La Semiramis, Tragedia.

Bergamo, Comin Ventura, 1593.


FIRST EDITION. 4to. ff. (iv) 92. Italic letter. Printer’s ‘Fortune’ device on title, floriated woodcut initials and head and tail-pieces, typographical ornaments, bookplate of Allardyce Nicoll on fly. Light waterstaining to upper margin at gutter. A good, well margined copy in contemporary limp vellum.

Uncommon first edition of this tragic verse play by Manfredi, dedicated to Cardinal Farnese, the Duke of Parma, which concerns incestuous unions among members of the family of the mythical warrior queen Semiramis, unions that are expiated through violent death. The work ends with forty-eight pages of verse in praise of the author by numerous contemporary poets and literary figures, such as Guidobaldo Bonnarelli, Ferrando Gonzaga, Tasso, Ariosto, Camilli, and Baldini.

Manfredi, a poet and dramatist from Cesena, was a member of the noble Manfredi family of Faenza. He was employed at the French court in Nancy as secretary to the Duchess of Brunswick, where he wrote this, his most famous work. He was extremely well connected in Italian literary circles. Diomede Borghesi in one of his letters refers to having met with Tasso and describes him as “da costumi preclarissimi, e da bellisima letteratura.” This work was clearly based upon the the ‘Orcheche’ of Giraldi in its emphasis on revenge and gore. Manfredi wrote another work published the same year as this one entitled ‘La Semiramis boscareccia’ concerning the Queen’s happier youth.

“The first Semiramis drama of modern times is that of Mutio Manfredi (Bergamo 1593). This is firmly based on the grisly tale of Orosius, and adds echoes of Seneca’s play Thyestes. It forms the background to most of the seventeenth century versions; the lascivious, murderous Semiramis was well suited to Baroque taste, with its love of remote ambiences, amorous intrigues, and mistaken identity, warlike parades and travesty parts. … The parallel with the Oedipus story was obvious” Raymond Monelle, ‘Semiramide redenta.’ This first edition is rare outside Italian libraries.

BM STC It. C16th p. 409. Fontanini. I p. 518. Not in Gamba.


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