AN INCUNABLE TRANSLATION FROM VERSE OF A GEOGRAPHY MANUAL OF ANTIQUITY
De situ orbis. lat. von Antonius Beccaria.
Venice, Bernhard Maler, Erhard Ratdolt and Peter Löslein, 1477.
FIRST EDITION thus. 4to. 42 unnumbered leaves. a–d⁸e¹⁰. Roman letter, some Greek. Title within fine white on black, white vine border with shield in roundel below, white on black woodcut initials cut to the same design, occasional later marginal annotations. Light age yellowing, some minor mostly marginal spotting in places, fore-margins cut short, occasionally fractionally trimming sides notes. A good copy, crisp and clean in modern vellum, all edges blue.
Important and rare first edition of Dionysius’ didactic compendium of geographical descriptions of the known world in its first prose translation by the Veronese humanist Antonio Beccaria, and the first separately printed edition of the work. It had appeared in print in a free verse translation in Priscian’s Opera in 1470. Dionysius, a scholar-poet who flourished in Alexandria during the reign of Hadrian, describes the world as it was then known. In antiquity, it was widely read and extremely influential, both in the school room and among later poets. Translated into Latin, the subject of commentaries, and popular in Byzantium, it offers insights into multiple traditions of ancient geography, both literary and more scientific, and displays interesting affiliations to the earlier school of Alexandrian poets.
Dionysius of Alexandria, called Periegetes (the guide), was a contemporary of the great Hellenistic geographers Marinus of Tyre and Claudius Ptolemy. His description in verse of the inhabited world was long used as a school textbook and presented the known world as an island, sling-shaped, entirely north of the equator, extending from Thule (Iceland) to Libya. He limited the inhabited world eastward by the river Ganges, taking into account the Seres (Chinese and Tibetans) but locating them much less far east than Marinus. Beccaria’s translation into prose Latin also updated the work by adding details that could not have been know to Dionysius. For instance he expands the description of Ireland to discuss the merits of Irish horses and describes the use of peat for burning. Dionysius identifies numerous sources for various gems and precious minerals in Europe, Asia Minor, and South Asia.
This first edition is beautifully printed in a fine Roman type and elegantly decorated with fine white on black initials in the same style. The title border is sometimes found in red.
The earliest mention of China (here “Thina”) in Western literature. ‘Until the thirteenth century, Asia beyond India was practically unknown in Europe; only vague references to the Serica or Sinica of the Graeco-Romans helped keep alive a sketchy knowledge of China’s existence…’. Mentions here in Dionysius’ text referring to ‘Thina’ hark back to the mentions in the Periplus of the 1st century AD, which were the earliest surviving accounts in European literature (Löwendahl, ‘China Illustrata Nova’, 1 (1477 edition).
BMC V 244. IA 20490. GW 8426. Goff D253. Sander 2439 Essling 255. JFB D236. “The first edition of this first-century world geography”. Hain 6226.