POLYDORUS, Vergilius.


POLYDORUS, Vergilius. De Rerum Inventoribus Libri Octo. [with] Dialogorum, De patientia, & eius fructu, libri II. De vita perfecta…

Basileae (Basel), Isingriniu[m], 1550


Two works in one. 8vo. Pp. (lvi) 524; (vi) 206. Italic letter. Woodcut printer’s device ‘Palma Ising’ (by the hand of Michael Isingrin) to tps. Floriated and inhabited initials. Armorial bookplate to fly, ms ‘Cuthbert 1709’ in earlier hand ‘multitudo ceremoniarum pag. 227’, contemp. ex libris to first tp in English hand of Isaac Lyde. Occasional neat marginalia e.g. p. 441 ‘quinam fuerint primi autores vitae monastica’. A very good, clean copy in handsome contemporary calf decorated with broad blind fillet borders, fleur de lis corner pieces enclosing foliate roll-tooled borders with roundels bearing heads around central vignette of man with lion, smaller hunters holding spears with hounds above and below, spine with five raised bands, compartments decorated with floral roll-tool of the border, bevelled edges, brass corner pieces, two clasps, C15 rubricated ms endpapers, fantastical period ink vignette on rear pastedown.

Uncommon editions of two early modern best-selling works by the Italian humanist Polydorus Vergilius (1470-1555). The first, published in 1499, was printed in over one hundred editions in French, German, Italian and English over the following two hundred years. It is divided into eight parts; I-III cover technical and scientific inventions, and IV-VIII discuss Christian laws, rites, customs and ideas. Over time it became known as an encyclopaedic reference work on cultural origins. The work covers the invention of farming to the art of magic, as well as where the modern languages evolved from and the literary arts, sciences and music. A great deal of the early sections ascribe inventions to the Greeks, Egyptians or Romans.

De Inventoribus Rerum was written in only three months. The later addition of the five books dedicated to the ‘initia institorum rei Christianae’ was in part due to the critics who had spurned the original publication as heretical. Despite this concession, it contains criticisms of monks, priestly celibacy, indulgences, and of the policies and constitutional status of the papacy. Because of this it was placed on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum in 1564. Notwithstanding, it was an enormously popular work, a testament to Vergil’s writing style and for the immense range of ancient and modern writers he drew from.  

The second was the author’s last work, first published in 1545. It is a collection of Latin dialogues divided into three parts: De patientia, De vita perfecta and De veritate et mendacio. In a conversational format it adopts a tone reflective of Vergil’s later life. Through this work Vergil hoped to address key universal questions and provide the reader with advice on how to live a good life.

Vergillius, or Vergil, was born in Italy but spent a great deal of his life in England. He studied at the University of Padua and was ordained in 1496. He dedicated this worked to the tutor of Guidobaldo da Montefeltro, the Duke of Urbino, whose service he was in. Vergil travelled to England in 1502 as the deputy of Cardinal Adriano Castellesi in the office of Collector of Peter’s Pence and later was enthroned as Bishop of Bath and Wells. Vergil’s literary success and Italian identity meant he was revered in England and received at the court of Henry VII. He was commissioned by the king to write the Anglica Historia, a new history of England. Vergil retired to Italy and died in Urbino in 1555.

The lovely contemporary binding is probably Swiss. The surrounding medallion blind roll pattern is similar to Goldschmidt 251; the central man wrestling lion motif is rare.

1: Not in Adams, BM STC Ger or Graesse. 2: Not in Adams, BM STC Ger or Graesse.