Opera. [Hē tou Homērou poiēsis hapasa.]

Florence, [printer of Vergilius (C 6061), possibly Bartolommeo di Libri] for Bernardus and Nerius Nerlius and Demetrius Damilas, [not before 13 Jan. 1488/89].


EDITIO PRINCEPS. Folio. 2 vols in 1, ff. 438 unnumbered and signed, A-D8 E(10-1) [lacking blank] A-Z8 ET8 [cum]8 [rum]8 AA-ZZ8 ETET6. Greek letter, little Roman. Very slight marginal soiling to some lower outer corners, light small marginal water stain to 4 ll., occasional minimal marginal foxing, first and last gathering lightly browned and expertly washed. An excellent, clean copy, on thick high-quality paper and in fine impression, in C18 German calf, marbled eps, double blind ruled to a panel design, second border with roll of leafy tendril, large fleurons in blind to corners, spine in seven double gilt ruled compartments, gilt large fleuron and cornerpieces to each, raised bands, a.e.r., minor loss to corners. Bookplate of L.S. Olschki to front ep, ex-libris ‘L. Kulenkamp 1774’ to fly, stamp of Bibliotheca Ducalis Gothana to first. In gilt-lettered red morocco slipcase by Joseph Zaehnsdorf.

An exceptional copy, of remarkable provenance, of the monumental EDITIO PRINCEPS of Homer’s complete works, ‘the first perfect poetry of the Western world’ (PMM 31), edited by Demetrius Chalcondylas. One of the fathers of Greek studies in Italy, Chalcondylas (1423–1511) was an Athenian scholar and a member of Bessarion’s Roman circle. As professor of Greek at Padua, he contributed in disseminating the knowledge of Greek in Italy and beyond teaching pupils like Poliziano and Thomas Linacre. After taking on a professorship in Greek at Florence, he began work on the Homeric editio princeps which he published in cooperation with Bernardus and Nerius Nerlius, two former students, and the Greek printer Demetrius Damilas. The latter provided the Greek type—the earliest of its kind in Italy—which was recast from the one he had employed at his Milanese press since 1476 and revised to improve the reproduction of accents (Proctor, ‘The Printing of Greek in the 15th Century’, 66-69). One of only four printed in this early Greek typeface, this edition was probably also the first Greek book produced in Florence and the only Homeric folio until 1536.

Then and now, Homer has remained an obscure figure in the history of Western poetry. Whilst his ‘Iliad’ and ‘Odyssey’ are dated to the C9-8BC, it is uncertain whether there ever was a blind bard of such genius or whether his persona came to be used to identify the output of a long-standing oral epic tradition. Seeking to eschew the perils of the medieval ms transmission, the edition relied (with revisions) on Eusthatius’s renowned C12 commentaries. Nevertheless, in the preface Chalcondylas warned the reader that the text of ‘Batrachomyomachia’—a parody of the ‘Iliad’ as a battle of mice and frogs, now attributed to Lucian—had only been reconstructed from ‘corrupted copies’. In addition to the lives of Homer attributed to Plutarch, Herodotus and Cassius Dio, sometimes bound at the end, the edition also featured the ‘Iliad’ (which ‘sings the wrath of Achilles’), the ‘Odyssey’ (on Ulysses’s peregrinations after the Fall of Troy) and the ‘Homeric Hymns’ (verse to Greek deities in Homeric style but not Homeric).

This majestic edition is a masterpiece of early Greek philology. Forty years later, Erasmus rated it better than the more recent, ‘highly corrupted’ Aldine, and requested it to be purchased for him by one of his agents. It introduced humanists to the ‘paradigm of Attic dialect’ and revealed the work of a mysterious poet whose form, action and words ‘have had an incalculable influence on the form, action and words of poetry ever since’ (PMM 31). In the C18 this copy was in the library of Lüder Kulenkamp (1724-94), a German philosopher, theologian and philologist at Bremen and Frankfurt. He was professor of Philosophy and Theology at Göttingen and Bremen, and a great Hellenist and bibliophile. Kulenkamp’s most important philological work was a commentary of 1765 with emendations on the ‘Etymologicum Magnum’ preserved at the Ducal Library of Brunswick-Lunenburg. It was a Byzantine Greek lexicon compiled in the C12 and based on works like the ‘Codex Gudiano’, and other lexical and etymological sources. Kulenkamp belonged to the first generation of German scholars, including Johann Matthias Gesner, who followed a new ‘German-Greek’ humanism ‘in contrast to the Italian- Roman humanism of the Renaissance’, recast within the world of Protestant Germany (Paulsen, ‘Geschichte des gelehrten Unterrichts’, I, 2). His library contained a treasure  of incunabula and C16 editions of Greek classics which was sold at auction in Göttingen in 1796. Seen the strong classical focus of his library, Ernst II, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, was happy to spend 710 thaler on this occasion—a greater sum than any other of his auction purchases—68 of which served to purchase this copy (Pozzo, ‘Membra disiecta’, 113). In 1835, the copy was still in the Bibliotheca Ducalis Gothana (Jacobs and Ukert, ‘Beiträge zur ältern  Litteratur’, I, 298-99). As shown by the bookplate, it became part of Olschki’s private collection before 1940. In 1948, it featured as item n.53 in the antiquarian catalogue ‘Très précieux manuscrits enluminés et incunables provenant de la bibliothèque privée de feu M. Lèo S. Olschki’, issued in Geneva (cf. Barbieri, ‘Leo Samuel Olschki’, 301-2), with a note stating it came from the Ducal Library of Gotha. It is described as ‘bel exemplaire’ of an edition ‘très précieuse et rare, l’un des plus beaux monuments typographiques de tous les temps’.

ISTC ISTC, ih00300000; Goff H300; HCR 8772; BMC VI, 678; Bod-inc H-136; GW 12895. A. Pozzo, Membra disiecta: Inhalt und Wirkung der Bibliothek des Göttinger Professors Lüder Kulenkamp (1724-1794) (Berlin, 2014); F. Jacobs and F.A. Ukert, Beiträge zur ältern Litteratur…der Herzogl. Öffentlichen Bibliothek zu Gotha (Leipzig, 1835); E. Barbieri, ‘Leo Samuel Olschki “auteur du mouvement des études sur l’origine de l’imprimerie”: I. I cataloghi di vendita’, La Bibliofilia 116 (2014), 281-304; PMM 31: ‘the composition of the Aeneid, the Divine Comedy, Paradise Lost and many others has been determined by the Iliad and the Odyssey.’



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