HOMER. Opera graeco-latina.

Basel, Nikolaus Brylinger, 1561


FIRST EDITION, thus. Folio, pp. (xx) 292; 317 (i). Italic and Greek letter, double column. Printer’s device to t-p, charming historiated and floriated initials. Age yellowing, intermittent mostly marginal waterstains, a few wormholes to lower blank margins mainly to final gatherings, upper cover and a couple of initial gatherings pierced through causing three tiny holes (not affecting reading). Fairly extensive early ms. marginalia (brown ink) in Latin and Greek to 4 ll. of Iliad, intermittent pencil annotations (1815). A good copy in contemporary German pigskin, a few small wormholes, corners a bit worn, covers blind ruled to a panel design, first border with foliage and heads roll and flower bud stamps at corners, second with roll depicting scenes of Christ’s life, including the nativity (PUER NATUS EST NOBIS ET), crucifixion (IPSE PECCA(TA) NOSTRA TUL(IT)) and resurrection (UBI VICTORI TUA INFER), third with roll of heads in roundels and foliage, central panel with flower vases surrounded by flower and leaves tools, ‘1565’ to upper cover, spine with blind ruled raised bands, gilt title label. Early ms. autograph ‘Christianus Haueman’ and C19 armorial bookplate of Robert Duckle to front paste-down, later autograph ‘Frederick C(?) Caius College Cambridge’ and bibliographic annotations to verso of fly, mostly cancelled signature “George Garrett (?) CCC” to t-p.

An attractive copy of Homer’s opera omnia, in Greek and Latin. This is the first edition of the Latin translation realized by the eminent French protestant theologian Sebastian Castellio (Sébastien Châteillon 1515-1563). The decoration of the handsome German contemporary binding – featuring with a central panel, surrounded by blank compartments at top and bottom and ornated borders with floral and religious rolls – was popular during the XVI century in Germany and it is known as ‘Wittenberg style’. The decorative roll in the third border bears the initials of the binder: H.S. The best candidate is Hans Schreiber (active 1545-1570), the most prominent German bookbinder of the period with matching initials, he worked in Wittenberg and Berlin (a similar binding by Schreiber containing a roll signed H.S. is: EBDB123640b).

A strong advocate of religious toleration and freedom of thought, Castellio was an outstanding scholar and one of the most learned men of his time. After completing his studies at University of Lyon (when Luther was also there), he went to Strasbourg and became a friend of Calvin. Eventually, however, he came into conflict with him, criticizing his position in favor of the death penalty for heretics and his doctrine of predestination. “Castellio’s most significant achievement as an editor of Greek authors was without doubt the Greek-Latin edition of Homer’s complete works, published by Brylinger in 1561. The primary purpose of this work was to serve as a basis for academic teaching, including Castellio’s own” (Hans). Disappointed with the edition of Homer that was available to him as a teacher in Basle, he decided to publish a new one: here, Castellio provided a new translation and corrected numerous gaps and mistakes in the original and Latin text (particularly of the Odyssey). In addition to the Iliad and Odyssey, this edition comprises the Batrachomyomachia (Battle of the frogs and mice), a parody of the Iliad, and a collection of anonymous ancient Greek hymns, commonly attributed to Homer. In addition, a treatise on the life of Homer by Pseudo-Plutarch.

Remarkably, this copy has been annotated by various generations of students. The earliest notes (contemporary) are focused on the beginning of the Iliad, and meticulously analyse several Greek verbs, indicating their tense and explaining their meaning or use. Later annotations, in pencil, are focused on the Odissey and dated 1815: starting from the 19th of July, a student marked the portions of text that he learned every day, or every few days, up until the 9th of October.

The earliest owner of this volume was “Christianus Haueman”, possibly the German Christian Havemann (d. 1567), reformed pastor of St. Stephani in Bremen, who studied theology in Wittenberg under Luther. It is likely that the beautiful binding was made for him. The book later fell in the hands of Cambridge University students.

USTC 663913; Dibdin p. 51: “Castalio’s translation is very elegant and accurate”; Graesse III, p. 327. See Brunet III, p. 271. On Havemann, see: J.M. Kohlmann, Beiträge zur bremischen Kirchengeschichte (1844), p. 160.