards, tooled in gold to a panel design with a central roundel showing Fortune with a billowing sail and seven stars. Fortune was the most common emblematic figure used by Renaissance binders to convey fleetingness, which echoes the famous Aldine-published book. This binding has the typical Italian number and distribution of textile ties, namely four pairs of ties arranged one each at head and tail and two at the fore-edge. The ties do not survive except at the anchor point on the inner face of the boards, where they are seen to have been a bright pinkish red silk.


Philostratus, De vita Apollonii Tyanei
Venice, Aldus Manutius, 1501 [i.e. 1504]
Magd. Arch.B.III.1.11


This volume contains the first editions of both Philostratus’ Life of Apollonius of Tyana and Eusebius’ reply. Philostratus’ account is the only extant record of Apollonius, a Neopythagorean sage who travelled around India performing miracles. Aldus, as he explains in the preface, had grave doubts about publishing this book, which probably accounts for the long delay in its production and the fact that, although dated 1501–1502, the book was only printed in 1504. In his long dedicatory letter to the translator of Eusebius, Aldus says that he had expected great merit in Philostratus’s work, but that he cannot recall reading anything worse: it is no more than a pack of old wives’ tales. But having undertaken the task, and since three Latin editions are already in circulation, he decided to see it through and add Eusebius’s admirable little work as an antidote.

Herbert Wilson Greene (1857–1933), whose armorial bookplate is on the upper pastedown, gave Magdalen this edition of Philostratus and Eusebius in 1928. After taking BA, MA, and BCL degrees at Pembroke College, Oxford, Greene qualified as a barrister; at more or less the same time he became a Fellow of Magdalen College, where he taught Classics from 1888 to 1910. He had a particular talent for Latin and Greek translation, and seems to have taken great pride in this aspect of his work. In addition to books, Greene also gave his papers to the College Archives. There is evidence of a previous owner in the handwritten marginal notes and marks.

Aldus’s printer’s device, a dolphin wrapped around an anchor, made its first appearance on one of his title-pages as early as 1501. The dolphin and anchor emblem had been used since at least the 2nd century BC, when it appeared in a bowl. The device later appeared on coins, such as the denarius of Titus, where the dolphin’s head and anchor’s fluke were at the top. The symbol, which Aldus inverted, was said to illustrate the saying “Festina lente” (“Make haste slowly”), a fitting device for a printing office. Over the years, it became one of the most recognisable devices in the history of printing, and, arguably, one of the earliest examples of commercial branding.


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Dioscorides, De materia medica
Venice: Aldus Manutius, 1499
Magd. Arch.B.II.1.14


Dioscorides’ De materia medica, first published by Aldus Manutius in 1499, was the main pharmacopoeia used throughout the centuries, from the date of its original composition, in the 1st century AD, to well into the Renaissance. Unlike other classical authors in their Greek original, such as Aristotle, Dioscorides was never ‘rediscovered’ during the Renaissance; thanks to its ‘technical’ natural, De materia medica continued circulating, though in restricted circles, throughout the Middle Ages.

The text was edited by Aldus Manutius, who collated the best manuscript copies he could find to produce an edition that remained the standard version until his son published a revised edition in 1518. Aldus was aiming to make a very legible Greek typeface—this is his third version.

This was John Goodyer’s (c.1592–1664) copy and came to Magdalen through his bequest of 1664. Goodyer’s library was a hardworking one: most his books are annotated in various ways, cross-referenced to other botanical volumes in his collection, almost always paginated by hand if printed pagination was missing, indexed, and so on. Goodyer was the first to translate Dioscorides into English, so this volume was probably heavily consulted. He also kept a record of how much his books cost to buy and to bind, and of when he bought them. This book was bought 15 June 1654 for 8s. 6d.


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Scriptores astronomici veteres
Venice: Aldus Manutius, 1499
Magd. Arch.B.III.1.10


The Mathesis is the best-known extant work by the Roman senator Julius Firmicus Maternus, as well as the most extensive surviving text of Roman ‘scientific’ astrology. Manutius’s edition, published in 1499, contains, however, a whole collection of astronomical and astrological texts, including those by Manilius, Aratus, and Pseudo-Proclus. Aratus’s text, in particular, is enriched by a series of large woodcuts representing different constellations. This edition is also interesting because of its connections with English Renaissance scholars, confirming how wide the early European scholarly network was: pseudo-Proclus’s Sphaera appears in Thomas Linacre’s translation, and the volume also contains a letter by William Grocyn addressed to Aldus Manutius.

