IORNANDES [JORDANES]. De Getarum, sive Gothorum origine et rebus gestis. [with]

VULCANIUS, Bonaventura. De Literis et lingua Getarum.

Leiden, ex Officina Plantiniana, 1597.


FIRST EDITIONS. 8vo. 2 works in 1, pp. (xvi) 264, 191 (i); (xvi) 109 (i). Italic letter, occasional Greek, Roman and various Gothic fonts, including Runes. Woodcut printer’s device to t-ps, decorated initials. First t-p a little dusty, occasional light yellowing, a few ll. slightly browned, couple of lower outer blank corners torn, affecting one word on A7. Good copies in contemporary Dutch vellum, yapp edges, ms. ‘128’ and scattered ink spots to upper cover, small leather flaw to lower, spine dust-soiled. Ms. ‘Bibl.[iotheca] Lovan.[iensis] [crossed out] 1781 n.3729’ to ffep verso.

Good copies of the first editions of these influential works on the ancient history and languages of northern Europe. A ground-breaking text, ‘De literis’ is a dissertation on the Gothic language by the Flemish Bonaventura Vulcanius (1538-1614), professor of Greek and Latin at Leiden; it features the first Gothic text ever printed, from a 6th-century ms. translation of the Bible named ‘Codex Argenteus’. The work comprises two anonymous essays on Gothic letters and their pronunciation, samples of four Gothic alphabets and typefaces (erroneously including Runes and Tironian notation), Gothic translations of Latin prayers, Gothic epigraphy, a list of Gothic words spoken in Crimea (drawn from Busbecq), and unrelated samples (in Roman letter) of obscure languages like Anglo-Saxon, Persian (noting affinities with German), Basque, Frisian, Welsh, Icelandic, Romani and Rotwelsch (a secret language spoken by marginalised communities in Southern Germany). ‘“De literis” [is] a remarkable collage of documentary language materials. […] Today it is hard to imagine how difficult it was to acquire text specimens or dictionaries of “exotic” languages. […] The publication of Persian, Basque and Rotwelsch language samples and text specimens of the Gothic “Codex Argenteus” (the name of which appears here for the first time) was previously unheard of in the Netherlands’ (van Hal, 397-8). ‘De literis’ was intended as a supplement to the edition of major texts on the ancient history of the Goths, which he produced in the same year. The most important work in the collection is ‘De Getarum sive Gothorum origine’, written in 550AD by Jordanes, a Byzantine state officer of Gothic descent. It is a dense summary of a now lost history of the Goths by the Roman historian Cassiodorus (5th cent.), spanning over 2000 years. It comprises detailed accounts of northern European geography and ethnography, semi-historical and historical Gothic migrations to Greece, Asia Minor and Egypt, and their defeat by the Byzantine Belisarius. Another work by Jordanes, on the succession of Gothic kingdoms, is also present, as well as important chronicles of the Goths, Vandals, Suedes and Visigoths by the historians Procopius, Isidore of Seville, Marineus Siculus and Ricobaldi.

This copy was in the Library of the University of Louvain, suppressed in 1796. The ms. casemark is in the hand of the last librarian, Vandevelde (‘Bulletins’, 285).

I: Netherlandish Books 17124; Blouw, Typ. Batava, 2694; Brunet II, 731.

II: Netherlandish Books 26245; Brouw, Typ. Batava, 5400; Graesse VI, 404.

Bulletins de l’Académie royale des sciences, des lettres, 17 (1850); T. van Hal, ‘Vulcanius and His Network of Language Lovers’, in Bonaventura Vulcanius, ed. H. Cazes (Leiden, 2010), 387-401.


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