Rediscovering Greek and Roman literature

Veneration for the literature of ancient Greece and Rome lay at the heart of Renaissance Humanism. For Erasmus and others of like mind, the ideas and values inherent in classical works provided the lessons needed to lead a moral and effective life. It is unsurprising therefore that for humanists, the hunt for hitherto unknown ancient texts became an overriding concern. Early manuscript copies of the ancient authors were rediscovered, and new methods through which to correct them were developed so that the ancient wisdom could achieve the widest possible dissemination in its purest form via the new medium of print.

Although Erasmus’ editorial fame rests primarily upon his New Testament, he too played a part in this process, editing and publishing an impressive list of lesser known ancient Greek and Roman authors. In addition, some of his own works, such as the Adagia, and Apophthegmes, drew on ancient literature as a means to promote the style and rhetoric of the earlier authors.

The pronounced impact on Queens’ occasioned by this new interest in the legacy of ancient Greece and Rome was reflected both in the arrival at the college of humanist scholars (such as Erasmus) and in the college’s library. Records indicate that from the beginning of the 16th century the library began to pursue an active policy of seeking out the new editions of ancient classics, as well as books by the most eminent humanist scholars. In addition, the library acquired humanist works from the private collections of Queens’ fellows, such as those received from Erasmus’ close friends, Humphrey Walkden and Henry Bullock.

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