Discorso sopra il dragone di fuoco apparso in Roma. L’anno 1575.

Venice, [n.p.], 1575.


4to. 4 unnumbered ll., A 4 . Roman letter. Small woodcut dragon devouring the sun to t-p. Light age browning, some very faint waterstaining. Very good, well-margined copy in early C19 brown, black and red paper over pasteboards. Early inscription ‘L. Arcivesc o di Monreale’ to head of t-p.

A very good, well-margined copy of the second edition of this intriguing pamphlet by Baldassarre Pisanelli. Born in Bologna, Pisanelli (d.1587) was a physician and philosopher, influenced by the teachings of Ulisse Aldrovandi. After travelling in Africa and Germany, he settled in Rome to practice medicine. Among his most important works are treatises on the plague, the nature of food and the properties of wine drunk responsibly; but he also discussed ‘mirabilia’ like the appearance of a comet and, as it were, of a dragon of fire in the skies of Rome. First published in Bologna in the same year, ‘Discorso’ examines the fiery dragon as a natural phenomenon generated by exhalations emanating from the underground and coalescing into that peculiar shape due to the clash of cold and hot air. Dragons tended to appear over cemeteries, kitchens, churches or scaffolds for executions, where winds or the ‘natural breath of fire, putrid, fat, dirty and coagulated’ tended to gather. Baldassari differentiated dragons from comets and other ‘fiery’ apparitions, normally seen as heralds of the plague, making comparisons to past events in ancient and recent history, and employing astrological and quasi-daemonologic theories. ‘Discorso’ had the additional political aim to dissociate dragons from catastrophes like plagues and wars, the dragon being the emblem adopted by Pisanelli’s patron, the recently-elected Pope Gregory XIII of the Boncompagni family.

This copy was in the famous library of Ludovico II de Torres (1552-1609), Archbishop of Monreale, who amassed a great collection of pamphlets and broadsides.

The woodcut dragon is present on the t-p of both the first and second editions; one copy of the second bears a woodcut figure of Hermes surrounded by a comet, Taurus and Libra (Ruffini, 80).

Only Toronto, Bloomington, and Biblioteca Marciana (x 2) copies recorded. Cantamessa III, 6170 appears to conflate the first (Bologna, 1575) and second (Venice, 1575) editions, attaching to the title of the first the place of publication of the second. Not in BM STC It., Brunet, Graesse or Caillet. M. Ruffini, Le imprese del drago (Rome, 2005).