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Rare Editions

Honoris gratia, Andreas Papadatos’ description in Corfu Reading Society: An Illustrated Overview [in Greek: Λεύκωμα Αναγνωστικής Εταιρίας Κερκύρας] is reproduced here. A. Papadatos was for many decades the Librarian of the Corfu Reading Society, until he suddenly passed away in 2018.

The Corfu Reading Society is described as one of the most civilised libraries one can visit anywhere in the world [Ellis, Estelle. (1995). Αt Home with Books. New York]. Nowadays, it is one of the few remaining libraries housed in an old building, preserving a traditional decoration in its interior.

This can, naturally, cause various additional problems, mainly in preserving the books and other material of the Society. Undoubtedly, however, it creates a friendly environment for studying and enjoying reading, different from the usually cold atmosphere of most modern libraries. The prevalence of wood, the old furniture, the portraits on the walls, all radiate warmth and cosiness. It goes without saying that all these old-style amenities do not prevent the library from being modern and capable of satisfying the demanding intended audience.

The library of the Reading Society is mainly of interest to researchers, but it is, undoubtedly, a small paradise for all kinds of book-lovers. It may now be operating as a specialised library for historical research and its acquisitions be accordingly specialised, but its 170 years of operation have endowed it with a great number of various books, offering, thus, the bibliophile a variety of printed works both in type and in content.

The epicentre of the library is the Heptanesian collection, numbering approximately 7,000 books and other printed material, such as newspapers and magazines, single-sheet prints and other ephemera, manuscripts and a wide range of other archival material. This collection is the main attraction for researchers, Greek and foreign, coming to its reading rooms to study this assembled, rare or unique material. The collection includes material following the bibliographer Emile Legrand’s idea to create a specialised Ionian bibliography, i.e. to include all kinds of printed works revolving around the Ionian Islands in all aspects. The books of the collection date back to the 17th century. However, it is still growing, enriched with modern publications. Books that are not “Heptanesian”, but contain information about the Ionian Islands, such as general history books, travel books, geography books, etc., have also been collected.

Indicatively, the following are some of the books included in the collection:

The Historia di Corfù by Andreas Marmoras: the history of Corfu from the mythological times until the writer’s era, an impressive work for its time. Despite its weaknesses regarding history, the Historia di Corfu is still an invaluable reading for every researcher of the period of the Venetian rule in Corfu. It was printed in Stefano Curti’s printing house, which was well-known for its publications of libretti and other musical texts. It contains maps of the island and the town of Corfu, tables of ancient coins (Marmoras had a collection) and various engravings.

The Κατήχησιν ιεράν ήτοι της θείας και ιεράς λειτουργίας εξήγησιν (Sacred Catechesis or Exegesis of the Divine and Holy Mass) by the doctor and philosopher, Nikolaos Voulgaris (1634-1684), brother of Christodoulos Voulgaris, the Great Archpriest of Corfu. It was printed by Nikolaos Glykis, a merchant from Ioannina, who lived in Venice, where he established in 1670 what was later to become one of the greatest printing houses of Hellenism. Sacred Catechesis, being a significant ecclesiastical book, was the foundation upon which the religious education of many generations of clergymen was based. It was repeatedly reprinted, and it was translated and published into English in the 19th and 20th centuries. The work includes a woodcut depicting Christodoulos’ coat of arms, surrounded by the coats of arms of the officials of the General Council of the Magnificent City of Corfu. It bears a very interesting outer decoration, crowned by an ecclesiastical galero with six tassels, indicative in heraldry of a bishop or an abbot. It was an adaptation of the Catholic ecclesiastical heraldry to indicate the class of Archpriest and/or an effort to equate it with the class of Bishop. This woodcut illustrates the coat of arms of Corfu, similar to other modern renderings, such as the title page of Marmora’s History of Corfu, the relief at the current town hall of Corfu over Morosini’s bust, at the gate of the granary of Corfu, and elsewhere.

The Λογική (Logic) by Evgenios Voulgaris, one of his most significant works aiming at introducing the teaching of the modern philosophers’ theories to the Greek schools. Logic was printed in Johann G.I. Breitkopf’s printing house (a printing house established in 1719, still existing under the name of Breitkopf und Hätler), together with other works by Evgenios Voulgaris and Nikephoros Theotokis. The Greek typeface used is the typical italic typeface of the German school and especially of Leipzig typographers.

The Libro delle famiglie nobili della magnifica città di Corfù, the rare publication of the General Council of the Magnificent City of Corfu. It lists the families that participated at the time in the General Council and all the living male children of these families, as well as the catalogues of the members of the Council, the syndics, and the other officials, as well as all the other posts along with their payment. The representation of the coat of arms of the city of Corfu is also remarkable, similar to the form frequently seen later in single-sheet prints of the Septinsular Republic era.

