LAERTIUS, Diogenes.

BY NICHOLAS EVE?

LAERTIUS, Diogenes. De vitis, dogmat. & apopht. Clarorum philosophorum Libri X.

Geneva, S. Crispinum, 1615

£1,650.00

8vo. Pp. 884, 88, 120 (xxxviii). Double column Roman and Greek letter. Tp woodcut printer’s device, ornamental woodcut head and tail pieces and floriated initials. Bookplate of Robert J. Hayhurst to pastedown. Slight age yellowing, a few minimal ink and other spots, very light water stain to outer edge of last few leaves. Leaves cut close to upper edge, occasionally encroaching on running title. A very good copy in C17 morocco fanfare binding in style of Nicholas Eve with ornamental gilt tools in compartment surrounding arms of Thomas II de Morand, Baron du Mesnil-Garnier (1584-1651) (Olivier 2134/1), large gilt ornaments and corner pieces, outer border with dentelles gilt, spine with title in compartment, gilt tooled border and dentelles around. Spine slightly cracked, covers with two outer corners repaired, three small wormholes to upper joint at foot, aeg.

Exquisitely bound and rare reissue of the popular 1593 edition by Henri Estienne (1531-1598) of the Lives of the Philosophers by Diogenes Laertius (3rd c. AD). That edition is especially important as it contains passages discovered by Estienne for the first time (Schreiber). The S.B.N. reports only one copy of the present issue in Naples at the Library of the Biblioteca della Pontificia. The work is composed of 10 books describing the lives of eminent philosophers including Anaximander, Epicurus, Pythagoras and Theophrastus. It is dated to the early 3rd century AD. Though Diogenes Laertius has been criticised for repeating information from his sources without critically evaluating it, and focusing on somewhat trivial details of his subjects’ lives, he is significant in reporting philosophical teachings without attempting to either reinterpret or expand on them, and is therefore an important source for early philosophical literature. Indeed, this work has become an essential source for the history and development of Greek philosophy.

Little is known about Diogenes Laertius, yet his work remains the only surviving example of this form of literature. It went on to be referred to by Stephanus of Byzantium, Photius, Walter de Burleigh and other important medieval and early modern scholars. In the fifteenth century Ambrosius Traversarius (1386-1439)  published a Latin translation, and eventually the first Greek version was published at Basel. This led to histories of philosophy becoming a popular topic during the Renaissance and after; authors like Stanley and Brücker being exemplary. According to the Loeb, Diogenes’ Lives “belongs to literature than to philosophy”, and because of this “it has unique value, because so little ancient biography of this sort has come down to us” (Loeb Classical Library, 1925). 

Henri Estienne was a French printer and classical scholar. He was well versed in Latin, Greek and Hebrew and wrote the Thesaurus graecae linguae which became the basis of Greek lexicology for centuries. Amert 2012 states that he was one of the “greatest and last scholarly editors and publishers of the Renaissance”.

The impressive binding was executed for Thomas II de Morand, Baron du Mesnil-Garnier (1584-1651), Lord of Eterville, Couseulles and Soulles, son of Thomas I, treasurer ‘de l’Épargne’. In 1620 he founded a prize to be given to students of the Collège du Mont in Caen. This particular style was inspired by the French artisans Nicholas and Clovis Eve who were the binders to the French court. The fanfare style decorates the entire cover with gilt ornamentation in the form of leafy, curvilinear tools surrounding a centralised coat of arms.

OCLC 29145075; Not in Brunet or Graesse.
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