FROM THE LIBRARY OF A POET
De secundo bello punico.
Lyon, [Jacques Myt] for Barthélemy Troth, 1514.
8vo, ff. 196. Italic letter, a little Roman, floriated initials. Light age yellowing, occasional spotting, odd ink stain to title page, light browning, side worm trail to t-p lower margin. Contemporary limp vellum, early ink title to spine, remains of ties, a little worn; text block loosening, joints a bit cracked. Ownership inscription of Luigi Grozo (Groto) on t-p and final blank corrections and annotations in the same hand on first 14 leaves and BBii, “Silius”/“Silvius” inscribed on lower edge.
A pseudo-Aldine, masquerading as an Aldine octavo in content, format and typography, of the Latin poem on the Second Punic war by the Roman orator and poet Silius Italicus (c. CE 28-103). The first Aldine edition didn’t appear until July 1523. This copy belonged to Luigi Groto (1541-1585), also called “Cieco d’Adria”, a blind Italian poet, playwright and actor from an aristocratic Venetian family. Groto studied philosophy and literature, and at the age of 15 was already a public orator, thanks to his extraordinary memory. He pronounced speeches on solemn occasions. He founded the Accademia degli Illustrati with other poets and composed poems and numerous theatrical works, influenced by the classical authors and the pastoral tradition, such as “Dalida” and the “Pentimento amoroso”. At the end of his career he participated in the performance of “Edipo Re” at the Olympic theatre in Vicenza. This edition was prepared with considerable care by Damiano Benessa, a merchant from Ragusa, resident in Lyon, and includes two letters to Giovanni Battista Soderini.
It was Martial who attributed the “Punica” to Silius and provided information on his life. Probably born in Padua, Silius spent much time in Rome, where he was a renowned forensic orator, later a safe and cautious politician and the last consul appointed by Nero in 68 BC. The work in 17 books with a total of 12200 verses, is the longest surviving Latin poem from antiquity. It concerns the Second Punic War (218–201 BCE) and the conflict between the two great generals Hannibal and Scipio Africanus. The work is dedicated to the Flavian dynasty, particularly Domitian, and describes i. e. the siege of Saguntum by the Carthaginians and the sack of the city; Hannibal’s crossing of the Alps; the battles at Ticinus, Trebia, Lake Trasimene, and Cannae; Scipio’s trip to the Underworld; and Hannibal’s final defeat at Zama by Scipio Africanus. As a celebration of Rome’s triumph during the second Punic war, the work is an attempt to blend history into epic. Silius draws heavily on Livy (Books 21–30) for his material, but the general plan follows that of Homer’s“Iliad” and Virgil’s “Aeneid” as well. Its theme is conceived as a duel between two mighty nations, with parallel dissensions among the gods. The descriptions of the numerous battles are made up in the main, of single combats. Scipio and Hannibal are represented as the two great heroes. Dominant elements are rhetoric and the search for the effect, declamatory speeches and the epics. In the 14th century the Second Punic War was seen as a summit of Roman history. Dante and Petrarch were deeply influenced by Silius but his work became popular after it was rediscovered but the scholar Poggio Braggiolini in 1417. From this now lost ms., all existing mss., entirely of the 15th century, derive.
Adams, S 1132 ; Ahmanson-Murphy, 517: 1153; Baudrier, VIII, 426; BM STC Fr., 401; Brunet, V, 382 (1513); Renouard, 313:44 (“édition donnée avec assez d’intelligence”); Shaw, The Lyons Counterfeit of Aldus’ Italic type, 130: 59.