‘The last great publishing feat of the Renaissance.’1
Plato 1513 title-page.
Worth’s copy of the Aldine Plato (1513) was the editio princeps of Plato’s collected words in Greek. Though printed relatively late in Aldus’ career, it was clear that it had been in the pipeline for some time. In 1497, Aldus had printed a Latin edition of the works of the famous neoplatonist Iamblichus (a work also collected by Worth), and had announced in the same year his plan to produce the complete works of both Plato and Galen. The Florentine scholar Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499) had previously produced a Latin edition of the works of Plato but the Aldine Plato provided scholars with the canonical Greek text.
Plato 1513 dedication.
The Aldine Plato was dedicated to Pope Leo X (1475-1521). Aldus hoped that the newly elected pontiff, a Medici of Florence, would provide financial support for the arts and, more specifically, set up an academy at Rome, a new Platonic academy, which would act as a focus for scholars of Greek. It was hoped that Leo X, a son of Lorenzo il Magnifico, would look kindly on Aldus’ plans and Aldus made much of the fact that the edition would not have been possible but for the financial aid given by Lorenzo de Medici to Janus Lascaris in the latter’s search for Greek manuscripts in the East. Indeed Lascaris was credited with the discovery of a number of manuscripts of Plato’s works on Mount Athos, works which were now incorporated into the greater whole of the Aldine Plato, which, although not as immense a work as the Aldine Aristotle, was still a massive achievement for the press.
Plato 1513 Mousouros poem.
Aldus’ dedicatory preface to Pope Leo X was accompanied a poem by Markos Mousouros, which, Staikos (1998) suggests, is ‘undoubtedly the finest Greek poem in the Renaissance period.’ Mousouros, a key member of the Aldine Republic of Letters, had, previously been a professor of Greek at the University of Padua until its temporary closure during the League of Cambrai, when he returned to Venice. In 1512 he was appointed to the chair of Greek at Venice. By 1516 he had moved to Rome to play a role in Leo X’s short-lived Greek College. He was later appointed to the bishoprics of Hierapetra and Cheronesou (Crete) before been made Archbishop of Monemvasia (1516).
Mousouros’ poem was itself a work of art. Pontani (2002/3) suggests that it was ‘the highest result of Greek verse in the entire Renaissance’ and it was praised (and translated) by contemporaries. Designed to accompany Aldus’ dedicatory preface to the pope, the poem gives us some indication of the plans both Aldus and the Cretan scholar had for the establishment of Greek studies under Leo X. The pope did indeed found a Greek College, set up to provide instruction in Greek to ten students who were, in turn, to go and spread Greek studies throughout the land. It seemed, initially at least, to be an embodiment of the Aldine dream academy – it even had its own printing press – but the press was that of Callierges, not Aldus, and the funding was dependent on the personal support of the pope. It did not long outlive its patron.
Geanakoplos, D. J. (1962) Greek Scholars in Venice. Studies in the Dissemination of Greek Learning from Byzantium to Western Europe (Harvard University Press).
Lowry, Martin (1979) The World of Aldus Manutius. Business and Scholarship in Renaissance Venice (Oxford: Blackwell).
Pontani, Filippomaria (2002/3), ‘Musurus’ Creed’, Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies 43, pp. 175-213.
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 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), p. 346.