SUPERBLY ILLUSTRATED FIRST POLISH OLD TESTAMENT
Biblia to jest księgi Starego i Nowego Zakonu.
[Cracow, N. and S. Scharffenberger, 1561].
FIRST EDITION. Folio. 421 of 433 unnumbered ll., *A1 B0 A-C6 D4 E-Q6 R4 S-Z6 2A-2S6 2T-2V4 3A-3L6 3M5 4A-4V6 4X4 4Y4 4Z6. Gothic letter, double column. 2 full-page, 46 ½-page and 80 smaller handsome woodcuts with scenes from the Old Testament, including the world map on 4N4, decorated initials and ornaments. First two gatherings soiled with crude repairs to margins and text, affected words often supplied in ms, similar repair to another dozen ll., few slightly browned, oil stains or thumb marks in a few places, small stain on P2, occasional small clean tears to text or margins, full-page woodcut on last leaf mounted. A thoroughly used copy in C19 diced calf, bordered with gilt roll of tendrils, spine lettered and cross-hatched in blind, a.e.r., extremities and joints a bit worn. Early armorial wax seal to first leaf, occasional near contemporary Latin and Polish annotations.
Very scarce example of the first edition of the Old Testament in Polish—the first part of the ‘Cracow Bible’ or ‘Biblia Leopolita’. It was intended to be issued with the second edition of the New Testament printed by the Scharffenbergers and first published individually in 1556. It was prepared by the priest Jan Nicz (1523-72) from Lwów (Leopolis)—hence the name ‘Biblia Leopolita’—a classicist, Hebraist and theologian at the Jagellonian University. The Leopolita Bible, which occupies a fundamental place in the history of the Polish language, is a fascinating experiment in vernacular exegesis at the time of the Council of Trent countering the increasingly widespread influence of the Reformation. Nicz sought ‘to preserve the existing linguistic tradition faithfully reproducing the original Latin text [of the Vulgate] whilst striving for linguistic correctness and the right choice of vocabulary’; at the same time, he managed to infuse new life into Polish as a theological language (Sznajderski, ‘Reformacija’, 76). The fresh language he produced was enriched with Latinisms and words borrowed from Czech, Bohemian and German (Belcarzowa, ‘Niektóre’, 9-33). The Leopolita Bible, especially the Old Testament, was also greatly influenced by the Hussite Czech Melantrich Bible printed in 1556 (Bentkowski, ‘Historya’, 498). Borrowed features include the book of Maccabees 3 (generally excluded from Catholic bibles as non-canonical), the use of marginal references to the content, and the handsome illustrations (124 in the Old Testament alone), e.g., the initial woodcut illustrating the Creation and the small world map (‘Interpretation’, 1177). The superb woodcuts, of Polish making, were imbued with the German Reformed tradition headed by Luther’s vernacular bible published by Hans Lufft in Wittenberg and illustrated by Georg Lamberger and Hans Brosamer (Pietkiewicz, ‘Biblia Polonorum’, I, 379-80).
The early annotator was reflecting on confessional issues when he glossed with Latin words (e.g., the stronger ‘filius perditionis’ instead of ‘confusionis’ as a closer Latin translation of the Polish in Proverbs, or ‘podagra’ for gout in Deuteronomy), alternative translations (e.g., Psalm 2), or plain erasures (e.g., Psalm 104). In the margin of the dreadful account of famine and sieges in Deuteronomy 28, he wrote in Polish ‘famine 1584’, a personal reference to the pan-European famine of the mid-1580s. A gloss to Daniel’s vision in Chapter 12 associates it with the ‘prophetia Luterana’, which, as the bible says, ‘will abolish the sacrifice’ as will happen at the end of time. Another to Maccabees 2:13 adds the original Latin from the Vulgate.
Only 5 copies (with both parts, but incomplete) recorded on WorldCat, 3 in the US (Yale, UCB and Michigan). Bib. Polonica 212; Darlow & Moule 7383; Brunet I, 904 (mentioned). R. Pietkiewicz, Biblia Polonorum: Historia Biblii w języku polskim (Poznán, 2016), I; E. Belcarzowa, Niektóre osobliwości leksykalne biblii tzw. Leopolity (Warsaw, 1989); T. Sznajderski, ‘Reformacja i polskie przekłady Biblii’, Zagadnienia Rodzajów Literackich 60 (2017), 71-83; F. Bentkowski, Historya literatury polskiey (Warsaw, 1814); The Interpretation of the Bible, ed. J. Krasovec (Sheffield, 1998).