Commerce with the Classics

Ancient Books and Renaissance Readers
Volume 20
Anthony Grafton
A distinctive history of the traditions of reading and life in the Renaissance library, as seen in the texts of Renaissance intellectuals


The style of reading in Renaissance Europe, as seen in the margins of books and in the texts of Renaissance intellectuals themselves, is deftly charted in this welcome volume from Anthony Grafton. Growing out of the Thomas Spencer Jerome Lectures that Anthony Grafton gave at the University of Michigan in 1992, this book describes the interaction between books and readers in the Renaissance, as seen in four major case studies.

Humanists Alberti, Pico, Budé, and Kepler, all major figures of their time and now major figures in intellectual history, are examined in the light of their distinctive ways of reading. Investigating a period of two centuries, Grafton vividly portrays the ways in which book/scholar interactions--and the established traditions that were reflected in these interactions--were part of and helped shape the subjects' Humanistic philosophy. The book also indicates how these traditions have implications for the modern literary scene.

Commerce with the Classics: Ancient Books and Renaissance Readers illustrates the immense variety of the humanist readers of the Renaissance. Grafton describes life in the Renaissance library, how the act of reading was shaped by the physical environment, and various styles of reading during the time. A strong sense of what skilled reading was like in the past is built up through anecdotes, philological analysis, and documents from a wide variety of sources, many of them unpublished.

This volume will be of special interest to Renaissance and intellectual historians, students of Renaissance literature, and classicists who concern themselves with the afterlife of their texts.

Anthony Grafton is Henry Putnam University Professor of History, Princeton University.

Praise / Awards

  • "What a good read! In this book Anthony Grafton answers well and eloquently the question of how (not why!) Renaissance humanists read the texts they so prized. . . . This study is also an excellent introduction to humanism and the humanists. Although Grafton crafts his work around the reading habits of five specific humanists . . . he ranges widely across the humanist pantheon to give depth and context to his observations about how humanists used and read their texts. . . . A short review can do scant justice to such a marvelous and illuminating book, one which will thrill specialists with its insights and elegance. Grafton's learning and wit sparkle throughout. . . . This is intellectual history at its best."
    --Louis Haas, Duquesne University, Historian, Fall 1999
  • "Anyone interested in Renaissance humanism, reading practices, and the difficult problems of interpreting the past should read this book. In its page, Renaissance readers come to life as complex individuals whose reading strategies changed as they matured and who skillfully adapted their approach to their goals."
    --Brian W. Ogilvie, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Journal of Modern History, June 2000
  • "In the dreary wastes of today's academic prose, seldom does one come across a book as immediately engaging as this one."
    --Anthony Esolen, Providence College, Providence: Studies in Western Civilization, Volume 4, No. 2, Spring 1999
  • "For centuries, people have been curious about the scholar's life. What precisely do such men an women do with the books that clutter their studies? And why do they do it? Why should it matter? . . . Anthony Grafton, a prodigious scholar of early modern reading practices . . . celebrates a Renaissance culture of gathering and consuming old books. . . . Using diaries, letters, marginalia, as well as details of the physical stuff of old books, Grafton does indeed recapture the excitement, confusion, and daring (as well as the sheer drudgery) of those early days of European classical scholarship. . . . At times, we can almost feel the dust, the smell, and the frustrating conditions of those old libraries, but we also can glimpse these men's sense of discovery, their passion, and their love of a well-made book."
    --Rebecca Bushnell, University of Pennsylvania, Renaissance Studies, Volume 13, No. 1, 1999
  • Winner: Sixteenth Century Studies Conference's 1998 Roland H. Bainton Book Prize

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 264pp.
  • 6 photographs.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Paper
  • 2020
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-03438-3

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  • $29.95 U.S.