Tanya Pollard CUNY Brooklyn
“Translating Greek Drama: Schoolbooks and Popular Theater in Early Modern England”

Rebecca Calcagno

Translating Greek Drama: Schoolbooks and Popular Theater in Early Modern England

“Classics in Textbooks”

This exhibition presents bilingual editions of Greek classics from the sixteenth century. The publishers of these editions formatted them to display both languages simultaneously, as interlinear, inter-passage, facing page, or parallel column translations. They chose these formats deliberately, to enable readers to directly compare the Greek text with its translation. Nikolaus Henkel has shown that parallel column editions were sometimes formatted to allow readers to go through and compare the text word by word; printers used a special procedure, typesetting the Greek text first, then the Latin, line by line, so that the corresponding Greek and Latin words have the same position on the lines. An unknown reader of the library’s 1524 edition of Euripides’ Trageodiae Dvae read the book in the way described by Henkel, comparing each Greek word to its Latin counterpart and underlining corresponding Greek and Latin words and phrases.

The publishers used these formats because they intended their editions to be used by scholars, which is also why they typically include textual features such as introductions, marginal notes, bilingual commentary, line numbers, glossaries, and indexes. We know that scholars owned these editions from inscriptions, bookplates, inventories, and wills. Fridericus Curtius Yratisi, who describes himself as a scholar at Mary Magdalen College, owned the library’s 1562 edition of Euripides’ in latinum sermonem conuersus, adiecto eregione textu graeco; cvm annotationibvs et praefationibus in omnes eius tragoidias, printed by Johann Oporin in Basel. Yratisi dates his ownership of the book to 1608 and has extensively marked the book, underlining text and making marginal notes. The inventories and wills of several Cambridge men also indicate that they owned copies of the editions in the library’s holdings. For example, the 1545/6 inventory of William Porter, MA, Fellow of St. Johns, records a copy of “due tragedie euripidis grece & latine”; while, the inventory of Stephen Thompson, MA, Fellow of St. Johns, in 1598/9 records a copy of “Heliodorus greke and Latine.”

In addition to suggesting who the books were created for and owned by, the books on display tell us about the book trade. The books were published in Paris, Basel, and Heidelberg. First, this speaks to the importance of continental presses in the printing of Greek editions. Second, it shows the increasing importance of the presses in French and German speaking countries from the late fifteenth through the sixteenth centuries. Throughout this period, these presses offered strong competition to the previously unrivaled Italian presses.

Printing Greek was a specialty, as it required some knowledge of Greek and a special set of type, which was not commonly owned. Greek printing first flourished in Italy, in the press of Aldus Manutius in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century. Manutius, a Venetian scholar, devoted himself to printing Greek texts, both to preserve them and to make them available. He published thirty first editions of literary and philosophical texts, including Aristotle (5 vols., 1495–8), Aristophanes (1498), Thucydides, Sophocles, and Herodotus (1502), Euripides and Xenophon (1503), Plutarch (1509), and Plato (1513).

The Estienne family in Paris began printing in Greek both because of their scholarly interest in it and because they felt there was a gap in the market. Robert Estienne, for example, wanted to produce a more accurate copy of the Greek New Testament, so he published editions in 1546, 1549, and 1550, based on the oldest manuscripts in the royal library. When leaders of the Faculty of Theology in Paris attempted to ban his Testament, Robert left the Parisian press to his brother Charles and set up a second press in Geneva. When Robert died in 1559, his son, Henri, took over the press. An intelligent and knowledgeable Hellenist, Henri published Greek classics. His edition of Aeschylus was the first to include the full text of Agamemnon. He is best known for his five volume Greek dictionary Thesaurus graecae linguae (1572). The library has several bilingual editions from the Estienne press including a collection of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides (1567) and the works of Sophocles (1603).

Johannes Oporinus also printed a large number of Greek texts, some of which the library has in its collection. He gave up a professorship in Latin and Greek at the University of Basel to print full time. He published many Greek classics as well as contemporary texts such as the first Latin edition of John Foxes’ Booke of Martyrs (1559). Foxe, incidentally, worked as a copy editor for Oporinus. Oporinus printed the edition of Isocrates’ Phraseologia Isocratis Graecolatina on display. The library has other Oporinus editions such as a Homer (1544) and Euripides (1562).

While continental printing houses such as Aldine and Estienne established reputations for printing in Greek, English presses did not. This was not due to a lack of capacity, at least one English printer had the capability of printing Greek. Reginald Wolfe owned a complete character set in Greek and printed a complete Greek text in 1542 (two homilies of St. John Chrysostom). Despite Wolfe’s work, printing in Greek did not catch on in England. Archbishop Laud had limited success when he attempted to rectify this in the 1630s, with an ambitious program to print Greek classics and establish Greek presses in Oxford and London. For the most part, English booksellers and buyers imported Greek texts. They imported a large number of books, making foreign books a significant feature of the English book trade for two centuries after the introduction of printing. Julian Roberts speculates that this is because England did not have a papermaking industry and had failed to establish learned and, to a lesser extent, education printing.

