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Book & Print in New Zealand : A Guide to Print Culture in Aotearoa

Greek (Ancient) and Latin

Greek (Ancient) and Latin

In the 19th century, and for many centuries before, education in European cultures meant an education in Classics. It was natural, therefore, that immigrants to New Zealand should bring personal libraries of Greek and Latin texts with them, and that institutions such as schools, universities, theological colleges and public libraries should set about establishing collections. Some of these were subsequently enriched by donations of personal libraries, and collections of particular interest, notable especially for the number of incunabula, are to be found in Auckland, Wellington and Dunedin.


Auckland Public Library is the repository of the Grey Collection, which includes manuscripts of Greek and Latin texts and incunabula (among others, Cicero, Epistolae, 1477; Justinian, Institutiones, 1499).

The library of the University of Auckland holds the personal libraries of three former professors of Classics: C.A.M. Pond (1,300 books, bequeathed in 1894. Pond also advised Grey on selection of classical texts); A.C. Paterson (2,000 books, bequeathed in 1932, covering 'practically the whole range of Greek and Latin authors'); W.K. Lacey (a working classicist's collection over the years 1950-1990). Not all these works are in the classical languages.

In Wellington, the Alexander Turnbull Library holds small Rare Latin and Rare Greek collections, including 15 manuscripts. Most of the 100 or so incunabula are in Latin or Greek. The former General Assembly Library developed an extensive collection in and on the classical languages; most of the material published before 1801 has been transferred to the Turnbull, although at the time of writing (March 1997) it had not yet been catalogued there.

Victoria University of Wellington Library received the collections of two major donors, A.R. Atkinson and Professor Sir John Rankine Brown, who were both collecting editions and commentaries in the last quarter of the 19th century. Atkinson's collection comprised 800 volumes. Rankine Brown's was his working library of about 500 volumes (with some French literature as well as Latin and Greek).

In Dunedin, the University of Otago has two significant collections. The Shoults Collection, on deposit from Selwyn College, and donated in 1893 by an English cleric who had never been in New Zealand, has 3,500 volumes, many of them in Latin, including 16th-century editions of Ovid, Terence and Pliny, and Graevio's Thesaurus antiquitatum Romanarum (1674). The de Beer Collection (1946 to the 1980s), centred on European culture from the Renaissance to the end of the 18th century, contains a number of works in Latin, including Grotius' De iure belli et pacis (1719 edition) and Newton's Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica (Cote's 1726 edition). Most of the university's collection of 34 incunabula are in Latin, among them Boccaccio's De Genealogiis Deorum Gentilium (Venice, 1497) and Lucan's Pharsalia (Venice, 1486). The university also has a collection of 39 manuscripts. Notably absent from the University of Otago's holdings are books from the personal library of George Sale, Professor of Classics from 1870 to 1907. Sale retired to England, taking his books with him.

The Dunedin Public Library holds the Alfred and Isabel Reed Collection of rare books and manuscripts. The Latin Bible is particularly well represented, from portions on parchment and vellum from the 10th century onward to printed bibles of the 15th and 16th centuries. The Hewitson Library, Knox College, holds over 300 volumes in Latin in its Rare Books Collection of pre-1800 imprints.

Information on the above collections may be obtained from the following:

H. Brett, General Catalogue of the Grey Collection (1888) and supplements

Early Imprints in New Zealand Libraries (1995)-this covers the Wellington region (unpublished catalogues for other regions are held in the Turnbull and locally, at the universities of Otago, Canterbury and Auckland)

H.G. Kaplan, A First Census of Incunabula in Australia and New Zealand (1966)

M. Manion, V. Hines & C. de Hamel, Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts in New Zealand Collections (1989)

A.H. Reed, Rare Books and Manuscripts: The Dunedin Public Library's Alfred and Isabel Reed Collection (1968)

J.E. Traue, Committed to Print (1991)

The provenance of the works in these and similar collections was European and to a lesser extent, North American. In this they are completely representative. The active use of both Ancient Greek and Latin in New Zealand has always been limited and peripheral. Greek appears in excerpt in printed works, publication of numismatic legends, and sepulchral inscriptions; Latin, in addition to these, as monographs and in mottoes.


