RIPA, Giovanni Francesco.


RIPA, Giovanni Francesco. De Peste libri tres

Avignon, Jean de Channey, 1522


FIRST EDITION. 4to, ff. (xxviii) 162 (ii). Gothic letter, woodcut floriated initials. Title page within woodcut border in Italian style with foliage and lions, ¼ page woodcut of author presenting the book to François de Clermont-Lodève (1480-1541), cardinal at Avignon on verso, dedication and woodcut arms of the Cardinal within ornate woodcut border, part-title with woodcut arms of Avignon within identical border, printer’s device to xii verso. T-p dusty with blank upper margin cut short removing inscription, early ms. “forth…” (partly cancelled) and “past” (for ‘pastor’?) inked to blank, intermittent slight waterstain mainly to upper margins, little wormhole to blank lower margin of first gathering, small wormtrail to lower outer blank corner of second half, occasional minor fingermarks or spots to blank margins. A very good, wide-margined copy in contemporary English calf over boards, covers triple blind ruled to a panel design, second border with ornate blind roll (Oldham MW. d(2) 864), a few tiny wormholes to lower cover, edges a bit worn, upper outer corners with small repair, spine with double blind ruled raised bands, traces of ties. Stubs from a C15 Sarum Missal (John. 14:16, Acts 2:6 and instructions for the choir).

Attractive, beautifully printed first edition of the first legal treatise on the plague, concerning public health measures and prevention. This copy is in a charming contemporary English binding: the blind stamped roll on the covers, featuring stylized and geometric foliage designs in compartments, was used in London in the second quarter of the 16th century (Oldham, English Blind-Stamped Bindings, 54). 

Giovanni Francesco Ripa di San Nazzaro (c. 1480-1535) was a famous Italian jurist who taught at Pavia and Avignon. ‘De peste’ is the first work of this genre, written after an episode of plague in Avignon. In the first paragraphs, Ripa states that he will not discuss the medical and physical causes of the plague, as this is not expertise: as a jurist, he will instead focus on the legal aspects relating to the management and prevention of the contagion. The first part deals with the “privilegia pestis”, that are modifications to be introduced in civil and canon law in times of plague: for example, fugitives can no longer be welcomed in churches; priests can be ordained outside churches and kings crowned outside the city of Rome. Ripa talks about the salaries of workers who cannot exercise their profession (e.g. university lecturers should be paid in full even if their courses are cancelled) and introduces new rules concerning the validity of wills executed without witnesses.

The author argues that the plague arises from putrid waters, unhealthy air, garbage and dead bodies inadequately buried. In the second and third parts, concerning “remedies”, Ripa advises people to move and live in places where air and water are clean, and to avoid rotten meat; he also states that the access to public aqueducts should be prohibited until the sewage system has been cleaned and that new springs should be created at public expense. Ripa gives new rules on where and how to bury the dead, indicates punishments for those who open the graves to steal, explains where to build hospitals (outside of towns) and presents the use of bulletins to keep people informed. Those engaged in agriculture should be protected at all costs, and export restrictions on certain products are introduced. Interestingly, as it was a common belief that the disease could be caused by depression, Ripa stresses the importance of organising games to keep the spirits up. A chapter is dedicated to doctors, their importance and changes to their salary (a curious statement reads: “the first thing a good doctor should do is recommending his patient to beg for Christ’s help”); here, Ripa specifies that the poor should get health consultations for free. Towards the end, a recipe for the only “certain, real, approved and undoubted” syrup against the disease is included.

‘De peste’ was very successful: 17 editions appeared before the early 1600s. De Channey is considered “the most important figure in the early history of printing at Avignon” (Harward It.), and the first French printer to use rounded notes in music. Interestingly, he “published the treatise De peste (…), with a privilege dated 12 September 1522 issued by the Cardinal Legate of Avignon, threatening offenders with a fine of 100 gold pieces, confiscation of their copies and excommunication. The book was promptly reprinted (17 December 1522) by Vincent de Portonariis at Lyon. Jean de Channey immediately heard of this and appointed a procureur ‘pour poursuivre tous ceux qui en violation de son privilege detiendraient ou colporteraient le susdit traite’ (…) But privileges given on papal authority alone were considered to be of doubtful validity in France” (Armstrong).

USTC 110507; Harvard It. 461; BM STC Fr. C16, p. 377; Brunet V, p. 119; Graesse VI, p. 261; Baudrier X, p. 300; Durling 3884; Wellcome I, 5754.
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