Associated Images
Aristophanes- Inter-Passage Translation
Euripides- Facing Page Translation
Heliodorus of Emesa- Parallel Column Translation
Isocrates- Interlinear Translation

Selected Bibliography

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  • “Aldus Manutius.” The Oxford Dictionary of the Renaissance. Ed. Gordon Campbell. New York: Oxford UP, 2006.
  • Armstrong, Elizabeth. Robert Estienne, royal printer: an historical study of the elder Stephanus. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1954.
  • Armstrong, Elizabeth. “Robert Estienne, I.” The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Reformation. Ed. Hans. J. Hillerbrand. New York: Oxford UP, 1996.
  • Baldwin, T. W. William Shakspere’s Small Latin & Lesse Greeke. 2 vols. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1944.
  • Binns, J. W. “Latin Translations from Greek in the English Renaissance.” Humanistica Lovaniensia. 27 (1978): 128-159.
  • Charlton, Kenneth. Renaissance Education in England. London: Routledge, 1965.
  • Clark, Harry. “Johannes Oporinus.” The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Reformation. Ed. Hans J. Hillerbrand. New York: Oxford UP, 1996.
  • Davies, Martin. Aldus Manutius: Printer and Publisher of Renaissance Venice. London: British Library, 1995.
  • Dilts, Mervin. “Greek Literature: Antiquity to Renaissance.” Scholarly Editing: A Guide to Research. Ed. D. C. Greetham. New York: MLA, 1995. 75-94.
  • Glasgow, Eric. “Greek in the Elizabethan Renaissance.” Elizabethan Miscellany 3. Ed. James Hogg. Salzburg Studies in English Lit. Ser. 71. Salzburg: University of Salzburg, 1981: 18-31.
  • Goldsmith, V. F. Short Title Catalogue of French Books 1601 to 1700 in the Library of the British Museum. London: Dawsons of Pall Mall, 1973.
  • Grafton, Anthony. “Henri Estienne, II.” The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Reformation. Ed. Hans J. Hillerbrand. New York: Oxford UP, 1996.
  • Hellinga, Lotte, and J. B. Trapp. The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain. vol. 3. New York: Cambridge UP, 1999.
  • Henkel, Nikolaus. “Printed school texts: types of bilingual presentation in incunabula.” Renaissance Studies. 9.2: 213-227.
  • Hokenson, Jan, Marcella Munson, and Mary Helen McMurran. The Bilingual Text: History and Theory of Literary Self-Translation. Machester: St. Jerome, 2006.
  • Johnson, A. F., A. G. Macfarlane, and Dr. H. Thomas, eds. Short Title Catalogue of Books Printed in France and of French Books Printed in Other Countries from 1470 to 1600 now in the British Museum. London: Oxford UP, 1924.
  • Johnson, A. F., and Dr. Victor Scholderer, eds. Short Title Catalogue of Books Printed in the German-Speaking Countries and German Books Printed in Other Countries from 1455 to 1600 now in the British Museum. London: University Press Aberdeen, 1962.
  • Johnson, A. F., D. A. Clarke, and Dr. Victor Scholderer, eds., Short Title Catalogue of Books Printed in Italy and of Italian Books Printed in Other Countries from 1465 to 1600 now in the British Library. Reprint. London: Redwood Burn, 1986.
  • Layton, Evro. “Nikodemos Metaxas, the First Greek Printer.” Harvard Library Bulletin. 15 (1967): 140-68.
  • Leach, Arthur F. Educational Charters and Documents: 598 to 1909. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1911.
  • Leedham-Green, E. S. Books in Cambridge Inventories: Book-lists from Vice-Chancellor’s Court Probate Inventories in the Tudor and Stuart Periods. 2 vols. New York: Cambridge UP, 1986.
  • Marshall, Robert G., ed. Short Title Catalogue of Books Printed in Italy and of Books Printed in Italian Abroad Held in Select North American Libraries. 3 vols. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1970.
  • McKitterick, David. “University printing at Oxford and Cambridge.” The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain. Vol. 4. Ed. John Barnard and D. F. McKenzie. New York: Cambridge UP, 2002: 189-205.
  • Michaelides, Chris. “Greek Printing in England 1500-1900.” Foreign Language Printing in Britain, 1500-1900. Ed. Barry Taylor. London: British Library, 2002. 203-226.
  • Paisey, David, ed., Catalogue of Book s Printed in the German-Speaking Countries and of German Books Printed in Other Countries from 1601 to 1700 now in the British Library. 4 vols. Bury St. Edmunds: St. Edmundsbury, 1994.
  • Proctor, Robert. The Printing of Greek in the Fifteenth Century. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1900.
  • Rostenberg, Leona. “Johann Oporin, Printer, Publisher, and Scholar: 1507-68.” Library Quarterly. 14 (1945): 207-213.
  • Vervliet, Hendrik. “Greek Typefaces of the Early French Renaissance: The Predecessors of the Grecs du Roy.” Journal of the Printing Historical Society. n.s. 4 (2001): 3-29.