Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 40
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
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Firestone Library Exhibit Highlights Greek Treasures, Cultural History

Ellen Gilbert

Among the astonishing artifacts in the Princeton University Library’s new fall exhibition, “The Greek Book From Papyrus to Printing,” is a 1541 edition of Homer’s Works owned by the German humanist Martin Crusius. He acquired the volume in 1547 and evidence shows that he reread it again and again between 1559 and 1602 while serving as a Professor of Greek and Latin at the University of Tübingen. “He added dense layers of marginal and interlinear annotations in Greek and Latin,” observes the exhibit caption. “In these annotations we see Crusius working to understand, explain, and teach the Iliad and Odyssey.”

Such layers of information abound in this exhibit, which will be on view in the Main Gallery of Firestone Library through Sunday, December 7. Besides demonstrating the durability of Greek cultural history, the items in the exhibition — shards of pottery with words scratched on them, inscribed marble fragments, lead writing tablets, an ancient stylus, facsimiles of papyrus rolls, richly illustrated medieval manuscripts, and early printed books — document the processes (and the effects of these processes) used to communicate in writing from early times until the Renaissance.

Items in the exhibit represent historical narratives, religious writing, and business transactions of the day. Pages of eleventh-century Gospels from the Eastern Mediterranean are adorned with ornately patterned columns and frames. The great 15th century Venetian printer Aldus Manutius is represented, as is the 16th century Parisian printer Robert Estienne, son of Henri. A vernacular Greek version of the Iliad, published in 1526, and described as one of the most important Greek books of the Renaissance, lies open to one of its 137 woodcut illustrations: a very realistic looking Trojan Horse.

The library’s rich Hellenic holdings are largely the result of gifts from “private collectors like Robert Garrett (a member of the class of 1897), three generations of the Scheide family, and other generous alumni, who have helped build these collections in support of research and instruction of Princeton University,” said curator of Rare Books and Special Collections Don Skemer. The Scheide family of Titusville, Pa., and Princeton included William T. Scheide (1847-1907); John Hinsdale Scheide (1875-1942), a member of the class of 1896; and William H. Scheide, a member of the class of 1936.

Henry Putnam University Professor of History Anthony Grafton will mark the opening of the exhibition with a public talk on October 5, at 4 p.m. in 101 McCormick Hall. Sponsored by the Friends of the Princeton University Library, The talk will be on “Greek Books and Their Readers: From Antiquity to the Renaissance.” A reception in Firestone Library will follow.

Hours for the exhibition are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday; 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday, and noon to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

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