- Greek Civilization Through the Eyes of Travellers and Scholars
In the early 1980s Greek magnate Dimitris Contominas began an expansion of his private library collection by systematically acquiring every printed book that captured some aspect of Greek history and culture from the fifteenth century through the mid-twentieth century. Within just a few years the collection expanded by several hundred volumes. Today the library holds nine hundred titles and fifteen hundred volumes and is considered one of the most significant private collections in the world. The main body of the collection is comprised of travel literature, primarily memoirs of "scholars, poets, antiquarians, epigrammatists, travellers, diplomats, naturalists, pilgrims, archaeologists, and historians, not to mention a mass of pictorial material" (xi). The library also contains "studies and reviews by Greek and foreign specialists in every period covered by the age-old history of Greece" (x). In addition, there are a small number of the standard works on the history of Greek and Byzantine civilization as well as some of the classic works of literature. The present volume is a catalog describing these materials.
Compiled by Leonora Navari, this scholarly volume lists the full bibliographical details of more than eight hundred items that make up the travel collection of Contominas's library. Included are several works considered to be very rare or unusual: Le Huen's adaptation of Breydenbach's pilgrimage to Jerusalem; the first printed account of Cyriac of Ancona's travels in the East; Carlo Widmann's account of the Ionian Islands; and Prejelan's album illustrating air combat and aviation in northern Greece and Thasos during the First World War (xiii).The catalog is arranged alphabetically by author, and each entry is comprised of [End Page 523] four parts: the title with its heading, the bibliographical description, the note, and the bibliographical references. The note information is varied and may contain the item's printing history, mention of its relative scarcity, information about the author, or a description of its illustrations or other special features. The bibliographical references identify the library that has a copy of the book (often a national library, although not always) and a cross-reference, if relevant, to the corresponding entries in the Blackmer, Atebey, or Gennadius catalogs.
In addition to the interesting notes and references, the volume under review provides several other invaluable features. Most notable among these is the introduction by Navari, published in English, describing her methodology for organizing the catalog. The outlined methodology reveals Navari's respect for accuracy, specifically with reference to her explanation of collation. Another significant feature in this catalog is the historical and informative essay written by Ioli Vingopoulou, which explores the nature of travel writing and its relationship to the Greek world. Especially welcome in a catalog of this nature is the reproduction of over two hundred rare illustrations, many in color, that originate from the cataloged items.
The usefulness of this catalog is enhanced by an extended bibliography, a guide to abbreviations, and the multiple indices: index of names; index of printers, publishers, booksellers, and bookbinders; and index of provenances.
While the catalog's most practical function might be restricted to specialists and scholars of Greek civilization, its contents unquestionably would prove most interesting for bibliophiles and rare book enthusiasts. Greek Civilization Through the Eyes of Travellers and Scholars makes an excellent companion catalog to the author's catalogs of the Blackmer and Atabey collections as well as Weber's catalog of the Gennadius Library. Dimitris Contominas and Leonora Navari are to be commended for their collaboration in offering this beautifully rich catalog.