Opera Agricolationum. [Scriptores rei rusticae.]

Reggio Emilia, Franciscus de Mazalibus, 20 Nov. 1499.


Folio. 244 unnumbered ll., 2a10 a-s8 t-u6 x-z8 &8 Ɔ8 8 A-C8 D6. Roman letter, little Greek, mainly double column. White on red initials with period hand-colouring (gold, green and blue) to a1, decorated white on back initials, woodcut printer’s device to recto of last leaf. T-p little dusty, clean tear with no loss to lower margin of aa2, some thumbing, intermittent faint marginal waterstaining, traces of glue to lower margin of last gathering. A fine well-margined, remarkably fresh copy, on thick paper, in contemporary quarter goatskin over wooden boards, lacking clasps, without pastedowns, spine quadruple blind tooled to a cross-hatched design, raised bands, little worming at foot, small repair at head. ‘Duplum Biblioth. Regiae Monacensis’ inked to inner upper board, later illegible autograph inked to fep, ms. ‘Enumeror Bibliothecae M[onas]t[e]rij Cellae B[eatae] Mariae [Altzella?] virginis prenberg et wörth’ to t-p, three stamps of the Royal Library, Munich, (one ‘duplum’) to verso of t-p.

Nicely bound, well-margined, outstandingly fresh copy of the last edition of ‘De re rustica’ published in the C15. It was the fifth issued in northern Italy. ‘This is a good example of the rivalry between the prototypographers, five Italian incunabula of the “Scriptores rei rusticae”, by five different printers, in three cities; three editions by three different printers in one of them, Reggio Emilia […] After that the tradition of the four “Scriptores” was common’ (Sarton, ‘Hellenistic Science and Culture’, 388). This florilegium of agricultural works was devised for a readership interested in the classical rustic virtues of landownership and the practical aspects of country life, with topics as varied as the best place to set up a beehive, horticulture, remedies for dogs with flees and sick horses, ways to scare snakes off stables and regulations for workers. Marcus Porcius Cato (234-149 BC) was a Roman statesman, military officer and author. His only complete, extant work, ‘De Agri Cultura’ (c.160 BC) is a manual on the management of a country estate reliant on slaves, with a special interest in the cultivation of vines. A prolific writer patronised by Augustus, Marcus Terentius Varro (116-107BC) based his ‘Rerum rusticarum libri tres’ on his direct experience of farming. He notably warns his readers to avoid marshlands, where ‘animalia minuta’ that cannot be seen by the human eye may be breathed in or swallowed and cause illnesses. A soldier and farmer, Lucius Moderatus Columella (4-70AD) is best known for his ‘Res rustica’—in this edition with a commentary by Pomponius Laetus—which deals with a wealth of activities including the cultivation of vines and olives, the farming and treatment of animals, and the management of workers. Inspired by Columella and much admired in the medieval period, Palladius’s (C4-5AD) ‘Opus agriculturae’ (or ‘De re rustica’) provides an account of the typical monthly activities of a Roman farm, and mentions the utility of building mills over abundant waterways to grind wheat.

A handsome copy of this classic work of early Renaissance printing—a ‘better revised and designed’ edition prepared, in Beroaldus’s words, to ‘seduce’.

ISTC is00350000; Brunet V, 245; BM STC It., p. 160 (not this ed); Bitting (1533 ed.); Vicaire (1472 ed.). Not in Simon or Oberlé. G. Sarton, Hellenistic Science and Culture in the Last Three Centuries B.C. (Cambridge, MA, 1959).


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