Greek Classics

Editions of the Classical Greek authors were by far the largest single section (some 5,500 volumes) in Gennadius’s collection. A few of the earliest Greek books will suffice to demonstrate his passion for excellence. His copy of the Anthologia Graeca (Florence 1494), printed entirely in capital letters was handsomely illuminated. The Lucian, a massive folio volume (Florence, 1496) is one of two copies printed on vellum, the other being in the Laurentian Library at Florence. The famous Venetian press of Aldus Manutius became famous with his edition of the complete works of Aristotle, 1494-98; four of the five folio volumes in the Gennadeion set are still in their fine original bindings. The first purely Greek press, established in Venice by Nikolaos Vlastos, Zacharias Kalliergis, and Anna Notara, produced in 1499-1500 four of the most beautiful Greek books ever printed. The Library has three of these and some day we hope to acquire the fourth. The one Greek book coveted by all collectors, however, was the Homer printed at Florence in 1488. Gennadius, for all his zeal, was unsuccessful in obtaining one until 1914 (when he was 70); he paid for it four times as much as he had ever paid for any book. His copy, the “Pembroke” copy, is splendidly illuminated and is indeed a treasure.

The first dated Greek book, printed in Milan in 1476, is a Greek grammar entitled The Summary of the Eight Parts of Speech by Constantine Lascaris. It was still in use as late as 1850. The second dated Greek book, printed in Milan in 1480, was this same grammar, improved by adding a Latin translation in facing columns. Grammars and dictionaries were essential tools for young Italians eager to learn Greek, and such volumes account for at least one third of the 64 Greek books printed in the fifteenth century.

The works of the Greek grammarians Lascaris, Chrysoloras, and Theodore Gaza were constantly in demand down to the mid-1550, and the Gennadius collection includes nearly a hundred of these. As early as 1520, however, a substantial grammar was composed by Joannes Oecolampadius of Basel, and in 1530 Nicolaus Clenardus, a Flemish professor of Hebrew and Greek, brought out another, which became a standard for two hundred years. An extremely rare, although more modern, reference work is also of particular interest. This is the Grammar of Classical Greek, compiled in Modern Greek by Neophytos Vamvas for the students of the Public School of Chios, printed at the School Press in 1821. A few copies were sent abroad before the “massacre of Chios” destroyed the island. The Gennadeion’s copy is the one sent to Ambroise Firmin-Didot in Paris. Note should also be made of the section of the Greek Alphabet books: these spelling books form a set not easily to be found elsewhere. They are all exceptionally fine copies and in some cases unique.