The great Greek professor of the sixteenth-century,
becomes a printer at a king’s request.
Aretaeus, Aretaiou Kappadokou .. Aretaei Cappadocis De acutorum, ac diuturnorū morborū causis & signis, lib. IIII. De acutorum, ac diuturnorum morborum curatione, lib. IIII. Ex Bibliotheca Regia. ... (Paris, 1554), title page.
This image depicts the device most often used by the Typographus regius (i.e. ‘the King’s Printer’) during the middle of the sixteenth century in France. The device features an upright spear around which was curled a serpent and a laurel plant, with an inscription from Homer: ‘Βασιλεῖ τ’ ἀγαθῷ κρατερῷ τ’αı’χμητῇ’. The role of Typographus regius was much coveted for not only was it considered a prestigious one, but the Typographus regius was also entitled to use the famous ‘Grecs du roi’ or King’s Greeks, a special font carved specifically for this purpose by Claude Garamond (d. 1561). The privileges of the Typographus regius were communicated on the title pages of their editions, which usually featured phrases such as Typographus regius or in Graecis Typographus Regius, typis Graecis and ex privilegio regis as indicators of quality. As in this case, many title pages also bore the inscription Ex bibliotheca Regia as a reference to the origin of the text and a mark of authenticity. Two of the most famous men connected to the prestigious position of Typographus regius during the mid-sixteenth century were Adrien Turnèbe and his colleague Guillaume Morel (1505-64).
Adrien Turnèbe or Adrianus Turnebus was born in Andelys in 1512 to noble but not very wealthy parents. At the age of eleven, he went to Paris to study at the Collège de Justice, where he excelled. He received the title of maître és-arts or master of arts, which allowed the young Turnèbe to teach the humanities at his former college, then at Sainte-Barbe and elsewhere. His reputation preceded him in the great cities of France and the protection of Odet de Coligny, Cardinal of Châtillon (1517-71) led him to settle at the University of Toulouse. Though courted by universities outside of France, Turnèbe preferred to work in French cities. When the chair of Greek literature at the Collège Royal de France became vacant in 1547, Turnèbe was appointed to the post. His students included Henri II Estienne (1528-98) and Michel de Montaigne (1533-92).
On 9 November 1551, he married Madeleine Clément, widow of Jean Mestayer, the king’s prosecutor for the defence of the university’s privileges, and they had three sons. In the same year he was appointed Typographus regius but, as he was not himself a printer, he entrusted the office to his friend Guillaume Morel (1505-64). It is interesting to note that, having ascertained from Charles Estienne (1504-c. 1564), the guardian of Robert I Estienne’s (1503?-59) children, the exact quantity of the King’s Greek matrices and fonts, he then proceeded to sue him for opposing his title of printer of the King’s Greek and depriving him of a profit from it. Following his appointment as Professor of Greek Philosophy, Turnèbe resigned his office and the title was given back to Guillaume Morel in April 1556. Instead, Turnèbe wanted to devote himself to his teaching. The outbreak of the civil wars interrupted his work, but he resumed his lectures and published a scholarly book entitled Adversariorum tomus primus … 2v. (Paris, 1564-65). He died of consumption on 12 June 1565, aged 53.
Charles Waddington rightly draws attention to the esteem in which Adrien Turnèbe was held by his contemporaries. They celebrated the accuracy of Turnèbe’s translations, and his many commentaries, not only after his death, but during his lifetime. Turnèbe certainly had an impact on the learned world of his time and his contemporaries particularly commended both the rigour of his scholarship and his attempts to spread knowledge of Greek in France. Eulogies by Pierre de Ronsard (1524-85) in particular stand out, for Ronsard often celebrated Turnèbe in his verses, declaring his knowledge to be limitless. Estienne Pasquier (1529-1615), one of the glories of the University, also wrote in praise of Turnèbe. In fact, Turnèbe’s reputation was equalled only by the famous Petrus Ramus (1515-72), a master of the university.
