‘There are men who are learned in both Greek and Latin, who by frequent and diligent visits to my office render Herculean service to me.’
Aldus Manutius to Andrea Navagero, March 1514.1
Aristotle 1495 dedication to Alberto Pio.
Undoubtedly one of the most important of Aldus’ scholarly friendship circle was his former student, Alberto Pio (1475-1531), Prince of Carpi. It was to Pio that Aldus dedicated his magnum opus of the 1490s, the five volume collected works of Aristotle, who was, as he wrote to Pio, the ‘Prince of the Greeks.’ Aldus’ first interaction with Alberto Pio came in 1482, when he was appointed tutor to both Alberto and his brother by their famous scholarly uncle, Pico della Mirandola (1463-1494). The close connections with Alberto Pio can not only be seen in the numerous epistles dedicatory to him but also in Aldus’ decision to add ‘Pio’ to his own name.
Pio was by no means Aldus’ only influential patron: Aldus had a number of other patrician friends, men such as Pietro Bembo (part of the Florentine circle of scholars) and Marino Sanudo and Pierfrancesco Barbarigo (both Venetian patricians) who provided vital financial and political support to the press. They did more than this: Bembo, for example, provided the text for Aldus’ earliest work: Constantine Lascaris’ Greek Grammar.
Aristophanes 1498 Markos Mousouros letter.
Markos Mousouros (c.1470-1517) was undoubtedly one of the most important of Aldus’ editorial collaborators. Erasmus declared him to be ‘marvellously skilled in the Latin language, an accomplishment attained by scarcely any (other) Greek except Theodore Gaza and Janus Lascaris…’ and his contemporaries would certainly have agreed.2 Staikos (1998) suggests that he was Aldus’ ‘real intellectual mentor’ and certainly he played a fundamental role in the numerous Greek editions emanating from the press, being eventually responsible for more Greek editions than any other contemporary scholar.
Mousouros didn’t just edit many of the Greek Aldine editions, he also provided material to be printed and, during the years 1495-1497 when he returned to his native Crete, may well have been scouting out material for Aldus. In the years immediately following this, he was responsible for editing Crastoni’s Dictionarium Graecum of 1497, the editio princeps of the comedies of Aristophanes (1498) and the Epistolae Graeci (1499), while after 1500 his output included groundbreaking texts such as 1503 editio princeps of Euripides, the 1508-9 Rhetores Graeci, the 1513 editio princeps of Plato, another editio princeps in 1514 of Athenaeus, and an edition of the works of Alexander of Aphrodisaeus of the same year. All these texts were collected by Worth.
Mousouros, though clearly one of Aldus’s most important editors, was not the only scholar to actively engage with the Aldine press, whether in providing manuscripts for publishing or taking part in the editorial process itself. Aldus’ Republic of Letters had at its core a group of Greek (primarily Cretan) scholars who played a vital role in all stages of the Aldine Greek project. Barker (1992) suggests that Mousouros, when he was not editing on his own, worked as part of a team with men such as John Gregoropoulos and Demetrius Ducas.3 Many of these had been taught by Greek émigrés who had benefited from the patronage of Cardinal Bessarion (c.1403-1472), following their flight from Byzantium after the Fall of Constantinople in 1453. Scholars such as Janus Lascaris (1445?-1535), who taught Mousouros, provided vital assistance, not only in the provision of manuscripts, but also in the scholarly support they offered Aldus. This support was in turn given official recognition by Aldus in the prefaces to his many works (see, for example, Aldus’ dedication to Lascaris in Worth’s 1508 copy of the Rhetores Graeci).
Greek scholars based at Venice clearly played an important role but the Aldine Republic of Letters spread far beyond the confines of La Serenissima. Teachers at the University of Padua were another vital node in the Aldine friendship network. As Lowry (1976) suggests, these men not only worked for the press but could also, in lectures to their students, publicise Aldine publications. The University of Padua played an important role in the internationalization of the Aldine friendship network for it was there that other members of the network studied: men such as the English scholar Thomas Linacre and the Germans Conrad Celtis and Willibald Pirckheimer. These in turn popularised Aldine editions in their homelands: indeed half of John Reuchlin’s Greek library were Aldine publications. The inter-connected nature of the Aldine network is apparent in the appointment of Mousouros to a professorship at Padua in 1503, an appointment which only strengthened this already important link.
