Archive for the ‘Rare books’ Tag

Greek typography from some of our rare books   2 comments

First, an apologia: this post is not directly tied to the regular fare here, but in the belief that the appreciation of cool books is not too uncommon a faculty, I can in perfectly good conscience share these images with you here. And who doesn’t love Greek? In this case, let’s recast Vergil’s “Quidquid id est, timeo Danaos et dona ferentis” to “Ecce ego complector Danaos monumenta ferentis!” (Note the meter!)

While he was not the first printer of Greek, Aldo Manuzio stands out clearly as one of the most zealous philhellenes among early printers. Among the issue of his press are, for example, Constantinus Lascaris’ Erotemata (1495), Aristotle (1495), and Aristophanes (with scholia, 1498). The Erotemata, a kind of grammatical catechism, — Chrysoloras wrote a similar work with the same title — had been published earlier in Milan, 1476, the first completely Greek book printed; Constantinus Lascaris is not to be confused with another Greek scholar of the period, Janus Lascaris. Aldo dedicated serious attention to publicizing his plan of Greek printing and encouraged purchasers to buy so that more Greek books would follow. The Aldine Press, during Aldo’s life and after in the hands of his family, was not the only publishing house interested in Greek, of course. The only other one I’ll mention here is that of the Estienne (Stephanus) family (Henri, his son Robert, and his grandson Henri the younger).

As with Latin, early type in Greek, in some fonts at least, was made to mimic a certain kind of handwriting, one which had a plethora of ligatures. Proctor (cited below, pp. 12-13) describes what this mimicry entailed:

In the Venetian type the appearance of continuity is sought by an elaborate system of ligatures, two, three and four letters being commonly cast in one piece, and in an immense variety of forms and combinations, so that the number of sorts found in the two books exceeds twelve hundred, and even this is probably far from representing the fount in its completed state as projected. The effect was unsatisfactory; because the ‘case’ was complicated to an extraordinary extent by the enormous quantity of boxes required, and the use of so many ligatures resulted (in practice, thought not of necessity) in splitting up the longer words into disconnected syllables, a result which makes the books very difficult to read even after considerable experience of them.

Some, but certainly not all, of this difficulty remained for both compositor (typesetter) and reader well into the 18th century. The first time I really took notice of it was several years ago in Daniel Wyttenbach’s (1746-1820) edition of Plutarch, printed at Oxford. Not until, it seems, the Didot-Porsonian types of the 19th century did a more separate and straightforward Greek type become the norm still in wide use today. There is to me, though, a kind of beauty in the convoluted knots of ink found in the ligatures of older printings; no, I would not want it for rapid reading of an unfamiliar text, but there are times when one can appreciate a more familiar text in this type. (Note that Proctor is fairly unsympathetic toward the Aldine type and its subsequent influence; more recent discussion has not been so unfavorable.)

The examples that follow, all from the collections of HMML or Saint John’s University, are from the 15th and 16th centuries, followed by images of two fine press editions from the early 20th century. Since most or all of the abbreviations and ligatures encountered in these printings occur, too, in manuscripts, some of the handbooks to Greek paleography may be useful in deciphering them (e.g. Metzger, Manuscripts of the Greek Bible, p. 30), but the most comprehensive list, for printed works in particular, that I know of is the work of G.F. von Ostermann and A.E. Giegengack listed below. Finally, it should be pointed out that all this is not of any mere historical or aesthetic interest. There are still occasions where one is required to consult volumes printed with this kind of type for everyday research: not long ago while studying some hagiographic material in Christian Palestinian Aramaic I had to compare a Greek text in F. Combefis’ Illustrium Christi martyrum lecti triumphi, vetustis Graecorum monumentis consignati (Paris, 1659), which, while not as difficult to read as some ligatured typefaces, nevertheless requires some acclimation for those who typically read Porsonian or similar type.