Michel de Montaigne (1533-92), was proud to have been one of his friends, declaring ‘Turnèbe, (liv. II, c. 17), sçavoit plus, et sçavoit mieux ce qu’il sçavoit qu’homme qui feust de son siècle, ny loing au delà.’ or ‘Turnèbe, knew more and better than the other men of his century, and beyond’. Similarly, Turnèbe’s colleague Jean Dorat (1508-88), in a laudatory text, compared him to Plato, Euclid, Hippocrates, Homer, Aratus and Hesiod. Turnèbe was an orator, a true poet, a historian, and a literary critic. He had much to be proud of: his texts and his teaching covered so many areas at once.
The passages cited above highlight two crucial aspects of Turnèbe and his editorial work: first, the breadth of his scholarship; and secondly, his contemporaries’ comparison of him with Guillaume Budé (1468-1540), arguably the most important French Renaissance Greek scholar and the person who did the most to promote Greek scholarship in France. Turnèbe does not seem to have been a particularly controversial figure, despite his differences with Petrus Ramus and some controversy about his religious affiliation after his death.
In many ways, Turnèbe’s appointment to the position of royal printer of Greek in 1551 crowned his standing as a highly respected Hellenist. As Constantinidou notes, ‘The title was expected to supplement the provision for Greek studies made by the institution of the royal readers, the lecteurs royaux. It was conferred on a printer either in ‘recognition of [his] established reputation’ or as a way of ensuring the ‘provision of adequate supplies of books in specialist subjects’’. An important part of this role was to ‘print primarily texts in the King’s collection which had not yet been published, or published only in part’.
Homer, Omērou Ilias … Ilias, id est, De rebus ad Troiam gestis (Paris, 1554), title page and p. 1.
Turnèbe published a number of books that can be linked to teaching, such as Hephaestion Alexandrinus’ Ēphaistiōnōs Alexandreōs Encheíridion perì métrōn kaì poiēmáton. Eis to auto scholia (1553); an edition of Saint Gregory Palamas’ Grēgoriou tou agiōtatou kai sophōtatou Thessalonikēs tou Palama, … (1553); Sophocles’ Sophokleous tragōdiai: Dēmētriou tou Trikliniou Peri metrōn hois echrēsato Sophoklē: peri schēmaton, scholia (1553); Homer’s Omērou Ilias … Ilias, id est, De rebus ad Troiam gestis (1554); Oppian’s [Oppianou Anazarbeōs Halieutikōn biblia 5. Kynēgetikon biblia 4]. Oppiani Anazarbei De piscatu libri V. De venatione libri IIII… (1555); and Aristotle’s [Aristotelous ethikōn Nikomacheiōn biblia deka]. Aristotelis De moribus ad Nicomachum, lib. X. Ita Græcis interpretatione recenti cum Latinis coniunctis … (1555). The Iliad in the Worth Library is particularly important because it is the first Parisian edition in Greek of this work by Homer, printed in 1554, and has long been considered a milestone in Homeric studies due to the fidelity and readability of the text.
Constantinidou points to Turnèbe’s remarkable productivity at this time:
‘During the years 1551-55, Turnèbe was responsible for about twenty Greek editions in which he appeared as typographus on the title page (an average of five editions a year), even if the actual printing was probably undertaken by his long-term collaborator and later successor in the role of royal printer, Guillaume Morel. This output is considerable by the standards of sixteenth-century Greek printing. It is all the more significant in that the number and rate of appearance of these books during his tenure probably indicates that they were part of the material he was working on before the confirmation of his title. Throughout his career he was probably also the author of some twenty Latin translations and prefaces’.
