1.01 Why Terence?

In 1949 the Newberry Library of Chicago commissioned a study of its printing collection from two distinguished European typographers, Konrad Bauer (1903-1970) and Stanley Morison (1889-1967). The Newberry's John M. Wing Foundation on the History of Printing had been abuilding for some thirty years. The library's officers wanted to know how it measured up to comparable collections and what should be their next step in developing it. Among general observations about the existing collection and the market for antiquarian books that would likely feed its expansion, Bauer made several concrete recommendations, among them this one:

...a collection destined to illustrate the history and development of the printing craft cannot be governed from an exclusively aesthetic point of view. A collection like Wing should be able to exemplify the real output of the printing press [and] the changing conditions and achievements of the trade in the course of time and in various countries.... In this line ... a collection showing the various perceptions of one dramatic work could be imagined. Terence would probably be the most convenient topic. (1)

This opinion was seconded by Stanley Morison. Now, more than fifty years on, it is hard to imagine a world in which the second-century B.C.E. Roman comedian Terence had been printed so frequently and in so many formats as to be representative of "the real output of the printing press" over the long term, and harder still to imagine that Morison, Bauer, and the Newberry librarians could believe that so ancient and minor a text would provide useful specimens of everyday printing into the distant future. But the grip of Latin language and culture was still powerful in those immediate postwar years, and indeed the destruction of libraries in the second World War had led to a strong conservationist mentality in the Anglo-American book world. The great Latin authors seemed to be among the eternal verities worth saving for the future. (2)

However eternal these authors seemed in 1949, they had not always been so. Some esteemed authors had not survived the decline of the Athenian Academy, the fall of the Roman Empire, or the destruction of the great library at Alexandria. Others gained in stature or lost it during the Middle Ages. In the late fifteenth century, it was not at all clear which of the authors of the past were worth saving in the new medium of print. Terence's importance had waxed and waned through the Middle Ages. He did, however, survive the transition to print as well as changes in pedagogy that were in progress in the fifteenth century. Indeed, he was among that century's best sellers. (3) In this chapter we will see how his plays became a staple of educational printing in the Renaissance.


  • Open Bibliography
  • (1) Newberry Library Archives, James M. Wells Papers, subject files.
  • (2) Waquet 2001, 109-117, 195-206; Celenza 2004a, 28-49; Sanders1961; for this mentality at the Newberry at this period, Gehl and Zurawski 1993.
  • (3) Rhodes 1988; Milway 2000, 143.
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