ΙΩΑΝΝΗΣ Ο ΓΡΑΜΜΑΤΙΚΟΣ ΕΙΣ ΤΟ ΠΕΡΙ ΓΕΝΕΣΕΩΣ, ΚΑΙ ΦΘΟΡΑΣ. ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ Ο ΑΦΡΟΔΙΣΙΕΥΣ ΕΙΣ ΤΑ ΜΕΤΕΩΡΟΛΟΓΙΚΑ. Ο ΑΥΤΟΣ ΠΕΡΙ ΜΙΞΕΩΣ. Ioannes Grammaticus in libros De generatione, et interitu. Alexander Aphrodisiensis in Meteorologica. Idem De mixtione (Venice, 1527) at the Aldine press, under Andreas Asulanus. The title page has a warning against the book being printed elsewhere in Venice or of being sold elsewhere once printed.

Alexander of Aphrodisias on Aristotle’s Meteorologica

ΔΙΟΝΥΣΙΟΥ ΤΟΥ ΑΛΙΚΑΡΝΑΣΣΕΩΣ ΡΩΜΑΙΚΗΣ ΑΡΧΑΙΟΛΟΓΙΑΣ ΒΙΒΛΙΑ ΔΕΚΑ. Dionysii Halicarnassei antiquitatum Romanorum Lib. X (Paris, 1546) bound with ΔΙΟΝΥΣΙΟΥ ΤΟΥ ΑΛΙΚΑΡΝΑΣΣΕΩΣ ΠΕΡΙ ΣΥΝΘΕΣΕΩΣ ΟΝΟΜΑΤΩΝ, ΠΡΟΣ ΡΟΥΦΟΝ. Τοῦ αὐτοῦ τῆς ῥητορικῆς τέχνης κεφάλαιά τινα, πρὸς ἐχεκράτην. Τοῦ αὐτοῦ περὶ τῶν θουκυδίδου ἰδιωμάτων, πρὸς ἀμμαῖον. Dionysii Halicarnassei de compositione, seu orationis partium apta inter se collocatione, ad Rufum. Eiusdem, artis Rhetoricae capita quaedam, ad Echecratem. Item quo genere dicendi sit usus Thucydides, ad Ammaeum (Paris, 1547) at the press of Robert Estienne (Stephanus). Not listed on any title page, but also included are the sections from Dionysius’ work On the Attic Orators that deal with Lysias and Isocrates.

Dion. Hal., On the Style of Thucydides

Isaac Casaubon, Strabonis rerum geographicarum libri xvii (Paris, 1620). With the Latin translation of Guilielmus Xylander (a.k.a. Wilhelm Holtzman, 1532-1576). Casaubon was responsible for the first critical edition of Strabo (1587?), but this is a later edition. This edition (others too?) has a Latin poem on Casaubon’s edition of Strabo by Theodore Beza (1519-1605), and two shorter poems, one in Greek, one in Latin, by an author I am unable to identify. Casaubon’s text-critical notes are in the margins, and his commentary comes at the end of the book.

Casaubon’s Strabo

Marsilio Ficino, Plotini Platonicorum facile coryphaei operum philosophicorum omnium libri liv in sex enneades distributi, (Basel, 1580). Contains the Greek text, Ficino’s Latin translation in parallel, and commentary.

Ficino, Plotinus

Biblia Sacra Polyglotta, 6 vols., edited by Brian Walton with the assistance of many other scholars.

The beginning of Gen 22 from the London Polyglot

ΑΙΣΧΥΛΟΥ ΟΡΕΣΤΕΙΑ (London, 1904). Typeset by Robert Proctor, who was mentioned above. According to the colophon, printing was finished in March. The Greek type is based very closely on the Alcalá Greek typeface used for the famous Complutensian Polyglot (1514), with some augmentation to make up for some original deficiencies, such as a full set of accents.

Proctor, Agamemnon, first lines

ΟΜΗΡΟΥ ΠΟΙΗΣΙΣ. ΙΛΙΑΣ (Bremen, 1923), edited by Edward Schwartz at the Bremer Presse. A small number of text-critical notes (in Latin) are placed at the end of the book. This copy is no. 300 of 615. The Odyssey was issued the next year, and HMML also has that volume. The typeface of these volumes was first printed at this time: “adhibitis typis quorum forma nunc primum inuenta et excusa est”, in the words of the colophon to the Iliad edition.

The opening lines of the Iliad


Nicolas Barker, Aldus Manutius and the Development of Greek Script and Type in the Fifteenth Century, 2d ed. (New York, 1992).

Martin Davies, Aldus Manutius: Printer and Publisher of Renaissance Venice (Malibu, 1995).

