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Classical Literature

Medium: Printed

Number of items: 5,000 items (dispersed).

The acquisition by Enriqueta Rylands of the Spencer Library in 1892 secured her one of the finest collections of Classical literature in the world. Few other libraries can boast that some 50 principal Greek and Latin authors are represented in their collections by the first printed edition.

There are 75 editions of works by Cicero before 1501, of which 64 are earlier than 1480. Particularly noteworthy are two vellum copies of De Officiis, printed by Fust and Schöffer at Mainz in 1465, the first edition of any classical author. The editio princeps of De Oratore, printed by Sweynheym and Pannartz at Subiaco in 1465, is the first surviving work printed in Italy. Chief among the editions of Pliny’s Natural History are the editio princeps, printed by Johannes de Spira (Venice, 1469); a vellum copy of the first Sweynheym and Pannartz edition (Rome, 1470); and a magnificently illuminated vellum copy of the Jenson printing of Cristoforo Landino’s Italian translation (Venice, 1476).

There are no less than 22 editions of Virgil printed before 1480, including the two 1469 editions of the complete works (Strasbourg, Mentelin; Rome, Sweynheym and Pannartz). There is also an exquisitely illuminated vellum copy of the Aldine edition of 1501, the first book to be printed in italics. Of editions, translations and commentaries of Horace there are around 800 beginning with the Venetian edition of 1471/2.

The Homeric epics are represented by the first printing of Nicolaus de Valle’s Latin translation (Rome, 1474); the first edition in the original Greek (Florence, 1488) in a binding by Roger Payne; and an illuminated vellum copy of the Aldine edition of 1504. Of the many later editions, there are the first editions of Chapman’s English translations: Seaven Bookes Of The Iliades Of Homere, Prince Of Poets (1598), Homer’s Odysses (1614) and The Whole Works of Homer (1616); a large-paper copy of the six-volume first edition of Pope’s translation (1715–20); and the splendid three-volume Foulis Press edition of 1756–8. There is also a unique copy of a work once attributed to Homer, the Batrachomyomachia, probably printed by Thomas Ferrandusin Brescia in c.1474.

Many other Greek writers are represented by editiones principes. The Library holds a copy of the first ancient text printed in Greek, Aesop’s Fables, printed in Milan by Bonus Accursius around 1478. There are also first editions of Apollonius Rhodius, Callimachus, Euripides, Lucian of Samosata and the Greek Anthology were edited by the humanist scholar Janus Lascaris (c.1445–1535) and printed in Florence by Laurentius de Alopa between 1494 and 1496. However, few men made a greater contribution to the revival of classical scholarship than Aldus Manutius, whose Venetian press issued almost 30 editiones principes in the original Greek. The library holds the vast majority of these, including Aristotle (1495–8), Theocritus (1496), Aristophanes (1498), Thucydides (1502), Sophocles (1502), Herodotus (1502), Demosthenes (1504), Plato (1513), Aeschylus (1518) and Hippocrates (1526).

The Library holds extensive collections of works published in the Loeb and Teubner series of Classical texts.

See also:

Further information:

  • Recorded in Library Search.
  • The John Rylands Library, Catalogue of an Exhibition of the Earliest Printed Editions of the Principal Greek and Latin Classics and of a Few Manuscripts (Manchester, 1926).


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