‘Those famous speeches contain so many dark and cryptic passages that they can scarcely be understood.’
Cicero, commenting on Thucydides’ The Peloponnesian War.
Thucydides 1502 no.1 annotation.
As Harloe and Morley (2012) point out, Thucydides’ The Peloponnesian War had been a staple of Byzantine literary education and continued to be a key text in the courses given by the Greek scholarly diaspora in mid to late fifteenth-century Italy. But, as Burke’s survey of the popularity of ancient historians in the sixteenth century demonstrates, while viewed as a seminar text by scholars learned in Greek, it took some time for the non-Greek speaking scholarly community to appreciate the text. A Latin translation had appeared in 1452, courtesy of Lorenzo Valla (1407-1457): this and the Aldine editio princeps of 1502 would play a vital role in the rise of Thucydides as an international lauded historian.
Thucydides 1502 no.1 spine.
Burke’s survey depicts Thucydides as coming fairly far down the ranking of editions – in 16th place with 41 editions printed in the period 1450-1700 as opposed to 242 editions of the leading contender, Sallust. He did, however, rank third among ancient Greek historians, only being barely surpassed by Xenophon’s Cyrus and Herodotus’ Histories and, as Burke’s figures demonstrate, proved to be more popular in translation than in the original Greek. And yet, to a scholar learned in Greek, both the Aldine Herodotus and the Aldine Thucydides had much to offer. As Barker (1992) argues, Aldus’ decision to change his Greek font to a smaller size (in this case Greek font no 3) allowed him to fit more text to the page and, in the case of Herodotus’ Histories and Thucydides’ The Peloponnesian War, this meant that these works could each be sold as a single volume, costing one ducat each.1 In addition, the Aldine Thucydides offered the reader not only the text of The Peloponnesian War but also two lives of Thucydides.
Worth bought not one but two copies of the Aldine Thucydides. The first is a complete edition while the second lacks 8 leaves. Worth’s decision to purchase an incomplete second copy may well have been because of its provenance: as the image below shows, it had been part of the famed collection of the Abbé de St. Quentin, Jean Paul Bignon (1662-1743). Bignon, a prolific author, had been royal librarian and was an assiduous book collector. His library had been bought by Cardinal Guillaume Dubois (1656-1723) and when Dubois’ collection was sold in 1725 at The Hague, Worth was one of many connoisseur collectors who were attracted to this treasure trove of books.
Thucydides 1502 no.1 title-page.
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).
Burke, Peter (1966), ‘A Survey of the Popularity of Ancient Historians, 1450-1700’, History and Theory 5, no 2, pp. 135-152.
Fletcher, Harry George (1988), New Aldine Studies. Documentary Essays on the Life and Work of Aldus Manutius (San Francisco: Bernard M. Rosenthal, Inc.).
Harloe, Katherine and Morley, Neville (2012), Thucydides and the Modern World. Reception, Reinterpretation and Influence from the Renaissance to the Present (Cambridge University Press).
Renouard, A. (1834 ; 1991 reprint), Annales de L’Imprimerie des Alde ou histoire des trios Manuce et de leurs éditions Troisième édition (Delaware : Oak Knoll Books).
1 Fletcher, Harry George (1988), New Aldine Studies. Documentary Essays on the Life and Work of Aldus Manutius (San Francisco: Bernard M. Rosenthal, Inc.), p. 91.