Publishing the Classics: A Brief History

Nigel Wilcockson explores the vast range of titles published over the years.

'Classick n. An author of the first rank: usually taken for ancient authors.'

Samuel Johnson's characteristically pithy definition neatly summarises 'classic' literature as it was viewed two-and-a-half centuries ago. True to the roots of the word (the Latin scriptor classicus signified a first-rate writer), 'classic' to Johnson and his contemporaries denoted literary excellence, but it was an excellence that was often thought to go hand in hand with the masters of Latin and Greek literature, who had left posterity with works to be admired, studied and imitated. Today, the emphasis is rather different. Latin and Greek works certainly still retain their status as classics, but as even a brief glance at the 850 titles listed in the Penguin catalogue shows, they have been joined by a vast range of works from other languages and cultures. The world of the classics is now a very broad church indeed.

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