Wednesday, 4 July 2012

A Follow-up Spotlight on the Opening as a Meaning Making Device: The interface of the early modern polyglot bibles

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Galey in his ArchBook entry on "The Opening" makes the case that in many ways, it is the opening, not the single page, that should be considered the basic reading surface of the printed book.  The page opening as reading interface is essential to the great polyglot Bibles of the 16th and 17th centuries,[1] which in their fullest development required two full pages to present all of the parallel texts in one view to the reader.  This fact of publication is important, yet strangely (though as Galey suggests, perhaps not surprisingly) overlooked by a recent scholar of the London polyglot who describes this book as a “triumph of technology” for “being the first Bible to print all the versions side-by-side on the same page” (Miller, 467 my emphasis).  Indeed, it is an essential feature of these publications that the opening, not the page, constitutes the full reading interface.
The basic form of the polyglot Bible was established by the first of these,[2] the Complutensian polyglot (Alcalá, 1514-1517), which presents the Hebrew, Latin Vulgate, and Greek Septuagint (interlined with a Latin translation) in parallel columns across the top three-quarters of the page, with (for the Pentateuch only) Onkelos’s Chaldee/Aramaic targum (i.e. paraphrase)[3] together with an accompanying Latin translation across the bottom.  The recto and verso each contain a full set of texts, but they are presented in mirror-image to each other: moving from left to right across the opening, Hebrew, Latin Vulgate, and Greek Septuagint on the verso, then in reverse, Greek, Latin, Hebrew on the recto; similarly, along the bottom of the opening, the Aramaic, in Hebrew characters, with a Latin translation (verso), and then the Latin followed by the Aramaic (recto).  In this polyglot, the full set of parallel texts fits on a single page, but the mirrored image of these from verso to recto implies that the full opening—verso and recto together—is the basic interface of this book.  The centrality of the Latin Vulgate in this page layout is curious but easy to explain.  The theological rationale is articulated by James Lyell:
The position of honour given to the Vulgate ... is emphasised in [this bible’s] Second Preface, where it is stated that as our Lord was crucified between two thieves, so the Latin Church stands between the Synagogue and the Greek Church (29).
This explanation is based on ecclesiological (the pre-eminence of the Latin church) rather than textual grounds, for the whole project was undertaken with the conviction that biblical scholarship must go back to a study of the primary languages (Lyell, 27, 29).  The centrality of the Latin Vulgate text on the page might also be rationalized on the basis of the reading environment.  For scholars of the period, the Latin Vulgate was the familiar version of the Bible, the centre of their textual knowledge.  Even for many theologians and humanist scholars of the period, the original languages existed on the margins of their understanding, so the Vulgate remained the central reference point.  It is less easy to explain why the Hebrew and Greek are arranged in mirrour-image to each other across the opening, but again, the layout of the page might have been a factor.  The outer margins of the pages provide root words for the Hebrew and Aramaic texts, but not for the Greek.  By keeping the Hebrew texts on the outer edges of the page−both the verso and the recto−the printer (perhaps with input from Cardinal Ximenes, the patron and supervising editor of the project) could relegate the most marginal matter to the outer edges and maintain clearly justified columns toward the centre of the opening.  The layout of the page thus represents the priority of the material with respect to the interests of the reader, with the familiar Latin at the centre and the original-language helps on the margins.  The rationale for the arrangement of the Aramaic at the bottom of the page is less obvious: why is the Aramaic in the centre of the opening on verso and recto, separated from the root words in the margins by the Latin translation?  It may be that the Latin here serves a marginal function (i.e. it is not the vulgate), as a kind of gloss on the original text.  The opening is much less important in the New Testament portion of this bible, where the principal parts are only the Greek original and the Latin translation.  Rather than root words in the margin, the page provides marginal cross references and, on rare occasion (only five in the whole New Testament) marginal annotations (Lyell, 34, 44).


figure1:  The opening of Exodus 2 from the Complutensian Polyglot.  Internet Archive CCL.

figure 2:  The opening of 1 John 5 in the Complutensian Polyglot, 
with a rare marginalannotation in the footer.  Internet Archive CCL.

The 1569 Biblia Sacra, Hebraice, Chaldaice, Graece et Latine, known as the “Antwerp or Plantin’s Polyglot” (named after its printer, Christophe Plantin) presents, across a single, full opening, four different versions in four columns: the Hebrew; the Latin Vulgate; Arias Montano’s revision of Xantes Pagninus’s Latin version from the Greek[4]; and the Greek Septuagint.[5]  At the bottom runs another parallel series: the Chaldean Aramaic version on the left, with a paraphrase in Latin on the right.  The antecedent languages are easily distinguished by their character sets, and the two Latin texts are distinguished by use of regular (Vulgate) and italics font (Arias Montano’s version).  The opening has a similar mirrored effect, with the two Latin versions situated in the middle of the opening, even though this places them in inverse relation to their original language antecedents.

figure 3: The Antwerp polyglot (1569), opening at 1 Kings (i.e. 1 Samuel).  
 Fisher Rare Book Library CCL.

 The last and most mature of the great polyglots is Brian Walton’s Biblia Sacra Polyglotta (1655-7), commonly known as the “London Polyglot.”  Like the Antwerp polyglot, it presents its texts across the full opening, containing now (for the Pentateuch) a total of thirteen discrete texts in one view: Hebrew (with word for work Latin interlineated) in parallel with the Latin Vulgate, the Greek (Septuagint) with the standard Latin translation that predated Jerome’s Vulgate; Onkeloss “Chaldee” (Aramaic) targum (parphrase) with a Latin translation, [two texts of?] the Samaritan Pentateuch with Latin translation, and along the bottom, the Syriac and Arabic versions, each with Latin translations.[6]  Again, the primacy of Latin as the familiar language is evident in the matching of original language texts with Latin translations.  Walton’s 19th-century biographer, Henry J. Todd, quotes in full Walton’s published description of his planned work, where he explains the many advantages of the polyglot format:
The several languages shall be printed in several columns, whereby they may all be presented to the reader’s view at once; whereas in the other Editions divers great volumes must be turned over to compare them together (42).[7]
This multi-sectioned opening provides a maximized space that correlates by implicit links a series of parallel texts from diverse sources, presenting a scholar’s entire desktop in one viewing interface.

figure 4: Walton’s London Polyglot, opening at Exodus 1.  
 Fisher Rare Book Library CCL.

