History of Greek Printing

Joannes Gennadius, the Greek Collector

The collections of the Gennadius Library reflect the interests of its founder. A passionate bibliophile and collector, Joannes Gennadius was interested in the book as a rare specimen, in rare and first printed editions, elaborate bindings, manuscripts and incunabula, but also in works of art.          

His 116 scrapbooks reflect the spirit of collecting of his time and are rich in information about the history of modern Greece. The catalogs he prepared for the Gennadius Library as well as the very books he collected in which he attached clippings from newspapers, auction catalogues, and autograph notes are significant bibliographic and historical resources for research.

Joannes Gennadius’s library focused on the history of Hellenism and the Greek book, topics that are reflected in the rich collection of Greek editions from the origins of Greek typography until the 20th century but also in the significant collection of Greek bibliographies and relevant studies.

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15th century, the Beginning of the Greek Printed Book

The invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg in 1455 and the exodus of many Greek scholars to the West following the capture of Constantinople by the Turks in 1453, were the basis on which Greek typography was born and developed.

The need of Western Europeans for learning the Greek language in order to understand the manuscripts containing Greek classical texts brought several Greek scholars to the West. Manuel Chrysoloras, Theodore Gazis, George of Trebizond, John Argyropoulos, cardinal Bessarion, Constantine Lascaris, Manuel Moschopoulos, Demetrius Chalcondyles of Athens, Andronicus Callistus, Marcus Musurus and Justin Dekadyos, taught in famous Italian universities and academies as well as the courts of strong Italian rulers. They translated the Greek classical authors into Latin, and did all the editorial work for the first books of ancient Greek literature.

After Latin and German, Greek was the first language to be engraved in movable typefaces. The first Greek phrases appear in Latin books and the first Greek typefaces were designed by Western artisans, so they were reminiscent of Latin fonts. Subsequently the "early Greek writing" made its appearance; it was not based on existing Roman types but on the Greek manuscript tradition, while in 1494 the printer Aldus Manutius introduced cursive writing, which was based on the handwritten script of his era with clusters of letters, abbreviations etc.

The first Greek printing press was founded in Venice by Laonikos the Cretan or Nikolaos Kabbadatos and the Cretan Alexander (son of the Protopapas of Candia, George son of Alexander). Another printing shop in Venice was founded by two Cretans, Zacharias Calliergis and Nikolaos Vlastos, supported by Anne Notaras, but it operated only for two years (1499-1500).

Among the 40,000 incunabula editions that were released in the West in the 15th century, only 70 are Greek; they were mostly printed by Westerners typographers in Italy. Almost all incunabula served the educational programs of schools and academic centers, within the broad humanistic intellectual movement. So, the first Greek printed incunabula are grammar books such as Manuel Chrysoloras’s Erotemata and the Epitome of the Eight Parts of Speech of Constantine Lascaris. The only exceptions were three editions of the Psalter and a Book of Hours.

In their original form printed books resembled manuscripts. Besides typefaces based on handwritten scripts, incunabula do not have a title page but a colophon on the last page with information on the editor and printer, the time and place of publication.

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The Development of “Greek” Typography

In the 16th century the form of the book evolved and a title page replaced the colophon. Gradually, the Greek production of books was geared to the Greek world of the Eastern Mediterranean. Apart from the publication of classical texts intended for Western readers and scholars, a significant typographical activity developed intended to meet the needs of a Greek audience. This is evident from the printing of liturgical books, translations of classical texts in demotic Greek and Greek vernacular texts that were often either translations of or based on Western models.

From 1515 Zacharias Calliergis continued his editorial activity in Rome, where he founded the first Greek printing press and issued the first, annotated, edition of the Odes of Pindar. His main editorial production in the following years were Latin texts for local consumption, but Calliergis did also issue two Greek books: the Oktoechos (1520) and the Lexikon of the Italian Hellenist, Guarino Favorino (1523). Meanwhile, the important Greek scholar Janus Lascaris had joined the circle of humanist Pope Leo X, who was persuaded in 1513 to set up a Greek College in Rome for Greek students who wanted to pursue higher education. Lascaris founded the printing house of the Greek College, where he published Greek books to enhance the curriculum, such as Scholia on Homer’s Iliad (1517), Homeric Issues (1518) and Scholia on the Tragedies of Sophocles (1518).

