Arcadia del Sannazaro.

[Venice,] Aldus, [1514.]


8vo. ff. 89 (i). Italic letter, little Roman. Printer’s device to t-p and last. T-p with minor early repair, first few ll. lightly browned, intermittent faint waterstaining, upper margin fractionally trimmed, the odd ink mark. A good, generally clean copy in vellum c1700, all edges sprinkled blue, gilt lettering to spine. Leo Olschki label and C19 inked price to front pastedown, washed-out early autographs ‘Dom[eni]co Dom[eni]ci(?)’ and ‘S(?)lunga’ to t-p, contemporary annotation.

A good copy of the first Aldine edition of a landmark of European Renaissance literature, originally published in 1504. Jacopo Sannazaro (1458-1530) was a humanist of the Accademia founded by the scholar Giovanni Pontano and a courtier of the King of Naples. His production includes sonnets, a religious poem, epigrams and the ‘eclogae piscatoriae’ much treasured by C18 English authors like William Beckford and Joseph Addison during their Grand Tour. One of the most influential compositions of the C16, ‘Arcadia’ was the first pastoral romance to achieve international success. Influenced by the idylls of Virgil and Theocritus, it tells of a melancholic youth—the poet’s persona—who withdraws to rural Arcadia to lament his unrequited love; after learning of his lover’s death upon his return to Naples, he mourns the lost, perfect world of Arcadia. Sannazaro’s Arcadia is set at the outskirts of Naples—a place of ‘tall and roomy trees’ and wild birds opposed to the ‘quirky and ornamented cages’ of the city. First outlined as a poetic topos in Virgil’s ‘Eclogues’, Arcadia was a blissful world of perfection originally associated with a region of Greece populated by ever-youthful shepherds and enjoying a never-ending spring—a place of peace, conducive to poetry and philosophical musings. Sannazaro’s ‘native’ revision of this literary commonplace inspired Sir Philip Sidney to compose his namesake poem. It also appealed to the imagination of contemporary painters in its melancholic version elaborated in Venice. There Arcadia was associated with ‘memento mori’, as a world only seemingly immune to death and decay—a view immortalised in C17 pastoral painting with the addition of skulls and the epigram ‘spoken’ by Death: ‘Et in Arcadia ego’ (‘I, too, am present in Arcadia’).

Rénouard 68:7; BM STC It., p. 606; Brunet V, 28; Gamba 891.