TERENCE Comoediae

Paris, Imprimerie Royale, 1642


Folio, pp. (iv) 286 (ii). Roman letter, finely engraved initials, headpieces and tailpieces with putti, masks, and foliage. Handsome engraved t-p depicting four putti playing with a theatrical mask on a decorated plinth, title on drapery above, scene surrounded by ornamental frame with strapwork, masks and laurel leaves. Slight age yellowing, light waterstain to upper inner blank corners, occasional very minor fingersoiling to blank margins, final ll. with marginal soiling at fore edge. Extensive contemporary Latin marginalia. A very good copy in contemporary French morocco, covers gilt ruled to a panel design, outer dentelle border, central panels with an all over semée of alternate gilt crowned cipher of Louis XIV and fleurs-de-lis, arms of Louis XIV gilt stamped at centres in a roundel, spine with raised bands, same gilt motif of crowned ‘L’ and fleurs-de-lis tools in compartments, small repair at tail of spine, lower outer corners worn. C19 bookplate “Earl of Dalhousie” to front paste-down.

Attractive, elegantly engraved and comprehensively annotated copy of this edition of Terence’s comedies, in a remarkable Royal binding with the arms of Louis XIV, “the Sun King”. Bindings bearing this particular armorial stamp – or its variants – are usually attributed the skilled artisans working for the Bibliotéque and Imprimerie du Roi in the second half of the 17th century, and were realised for the personal copies of the king or presentation copies to important figures (see Diesbach-Soultrait n° 192; an edition of Cicero’s De Natura Deorum with an identical binding is in St. John College Library, B.3.28). The extensive erudite notes on this volume suggest that it was gifted to a prominent scholar, although unfortunately there is no ex-libris or dedication.

The contemporary manuscript notes on this volume – treating each comedy in detail – are so meticulous, systematic and comprehensive that they constitute a brief, focused commentary. The anonymous writer was an erudite scholar with access to a substantial library of ancient texts, including previous printed editions of Terence’s comedies, from which he collected the information here reported and discussed. A few notes were added in text to correct words or clarify their meanings, while more extensive and structured comments in the lower blank margins (linked to the text with a system of numbers) are dedicated to explaining obscure expressions, verses, figures of speech, as well as peculiar aspects of Terence’s grammar and vocabulary. The writer quotes a large number of Latin authors – particularly Vergil, but also Plautus, Lucretius, Pliny, Cicero, Menander and Gellius. Remarkably, he very frequently points out and comments on textual variants that appear in unspecified “antiqui codices” (ancient manuscripts) or proposed by scholars in earlier commentaries, among which that of the German philologist Friedrich Lindenbrog (1573-1648, first ed. 1602) and Janus Mellerus Palmerius (16th century, first ed. 1580). Other sporadic annotations summarise the content of important scenes, the role of the main characters or the plot of the comedies.

The fine engravings of this edition are remarkable examples of 17th century French classicism. The beautiful title page was realised by Abraham Bosse (1604-1606), one of the most prominent engravers of the period, while a few tailpieces are signed by the painter Claude Mellan (1598-1688).

A liberated slave of North African origins, Terence (Publius Terentius Afer, c. 195/185-159 BC) is the most prominent comic playwright of ancient Rome along with Plautus. Relying extensively on the plays of the New Greek Comedy and especially those of Menander, the six comedies written by Terence enjoyed long-lasting success, were copied in several manuscripts and thus exceptionally survived all together. For almost two millenniums throughout the Middle Ages and early modern times, they were employed as model of polished Latin in schools. The six comedies are: Andria (The Girl from Andros, 166 BC), Hecyra (The Mother-in-Law, 165 BC), Heauton Timorumenos (The Self-Tormentor, 163 BC), Phormio (161 BC), Eunuchus (The Eunuch, 161 BC) and Adelphoe (The Brothers, 160 BC).

USTC 6042269; Brunet V, p. 716: “Cette édition est belle”; Goldsmith T157. This ed not in Graesse or Dibdin.