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Loeb Classical Library

The Loeb Classical Library is a series of books, today published by the Harvard University Press, which present important works of ancient Greek and Latin Literature in a way designed to make the text accessible to the broadest possible audience, by presenting the original Greek or Latin text on each left-hand leaf, and a fairly literal translation on the facing page. They represent the Everyman's Library of Antiquity, the canon of our Classical heritage spanning fourteen centuries of epics and lyric poetry; tragedy and comedy; history, travel, philosophy, and oratory; medical writers, geographers and mathematicians. The Loeb Classical Library also extends to cover those Church fathers who made particular use of pagan culture.

The series was conceived and initially funded by James Loeb . The first volumes were published by William Heineman and company in 1912, already in their distinctive green (for Greek text) and red (for Latin) hardcover bindings, which are instantly recognizable today. Since then scores of new titles have been added, and the earliest translations have been revised several times. (In recent years, this has included the removal of earlier editions' bowdlerization.) Profit from the editions continues to fund graduate student fellowships at Harvard University.

Although some serious classicists spurn the Loebs (which have only a minimal apparatus criticus ) as amateurish, and many non-classicists, conversely, are unimpressed by the relatively pedestrian prose of the English translations (necessary because of the desire to remain as literal as possible), the Loeb editions are nonetheless ubiquitous, still the "handy books of a size that would fit in a gentleman's pocket" that they were in 1912, though now they slip into a sweatshirt hoodie.

In 1917 Virginia Woolf wrote (in the Times Literary Supplement): The Loeb Library, with its Greek or Latin on one side of the page and its English on the other, came as a gift of freedom...The existence of the amateur was recognised by the publication of this Library, and to a great extent made respectable...The difficulty of Greek is not sufficiently dwelt upon, chiefly perhaps because the sirens who lure us to these perilous waters are generally scholars [who] have forgotten...what those difficulties are. But for the ordinary amateur they are very real and very great; and we shall do well to recognise the fact and to make up our minds that we shall never be independent of our Loeb.

Harvard University assumed complete responsibility for the series in 1989 and in recent years four or five new or re-edited volumes a year have been appearing.

In 2001, Harvard University Press began issuing a third series of books with a similar format. The I Tatti Renaissance Library presents key Medieval and Renaissance works in their original language (usually Latin) with facing translation; it is bound similarly to the Loeb Classics, but with blue covers. (The books' dimensions, however, are slightly larger.)

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Last updated: 10-24-2004 05:10:45