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Printing and the Mind of Man

Table of Contents


PLINY THE ELDER. Historia naturale di Caio Plinio Secondo… novamente correcta & da infiniti errori purgada: Aggionte etiam di novo le figure a tutti li libri conveniente. [Colophon:] Venice, Sessa & Piero di Ravani, 1516.

Folio [30 x 21 cm], (14) ff, CCLIX [i.e. 258] ff. Leaf XCIV omitted in pagination, leaf XCVII repeated; leaf CCII omitted entirely. Title page in red and black, printer's device on title and small device (the orb and cross) at the end of the "Repertorio" (bb7v), woodcut inscription from the tomb of Pliny's parents on bb8r, thirty-seven woodcuts in text, and numerous woodcut initials. Bound in 18th century cartonnato. Occasional discreet worm holes not affecting text, very occasional light staining to margins, but mainly a clean, fresh, and complete copy.


First illustrated Italian-language edition of this landmark work of the Renaissance. Pliny the Elder’s ‘Natural History’ was effectively an encyclopedia of knowledge, covering everything from geography and physics to medicine and zoology. The fine woodcuts, first used in 1513, depict charming scenes of country life (vine growing, harvesting), metallurgy, animals (elephants, giraffes, lions), etc.

The text is that of the first vernacular translation of Pliny, by Christoforo Landino, first published in 1476. The Historia Naturalis was thus one of the first scholarly texts to become available in a vernacular language, cementing its importance as an everyday reference work for scholars and perhaps laymen alike. The publisher Marchio Sessa commissioned a set of 38 woodcuts for his 1513 Latin edition of the work, which are re-employed here (with the exception of a woodcut at the head of Book IX, on aquatic animals). Book XVIII, on agriculture, includes an illustration of vine-growers; Book XXI on flowers depicts Medieval beekeepers; Book XXXV on painting and drawing shows an artist at his easel; and Pliny’s geography (Books III-VI) here includes illustrations of some of the monstrous races of the known world as well as two maps, of Europe and of Europe/Africa/Asia Minor.

“The ‘Natural History’ of Pliny the Elder is more than a natural history: it is an encyclopedia of all the knowledge of the ancient world… It comprises thirty-seven books dealing with mathematics and physics, geography and astronomy, medicine and zoology, anthropology and physiology, philosophy and history, agriculture and mineralogy, the arts and letters. The ‘Historia’ soon became a standard book reference: abstracts and abridgements appeared in the third century” (Printing and the Mind of Man).

* Censimento 16 CNCE 30044; Mortimer 38; Sander 5761; Essling 5.

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