THE CLASSICS’ KNOWLEDGE OF FISH
Alieuticon, sive De Piscibus … Plinii Naturalis Historiae Libri Duo … P. Iovii De Piscibus.
Argentorati [Strasbourg], Jacob Cammerlander, 1534.
FIRST EDITION thus. Small 4to. ff. (iv) 152. Roman letter, some marginalia in Greek. Printer’s woodcut device on last (winged and blindfolded Fortune with no feet on a small sphere, holding a shield bearing a shoe and five stars), woodcut initials. Light age-yellowing, one gathering oxidised, occasional light foxing, a few lines crossed out in Giovio’s treatise, a couple of later manuscript annotations, first and last gathering loose, stubs from a splendid Gothic manuscript commentary of the Venerable Bede. A handsome copy in contemporary limp vellum, remains of ties.
Rare first collective edition comprising Laurentius Lippius’ 1478 translation of Oppian’s poem on fishes, together with Pliny’s two books on the same subject (IX and XXXII) from his Natural History, and with Giovio’s treatise on Roman fishes, all edited for the first time by the physician and philosopher Iohannes Caesarius (1460 – 1551). The book opens with a two-page alphabetical list of the fishes mentioned, followed by a short biography of Oppian, dedicated by Lippius to Lorenzo De’ Medici.
Oppian’s ‘Alieuticon’ is a long poem on fishing (c. 3,500 lines), divided into five books dealing with, i.a., mating, breeding, fighting, hooks and nets, etc. Each book has a short introduction by Lippius, who also wrote the twelve pages of ‘Disticha’ (i.e. couplets on various subjects, mostly animals and plants) coming after the ‘Alieuticon.’ Next follow Pliny’s two chapters, the first describing all sorts of aquatic creatures, including Tritons and Nereids, whales and dolphins, salmons, eels, crabs, shells, starfishes etc., the second concentrating on their pharmaceutical use.
Giovio lists and variously describes the fishes known to the Romans, such as sturgeon (the ones in the river Tiber being particularly delicate), grey mullet (to be eaten with oregano to make it more digestible), bream, red mullet (delicious with orange juice), turbot (to be cooked with little salt, leeks and dill), sole, eel, trout, pike, octopus, seafood, and many more. All the descriptions are packed with information and quotations from the classics. Little is known about Oppian, who flourished during the reign of Marcus Aurelius (AD 161 – 180), wrote a poem on hunting (as well as the above-mentioned on fishing), and died at the early age of thirty.
BM STC Ger. C16th p. 662. Adams O202. Graesse V p. 29. Durling 3400. This edition not in Brunet, Dibdin, Schwerdt or Oberlé. Not in Bibliotheca Osleriana, Heirs of Hippocrates, Morton, Wellcome, Bitting or Vicaire.