Glasgow Incunabula Project update (28/11/14)

Most of the books in this clutch of incunabula are annotated by early readers. While these are all fascinating as evidence of various reader engagement with texts, our copy of works by the Roman historian Sallust particularly stands out.

Marginalia in 1490 Sallust

Marginalia in 1490 Sallust

Binding of 1490 Sallust

Binding of 1490 Sallust

Printed in Rome by Eucharius Silber in 1490, this is a rather unassuming book at first glance. Unlike many of the impressively decorated imposing volumes that we have featured in these blogs, it is a smallish quarto in a rather dilapidated 19th century binding. Although its 15th  century credentials are therefore rather hidden, opening it up reveals it as a book of some importance. Its text is profusely annotated throughout in various humanist hands. Proper names and glosses are provided in faded red ink, while (some fairly substantial) notes on the text are written in alternate red and brown ink.

Such close reading of a text by an early reader is always of great interest, but in this case it seems that the notes derive from those made by the editor, the humanist scholar and teacher Pomponius Laetus. This makes them of even greater significance for our understanding of the original reception of the edition and 15th-century textual criticism.  

Pomponius Laetus was one of  the leading classical scholars of the time. Eucharias Silber printed several of his works and according to Patricia J. Osmond*, Pomponius was highly regarded as an editor of classical authors. He worked for three years in preparing the Sallust:

The text, in fact, soon acquired the status of an authoritative or ‘critical’ edition and in the following decades was reproduced, with minor alterations, by other printers … who saw Pomponio’s name as a guarantee of quality and mark of prestige.

BD7e1_annotationscropPomponius annoted his own copy of the printed text with extensive marginal annotations, effectively providing it with a commentary. This book is now held in the Vatican library. Osmand has studied other extant copies and discovered that four others contain similar marginalia, including our copy. These notes are all slightly different and the relationship between them has yet to be fully ascertained. It is also not yet clear who made these notes, although she suggests that  Pomponius’ commentary was intended perhaps for students who studied with him privately, or for humanist friends who met to read and discuss particular books.

BD7e1_marginsAs an author studied in the university curriculum, Sallust was a popular choice for 15th century printers. Sixty seven incunable editions of his works are known to exist. Of these, we have four other Italian editions of his works, and if you would like to compare the editions, they can be traced using the project website’s author index. If you are intrigued by marginalia, visit our annotations index to find further examples.

But I would like to finish by returning to our battered 1490 edition of Sallust and its importance. I will quote again from Osmond’s absorbing essay since her conclusions sum up nicely not only the significance of this copy, but also the rationale behind the Glasgow Incunabula Project:

… the copy-specific features of these incunables – the marginal annotations, decoration, and manuscripts or manuscript fragments bound with individual volumes – augment their value, not in a monetary sense (though they would certainly fetch a high price, if ever put on sale), but by furthering our understanding of a major classical text as it was read and transmitted in the context of late fifteenth-century humanism, and, in particular, in the circle of Pomponio …

So all in all, a good example of the added value of incunabula!

* Patricia J. Osmond ‘Pomponio Leto’s unpublished commentary on Sallust: five witnesses (and more)’ in Bettina Wagner & Marcia Reed, eds, Early printed books as material objects:  Proceedings of the Conference organized by the IFLA Rare Books and Manuscripts Section Munich, 19-21 August 2009 (Berlin & New York:  De Gruyter, 2010), pp. 135-149.

Colophon of 1490 Sallust

Colophon of 1490 Sallust

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



Categories: Special Collections

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