He received a scholar's training, studying Latin at Rome under Gasparino da Verona, and Greek at Ferrara under Guarino da Verona. In 1482 he went to reside at Mirandola with his old friend and fellow-student, the illustrious Giovanni Pico. There he stayed two years, prosecuting his studies in Greek literature. Before Pico removed to Florence, he procured for Aldo the post of tutor to his nephews Alberto and Lionello Pio, princes of Carpi. Alberto Pio supplied Aldo with funds for starting his printing press, and gave him lands at Carpi.
It was Aldo's ambition to secure the literature of Greece from further loss by committing its chief masterpieces to type. Before his time four Italian towns had won the honors of Greek publications: Milan, with the grammar of Lascaris, Aesop, Theocritus, a Greek Psalter, and Isocrates, between 1476 and 1493; Venice, with the Erotemata of Chrysoloras in 1484; Vicenza, with reprints of Lascaris's grammar and the Erotemata, in 1488 and 1490; Florence, with Alopa's Homer, in 1488.
Of these works, only three, the Milanese Theocritus and Isocrates and the Florentine Homer, were classics. Aldo selected Venice as the most appropriate station for his labors. He settled there in 1490, and soon afterwards gave to the world editions of the Hero and Leander of Musaeus, the Galeomyomachia, and the Greek Psalter. These have no date; but they are the earliest tracts issued from his press, and are called by him "Precursors of the Greek Library."
At Venice Aldo gathered an army of Greek scholars and compositors around him. His trade was carried on by Greeks, and Greek was the language of his household. Instructions to typesetters and binders were given in Greek. The preface to his editions were written in Greek. Greeks from Crete collated manuscripts, read proofs, and gave models of calligraphy for casts of Greek type. Not counting the craftsmen employed in merely manual labour, Aldo entertained as many as thirty of these Greek assistants in his family. His own industry and energy were unremitting. In 1495 he issued the first volume of his edition of Aristotle. Four more volumes completed the work in 1497-1498. Nine comedies of Aristophanes appeared in 1498. Thucydides, Sophocles and Herodotus followed in 1502; Xenophon's Hellenics and Euripides in 1503; Demosthenes in 1504.
The troubles of Italy, which pressed heavily on Venice at this epoch, suspended Aldo's labors for a while. But in 1508 he resumed his series with an edition of the minor Greek orators; and in 1509 appeared the lesser works of Plutarch. Then came another stoppage when the League of Cambray had driven Venice back to her lagoons, and all the forces of the republic were concentrated on a life or death struggle with the allied powers of Europe. In 1513 Aldo reappeared with an edition of Plato, which he dedicated to Leo X in a preface eloquently and earnestly comparing the miseries of warfare and the woes of Italy with the sublime and tranquil objects of the student's life. Pindar, Hesychius, and Athenaeus followed in 1514.
These complete the list of Aldo's prime services to Greek literature. But it may be well in this place to observe that his successors continued his work by giving Pausanias, Strabo, Aeschylus, Galen, Hippocrates and Longinus to the world in first editions. Omission has been made of Aldo's reprints, in order that the attention of the reader might be concentrated on his labours in editing Greek classics from manuscripts. Other presses were at work in Italy; and, as the classics issued from Florence, Rome or Milan, Aldo took them up, bestowing in each case fresh industry upon the collation of codices and the correction of texts. Nor was the Aldine press idle in regard to Latin and Italian classics. The Asolani of Bembo, the collected writings of Poliziano, the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, Dante's Divine Comedy, Petrarch's poems, a collection of early Latin poets of the Christian era, the letters of the younger Pliny, the poems of Pontanus, Sannazaro's Arcadia, Quintilian, Valerius Maximus, and the Adagia of Erasmus were printed, either in first editions, or with a beauty of type and paper never reached before, between the years 1495 and 1514. For these Italian and Latin editions Aldo had the elegant type struck which bears his name. It is said to have been copied from Petrarch's handwriting, and was cast under the direction of Francesco da Bologna, who has been identified by Panizzi with Francia the painter.
Aldo's enthusiasm for Greek literature was not confined to the printing-room. Whatever the students of this century may think of his scholarship, they must allow that only vast erudition and thorough familiarity with the Greek language could have enabled him to accomplish what he did. In his own days Aldo's learning won the hearty acknowledgment of ripe scholars. To his fellow workers he was uniformly generous, free from jealousy, and prodigal of praise. While aiming at that excellence of typography which renders his editions the treasures of the book-collector, he strove at the same time to make them cheap. His great undertaking was carried on under continual difficulties, arising from strikes among his workmen, the piracies of rivals, and the interruptions of war. When he died, bequeathing Greek literature as an inalienable possession to the world, he was a poor man. In order to promote Greek studies, Aldo founded an academy of Hellenists in 1500 under the title of the New Academy. Its rules were written in Greek. Its members were obliged to speak Greek. Their names were Hellenized, and their official titles were Greek. The biographies of all the famous men who were enrolled in this academy must be sought in the pages of Didot's Aide Manuce. It is enough here to mention that they included Erasmus and the English Linacre.
In 1499 Aldo married Maria, daughter of Andrea Torresano of Asola. Andrea had already bought the press established by Nicholas Jenson at Venice. Therefore Aldo's marriage combined two important publishing firms. Henceforth the names Aldus and Asolanus were associated on the title pages of the Aldine publications; and after Aldo's death in 1515, Andrea and his two sons carried on the business during the minority of Aldo's children. The device of the dolphin and the anchor, and the motto festina lente, which indicated quickness combined with firmness in the execution of a great scheme, were never wholly abandoned by the Aldines until the expiration of their firm in the third generation.
This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.