The presence of Andrea Cunadis in Venice, and his collaboration with the Italian brothers da Sabbio, proved a catalyst for the establishment of a long-lived Greek printing house that made Venice the center of Greek publishing business until the 19th century. After being an apprentice at the printing press of Aldus Manutius and meeting the brothers da Sabbio, Cunadis joined forces with Stefano da Sabbio and established a printing house where he published his first book, the Psalter in 1521. After the death of Cunadis in 1523, the publishing house would pass into the hands of his father-in-law Damiano di Santa Maria, who in conjunction with the da Sabbio brothers continued the firm's production. The brothers Giovanni and Petro da Sabbio issued the Typikon kai ta Aporreta in 1545, the first version of the typikon of the Eastern Orthodox Church. The edition displays the typographical mark of Cunadis (a ferret within a shield).

Besides religious books, they also issued many literary works of Cretan literature, which at the time was blossoming, such as the History of Tagiapiera, the Mourning Death, Apollonios and others. The typographical mark of Cunadis and the title of the printing house "Typos Kounadou" would be in use until 1600 by the descendants of Damiano.

It is worth mentioning that the cooperation of Cunadis, Damiano di Santa Maria and Da Sabbio, which produced liturgical books and pamphlets with popular readings, changed the framework of Greek typography.

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The Diffusion of Greek Typography - Religious Controversies

In the 17th century Venice continued to produce most of the Greek books. The most important Greek printing press belonged to Nikolaos Glykys (Sweet), a merchant from Ioannina, who bought it from Orsino Albrizzi. His name first appears in the Horologion of 1670, which he published in collaboration with Albrizzi. The most productive period of the printing house was between 1774 and 1820. Most of the books that he published were religious in content due to the high demand from the Orthodox East, but the press also issued some scientific and literary works.

The Greek book had the potential to stir religious controversy and religious propaganda. During the Ottoman period some of the liturgical religious books were also used as textbooks. At the beginning of the 17th century there had been attempts to introduce Greek typography in the center of the Orthodox world, Constantinople, but for political reasons associated with religious conflicts in the era of the Counter-Reformation, these efforts failed. To counter the propaganda of the Catholic Jesuits and the Counter-reformation, Patriarch Cyril Lucaris (1572-1638) founded, in collaboration with the educated monk Nicodemus Metaxas (1585-1646), a printing house in Constantinople, which operated for only a couple of years (1627 to 1628) before it was closed down by the authorities. A hundred years would pass before Greek typography would be reactivated again in Constantinople.

Greek printing presses were established in various parts of the Ottoman Empire. Special printing activity developed in the principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia. The towns of Iasi and Bucharest became centers of religious books against Catholicism and Protestantism after Venice forbade the publication of books of this kind within its borders.  During the 18th and 19th centuries Greek printing houses were established in Smyrna, in Moschopolis, on Mount Athos, in Kydonies and Chios.

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Modern Greek Enlightenment and Printing

The intellectual movement known as Modern Greek Enlightenment started in the middle of the 18th century. Greek merchants and scholars came into contact with the spirit of Enlightenment in Western Europe. In a short time, numerous philosophical and scientific works were translated into Greek. As a movement that was geared to subjugated people, the main ideological objective of the Greek Enlightenment was the cultivation of a national consciousness and the creation of the necessary conditions for a free nation; of utmost importance was the improvement of Greek education.

Among the major figures of the Greek Enlightenment were Methodius Anthracite (1660-1736), Eugenios Voulgaris (1716-1806), Iosipos Moisiodax (1725-1800), Adamantios Korais (1748-1833) and Rigas Feraios (1757-1798). Of great importance was also the establishment of a school at Milies on Mount Pelion in 1814 by three scholars, who were clerics and followers of the Enlightenment: Anthimos Gazis, Grigorios Konstantas and Daniel Filippidis. 