Greek Font Society

Martin Lowry, The World of Aldus Manutius: Business and Scholarship in Renaissance Venice (Oxford, 1978).

G.F. von Ostermann and A.E. Giegengack, “Printer’s & Translator’s Elementary Information on Classical & Modern Greek and Abbreviations in Early Greek Printed Books,” originally in Languages: For the Use of Printers and Translators, 3d ed. (Washington, DC, 1936), reprinted at the end of Al.N. Oikonomides, Abbreviations in Greek: Inscriptions, Papyri, Manuscripts, and Early Printed Books (Chicago, 1974).

Rudolf Pfeiffer, History of Classical Scholarship from 1300 to 1850 (Oxford, 1976).

Robert Proctor, The Printing of Greek in the Fifteenth Century (London, 1900).

Nigel Wilson, From Byzantium to Italy: Greek Studies in the Italian Renaissance (Baltimore, 1992).

________, Mediaeval Greek Bookhands: Examples Selected from Greek Manuscripts in Oxford Libraries Medieval Academy Books 81 (Cambridge, Mass., 1973, repr. 1995).


Syriac, Arabic, and Turkish in a late copy of the Kitāb al-tarǧamān   1 comment

HMML's copy of the 1636 ed., open to the section corresponding to that shown from the manuscript below.

Church of the Forty Martyrs (Mardin) no. 492, dated Nov 8, 1906, is a late copy of Eliya of Nisibis’ Kitāb al-tarǧamān fī taʿlīm luġat al-suryān (that is, The Book of the Translator, for Instruction in Syriac), his very important Syriac-Arabic lexicon arranged by topic, rather than by the alphabet. The Kitāb al-tarǧamān was published in Rome in 1636 without attribution to Eliya (he is not named in several of the manuscripts either), almost 250 years later by Lagarde (with the Syriac in Hebrew script), and again recently in Iraq. There are a few brief studies on the work, and I discuss it more fully in a paper that has been accepted in the Journal of Semitic Studies, so I’ll not say much more about it generally. Here I only want to highlight the notable manuscript identified above. It is of interest especially for the fact that there is a dedicated slot on every page for Turkish words, even though in many places Syriac and Arabic is all that there is. I have said that there is a “dedicated slot” for Turkish; that is, these words are not merely added in the margin, as in some other manuscripts of Eliya’s book. (In addition to Turkish, Latin and Italian equivalents also show up in some manuscripts.) The image below has the manuscript open to §2.1, with some general vocabulary on humanity and its environment. Syriac is in the right column, Arabic in the center, and Turkish on the left, all written with Syriac letters. The usual arrangement in the manuscripts with only Syriac and Arabic is with the former on the right and the latter on the left (that is, opposite from Obicini’s and Lagarde’s presentations with Syriac following Arabic). It should be noted, too, that this manuscript dates to a time prior to that of the official adoption of a Latin-based alphabet for Turkish, which took place in 1928 as one of Atatürk’s reforms.

CFMM 492, p. 22

Here are the basic meanings listed in this part of the work, along with the Turkish words written according to standard orthography:

  • human being insan
  • human beings insanlar
  • person insan
  • people insanlar
  • elements aşraf [?!]
  • fire ateş
  • air, wind rüzgâr
  • water su
  • earth yer
  • mixture mizac
  • hot sıcak
  • cold soğuk
  • wet nem, yaş (note: two words in Turkish, the former really meaning “moisture”, for one in Syriac and Arabic)
  • dry kuru

Linguist R.M.W. Dixon has roundly criticized conventional dictionary arrangement, lamenting that, while grammar and other linguistic fields have advanced much in the past few centuries, dictionary-making has not. He recommends, rather than plain alphabetical arrangement, that the order for the lexicon be according to semantic types, and with a kind of index in alphabetical order that points back to this thesaurus. Ten centuries ago, Eliya of Nisibis thought along similar lines for Syriac and Arabic, and some subsequent copyists thought it prudent to tack on other languages (Turkish, Latin, Italian) while tracing this same arrangement.

[Thanks to Reyhan Durmaz for some comments on the Turkish words.]


R.M.W. Dixon, Basic Linguistic Theory, vol. 1, Methodology (Oxford, 2010). See chap. 8, esp. 8.2.

