Program in Hellenic Studies

“The Greek Book from Papyrus to Printing”

September 8 - December 7, 2008

Main Gallery, Harvey S. Firestone Memorial Library, Princeton University
Curated by Don C. Skemer, Curator of Manuscripts

Sponsored by the Friends of the Princeton University Library
and co-sponsored by the Program in Hellenic Studies

Cardinal Bessarion

In the annals of Western civilization, few cultures have have had a longer history than the Greeks. The fall exhibition will trace that long history, focusing on Greek book as a physical object and a repository of Western civiliza­tion over three millennia. On display will be some of the Princeton University Library’s greatest treasures, including important ancient papyri of Homer and the Bible, as well as other examples of ancient writing, chiefly from Roman Egypt; illuminated Gospels and devotional manuscripts, once in monastic libraries of the Byzantine Empire; manuscripts and early printed editions of classical texts, formerly in private libraries and in several cases annotated by leading Renaissance scholars; and illustrated liturgical books, travel guides, and other manuscripts produced for Greek communities in the Ottoman Empire.

The exhibition explores ancient writing materials and book forms; the evolution of script and libraries; the role of sacred books and libraries in the spiritual life of Byzantine monasteries, such as St. Catherine’s Monastery, Mount Sinai, Egypt, and St. Andrew of the Russians, Mount Athos, Greece; the preservation of ancient learning, especially during the Paleologan Renaissance; the migration of Byzantine scholars to Italy and their impact on Renaissance Hellenism in the West; and the survival of Greek cultural traditions and civilization under Ottoman rule, from the fall of Constantinople in 1453 until the Greek War of Independence. Also on exhibition will be some Greek antiquities and icons from the Princeton University Art Museum, and a series of photographs by Bruce White, taken in St. Catherine’s Monastery.

The Library is fortunate to have such rich Hellenic holdings because of private collectors like Robert Garrett (Class of 1897), three generations of the Scheide family, and other generous alumni, who have helped built these collections in support of research and instruction at Princeton University. In recent decades, the Library has worked closely with Princeton University’s Program in Hellenic Studies to enrich the holdings, with financial support from the Stanley J. Seeger Hellenic Fund, established through the generosity of Stanley J. Seeger, Class of 1952. Recent projects to improve access to papyri, medieval manu­scripts, and other materials in the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections have also facilitated this exhibition. Most important among these projects has been Greek Manuscripts at Princeton, 6th to 19th Centuries: A Descriptive Catalogue, by Sofia Kotzabassi and Nancy Patterson Ševčenko, with the collaboration of Don C. Skemer (to be published by the Department of Art and Archeology, in conjunction with the Program in Hellenic Studies, for distribution by Princeton University Press). This exhibition is organized in anticipation of the upcoming (2009-10) celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Stanley J. Seeger Hellenic Fund and the Program in Hellenic Studies.

The exhibition will run from 8 September to 7 December 2008 in the Main Gallery of the Harvey S. Firestone Memorial Library. The opening for Friends of the Princeton University Library will be on on Sunday, 5 October, beginning at 4:00 with a lecture in McCormick 101 by Professor Anthony T. Grafton, Department of History, “Greek Books and their Readers: From Antiquity to the Renaissance.” This will be followed by a reception in Firestone Library. Other public programs have been planned in conjunction with the exhibition. The Index of Christian Art has organized an international conference to meet at Princeton on 16 October, in conjunction with the Byzantine Studies Conference meeting in New Brunswick on the following days. Full program and further details are available on the Index website.  For more information about the Library exhibition, contact Don C. Skemer, Curator of Manuscripts.


Last updated 9/5/08