The Birth of Italics, a talk by Randall McLeod, University of Toronto

April 4th 2016 @ 4:00pm
Lilly Library
1200 East Seventh Street
Lilly Library
Bloomington, IN 47405-5500
Randall McLeod using his portable collator

The 1501 Vergil, an octavo by the Venetian printer Aldo Manuzio, was the first book printed in italics, a fount he created in partnership with Francesco da Bologna, who is celebrated on the back of the title page, but with whom Aldo soon fell out.  The fount was immediately copied by Aldo's publishing rivals, as was his octavo format and his presentation of classical texts free of commentary, as well as his introductions--and even his name.  (There are many Aldine counterfeits.)  

Aldo's italic fount was characterized by a large number of ligatured sorts, which increased during the publications of this and subsequent titles. Through a forensic reading of the ligature distribution and, startlingly, of the five blank or mostly blank pages in this work, one can deduce detailed information about the schedule of production--which did not parallel the narrative order of the book. The lecture focuses specifically on this edition and those around it with which it has intimate connections, the 1501 Horace, 1502 Dante, and 1502 Statius; but, in general, it is informed by the tension between reading a book and gazing at it.  

Randall McLeod is the inventor of The McLeod Portable Collator, a stereoscopic device for rapidly comparing two copies of an edition for textual difference. His early textual criticism dealt with late-sixteenth and early-seventeenth-century English literature and its editorial tradition. For the past two decades he has worked chiefly with continental publications from the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries--the Hebrew publications of Estienne in Paris, and the Greek, Latin, and Italian publications of Manuzio in Venice. Two good introductions to his work are "FIAT fLUX" in Crisis in Editing, 1994, and "Fearful Asymmetry" in The Cambridge Companion to Textual Scholarship, 2013.

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9:00am - 6:00pm All hours


  • Building Access Front entrance facing Showalter Fountain is fully accessible. Building Access

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1200 E Seventh Street
Bloomington, IN 47405
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Joel Silver
Joel Silver - Director, Librarian
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