Paul de Lagarde, Praetermissorum libri duo (Göttingen, 1879).

Adam McCollum, “Prolegomena to a New Edition of Eliya of Nisibis’ Kitāb al-tarǧamān fī taʿlīm luġat al-suryān,” Journal of Semitic Studies, forthcoming.

Thomas a Novaria (Obicini), Thesaurus Arabico-Syro-Latinus (Rome, 1636).

Gérard Troupeau, “Le lexique arabe-syriaque d’Elie Bar Shinâyâ,” in J. Hamesse and D. Jacquart (eds.), Lexiques bilingues dans les domaines philosophique et scientifique (Moyen Âge – Renaissance) (Brepols, 2001), 25-30.

Stefan Weninger, “Das ‘Übersetzerbuch’ des Elias von Nisibis (10./11. Jh.) im Zusammenhang der syrischen und
arabischen Lexikographie,” in W. Hüllen, ed., The World in a List of Words (Tübingen: 1994), pp. 55-66.

Authorial and scholarly vestiges in our libraries   2 comments

Some years ago I decided to look for a copy of Paul de Lagarde’s (1827-1891) edition of the Syriac Geoponica. I found a copy from a used book dealer in Germany and bought it for a relatively modest cost, as I recall. I was, however, astonished to find this writing at the beginning:

Lagarde apparently sent the book as a gift to the great Theodor Nöldeke (1836-1930), whose textual annotations fill this slim volume. Little notes like this are good reminders of the organic nature of scholarship. The scholars, some of whose works we still scrutinize and even, especially in Nöldeke’s case, may consider as standards, are not mere names passed down from one generation of scholars to the next. Their hands touched books ours can touch, they read them with their eyes, annotated them with their pens. While it is always a treat to find inscriptions like these in electronic copies available online — I’ve seen the names of William Wright and Étienne Quatrmère, among others — holding a physical book in one’s hands is even better.

At the library here at Saint John’s I noticed another of Lagarde’s books with a notable past of ownership, this one two times over. This copy of his Symmicta belonged to both Arthur Jeffery (1892-1959), known especially for his Materials for the History of the Text of the Qurʾān: The Old Codices (Leiden, 1937) and The Foreign Vocabulary of the Qurʾān (Baroda, 1938), and to Leo Jung (1892-1987), an outstanding figure of Orthodox Judaism in America.

Finally, among HMML’s bountiful collection of Ethiopian studies materials is a copy of The Chronicle of King Theodore of Abyssinia (የቴዎድሮስ፡ታሪክ። yä-Tewodros tarik), an Amharic text edited by Enno Littmann (1875-1958). HMML’s copy was a gift of the author to Robert Garrett (1875-1961), whose name will be known to some readers for his manuscript donations to Princeton University. This copy, no. 23 of only 25, is even more interesting because the gift inscription is in Gǝʿǝz (za-tawǝhba la-Robǝrt Garrǝt ǝmmǝna Ǝnno Litman)! Incidentally, we are reminded in Littmann’s preface that Nöldeke himself had twenty years prior also copied out the same Berlin manuscript that Littmann used.

See further on the individuals named above:

John S. Badeau, Eric F.F. Bishop, and Frederick C. Grant, “Arthur Jeffery — A Tribute,” The Muslim World 50 (1960): 49-54.

Hubert Kaufhold, “Nöldeke, Theodor,” in Sebastian Brock, Aaron Butts, George Kiraz, and Lucas Van Rompay, eds., Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage (Piscataway, 2011).

Michael Kleiner, “Littmann, Enno,” in Encyclopaedia Aethiopica, vol. 3 (Wiesbaden, 2007), pp. 588-590.

Enno Littmann, “Autobiographical Sketch,” [in German] in The Library of Enno Littmann, with an Introduction by Maria Höfner (Leiden, 1959).

Ludwig Schemann, Paul de Lagarde. Ein Lebens- und Erinnerungsbild (Leipzig, 1920).

Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje, “Theodor Nöldeke,” ZDMG 85 (1931): 239-281.

Lucas Van Rompay, “de Lagarde, Paul Anton,” in Sebastian Brock, Aaron Butts, George Kiraz, and Lucas Van Rompay, eds., Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage (Piscataway, 2011).

