Venice, Aldus Manutius, February 1495
EDITIO PRINCEPS, Folio, 140 unnumbered ll, AA8 BB8 ΓC8 ΔD8 EE6 ZF6 ΘG6 ZZζζ10 AAαα8 BBββ8 ΓΓγγ8 ΔΔδδ8 EEεε6 αa8 βb8 γc10 δd8 εe8. Greek and Roman letter, woodcut initials and headpieces. Contemporary ms marginal Latin translation in a very neat hand of the Golden Song of Pythagoras and the Moral Precepts of Phocylides on ΔΔδδ8-ΕΕεε5. T-p and verso of last a little dusty, a very good, clean, copy with very wide margins, in beautiful contemporary calf over wooden boards, covers ruled, five borders surrounding a central panel. The borders alternate between repeated intricate designs formed by a single tool repeated – first, a cross, second, a curved and studded X shape, and third an acanthus-leaf – and widely spaced double-cross single tool designs. Central panel of three blind-ruled lozenges, double-cross design inside and outside the lozenges. The volume originally had four large metal clasps, two at the side and at top and bottom; gaps filled with a much smaller cross design, probably contemporary with the gilt dentelle outer border (c1600), edges and corners with small old repairs in 19th-century calf, rebacked to match, four raised bands, blind ruled. Some small wormholes to front and back covers. A very handsome and unusual Italian binding, similar to that of a Cicero ms ascribed to Naples, now in the Vatican.
FIRST EDITION, FIRST ISSUE of this hugely important collection of Greek works, including the EDITIO PRINCEPS of Theocritus’ Idylls 19-30, Hesiod’s Theogony, [Hesiod’s] Shield of Heracles, Theognis’ Elegiacs, [Pythagoras’] Carmina Aurea, and [Phocylides’] Poema Admonitorium; the first Greek edition of Cato’s Distichs; the second edition of Theocritus’ Idylls 1-18 and Hesiod’s Works and Days (editio princeps Milan, 1480). The second issue of the present edition has reset text in the two outermost sheets of quire Z F, and all of Θ G; near the end of printing missing lines of Megara (attributed to Theocritus) were rediscovered in a manuscript and added. Thus, the verso of the last leaf of Θ G is blank in this present copy, as per Renouard. Aldus Manutius dedicated the work to his former teacher, Battista Guarino, professor at Ferrara, whom Manutius addresses in his epistolary dedication as ‘quidem aetate nostra Socrates’.
The combination of Greek texts printed in this compendium is interesting and, to modern eyes at least, surprising. It opens with the thirty hexameter Idylls of Theocritus, a Hellenistic poet writing in Alexandria at the Ptolemaic court (cf. Idylls 16 and 17). Theocritus is most famous as the ‘inventor’ of pastoral poetry (Virgil imitated the ‘bucolic’ Idylls 1-11 in his Eclogues), but, taken as a collection, the Idylls present pastoral, epic, romantic and realistic tropes, all with a characteristically Hellenistic lightness of touch (though a third or so of the Idylls are probably spurious). Not only does this volume embody for the first time all thirty Idylls together in print, it includes the editio princeps of Hesiod’s Theogony, the didactic poem, in epic hexameters, telling of the birth of the gods, and the ecphrastic Shield of Heracles, attributed to Hesiod in antiquity. With these narrative hexameters are a number of didactic Greek works, providing moral instruction as well as educational value. These encompass the Sententiae Elegiacae of Theognis – again, the editio princeps – an archaic poet whose lyric couplets provided gnomic maxims, and the first printed Greek translation of Cato’s Distichs: one of the most popular Medieval Latin school texts, the Distichs give practical and moral advice for leading a good life (e.g. ‘Be oft awake: from too much sleep abstain./ For vice from sloth doth ever nurture gain’). Most interesting in this copy in particular are the Aurea Carmina, attributed to Pythagoras, and Phocylides’ Poema admonitorum. The former consists of 71 hexameter lines of moral exhortations which, though adhering to Pythagorean philosophy, are believed to be fourth or fifth-century A.D.; the latter, a Hellenistic collection of Jewish moral teachings, also in hexameters, falsely attributed to the archaic poet Phocylides (cf. Walters, The Sentences of Pseudo-Phocylides, pp 8-11): ‘Love of money is the mother of all evil. Gold and silver are always a lure for men’, 43-44. Fascinatingly, in the wide margins of the pages containing these two poems, their Latin translations have been painstakingly transcribed in a neat, clear humanist hand. Since the final ms letters of some lines on these pages have been cropped, and re-added beneath in the same hand, they were written before the book was bound – perhaps while it was still in its original wrappers. Why the annotator – doubtless the original owner – chose these two poems in particular remains a mystery; perhaps he felt the moral teachings especially applicable. Remarkably, the translations follow the 1494 Lascaris, the very first book issued by Aldus, and presumably were transcribed in the present copy for ease of reference.
A very fine copy with beautiful binding of an incunabular compendium of important Greek texts, offering a fascinating insight into contemporary tensions between Humanist and Medieval approaches to learning, combining the editiones principes of important Greek authors with works that were central to moral and educational learning in the Middles Ages.
BMC V 554 (IB. 24402-8); BMC STC It. C15 667; Renouard 5:3 “cette édition est très rare”; HC 15477; CIBN T-101; Hoffmann III, 373; Essling 888; Sander 7235; Goff T-144. For binding, cf. De Marinis I pl 9, 114.