Glasgow Incunabula Project update (27/5/2013)

Appian's Roman History

Appian’s Roman History (Hunterian Bw.2.14)

I feel very fortunate in having the opportunity to examine in detail such a large number of incunabula as we work through the cataloguing process for this project. What never ceases to amaze me is the high standard of workmanship that was achieved in using a new technology – a perfection in print that has probably never been surpassed (I am sure lots of people will argue with me on this one!).

Of course, the early printers did make mistakes, and we have several examples of fuzzy type or strangely spaced gatherings where errors have been made in casting off type, for example. Indeed, sometimes the lists of errata provided to point out typographical errors are quite comprehensive. It is a somewhat alien concept for us to understand that fifteenth century printers were not necessarily ashamed of including such errata: rather it would indicate to readers that this was a well checked and corrected text – and surely (given the expense of books) it was well known that the printing process was far too costly to reset and reprint the offending pages with the amendments.

But this batch contains a book that includes a deliberate mistake: the lower part of leaves c1v and c2r in the 1477 edition of Appian’s Roman History have been left quite blank.

Deliberate blank spaces (Sp Coll Hunterian Bw.2.14)

Deliberate blank spaces (Sp Coll Hunterian Bw.2.14)

This is a translation of Appian by the distinguished humanist Pier Candido Decembrio (1399-1477), who  – in the best of Renaissance traditions – was responsible for translating a number of texts from ancient Greece and Rome (you can find other works by him in our authors/translators index). He was commissioned in the 1450s to translate the Appian (from Greek to Latin) by Pope Nicholas V

A note to explain the gap (Sp Coll Hunterian Bw.2.14)

A note to explain the gap (Sp Coll Hunterian Bw.2.14)

At a casual glance the blanks in our book might be taken for a rather catastrophic miscalculation in spacing – only this is a production from the press of Erhard Ratdolt and associates, renowned for their great skill and innovation in printing and typesetting, so hardly likely to make such a blunder. Furthermore, a printed marginal note (beginning “Defectus unius folij: in quo tumult[us] populi contineri uidebat”) draws attention to it. At first I thought this might have been inserted by Ratdolt as an explanation for the strange blank page, but it seems that it actually faithfully copies a note and similar gap in a manuscript copy of Decembrio’s translation.

Therefore, it turns out that this gap (what a waste of expensive paper!) reflects a corresponding lacuna in the original manuscript source – so is basically recreated by Ratdolt in his edition in the same spirit of humanist accuracy as early printer’s errata listings.

The latest ten books to be uploaded to the project website are:

Categories: Special Collections

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