MÜNSTER, Sebastian


MUNSTER, Sebastian Melekhet ha-dikduk. Institutiones grammaticae in Hebraeam linguam

Basel, in officina Frobeniana, 1524


FIRST EDITION. 2 parts in 1, ff. [144]. Hebrew letter, with Roman, musical notation (3pp.), last few ll. with parallel Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic and Roman text, in double column. Printer’s device to t-p and last verso, decorated initials and ornaments. T-p with faded marginal stamp, first four ll. a little finger-soiled at margins, slight browning, occasional minor marginal spotting, lower outer blank corner of a3 and s8 torn, small marginal oil stain to b1. A good copy in contemporary Polish or Bohemian full calf, lacking ties, blind ruled to a panel design, upper cover: rolls of fleurons and tendrils in blind at head and foot, inner border with GRAMATCA HEBRAICA [sic] and ANNO M.D.XXVI tooled in gold (oxidised), flanked by ivy leaves and spherical tools, centre panel with large fleuron surrounded by four rosettes in blind, within frame of gilt cross-hatched lozenges (oxidised) and H-shaped tools in blind, lower cover: blind roll of lozenges at head and foot, inner border with blind rolls of fleurons and tendrils, and ivy leaves, centre panel with blind-stamped cross-hatched lozenges and rosette tools, raised bands, old paper label to spine, rubbed, corners and head and foot of spine worn with a little loss. C18 engraved bookplate ‘Bibliotheca Orphanotrophei Halensis’, later casemarks (pencil and red crayon) and C16 annotations (extending to ffep) to front pastedown, C16 ms. autograph ‘Wenceslaus Kuhens’(?) (crossed out) and C16 ms. ‘Sum ex Bibliotheca Matthiae Cimmernani Senioris Pastoris Petrowiziani’ to ffep, C16 ms. ‘Sum ex libris Matthiae Cimmerman Strigoniensis’ to t-p, a few near contemporary ms. marginalia in Hebrew and Latin, early ms. ‘15 gl(?)’ to rear pastedown.

The charming binding is probably Polish or Bohemian. Decorated with unusual tools, it also bears a couple of spelling oversights in the stamped title, which suggest a provincial workshop. The earliest C16 owner, Wenceslaus, wrote a long petition (partly covered by the bookplate) on the front endpapers, requesting a scholarly reader that a favour be granted to him, through a messenger. Slightly later, this copy was in the library of Matthias Cimmermann from Ezstergom, Hungary, pastor at Petrowice, probably in Silesia (now Poland), though several other towns in Bohemia bore that name. By the C18, it had moved not too far, to the library of the Pietist Orphanage in Halle, Germany. Established in 1695, it had a printing house which published popular editions of Luther’s Bible in numerous languages. From 1702 to c.1720, Halle also hosted a Collegium Orientale Theologicum, and, from 1728, an Institutum Judaicum.

First edition of this renowned Hebrew grammar, followed by a short polyglot rendition of the Book of Jonas. Sebastian Münster (1488-1552) was a cartographer and Hebraist at Basel, the first Christian scholar to produce an edition of the Hebrew Bible. He enjoyed a productive collaboration with the Froben press; in the prefatory letter, he praised Hieronymus—Johann’s eldest son—for printing Hebrew books ‘not for profit, but for true love of the language’. ‘Institutiones’ was a pocket grammar for students, covering the basic aspects: the alphabet, pronunciation and numbers (an early annotator of this copy was especially interested), conjugations, declension and syntax, abbreviations, poetic language and the use of accents. This last includes the ‘musical accent’, which, in its numerous variations, can be used instead of the grammatical one; there follow 3pp. illustrating the musical accent over a melody in music notation, ‘for the curiosity of the reader’. A brief section—on the letters used to write in the vernacular—is devoted to Yiddish. ‘While [it] comprises slightly more than a page of text and consists only of a description of the details of how the Hebrew alphabet is used to write Yiddish, along with twenty Hebrew words translated into Latin and Yiddish, it nonetheless expands vastly on the information provided by Böschenstein [in ‘Elementale introductorium’ (1514)]’ (Frakes, 19). The appendix comprises a tetraglot rendering of the Book of Jonas in parallel Greek, Latin, Hebrew and Chaldean (Aramaic), which was also published separately. The section title sheds light on Munster’s enthusiasm for Froben’s work as he explained that the four languages were hereby ‘beautifully presented in small, corresponding columns’.

Panzer VI, 245; BM STC Ger., p.633; Steinschneider, Bibl. Hand., 1375. J. Frakes, The Cultural Study of Yiddish in Early Modern Europe (2007).
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