KING MITHRIDATES’ COLLECTION OF TRANSLATED GREEK LETTERS

Epistolae.

Florence, Piero Pacini, 1505.

£2,450

4to., 40 leaves, A-B8, C6, D4, E8, F6, missing leaf Avi. Roman letter; title within wide ornamental border, a few decorated initials, three large printer’s devices on final verso; title border cut short, light foxing, mainly marginal. A good copy in modern crushed green morocco gilt by J. Haines of Liverpool, simple gilt panel, title gilt on spine and dentelles, eighteenth-century hand-coloured floral wrappers retained as fly; armorial bookplates dated 1912 on front pastedown and verso of front floral wrapper along with bookseller’s manuscript bibliographical description in Italian, tipped in before title.

Very rare and little-known edition collecting numerous spurious letters of Hippocrates, Diogenes and Brutus in an influential Latin translation first published in Florence in 1487 – the Greek princeps being published by Aldus in his collection of Greek Epistolographers in 1499. The missives were written between the first centuries BC and AD as scholarly exercises and moral examples, with quite a high degree of verisimilitude which had tricked learned men until the last century. The portion concerning Hippocrates’ supposed correspondence closes the volume and includes, most notably, letters to and from the Persian King Artaxerxes begging for a remedy for plague and the philosopher Democritus persuading Hippocrates to live more decently; one epistle is also addressed to the Greek historian Dionysius of Halicarnassus.

The letters to Crates of Thebes, Aristippus Cyrenaic, Plato, Zeno of Citium attributed to the controversial philosopher Diogenes (fourth century BC) – founder of Cynic movement and mocker of Plato and Alexander the Great – convey all his strict precepts and cutting remarks on, among others, Socrates and Alexander. The pseudo-epistles of Marcus Junius Brutus (85-42 BC), leader of Caesar’s murders, were originally written in Greek, concerning the campaign undertaken by him, Cassius and Dolabella in Asia Minor in the spring of 42 BC. This collection was put together by King Mithridates conjecturally drafting the answers, as he informs us in the opening letter.

Francesco Griffolini from Arezzo (1420-1490/1) translated this corpus for Popes Nicholas V and Pius II, receiving the praise of Antonio Beccadelli (Panormita) and Leon Battista Alberti. A talented pupil of Guarinus, Theodorus Gaza and Lorenzo Valla, he worked extensively for Nicholas V, providing ground-breaking Latin versions of the Greek epistles of the Pseudo-Phalaris as well as of Chrysostom’s Homilies, the last eight books of the Iliad and the whole Odyssey. This edition is unknown to standard bibliographies on sixteenth-century books and scientific literature.

Extremely rare. Only two recorded copies, of which one in the US (New York Academy of Medicine).
Not in BM STC It., Brunet, Graesse, Adams, Durling, Bibliotheca Osleriana, Wellcome. EDIT16, 37281.

L2139

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