De bello Peloponnesiaco libri.

[Geneva], Henry Estienne, 1588.


Fol., pp. [20], 621, [15], 73, [7]. Predominantly Greek and Roman letter in parallel columns, little Italic; large printer’s device on title, floriated initials and decorative head-pieces; worming to fore-edges of early leaves and in places in text (not affecting legibility), title slightly dust-soiled with old repair to outer blank margin and clean tear on the outer upper corner (blank); light dampstain to outer margin of pp. 119-195. A good copy in contemporary English calf, blind-tooled triple-fillet outer border and central panel, gilt floral pieces at corners and gilt central arms of William Cecil, 1st baron Burghley, within oval border; spine with raised bands, gilt ornaments and probably slightly later morocco labels, a. e. sprinkled red; some repairs to joints, a few minor blemishes, corners a little bumped; bookplate of Robert S. Pirie and the 8th Duke of Devonshire on front pastedown, c18th Chatsworth bookplate on title verso along with nearly contemporary ms shelfmark.

Important early edition of the greatest historical account of Greek antiquity, first published by Aldus in 1502. With his Histories of the Peloponnesian wars, Thucydides (c.460-400 BC) was the father of Western historiography alongside Herodotus. This is the second of the Estienne family’s editions and is ‘generally considered the best 16th-century edition of the greatest historian of Athens. For this new edition [Henry] Estienne has corrected the Greek text and scholia, as well as further revised Valla’s Latin translation, which is now printed on the same page with the Greek text in parallel columns, while the Greek scholia are printed at the foot of the page’ (Schreiber). The initial biography of Thucydides by Marcellinus was edited and translated by Isaac Causabon (1559-1614), Estienne’s son-in-law and one of the greatest philologists of his times. The book retains the dedication letter of the first edition (1564) in which Estienne addressed another prominent humanist, the German Reformed scholar Joachim Camerarius (1500-1574), who had himself edited Thucydides in 1540 and had subsequently published a learned stylistic commentary on the Historiae.

This highly desirable copy belonged to William Cecil, first Baron Burghley (1520-1598). The arms on the covers are from the first of the two blocks used on the books forming his vast library. A skilled and unscrupulous politician, Cecil navigated through the uncertain waters of Edward VI’ and Mary I’s reigns and succeeded in becoming the chief advisor of Queen Elizabeth and, de facto, England’s first prime minister. As Secretary of State and Lord High Treasurer, he was responsible for most of the events marking the Elizabethan era, including Mary Stuart’s execution. Educated at St John’s College, Cambridge, Cecil acquired a vast knowledge of the Greek language, thanks to Roger Ascham and his later brother-in-law and first Regius Professor, John Cheke (1514-1557).

Not in BM STC Fr. Adams, T 667; Brunet, V, 844; Graesse, VII, 149; Renouard, 152:4 (‘supérieure â la précédente … peu commun’); Schreiber, 216.


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