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Frets and Knots

Anthony Grafton, 4 November 1993

A History of Cambridge University Press. Vol. I: Printing and the Book Trade in Cambridge, 1534-1698 
by David McKitterick.
Cambridge, 500 pp., £65, October 1992, 0 521 30801 1
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... editors described by McKitterick rivals the severity shown at Oxford by John Fell, who rewrote Anthony Wood’s history of Oxford, studding it with insults directed at Thomas Hobbes.) Like us, they received proofs disfigured by monstrous errors, not all of which they succeeded in removing from the final books. And like us, they often had the chance to ...

Diary

Anthony Grafton: Warburg, 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 ...

What if it breaks?

Anthony Grafton: Renovating Rome, 25 November 2019

Engineering the Eternal City: Infrastructure, Topography and the Culture of Knowledge in Late 16th-Century Rome 
by Pamela Long.
Chicago, 369 pp., £34, November 2018, 978 0 226 59128 5
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... efforts to suppress the city’s courtesans had failed completely. The playwright and pamphleteer Anthony Munday, who visited Rome in 1579, dismissed the relics as ‘rotten bones, which they make the people credite to be the bones of Saintes’. Even the invitation to watch a Jesuit flagellate himself, and then to imitate him, left Munday unexcited. When the ...

Thank you for your letter

Anthony Grafton: Latin, 1 November 2001

Latin, or the Empire of a Sign: From the 16th to the 20th Centuries 
by Françoise Waquet, translated by John Howe.
Verso, 346 pp., £20, July 2001, 1 85984 615 7
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... 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’ – identify in-jokes and references to local and national events ...

Born to Network

Anthony Grafton, 22 August 1996

The Fortunes of ‘The Courtier’: The European Reception of Castiglione’s ‘Cortegiano’ 
by Peter Burke.
Polity, 209 pp., £39.50, October 1995, 0 7456 1150 8
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... 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 ...

From Norwich to Naples

Anthony Grafton, 28 April 1994

The Civilisation of Europe in the Renaissance 
by John Hale.
HarperCollins, 648 pp., £25, November 1993, 0 00 215339 4
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... 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 ...

Time Lords

Anthony Grafton: In the Catacombs, 30 July 2014

Heavenly Bodies: Cult Treasures and Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs 
by Paul Koudounaris.
Thames and Hudson, 189 pp., £18.95, September 2013, 978 0 500 25195 9
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... 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 ...

Locum, Lacum, Lucum

Anthony Grafton: The Emperor of Things, 13 September 2018

Pietro Bembo and the Intellectual Pleasures of a Renaissance Writer and Art Collector 
by Susan Nalezyty.
Yale, 277 pp., £50, May 2017, 978 0 300 21919 7
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Pietro Bembo on Etna: The Ascent of a Venetian Humanist 
by Gareth Williams.
Oxford, 440 pp., £46.49, August 2017, 978 0 19 027229 6
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... 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, 26 July 2017

Baroque Antiquity: Archaeological Imagination in Early Modern Europe 
by Victor Plahte Tschudi.
Cambridge, 320 pp., £64.99, September 2016, 978 1 107 14986 1
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... 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 inscription: ‘This is the holy place where St Eustachius was converted to Christianity ...

Those Limbs We Admire

Anthony Grafton: Himmler’s Tacitus, 14 July 2011

A Most Dangerous Book: Tacitus’ ‘Germania’ from the Roman Empire to the Third Reich 
by Christopher Krebs.
Norton, 303 pp., £18.99, June 2011, 978 0 393 06265 6
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... 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 own urine and faeces ...

Authors and Climbers

Anthony Grafton, 5 October 1995

Impolite Learning: Conduct and Community in the Republic of Letters, 1680-1750 
by Anne Goldgar.
Yale, 295 pp., £25, June 1995, 0 300 05359 2
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... 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 ...

Botticelli and the Built-in Bed

Anthony Grafton: The Italian Renaissance, 2 April 1998

Behind the Picture: Art and Evidence in Italian Renaissance 
by Martin Kemp.
Yale, 304 pp., £25, November 1997, 0 300 07195 7
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... 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?’ The 20th-century art historian Martin Kemp has spent his life reconstructing the techniques with which Italian Renaissance artists analysed and represented the natural world: the science of art, as he once called it ...

Signs of spring

Anthony Grafton, 10 June 1993

The Portrayal of Love: Botticelli’s ‘Primavera’ and Humanist Culture at the Time of Lorenzo the Magnificent 
by Charles Dempsey.
Princeton, 173 pp., £35, December 1992, 0 691 03207 6
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... Exactly a hundred years ago, Aby Warburg took a short walk on what proved to be a long pier. In his doctoral dissertation 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 Cosimo’s villa, Castello, and described them together ...

Not Dead Yet

Anthony Grafton: Latin, 8 January 2015

Latin: Story of a World Language 
by Jürgen Leonhardt, translated by Kenneth Kronenberg.
Harvard, 352 pp., £22.95, November 2013, 978 0 674 05807 1
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... 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 ...

He had fun

Anthony Grafton: Athanasius Kircher, 7 November 2013

Egyptian Oedipus: Athanasius Kircher and the Secrets of Antiquity 
by Daniel Stolzenberg.
Chicago, 307 pp., £35, April 2013, 978 0 226 92414 4
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Exploring the Kingdom of Saturn: Kircher’s Latium and Its Legacy 
by Harry Evans.
Michigan, 236 pp., £63.50, July 2012, 978 0 472 11815 1
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... 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 showed us his perpetual motions, catoptrics, magnetical experiments, models, and a thousand other crotchets and devices ...

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