Historia naturalis.

Venice: Reynaldus de Novimagio, 6 June 1483.


Folio. ff. 356 unnumbered, aa8 bb10 a–ſ s–z10 &8 ɔ8 R̸8 A–H8 I10. Roman letter. Light age browning, slight soiling to margins of a few gatherings, the odd damp stain or mark, tiny marginal ink burn to one l., traces of marginal annotations, little paper flaw in K4 affecting a few letters. A good, well-margined copy in C17 sprinkled calf over boards, gilt dentelles to fore-edge, edges speckled red. Spine in six gilt compartments, morocco labels, joints a bit cracked. Two bookplates to front pastedown, faded heraldic drawing to initial blank.

A handsome incunable copy of Pliny’s monumental ‘Naturalis historia’, edited by Philippus Beroaldus. It was the first printed scientific book and one of the earliest classical works published in Venice, by Johannes de Spira in 1469. The publisher of this edition, Reynaldus de Novimagio (Reynaldus of Nijmegen), acquired de Spira’s successful press and became a serious competitor to the other major Venetian printer, Nicolas Jenson. Pliny the Elder (23-79AD) was an administrator for Emperor Vespasian and a prolific author. The ‘Historia’ is a masterful encyclopaedia of theoretical and applied natural sciences detailing all that was known in these fields in the first century AD. Based on hundreds of Greek and Latin sources clearly marked in this edition, its ten books introduce the reader to astronomical questions like the nature of the moon and its distance from the earth; pharmacopoeia, ointments and herbal remedies; natural phenomena including rains of stones; world geography and the ethnographic study of remote ‘gentes mirabiles’; descriptions of all animal and tree species, wild and domesticated; horticulture from cultivation to the treatment of plant mutations and illnesses; metals and gold mining; mineralogy and pigments for painting. Thanks to a wide and intense manuscript circulation, ‘the “Historia” soon became a standard book of reference: abstracts and abridgements appeared by the third century. Bede owned a copy, Alcuin sent the early books to Charlemagne […]. It was the basis of Isidore’s “Etymologiae” and such medieval encyclopaedias as the “Speculum Majus” of Vincent of Beauvais’ (PMM 5). Renaissance humanists considered the ‘Historia’ a mine of ancient knowledge; Beroaldus himself, who planned to write a commentary to the work, called Pliny ‘his instructor at every hour of the day’ and ‘his daily bread’.

ISTC ip00794000; Goff P794; BM STC It. V, 257; Hain 13095. J. Carter and P. Muir, eds, Printing and the Mind of Man, 5 (first edition).


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