MACROBIUS. In Somnium Scipionis ex Ciceronis.

Venetiis, in Aedibus Aldi et A. Asulani Soceri, 1528


FIRST ALDINE EDITION. 8vo. Ff. (xvi) 322. Italic letter. Aldine device to tp and to last, woodcuts of astrological diagrams showing the planets and the composition of the earth and rare world map by Andreas Asulanus, occasional faded marginalia. Light age yellowing, small marginal wormholes to places in upper margin, occasional marginal worm trail to gutter. A good clean copy in C18 red morocco, small scrape to lower cover, double gilt fillet borders, ornamental gilt spine, aeg.

Finely bound edition of this important Neoplantonic work by the Roman grammarian and philosopher, Macrobius Ambrosius Theodosius (c. 400 AD). This printing includes an exceptional woodcut map of the world by the father in law of Aldus Manutius. It contains the Saturnalia by Macrobius as well as De Die Natali by Censorinus. Macrobius was of African descent. He may be the Macrobius mentioned in the Codex Theodosianus as a praetorian prefect of Spain in 399-400, proconsul of Africa in 410, and lord chamberlain in 422.

The first work is a commentary on the Dream of Scipio narrated by Cicero at the end of the Republic in which the elder Scipio appears to his grandson, and describes the life of the good after death and the constitution of the universe from a Stoic and Neo-Platonic point of view; from this Macrobius discourses upon the nature of the cosmos, transmitting much classical philosophy to the later Middle Ages. Cicero’s ‘Dream’ described the Earth as a globe of insignificant size in comparison to the remainder of the cosmos. The map is characteristic of later medieval versions of the Macrobian world-picture. The world map is important in that it shows a symmetry, in land and climate, between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. Europe, Africa and Asia are shown in the upper hemisphere, with a vast southern continent (Antipodum Nobis Incognita) in the lower. They are separated by an intervening great ocean (Alveus Oceani). Macrobius further labels his map with climatic zones according to the theory of Parmenides: two zones close to the poles are subject to frigid air (frigida), either side of the equator a torrid zone (perusta) and between these two moderate or temperate zones (temperate). It was this notion of antipodean balance and landmass equivalence that continued to attract medieval minds to the otherwise outmoded geographical ideas of Macrobius. His view of a large southern land mass was an early and important part of the long tradition of unknown south lands that influenced Pacific exploration and charting.

The second work, Macrobius’ Saturnalia, with its idolisation of Rome’s pagan past, has been described as a pagan “machine de guerre”. It recounts the discussions held at the house of Vettius Agorius Praetextatus (c. 325-385) during the Saturnalia holiday and was written for the benefit of Macrobius’ son Eustachius. The first book enquires into the origin of the Saturnalia and the festivals of Janus, leading to a history of the Roman calendar, and an attempt to derive all forms of worship from that of the Sun. The second begins with a collection of ‘bons mots’, many ascribed to Cicero and Augustus, and a discussion of various pleasures, especially of the senses, but most is lost. The third, fourth, fifth and sixth books are devoted to Virgil, dwelling respectively on his learning in religious matters, his rhetorical skill, his debt to Homer and other Greek writers, and the earlier Latin poets. The latter part of the third book is a dissertation upon luxury and the sumptuary laws. The primary value of the work lies in quotations from earlier writers, many now lost. The form of the Saturnalia is copied from Plato’s Symposium and Gellius’s Noctes Atticae; the chief authorities are listed at the end of this edition.

The third work, De Die Natali by the third century Roman philosopher Censorinus, discusses the natural history of man, as well as music, religious rites, astronomy, and the calendars of Romans and other nations. It was dedicated to his patron Quintus Caerellius as a birthday gift, hence the title. It is especially useful for determining the principal epochs of ancient historical periods. The author makes reference to his illustrious ancestors, including L. Marcius Censorinus who was appointed consul with M. Manilius, and declared war on the Carthiginians as well as a later Marcius Censorinus who was consul at the court of Gaius Caesar, grandson of Augustus.

Renouard p. 105:2; Adams I M62; BM STC It 401; Brunet III 1286.