A JESUIT’S TAKE ON THE GEOGRAPHY OF THE NILE
De natura et incremento Nili libri duo.
Lyon, Horace Cardon, 1617.
FIRST EDITION, 8vo., pp. (xvi) 148 (xii), last blank. Roman letter, small woodcut printer’s device on title page, three printed diagrams in text. Intermittent, mostly very light, water stain, couple of marginal repairs, three paper flaws to privilege leaf, two affecting a couple of letters, third repaired with loss of a few letters, repair covering some more; a perfectly respectable copy in modern boards.
First edition of the principal work of the Genoese Jesuit Giovanni Baptista Scortia (1553-1627), who spent a great part of his career as a professor at the Academia Patavina. The current work is the fruit of debates there, with colleagues and students, on the nature, source, and rise and fall of the Nile. It opens with a list of some 250 authors, ancient and modern, pagan, Christian, Jewish and Arab consulted by the author in its composition. Divided into two books, the first discusses the source of the Nile, its course, mouths, size, water quality and benefits for Egyptian agriculture. The second goes into much greater technical detail on the causes, nature, extent and occasion of its rise and fall, and discusses its various tributaries and possible sources.
There are accounts of the wildlife dependent upon it – crocodiles, hippopotami and elephants, with excursions on pyramids, papyri and sphinxes. The text is preceded by a detailed table of chapters and concludes with a comprehensive alphabetical index. An important and encyclopaedic little work, the first of its kind and a major contributor to the great geographical debate on the Nile’s source. Scortia reasonably attributes it to the melt water of mountains of Ethiopia, but its discovery became the Holy Grail of the great African explorers of the 19th C. This is the only early edition and quite uncommon.
BM STC Fr. C17 S476. Wellcome I 5878. Ibrahim-Hilmy II 225. Paulitschke 459 “sehr seltenes werk”. Blackmer 1513. Not in Gay.