A sixteenth-century owner has left a number of marks in the volume, including what may be a price, dated 1529.

Magdalen’s copy is in its original heavily decorated leather binding over wooden boards. It is slightly marred by the presence of staple holes to secure book chains, and has the remnants of leather clasps, secured by metal fittings. Fragments of a rubricated manuscript reinforce the spine.


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Lucretius, De rerum natura
Venice: Aldus Manutius, 1515
Magd. o.2.11


The smaller octavo format, also referred to as pocketbook, or handbook, had a moderate circulation before Aldus Manutius opened shop in Venice in 1495. But it was only with Manutius that octavos really did become fashionable: indeed, he was the first one to apply the pocketbook format to the publication of the Greek and Latin classics, which immediately gained immense popularity.

This was the last book printed by Aldus Manutius, who died 6 February 1515. The volume was published only a month before that, prefaced by a dedicatory letter to one of his former pupils Alberto Pio. In the dedication, Aldus complains that his ill health had prevented him from working on the project himself.

This was in fact the second Aldine edition of Lucretius. The first, edited by Andrea Novagero, had been published in a larger quarto format in 1500, but proved popular enough to be reprinted in a pocket edition.

This is another volume from the Arthur M. Woodward gift. It went through a number of owners before him, including F. Russell Hoare, Richard Garnett, and Jo. Francis de Cruce. An early reader has marked up the first three books of Lucretius with underlines and notes.


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Venice: Aldus Manutius, 1502
Magd. o.2.4


This is the first Aldine edition of Lucan’s Bellum Civili, also known as Pharsalia, his epic poem on the civil war between Caesar and Pompey. The title references a battle that took place near Pharsalus in 48BC. Aldus dedicated the book to Marco Antonio Mauroceno, who had earlier presented Aldus with a good manuscript copy of the poem.

Pharsalia was very popular through the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance (over 400 manuscript copies are extant), and it is not surprising that counterfeit versions of Lucan—even including the dedication to Mauroceno—were published in Lyon in the same year. A second edition was published by the Aldine Press in 1515.

This volume went through a number of owners, one of whom added page and line numbers throughout most of the book. This is another Woodward gift.


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Venice: Aldus Manutius, 1507
Magd. o.2.7


There was a hiatus in Aldine printing activity because of the Italian wars, and nothing was published in 1506. Towards the end of 1507, Erasmus (1466–1536), a great admirer of the Aldine Press, asked Aldus to print his revised translations of Euripides (first published in Paris in 1506). Aldus agreed and this new edition of a popular classical author, translated by the ‘Prince of the Humanists’, was published.

Like the Orthograpiae ratio discussed earlier, this volume also has the armorial bookplate of the Earl of Cromer, and, although there is no inscription to confirm, it was probably another gift from Arthur M. Woodward. A nineteenth-century owner has inscribed the page facing the title-page.


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Juvenalis and Persius
Venice: Aldus Manutius, 1501
Magd. o.2.3


Aldus’s beautifully legible italic type was immediately popular, so popular that printers in Lyon were soon industriously copying it, publishing what were more or less counterfeit editions of the classics. Aldus lodged a number of complaints against this practice, and tried to protect his rights by obtaining privileges to print from the authorities in Rome and Venice, but copyright law was almost non-existent in the early sixteenth century, and his complaints were ineffective, especially outside his territory. This edition of Juvenal and Persius was among those that were picked up and reproduced by the printers in France.


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Jacopo Sannazaro, Arcadia
Venice: Aldus Manutius, 1514
Magd. o.2.9(1)


The Arcadia is often considered the masterpiece of the Neapolitan poet and humanist Jacopo Sannazaro (1458–1530). Based on classical models, Sannazaro’s Arcadia inspired, in the subsequent literary and artistic production, the long-standing theme of an idyllic land, which appears in the works of Philip Seymour and William Shakespeare, among others.

It was originally written in the 1480s and had circulated in manuscript for years, before a pirated edition, filled with errors, was published in1502. The counterfeit edition, despite its problems, was proof of Arcadia’s popularity, and Aldus, seeing an opportunity, approached Sannazaro to publish his book. Instead Sannazaro gave the book to the Neapolitan printer Pietro Summonte, and a corrected authorized edition was printed in Sannazaro’s home town in 1504. The Aldine edition was more or less a reprint of the Summonte publication.