11 Jul 2006

Loeb Classical Library

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The Loeb Classical Library has been a reliable, if not always inspiring, cultural institution since 1912. This year, the Loeb Library marks a publication milestone with the arrival of its 500th volume: Volume I of the Lesser Declamations of Quintilian.

The Loeb Library is celebrating this landmark with the publication of an anthology: the Loeb Classical Library Reader, featuring selections from 33 Loeb titles.

Tracy Lee Simmons, author of Climbing Parnassus, acknowledges the occasion with an essay in the Weekly Standard.

They may look quaint, but these midget volumes have become the missals of the bookish classes. Generations have known them as “the Loebs,” though they belong to what is properly called the Loeb Classical Library, and, within the English-speaking world, they are deemed an essential accouterment to the life of the mind. For within them we can find, in all their antiquated Greek and Latin glory, those exquisite feats of the ancient Greeks and Romans in poetry, drama, philosophy, and history–not to mention architecture, agriculture, geography, engineering, mathematics, botany, zoology, and even horsemanship and hunting…

From the publication of the first volume of the series in 1912 (the Argonautica of Apollonius Rhodius) the Loeb Library, which never published in any particular order of works, has always catered more to those unable or too unpracticed to read Greek: 322 of the current collection are greens (Greek), while only 177 are reds (Latin). The Top Ten Loeb Bestsellers are predictable: Homer (three volumes), Virgil (two volumes), Ovid, Hesiod, Caesar, Aristotle, and the All-Time Number One, the Plato volume containing the dialogues Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Phaedo, and the Phaedrus.

Not surprisingly, these volumes hew closely to those texts most often assigned in schools and universities.

When surveyed as a whole, the Loeb Classical Library does make an arrestingly imposing set of books, so much so that the Harvard University Press has broadcast some fun facts worthy of Trivial Pursuit. The Loebs take up precisely 43 feet of shelf space, weigh 372 pounds, and were anyone ever inspired to do this, he could stack the volumes vertically end-to-end to build a column of 276 feet, the height of each tower of the Brooklyn Bridge.

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