De bello Peloponnesiano.

Venice, aldus, May 1502.


EDITIO PRINCEPS, Folio, 124 unnumbered ll. AA8, AA-ξO8 OP8. Greek letter, undecorated, guide letters, spaces blank. Contemporary 4-line Latin inscription signed “S.P” on pastedown, “15ff” (probably original price) in margin of t.p. and small inked symbols in title, a few tiny wormholes in early and final ll. Ink stain to extreme upper edge of early gatherings, verry light waterstain to upper blank margin of a few final ll. A very good clean copy, well margined, on extra thick quality paper, in striking contemporary calf over boards originally a la Grecque, covers with triple ruled outer borders, inner ropework with fine roundels gilt at each corner and centre, surrounding panel of richly decorated blind lattice work with gilt roundel at each corner, double and triple ruled panels within enclosing panel with roof vault border, gilt roundel in each vault space and in the middle, two ropework wheels surrounding ropework multiple knots; spine, joints, and all corners worn, covers with some surface abrasions, head and tail of spine shaved to stand upright. A handsome and historic quality binding, probably Venetian.

Editio princeps of the first and still most famous work in the Western historical tradition. Thucydides has been described as the father of ‘scientific history’ because of his strict standards of evidence gathering and analysis of events in terms of cause and effect. He has also been called the father of the school of political realism viewing relations between states as based more on might than right. His text is still studied in military colleges throughout the world. Thucydides also makes the interesting, if somewhat cynical, analysis of human nature in explaining human behaviour in the context of wars, plagues and all sorts of disasters. Viewed in the highest regard by subsequent Greek historians, then ignored throughout the Middle Ages, Thucydides had some influence on Machiavelli, but much more on Hobbes who translated him, and almost idolisation by Schiller, Schlegel, Nietzsche, Macauley and von Ranke. Woodrow Wilson read him on the way to the Versailles conference, and Thucydides’ influence was increasingly felt in international relations during the period of the cold war.

The Peleponnesian War of which Thucydides wrote was an epic 27 year struggle for supremacy between Athens and Sparta and their respective allies. It probably continued after Thucycides’ death. Thucydides is par excellence the political historian, a meticulous recorder of public events, in which he had fought and from which he was never far removed. He assiduously researched written documents and personally interviewed eye-witnesses whose testimonies he wrote up into somewhat stylistic speeches.

The first edition of the greatest work of one of the greatest historians in its original, unsophisticated state. This richly decorated contemporary binding was constructed à la Grecque probably in Venice, though the repeated use of gilt roundel motifs is more Neopolitan than Venetian. During the 16th century books began to be shelved vertically rather than horizontally and the head and spine  of à la Grecque bindings became hopelessly impractical. At that point here they were cut down though the base of their structure remains. A remarkably concrete example of a seismic change in the history of libraries.

BM STC IV p. 672. Ren 33:4 “Première et rare édition, avec deux vies de Thucydide, en grec: l’une d’un anonyme d’une page et demie, et l’autre, de cinq pages, d’un nommé Marcellinus”. Brunet V 844 “Edition rare”. Dibdin II p. 505 “The first edition of Thucydides is a beautiful book, though at present by no means rare: copies with a fine margin bear a tolerable price”. Printing and the Mind of Man p. 62.


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