Scala naturale, overo Fantasia dolcissima … intorno alle cose occulte, e desiderate nella filosofia.

Venice, per Giovanni Varisco and Paganino Paganini, 1564.


FIRST EDITION. 8vo. ff. 140. Italic letter, little Roman. Woodcut printer’s device to recto and woodcut author’s portrait to verso of t-p, half-page woodcut of celestial spheres with two conversing scholars, decorated initials. Minor paper flaw to lower blank margin of one fol., the odd ink spot, occasional light marginal waterstaining. A very good copy in old vellum, recased.

Attractive copy of this intriguing work on philosophy and natural science—an epitome of the all-embracing aspirations of humanist thought. Giovanni Camillo Maffei (fl.1562-73) was a philosopher, physician, natural scientist and musician, and a member of the most important Neapolitan intellectual circles. In addition to fundamental works on the art of singing, touching on the physiology of the human voice, Maffei wrote philosophical letters and the idiosyncratic ‘Scala naturale’. Engaging and well-written, ‘Scala naturale’ discusses the cosmos and its inhabitants, their nature, physiology, soul and customs as determined by the world around them. Purporting the existence of 14 instead of the Aristotelian 8 spheres, Maffei discusses the nature of each considering how it is affected by the interaction of the four humours. For instance, in the first sphere, this can cause earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, and affect the nature and colour of stones, metals, plants, animals and human beings. He showcases his medical knowledge in lengthy disquisitions on the ‘evolution’ of organs and limbs to the optimal shape for their function and the causes of physical differences between humans, e.g., unlike in animals, the colour of human skin is not determined by the nature thereof but by the vapours in the environment in which it developed. The work also touches on comets, the origins of rivers and seas, celestial phenomena, solar circles, the zodiac, judicial astrology and its connection to predictions.

Riccardi I/1, 61; BM STC It., p. 402; Cantamessa I, 583; Houzeau & Lancaster 2617.


Print This Item Print This Item