PHILO JUDAEUS; TURNÈBE (Adrien, ed.). Filonos Ioudaiou Eis ta tou Moseos. […] Philonis Ivdaei In Libros Moisis…

Paris, Adrianus Turnebus, 1552


EDITIO PRINCEPS. Folio. pp. (xii) 736 (xlviii). Greek letter, final index in Roman. Woodcut printer’s device to title, decorated initials and ornaments. Title a trifle dusty to lower and outer edge, just adhering to ffep at gutter, very narrow water stain along inner gutter of first 3 gatherings, the odd marginal thumb mark or ink spot, small faint water stain at upper blank gutter of few final gatherings, tiny rust mark from clasp to outer blank margin of last 3 ll. (holed to last), last verso minimally soiled, upper edge a little dusty. A tall, clean copy, on thick high-quality paper, in contemporary English (Oxford) dark brown calf over wooden boards, remains of clasps, double blind ruled to a panel design, borders with blind rolls of fleurons, tendrils and urns (Oldham, MW.d.(10) and MW.d.(11)), two leaves from an early C15 English ms., on thin vellum, used as pastedowns, raised bands, traces of C16 paper label to spine, the odd superficial scratch, extreme upper outer corners a little rubbed, upper joint partly cracked but firm, small vertical crack along one spine compartment towards foot, a little craquelure or minor loss of superficial leather to spine and joints in places, head of spine and lower end of two raised bands expertly and sympathetically repaired, all edges painted yellow, author’s name inked to fore-edge, inscription ‘Henricus Cuffus R[crossed-out], dominus CIϽ IC XXCI [1581], XI K[a]l[endae] Decemb[e]r’, partly written over previous ownership, at head of title.

An excellent, tall, wide-margined copy, crisp and clean, of illustrious contemporary English provenance, in a solid contemporary English binding, and with fascinating manuscript pastedowns.

This is Turnèbe’s impressive Greek editio princeps of works by the Hellenistic Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria (1st century AD), who was much valued, among others, by Ficino. An edition ‘of singular beauty and held by the curious in high estimation’ (Greswell). Professor of Greek at Paris from 1547, Adrien Turnèbe (1512-65) also held the post of ‘Typographus Regius’, which came with the use of the fine ‘Grecs du Roi’ type. In 1551-5, he printed (and often edited, as here) 20 Greek editions. For the present, Turnèbe chose to publish Philo’s works on the exposition of the Mosaic law and on the laws of allegories, and a handful of stand-alone, shorter works, accompanied by commentaries with variants and a final index. The work on the Mosaic law discusses the laws of the patriarchs and the Ten Commandments. Imbued with Platonism, that on allegories deals with an interpretation of the Old Testament whereby biblical episodes are seen to stand for the moral development of the soul. Among the shorter works are essays on animals and on providence. In the dedication to the Cardinal de Lorraine, Turnèbe explains that ‘by partaking in both Hellenic and Hebrew culture, Philo successfully fused theology and philosophy […] [Turnèbe also] underlines the links between Philo and Plato by quoting a Greek saying (also repeated by Jerome) that “Plato Philonized and Philo Platonized”’ (Constantinidou, p.277).

This copy was in the library of Henry Cuffe (1563-1601), student and fellow at Trinity College, Oxford, until 1580, fellow at Merton from 1586, where he focused on Greek studies, and Regius Professor of Greek in 1590-7. In 1594, he became private secretary to Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex; in 1601, he was hanged at Tyburn – one of five traitors executed in the aftermath of the Essex rebellion against Elizabeth I. Oxford libraries preserve half a dozen books – mostly Greek editions – once in Cuffe’s possession, some of which bound with similar tools. One at Merton (84.K.10) features a nearly identical ex-libris, overwritten on one that remains illegible.

The handsome, strictly contemporary English binding retains its original spine and joints structurally intact. The blind roll decorations have been identified as MW.d.(10) and MW.d.(11) (Gibson XIX and XX), in their original undamaged state (see Pearson, pp.69-70 and Ker). Oldham traces the combined use of these rolls to Oxford, 1535-57.

The ms. pastedowns are stellar witnesses to the very early developments of humanism at Oxford. Still remarkably fresh, they come from the same early C15 ms., on thin vellum, written in an elegant cursiva anglicana formata. The text appears to be part of an apparently unrecorded concordance to Lactantius’s ‘Divinae Institutiones’ (3rd century), most probably produced by a theologian and copied out by a professional scribe. Like its direct models, i.e., medieval biblical concordances, it is organised by rubricated index subject words, the present 2 ll. covering letters I/J. Each subject word is followed by ‘loci’ or short quotations (at times paraphrased) mentioning uses of each word in Lactantius’s work. The ‘loci’, one to half a dozen lines in length, in the present ll. mention vices, the institution of sacred rites in ancient Rome, the Sibyls (which the rediscovery of Lactantius brought to the attention of early humanists) and Jupiter, with references to ancient theories of mythological ‘fables’ or myths, such as Euhemerism. Each entry is followed by a reference to the book and chapter, as well as the location of the ‘locus’ within the chapter (e.g., ante medium, usque in finem, per totum). Most interestingly, at the time, Lactantius’s work was virtually unknown in England, where it was not systematically studied before the C16; none of his works are recorded by Ker among medieval ms. pastedowns in Oxford bindings. Only two mss of ‘Divinae Institutiones’ are currently recorded as having been at Oxford before 1500. (No incunabular editions appear to have reached Oxford before the early C16.) The first (now lost) ms. was donated by Duke Humphrey to the University Library in 1439; the second is now Merton College MS 31, donated by Henry Sever in 1466. Sever (d.1471) was proctor at Merton in 1427, University Chancellor in 1442-3, and secretary to Henry VI, Humphrey’s nephew. Humphrey’s ms. appears to be the first recorded Lactantius ever to reach Oxford, and Sever’s was perhaps a slightly later copy. From the script, our concordance appears to be slightly earlier than Merton College MS 31 and it differs in that it mentions that ‘Institutiones’ was dedicated to Emperor Constantine; however, Lactantius’s one-line invocation to the Emperor (Book 1, Ch. 1) is not found in Merton College MS 31, either because it was skipped by the scribe or because it was absent in the source. Therefore, our concordance was probably based either on Duke Humphrey’s lost ms. or on a third, unrecorded (lost?) witness.

Brunet V, 614: ‘Première edition, très belle’; Greswell, Early Parisian Greek Press, II, p.33; Hoffmann III, 226. Not in Legrand. A. Sammut, Unfredo duca di Gloucester e gli umanisti Italiani (1980); Medieval Manuscripts in Oxford Libraries,; N. Constantinidou, ‘Constructions of Hellenism Through Printing and Editorial Choices’, Int. Class. Trad., 25 (2018), pp.262-84.
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