The House of the Gryphon

‘Virtute duce, comite Fortuna’
‘Led by Duty, accompanied by Fortune’.

M. Actii Plauti comoediae viginti: Cum indice rerum et uocem, prouerbiorum, for-mulisq; loquende; atq: Græcarum, & quarandam Latinarum dictionum interpretatione (Lyon, 1540), title page device of Sebastianus Gryphius.

Worth owned one book printed by one of the most famous sixteenth-century printers in Lyon: Sebastianus Gryphius (1493?-1556). Gryphius was born in the Swabian town of Reutlingen, where his father, Michel Greyff, had been one of the town’s two typographers. Gryphius (he preferred the Latinized version of his name), chose not to stay in Reutlinger and travelled south, to Lyon, to open his own workshop. There Gryphius was able to draw on a pool of promising writers in the fields of science, history, literature, medicine, law and poetry who made Lyon famous in the sixteenth century: authors such as Symphorien Champier (1472?-c. 1535), Maurice Scève (fl. 16th century), Guillaume du Choul (fl. 16th century), Benoît de Court (born toward the end of 15th century), Louise Labé (c. 1526-66), Etienne Dolet (1509-46) and, of course, François Rabelais (c. 1490-1553?). All these authors came to Gryphius’ workshop which, like Aldus Manutius’ Neacademia, operated as a literary salon. This was not unusual, there are other examples that show that printing firms could be places of conviviality and exchange, where the printers and booksellers played the role of mediators between authors.[1]

Gryphius was a scholar-printer of the second generation, so it is not surprising that he displayed a fine command of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew, testifying to a solid education enriched by experience. Of the more than 1,600 works recorded during his career, less than forty were printed in Greek, a small minority but an important one, since Gryphius is considered to be one of the first printers in Lyon to have printed books entirely in Greek (i.e. not just annotations).[2] As Vingtrinier notes, he was praised for the remarkable quality of his corrected editions, the elegance of his printing and the beauty of his fonts.[3] Vingtrinier mentions a friendship, marked by rivalry, with his contemporary Jean I de Tournes (1504-64), another printer based in Lyon.[4] One of De Tournes’ works is also in the Worth Library: the Roman physician Celsus’ De re medica, libri VIII. Item Qu. Sereni Liber de medicina. Qu. Rhemnij Fannij Palaemonis, De pond. & mensuris liber, printed in 1554.

 Aulus Gellius, Auli Gellii luculentissimi scriptoris  Noctes Atticae (Lyon, 1560), title page device.

As we can see from the above image, Sebastianus’ son and heir, Antonius Gryphius (1527-99), continued to use the family device which has been described as ‘A gryphon on a cube, linked by a chain to a winged globe’, followed by his motto: ‘Virtute duce, comite Fortuna’, taken from Cicero’s letters to Plancus.[5] Born in Lyon, he was brought up in a financially well-off family; surrounded from an early age by scholars, writers and other intellectuals, which undoubtedly helped to foster his learning. Vingtrinier reports that he was spoilt by his father, who paid for his entire education, developing him as a scholar in his own right.

Clearly Antonius was favoured by his father but though he was Sebastianus’ heir he was not a legitimate one – in fact he was not legitimized until after his parents’ death. This caused probate problems, leading to the temporary closure of the shop for two years following Sebastianus’ death. Antonius reopened the workshop from 1558 to 1564 and signed all his works with his father’s device, and, in addition, used the name: ‘HAERED. SEB. GRYPHII’ or ‘Heirs of Sebastianus Gryphius’. He lived at the same address as his father, on the corner of Rue Thomassin and Rue Mercière. This was not the only premises owned by the ‘House of the Gryphon’ for Sebastianus had also opened another workshop on the other side of the meadows of Bellecour, in Rue Sala.[6]

 Aulus Gellius, Auli Gellii luculentissimi scriptoris  Noctes Atticae (Lyon, 1560), pp 76 and 77.

Sebastianus, a great scholar-printer and shrewd merchant, largely overshadowed his son. Antonius continued his father’s publishing policy and produced a large number of second editions of his father’s commercial successes. An example of this is Worth’s copy of Aulus Gellius’ Noctes Atticae which Antonius printed in 1560. Sebastianus had already produced at least eight known editions of this title (1532, 1534, 1537, 1539, 1542, 1546, 1550 and 1555). Antonius, for his part, produced a 1559 edition, Worth’s 1560 edition and, subsequent editions in 1565, 1566, 1580, 1585, and 1591.[7] His use of an elegant Greek font for the body of the text is not surprising, as his father was renowned for the quality of his material. Why so many editions? Was this because it was a commercial success or of a desire not to deviate from the editorial line that had made his father successful? The question remains open but it was probably a bit of both.

Antonius was certainly caught up in the misfortunes that befell Lyon in the second half of the sixteenth century, and he was unable to prevent the ruin of one of the best workshops the city had ever known. Lyon was in the midst of a religious crisis and following the Saint Bartholomew’s Day massacre of 1572 Antonius was arrested and imprisoned for debt. He remained in prison for seven years – a circumstance which seriously impacted on his ability to run his business. [8] Once he left prison he attempted to resume his activities (his last recorded publication has been dated to 1593), but in the main his attempts to revive his business were in vain and his father’s legacy died with him. Thus, in a way, the family motto ‘Led by Duty, accompanied by Fortune’ reflects the contrasting fates of the father and son duo: Sebastianus’ career had certainly been accompanied by fortune; that of his son, a son who focused on dutifully providing re-editions of his illustrious father’s publications, was, unfortunately less fortunate.


Bibliothèque de Genève, Bibliographical database of books published in Geneva, Lausanne, Neuchâtel, and Morges in the 15th and 16th centuries, GLN 15-16.

Bibliothèque nationale de France, BnF Catalogue général.

Claudin, Anatole, Histoire de l’imprimerie en France au XVe et au XVIe siècle, 4v. (Paris, 1900-14).

Renouard, Philippe, Jeanne Veyrin-Forrer & Brigitte Moreau (eds), Répertoire des imprimeurs parisiens: libraires, fondeurs de caractères et correcteurs d’imprimerie: depuis l’introduction de l’imprimerie à Paris (1470) jusqu’à la fin du seizième siècle … (Paris, 1965).

Vingtrinier, Aimé, Histoire de l’imprimerie à Lyon, de l’origine jusqu’à nos jours (Lyon, 1894).


[1] Vingtrinier, Aimé, Histoire de l’imprimerie à Lyon, de l’origine jusqu’à nos jours (Lyon, 1894), pp 163-164.

[2] Ibid., pp 160-161.

[3] Ibid., p. 170.

[4] Ibid., p. 162.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] The 1585 edition was printed by Jacques II Berjon in Geneva for Antonius Gryphius.

[8] Ibid., pp 180-1.

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