An important means for the intellectual success of the Greek Enlightenment was the printing activity of the Greek diaspora in areas where there was economic growth. The last important production center of Greek books before the Greek Revolution was Vienna, where Greek printing houses were active from the mid-18th century until the late 19th century. The Greek community of Vienna supplied money and books to promote the movement of the Greek Enlightenment. However, the most important representative, Adamantios Korais, lived and published his works in Paris.

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Printing and the Greek Revolution

The role of the pre-revolutionary press was crucial because it contributed to the development of a Greek national consciousness and the revolutionary spirit which were prerequisites for the struggle for freedom. The springboard for the appearance of the first Greek newspapers were the numerous printing presses that were owned or managed by diaspora Greeks.

The heart of this typographic activity was Vienna, where the first Greek newspaper was printed in 1784 by George Ventotis from the island of Zakynthos; unfortunately, no issue of this newspaper has survived. In 1790 the Ephemeris of Markidon Pouliou, who had founded a printing press and were associates of Rigas Feraios. In 1811 the printer J. F. Hall published the newspaper News for the East Parts originally edited by Eufronio Popovic from Kozani and later on by Dimitrios Alexandridis. Vienna was also the place of publication of another two major journals: in 1812 J. F. Hall and Dimitrios Alexandridis published the newspaper Greek Telegraph and in 1811 a major literary magazine Hermes the Scholar, while in 1817 Alexandridis issued an independent publication, the Literary Telegraph. Finally, in 1819 Athanasius Stageritis published the journal Kalliope. During the same period, the journals Athena and Melissa (the Bee) were issued in Paris and Iris and Museum in London.

The press of the years 1811-1821, mostly literary, became an expression of the spiritual interests of the Greek intelligentsia and of the wider cultural and social goals in the period just before the Greek Revolution.

No printing press existed on mainland Greece in 1821. The printing houses of Kydonies and Chios were destroyed by the Turks in 1821 and 1822 respectively, while the English Commissioner prohibited printing houses of the Ionian Islands from providing any assistance to revolutionary Greece. Demetrius Ypsilantis brought to Hydra a printing press from Trieste, which was used in various places until it reached Kalamata in 1821. It was operated by the printers Konstantinos Tompra, who used to work in the printing press in Kydonies in Asia Minor, and Anastasios Nicolaides. The printing press was named National Typography; among its first products were revolutionary proclamations as well as the first newspaper in Greece, the Greek Salpinx (Trumpet). To serve the needs of the administration, the printing press was moved in 1822 to Corinth where a second press was also sent from Livorno. That same year, two major editions of the Provisional Regime of Greece were printed in Corinth. Meanwhile, in 1821 Alexander Mavrocordatos brought a third press from France to Missolonghi; it was operated by Paul Patrikios in 1823. This was the press where in 1824 the Swiss philhellene Jacob Meyer issued the Greek Annals. With hardware sent from France by Firmin Didot, a printing house was founded in Hydra in 1824, where the newspaper The Friend of the Law was published. In 1823 Colonel Leicester Stanhope, representative of the Philhellenic London Committee, came to Missolonghi with the order to meet Lord Byron and to bring along four presses, two printing presses and two lithographic presses, to be used wherever there were needed. In one of Stanhope’s presses in Missolonghi, Demetrius Menestheneus printed in 1825 the Hymn to Liberty of Dionysios Solomos. Meyer and Menestheneus continued their activity until their death at the exodus of Missolonghi in 1826. One of the two lithographic presses of Stanhope ended up in Nafplio; together with the press of Mavrokordatos it became the core of the Printing House of the Administration. The second of Stanhope's printing presses was transferred to Athens; out of this printing press came the Ephemeris of Athens since 1824 and the first Athenian book, the Lyrics and the Bacchics of Athanasios Christopoulos in 1825. The printing press was destroyed during the conquest of Athens by the Turks in 1827.

From 1828 onwards private printing houses were created in various parts of Greece and Greek typography became consolidated in the newly established Greek State.

