Aldus Manutius  

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Aldus Pius Manutius (1449/1450 – February 6, 1515) was an Italian humanist who became a printer and publisher when he founded the Aldine Press at Venice.

His publishing legacy includes the distinctions of inventing italic type, establishing the modern use of the semicolon, and introducing inexpensive books in small formats bound in vellum that were read much like modern paperbacks.

His printer's device of an anchor entwined by a dolphin is well-known.


Early life

Manutius was born in Sermoneta or Bassiano, in the Papal States, in what is now the province of Latina, some 100 km south of Rome Italy, during the Italian Renaissance period.

His family was well off and Manutius was educated as a humanistic scholar, studying Latin in Rome under Gasparino da Verona, and Greek at Ferrara under Guarino da Verona.

In 1482 he went to reside at Mirandola with his old friend and fellow student, the illustrious Giovanni Pico. There he stayed two years, pursuing his studies in Greek literature. Before Pico removed to Florence, he procured for Manutius the post of tutor to his nephews Alberto and Lionello Pio, princes of Carpi. Alberto Pio supplied Manutius with funds for starting his printing press, and gave him lands at Carpi.

He became a tutor to some of the great Italian ducal families in his early career.

Publishing legacy

The leading publisher and printer of the Venetian High Renaissance, Aldus set up a definite scheme of book design, produced the first italic type, introduced small and handy pocket editions (octavos) of the classics and applied several innovations in binding technique and design for use on a broad scheme.

He commissioned Francesco Griffo to cut a cursive type known today as italic.

He and his grandson, also a printer, are credited with introducing a standardized system of punctuation.

The publishing company Aldus is named after him.

Imprint and motto

The publishing imprint logo of Aldus was the dolphin around an anchor, today used by Doubleday. It is derived from the symbol of the ancient city of Beirut, Lebanon and text from the proverb "Festina lente" (Hasten slowly), which Aldus had taken as a motto as early as 1499, and regularly expounded to his friends.


Type designs based on work designed by Griffo and commissioned by Aldus Manutius include Bembo, Poliphilus and Zapf's Aldus.

Greek classics

It was Manutius' ambition to secure the literature of Greece from further loss by committing its chief masterpieces to type. He introduced personal or pocket editions of the classics in Greek and Latin that all could own.

Before his time four Italian towns had won the honors of Greek publications: Milan, with the grammar of Lascaris, Aesop, Theocritus, a Greek Psalter, and Isocrates, between 1476 and 1493; Venice, with the Erotemata of Chrysoloras in 1484; Vicenza, with reprints of Lascaris' grammar and the Erotemata, in 1488 and 1490; and Florence, with Alopa's Homer, in 1488.

Of these works, only three, the Milanese Theocritus and Isocrates and the Florentine Homer, were classics.

Manutius selected Venice as the most appropriate station for his labours. He settled there in 1490, and soon afterwards gave to the world editions of the Hero and Leander of Musaeus, the Galeomyomachia, and the Greek Psalter. These have no date; but they are the earliest tracts issued from his press, and are called by him "Precursors of the Greek Library."

In Venice, Manutius gathered an army of Greek scholars and compositors around him. His trade was carried on by Greeks, and Greek was the language of his household. Instructions to typesetters and binders were given in Greek.

The preface to his editions were written in Greek. Greeks from Crete collated manuscripts, read proofs, and gave models of calligraphy for casts of Greek type. Not counting the craftsmen employed in merely manual labour, Manutius entertained as many as thirty of these Greek assistants in his family.

His own industry and energy were unremitting. In 1495 he issued the first volume of his edition of Aristotle. Four more volumes completed the work in 1497–1498. Nine comedies of Aristophanes appeared in 1498. Thucydides, Sophocles, and Herodotus followed in 1502; Xenophon's Hellenics and Euripides in 1503; Demosthenes in 1504. It is possible that during this period, in his printing works, Hieromonk Makarije was educated, who would later found the Obod printing works of Cetinje and print the first book in Serbian and Romanian.

The Second Italian War, which pressed heavily on Venice at this time, suspended Manutius' labours for a period. But in 1508 he resumed his series with an edition of the minor Greek orators; and in 1509 appeared the lesser works of Plutarch. Then came another stoppage when the League of Cambrai drove Venice back to her lagoons, and all the forces of the republic were concentrated on a life-or-death struggle with the allied powers of Europe. In 1513 Manutius reappeared with an edition of Plato, which he dedicated to Leo X in a preface eloquently and earnestly comparing the miseries of warfare and the woes of Italy with the sublime and tranquil objects of the student's life. Pindar, Hesychius, and Athenaeus followed in 1514. At the end of his life he had begun an edition of the Septuagint, the first to be published; it appeared posthumously in 1518.

