Loeb Classical Library

  • Arts & Culture
  • 1912

A book from the Loeb Classical Library is instantly recognizable. Each of the 518 hardbound volumes is uniformly sized and sports a minimalist cover—red for works in Latin and green for those in Greek. Inside is a layout that has not changed in 100 years of publication. On every left-hand page runs the original text, with a near-literal English translation running on the right-hand page.

The books preserve and popularize an enormous body of ancient wisdom: early dramas, novels, and poetry, histories by the likes of Herodotus and Josephus, scores of works from philosophers like Aristotle and Seneca, works of mathematics, Greek and Roman political speeches, biographies, and early Christian texts.

The series is a pure product of philanthropy. James Loeb was a son of the founder of one of America’s earliest investment banks. He worked for the family business until illness forced his early retirement, then dedicated himself to a life of quiet scholarship and giving. Loeb was lead funder of what would eventually become the Juilliard School (see entry dated 1905). He sponsored psychiatric research, charitable hospitals, and convalescent homes. And he personally financed the translation, production, and publication of the Loeb Classical Library.

When he left Harvard money in his will to complete the series, Loeb directed that profits from sales of the books should be put toward scholarships in the classics. To this day, the library’s proceeds support Harvard graduate students. The Loeb Library also inspired three similar large efforts to present great literatures in a consistent high-quality format: a series of crucial works from the Renaissance, a medieval library, and a trove of the classical literature of India. These also relied on philanthropy.