EXTENSIVE CONTEMPORARY ANNOTATIONS ON ANCIENT ROMAN NOVEL

Opera.

£17,500

Folio, 178 leaves, A6, a-m8.6, n8, o-x8.6, y-z6, &6, 76, missing first blank.  Elegant Roman letter; printer’s device at end; tiny marginal wormholes to first leaf, small damp stains to outer upper corner of initial and final gatherings, marginal clean tear at foot of kv, miii and final blank. A very good, wide-margined copy in contemporary plain vellum, title and editorial data gilt on green morocco labels to spine, gilt bands to compartments; small crack to spine, upper joints lightly cracked; extensively annotated by five contemporary or nearly contemporary Italian scholars, one of whom inscribed above the colophon ‘Romilij prandi liber’; Hans Fürstenberg’s label on front pastedown, nineteenth-century title and later bookseller’s annotation on front endpaper verso, stamp of Count Ercole Giuseppe de Silva (1756-1840) at foot of first leaf.

Second edition, slightly more correct, of the works of Apuleius, edited by one of the earliest patrons of printing in the Italian peninsula, the bishop of Aleria, Giovanni Andrea Bussi (1417-1475), and first published in Rome in 1469 by Sweynheym and Pannartz. Half of the book is taken up by Apuleius’ masterpiece, the Metamorphoses or Golden Ass. It is the only Ancient Roman novel surviving in its integrity, recounting the adventures of a curious student of magic, Lucius. At the beginning of the book, one of Lucius’ attempts to perform a spell accidentally turns him into an ass. Hence, he travelled in search of ways to get back his human form, which only the goddess Isis was at last able to bestow on him.

This edition gathered other rhetorical and philosophical works written, attributed to or translated by Apuleius. His interest in esotericism and Neoplatonism made him very suitable for Renaissance readers’ taste, following Plato’s revival in the second half of the fifteenth century. Bussi’s preface opens with a praise of Cardinal Bessarion, the leading figure of this revival, who frequently referred to Apuleius in his Adversus Platonis calumniatorem as a necessary tool for a full understanding of Platonic thought. One can also read here an interesting essay on magic, entitled Asclepius after the Greek god of healing. It was thought to be authored by Apuleius, even though it is part of the famous Corpus Hermeticum brought to the West by Michael Psellus and translated into Latin and Italian by Marsilio Ficino. Under the influence of Egyptian tradition, Asclepius provides detailed description of such esoteric practice as the animation of statues and the art of imprisoning demons’ souls.

This copy bears very interesting and extensive scholarly marginalia, written by five Italian humanists between the last decade of fifteenth century and the first half of the following century. The earliest are in a contemporary hand, probably from the Neapolitan area, featured with a large and quite thick cursus. In one of his bookseller catalogues (IV, 1906, no. 46), Tammaro De Marinis cautiously attributed these manuscripts to the humanist Giovanni Pontano, as the pencil inscription on the front endpaper verso records. Nevertheless, a comparison with the samples of Pontano’s writing (Autografi dei letterati italiani: il Quattrocento, I, pp. 331-342) reveals that this attribution is incorrect, though the writing style might pertain, like Pontano’s, to the Neapolitan milieu of the twilight of the fifteenth century.

Alongside several annotations recording the unusual combination of words used in Apuleius’s creative Latin, this scholar records at the foot of the final errata what appears to be an unpublished, very cynical proverb in Latin, reading ‘Ignorant as a child, poor as a young man, he prepares himself for the hanging of old age’. Another hand, sharper and quicker, wrote on the verso of the final blank six of the fourteen verses comprising De origine rosarum, an Ovidian poem by Dracontius (c. 455-c. 505) – the whole text being first published by Bernardino Corio in his History of Milan, Venice 1554. Many annotations are by a slightly later hand, about the first quarter of sixteenth century, belonging to the otherwise unknown Romilio Prandi or Pranzi, his ex libris above the colophon. A fourth scholar, nearly contemporary to Prandi, annotated extensively; below De origine rosarum on final verso, he also made a fair copy of an unpublished caudate sonnet in the Italian vernacular about the true nature of the soul (‘Vol saper alchuni che cosa sia / l’anima humana: el modo e la figura / la qualità: la forma: e la natura …’), whose final line, perhaps too licentious, has been partially torn away. Finally, a fifth hand of the mid-sixteenth century dwelt in the margins on the Greek origin of rare Latin terms used by Apuleius in his works.

ISTC, ia00935000; Hain, 1316; BMC, VII, 1047; GW, 2302; Goff, A-935; Brunet, I, 361; Graesse, I, 171.

L2022

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