Detail map of Athina, Greece,Leiden, Zuid-Holland, Netherlands

A: Athina, Greece, B: Leiden, Zuid-Holland, Netherlands

Johannes Meursius Issues the First Guidebook to Athens


Though guidebooks to Rome and its antiquities were published in manuscript during the Middle Ages and in print during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and onward, the first guide to Athens did not appear until 1624 with the publication of Athenae Atticae. Sive, De pracipuis Athenarum Antiquitatibus Libri III by the Leiden classical scholar and antiquary Johannes Meursius (van Meurs). 

I first learned of Meursius's book when I read The Renaissance Discovery of Classical Antiquity (1969) by Roberto Weiss. Remarkably, the copy of the first edition of Meursius's book that I acquired for my collection turned out to be Weiss's personal copy, bound in contemporary paneled calf, which I had rebacked. On the front pastedown endpaper is the very neat penciled inscription reading "Liber Roberti Weiss / Ex dono P. Cecil/ die 2ndo Junii a.d. mcmxlv." The copy is also signed by Weiss in pencil with the date 1945 on the front free endpaper, and it has the elegant armorial bookplate of Sr. Thomas Seabright, Bart. From the appearance of the bookplate that would probably be Sir Thomas Saunders Seabright, 5th Baronet (1723–1761).

Here is what Weiss had to say with respect to the context of Meursius's book. As usual the links are my additions:

"Our knowledge of Greek antiquity began rather late. By the middle of the fiteenth century Roman antiquity had already been the object of study for nearly a century and of indiscrimate admiration for much longer. On the other hand, despite Crusades and trade, Latin rule and missionary effort, the archological study of the Greek world during the Renaissance practically began and ended with Ciraiaco d'Ancona, and by 1455 Ciriaco was dead. After him the Turkish conquest of Byzantine lands put an end to antiquarian travel in Greek territories for about a century; and when Pierre Gilles went to Constantinople in 1546 as an antiquary to the French ambassador, the Renaissance was nearly over. Gilles's two treatises appeared in print only in 1561 and deal with the topography of Constantinople and the Bosporus. No account of the topography of Athens, which is shown as a typically German city in the great Nuremberg chronicle of 1493, was published until 1624, when the Athenae Atticae of Johannes Meursius was issued for the first time. This Leiden professor had deemed it more comfortable to rely on literary sources than to go over to Greece to see for himself. His handbook remained the indispensable guide of every cultivated traveller to Athens for over a century" (Weiss, op. cit. 131).

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