Robert Estienne

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Robert I Estienne (Paris 1503Geneva, 7 September 1559), also known as Robert Stephens (Latin: Stephanus), was a 16th century printer in Paris. He was a former Catholic who became an Evangelical late in his life and the first to print the Bible divided into standard numbered verses.



Early on he became acquainted with the ancient languages, and entered the printing establishment of Simon de Colines, who married his mother upon his father's death.

In 1524, he became proprietor of the press of his stepfather. In 1539 he adopted as his devices an olive branch around which a serpent was twined, and a man standing under an olive-tree, with grafts from which wild branches were falling to the ground, with the words of Romans 11:20, Noli altum sapere, sed time… ("Be not high-minded, but fear.") The latter was called the olive of the Stephens family.

In 1539, he received the distinguishing title of "Printer in Greek to the king." But the official recognition and the crown's approval to his undertaking could not save him from the censure and ceaseless opposition of the divines, and in 1550, to escape the violence of his persecutors, he emigrated to Geneva.

With his title of "royal typographer" Estienne made the Paris establishment famous by his numerous editions of grammatical works and other school-books (among them many of Melanchthon's), and of old authors, as Dio Cassius, Eusebius of Caesarea, Cicero, Sallust, Julius Caesar, Justin, Socrates Scholasticus, and Sozomen. Many of these, especially the Greek editions (which were printed with typefaces made by Claude Garamond), were famous for their typographical elegance.

Svetonius, Lives of the Twelve Caesars
Svetonius, Lives of the Twelve Caesars

In 1532, he published the remarkable Thesaurus linguae latinae, and twice he published the entire Hebrew Bible — "one with the Commentary of Kimchi on the minor prophets, in 13 vols. 4to (quarto) (Paris, 1539-43), another in 10 vols. 16mo (sextodecimo) (ibid. 1544-46)."[] Both of these editions are rare.

Of more importance are his four editions of the Greek New Testament, 1546, 1549, 1550, and 1551, the last in Geneva. The first two are among the neatest Greek texts known, and are called O mirificam; the third is a splendid masterpiece of typographical skill, and is known as the Editio Regia; the edition of 1551 contains the Latin translation of Erasmus and the Vulgate, is not nearly as fine as the other three, and is exceedingly rare. It was in this edition that the division of the New Testament into verses was for the first time introduced.

A number of editions of the Vulgate also appeared from his presses, of which the principal are those of 1528, 1532, 1540 (one of the ornaments of his press), and 1546. The text of the Vulgate was in a wretched condition, and his editions, especially that of 1546, containing a new translation at the side of the Vulgate, was the subject of sharp and acrimonious criticism from the clergy.

On his arrival at Geneva, he published a defense against the attacks of the Sorbonne. He issued the French Bible in 1553, and many of John Calvin's writings; the finest edition of the Institutio being that of 1553. His fine edition of the Latin Bible with glosses (1556) contained the translation of the Old Testament by Santes Pagninus, and the first edition of Theodore Beza's Latin edition of the New Testament.[]


Three of Robert's sons, Henry, Robert, and Francois, became celebrated as printers. Francois (b. 1540) printed on his own account in Geneva from 1562–1582, issuing a number of editions of the Bible in Latin and French, and some of Calvin's works. French writers identify him with a printer by the name of Estienne in Normandy, to which he is supposed to have emigrated in 1582.

Robert Estienne Jr. (1530–1570) began to print in Paris on his own account in 1556, and in 1563 received the title of Typographus regius; his presses were busily employed in issuing civil documents. He held to the Catholic faith and thus won the support of Charles IX, and by 1563 appears to have fully reconstituted his father's establishment in Paris. His edition of the New Testament of 1568–1569, a reprint of his father's first edition and equal to it in elegance of execution, is now exceedingly rare.

See also


  • Henri-Jean Martin, « Le temps de Robert Estienne », Histoire de l'édition française, vol. 1, Paris, 1982, pp. 230-235 ISBN 2903181063

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