Anthony Grafton

Anthony Grafton teaches European history at Princeton.

What if it breaks? Renovating Rome

Anthony Grafton, 5 December 2019

Inthe last decades of the 16th century, Rome attracted visitors much as Moscow would in the 1920s and 1930s. Like Moscow, it was the centre of an international movement that sought to transform the world. Like Moscow, it provided spectacles for tourists and enclaves for foreign recruits, who were often warmly admired but never wholly trusted. And like Moscow, Rome was a Rorschach blot in...

Locum, Lacum, Lucum: The Emperor of Things

Anthony Grafton, 13 September 2018

In​ 1496 Pietro Bembo, a young Venetian scholar, published a short book on a long walk he had taken with a friend. Their hike led them from Messina, where the two of them had been studying Greek with Constantine Lascaris, to the top of Mount Etna. No one had seen a book like De Aetna. Mountains, though some curious thinkers had climbed them, were usually seen as fearsome and inhuman....

Invented Antiquities

Anthony Grafton, 27 July 2017

In​ 1661 Athanasius Kircher SJ made an archaeological discovery. He had gone to Tivoli, a town of villas and baths east of Rome, to restore his health and gather material for a book on the topography and history of the Lazio region. He was nearly sixty. Walking in the hills with a friend, he found a ruined church on a mountain. As he explored the ruin, he came upon a marble tablet with the...

Not Dead Yet: Latin

Anthony Grafton, 8 January 2015

On 22 May 1724​ James Logan, a wealthy Philadelphian fur trader, scientist and bibliophile, took a day trip with friends from London to Windsor. Big crowds accompanied them, and no wonder: they were making their way to a dramatic public occasion – a scientific counterpart to the hangings at Tyburn that drew enthusiastic spectators in droves in the same period. A solar eclipse was...

Time Lords: In the Catacombs

Anthony Grafton, 31 July 2014

On​ 31 May 1578, vineyard workers on the Via Salaria in Rome found a tunnel which led them to an early Christian burial site. They had opened the catacombs: the vast network of passages cut through the volcanic tuff outside Rome in which thousands of Christians, as well as Jews and pagans, were buried. The vineyard workers were not the first to spelunk in these artificial caves. In the...

He had fun: Athanasius Kircher

Anthony Grafton, 7 November 2013

Even in the middle years of the 17th century, when Athanasius Kircher’s career reached its peak, nobody knew exactly what to make of him. Descartes, who described him as ‘more charlatan than scholar’, classed his enormous erudite books among the many that he refused on principle to read. John Evelyn, visiting Rome in 1644, was impressed when ‘with Dutch patience, he...

Giambattista Vico knew that history began with the giants: the primitive men and women who lived after the universal Flood, and invented myth and poetry. More important, he knew why they had become so immense. The Jews, God’s holy people, had kept themselves cleanly, in accordance with divine commands, and had achieved only ordinary stature. But non-Jewish babies had played with their...

Thank you for your letter: Latin

Anthony Grafton, 1 November 2001

Every spring at my university’s Convocation, an undergraduate addresses the assembled students, parents and faculty in Latin. Parents receive a plain copy of the text, which few of them can read. Most of the students can’t read it either. But they receive a different, annotated version. Footnotes, always written in Latin – ‘hic ridete’; ‘hic plaudite’...

Diary: Warburg

Anthony Grafton, 1 April 1999

We have been in Hamburg for four months now, living above the shop – in the attic of the Warburg-Haus, where I am the visiting professor for Wintersemester 1998-99. This is the original home of what is now the Warburg Institute in London, the interdisciplinary centre for research in the history of the classical tradition created early this century by the brilliant, haunted cultural historian Aby Warburg. After more than half a century, the Warburg-Haus has come back to life as a centre for scholarship of a different kind, and in a different Germany.

The 17th-century antiquary John Selden spent his life deciphering Greek inscriptions and interpreting Near Eastern myths. No scholar of his time had more experience with the historical study of material remains; no one knew better how easily a modern intellectual can read too much into an ancient object. As he remarked one day, ‘It was an excellent question of my lady Cotton, when Sir Robert Cotton was magnifying of a shoe, which was Mose’s or Noah’s, and wondering at the strange shape and fashion of it: But Mr Cotton, says she, are you sure it is a shoe?’‘

Born to Network

Anthony Grafton, 22 August 1996

Anyone who teaches the High Renaissance in an American university knows how distant it has become. On first contemplating the nudes that fascinated tourists and connoisseurs for centuries, students shrug. Machiavelli and Guicciardini prove equally unexciting to young men and women who were born in the shadow of Watergate and are bored every night by the eleven o’clock news of Whitewater. They find nothing surprising in the assertion that great rulers cannot keep faith in the manner of ordinary people. Of all the alien worlds the teacher tries to call back to life, however, none seems more remote than that of the Renaissance court. True, students who read Burckhardt – as many still do – find nothing more fascinating than his accounts of courts and festivals. His analysis of how courtiers made their lives into works of art, consciously crafting every word and gesture to outdo their rivals and charm their superiors, fascinates those born less to be wild than to network.’

