It is honestly like book porn for many bibliophiles. The first time you see them is especially thrilling. My first time, now almost forty years ago, was in the Joint University Libraries, now the The Jean and Alexander Heard Library at Vanderbilt. Their familiar green and red bindings blinded because there were so many, over 500. I have always had an affinity for the classics, and now here was nirvana, a kind of book heaven. I nearly trembled as I pulled them off the shelf and saw the Greek (green binding) or Latin (red binding) on the left hand side of the page, the English on the right. I began reading them and did not stop until, about forty years later, I finished both sets. Each volume fits perfectly in your hand. Philanthropist Loeb knew, rightly I think, that a “gentleman” would want a book he could carry around in his coat pocket.
No, alas, I did not devour them in the original languages. I know Latin, but I only know the Greek alphabet. I can stumble and lurch my way through Cicero, but I am a blind man in a dark alley with Plato, fenny or otherwise, understanding only one or two words every few hundred. Even so, I thrilled each time I opened a new volume to read. It took decades to get through all of them because I kept having to, well, work for a living. I thought about saving the savor for retirement, but I decided that, one, I couldn’t wait; and two, I didn’t want to risk being disabled, incoherent, or both by then.
And now, here they are, for anyone who wishes to read them. Earlier this month, about a week ago, in fact, the Loebs went digital. The Digital Loeb Classics are now available online for a fee, more than 520 of them. What’s more they are searchable, browsable, sharable and even annota…er, and you can annotate in them as well.
These volumes still resonate, even among the hip and the young. They appeared in a Simpson’s segment, in Mr. Burn’s study. As the irascible Burns enjoys a snifter of brandy, it does bring to mind Loeb’s classic [pun intended] statement that these volumes were for those who enjoyed the finer things in life.
So, here they are, ready to be devoured even by digital natives. And here’s to you, James Loeb. Cheers!