"The real trick to life is not to be in the know, but to be in the mystery."
-Fred Alan Wolf

09 August 2016


If the Renaissance had a trademark, it would be the dolphin-and-anchor device of Aldus Manutius. The famed Venetian printer and humanist scholar produced a series of elegant and convenient editions of the classics in the late-fifteenth and early-sixteenth centuries, and the Aldine press was so successful and renowned that the device was imitated by printers throughout Europe. By using an anchor device, printers could capitalize on the existing authority and prestige of the Aldine press -- an act of appropriation and allusion that would be reenacted by numerous publishing firms over the following centuries.

The emblem of the dolphin and anchor was used to illustrate the proverb festina lente, or "make haste slowly." Erasmus composed a lengthy essay on this proverb in his Adagiorum collectanea, a collection of  "adages," or classical proverbs, which he kept revising throughout his career.

Erasmus seems to have this image in mind, explaining the proverb by recourse to "ancient texts relating to hieroglyphics": "the circle as having neither beginning nor end represents eternity. The anchor, which holds back and ties down the ship and binds it fast, indicates slowness. The dolphin, as the fastest and in its motions most agile of living creatures, expresses speed. If then you skilfully connect these three, they will make up some such principle as 'Ever hasten slowly.'"


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