The Costituzione della Repubblica Settinsulare. The first Constitution of the Septinsular Republic of 1800, also known as “Byzantine”, was met with strong reactions endangering the cohesion of the newly-established state itself. In October 1803, the Constitutional Assembly convened in Corfu and on December 5, having read the report of the preparatory committee, it passed the new Constitution after only six hours. The Constitution of 1803 was printed at the sole printing house operating at the time in the Ionian Islands, the Printing House of the Administration. It was also known as Printing House of the Nation, National Typography or Government Printing House. It was the continuation of the first printing house established in the Ionian Islands by the French Democrats in 1798 under the name National Typography (Imprimerie Nationale). The printing house was managed for the greater part of the Septinsular Republic by Dionysios Sarantopoulos. It remained the sole printing house in the Ionian Islands until the establishment of the free press in 1848. Meanwhile, during the occupation of the Ionian Islands by the Imperial French, new printing presses of Didot’s publishing house had been imported and after the occupation of Corfu by the British, it incorporated the printing house that the British had established in Zakynthos. On the title page, it depicts the lion of the Septinsular Republic, i.e. the lion of Saint Mark holding a cross-bearing close Bible with seven spears symbolising the Ionian Islands. The Greek translation of the Constitution of 1803 was printed in Trieste. On the title page there is a different depiction of the lion.

The Corfu Reading Society’s library has a significant collection of more than one hundred libretti of musical works staged at the San Giacomo theatre. Their particular significance lies on the fact that they allow the researcher to follow the theatre’s musical activity, but they are also a source of valuable information on the contributors of each work. The libretti of the works staged in San Giacomo were printed either in Italy or in Corfu, at the Printing House of the Administration. The oldest libretto of the collection is by Luigi Prividali, for the one-act opera L’ occasione fa il ladro by GioacchinoRossini. Its first performance was given at the San Moisè Theatre in Venice, on 24 November 1812. Although the Reading Society’s libretto was for the carnival period of 1823, it must have been staged in San Giacomo for the first time much sooner, possibly in 1813.

The secondary collections are particularly interesting as well. The History books collection, the main secondary collection, includes inter alia:

The monumental Venetian 1729 edition of Anna Komnene’s -the Byzantine princess- Alexiad

Stewart and Revett’s The Antiquities of Athens, a classic work and the first accurate description of the ancient monuments of Athens and one of the most important architectural travel works of the 18th century. It contains exquisite engravings and views of Athens of that era.

The description of the Peloponnese, the islands of Adriatic and the Ionian Islands, by the famous 17th century Dutch cartographer and humanist, Olfert Dapper. This beautiful edition comprises many engravings, among which excellent views of the cities of the Ionian Islands.

The 1686 edition of Porcacchi’s Atlas including inter alia, maps of the Ionian Islands and a representation of the battle of Lepanto, as well as many other rare editions.

The rich collection of ancient literature features some 18th and 19th century publications of Greek and Latin classics, while the collection of law books of the same period is also remarkable. In the showcases of the Society, amongst the old dictionaries, one can admire the first edition of Anthimos Gazis’ Greek Lexicon and Georgios Vendotis’ 1790 trilingual dictionary.

The Library also contains manuscript books, such as the 1783 Periphrasarion (book of circumlocutions). The Society’s copy is almost identical to the copy of the National Library of Greece, number 2729. It was possibly written by Efstratios Ioannou, of whom there is no information available. The Reading Society’s copy is signed by Chariton Margaritis, a teacher in the Greek School of Droviani, who possibly added his own texts to the initial manuscript of Ioannou. [see Tzivara, Panagiota (2003). Aspects of education in Northern Epirus in the 18th century. Two manuscripts of Northern Epirus. In Chronicles of Epirus. Vol. 37. Ioannina (in Greek)].

Finally, the collection of 16th century incunabula holds a prominent position. It is a collection addressed to bibliologists and bibliophiles, with editions fascinating for their quality and old age. Amongst them:

Isocrates’s Speeches (1513), published by the great Italian publisher Aldus Manutius with a variation of the typical typeface created by Manutius, in order to produce a more condensed text, which allowed the printing of books of smaller size and, therefore, more economical.

Moreover, Galen’s Opera Omnia, printed in Basel, thirty-three years after Aldus Manutius’ first publication, in 1525, edited by Gemusaeus, Fuchsius, and Camerarius, in Andreas Cratander’s printing house. The exquisite typefaces and marvellous woodcut on the front page are worth noting.

The introduction of the electronic text and the electronically retrieved information in libraries two decades ago has caused the feeling that the “traditional” book days are over. However, this prophesy is not fulfilled and the printed book, as it seems, is not going to disappear, at least not in the near future. The same is true for the Libraries housing them and, among them, the library of the Corfu Reading Society.


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