PLOTINUS Plotini Platonicorum coryphaei opera

Basel, Ludwig Koenig, 1615


Folio. pp. (xxxvi) 773 (xlv). Roman letter, with Greek and Italic, mostly double column. T-p in red and black, woodcut portrait of Plotinus, large woodcut printer’s device to recto of last, woodcut initials. Stain at upper gutter of a3, touching first word of 16 lines, very minor marginal worming, couple of edges untrimmed. An excellent, wide-margined copy in high-quality contemporary Dutch vellum, double and single blind ruled, large lozenge-shaped centrepiece with oval and interlacing ribbons, raised bands, C17 title and shelfmark labels to spine. Purchase notes ‘Const. 7 fl.’ (C17) and ‘10 gul. 10 st.’ and ‘paris 10 lib’ (C18) to ffep, C17 inscription ‘A Fletcher’ to t-p.

A handsome copy, of illustrious provenance of Plotinus’s works, edited by Marsilio Ficino. This copy (‘Bib. Fletcheriana’, 109.26) belonged to the Scottish writer and politician Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun (1655-1716) ‘the most learned man of his day’, and the owner of the largest private library in Scotland, with c.6,000 volumes. In 1683-88, he was in exile in the Netherlands for plotting against James II. In 1683, a major sale took place in Leiden of one of the greatest libraries in Europe, owned by the late Dutch humanist Nicolaus Heinsius (1620-81). The purchase note ‘10 gul. 10 st.’ [10 gulden, 10 stuivers] on this copy matches the buying price for lot 110 (see ‘Bib. Heinsiana’, p.109). Like other similar notes in Fletcher’s books from the sale, it does not appear to be in his own hand; it may have been a secretary or auction house clerk. ‘While Fletcher owned a copy of the “Heinsiana” and a number of books from the sale […] his attendance or representation at the sale must remain a matter of conjecture. […] if not present at the sale itself, [he] was clearly on the scene soon after and would have been able to purchase items from the sale from local booksellers, as the many volumes in his library priced in “guilders” and “stuivers” may attest’ (Sibbald, ‘Heinsiana’, 151). The earliest purchase note (‘Const. 7 fl.’) resembles Heinsius’s hand very closely; it sheds light into the price rise in Holland for the same edition in the course of 70 years. The third purchase note—‘Paris 10 lib’—reprises other such notes present in Fletcher’s books. Other books in his library catalogue (see Willems, ‘Bib. Fletcheriana’) include ‘Paris’ or mention Parisian editions of the same works. They were likely acquired in Paris if not by Fletcher himself, then by James Fall, who since the 1670s had provided him with information on book prices from Paris (ODNB). This copy appears as lot 312 in Deighton Bell’s ‘A catalogue of classical literature’ (1972). Fletcher also owned the editio princeps of Plotinus’s Greek text, printed by Petrus Perna in Basel in 1580 (‘Bib. Fletcheriana’, p.176). The same sheets, including Perna’s original dedication, were used for the second issue, just altering the t-p. The text was edited, with a Latin translation, by the Neo-Platonist philosopher Marsilio Ficino (1433-99), from mss given to him by Cosimo de’ Medici. Born in Egypt, Plotinus (204-70AD) studied philosophy at Alexandria under Ammonius Sacca; his most important ideas, which greatly influenced pagan, Judeo-Christian and Islamic metaphysics, concern the One, the Soul and the Intellect. This edition begins with his disciple Porphyry’s famous biographical account. Plotinus, he wrote, ‘abstained from animal flesh’ and ‘would not swallow medication containing animal products’, information which fed into early modern debates on vegetarianism and the ethics of eating animal flesh. Through Ficino’s translation of Porphyry’s ‘De abstinentia’, and together with the theories of other Platonists like Porphyry and Iamblichus, Plotinus’s ideas on the rationality of animals were similarly influential (Muratori, ‘Renaissance Vegetarianism’, 2, 43). The rest of the work is occupied by the six ‘Enneads’, based on the writings of his student Porphyry. In the Renaissance, Plotinus provided fertile philosophical ground for the Neo-Platonist reconciliation of Platonism and Christianity.

UCB, Illinois and Virginia copies recorded in the US.Brunet IV, 727; Willems, Bib. Fletcheriana, p.176. J.A. Sibbald, ‘The Heinsiana’, in Documenting the Early Modern Book World, ed. M. Walsby et al. (Leiden, 2013), 141-60. C. Muratori, Renaissance Vegetarianism (Oxford, forthcoming). With many thanks to J.A. Sibbald for his helpful comments.

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