THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY
|THE LACK OF PRINTING IN ANTIQUITY|
By FREDERIC DREW BOND
AMONG fragments from the Græco-Roman world which have come down to as, not a few imply the use of some sort of stamping, or rudimentary printing. Seals and stamps bearing reverse legends are not infrequent, and, in 1908, the Italian Archeological Committee at work in Crete discovered a terra-cotta inscription whose letters had been impressed separately. According to Lacroix Cicero had at least the idea of movable type, for in arguing against the Epicurean conception of the world as formed by the chance concourse of atoms, he uses this curious line of reasoning: "Why not believe, also, that by throwing together, indiscriminately, innumerable forms of letters of the alphabet, either in gold or in any other substance, one can print on the ground with these letters, the annals of Ennius?"
D'Israeli in bis "Curiosities of Literature" has a quaint passage in which he suggests that the Roman Senate, fearing the effects of printed books, prevented movable type from coming into use. Another suggestion is that of De Quincey, who expresses the view, which he states he derives from Archbishop Whately, that the reason the Romans did not use the press was not from lack of knowledge of movable type but from lack of paper with which to make use of it. The ancients, as is well known, used not paper, but papyrus, on which to write. Shreds of this river plant (which, according to the Encyclopædia Britannica, still grows in the Nile valley) were split apart in long pieces, interwoven with one another and the whole then heavily pressed till a smooth and polished surface suitable for writing was obtained.
But though lack of paper might have impeded the development of typography in antiquity, had its invention, otherwise, been feasible, this does not seem to have been the main cause accounting for its absence. For, after the fall of Samarcand in 704, the Saracens became acquainted with the manufacture of paper and, also, no doubt, learned of block printing among the Chinese; yet printing did not appear in the caliphates of Arabia or of Spain any more than it did among the Romans. (Among the Chinese, needless to say, it was the multitude of written characters which prevented the development of typography from block printing.) It may be thus suspected that printing was wanting in the Roman Empire for much the same reasons that it was wanting among the Saracens. By the end of the first century of our era there were already written nearly all the works which we call classics and a num-
- "Arts in the Middle Ages," English translation, p. 486.