Category: Works of Plato

First editions in Greek of the works of Plato

The editio princeps of the Platonic corpus, edited by Marcus Musurus and printed at the press of Aldus Manutius in Venice, circulated in 1513. By the end of the sixteenth century, four editions of the Complete Works (Hapanta) of Plato had been printed, two in Basle, one in Geneva and one in Lyon – the last two including also the Latin translation (Platonis Opera Omnia). Individual editions of the Platonic Dialogues and the Laws, based on the editio princeps of 1513, began to circulate from 1531. Sole exception is Plato’s Letter to the tyrant of Syracuse Dion I, which is included in the Epistles assembled by Musurus and printed in Venice by Manutius in 1499 (Renoird, 18, 1).

The editio princeps

It is not known how long it took to prepare the editio princeps of the Complete Works of Plato, in the printing house of Aldus Manutius. Nevertheless, the eminent German humanist Johann Cuno, who was in Manutius’ employ, attests that by late December 1506 the length of time required for the publication of the texts of Plato and of Plutarch had already been seriously discussed. In any case, Manutius had announced the publication of Plato from the preface to the second volume of Aristotle (1497). The Plato publication was based on the literary editing of Marcus Musurus, the most accomplished philologist of the Renaissance, for which he used “old and reliable manuscripts”, as stated in the colophon of the book. The Greek edition of Plato circulated in September 1513 (Renouard, 62, 4) and was acclaimed by Renaissance intellectuals as an even greater publishing achievement than the publication of the corpus of Aristotle’s esoteric discourses (Venice, Aldus, 1495-1498). It is now known that the manuscripts Musurus used were in his personal collection and have survived to this day in the Biblioteca Marciana in Venice: Marc. gr. iv,2 (70) and Marc. gr. iv1 (71). To the best of my knowledge, there is no philological critique of the Musurus edition; we can only garner amendments of passages, which were based on more reliable manuscripts than those available to Musurus and appear as marginal annotations in the edition published by Henricus Stephanus in 1578.

The editio princeps, which is dedicated to Pope Leo X, includes a prolix introduction in Latin, signed by Manutius, and a lyrical poem by Musurus, Ωδή είς Πλάτωνα (Ode to Plato), one of the most important works in verse form written by a Greek in the Renaissance.

Both Manutius and Musurus remind the young Pope of the Medicis’ major contribution to the diffusion of Platonic thought in the West, on the one hand through the Academy founded by Marsilio Ficino (with the support of Cosimo de’ Medici) and on the other through Ficino’s Latin translation of the Platonic corpus, which made it accessible to a much wider public. They emphasize too that just as Ficino dedicated his work to Lorenzo the Magnificent (1484), so they too, paying homage to the illustrious Medici family, dedicate the Greek Plato to Leo X (Giovanni de’ Medici). Indeed, they urge the pontifex to lead a crusade to disseminate Letters and Arts, and to found an Academy in Rome, modelled on that of Plato at Athens. Furthermore, they exhort him to link the Classical spirit with Christian piety, which represent the safest and surest road to happinness.

Subsequent editions

The next edition of the Complete Works of Plato circulated from the printing house of Johannes Valderus in Basle, in 1534 (Hoffmann, III, 118). The edition was accompanied by Proclus’ Scholia on Timaeus and on Politica, thesauro ueteris philosophiae maximo, as well as other commentaries and views regarding Plato’s works. It was edited by the gifted Protestant humanist Simon Grynaeus, whom Johannes Oecolampadius had selected to teach Greek from the official chair of the University of Basle. Grynaeus made several corrections to the edition of Manutius and Musurus (1513), but without being comparable to this.

Some twenty years later, and again in Basle, the Complete Works of Plato were republished, this time from the printing press of Henricus Petri, in 1556 (Hoffmann, III, 118-119). The preface is signed by Marcus Hopper, Petri’s secretary and professor of Greek at the University of Basle, who dedicates the edition to Basilio Amerbach, member of the great printing house of that name in Basle. Hopper makes two main points in his preface: that the edition was designed so as to be more affordable and easily usable for the wider reading public – Proclus’ Scholia on Timaeus were removed –, and that thanks to Arnoldus Arlenius’ exhaustive quest for new manuscripts from Italy, it had been possible to note and to correct a host of errors (the corrections number 1,000), so that the edition is the most authoritative.