These complete the list of Manutius' prime services to Greek literature. But it may be well in this place to observe that his successors continued his work by giving Pausanias, Strabo, Aeschylus, Galen, Hippocrates, and Longinus to the world in first editions. Omission has been made of Manutius' reprints, in order that the attention of the reader might be concentrated on his labours in editing Greek classics from manuscripts. Other presses were at work in Italy; and, as the classics issued from Florence, Rome or Milan, Manutius took them up, bestowing in each case fresh industry upon the collation of codices and the correction of texts.

Latin classics

Nor was the Aldine press idle in regard to Latin and Italian classics. The Asolani of Bembo, the collected writings of Poliziano, the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, Dante's Divine Comedy, Petrarch's poems, a collection of early Latin poets of the Christian era, the letters of the younger Pliny, the poems of Pontanus, Sannazaro's Arcadia, Quintilian, Valerius Maximus, and the Adagia of Erasmus were printed, either in first editions, or with a beauty of type and paper never reached before, between the years 1495 and 1514. For these Italian and Latin editions, Manutius had the elegant type struck which bears his name. It is said to have been copied from Petrarch's handwriting, and was cast under the direction of Francesco da Bologna, who has been identified by Panizzi with Francia the painter.

Manutius' enthusiasm for Greek literature was not confined to the printing-room. Whatever the students of this century may think of his scholarship, they must allow that only vast erudition and thorough familiarity with the Greek language could have enabled him to accomplish what he did. In his own day, Manutius' learning won the hearty acknowledgment of ripe scholars.

To his fellow workers he was uniformly generous, free from jealousy, and prodigal of praise. While aiming at that excellence of typography which renders his editions the treasures of the book-collector, he strove at the same time to make them cheap. His great undertaking was carried on under continual difficulties, arising from strikes among his workmen, the piracies of rivals, and the interruptions of war.

When he died, bequeathing Greek literature as an inalienable possession to the world, he was a poor man.

In order to promote Greek studies, Manutius founded an academy of Hellenists in 1502 under the title of the New Academy. Its rules were written in Greek. Its members were obliged to speak Greek. Their names were Hellenized, and their official titles were Greek. The biographies of all the famous men who were enrolled in this academy must be sought in the pages of Didot's Alde Manuce. It is enough here to mention that they included Desiderius Erasmus and the Englishman Thomas Linacre.

Marriage and personal life

In 1505 Manutius married Maria, daughter of Andrea Torresano of Asola. Torresano had already bought the press established by Nicholas Jenson at Venice. Therefore Manutius' marriage combined two important publishing firms. Henceforth the names Aldus and Asolanus were associated on the title pages of the Aldine publications; and after Manutius' death in 1515, Torresano and his two sons carried on the business during the minority of Manutius' children. The device of the dolphin and the anchor, and the motto festina lente, which indicated quickness combined with firmness in the execution of a great scheme, were never wholly abandoned by the Aldines until the expiration of their firm in the third generation.


Manutius wanted to create an octavo book format that gentlemen of leisure could easily transport in a pocket or a satchel, the long, narrow libri portatiles of his 1503 catalogue, forerunners of the modern pocket book.

Manutius' edition of Virgil's Opera (1501) was the first octavo volume that he produced.

In his prefatory letter to Pietro Bembo in the 1514 Virgil, Aldus recorded that he "took the small size, the pocket book formula, from your library, or rather from that of your most kind father".

Manutius created the italic typeface style, for the exclusive use of which for many years he obtained a patent, though the honour of the invention is more probably due to his typefounder, Francesco Griffo, than to him.

His typefaces were all designed and cut by the brilliant Francesco Griffo, a punchcutter who created the first roman type cut from study of classical Roman capitals.

However, he did not use his italic typeface for emphasis as we do today, but rather for its narrow and compact letterforms, which allowed the printing of pocket-sized books.

He is also believed to have been the first typographer to use a semicolon. His grandson Aldus Manutius the Younger produced the first book, entitled Orthographiae Ratio, on the principles of punctuation, in 1566.

The 1503 Virgil also introduced the use of italic print, the narrowness of which allowed for more economical use of space (more words per page, fewer pages, lower production costs). This publication was also produced in higher-than-normal print runs (1,000 rather than the usual 200 to 500 copies).

Progetto Manuzio

Manutius' name is the inspiration for Progetto Manuzio, an Italian free text project similar to Project Gutenberg.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Aldus Manutius" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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