Classical Aldines

Classical Aldines

‘They are very fond of Plutarch and captivated by the wit and pleasantry of Lucian. Of the poets they have Aristophanes, Homer, and Euripides, together with Sophocles in the small Aldine type. Of the historians they possess Thucydides and Herodotus, as well as Herodian.’

Sir Thomas More Utopia Book II (Yale University Press translation)

Herodotus 1503 title-page

Herodotus 1502 title-page.

Lowry (1979) argued that after 1500 the proportions between Greek/Latin printing at the Aldine press shifted away from the dominant Greek printing of the 1490s – and this is certainly true – but in Worth’s collection of classical texts emanating from the Aldine press in the period 1500 to 1509 we still find a preponderance of Greek titles.1 Many are in the new portable Aldines but some, such as Worth’s copy of the histories of Herodotus and Thucydides, were produced in folio format.

Herodotus 1502 Aldine device on final folio.

Herodotus 1502 Aldine device on final folio.

Aldus’ 1502 folio edition of Herodotus’ Histories is dated September 1502. As can be seen on this webpage, it bore two different versions of the Aldine device. On its title page it has Ahmanson-Murphy’s A1b (Fletcher’s 2a) and on its final leaf it as the distinctive A1a, with its dotted border, which Fletcher calls no 2. As Fletcher (1988) argues, this suggests that there may have been a delay in production and that the Herodotus, though dated by its colophon to September 1502, may have been printed in the Winter of 1502. Unfortunately we can’t be more precise because Aldus, although he mentions in his preface to Giovanni Calfurnio (d. 1503), that the work was ‘recently printed’ does not date his dedicatory epistle. At this stage, in late 1502, Aldus was still using forms of printing devices interchangeably between different format: i.e. we find the A1a and A1b on his octavo series also. However, it soon became clear that the larger folio format aesthetically necessitated a larger device and in February 1503 we find the first of these folio devices appearing on Aldus’ edition of Origen (Ahmanson-Murphy calls it A3 and Fletcher No f1). The Origen wasn’t collected by Worth who had little interest in theology but examples of this device may be seen on his copy of Xenophon (November 1503) and Philostratus the Elder (May 1504). A variant of it, Ahmanson-Murphy’s A3c (Fletcher’s f4) is visible on Worth’s copy of the 1513 Orationes Graeci.

Orationes Graeci 1513 title-page

Orationes Graeci 1513 title-page.

As Hexter (1994) has pointed out, it was not a case of Greek versus Latin authors but rather a symbiotic union of the two classical legacies which Aldus hoped to issue in print. Worth’s collection reflects the broad range of Aldus’ Greek and Latin literary output. All but two of the authors mentioned by Sir Thomas More as forming the bedrock of Utopian classical heritage may be found in the Worth Library.


The Aldine Pres. Catalogue of the Ahmanson-Murphy Collection of Books by or relating to the press in the Library of the University of California, Los Angeles incorporating works recorded elsewhere (University of California Press, 2001).

Barker, Nicholas, Aldus Manutius and the Development of Greek Script & Type in the Fifteenth Century (Fordham University Press, New York, 1992).

Fletcher, Harry George, New Aldine Studies. Documentary Essays on the Life and Work of Aldus Manutius (San Francisco: Bernard M. Rosenthal, Inc. 1988).

Hexter, Ralph (1994),’Aldus, Greek, and the Shape of the “Classical Corpus”, in Zeidberg, D. S (ed.) Aldus Manutius and Renaissance Culture. Essays in Memory of Franklin D. Murphy (Florence: Olschki), pp. 143-160.

Lowry, Martin (1979) The World of Aldus Manutius. Business and Scholarship in Renaissance Venice (Oxford: Blackwell).

1 Lowry, Martin (1979) The World of Aldus Manutius. Business and Scholarship in Renaissance Venice (Oxford: Blackwell), pp 141-2.