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Senate House Library

Feature of the Month: Juvenal, Persius, Robert Estienne and the University of London


Written by
Dr Karen Attar

Iun. Iuuenalis Satyrae XVI
Juvenal and Persius
Paris: Robert Estienne, 1545
Bb [Juvenal] SR

As the greatest of the Roman satirical poets, Juvenal was no stranger to print by the time Robert Estienne printed his sixteen satires in 1545: indeed, the first four editions of Juvenal had appeared in the 1470s. The six satires of Aulus Persius Flaccus (AD 34-62), comprising 650 lines preaching Stoic morality for private life, had also been printed multiple times from 1480 onwards. But Robert Estienne’s production marked a high point.

Along with his son Henry, Robert Estienne (1503-1559) was one of the two most eminent scholar-printers of the sixteenth century. At the time of printing this book he was the King’s Printer to François I and was protected from having his work copied without authorisation. He had already produced some ground-breaking scholarly work, most notably with his Thesaurus linguae latinae (1531). This and his Latin-French dictionaries had a lasting impact on lexicography, and his critical editions of the Vulgate (1527-8) and the Hebrew Old Testament (1539-41) had established his reputation as a biblical scholar. His Greek New Testament, which blazed a trail as the first edition of the Bible to number the Bible verses, was yet to come (1551). Typographically, Estienne’s desire to perfect the shape of the letters he used led him to employ the leading Parisian punchcutter Claude Garamond (c.1510-1561), whose roman types have been important models from his own time to ours.

Estienne’s Juvenal is one of almost 500 separate editions he printed in Paris. It falls neatly into one of the five main categories in which he printed, namely classical books. (The other four categories were Bibles, philological works, books by contemporary authors (mainly humanistic scholarship) and educational texts.) The text is based on a new collation of ancient manuscripts, whose variant readings are recorded in an appendix -- the earliest Juvenal and Persius to print variants, and significant for that reason. The book is important in printing terms as an early example of a new italic type designed by Garamond, first used the previous year in the first volumes of Estienne’s nine-volume Cicero. This type imitated the italics introduced by Aldus Manutius at the beginning of the century to print cheap classical works. It represented Estienne’s desire, like Aldus’s, to print Latin classics in a compact form in convenient pocket editions for a low price to appeal to an educated lay public.

The book was a gift from the Antiquarian Booksellers Association as part of its national prize for a student book collector, awarded in 2017 to the University of London’s Astrid Khoo for her collection of monolingual Latin books. The 23rd title printed by Robert Estienne to join Senate House Library, it is our earliest edition of Persius, predating our next one (London, 1612) by over half a century, and our second-earliest edition of Juvenal, following a Venetian edition of 1510. The book will be useful for teaching purposes. Not only does Estienne’s output provide unusually late examples of books printed with spaces for coloured initials to be added by hand, but the book has been washed, leaving mere tantalising traces of annotations made by an unknown sixteenth-century owner.

Entrance into Senate House Library is not this copy’s first connection with the University of London. An inscription reads: “Ex libris W.D. Hogarth e Coll B.V.M. Winton Scholaris MCMXVIII”, showing that William David Hogarth (1901-1965), son of the archaeologist David George Hogarth (1862-1927), acquired the book one hundred years ago, in 1918, as a pupil at Winchester. William was to become Secretary of the Athlone Press, which functioned between 1948 and 1978 as the press of the University of London. Later the book passed into the hands of the eminent Hellenist professor John Barron (1934-2008), who was an academic at Bedford College, UCL and King’s College London before becoming Director of the University’s Institute of Classical Studies from 1984 until 1991. Not only did Barron serve as Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the University of London, but he was instrumental in setting up its School of Advanced Study.

About the author

Dr Karen Attar
Curator of Rare Books and University Art