Aesopus moralistus cum bono commento.

n.l., n.r., probably Augsburg, Johannes Schönsperger, 1497.


4to., 40 unnumbered leaves. a-c6, d4, e-g6. Gothic letter, text in larger, notes in smaller, lovely woodcut on title page of a master with two scholars all with books, else undecorated. Age yellowing, light marginal foxing and rust marks, one marginal tear without loss, last leaf a bit soiled and adhered to end papers, a little early underlining. An attractive, wide margined copy on thick paper in C19th boards incorporating part of a bifolium from a rubricated South German manuscript on vellum c.1300, attractive bookplate of Walter Hirst and pencil notes on pastedown. Internal joints cracked, partially exposing binding structure and medieval manuscript stubs, but sound.

A Latin metrical version of books 1-4 of Aesop’s fables with an extensive interlinear commentary, usually ascribed to Walter of England. For obvious reasons it was a popular pedagogical text in the C15th, so the title page woodcut is particularly appropriate, though not a great advertisement for either teacher or pupil as ‘doctoris’ has been misspelled. Although it went through a number of editions during the incunable period, like most school texts its survival has been low and most, including the present, are infrequently met with outside the ancient libraries.

Walter of England (fl. mid C12th) was probably sent to Sicily by Henry II as tutor for his intended son in law William, becoming in due course Archbishop of Palermo, a position he held very creditably for twenty-five years, and which he ultimately united with the chancellorship of the Sicilian Kingdom. He is known to have been the author of several works, of which not even the titles are now known, except the present. In fact Walter was not the author of Aesopus Moralistus – essentially the Romulan collection of fables derived from Phaedrus via three closely related manuscripts of the C14th – but was very likely its editor and commentator of at least this and a few other comparable editions. Whatever its exact origins, the text is of particular interest as documenting how boys were taught in Latin in the 1490’s, a reality which is actually quite modern and far removed from later preconceptions of the medieval world.

BMC XV, II 371. GKW A414. Goff. A139 (Huntington and Yale copies only).


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