EUSEBIUS Pamphili et. al. Ἐκκλησιαστικὴ ἱστορία, Historia Ecclesiastica.

Paris, Robert Estienne, 1544


EDITIO PRINCEPS. Folio, ff. (iv) 353; 181 (v). Greek letter. Estienne’s basilisk device as king’s printer for Greek texts on t-p and his olive tree device on verso of last. Large foliated grotesque initials and headpieces. T-p and a couple of final ll. a bit soiled, intermittent light waterstaining to outer corners, worm holes to lower blank margin of first gathering, small ink mark to p. 288, occasional marginal ink spots. A very good, crisp, clean, well margined copy in contemporary English calf, covers double blind ruled to a panel design, second border and central panel filled with a roll of interlaced ovals, flowers and ornaments, covers a bit worn in places, rebacked. Original metal catch plates, lacking straps, a.e.r. C18 armorial bookplate ‘Tudor’ by Thomas Simpson (c. 1765-1801), ms. “In memoriam Feb: 5th” below.

Splendid copy of the important editio princeps of this collection of Greek works concerning the history of the Christian Church, in a handsome contemporary English binding. This edition of the ‘Historia Ecclesiastica’ marks the first appearance of a full text printed in the ‘grecs du roi’ font, the ‘Greek types of the king’. It was commissioned by King Francis I of France (1494-1547) – one of the few monarchs ever to take a keen personal interest in printing – from Robert Estienne, and cut by the famous type designer Claude Garamond (1510-1561). “The cursive Greek types, still acknowledged as some of the finest ever cut, were based on the script of the calligrapher Angelo Vergezio, who was then engaged in transcribing and cataloguing Greek manuscripts for the Royal Library” (Harward French C16). Appointed ‘Printer to the King’ for Latin, Hebrew and Greek texts, Estienne was the first printer granted permission to use this font. Due to the beauty, elegance and exactness of alignment, the ‘grecs du roi’ has been defined “unsurpassable” (Proctor), and Estienne’s Greek editions as “among the most finished specimens of typography that exist” (Tilley). The charming initials and headpieces are also noteworthy: some scholars attribute them to the French engraver Geoffroy Tory (c. 1480-1533), others believe that they are slightly later in date and derive from the same manuscript source as the type.

This is the first of eight editiones principes printed by Estienne, the text was based on unpublished Greek manuscripts held in the Royal Library at Fontainebleau. It includes 7 separate works. The first, and most influential, is the ‘Historia Ecclesiastica’ written by the historian and exegete Eusebius Pamphili (c. 260-340), commonly known as Eusebius of Caesarea. The first surviving history of the Christian church, it is organised as a chronologically ordered narrative from the period of the Apostoles to the author’s epoch. In this collection, it is accompanied by Eusebius’ biography of Constantine the Great. During the IV and V centuries, the Constantinopole historians Socrates Scholasticus (c. 380-439), Theodoret (c. 393-466) and Sozomen (c. 400-450) wrote continuations of Eusebius’ historical accounts up to the period of the emperor Theodosius II. Their complete works feature as third, fourth and sixth in this ensemble, while the fifth is the ecclesiastical history written by Theodorus Lector, a VI century author who continued the chronicles up to the year 518. The ecclesiastical history of the Sirian scholar Evagrius Scholasticus (VI century) concludes the volume, covering the period 431-539.

A milestone in the history of typography, this elegant first edition constitutes a remarkable and complete ensemble of the first Christian histories.

USTC 149157; Adams E1093; Brunet II.1109-1110, “Édition originale, et qui mérite d’être recherchée, comme étant le premier livre exécuté avec les beaux caractères grecs de Garamond”; Dibdin I, p. 194-195, “beautiful book”; Renouard 59:11; BM STC Fr. p. 158; Graesse II p. 525; Harvard French C16 I, 219. R. Proctor, The Franch royal Greek types and the Ethon Chrysostom (Bibliographical essays, London 1905). A. Tilley, Humanism under Francis I (The English Historical Review 15/59).
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