PERSIUS FLACCUS, Aulus. Persio tradotto in verso sciolto e dichiarato da Francesco Stelluti

Rome, Giacomo Mascardi, 1630


FIRST EDITION. 4to, (xxiv) 218 (xx), lacking final blank. Roman and italic letter, woodcut floriated initials, typographical ornaments, charming tailpieces with flowers and grotesques. Attractive engraved architectural t-p with putti holding the arms of the Barberini at head, allegorical figures of moral philosophy and poetry at the sides, a mirror and a painting hand at tail, signed “Matthaus Greuter sculp[sit]”. Full-page engraved oval portrait of Persius, 5 quarter to full page engravings of a lynx, bees, weevil, statue and sistrum. T-p a bit dusty, slight age yellowing, rare mainly marginal foxing, one upper margin restored, light pencil marks on 3 ll. A very good copy reused vellum over boards, covers gilt ruled. Bookplate of Harrison David Horblit (1912-1988) to front pastedown.

Valuable and beautifully illustrated first edition of this Italian translation of Persius’ satires by Stelluti, Galileo’s correspondent and founder of the Accademia dei Lincei. “A work whose likes had never been seen before” (Fridberg), this extraordinary edition contains an elegant translation in Tuscan blank verse of the most difficult Latin poet and two engravings depicting the anatomy of the bee and of the weevil, considered “the first illustrations prepared with a microscope that were set forth in a printed book” (Singer).

The earliest records of microscopic observations are investigations performed by Federico Cesi and Francesco Stelluti on bees between 1625 and 1630. The first printed illustration to have been made with the aid of a microscope is an engraved broadsheet showing bees observed by Stelluti and titled ‘Melissographia’, published in 1625. In 1629, Stelluti had prepared a new and improved engraving of a bee, along with a better and much more detailed description of its anatomy: these were published in this edition of Persius, dedicated to Cardinal Francesco Barberini. “The translated satires are an unusual place to record microscopic details of a bee and a weevil, especially in view of their importance in the history of microscopy, biology, and science in general. However, Stelluti wished to gain the support of Cardinal Barberini for the Accademia dei Lincei and published the observations in a manner designed to influence the cardinal toward that end.” (Bardell) The coat of arms of the Barberini, with three bees, was shown on the title page of the book, provided Stelluti with an excuse for including his full-page illustration. The drawing “shows the microscopic appearance of an intact bee from dorsal, ventral and side views, and also several parts of a dissected bee” (Bardell), portraying minute details of the eyes, antennae, legs, sting, head and tongue. In addition, a mention to a weevil by Persius in the fourth satire prompted Stelluti to provide a description of this insect, accompanied by a picture showing a comparison between the weevil seen by the naked eye and with a microscope. Remarkably, the images were probably realised using Galileo’s microscope, which had been sent by Galileo to Cesi the year before the first observations were made.

The significance of this book also lies in Stelluti’s commentary on Persius, which is rich of references to the activity of the Academia dei Lincei and its members, notably Cesi, Galileo, Faber and Colonna. “Whenever he possibly could, Stelluti took a word or phrase in Persius – almost any word or phrase – and used it as an excuse to refer to one or another aspect of the natural historical researches of the Linceans. […] By far the most important notes to this satire [i.e. the first] are those in which Galileo appears. They include notes on the astrological doctrine of the influence of the planet Jupiter on our lives and character […] In the first of these notes, Stelluti deals swiftly and efficiently with astrology; and then moves on to astronomy, summarizing Galileo’s major discoveries and recalling Galileo’s meetings with Cesi and the other Linceans to scan the heavens. Finally Stelluti alludes to the forthcoming appearance of the Dialogue on the Two Chief World Systems, the work that would finally send Galileo to the Inquisition. In the second of these notes, there is an extended account of Galileo’s observations about the planet Venus: after them, Stelluti affirms, one can no longer say, as the ancients did, that Venus stands in the third firmament. But for the composition and constitution of the heavens Stelluti refers his readers to yet another of Cesi’s never-published works, the De Coelo, or Coelispicium” (Freedberg)

From the library of Harrison David Horblit (1912-1988), American philanthropist and eminent collector of manuscripts, photographs and rare books on the history of science.

USTC 4012154; BM STC It. 17th century, p. 675; Graesse V, p. 215. C. Singer, History of Biology (1950). D. Bardell, The First Record of Microscopic Observations (1983). D. Freedberg, The Eye of the Lynx (2003).

In stock