A Post-Incunabular Printing of a Poem by the First Female Author To Have her Work Printed


(Venice: Giovanni Tacuino, 1513). 152 x 99 mm. (6 x 3 7/8"). [15] leaves (without final blank).

Early 20th century stiff vellum, covers with double gilt rule border, smooth spine in panels with central gilt turnip tool, gilt titling, marbled endpapers, all edges gilt. Title page with woodcut showing the author at her desk. Title page with partially effaced early ink signature of "Petri Francisci Creus[?]." EDIT16 34820; USTC 851397; not in Adams. Boards tending to splay just slightly, a hint of browning to title page, otherwise fine, the text clean and fresh, and the sympathetic binding well preserved.

This is an attractive edition of one of the earliest examples of Christian poetry by a woman, composed in the fourth century and first printed ca. 1472. Born into an influential Roman family (her father, her husband, and her son all served as consuls), Faltonia Betitia Proba (ca. 322-70) was raised a pagan, but converted to Christianity after her marriage. In the present "cento" (a "patchwork" form of poetry comprised of excerpts from the work of another arranged to create a new work), she uses passages from Virgil's "Eclogues," "Georgics," and "Aeneid" to tell the Old Testament stories of Creation, the Fall, the Flood, and the Exodus as well as New Testament episodes from the life of Jesus. According to the Oxford Classical Dictionary, "The declared intention of the poet [here] is to relate the 'mysteries of Virgil' and to show that Virgil 'sang about the pious feats of Christ.' This makes Proba one of the first Roman poets to have actively appropriated Virgil as a Christian prophet." Proba's "Cento" was quite popular in the 15th and 16th centuries, perhaps for its suitability as an introductory text for Latin students. Consequently, it seems safe to say that Proba was both the first female author to have her work printed and the first female "best seller." (But despite the number of early printings, the book is now scarce in any edition.) The work has been attracting increased scholarly interest in recent years, particularly with the popularity of women's studies.