That an Aldine Republic of Letters (and more generally an Aldine scholarly friendship network) existed is without question: Aldus himself refers to it on a number of occasions. He was clearly in contact with the major scholars of his day – indeed, the more his fame increased, the more scholars from across Europe wrote to him in the hope of joining such a prestigious network. As Aldus ruefully joked in 1514, ‘If I were to answer them, I would spend all my days and nights writing letters.’4 But how exactly did his scholarly friendship network operate? Was it a loose association of like-minded scholars, committed to aiding their fellow scholars across Europe? Or was it more organised than that, an entity with defined rules of membership and a definite program of agreed projects?
Gemistus Pletho 1503 colophon.
Aldus’ decision in 1502 to use the phrase ‘in Aldi Neacademia’ in his colophons, as we can see in Worth’s October 1503 edition of Gemistus Pletho, presents us with a tantalizing view of an Aldine ‘New Academy’. The very name was a reference to the Platonic Akademia and strongly suggested that the group of Greek scholars who were so vital to Aldus’ achievement hoped to replicate that ancient seat of learning. This view of the ‘New Academy’ as a specific entity was strengthened in 1806 when Jacopo Morelli published what seemed to be a manifesto for the Aldine Academy, which he had found in the binding of an Etymologicum Magnum from the Barberini library. Containing the names of six friends of Aldus: men such as Scipio Fortiguerra and Pietro Bembo, it appeared to provide definite proof of the beginnings of an organised network, one dedicated to the study of Greek. So far, so good, but as Lowry (1976) pointed out, however attractive the idea of an organised Aldine academy might be, the document certainly did not support the claims of nineteenth and twentieth century historians, eager to build on its flimsy foundation.
As Lowry makes clear, Aldus had already created his network prior to 1502 and if he had decided to give it official recognition as a ‘new academy’ it would have included a) far more names and b) not limited itself, as the document does, to the teaching of Greek pronunciation, but would have encompassed the wider aims of his friendship network: the retrieval, scholarly editing and publication of Greek texts. In addition, it didn’t last long: by 1505 Bernardo Zorzi was reporting that ‘The New Academy is gravely ill’ and the last colophon bearing the phrase ‘In Aldi Neacademia’ is dated to 1506.5 Lowry (1976) argues that this shadowy and short-lived Venetian academy has drawn attention away from Aldus’ real objective – an actual academy based in Germany. The scheme evidently had the support of scholars such as John Reuchlin and John Collaurius but despite this, nothing came of it. By the time Erasmus arrived in 1508-9, the Aldine academy had quietly faded away into history and though there were some attempts to revivify the idea, these proved unsuccessful.
Xenophon 1503 folio Aldine device.
Barker, Nicholas, Aldus Manutius and the Development of Greek Script & Type in the Fifteenth Century (Fordham University Press, New York, 1992).
Geanakoplos, D. J. (1960) ‘Erasmus and the Aldine Academy of Venice’. A neglected chapter in the Transmission of Graeco-Byzantine Learning to the West’, Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies 3, 104-134.
Geanakoplos, D. J. (1962) Greek Scholars in Venice. Studies in the Dissemination of Greek Learning from Byzantium to Western Europe (Harvard University Press).
Lowry, M. J. C, (1976), ‘The “New Academy” of Aldus Manutius: A Renaissance Dream’, Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 58(2): 378-420.
Staikos, Konstantinos SP. (1998), Charta of Greek Printing. The Contribution of Greek Editors, Printers and Publishers to the Renaissance in Italy and the West (Cologne).
1 Aldus Manutius, ‘The Life of a Scholar-Printer’ in The Portable Renaissance Reader, edited by James Bruce Ross and Mary Martin McLaughlin (Penguin: New York, 1977), pp 397-8.
2 Geanakoplos, Deno J. (1960) ‘Erasmus and the Aldine Academy of Venice’. A neglected chapter in the Transmission of Graeco-Byzantine Learning to the West’, Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies, 2, no.2/3, p. 132.
3 Barker, Nicholas, Aldus Manutius and the Development of Greek Script & Type in the Fifteenth Century (Fordham University Press, New York, 1992, p. 18.
4 Aldus Manutius, ‘The Life of a Scholar-Printer’ in The Portable Renaissance Reader, edited by James Bruce Ross and Mary Martin McLaughlin (Penguin: New York, 1977), p. 397.
5 Lowry, M. J. C, (1976), ‘The “New Academy” of Aldus Manutius: A Renaissance Dream’, Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 58(2): 399.