MACROBIUS, Ambrosius Theodosius


MACROBIUS, Ambrosius Theodosius Viri consularis & illustris in somnium Scipionis libri II. Eiusdem saturnaliorum libri VII.

Basel, Johannes I Herwagen, 1535


Folio. pp. [xl] 334 [ii]. Roman letter, some Italic and Greek, entirely ruled in red. Woodcut printer’s device on title, repeated on verso of last, several small woodcut diagrams including a world map, fine white on black criblée, historiated and floriated woodcut initials. Light age yellowing, very occasional minor marginal spotting, small chip at heat of t-p. A fine copy, crisp and clean with excellent margins, in C19th french olive morocco, covers bordered with a triple gilt rule, finely worked to a fanfare design with single and double gilt rules, scrolls, and branches, with a multitude of compartments, all filled with a small tools gilt, around a central oval with the arms of Henri IV gilt stamped at centre on a pointillé ground, spine gilt ruled in a single panel with a semée of fleur de lys gilt, edges gilt ruled, all edges gilt and gauffered, tiny repairs to extremities.

A beautifully printed edition of the major works of Macrobius, edited by Camerarius with valuable emendations, in a fine C19th morocco binding in a pastiche fanfare style, with the arms of Henry IV of France. This edition contains the two major works that have survived from this Roman grammarian and philosopher. 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 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 world map in this edition is important as it has evolved from the original Macrobian map which, for a 1000 years, formed the basis of world geography. It was first printed in 1482, showing the continents in the ‘Alveus Oceani’, a big Europe, and a rather small Africa and Asia. The round map is typically divided in 5 climatic zones, demonstrating a pre-Renaissance view of the world, with a large Antipodean section. The map in this edition shows the awakening of the passion for exploration and the cartographic progress in this period. Africa and Asia have grown hugely, and Europe has shrunk considerably. The lines of the climatic zone on the first map of 1482 were straight, suggesting a flat earth, on this map the lines are convex, indicating a spherical world. The Antipodean part has disappeared. There is still, however, no sign of the Americas.

Macrobius’ Saturnalia, with its idolisation of Rome’s pagan past, has been described as a pagan “machine de guerre”. The first book inquires 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. 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.

Joachim Camerarius, 1500-1574, holds one of the foremost places among the German classical scholars of the 16th century. “His numerous editions of the Classics, without attaining the highest rank, are characterised by acumen and good taste”. Sandys, ‘History of Classical Scholarship.’ Camerarius was a man of vast knowledge. He also wrote on history, theology, mathematics, astronomy and pedagogy. “Up to the period of this edition, the text of Macrobius may be said to have received no material aid or illustration: when, under the care of the celebrated Camerarius, and by the help of several important MSS. there is hardly a verse in the poets quoted but what received very considerable emendation. A volume, thus intrinsically valuable will not fail to find a purchaser at a reasonable price” Dibdin.

BM STC Ger. C16th p. 584. USTC 674641. VD 16 ZV 20513. Adams M64. Dibdin 220. Houzeau and Lancaster 1038.

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