Undoubtedly the most amazing production of the Aldine press in the early years of its existence was the five volume set of Aristotle’s works. The first volume of the set, produced in November 1495, was only the fourth work to emanate from the newly founded Aldine press, which had announced its existence to the printing world in March of the same year with the Erotemata of Constantine Lascaris.1 It was accompanied by a host of other Greek works, each in their own way conceived as teaching aids for the study of Greek.
Aristotle 1495 vol 1 note.
As Fletcher (1988) has shown, dating the inception of the Aldine press presents problems. A reference in Aldus’ December 1498 petition to the Venetian Senate (to protect a number of Greek titles), mentions that he had been working on producing Greek books for eight years – which would mean that he commenced his project sometime in 1490. Other possible dates include 1492, 1493, 1494 and 1495 – the last being the date on his first dated work, Lascaris’ Erotemata. 1495 is also the date mentioned as the year in which Aldus, Andrea Torresani and Pier Francesco Barbarigo entered into a financial partnership but it is clear that Aldus would have had much to do before he was ready to produce the Erotemata.
Iamblichus 1497 beginning.
Aldus was definitely concentrating on the production of ancient Greek works in this early period. Lowry (1979) relates that the Aristotle set alone almost equalled the whole of the Aldine press production of Latin authors in the 1490s, and, as Worth’s copy of Iamblichus reminds us, some of the Latin publications were, in fact, Latin translations of ancient Greek classics. The 1497 Iamblichus consisted of a series of tracts which had been previously translated by Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499). It was intended to provide ancient neoplatonic material which would serve as an introductory work to a projected major edition of Plato – to match the Aristotle set.
Politiziano to Mirandola letter.
Worth also collected copies of another important Greek Aldine publication from the incunabula period: the Epistolae diversorum philosophorum (1499), which incorporated works by a host of ancient authors. But not all of Aldus’ early publications centred on the works of ancient writers. In 1498 Aldus published the Opera of Angelo Poliziano (1454-94), a famous contemporary Italian scholar. Aldus had first established contact with Poliziano in 1484 when he moved to Florence and both were clients of Pico della Mirandola. Lowry (1979) suggests that ‘the text is a monument to commercial improvisation as well as humanist principle’, arguing that most of the work had been completed (and had been intended) for another press whose printer died in August 1497, with Aldus stepping in to reap the commercial benefit. While this is undoubtedly true, the printing of Poliziano’s works fitted neatly into Aldus’ original schema, for Poliziano was famous as an editor of Greek and Latin texts, and clearly Aldus viewed the Poliziano friendship network of scholars as a useful model for his own. Indeed Staikos (1998) suggests that Aldus modelled himself on Poliziano.2
Fletcher, H. G. (1988), New Aldine Studies. Documentary Essays on the life and work of Aldus Manutius (San Francisco: Bernard M. Rosenthal, Inc.).
Lowry, M. J. C, (1976), ‘The “New Academy” of Aldus Manutius: A Renaissance Dream’, Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 58(2): 378-420.
Lowry, Martin (1979) The World of Aldus Manutius. Business and Scholarship in Renaissance Venice (Oxford: Blackwell).
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 Worth’s earliest Aldine is volume one of the Aristotle set.
2 In reality though, Aldus had closer contacts with Poliziano’s students, men such as Scipio Fortiguerra, rather than the great man himself.