In 1552, Turnèbe published a very important work: Aischulou Prometheus Desmotes, Hepta, epi Thebais, Persai, Agamemnon, Eumenides, Hiketides, a selection of 6 tragedies by Aeschylus (c. 525/4-456/5 B.C.). He added a dedication to Michel de l’Hospital (1507-73), in whose library he was a frequent visitor. The edition was a success, not only because the text was a difficult one to produce, but even more so when it was compared with contemporary shoddy editions of the text. Turnèbe’s edition was both a better translation and included a better commentary. One might say that Turnèbe was acting as a surgeon, repairing Aeschylus’ text after the ravages of other commentators!
Synesius of Cyrene, Synesiou episkopou Kyrēnēs Peri basileias, eis ton autokratora Arkadion, Ex Bibliotheca Regia (Paris, 1553), p. 61.
Synesius of Cyrene’s Synesiou episkopou Kyrēnēs Peri basileias, eis ton autokratora Arkadion, Ex Bibliotheca Regia (Paris, 1553), was yet another text from the royal library and also the editio princeps in Greek of Synesius’ works, as only a few of them had been printed in the past, and these only in translation. Synesius (c. 370-413), was another interesting Greek writer: Bishop of Ptolemais in the Libyan Pentapolis, he had been deeply involved in matters speculative and religious. Scholars debate whether he used the method of religious syncretism to move from pure Hellenism to Christianity. As we can see here, the text is enhanced by the elegance of the initials and the royal typeface (Garamont’s ‘gros romain’) by Guillaume Morel, who followed this trend towards ‘white’ and the lighter, less condensed rendering of texts, especially in Greek, where legibility is a priority. This is reflected in the white rather than black background of the lettering.
Constantinidou offers the following figures for Turnèbe’s Greek publications:
‘The Greek editions for which Turnèbe appears as printer can be subdivided into books edited by him (around fifteen) and books edited by others (around five). We can also distinguish between texts that originally came from the royal collection, whether or not he selected them for publication (around seven), and those that did not (around thirteen), which we should take as more obvious evidence of his personal preferences and intentions’.
Turnèbe’s choice of books to be edited (and printed) by himself seems to have been dictated by three main factors: firstly, the desire to print previously unpublished material or to offer improved versions of earlier editions for the benefit of the (small) Greek learning public; the desire and need to print texts relating to his teaching, past, contemporary or future; and the desire to print texts relevant to his immediate intellectual interests.
Turnèbe left a small legacy of correspondence, which miraculously returned to France after three centuries and has been kept in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France since 1928. This small treasure trove has been studied by Charles Astruc and is a great insight into Turnèbe’s experience as royal printer. Shortly before his death, Turnèbe replied to his friend Joachim Camerarius (1500-74), a philologist from Leipzig who was to Germany what Turnèbe was to France, with news of his worrying state of health. He answered Joachim’s questions and wrote two short sentences, which may seem insignificant, but which shed important light on his personal experience as a publisher and holder of the title of royal printer: ‘As regards the publication of books, it is now two years since I condemned the art of typography without appeal: I gave it up because it was a waste of money, time and health. Now it is Morel who has the upper hand over the royal types’. This frank and concise answer underlines the physical and mental effort required by the presses, but also the strong economic pressure on the shoulders of the printers, who had to invest a lot and wait between one and two years to make a profit. Thus, according to his own words, Turnèbe decided to abandon the art of printing which had failed to match his passion for teaching.
Astruc, Charles, ‘Une lettre autographe d’Adrien Turnèbe, Ms. du Supplément grec, n° 1361′, Revue des Études Grecques, 58, nos 274-278 (1945), 219-227.
Chomarat, Jacques, ‘Bilan bibliographique’, Nouvelle Revue du XVIe Siècle, 12, no. 1 (1994), 91-107.
Constantinidou, Natasha, ‘Constructions of Hellenism Through Printing and Editorial Choices: The Case of Adrien de Turnèbe, Royal Lecturer and Printer in Greek (1512-1565)’, International Journal of the Classical Tradition, 25, no. 3 (2018), 262-84.