In 1578 the monumental work of Henricus Stephanus, entitled Platonis Opera quæ extant Omnia, circulated in three large-format volumes (Hoffmann, III, 119-121). This was not only a feat of publishing but also a masterpiece of printing. It is embellished with elaborate and calligraphic headpieces and rubricated initial letters, while the Greek text, with the Latin translation in parallel, is defined by strikethroughs, printed in the margin of which are Stephanus’ interventions in the preceding editions.

In the preface to the edition, Stephanus informs readers that his intention was to publish a book worthy of Plato and of the reputation of his printing house. For rendering the Greek text, he collated the editio princeps of Manutius and Musurus (1513), as well as the two Basle editions mentioned above (1534 and 1556), and for Laws he took into consideration the Louvain edition (1531), along with various other manuscripts. He rehabilitated falsified passages, and wherever he did not reach satisfactory results he resorted to conflations, but always at a second level («εις δεύτερον πλουν»). Aware of the risks this method entailed, he elected not to intervene in the text but to put his proposals in the margins.

For the Latin translation of Plato, Stephanus ignored the standard one by Ficino and commissioned Jean de Serres (Serranus) to prepare a new one, with his own comments. However, de Serres did not approach the text with the requisite “reverence”, Stephanus reacted accordingly and the dispute between them ended up in the courts. De Serres wrote three dedicatory prefaces, which grace the edition and provide precious information: to Queen Elizabeth of England, to King James VI of Scotland and to the Republic of Berne. His first integrated edition of the Complete Works of Plato, in the sense that it included the Latin translation too, was for two centuries the standard and essential tool for anyone involved in Platonic studies. Indeed, to this day the numbering of its pages is considered globally as the authoritative reference to a text by Plato.

The last edition of the Complete Works of Plato, in the sixteenth century, was printed in Lyon (1590) and is accompanied by Ficino’s Latin translation once again, as de Serres’ translation was never republished. Publisher and printer was Franciscus le Preux (Hoffmann, III, 121). The Greek text was based on the Musurus edition and on the improvements of certain passages as recorded in the Stephanus edition, while the Latin translation by Ficino was printed with the revisions and corrections made by Simon Grynaeus (Basle 1534). However, Grynaeus’ work had suffered at the hands of unscrupulous typographers and was reinstated by the printer of Lyon Antoine Vincente, in 1557 (Hoffmann, III, 138). Vincente, in his preface, rails against those who had proof-read previous corrections of Grynaeus to Ficino’s translation. He juxtaposed on three large-format pages the mistakes he had rectified, declaring that these are but a small sample of the extent of the corrections made. Vincente did not stop at reinstating Grynaeus’ translation, but collated himself certain passages, most probably from the Petri edition (Basle 1554). However, in the end the interventions and revisions of the various men of letters to Ficino’s translation tended to represent their own work rather than his.


Without doubt the publishing achievements of the sixteenth century include Musurus’ editio princeps at the printing press of Manutius in 1513, not only for the event per se, but also because it provided ready material for those who republished the Complete Works of Plato, as well as individual Dialogues, during the sixteenth century. We note here that until 1845 or thereabouts, more than 330 separate editions of the Dialogues had been published.

Author: Konstantinos Sp. Staikos
  • Dibdin, Fr. Th. An Introduction to the Knowledge of Rare and Valuable Editions of the Greek and Latin Classics, I-II. London, 1827.
  • Firmin-Didot, A. Alde Manuce et l’Hellénisme à Venise. Paris, 1875.
  • Hoffmann, S.F.W. Bibliographisches Lexicon der gesammten Literatur der Griechen (ανατύπ. Adolf M. Hakkert). Amsterdam, 1961.
  • Renouard, Ant. Aug. Annales de l’imprimerie des Alde, ou Histoire des trois Manuce et de leurs éditions. Paris, Renouard, 1834.
  • Schreiber, F. The Estiennes. An Annotated Catalogue of 300 Highlights of their Various Presses,. New York, 1982.
  • Staikos, K. Sp. The History of the Library in Western Civilization, vol. V, From Petrarch to Michelangelo. Athens, 2012.
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