Electronic Text: Investigations in Method and Theory

By Kathryn Sutherland | Go to book overview

7
New Directions in Critical Editing

PETER M. W. ROBINSON


ALDUS MANUTIUS, COMPUTERS, AND TEXTUAL EDITING

It is a topos of discussions of the impact of computers on textual editing to invoke the ghost of Gutenberg, only to bury him with some such statement as 'We believe that the most fundamental change in textual culture since Gutenberg is now under way.'1 For textual scholars, there is a more relevant assertion. We are, in fact, involved in the greatest change in textual scholarship since Aldus Manutius. As we prepare to plunge into the new world of electronic editions, it is instructive to look back on what Aldus achieved in the two decades from 1495 in his new world of printed books.2

Before Aldus began work, around 1494, although many Latin texts had been printed, in the whole of Western Europe there were barely a dozen volumes printed in Greek.3 Aldus changed that completely. In the space of twenty years, up to Aldus' death in 1515, the Aldine press published the first printing of nearly all the classical Greek authors.4 In just two years, from 1502 to 1504, his press published the first editions of Sophocles, Euripides, Herodotus, Thucydides, and Demosthenes. Indeed, in the five years beginning 1501, the Aldine press published a new edition of a classic text about every two months: thirty volumes in all in sixty months. Nor did Aldus just publish major Greek authors: among authors rarely read, he published Herodian, Pollux, Stephanus of Byzantium, and Philostratus' Life of Apollonius. This last is particularly interesting, as Aldus declared in the preface to this Philostratus that it was the worst book he had ever read.5 Besides Greek texts, Aldus found time to publish the italic edition of Vergil, the Canzoniere of Petrarch, and Dante Divine Comedy.6

There are some interesting lessons for us in this astonishing record. Aldus was, without doubt, a most capable scholar by the standards of his time, but he could not have done all this if he were only a scholar, or if he were working on his own. He was many things: a businessman, a determined visionary, a page and fount designer, a diplomat, an entrepreneur, as well as a scholar. Also, Aldus had help: he chose to establish his press in Venice, where more than anywhere else he could find four things he

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