Rainer Voigt, “Nöldeke, Theodor,” in Encyclopaedia Aethiopica, vol. 3 (Wiesbaden, 2007), p. 1195.

Anaïs Wion, “Collecting manuscripts and scrolls in Ethiopia: The missions of Johannes Flemming (1905) and
Enno Littmann (1906),” available here.

Recently digitized books from HMML’s collections   1 comment

I want to highlight five books from HMML’s rare books collections that we have recently photographed and made available at Vivarium. The first three are slim booklets with some very basic information about Arabic, Persian, and Syriac in the form of a guide to reading and pronunciation with some short well-known texts in the particular language and a Latin translation. The Alphabetum Arabicum (1592) has  the Lord’s Prayer, the Annunciation, Psalm 113 (112), Psalm 117 (116), and John 1:1-9.[1] Similar introductory books were published for Gǝˤǝz (Alphabetum Aethiopicum sive Gheez et Amhharicum [Rome, 1789]),[2] Armenian (Alphabetum Armenum), Coptic (Alphabetum Cophtum sive Aegyptiacum), Persian (Alphabetum Persicum), and Syriac (Alphabetum Syro-Chaldaeum), all of these printed by the Congregatio de Propaganda Fide press. Later the Dominicans at Mosul would print the comparable Syllabaire ou exercices de lecture arabe à l’usage des enfants (1862), Syllabaire chaldéen, 3d ed. (1884) for east Syriac script, and Livre de lecture syrienne, 3d ed. (1884) for west Syriac script.[3] These digitized booklets on Arabic, Persian, and Syriac (the script in this one is mostly Serṭo) may be of interest for the history of scholarship in these languages, typography, and perhaps even pedagogy.

Alphabetum arabicum (Rome, 1592).

Alphabetum persicum, cum Oratione dominicali et Salutatione angelica (Rome, 1783).

Alphabetum syro-chaldaeum, una cum Oratione dominicali, Salutatione angelica, et Symbolo fidei (Rome, 1797).

The next volume, completely unrelated to the previous three, is Budge’s The Miracles of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the Life of Hannâ (Saint Anne), and the Magical Prayers of ‘Ahĕta Mîkâêl (London, 1900). Only 300 copies were printed (“for private circulation”), of which this copy is no. 79. No one who has not seen this ponderous tome will divine its heft and size merely from viewing the images on a screen, but I vouch for its massive dimensions. To be sure, some of the criticisms that R.H. Charles leveled against another of Budge’s huge books are fitting here (see in Hermathena 10 [1899]: 397-406, available here), too, but, at the very least, many of the plates are worth examining.

The last book is Giovanni Battista Ferrari’s Ktābā da-bnāt qālē suryāyātā = Nomenclator Syriacus (Rome, 1622), a Syriac-Latin glossary (based on onomasiological rather than semasiological principles). HMML also has a copy of Thomas Obicini’s similar work, Thesaurus Arabico-Syro-Latinus, which was posthumously published at Rome, 1636.[4]

[1] For Arabic HMML also has the similar, but longer, Fabrica overo dittionario della lingua volgare arabica, et italiana by Dominico Germano de Silesia (Rome, 1636); it includes some partially vocalized Christian phrases and texts, such as the Christian basmallah, the Lord’s Prayer, Ave Maria, the Apostles’ Creed, Ten Commandments, Salve Regina, and the Athanasian Creed.

[2] Note also the Chaldeae [sic!] seu Aethiopicae Linguae Institutiones (Rome, 1630). HMML also has this volume; it has already been photographed and will be added to Vivarium in the near future.

[3] See further M.W. Albin, “Preliminary bibliography of Arabic books printed by the Dominican fathers in Mosul,” MIDEO 16 (1983): 247-260, and J.F. Coakley and David G.K. Taylor, “Syriac Books Printed at the Dominican Press, Mosul,” in, George A. Kiraz, ed., Malphono w-Rabo d-Malphone. Studies in Honor of Sebastian P. Brock, Gorgias Eastern Christian Studies 3 (Piscataway, 2008), pp. 71-110.

[4] This work is based, without attribution, on Eliya of Nisibis’ Kitāb al-turjumān fī taˤlīm luġat al-suryān, of which I am preparing a new edition—there is an older one by Lagarde—based partly on six newly identified manuscripts of the work, including the oldest dated copy.

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