Constantinidou, Natasha, ‘Libri Graeci: Les livres grecs à Paris au XVIe siècle’, Blog de la Société bibliographique de France (22 February 2020).
Demulder, Bram, ‘Translating Plutarch, Honouring Cicero : Adrien Turnèbe’s Translation of On the Generation of the soul in the Timaeus (1552)’, Bibliothèque d’Humanisme et Renaissance, 78, no. 2 (2016), 371-91.
Ford, Philip, ‘Homer in the French Renaissance’, Renaissance Quaterly, 59, no. 1 (2006), 1-28.
Hutton, James, ‘The Classics in Sixteenth-Century France’, The Classical Weekly, 43, no. 9 (1950), 131-39.
Renouard, Philippe, Documents sur les imprimeurs, libraires, cartiers, graveurs, fondeurs de lettres, relieurs, doreurs de livres, faiseurs de fermoirs, enlumineurs, parcheminiers et papetiers ayant exercé à Paris de 1450 à 1600: recueillis aux Archives nationales et au département des manuscrits de la Bibliothèque nationale (Paris, 1901).
Renouard, Philippe, ‘Les “Grecs du Roi”’, Bulletin du Bibliophile, 15 (1901), 157-68.
Renouard, Philippe, Jeanne Veyrin-Forrer & Birgitte 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).
Stevens, Linton C., ‘A Re-Evaluation of Hellenism in the French Renaissance’, Studies in Philology, 58, no. 2, pt. 1 (1961), 115-29.
Waddington, Charles, ‘Notice sur Adrien Turnèbe’, Bulletin de la Société de l’Histoire du Protestantisme Français (1852-1865), 3, no. 12 (1855), 665-80.
 Dumoulin, Joseph, Vie et oeuvres de Fédéric Morel, imprimeur à Paris depuis 1557 jusqu’à 1583 (Paris, 1901), pp 135-36. The quotation is from Homer, Iliad, Book III, 179.
 Renouard, Philippe, ‘Les “Grecs du Roi”’, Bulletin du Bibliophile, 15 (1901), 157-68.
 The date of Henri II Estienne’s birth is unclear: the Library of Congress suggests 1531 and Renouard gives 1528: 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), p. 143.
 Renouard, Philippe, Documents sur les imprimeurs, libraires, cartiers, graveurs, fondeurs de lettres, relieurs, doreurs de livres, faiseurs de fermoirs, enlumineurs, parcheminiers et papetiers ayant exercé à Paris de 1450 à 1600: recueillis aux Archives nationales et au département des manuscrits de la Bibliothèque nationale (Paris, 1901), p. 90.
 Chomarat, Jacques, ‘Bilan bibliographique’, Nouvelle Revue du XVIe Siècle, 12, no. 1 (1994), 91-107.
 Renouard et al. (eds), Répertoire des imprimeurs parisiens, p. 416.
 Waddington, Charles, ‘Notice sur Adrien Turnèbe’, Bulletin de La Société de l’Histoire du Protestantisme Français (1852-1865), 3, no. 12 (1855), 666-67.
 Constantinidou, Natasha, ‘Constructions of Hellenism Through Printing and Editorial Choices: The Case of Adrien de Turnèbe, Royal Lecturer and Printer in Greek (1512–1565)’, International Journal of the Classical Tradition, 25, no. 3 (2018), 264-65.
 Ford, Philip, ‘Homer in the French Renaissance’, Renaissance Quaterly, 59, no. 1 (2006), 5.
 Constantinidou, Natasha, ‘Constructions of Hellenism Through Printing and Editorial Choices’, 265.
 Ibid., 278.
 Ibid., 265.
 Ibid., 265-66.
 Astruc, Charles, ‘Une lettre autographe d’Adrien Turnèbe, Ms. du Supplément grec, n° 1361′, Revue des Études Grecques, 58, nos 274-278 (1945), 219-227.