As is the case with other developments in bible technology, this innovation of the parallel text interface grew from the demands and needs presented by the textual material itself and the intellectual framework and methods of its readers.  For Walton, as for the earlier humanists, it was the need to purge received translations of their error and bias by having recourse to the text in its antecedent languages for comparison across all versions, a task that previously would have required a very large desk full of open folios.[8]


[1] These are the Complutensian Polyglot (Spain, 1514-1517); the Plantin or Antwerp polyglot (Antwerp, 1569 and 1572); and the Paris Polyglot (1645); and Walton’s London Polyglot (Todd 34-5).
[2] Brian Walton in fact found his ultimate source of inspiration in the idea of Origen’s Hexpala and its columnar arrangement of different Hebrew and Greek texts in parallel, and regretted the loss of these artefacts to history (Miller 473).
[3] Lyell calls it a “paraphrase” (28).  The genre of the targum is ambiguous, sometimes considered translation, sometimes commentary: “paraphrase” captures some of this ambiguity.
[4] Versions of the Bible” in The Original CatholicEncyclopedia: “Xantes Pagninus, O.P. (d. 1541), made an inter-linear version of both the Old and New Testaments from the original languages, which by its literal fidelity pleased Christians and Jews and was much used by the Reformers. A revision of this translation resulting in a text even more literal was made by Arias Montano. His work appeared in the Antwerp Polyglot (1572).”
[5] See Elly Cockx-Indestege.
[6] The configuration of versions and translations vary across the Bible, depending on which were available of each section of the Bible: the Psalms, Canticles, and the New Testament, for example, include an Ethiopic version.
[7] Todd cites this source as a pre-publication proposal, published in 1652 with the title A Brief Description of an Edition of the bible in the Original Hebrew, Samaritan, and Greek, with the most ancient translations of the Jewish and Christian Churches, viz. the Sept. Greek, Chaldee, Syriac, Ethiopic, Arabic, Persian &c. and the Latin Versions of them all: a new Apparatus, &cThis echoes Walton’s expressed vision (in manuscript) for
an edition in the originall Languages, with the most auncient Translations according to better and more authentick coppies then those of the former editions, with addition of sundry thinges usefull wch are wanting in them all, and the same digested in such order, whereby the severall Languages may be represented to the readers view at once, and the whole maybe printed in a few and easy volumes, and sold at the price aforesaid (quoted in Miller from British Library, Additional mss 32,093, fol. 333r).  
In his advertisement and prospectus (reprinted by Todd) Walton is perhaps alluding to his arrangement of the parallels texts on the page when he refers to the benefit of having “the several languages digested in better method,” i.e. in comparison with the previous polyglots (36).
[8] Miller notes that for Walton, working in a period of considerable strife and conflict in the national church, the polyglot was a way of combating sectarianism which he and others like him believed to be driven by ignorance (470-1).  The diversity of text together in one opening might rightly be considered an emblem of erudition overcoming the divisions caused by ignorance.


Arias Montano, Benito, et al. Biblia Sacra, Hebraice, Chaldaice, Graece Et Latine: Philippi II. Reg. Cathol. Pietate, Et Studio Ad Sacrosanctae Ecclesiae Vsum, Christoph Plantinus Excud. Excud. Antuerpiae: Christoph Plantinus, 1569; 1572.

Cockx-Indestege, Elly. “1569 -1572 Christopher Plantin’s Biblia regi.”  Library of the University of Amsterdam.

Harris, Fletcher. “Milton and Walton’s Biblia Sacra Polyglotta (1657).” MLN 42.2 (Feb 1927): 84-7.

----. Milton’s Semitic Studies. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1926.

Lyell, James.  Cardinal Ximines: Statesman, Ecclesiastic, Soldier, and Man of Letters with an Account of the Complutensian Polyglot Bible.  London: Grafton, 1917.

Miller, Peter N.  “The ‘Antiquarianization’ of Biblical Scholarship and the London Polyglot Bible.”  JHI 62 (2001): 463-82.

Todd, Henry J. Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Walton. 2 vols. London, 1821.

In Folio: Rare Volumes in the Stanford University Libraries.”  Stanford University Libraries.

Saurat, Denis.  Milton, Man and Thinker.  London: Jonathan Cape, [1924].

Walton, Brian, Wenceslaus Hollar, and Pierre Lombart. Biblia Sacra Polyglotta: Complectentia Textus Originales, Hebraicum, Cum Pentateucho Samaritano, Chaldaicum, Graecum, Versionumque Antiquarum, Samaritanae, Graecae LXXII Interp., Chaldaicae, Syriacae, Arabicae, Aethiopicae, Persicae, Vulg. Lat. Quicquid Comparari Poterat. Cum Textuum & Versionum Orientalium Translationibus Latinis: Ex Vetustissimis Mss. Undique Conquisitis, Optim¡sque Exemplaribus Impressis, Summƒ Fide Collatis: Quae in Prioribus Editionibus Deerant Suppleta ...: Opus Totum in Sex Tomos Tributum. 6 vols. London: Thomas Roycroft, 1655-1657.

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