LEONICENO, Niccolò [with] LEONICENO, Niccolò [and] HUTTEN, Ulrich von


LEONICENO, Niccolò [with] (2) LEONICENO, Niccolò [and](3) HUTTEN, Ulrich von De serpentibus [with] (2) Antisophista [and] (3) De guaiaci medicina et morbo gallico

(1) Bologna, Giovanni Antonio Benedetti, 1518; (2) Bologna, Girolamo Benedetti; 1519; (3) Mainz; Johann Schoeffer, 1519


4to, 3 volumes in one. 1): FIRST EDITION. 54 leaves, A-M4, N6; 2): FIRST EDITION. 78 leaves, A4, BB-II4, K-S4, T6; 3): FIRST EDITION. 44 leaves, a-l4. Roman letter, little Greek; large printer’s device on first colophon, full-page coat of arms of dedicatee on title and full-page portrait of author on final leaf of 3); intermittent marginal light damp stain to 2). A very good copy in eighteenth-century ¾ calf, gilt spine, titles on morocco labels, patterned endpapers; minor worm trails on front joint and rear cover; remains of shelfmark label on front; contemporary 9 line ms record on second title of the gift of this volume by Johann Fabri to St Nicholas College in Vienna in 1541; tiny circular stamp of the Selbourne library to margin of ff. Aiv, Giiir.

A very interesting collection of uncommon first-edition medical treatises on snakes, venoms and syphilis by Niccolò Leoniceno and Ulrich von Hutten. Leoniceno (1428-1524) was a very influential physician, botanist and scholar of the Italian Renaissance. A skilled student of Greek, he taught in Padua before settling in the university and the court of Ferrara. Here, he accomplished several pioneering translations of the Greek classics, such as Arrian, Diodorus, Appian, Polybius, Cassius Dio and, first and foremost, large part of Galen’s corpus. Over the course of his extraordinary long life, Leoniceno was well acquainted with the most prominent scholars of his time, including Pico della Mirandola, Ermolao Barbaro and Angelo Poliziano. Lending Aldus Manutius some of his prized manuscripts, he took an active part in the Aldine Greek editions of Aristotle and Galen. In 1497, he published the first scholarly account of syphilis, following the epidemic in the Italian peninsula after the arrival of the French troops of Charles VIII.

Ulrich von Hutten (1488-1523) was a German poet as well as a precursor and early partisan of Luther. After quitting monastic life and searching in vain for patrons of his pen, he eventually came into the service of the prince-archbishop Albert of Brandenburg. In 1517, the Emperor bestowed him the title of poet laureate. Later, he lost Albert’s favour and took part in the disastrous religious uprising known as the Knights’ Revolt in 1523; he died in seclusion in Zurich. He published extensively both in Latin and German and set up a printing press in Strasbourg.

The work opening this volume is the earliest scientific attempt to describe effects and antidotes of snakes’ venom and discusses other dangerous reptiles such as crocodiles. This is the most correct variant of the first edition, comprising the ‘Mendae ex incuria’ on title verso. De Serpentibus also includes a short essay on vipers, previously issued by Aldus Manutius about 1497, almost certainly in recognition of Leoniceno’s contribution to the Aldine enterprise. Then follows the Antisophista, a defence of Leoniceno’s pedagogical and theoretical thinking. Although allegedly written by a former pupil of his hidden behind the pseudonym ‘Medicus Romanus’, this work is frequently ascribed to Leoniceno himself. It strongly argues that many Italian physicians and professors of medicine dwell too much on the sophistications introduced by Roman, Arab and medieval translators, instead of going back to Greek sources and grasping the true meaning of medical terms.

Leoniceno’s teaching marks a fundamental watershed in the history of early modern medicine, triggering the revival of Galenic and Hippocratic studies (see R. J. Durling, ‘A Chronological Census of Renaissance Editions and Translations of Galen’, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, XXIV, 1961, pp. 230-305). The third work of the volume consists of one of the earliest reports by a patient affected by syphilis. Von Hutten suffered from this illness for 15 years and decided to share his pain with readers by describing symptoms and treatments with the help of Albert of Brandenburg’s physicians. He tried unsuccessfully to cure himself with mercury and later with guaiacum (gum from a tree of Central America). Such an innovative account was immediately reprinted in Paris and Strasbourg. It is dedicated to Albert of Brandenburg, who also died of syphilis.

This copy of Antisophista was previously owned by Johann Fabri (1478-1541), bishop of Vienna and prominent Catholic controversialist. A learned theologian and humanist, Fabri gathered an impressive library, which he bequeathed to the trilingual college he had established in Vienna. This institution, however, had a very short life and Fabri’s books were for the most part included into the Imperial Library (now the Austrian National Library). The notarial annotation on the title page, dictated by Fabri on 10 January 1541 some months before dying, records the first donation to the college, to the benefit of students and professors.

1) Not in Durling or Heirs of Hippocrates. BM STC It., 466; Adams, L501; Brunet III, 986 ('volume peu commun'); Wellcome I, 3740.2) Not BM STC It or Heirs of Hippocrates. Adams, L498; Durling, 3053; Welcome, 3741.3) Not in Heirs of Hippocrates. BM STC Ger., 426; Adams, H1221; Durling, 2509; Welcome, 3364.

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