Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Aldus Manutius: Printing Terror?

Aldus Manutius

Aldus Manutius, the 16th-century Venetian printer of "libelli portatiles, or portable little books," must have been quite the terror, for in "A Tribute to the Printer Aldus Manutius, and the Roots of the Paperback" (NYT, February 26, 2015), Jennifer Schuessler tells us that he posted the following warning on the front door to his printing shop:
"Whoever you are, Aldus asks you again and again what it is you want from him . . . . State your business briefly, and then immediately go away."
Perhaps he can be forgiven such an attitude, given his series of firsts:
Aldus was the first to print Aristotle, Thucydides, Herodotus and Sophocles, among others in the Greek canon. He was possibly the first printer to compare manuscripts to arrive at the most reliable text. He was the first to use italic type. He was the first to use the semicolon in its modern sense.
Even more impressive . . .
. . . were the unwitting firsts, like what may be the earliest known version of "This page left intentionally blank," preserved in a 1513 edition of . . . Greek orators . . . along with instructions to the binder to remove the extra leaf.

"He printed the instructions in Latin and Greek . . . . But of course bookbinders couldn't read Latin or Greek."
Despite his being a holy terror, Mantius suffered competition with counterfeiters:
Things got so bad that in 1503 he printed a broadside warning consumers of the telltale marks of fake Aldines, including specific textual errors, low-quality paper with "a heavy odor" and typography that exuded, as he put it, a sort of "Gallicitas," or "Frenchiness." (Many counterfeits came from Lyon.)

"The counterfeiters just said, 'Thank you very much,' corrected their errors, and kept printing fakes."
At least they were polite . . .

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