Tragoediae, vol. 2

Venice: Aldus Manutius, 1503, 8°
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library, PML 1328

Steadfast in his commitment of bringing hitherto unpublished Greek classical texts to the knowledge of Italian and European scholars, in 1503 Aldus published eighteen tragedies by the Greek dramatist Euripides. only four of them had been published to the date (Medea, Hippolytus, Alcestis and Andromaca, Florence: Lorenzo [Francesco] de Alopa, before June 1495; istc, ie00115000); the last one (Hercules furens) does not appear in the index since it was only found by Aldus when printing was almost concluded. As works in verse, they were published in two volumes in the series of pocket-size books of works by classical and modern poets conceived by Aldus for the leisure reading of his socially and culturally more sophisticated clientele (see dedicatory letter to Marin Sanudo in the 1501 edition of Horace; G. orlandi, in Aldo Manuzio editore 1975, I, p. 52, II, p. 233). The smaller format of these books, defined by Aldus as “enchiridia” (“that can be held in hand”; G. orlandi, in Aldo Manuzio editore 1975), made them easy to carry while travelling and to read without a bookrest. The revision of the texts by the Cretan Johannes Gregoropoulos should have ensured their quality, although the result was not up to par with the expectations of scholars. Readers for pleasure, on the other hand, were facilitated in reading by the uniform simplicity of the characters – the fourth and final set of Greek italic type designed and engraved for Aldus by Francesco Griffo and already employed for the edition of Sophocles tragedies published the previous year (Barker 1992, pp. 59– 61). Thanks to this new typeface, the Greek verse is laid out on the pages with the same clarity and beauty as the verse by Virgil and Horace, Petrarch and Date in previous editions – hence making this edition another commercial success for Aldus.

The oblong format confers to this and all other Aldine in octavo editions a singular graceful and agile appearance, reminiscent of the small humanistic manuscripts produced in the late fifteenth century by Bartolomeo Sanvito for aristocratic clients such as Bernardo Bembo, from which Aldus claimed to have taken inspiration (cat. 36). Book scholars have associated the harmonious proportions of Aldine in octavo editions with the “divine proportions” of the “golden ratio” illustrated by Pacioli in his 1509 treatise (cat. 78); they have often wondered if and which of the four formats of paper manufactured at the time was employed by Aldus for obtaining his unusual format. The intonsa copy (namely one never trimmed by the binder) of the second volume of Euripides of the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York has provided the measurement (approx. 350 × 420 mm) of the sheet of paper used to print each of the quires of the book, thus confirming the hypothesis that for his octavo volumes, Aldus commissioned a paper of unusual dimensions: narrower than mezzana paper and therefore denominated by scholars as “mezzana stretta” (Needham 1994a, pp. 302–305; Fahy 1996).

Catalogues: edit16, cnce 18373; Renouard 1834, p. 43, no. 10; Scapecchi 2013, p. XXV, no. 70.

Laura Nuvoloni