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EURIPIDES

 A MAGNIFICENT PAIR

Tragoediae.

Venice, Aldus, 1503.

£27,500

Two volumes 8vo. (268); (189) unnumbered ff. Greek letter, Aldine dolphin device to versos of last, frequent Latin and Greek marginalia in several contemporary hands, leaves numbered at head, both occasionally cropped. A fine, clean copy in striking late 18th C red morocco gilt with border of scrolling acanthus leaves and corner ornaments, inner dentelles gilt, spines richly gilt, green and navy morocco lettering pieces. 19th C comb-patterned marbled endpapers, marbled edges. Armorial bookplates of the library of the Earl of Macclesfield on front pastedown, Shirburn castle blind stamps to first few leaves.

EDITIO PRINCEPS of eighteen Euripidean plays (in spite of the title page, which mentions only seventeen), including ‘Rhesus,’ sometimes attributed to Sophocles, including in a manuscript note at the start of volume II, but more often considered as being a later, spurious, addition to the corpus. All the tragedies with the exception of ‘Electra’ are present, as well as the satyr play ‘Cyclops.’ All but four of the plays are here published for the first time. “It would seem from the preface that only 1,000 copies were printed” (Dibdin), making it a set of particular rarity as well as beauty. The marginalia offer alternative readings, cross-references to other authors and translations of complex phrases. The text of the first volume is preceded by a sheet of manuscript with notes in Latin, Italian and Greek with relevant page numbers, in the same hand as the numbering.

The two C16 annotators were accomplished classicists. The first—c.1550s—glossed numerous passages with Latin translations, and had access to alternative versions of the text, as he corrected a few lines using variants. Since he generally mentioned his authorities, when he did not it may mean he had access to unpublished mss. A terminus post quem for the glosses is 1548, the publication of Estienne’s edition of Budé’s ‘Commentarii’, to which the annotator refers by page number. He cross-referenced Horace, Plato, Cicero, Theocritus, Aristophanes and Sophocles. On the t-p of vol. 1 he noted the Pythian oracle’s statement to Socrates, ‘Sophocles is wise, Euripides is wiser, but of all men Socrates is wisest’, found in Aristophanes. Interesting annotations pertain to the harsh rhetorical ‘agon’ in which Hermione accuses Andromache of being a witch and coming from a barbarian people prone to incest and polygamy. The annotator glossed Hermione with ‘Asian women are poisonous’, ‘barbarians practice the works of Venus indiscriminately’, ‘women’s libido is greater than men’s’ and ‘there is no remedy against evil women’. A slightly later hand annotated passages in ink or pencil with references to Estienne’s commentary on Euripides and Sophocles, published in 1568.

The attractive bindings of this set date from the late 18th C Classical revival, due to the rigid geometry of the designs on the spine, and the acanthus roll.

BM STC It. 239. Dibdin I 524 “frequently found in an imperfect or indifferent condition”. Adams E 1030. Renouard 43/10 “première et rare édition d’Euripide”.

L859