Quintus Horatius Flaccus (65–8 BC) Carmina 1501

May 1501

The Horace of May 1501 was the second of Aldus’s enchiridia, following the publication in April of a Virgil. Aldus may have found inspiration for his enchiridia series, and in particular both the Virgil and the Horace, from pocket-size manuscripts copied in humanistic cursive hand by the Paduan scribe Bartolomeo Sanvito for Bernardo and Pietro Bembo. From Aldus’s dedicatory letter to Pietro in the 1514 Virgil, we learn that Bernardo, by then in his early eighties but still very active, sharp-minded and generous in spirit, had agreed to lend his ‘libri portatiles’ to Aldus in view of new Aldine editions. It is therefore conceivable that Bernardo had done it before and that the elegant Horace copied by Sanvito for Bernardo (now King’s College Cambridge, MS 34) may have been among pocket-size books borrowed by Aldus from Bembo at the time of his first Horace, as suggested by the similarities in dimensions between the manuscript (165 x 102 mm) and Aldus’s 1501 edition (150 x ca 92 mm).

Sanvito’s humanistic cursive hand, of unrivalled sophistication and elegance, had been imitated by many of his contemporaries. As a consequence, by the end of the fifteenth century, the humanistic cursive had become a highly formalised book-hand, with fixed letter forms. The Italic type designed for the series by the punch-cutter Francesco Griffo, therefore, was not a slavish copy of the humanistic cursive of any known scribe, but rather the clever and free adaptation of a formalised script for typographic use.

Sel.6.47, fol. i7 recto