Gelli, Giovanni Battista. Circes. .. Translated out of Italion into Englishe by Henry Iden.

London, Iohn Cawood, 1557, [i.e. 1558 or 1559?]

£9500

FIRST EDITION [second issue?] 8vo. 148 unnumbered leaves. A-S⁸ T⁴. “Despite the title-page date, evidently printed early in Elizabeth’s reign.” ESTC. Black letter, some Italic. Title within typographical border (fractionally shaved at outer margin), grotesque and historiated woodcut initials, bookplate of the Fox Pointe collection on pastedown. Light age yellowing, title page a little dusty, with some light spotting. A very good copy, crisp and clean in C19th fine grained russet morocco by Bedford, covers bordered with a triple gilt rule, spine with gilt ruled raised bands richly gilt in compartments with small scrolled and pointillé tools, edges gilt ruled, inner dentelles richly gilt, a.e.g.

One of two editions of this important, extremely rare, translation by Henry Iden of Gelli’s philosophical dialogue ‘Circe’, dated 1557; ESTC does not give precedence for the two issues. Despite the date given on the title page, internal textual evidence suggests that this edition was printed early in Elizabeth’s reign after 17 November 1558. Giambattista Gelli (1498–1563) was a Florentine man of letters, much read in the Elizabethan period even before Henry Iden published this English translation. In Observations on the Faerie Queen, 1754, Warton notes, “Circe soon became a very popular book, and was translated into English (as likewise into other languages) in the year 1557, by one Henry Iden; so that, probably, Spenser had read it; and might be induc’d to consult that Dialogue, from its mention in the preface.” 

“Every era possesses a leavening of individuals whose clarity of mind and spirit is not obscured by cultural conditioning. Such a person was Giovanni Battista Gelli, .. In his maturity Gelli was a respected member of the circle of Neo-Platonic thinkers at the Florence Academy and a valued acquaintance of Cosimo de Medici. He insisted, however, on practicing his shoemakers trade until the end of his life and refused invitations to become a man of letters solely dependant on patronage. The measure of independence the self-educated Gelli preserved for himself is evident in his thought on almost every page of his Circe, a collection of dialogues between Ulysses, Circe, and the animals she has transformed that was first published in 1549. ..his Circe ran to five Italian editions before the end of the century, .. and could have been read by Spenser in the 1557 English translation of Henry Iden. Gelli’s Circe is a fresh, surprisingly modern, even subversive work enclosed within a seemingly conventional framework. It begins with an obsequious letter of dedication to Cosimo de Medici and ends with the standard denunciation of Circe as a ‘deceitful and subtle woman by the one transformed animal (an elephant) who choses to come back to human shape. In between, Gelli gently and wittily exposes the sexism of his own and prior times – including that expressed in Aristotle’s philosophy – and shows himself to be cognisant of the limits of language itself. On almost every page the animating sentiment is that it is difficult to be human, that consciousness is a painful burden. Not the least among Gelli’s subversions is recreating the character of Homer’s Circe and endowing her with a lively, intelligent voice. The scheme of the work is borrowed from Plutarch’s ‘Whether Beasts HaveReason’ Ulysses, finally restless on Circe’s island, tells her he wishes to go back to Ithaca, and to take with him any of her menagerie who were originally Greeks. Circe .. replies that he is free to go himself, but may take with him only those countrymen whom he can persuade to become human again. … Gelli’s quite remarkable feminism .. is not muted by its playful context. No other Renaissance thinker except Agrippa sees so accurately that the inferior social and political position of women results from cultural bias and not from nature. .. Gelli stands almost alone in implying that women are as deserving of liberty and self determination as men. He expresses his feminism through humour and indirection, but does so much more ably than most of the Renaissance ‘defenders’ of women did in their formal polemics.” Judith Yarnall ‘Transformations of Circe: The History of an Enchantress.’

Very rare; ESTC records U.S. copies only at Huntington, Newberry and Univ. Illinois, (+ Imperfect at Folger)

ESTC S105721. B2r catchword “light”. STC 11709. Lowndes. 774. Not in Pforzheimer or Grolier. 

L2999