Authors and Climbers

Anthony Grafton, 5 October 1995

The sight that confronted the French Protestant d’Origny Delaloge when he left his London house at nine o’clock one morning in 1707 struck him as out of the ordinary. A fellow Huguenot, wearing a blond wig, a black suit with a damask vest and a hat with a rose on it, stood before the house and addressed him, first in English and then in French. He identified himself as Jean Le Clerc, the celebrated philologist and theologian from Holland who had edited the complete Latin works of Erasmus, produced a widely read periodical and written the first systematic modern manual of critical method, the Ars Critica. Explaining that he was travelling incognito, he nonetheless managed to reveal that he had come to occupy a chair in Oriental languages at Cambridge, his Latin inaugural lecture in his pocket. When Delaloge, who clearly found him impressive, invited him to dinner, Le Clerc spread himself in literary gossip, talking freely of the publishing houses and periodicals to which he enjoyed access. He even tried to appropriate a manuscript by Delaloge, which he promised to print in the Bibliothèque choisie. Only when foiled in this effort did Le Clerc finally leave, and even then he behaved oddly, insisting that he would walk after his puzzled host had called him a coach.

From Norwich to Naples

Anthony Grafton, 28 April 1994

On the sprawling, minutely detailed historical paintings of the contemporary German artist Werner Tübke, preachers and prostitutes, humanists and soldiers, animated zodiacal signs and Popes tortured by devils tumble, gallop and fly past the onlooker. The flamboyantly dressed soldiers, needle-sharp lances, Hills of Golgotha and Towers of Babel that fill his works are carefully reproduced from dozens of well-known Renaissance paintings. Within the swirling clouds of detail, juxtapositions suggest interpretations. Mining machinery and printing presses of the time, for example, appear as complementary causes of the dissolution of the medieval social order and the doomed rising of thousands of German peasants in 1525. But the real effect of Tübke’s work lies in its power to evoke, in unforgettable detail, a moment of seismic historical change.

Frets and Knots

Anthony Grafton, 4 November 1993

David McKitterick’s Printing and the Book Trade in Cambridge, 1534-1698 is the first of three projected volumes on the history of the book’s own publisher, the Cambridge University Press. Though the book stretches to 387 pages of text and almost another hundred pages of notes, it does not reach the point around 1700 when Richard Bentley reshaped the Press into a major player, as he tried to reshape Horace, Paradise Lost and Trinity College, where McKitterick is fellow and librarian. In the 1710s the appearance of Bentley’s Horace and Newton’s Principia on CUP’s list gave it extraordinary distinction. In the period that McKitterick addresses here, however, the University’s printers confined themselves to humbler tasks. Textbooks and tripos verses, dictionaries and almanacs, English Bibles, theological polemics and lawsuits against the London booksellers who regarded the existence of the Cambridge Press as an affront – these, not radical revisions of transmitted texts and world pictures, occupied the likes of Thomas Thomas and Cantrell Legge. Format and coverage conspire to make the book seem an exercise in that nostalgic obsession with the minutiae of the local past to which Cambridge dons succumb even more readily than their colleagues in other ancient seats of learning.’

Signs of spring

Anthony Grafton, 10 June 1993

Exactly a hundred years ago, Aby Warburg took a short walk on what proved to be a long pier. In his doctoral disseration on Sandro Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and Spring, he used fewer than fifty packed pages to analyse the two paintings. He treated them as a set because Vasari had seen them both at Duke Cosmio’s villa, Castello, and described them together. Two points in particular worried Warburg, one stylistic and one substantive. Why had Botticelli, a painter whose natural bent lay in the portrayal of still, dreamy figures, here used ‘bewegtes Beiwerk’, fluttering hair and clothing, to give a sense of violent motion and emotions? And why had Botticelli decided to depict original combinations of myths drawn from Classical sources, like the Homeric Hymns and Ovid’s Metamorphoses, on so grand a scale?

When the King’s printer Robert Barker produced a new edition of the King James Bible in 1631, he overlooked three letters from the seventh commandment, producing the startling injunction:...

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Things Keep Happening: Histories of Histories

Geoffrey Hawthorn, 20 November 2008

A story, as John Burrow says of his own History of Histories, is selective. It looks forward ‘to its later episodes or its eventual outcome for its criteria of relevance’. Hence a...

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Giovanni Pisano and Giotto are widely recognised as the founders of Renaissance sculpture and painting, and Brunelleschi of Renaissance architecture, but it was Leon Battista Alberti (1404-72)...

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It is a shame for a 16th-century historian to know nothing about astrology, but that has been my case, and I should think that of most others in this branch of the profession. I come across, say,...

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When Browning’s grammarian, grown old and bald and sick, was urged to get out of his cell and see a bit of life before he died, he replied that he still had work to do: ‘Grant I have...

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In one era and out the other

John North, 7 April 1994

The first great Scaliger problem is that of distinguishing between father and son. When Swift, in his Treatise on Good Manners and Good Breeding, insisted that fiddlers, dancing-masters, heralds...

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Well done, you forgers

John Sutherland, 7 January 1993

It is difficult to talk sensibly about literary forgery when one has to call it that. The term carries heavy legal baggage. Criminal forgery – in the form of counterfeit money or altered...

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Patrons

Peter Burke, 15 October 1987

‘Patrons are patrons,’ a citizen of Florence wrote to the Grand Duke, Ferdinando de’Medici, in 1602: ‘the patron is accountable to no one.’ But what exactly was a...

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Homage to Scaliger

Hugh Lloyd-Jones, 17 May 1984

Joseph Scaliger (1540-1609) was a towering figure in the history of European scholarship. During the first half of his career, he virtually created the systematic study of early Latin; during the...

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