Latin and Greek were part of the foundation curriculum of New Zealand's first four universities. Both were taught also at metropolitan high schools, and Latin, which is still taught to reduced numbers, at many schools outside the metropolitan areas. Yet their place in education has left little mark on print publication in this country. The predominance of the European book market, the limited size of the academic community, which imposed the need to reach an international audience, and the fact that the majority of classicists working in New Zealand were expatriates for whom the world of serious scholarship lay elsewhere, discouraged local publication in or on the classical languages. Thus no Greek monographs printed in New Zealand are known, and those in Latin are a very rare exception. The only identified book is Exules Siberiani, by H.D. Broadhead. This is an abridged version in Latin of La jeune sibérienne, published in an edition of 1,000 copies by Whitcombe & Tombs (1932). Broadhead appended to his translation 'some original Latin verse of a light and ephemeral character', most of which had 'already appeared in the Canterbury College Review'. Beyond this, the only Latin 'monographs' were minor and occasional. Until 1962, when Latin was replaced in Catholic services by the vernacular, hymn cards with Latin texts were occasionally published by the New Zealand Tablet (1878-1996). The printery of Holy Cross College, Mosgiel, also produced chapel cards and vesting prayers in Latin for local use, and ordination cards with English text and appropriate Latin quotation. A curiosity from this printery was the vellum it printed with Latin text which was deposited under the foundation stone of the Verdun Memorial Chapel at the college (14 September 1960). If any Latin was printed on early missionary presses, it would presumably have been on a comparable scale.

Texts in excerpt

The most frequent form of publication of Greek and Latin is not as monograph, but in excerpt. Extensive passages of the Latin texts of Roman authors form the basis of three series of textbooks published since the 1970s in response to changes in the schools' Latin curriculum:

Topic(s) for School Certificate Latin, Christchurch, Canterbury Education Centre, 1987-91 (five titles)

Topic(s) for New Zealand Universities Entrance in Latin, Christchurch, Panicprint Multicopy Shoppe, 1974 (three titles)

Module(s) for the New Zealand Bursaries Examination in Latin, Christchurch, Department of Classics, University of Canterbury, 1990-91 (four titles)

The Greek and Latin texts of poems 'imitated' by New Zealand poets appear in Richard J.H. Matthews, Classical New Zealand Poetry Based on Greek and Latin Models (1985).

In monographs on classical subjects published in New Zealand the original languages naturally appear in quotation, as, for instance, in

Bulletins (7) published under the imprint of Auckland University College/Auckland University, 1949-71

E.M. Blaiklock, The Male Characters of Euripides, Wellington, New Zealand University Press, 1952

B.F. Harris (ed.), Auckland Classical Essays Presented to E.M. Blaiklock, Auckland, Auckland University Press, Wellington, Oxford University Press, 1970

E.M. Badian, Publicans and Sinners, Dunedin, University of Otago Press, 1972

The Teacher's Guides and Study Materials published by the Classics Department, University of Otago (Dunedin, 1979-1991) contain no more Greek and Latin than the occasional key word, but should be noted in this survey. They represent the most comprehensive publishing enterprise in Classics ever undertaken in New Zealand: 28 titles covering aspects of classical culture from Homer's Odyssey to Roman religion.

Pressure of space in overseas journals and the expansion of New Zealand universities in the 1950s, and Classical Studies in schools in the 1970s, led to the establishment of three locally-published journals which have become the main repository of 'illustrative' quotation: AUMLA, French Department, University of Canterbury, Christchurch (1953- ), Prudentia, Auckland University Bindery, Auckland (1969- ) and the NZACT Bulletin, New Zealand Association of Classical Teachers, Auckland (1974- ).