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Greek Education and Printing in the 19th century

During the Ottoman period, Greeks were educated in local schools, but also in large educational establishments, created with the financial support of the Greek diaspora under the support and guidance of the Church. Although the Greek schools covered an extensive geographical area, they were not part of a single organized educational system. The contribution of the Greek Enlightenment was significant for Greek education in the 18th century, a period during which Greek translations of philosophical and scientific writings were published. This was also the first time that Greek alphabet books were printed.

One of the first actions of the newly established Greek State was the organization of the Greek educational system. In 1829 Governor Ioannis Kapodistrias founded the Orphanage of Aegina for children who were orphaned because of the war. The Model School (Protypo Scholeio), which trained teachers for co-educational schools, was combined with the Orphanage. In addition, Kapodistrias founded the Central School "for those who had the desire to excel in the teaching profession" and for the young people who wanted to pursue higher studies.

Schools were founded in Syros, Nafplion, Athens and Hydra. There were also professional schools, such as the Central Naval School of Nafplion, the Ecclesiastical School of Poros, the Agricultural School of Tiryns and the Commercial School of Syros.

In collaboration with the Commission for matters of Education, governor Kapodistrias provided as much as possible for the equipment of schools and issued decrees for their proper organization and operation. 

During the reign of Otto elementary schools were founded in all municipalities with compulsory school attendance for children over six years of age. The Greek educational system was organized along the lines of the Bavarian system, with a cycle of basic compulsory education and two different cycles of secondary education.

During the governance of Kapodistrias, the Printing House of the Administration was renamed National Printing House; its name was changed into Royal Printing House with the advent of King Otto. The first products of these printing houses were decrees, notices, announcements, legal texts but mostly textbooks and other educational books to meet the needs of Greek students. Athens, Nafplion, Aegina, Syros and Hydra became important printing centers. All textbooks were produced by the Royal Printing House, until a decree of 1838 permitted the printing and distribution of books by other printers-publishers. In Athens the printing and distribution of textbooks was reserved exclusively for the printers Andreas Koromilas and K. Garbola.

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Modern Greek Literature and Typography

The origins of Modern Greek literature date back to Byzantine texts in the vernacular, such as Digenis Akritas and the poems of Ptochoprodromos, which survived thanks to a long manuscript tradition and played an important role in the formation of Greek literary production after the fall of Constantinople in 1453. 

During the late Byzantine period and until the Greek Revolution of 1821 important centers of literary production developed in Crete (known as the Cretan Renaissance), in the Ionian Islands and in Cyprus, all areas under Latin rule. At the same time, the Phanariots and emerging merchants played an important role in the Modern Greek Enlightenment and the spiritual renaissance of the areas under Turkish rule.

The printing of literary works in the Greek vernacular responded originally to the recreational needs of the Greek diaspora. By the 16th century, printing allowed the spread of literary works in the demotic Greek and contributed to the creation of a Greek cultural identity.

Greek publishing flourished where there was a concentration of a Greek population. Pamphlets with popular readings were first been printed in Venice in the 16th century. The first work that was published in 1509 was Apokopos, followed by the Rimada of Alexandros, the Rimada of Velissarios, Imperios, and Apollonios.

The Venetian publishing house of Giuliani published for the first time the Erofylli of Georgios Hortatzis (1637) while Antonio Bortoli printed for the first time the Erotokritos of Vitsentzos Kornaros/Vincenzo Cornaro (1713). Until the end of the 18th century, the majority of publications were religious dramas in rhyme, but also the rendition of foreign novels into the demotic Greek.

With the creation of an independent Greek State in 1830, literature blossomed. Greek writers followed European literary movements while they exploited various elements of the Greek literary and intellectual tradition in order to cultivate a national consciousness and to promote education. Translations of masterpieces of European literature were published throughout the 19th century. In the last decades of the century, Greek and European scholars such as Konstantinos Sathas, Spyridon Lambros, Wilhem Wagner and Emile Legrand published the Byzantine literary works in the vernacular highlighting their important position in the genesis of Modern Greek literature.

Throughout the 19th century, literary texts were published by the National Printing House and private publishing houses such as those of Koromila or Estia, which issued the works of important Greek writers, such as Andreas Kalvos, Aristotle Valaoritis, Demetrius Vikelas, Georgios Vizyinos, Alexandros Papadiamantis, and others.

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