The First Printing of Boccaccio's Immense Scholarly Achievement Relating to Pagan Mythology, Issued by the First Printers in Venice


(Venice: Vindelinus de Spira, 1472). 333 x 233 mm. (13 1/8 x 9 1/4"). [291] (of 296) leaves (lacking two text leaves and last two index leaves, including colophon, as well as final blank). Single column, 41 lines, roman type. FIRST EDITION.

Early 20th century stiff vellum, ink titling on smooth spine, edges stained blue. With scattered marginal notations in a contemporary hand; front pastedown and front free endpaper with modern signatures in pencil. Goff B-749; BMC V, 162; ISTC ib00719000. See also: Giuseppe Mazzotta, "Boccaccio: The Mythographer of the City," in "Interpretation and Allegory: Antiquity to the Modern Period," pp. 349-364. Covers with a few tiny stains and a touch of soiling but otherwise in excellent condition; slight separation at hinge before final signature, two quires with a wax stain growing and receding in the lower corner (confined to margins on all but one leaf), a couple of openings (only) with noticeable stains or browning, other trivial imperfections, but still a pleasing copy, the vast majority of the contents clean and bright, and with ample margins throughout.

Issued by the first Venetian press, this handsome volume contains "On the Genealogy of the Pagan Gods," a product of the mature years of Boccaccio (1313-75), during which the author turned away from vernacular works of creative imagination to humanistic scholarship in Latin. Begun in 1350 (the same year that Boccaccio met Petrarch) and written with many revisions right up until the author's death, the "Genealogy" was the result of decades of intense study and the meticulous gathering of source material--more than 175 Greek and Latin authors are cited across the 723 entries here. An immense scholarly achievement, the work contains the genealogical encyclopedia of the gods in 15 books (generated by Boccaccio's studies of classical mythology, particularly Ovid), and it is of considerable importance because of its emphasis on literature of the ancients--most notably, it contains the first quotations drawn from the works of Homer. Although the "Genealogy" was not the first commentary on classical mythology ever written, it was certainly the most influential, being the first to provide a thorough synthesis and analysis of the subject, and the first to contain such an extensive range of quotations. Brothers Johannes and Vindelinus de Spira are recognized as the proto-printers of Venice, coming to Italy by way of Mainz and setting up shop in 1468. When Johannes died in 1470, less than two years into the printing business and with Augustine's "De Civitate Dei" in the midst of production, Vindelinus took over the enterprise, resumed the project, and printed another 10 titles in that same year alone. In "Notable Printers of Italy," De Vinne says that the type used in the present book was modeled after the most attractive Italian manuscript hands and is often compared to the superlative work of Nicolas Jenson, being a little more rustic in appearance, but "equally meritorious in its roundness, clearness, and easy readability." This important first edition is aggressively sought after, and complete copies fetch substantial sums of money. However, because this is an early printed book that was collated without signatures, copies were frequently issued incomplete; in any case, our copy is meant to be attractively priced as a reflection of its missing leaves.

Keywords: mythology