An illustrated edition of two works by the Roman Neoplatonist author Macrobius features in our latest batch of incunabula. It was printed in Venice by Nicolaus Jenson in 1472.
The book includes the Saturnalia, a work on Roman religious lore, mythology and history. It also includes Macrobius’ commentary on Cicero’s ‘Dream of Scipio’ (In Somnium Scipionus expositio), a text that discusses the nature of the cosmos and earth’s place within the universe (at its centre, naturally). This was a popular work throughout the medieval period, surviving in many manuscript copies. Jenson’s edition of 1472 is the first printed version of it (ie. the ‘editio princeps’).
Jenson’s edition follows in the tradition of many of the earlier manuscript versions of the Dream of Scipio by leaving spaces for the insertion of explanatory diagrams. Skilful pen-and ink drawings of the planetary orbits and zodiac, the earth (‘sphera terrae’) and hemispheres are all supplied in our copy. Epigraphic decorated initials have also been added throughout.
That the book was finished with such care and attention (and expense!) indicates that it must originally have belonged to a fairly wealthy owner. Unfortunately, we do not know who this might have been, although there is a tantalizing clue in an unidentified coat of arms in the lower margin of the opening page of text.
It is interesting to compare this book with a later edition of the same text, which appeared in an earlier batch of our incunabula (Sp Coll KT f1).
Also printed in Venice, Johannes Rubeus Vercellensis’s edition of 29 June 1492 consists of the same combination of texts by Macrobius. However, twenty years on, the expected diagrams have been supplied by woodcuts rather than by hand. The inclusion of woodcuts – whether for explanatory illustrations or for the large initials that helpfully break up sections of the text – was fairly standard by the 1490s. Having said that, proof that print technology had not yet totally supplanted the efforts of the scribes even by 1492 is seen in this same book: all the initials are still added in by hand…
The latest ten records to be added to the project website are:
- Biblia latina [Strassburg: Johann Prüss], 1489
- Leonicenus, Omnibonus: Commentum in Ciceronis Oratorem Vicenza: [Johannes de Reno?], 22 Dec. 1476
- Macrobius, Aurelius Theodosius: In Somnium Scipionis expositio. Saturnalia Venice: Nicolaus Jenson, 1472
- Ludolphus de Saxonia: Vita Christi Cologne: Nicolaus Götz, 30 Apr. 1474
- Lactantius, Lucius Coelius Firmianus: Opera Venice: Andreas de Paltasichis and Boninus de Boninis, de Ragusia, 12 Mar. 147
- Bartolus de Saxoferrato: Super secunda parte Codicis Venice: Johannes de Colonia and Johannes Manthen, 1476
- Pelagius, Alvarus: De planctu ecclesiae Ulm: Johann Zainer, 26 Oct. 1474
- Cicero, Marcus Tullius: Tusculanae disputationes Paris: In vico sancti Jacobi [Louis Symonel et Socii (Au Soufflet Vert), between 1475 and 1479]
- Cicero, Marcus Tullius: De finibus bonorum et malorum [Paris: Au Soufflet Vert (Louis Symonel et Socii), between 1475 and 1479]
- Cicero, Marcus Tullius: De natura deorum [Venice]: Vindelinus de Spira, 1471 [two copies]
Categories: Special Collections