This essay proposes an exercise of detailed and contextual reading of the Erasmian adage Festina lente, which contains a cultural diagnosis of Aldus Manutius as a prominent historical actor within a motley Venetian cohort of printing personae ranging from humanists to street peddlers. While the central sections are taken, successively, by Roman antiquarian themes, bibliophilic assessment, and the epistemic problem of marginalia in a Byzantine lexicon consulted by Erasmus while in Venice, the introduction and conclusion further expand the results of this localized inquiry by raising the early modern problem of expertise and following the idea of Herculean printing in Erasmus as a pedagogical and philosophical model.
This essay addresses printing and instrument making as crucial features in the accumulation and dissemination of cosmographical knowledge; as a corollary, it also frames the avalanche of data from the New World as a problem of ‘information management’. In this respect, while standard treatments of the topic emphasize the epistemological gathering directed by royal institutions, I maintain that armchair erudition and discovery were still coessential, if not overlapping. My discussion pursues a specific case study – the use of Pedro de Medina’s nautical tract in Seville, Venice and Antwerp – aiming to rewrite some aspects of network theory in terms of translation. Simultaneously, it tracks epistemological changes taking place within the cognitive jurisdictions of the printing house, and examines descriptions of instruments, woodcuts, and diagrams, to visualize how historical actors used to communicate with patrons, mathematicians, and craftsmen.