Multilingual texts/chapter and verse/layout grids

From a lovely bit of work, Formatting the Word of God: The Charles Caldwell Ryrie Collection, produced by the Bridwell Library at SMU in Dallas:

This [a 1551 Estienne bible, published in Calvin’s Geneva] is the book to which we are indebted for our custom of quoting the Bible by chapter and verse. It is the first division of the Bible into verses.

The reason for the development is probably an accident of the format. This book has three separate texts of the Bible: the Greek is set in the middle of each page, next to Erasmus’s Latin and the Vulgate Latin. It appears that the need to provide a basis for cross-references and comparison gave birth to the idea.

Printing three columns in such small format may very well have influenced the development of verse divisions. The tiny format of this book, which is in sextodecimo, may have suggested the idea of setting off each sentence as an indented paragraph. Indenting each sentence in small format – a style we see in some newspaper articles – is aesthetically compatible with narrow columns since it breaks up the rectangularity of the textblocks. This system of indentation may have suggested, as well, the enumeration. The numbers are much less forbidding at the beginning of indentations than they would be if they were set in relatively rapid succession throughout solid textblocks.

It’s obvious when one thinks about it that a grid comes in handy in publishing a comparative edition of a text. I just hadn’t thought about it before.

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