Social and Economic

Dictes and Sayings of the Philosopher

On 18 November 1477 William Caxton printed Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers translation of ‘Dictes and Sayings of the Philosophers’

Dictes and Sayings of the Philosopher

In 1473 Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers was lent a copy of an Arabic book’s French translation. The book, Dictes and Sayings of the Philosopher, was a compilation of sayings from philosophers from across the ancient world. It contained words of wisdom from prophets, philosophers and even from myths and legends. Earl Rivers took the book with him on a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. Whilst on pilgrimage, he translated it into English.

Caxton and early English Printing

At around the same time, William Caxton established a printing press in Bruges from where he produced the first ever printed book in English: The Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye [The history of Troy]. Successful in Bruges, Caxton then moved to Westminster in 1476 to establish himself in England.

Patronage and Print

Caxton had possibly already printed a book in Westminster before becoming aware of the Earl’s work. However, a man as influential as Rivers was an ideal candidate for his first printed publications. Therefore, he took the manuscript and set about making it ready for print.

Literary Firsts in Dictes and Sayings of the Philosopher

He added an epilogue to the Earls manuscript and made two firsts in the history of the English language. Firstly, he dated the book. All of Caxton’s earlier works were undated. Secondly, he included a Colophon. This is the printer’s imprint on a book which we would recognise today as a publisher’s logo.

The book was printed on 18 November 1477. It was reproduced on several occasions using Caxton’s press.

Caxton continued to be influential as a printer. For example, in 1489 he was commissioned By King Henry VII to print copies of Faytes of Arms by Christine Pizan.

Featured Image: Dictes and Sayings of the Philosopher

Presentation miniature showing Anthony Woodville presenting a book to his brother-in-law King Edward IV, accompanied by his consort Queen Elizabeth Woodville and her son Edward, Prince of Wales.


St. John’s College, University of Cambridge. The dictes and sayings of the philosophers translated by Anthony Woodville, Lord Rivers.

Robbins Library. The Dicts and Sayings of the Philosophers: An Introduction

Internet Archive. The dictes and sayings of the philosophers : a facsimile reproduction of the first book printed in England by William Caxton in 1477.

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