PLINY Naturalis Historiae. [with] Index in […] Naturalem Historiam

Venice, apud Paulum Manutium, 1559, 1558


Folio. 2 parts in 1, separate t-ps, ff. (xxviii) 976 columns [pp. 488], 36 unnumbered pp.; 66 unnumbered ff., A B a-z ²A-²B C-R S 3a-3c A-L . Italic letter with Roman, mostly double column. Woodcut printer’s device to t-ps, decorated initials. A little finger-soiling or slight marginal spotting to t-p and first leaf, slightly adhering at gutter, a handful of ll. somewhat foxed, occasional mostly marginal spotting, small light water stain to few margins and towards gutter of last leaf, small worm trail repaired to lower blank margin of final gathering. A very good, large copy, most edges untrimmed, in C18 straight-grained morocco, arabesque and feather tool gilt ruling, later gilt composite centrepieces, rebacked in calf c.1800, gilt-lettered morocco label, rubbed. Early ms. ex-libris ‘Alberti de Albertis Tusculanensis’ to t-p, C16 ms. monogram PA within lozenge to verso of last, C17 marginal note.

A very good copy of this Aldine edition of Pliny’s monument, revised by Paulus Manutius after his 1535-36 and 1540 editions; the index based on that of 1538. Pliny the Elder (23-79AD) was an administrator for Emperor Vespasian and a prolific author. The ‘Historia’ is a masterful encyclopaedia of theoretical and applied natural sciences detailing all that was known in these fields in the first century AD. Based on hundreds of Greek and Latin sources clearly marked in this edition, its ten books introduce the reader to astronomical questions like the nature of the moon and its distance from the earth; pharmacopoeia, ointments and herbal remedies; natural phenomena including rains of stones; world geography and the ethnographic study of remote ‘gentes mirabiles’; descriptions of all animal and tree species, wild and domesticated; horticulture from cultivation to the treatment of plant mutations and illnesses; metals and gold mining; mineralogy and pigments for painting. Thanks to a wide and intense manuscript circulation, ‘the “Historia” soon became a standard book of reference: abstracts and abridgements appeared by the third century. Bede owned a copy, Alcuin sent the early books to Charlemagne […]. It was the basis of Isidore’s “Etymologiae” and such medieval encyclopaedias as the “Speculum Majus” of Vincent of Beauvais’ (PMM 5). Renaissance humanists considered the ‘Historia’ a mine of ancient knowledge. The early annotator of this copy glossed a section on exotic animals in India and Africa—including the ‘catoblepas’, first described by Pliny—by adding a reference to an animal missing, in his opinion, from the list: the ‘camelopardalis’ (i.e., giraffe). He cross-referenced the section from Dominicus’s ‘Polyanthea’ (1503) which discusses the ‘unequal’ composition of the ‘camelopardalis’, with a horse’s neck, bovine hooves, etc. The early ownership can be traced to Frascati (Tusculanum), in the outskirts of Rome.

Brunet IV, 716; Renouard 177:2; Ahmanson-Murphy 575.

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