4.02 Publishing Celebrity

Advanced scholarly works by Northerners in many fields had greater success on the Italian book market than textbooks, since Italians admitted easily enough that good advanced work could be produced anywhere good libraries were at the disposition of right-thinking (that is, humanist) scholars. This opinion had immediate resonance in the market for intermediate and advanced textbooks. For example, in the classroom scene that stands as frontispiece to the 1504 Venice edition of Terence with Five Commentaries, the Belgian-born Paris editor Josse Bade Ascensius is pictured to the right of a professorial Terence; he joins two ancient commentators and two moderns, one French and one Italian, in the stylized lecture hall that stands in here for the humanist republic of letters. Bade may have earned his place because he had studied in Italy; certainly none of the other Northerners of his generation ranked so high in the eyes of the Italian public. (2) But more importantly still, he was part of a humanist world without borders.

By contrast to this ideal, international world of advanced scholarship, much elementary school book publishing remained tied to local demand and local networks of patronage. Sixteenth-century Latin speakers thought globally but Latin teachers acted locally. There were repeated attempts to create an international market for textbooks for teaching Latin. Venice was the site of the first such marketing campaigns toward the end of the fifteenth century. Later, Basel, Lyon, Paris, and Antwerp would seek international markets. To some degree Venetian printers succeeded; they printed for the South German, Hungarian, and Dalmatian markets for example, and their books were influential throughout Europe. But this broad ambition was always counter-balanced by local interests and needs, expressed in markets where local teachers made choices. In chapter five we will explore one internationally successful elementary Latin grammar, that of Manuel Alvares, championed by the Jesuits.

Only a humanist celebrity like Erasmus (1467-1536) could expect his Latin school texts to be published in Italy promptly. And Erasmus, once his works became controversial and suspect of Lutheranism, slowly but thoroughly disappeared from the Italian market too. Even technical and pedagogical works that were never expressly forbidden (and which, indeed, contained nothing even remotely heterodox) went into eclipse as soon as Erasmus's name appeared in early indexes of forbidden books. Silvana Seidel Menchi has shown how selective and tendentious readings of Erasmus could indeed conduce to heterodoxy, and how, therefore, the authorities had every reason to worry about an author so widely read and anthologized. (3)

Surviving copies of Erasmus's educational works bear traces of ambiguous attitudes by the censors. His name was sometimes obliterated without actually censoring his work. Alternatively, long discursive passages from his pen might be excised without removing other sections also of his making. Early editions of Aldo Manuzio's grammar book proudly advertised that it included Erasmus's treatment of the parts of speech. Later editions included the same uncontroversial material but suppressed the title page mention; and many copies of the earlier editions have the name of Erasmus carefully blotted from the title page. (4) One copy of a 1567 Estienne anthology of Greek drama preserves the text of Erasmus's translation of Euripides in full, but the two leaves with his preface were cut out and his name was inked out in the running head on every page. None of this was mandated by the detailed instructions of the inquisitors; individual censors or censorious readers worked these changes. Other authors suffered even by association with Erasmus. A copy of Otto Brunfels's On Raising Children (De disciplina et institutione puerorum, a popular anthology of proverbs that merely claimed Erasmus and Rudolph Agricola as sources on its title page) was censored in Italy soon after its publication in 1530. (5)

Erasmus's school texts almost always included large doses of his particular brand of Christian moralizing. At least one edition of his version of the Distichs of Cato was the subject of an inquiry by the Inquisition because it was suspected of crypto-Protestantism. (6) The Colloquies, which he frequently revised and enlarged, was a playful dialogue intended to rehearse students in conversation. But it was also a manual on manners and morals and it contained a lot of good natured criticism of churchmen. It was condemned early but remained widely influential, even in Italy. (7) A larger and more wandering anthology like the Adagia, a commonplace book intended for learners of all ages, was even more problematic for censors in that they could not easily discern which of the moral teachings it embodied might smack of Lutheranism. Better to ban it outright, or at least discourage its sale.

The same suspicion of heresy that limited the reception of Erasmus's works in Italy affected other Northern authors from mid-century forward, even though grammar was not a field easily susceptible to heresy. His Latin grammar was often the first book a boy would own. To the considerable degree that humanist pedagogy insisted on the morally normative force of teaching Latin, these first books in Latin were considered important to the eventual formation of the student's character. (8) Even before the fear of heresy affected the Italian market, however, Northern authors were viewed as superfluous in the Italian-dominated field of elementary humanist education, suspect not of heresy but merely for being not-Italian, perhaps therefore coarse and un-Roman in speech, and certainly unsophisticated. As a result, the Italian market for grammar textbooks remained largely an Italian affair.


  • Open Bibliography
  • (2) On the iconography, Rozzo 1998, 43-44.
  • (3) Seidel Menchi 1987, 123-142.
  • (4) Manuzio 1543 and 1551; the copies at University of Illinois/Urbana-Champaign have title pages with this cancellation. On Aldo and Erasmus, Vanautgaerten 2008, 115-175.
  • (5) Aeschylus et al. 1567; Brunfels ca. 1530; both censored copies are at the Newberry Library. A thoroughly censored Terence 1545, which by association linked Erasmus with Melanchthon, Rivius, and Dolet, is the copy at the Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Milan.
  • (6) Adorni-Braccesi 1986, 582.
  • (7) Seidel Menchi 1987, 123.
  • (8) Marchetti 1975, 212-215; Seidel Menchi 1987, 122-25; Jensen 1998, 268-273.
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