HERO OF ALEXANDRIA De gli Automati, overo Machine se Moventi, libri due, tradotti dal Greco da Bernardino Baldi..

Venice, Girolamo Porro, 1589


FIRST EDITION thus. 4to. ff. 48. Roman letter. Title within elegant engraved architectural frame, Porro’s leek device in roundel at head, further 22 illustrations to text, 11 woodcut, 11 engraved, of which 6 full-page, woodcut initials and headpieces. Bookblock splitting in two places but stitching holding, very occasional light marginal staining, a very good clean and well-margined copy in contemporary vellum over pasteboard, spine a little loose, lacking ties. Contemporary autograph of ‘Francesco Montemagni Pistoria’ in blank lower margin of title.

First edition of the first Italian translation, by Bernardino Baldi. Hero of Alexandria (fl. 62 A.D.) wrote extensively on mechanics and is assumed to have taught at the University of Alexandria. He was primarily known for his haphazard ‘Pneumatica’ before the recovery from an Arabic translation of his much finer ‘Mechanica’, which established him as a serious late classical authority. The ‘Automata’ or ‘Automatic Theatre’ describes two puppet shows – one moving and one stationary. Both perform without the aid of human hands. The first moves before the audience by itself and shows a temple with a lit fire in which Dionysus pours out a libation to dancing bacchantes, while the latter opens its doors to present the myth of Nauplius. Both machines are driven by a heavy lead weight resting on a heap of millet grains which escape through a hole. The weight is attached by a rope to an axle which turns and drives the machine by means of strings and drums. “It represents a marvel of ingenuity with very scant mechanical means” (DSB).

Baldi, born at Urbino in 1553 was an erudite and learned linguist and mathematician, and later Abbot of Guastalla. He prepared a number of translations from Arabic and Greek as well as composing his own works. This translation was completed in 1576 to be published alongside a work of his mentor Commandino’s, but was not published until 1589 partly due to the latter’s death.

As yet, we have not been able to identify the artist ‘Francesco Montemagni’, who was probably the first owner of this book.

BM STC It., p. 326; Adams H-368; Mortimer Italian C16 II, 231.

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