Libri dialectici

Venice, Giovanni Griffio, 1546.


Folio, ff. (2), 199, (1). Predominantly Roman letter, some Italic; large printer’s device on title, woodcut decorated initials (the first depicting a scholar studying at his desk) and numerous diagrams; title holed in blank in two places; small worm trails to margins in first gatherings, light damp stain to lower margin of initial twenty leaves and to lower corners of the final fifty. A good copy in contemporary elegant North Italian brown morocco, probably Bologna (resembling closely the layout of M. Foot, The Henry David Gift, III, no. 254), blind-stamped with elaborate floral border and central lozenge; double fillet, gilt crest flanked with initials ‘MC’ and eight fleurons on covers, sixteenth-century, probably Germanic; remains of original silk ties; a bit scratched and rubbed, minor tiny worm holes, gilt worn from lower cover, head and tail slightly chipped; contemporary Italian sonnet on front endpaper and occasional numbering and annotations in same hand.

An early and rare collective edition of the philosophical essays of Boethius, gathered since the beginning of sixteenth-century under the arbitrary title of Dialectica. It claims to provide a most correct text following a thorough collation of the extant manuscripts. It comprises two Latin translations of Porphyry’s introduction to Aristotelian categories (Isagoge); several detailed commentaries on Aristotle’s Logic and Cicero’s Topics; five interesting theological treatises in favour of Trinity and God’s unlimited benevolence. The philosophical essays of the volume had been employed for centuries as a foundation textbook in teaching Scholastic logic. Severinus Boethius (475-525) was one of the most influential Roman thinkers of the Late Antiquity, paving the way to the rise of Scholasticism. He studied in Athens with Isidore of Alexandria and Simplicius, who were trying to reconcile Plato’s and Aristotle’s systems. Later, Boethius became the chief minister of Theodoric, the Ostrogoth King of Italy.

As remarkable evidence of contemporary readership, a ms satirical sonnet in the Italian vernacular is inscribed on the front pastedown. It refers to the book’s contents, fulminating against Scholastic logic and related teaching techniques. It blames all the subtle differentiations, names, endings, syllogisms and rhetorical features, which would drive crazy even the wisest man (Salomon) but are just suitable for blaspheming the devil (Pluto). Thus, the writer concludes, he is going to quit learning logic (‘farewell to the remainder!’): what is the purpose of going to university for being eloquent and yet ending up wasting time and talking nonsense? In these frank and unsophisticated verses, the word ‘barocho’ makes an early and significant appearance in its original academic meaning of abstruse and tangled-up syllogism.

In his Biblioteca Modenese (vol. VI/1, Modena 1786, pp. 162-163), Girolamo Tiraboschi reported this sonnet from an unspecified sixteenth-century manuscript and attributed it to a descendant of Pico della Mirandola, either Galeotto II (1508-1550) or Gian Tommaso (died in 1567). It is more likely that the author was Gian Tommaso, whose father, the Duke Giovan Francesco II, was a sceptic thinker adverse to Scholasticism, in line with the illustrious humanist tradition of the family. The poem inscribed in this volume shows some variants, corrections and three additional important verses at the end. This, as well as the instinctive way of writing, suggest that the poem was genuinely written by Gian Tommaso Pico himself, rather than being copied by someone else. The provenance from Mirandola, a small town close to Modena, also confirms the attribution of the binding to the Bolognese area.

Very rare outside Italy. Only one copy recorded in US, none in UK.
EDIT16, CNCE 6559. Not in BM STC It., Adams, Brunet or Graesse.


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