So Spake Mo...
Teaching, that noble profession, has a curious effect on a curious mind. The rigorous study required to instruct, the enthusiasm necessary to convey that knowledge past the resistance of the pupil, all this can create a passion for a subject strong enough to change the world.
For a certain educator from Renaissance Italy, that passion drove him to a late-life career change from tutor to the wealthy to publisher. Like a modern-day Silicon Valleyentrepreneur, Aldus Manutius dropped his former life and with his investors launched a business based on a risky new technology: moveable type. Aldus did this with the goal of preserving the Greek classics in their original language, providing his contemporaries with access to the ancient wisdom that he and his
fellow humanist so valued.
In his Venetian workshop off the Campo San Agostin, this ambitious entrepreneur employed his“software developers” in the task of translating the flowing and unruly written language of the Greeks into a standardized type – an enormousInarchitecture to create and then hand carve from a language once calculated to posses approximately 1,300 accent and letter combinations.
Above the door of this workshop the frantic placard read:
“Whoever you are, Aldus earnestly begs you to state your business in the fewest words possible and begone, unless, like Hercules to weary Atlas, you would lend a helping hand. There will always be enough work for you and all who pass this
And these early, innovative technologies—like ours today—did not sell cheaply. But the market was ripe and the early adopters helped Aldine Press survive first a glut in the publications market and then the instability of the wartime market.
But then so did Aldus’s entrepreneurial mind. Because this is when he was pushed to adapt his products to meet the needs of the greater marketplace.
The “libelli portatiles” were born.
Adapting the devotional print format of the octvo (eighth sheet), stripping away the traditional weight of academic commentaries, and adding Aldine Press’s latest innovation: the new compact calligraphy of the italic, Aldus created the modern pocketbook, making his beloved classics available to the mobile class of Renaissance humanists.
Aldus released books from the study or the library and set them free to entertain and inspire the wider audience of the educated upper class.
And eventually, the rest of us.
So, from all of us who treasure that book we cradle by a fire on a chill winter night, or even the e-reader we thread through our fingers as we dangle from a handhold on the train, thank you, Aldus Manutius…
So Spake Me…
In any group, any culture, it is the stories that bind us. They hold our teachings, the collective intellectual and emotional knowledge that allow us to relate to each other and to the world around us with the same recognition of ideas, the same concepts of right and wrong.
It is no wonder that in our relentless drive to tinker and to create that we embarked in our infant societies on the odyssey of developing tools to capture and pass along these stories from person to person and from generation to generation.
We began simply.
Smears of crude paint changed to artistically stained stone that was to endure nearly 40,000 years.
Slowly, our representations of the world became representations of ideas and those representations turned to a symbology of sound. We tinkered, we created, we evolved our ingenious technology of story from the previous generation’s and gave it over to the next to continue the work.
Fingers soaked in plant juices against limestone…to chisels against marble…to quill against parchment. Our wonders of innovation.
We were relentless.
Rigid parchment changed to fine vellum, monks to publishers hand-carving their typeset works of art in loving detail. Weighty tomes lifted from their library podiums and settled into the palms of intellectuals.
Faster now, always faster.
Wood punches turned metal, turned to fleeting electrons, massive reels of pulped paper transformed to light against polarized glass.
We reach further and further even now.
Pigmented pixels flashing their positive or negative colors to illuminate a modern manuscript. Pages beyond counting fit easily into a pocket, a purse.
So many stories.
We are so many voices now. More to know than can be drunk in one lifetime. All available with the click of a button, 40,000 years of human wisdom and folly. 40,000 years of clever minds developing new technologies to carry our stories forward, to preserve them, to save the soul of our society for children existing in an unimaginable distant future.
We storytellers, we tinkerers, we are not capable of stasis.
We bring change in our wake. The thoughts, the technologies of the times before ours were not more pure than our own, but rather left the same wake in seas of their days as we complain of and revel in now.
So leave a trailing electric field across the glass as you flip through Aldus Manutius’s beloved Aristotle, paint motion in the invisible glow of an infrared laser as you wander amongst the long-ago revelers at a Shakespearean play. Gaze with fascination at the broad and the narrow gap between the times and minds that brought us here.
And imagine with wonder where our hands will reach to when we stand on the shoulders of 40,000 years worth of genius.
Aldus Manutius: Printer and Publisher of Renaissance Venice
The Rough Guide to Venice and the Veneto
Aldus Manutius, scholar-printer (c.1445-1515)
Answers: Aldus Manutius
The Story of Place