The Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries

As early as the 14th century, refugees and voluntary exiles from Byzantium fled to the West to escape the Turkish domination of their homeland.  Many were well educated, and through their teaching, manuscript copying, and scholarship, they contributed materially to the advancement of Greek studies in Western Europe during the extraordinary intellectual flourishing of the Renaissance.  The monasteries of Mt. Athos in Greece also played an important role in the history of preservation and transmission of ancient texts.  For centuries monks laboriously copied cultural texts, especially books of theological learning.  In the period that followed the fall of Constantinople in AD 1453, scholars, writers and traders often visited Mt. Athos and obtained manuscripts that were later printed in Western Europe, particularly in Venice.

The publication of Greek texts was complex compared to the printing of Latin.  In addition to procuring copies of manuscripts, printers faced the challenge of designing Greek typefaces.  The first book printed in Greek, a grammar by Constantine Lascaris, was printed in Milan in 1476, less then 25 years after the Gutenberg Bible (the first printed book).  The first edition of Homer appeared not long after (Florence, 1488).  Aldus Manutius, the great Venetian printer, took on the task of printing 31 “first” editions in order to make original Greek texts known to the West.  Until then, they had been available only in Latin translations.  Thus dawned a new era in the study and dissemination of classical thought.  The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries also saw an increase in the publication of the writings of major Greek authors, often accompanied by scholia (scholars’ interpretive notes). 

Dictionaries in Greek and Latin also appeared during this time, and in 1572, a monumental five-volume work was printed that changed classical scholarship forever and ultimately inspired the work of today’s TLG Project (see item 6 below).