Guide to the Research Collections

- Section -- II: -- THE HUMANITIES


In 1854 the Greek and Latin literature department of the Astor Library was described as "neither a very strong nor a weak department of the Library: it is just about as it ought to be. The whole number of volumes, in both languages, with the apparatus criticus pertaining to them, is three thousand one hundred."1 The growth of the collections in this area is shown in the following tabulation:

1854 Astor Library3,100 volumes
1921 New York Public Library7,677

In 1868, W.B. Astor gave the Astor Library $5,000 for additions to the Classical Department. In 1884, Felix Astoin's gift of his library added important works. The Lenox purchase of the George Bancroft collection in 1894 increased the holdings of Greek and Latin literature by some 500 volumes. In 1924 the library received a gift of $1,000 from Mrs. Charles H. Russell and Mrs. Conrad Chapman to establish the Charles Howland Russell Fund, the income to be used for the purchase of books relating to classical literature, history, and Mediterranean antiquities. Among the treasures unearthed by Arthur A. Schomburg, the renowned collector and first curator of the Schomburg Collection, were volumes of Juan Latino's Latin verse (Granada, 1573) and his book on the Escorial (1576). Wilberforce Eames's bequest of manuscripts in 1940 included copies of the classics. The collections have continued to grow under a policy of comprehensive acquisition.

The holdings, now approximately 15,900 volumes, include histories, critical works, and various standard editions of authors both in the original languages and in translation; the selection, however, of contemporary editions is limited to those making notable contributions to scholarship, and textbooks are seldom acquired. Classical journals, both literary and philological, are an important feature. The library receives approximately 45 journals in the field of classical studies, including the related fields of classical archaeology, epigraphy, etc. Among them are Hermes (1866- ), Maia (1948-), and the Classical Journal (1905-). Standard sets of the classics are also available. The Loeb Classical Library is located on the shelves of the North Main Reading Room. Although the Bibliotheca Teubneriana is not complete, gaps are being filled as the set is reprinted or republished under its new title, Bibliotheca Scriptorum Graecorum et Romanorum Teubneriana.

The strength of the classical literature collection cannot be estimated without reference to other sections of this Guide. Works by classical historians are discussed in chapter 49; the rich classical folklore holdings, excepting Aesop, are described in chapter 40; classical archaeology in chapter 45; and the works of the Greek philosophers in chapter 18.


A notable feature of the collections is the number of standard translations of the classics into the major European languages, as well as translations into other languages such as Esperanto and Icelandic. Translations into the English form the largest group. First editions of many of these translations can be found in the Berg Collection and in the Rare Book Division.

Called by Moses Coit Tyler "the first utterance of the conscious literary spirit articulated in America,"2 George Sandys's translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses is represented in the library by copies of each of the first eight editions of the entire fifteen books (1626-90). Two-thirds of the translation was made on Sandys's voyage to Virginia and in Virginia itself, where he acted as treasurer of the colony.


From the Astor Library comes an editio princeps Homer (Florence, 1488) and Anthologia Graeca (Florence, 1494). Many of the 150 Aldine editions in the library are classical works; 65 date from the period 1494 to 1515 when the press in Venice was under the management of Aldus Pius Manutius. The Greek titles include an Aristophanes (1498), a Sophocles (1502), a Homer (1514), and an Aeschylus (1518). Among Latin authors are Virgil, Horace, and Martial, all of 1501, an Ovid (1502), and a Cicero (1512).


The Manuscripts and Archives Division owns copies on paper of Aesop, Hesiod, and Lucan's Pharsalia dating from the fifteenth century. In 1940 a bequest by Wilberforce Eames brought twenty-three manuscripts to the library, including in the classical texts Cicero, Terence, Sallust and Eutropius. A vellum Horace Opera in the Spencer Collection is ascribed to the calligrapher Bartolomeo San Vito of Padua and dated in-the late

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fifteenth century. It combines elegant penmanship with beautifully illuminated letters, borders, ornaments, and incidental decorations. A manuscript Aesop in the Spencer Collection is described in the following section.


Of particular significance are the many translations of Aesop's Fables. There are translations into a great many languages, and even transcriptions into shorthand. A fifteenth-century manuscript on paper, the gift of John Jacob Astor, is in the Manuscripts and Archives Division. Aesopic incunabula in the Rare Book Division include a Naples editio princeps in Latin and Italian of 1485 (the Tuppo Aesop) with fine woodcut borders. Also in the division is the Aldine edition of 1505 in Greek with a Latin translation.

The Spencer Collection, with its emphasis on fine illustrated books, has added the greatest number of rare Aesopic editions to the collections, including a splendid manuscript of about 1500, written in Greek with innumerable miniatures in the style of Florentine book illumination of the Renaissance. Among the many illustrated Aesops are the Italian (Milan, 1498) and German (Basel, 1500?) editions; also fine copies of the polyglot editions (French, English, and Latin) illustrated by Francis Barlow and published in 1666 and 1687 are to be found. John Ogilby's editions of Aesop with copper plate engravings are also notable; the 1651 edition in quarto is the rarest, although the 1665 folio edition is the most elaborately illustrated.3 A copy of Zhitie ostroumanova Esopa (The Life of Sharp-Witted Aesop) is illustrated with lubki, the Russian equivalent of French imagerie populaire: it is an eighteenth-century abridgement of the fictionalized life of Aesop (ca. 1300) by Maximum Planudes.4 Among the Japanese holdings is the Isoho Monogatari, the earliest printed Oriental Aesop, dated 1659 and including both the life and the fables.


The neo-Latin collection has received greater attention in recent years as a result of the revival of interest in this field of studies after about 1945. New editions and critical studies are added to the resources as they are issued.

Medieval and modern Greek literature are adequately represented in the holdings. Collecting interest in this field was slight during the 1920s to the late 1950s, when greater emphasis began to be placed on the acquisition of modern Greek literary material. Although no attempt has been made to fill gaps, new editions of older works are purchased as they appear. Literary history and philology are more fully represented than belles-lettres.