De’ Prodigii. Polidori Vergilio de’ Prodigii Lib. III, [La Norica overo degl’ ostenti libri II.]

Lyon, Per Giovan di Tournes, 1554.


FIRST EDITION thus. 8vo. pp. 340 (xviii). Italic letter, with Roman. Foliated woodcut frame to t-p, woodcut oval portrait of Damiano Maraffi to verso of t-p, 44 ¼-page woodcuts of prodigies and monstrous creatures, decorated initials, head- and tailpieces. Occasional very minor ink spotting at fore-edge. An excellent copy, on high-quality paper in fine impression, in C17 mottled calf, marbled endpapers, a.e.r., raised bands, spine gilt, gilt-lettered morocco label, small loss to foot of spine, small repair to head, upper joint cracked. Bookplate of François Rabut to front pastedown, ‘Ex Libris L. Benigni [illegible] 1672’ and casemark (?) to t-p.

An excellent copy of the first Italian translation of this illustrated collection of three treatises on prodigies translated by the Florentine scholar Damiano Maraffi. Julius Obsequens (fl. 4th century?) was a Roman writer of whom little is known, uniquely renowned for his ‘Book of Prodigies’ first published in the complete, original Latin version by Jean de Tournes in 1550. In his letter to the reader, de Tournes wrote that this work would bring ‘great pleasure and delectation for the very curious matter and variety thereby discussed’ whilst generating serious reflection on questions benefitting body and soul. Covering the years 249-12BC, the work is divided into brief sections marked by the period in office of a specific Roman emperor or consul; each provides an annalistic account of prodigies, many probably drawn from the lost books of Livy’s ‘History’. They included rains of stones and blood, the apparition of three moons and a naval army in the sky, a talking ox, a 120-feet snake, the monstrous birth of a child with an elephant’s head and of a lamb with two heads and five hoofs. The handsome woodcuts opening each section provide dramatic illustrations with surreal and apocalyptic overtones. They were produced by the influential French artist Bernard Salomon, a follower of the Mannerist School of Fontainebleau and the author of most illustrations in de Tournes’ books. The last two treatises are of a theoretical nature and analyse, with the help of ancient sources, the philosophy and physics of prodigies. Polydore Vergil (1470-1555) was an Italian scholar, historian and diplomat who spent many years in England and is most famous for his influential ‘Anglica Historia’ (1513; 1534). Originally written in 1526, printed in 1531 and widely translated, ‘Dialogus de Prodigiis’ was structured as a philosophical conversation on the natural and supernatural between Vergil and his friend Robert Ridley, touching on human, animal and demonic divination, necromancy, chiromancy, visions and oracles. Joachim Camerarius (1500-74) was a German classicist. His ‘La Norica overo degl’ ostenti’ is concerned with the causes and effects of physical phenomena which may pass as supernatural, e.g. comets, ignes fatui and fires in the sky.

François Rabut (1819-93) was an historian, archaeologist and bibliophile from Chambery.

Brunet IV, 147; Caillet III, 8132 (French ed. of 1555): ‘livre rare recherché pour les jolies gravures sur bois’ [the same as in this edition]; Dorbon-Ainé, Bibliotheca esoterica, 3300 (French ed. of 1555).


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