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Which classics come in red and green? The creation of the Loeb Classical Library canon.

Mirte Liebregts

Radboud University, Nijmegen, the Netherlands

Few of us nowadays would expect to find a translation of Photius’ Bibliotheca or Alcuin’s De Fide Sanctae Trinitatis among the red and green Loeb Classical Library volumes, as Byzantine Greek and Carolingian Latin are often relegated to different research areas than ‘classical’ Greece and Rome. A first draft of the project, however, dating to 1910, reveals the original intention to include both of these ancient authors and to extend its overall scope to the fall of Constantinople. Why were these objectives abandoned? Is this related to the fluidity of the definition of ‘classical’?

I investigate the early development of the corpus of the Loeb Classical Library (LCL) between 1910 and 1920, in order to demonstrate the dynamics underlying the creation of scholarly publications in the field of classical studies and to explain possible discrepancies between intentions and outcomes. The first ten years of the bilingual series’ existence have been crucial for the ways in which it has taken shape. Nevertheless, the choices and processes that led to the publication as we nowadays know it remain unexplored. 

This paper ties in with an increasing interest in classical publications (e.g. Most 1999, Gibson and Kraus 2002, Henderson 2006, Stray 2007, Kraus and Stray 2016) and the dynamics of the classical canon (e.g. Formisano and Kraus 2018). I argue that a more comprehensive insight into the mechanisms of (classical) canon formation can be gained by taking the organisational side of publishing a book series into account too (e.g. Spiers 2011). Both internal processes, such as negotiations between multiple stakeholders, and external circumstances, such as copyright or availability of texts, are decisive for the way in which long-term projects take shape.

The intention to incorporate ‘all that is of value and of interest in Greek and Latin literature’ (Loeb 1912) in the book series may lead to an initial diagnosis of ‘hyperinclusivity’ (Pollock 2015, as cited in Güthenke and Holmes 2018). Yet, a closer analysis shows that in fact a selection process was clearly in place. I take the actual order of appearance of the LCL volumes as a starting point, as this is revealing for the series’ remarkable publication strategies. For example, neither Homer nor Virgil were among the first 60 volumes, whereas the Apostolic Fathers and Quintus of Smyrna were. Secondly and more extensively, I turn to the affairs that generated this result.

The inclusion of ‘all interesting and valuable texts’ brought along many challenges, not least due to contrasting interpretations of this statement. Based on unpublished letter exchanges between the series’ patron James Loeb, the editors, and publisher William Heinemann, I highlight the differing views of several stakeholders – and especially disagreements between American and English classical scholars – to incorporate specific texts or authors. Additionally, I pay attention to the implications of rivaling publishers and legal constraints. By doing so, the reasons why some volumes were renounced, while it was deemed vital to include others, will become clear. The ‘classical’ is continuously reshaped and amended, both deliberately and involuntarily.

Session/Panel Title

The Lives of Books

Session/Paper Number


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