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Robert Estienne

Robert Estienne (1503 - September 7, 1559) , also known as Robert Stephens or Stephanus, was a 16th century printer in Paris. He was the first to print the Bible divided into standard numbered verses.

He was born in Paris, 1503, and died in Geneva September 7, 1559. Early on he became acquainted with the ancient languages, and entered the printing-establishment of Simon de Colines, who married his mother upon his father's death.

He corrected the edition of the Latin New Testament of 1523. This work was the first occasion of the endless charges and criminations of the clerical party, especially the theological faculty of the Sorbonne, against him. At the time the Church forbade printing the Bible and providing it to the average person, because they feared people would misinterpret it.

In 1524 he became proprietor of the press of his father. In 1539 he adopted as his devices an olive branch around which a serpent was twined, and a man standing under an olive-tree, with grafts from which wild branches were falling to the ground, with the words of Romans 11:20, Noli altum sapere, sed tinge, "Be not high-minded, but fear." The latter was called the olive of the Stephens family.

In 1539 he received the distinguishing title of "Printer in Greek to the king." But the official recognition and the crown's approval to his undertaking could not save him from the censure and ceaseless opposition of the divines, and in 1550, to escape the violence of his persecutors, he emigrated to Geneva.

With his title of "royal typographer" Robert made the Paris establishment famous by his numerous editions of grammatical works and other school-books (among them many of Melanchthon's), and of old authors, as Dio Cassius, Eusebius of Caesarea, Cicero, Sallust, Caesar, and Justin. Many of these, especially the Greek editions, were famous for their typographical elegance.

In 1532 he published the remarkable Thesaurus linguae latinae, and twice he published the Hebrew Bible entire-- in 1539-44, thirteen parts, in four volumes, and 1544-46 in seventeen parts. Both of these editions are rare.

Of more importance are his four editions of the Greek New Testament, 1546, 1549, 1550, and 1551, the last in Geneva. The first two are among the neatest Greek texts known, and are called O mirificam; the third is a splendid masterpiece of typographical skill, and is known as the Editio regia; the edition of 1551 contains the Latin translation of Erasmus and the Vulgate, is not nearly as fine as the other three, and is exceedingly rare. It was in this edition that the versicular division of the New Testament was for the first time introduced.

A number of editions of the Vulgate also appeared from his presses, of which the principal are those of 1528, 1532, 1540 (one of the ornaments of his press), and 1546. The text of the Vulgate was in a wretched condition, and his editions, especially that of 1545, containing a new translation at the side of the Vulgate, was the subject of sharp and acrimonious criticism from the clergy.

On his arrival at Geneva, he published a defense against the attacks of the Sorbonne. He issued the French Bible in 1553, and many of John Calvin's writings; the finest edition of the Institutio being that of 1553. His fine edition of the Latin Bible with glosses (1556) contained the translation of the Old Testament by Santes Pagninus, and the first edition of Theodore Beza's translation of the New Testament.


Three of Robert's sons, Henry, Robert, and Francois, became celebrated as printers. Francois, the second (b. in 1540), printed on his own account in Geneva from 1562-82, issuing a number of editions of the Bible in Latin and French, and some of Calvin's works. French writers identify him with a printer by the name of Estienne in Normandy, whither he is supposed to have emigrated in 1582.

Robert, the second (b. in 1530; d. in 1570), began to print in Paris on his own account in 1556, and in 1563 received the title of Typographus regius; his presses were busily employed in issuing civil documents. He held to the Roman Catholic faith and thus won the support of Charles IX., and by 1563 appears to have fully reconstituted his father's establishment in Paris. His edition of the New Testament of 1568-69, a reprint of his father's first edition and equal to it in elegance of execution, is now exceedingly rare.

See also Henry Estienne.