When Constantinople fell to Muslim Turkish invaders in 1453, many Greek Christians fled to Italy. Among the exiles were scholars who brought with them important classical and biblical manuscripts, as well as the knowledge of Greek needed to read the originals. Though tragic for Christians, the fall of Constantinople contributed positively to the Renaissance ideal of returning to the source (ad fontes). After the death of St. Jerome in 420, the knowledge of Greek had virtually disappeared in the West. Now, with the influx of Greeks into Italy, Westerners had among them not only the original sources, in the form of manuscripts, but also learned scholars who might teach them the ancient and forgotten language.
This Psalter was printed for the Greek community in Italy. It is the first edition of the Septuagint Psalter. The Septuagint is the Greek translation of the Old Testament made in the third century B.C.E. at the instigation of the librarian of Alexandria in response to the needs of Hellenistic Jews. The Septuagint remained the translation of choice for Greek readers for nearly 2000 years. Moreover, it is an important text for all Christian readers because it was the version known to and quoted by the New Testament writers. The editor of this text was Justinus Decadyus, one of the exiled scholars from Constantinople, who addresses Greeks in Italy and abroad in his preface. He praises the Italian printer Aldus Manutius for devoting his efforts to Greek publishing and announces Aldus’s intention to issue the rest of the Old Testament in a polyglot format with Hebrew, Greek, and Latin texts. As mentioned elsewhere, this was never accomplished.
For modern English readers, it will seem strange that the text is not set off as poetry, but rather run together as if prose. This is not unusual for early Bibles. What makes the format of this edition interesting, however, is the careful detail—and certainly time-consuming labor—of printing the first letter of each sentence in red, aiding the reader and making for a beautiful page layout.
Literature: Angerhofer 1995; Babcock 1994; Lowry 1979; Renouard 1825.