Item of the Week: Bibliotheca Classica

Published: April 2, 2010

Bibliotheca Classica, written by John Lempriere in 1788, is a recent Clark purchase, made with funds endowed by the late Dr. Adam Wechsler, a great friend and supporter of the library.

John Carter’s Printing and the Mind of Man names this particular work as “the first specialist work designed as a substitute for, rather than as an aid to, learning.”  Though Lempriere himself was only 23, an assistant master at Reading Grammar School on vacation from Pembroke College, Oxford, his creation of a book regarded as “lively and unusually readable  for a work of reference” is all the more impressive an achievement.

Apart from the book’s intrinsic values, it has also won lasting fame through the fact that John Keats owned a copy of it.  As Carter remarks, “it was the source of much of” the poet’s “knowledge of Greek and Latin mythology,” and even more significantly, “one can sometimes even see the genesis of his lines in Lempriere’s humble but lively prose.”

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