The original languages also appear in extensive quotation in theses and dissertations presented for postgraduate degrees in Classics. Since 1974 these have been listed in Research in Classics for Higher Degrees in New Zealand, Department of Classics, Victoria University, Wellington (1974- ).

A specialised use of Latin is in the nomenclature of botany, zoology and palaeontology, which is still cast in a conventional Latinised form. Full Latin descriptions of genera etc., seem never to have been published in New Zealand, even by 19th century scholars such as William Colenso, who ends an essay on 'The geographic and economic botany of the North Island of New Zealand' with a quotation from Virgil's Georgics (Transactions and Proceedings of the New Zealand Institute), Wellington, vol.1, 1868).

Numismatic legends

The texts of Greek and Roman coins in New Zealand collections have been published in the New Zealand Numismatic Journal, Royal Numismatic Society of New Zealand, Wellington (1931- ), especially in articles by C.T.H.R. Ehrhardt from vol.14, no.3 (Oct. 1977)) on. Ehrhardt has also compiled a Catalogue of the Greek Coins in the Otago Museum, Classics Department, University of Otago, Dunedin (1974-81; a photocopied typescript in six parts, including an Appendix Catalogue of the Greek Coins in the Southland Museum, Invercargill).

Sepulchral inscriptions

If Dunedin practice can be taken as representative (and an informal survey of members of the Genealogical Society suggests that it can) the only common Latin inscription is the formulaic R.I.P. It is used predominantly, perhaps exclusively, on Catholic grave sites. In a few cases (ten of the 55 noted in an unsystematic examination of Dunedin's two oldest graveyards) the formula is inscribed in full: requiesca(n)t in pace. The most recent instance is dated 1902. Even the single word aetat. is exceptional, and only one near complete epitaph in Latin was found: In memoriam William James Dempsey obiit 23 June MDCCCLXVIII, and two inscriptions which were more than formulaic: Laboro, spero, exspecto (1995), and Hic iacet Bache Parsons Harvey . . . Abeunt illuc omnia, unde orta sunt Cic. 'De Sen.' (1919). An Auckland inscription which deserves particular mention is that on the stone of Professor A.C. Paterson. It was suggested by his pupil, later colleague and successor in the Chair of Classics at Auckland University, E.M. Blaiklock: non omnis obiit, an apt and touching variant on Horace's non omnis moriar.

The only Greek inscription sighted is the stylised first three letters of 'Jesus': IHS, and only on stones carrying R.I.P.


Mottoes in Greek are very rare. However, until the recent revival of Māori, Latin was considered the natural language of mottoes in New Zealand, with a predominance of roughly 5:3 even over English. Latin was, and still is, used in a very wide range of social contexts: by educational institutions (Caelum certe patet, Pakuranga College), local bodies (Festina lente, Maniototo County Council), individuals (Fortuna favet audaci, A.H. Turnbull's bookplate), insurance companies (Amicus certus in re incerta, AMP), sports clubs (Vis unita fortior, Alhambra-Union Rugby Football Club, Dunedin), newspapers (Nihil utile quod non honestum, The Press, Christchurch), vintners (In vino felicitas et caritas, Montana Wines), brewers (Huc tendimus omnes, McCashin's Breweries), pizza-bar T-shirts (Carpe diem, Filadelfio's, Dunedin) and Scots clans (Per mare per terras, Clan Donald).

Notes have been written on some New Zealand mottoes by Will Richardson in The New Zealand Armorist and some have been published in the NZACT Bulletin. The most comprehensive collection consists of those included by Richardson in his 'A new offspring: a checklist of mottoes used by individuals and institutions in New Zealand' (unpublished). As a result of work on this contribution to this book, Dr Douglas Little has made a start on supplementing Richardson's list, convinced that if a comprehensive collection is to be compiled at all, it should be done soon. Some institutions have in recent years adopted English or Māori versions of their mottoes; others have gone out of existence, taking the record of their motto with them. Social changes, such as the amalgamation of local bodies, have accelerated this process considerably over the past decade.