RESPONSE TO AN ATTACK ON AGRARIAN LAW

In M. Tullii Ciceronis orationes de lege agraria contra P. Seruilium Rullum Tribunum pl. commentarius.

Venice, Paulus Manutius, Aldi, June 1558.

£1,950

4to. pp. 297, (iii). A-2O⁴, 2P². Roman letter, some Greek. Woodcut Aldine device on title, capitals spaces with guide letters, bookplate of Baron Landau on pastedown. A very good copy, crisp clean and wide margined in contemporary limp vellum, later endpapers.

FIRST EDITION of this interesting commentary on Cicero’s orations on land reform, spoken against the tribune of the plebs P. Servilius Rullus, beautifully printed by the Aldine press. Cicero opposed Rullus’ bill, which proposed to use money from foreign conquests to purchase land in Italy for the establishment of colonies of the poor. He was instinctively against what he saw as the calculated bribery of the Roman electorate, and politically he supported Pompey who also opposed the act.

Cicero delivered four speeches, of which three are still extant, although the first was passed on mutilated. The second is the most important, and nothing is known of the fourth. Very little enthusiasm was shown towards the land bill by the Roman people, who preferred the distribution of doles in the city to the prospect of distant allotments outside urban areas. The work had important resonance in Renaissance Italy and Europe, especially when it came to the redistribution of land and wealth between public or private hands.

“The most forceful Roman opponent of the agrarian movement was, however, Marcus Tullius Cicero. … In short, Cicero characterizes the agrarian movement as seditious, dangerous, and violently unjust. For what is an agrarian law, he asks in De officiis, but an initiative ‘to rob one man of what belongs to him and to give to another man what does not belong to him?’ For Cicero, as for so many other Roman writers, agrarian laws driven by plebeian envy had disrupted the concordia of the Roman republic, given rise to factions, and ultimately dismembered the body politic. This conviction had profound consequences for the shape of early-modern political theory. The influence of the Roman sources (and of Cicero in particular) was so pervasive among civic humanists that the rejection of agrarian laws (or “levelling,” as the English had it) became a powerful republican orthodoxy.” Eric Nelson “‘For the land is Mine’:The Hebrew Commonwealth and the Rise of Redistribution.”

Sigonio (1524-1585), Italian historian and classicist, was the author of numerous scholarly works held in high esteem by his contemporaries. He was born in Modena and held professorships at universities in Venice, Padua, and Bologna. “He was unquestionably one of the first classical antiquaries of his time, and a man of great judgement as well as learning, very correct and deep in researches, and of most unwearied diligence.” Chalmers. Sigonius’ reputation chiefly rests upon his publications on Greek and Roman antiquities, which remain insightful by present standards. A very good copy with an excellent provenance. Baron Landau was a C19 collector of early books of impeccable taste.

BM STC It. C16th p. 180 (Cicero) and p. 372 (Lauredanus ie Carolus Sigonius). Renouard. 174:8.

L1722

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