BOEMUS, Johann.

BOEMUS, Johann. I costumi, le leggi, et le usanze di tutte le genti […] di nuovo aggiuntovi il quarto libro

Venice, Domenico Farri, 1573


8vo, ff. 240. Italic letter. Printer’s device on t-p, woodcut historiated initials, typographical ornaments. Intermittent light waterstain towards gutter of a few initial ll., some browning to a couple of gatherings. A good copy in early vellum, small worm loss to upper cover, traces of ties, ms. title to spine. Printed stubs from ‘Lettere del signor Francesco Visdomini’ (1626).

Attractive copy of the Italian translation of this bestseller on ethnography by Johann Boemus, including a fascinating addition on the New World by the Italian Girolamo Giglio. First published in 1520 and counting almost fifty editions over the course of the 16th century, Boemus’ work was translated, adapted and even plagiarised several times in many European languages. This Italian translation was made by the Venetian Lucio Fauno – pseudonym of the humanist Giovanni Tarcagnota (c. 1508-1566) – and first printed in 1542, while Giglio’s fourth book on the Americas appeared for the first time printed by Giglio himself in 1558.

Born in Aub (Lower Franconia) and chaplain of the Teutonic Order – hence the epithet of ‘Aubanus Teutonicus’ – Hans Böhm or Johann Boemus (c.1485-1535) was a German humanist, poet and canon of the Lutheran church of Ulm Minster. This extremely successful treatise, commonly known with the Latin title ‘Omnium Gentium Mores, Leges et Ritus’, is the first ethnographic work of the Early modern period. Mainly based on classical and humanistic authors, it is an encyclopaedia of the customs, institutions and rites of all peoples, “both those who once were and those now in the world”. The work is divided into three books, each dedicated to one of the three continents of the Old World. Book I, on Africa, opens with two chapters on the origin of humanity: the first reporting the biblical account, the second presenting the ideas of the ancient philosophers; then, it focuses on Aethiopians (“the first of all mortal men”) and Egyptians. Book II, on Asia, is a voyage through Assiria, Giudea, Media, Parthia, Persia, India, Scithia, Tartaria and Turkey. Book III, on Europe, is perhaps the most detailed, dealing not only with the customs of major nations, but also with those of specific regions within them.

Girolamo Giglio (active: 1541-1560) was a priest, printer and publisher who worked alone and with his brothers in Venice and Rome. He was the first to came up with the innovative idea of adding a fourth book (ll.go 193-240) on the Americas to Boemus’ ethnographic treatise. It was based on the Italian translations of López de Gómara’s history of Mexico and the Indies (Rome, 1555-56): “This choice may be understood as an attempt to make Giglio’s addition competitive on the Venetian book market, still influenced by the recent appearance of the third volume of Navigationi et viaggi (1556) by Giovanni Battista Ramusio, which dealt with the Americas, but did not include Gómara” (Marcocci). A brief but exhaustive account of the customs of the New World, Giglio’s book adopts a perspective that is favourable to the Indians – in contrast to the moral and religious condemnation of their traditions and social organization that can often be read in other contemporary works. A curious note is that, in Giglio’s pages, the discoverer of America is called “Christoforo Palombo”, instead of ‘Colombo’. Interestingly, this seems to be the only work in which this particular variation of his name appears.

USTC 815056; Alden 573/10. See Brunet I, p. 1030 and Graesse I, p. 461, Sabin 6119. Not in Adams or BM STC It. 16th century. G. Marcocci, The Globe on Paper: Writing Histories of the World in Renaissance Europe and the Americas (Oxford 2020).
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