EPICTETUS Enchiridion, et Cebetis Tabula

Leiden, Ex Officina Plantiniana Raphelengii, 1616


64mo, text 7.1cm x 4.4cm (2.8” x 1.7”) pp. 247, [9]. Greek and Roman letter, single column parallel text within double-fillet border, including final blanks; decorative piece on title, paper very slightly yellowed. A very good copy in contemporary plain vellum, yapp edges, blind-tooled double-fillet border, a.e.r.. On recto of front endpaper, contemporary ms ex libris of ‘Justi Boelij’ and his quotation from St Augustine of Hippo, De Doctrina Christiana.

A charming miniature edition of these two influential texts, forming a rare pocket-sized guide to life for any philosopher. Epictetus was a Stoic, who came to Rome as a slave and there studied philosophy under Musonius Rufus before his manumission. Banished by Domitian, he went to Epirus and opened his own philosophical school, which swiftly attracted pupils. His Enchiridion, here with a facing Latin translation, was a manual of Stoic ethics compiled by Epictetus’ most famous pupil, Flavius Arrian. In the Enchiridion, or ‘handbook’, Arrian distills the ideas of Epictetus’ Discourses and applies the Stoic precepts to daily life – it is appropriate that this text should be printed in so portable a form; a pocket reference work on dealing with life’s tribulations. For such a small text, by such a minor philosopher, the Enchiridion had a major impact. Popular amongst Christians and pagans alike, it was revived after its translation into Latin by Poliziano, published in 1497, and became exceptionally widely read.
The Cebetis Tabula, often printed with the Enchiridion, is an extensively allegorical work on the journey of human life. Taking the form of a dialogue between young visitors and an old man in the sanctuary of Kronos, the discussion centers around the interpretation of a picture. Set up as a Socratic dialogue, the Cebetis Tabula pairs nicely with the Enchiridion to show two complementary yet contrasting moral texts.
Among the smallest books printed by the Plantin press, this was probably intended for use in a travelling library, and a copy indeed featured in the travelling library of Sir Julius Caesar. Popularised in the 1600s after MP William Hakewill commissioned four such libraries to be made for his friends and patrons, travelling libraries were designed to allow gentlemen to educate themselves on the move; a 17th century precursor to the Kindle.
Justus Boelius we have not yet identified. His quotation from St Augustine, slightly misquoted, is a passage encouraging the application of ancient philosophy, especially that of the Platonists, in Christian theology – a very apt accompaniment to the printed text.

Rare. BL STC Dut, E46; Oldfather, Epictetus, 141-142; Walsh, Bibl. of miniature books, 2673.

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