The First Printing of the First Serious Epic in Italian, Featuring an Elegant Typeface and an Equally Elegant Period-Style Binding


(Rome: Valerio & Luigi Dorico; Venice: Tolomeo Gianicolo, 1547-48). 183 x 96 mm. (6 3/8 x 3 3/4"). 8 p.l., 175, [1] (blank), 181, [3], 184, [6] leaves (final blank). Three volumes bound in one. FIRST EDITION.

APPEALING PERIOD-STYLE RED MOROCCO, GILT, BY FRANCIS BEDFORD, covers framed by gilt and blind rules, gilt leaves at corners, gilt lettering in central panel, raised bands decorated with gilt, panels tooled in blind with floral rolls, gilt-ruled turn-ins, edges gilt and elaborately gauffered. Title within architectural woodcut frame, printer's full-page Golden Fleece device at end of second and third parts, a double-page diagram showing Belisarius' camp, and a double-page woodcut map of Rome. Adams T-954. Leaves lightly pressed (in keeping with bibliophilic fashion at the time of binding), but not washed, a hint of wear to joints, spine lightly (but uniformly) sunned, short faint scratch to lower cover, but all these imperfections trivial, and AN ALTOGETHER VERY FINE COPY, especially smooth, clean, fresh, and bright internally.

This is the scarce first printing, unexpurgated, of the first serious epic in Italian, produced by Trissino (1478-1550) after many years of labor. A tale of military honor and might, it describes the campaigns of Justinian's general Belisarius to free Italy from Ostrogoth rule. Following Aristotelian rules and borrowing from the manner of Homer, Trissino felt that this work would not only bring something of the divine essence of Ancient Greek to Italian literature, but also supersede, with something more elevated, Ariosto's unworthy "Orlando Furioso," written for a vulgar audience. Heightened or not, this edition contains passages--later taken out--that show an anticlerical bias (the papacy, for example, is rebuked for selling bishoprics and benefices). Besides its distinction as an epic in the vernacular, the present work is also of interest typographically. It was printed in a mixture of italic and Greek letters (the "o" becomes an omega, the "e" an epsilon) because of the author's belief that such a hybrid would aid in the reader's understanding of pronunciation, a subject on which Trissino had written extensively in his important "Il Castellano della Lingua Italiana," a dialogue on the relative merits of the several Italian idioms. He also makes the now-standard distinction between the letters "u" and "v," which were then interchangeable. Binder Francis Bedford (1799-1883) managed the firm of Charles Lewis for five years for the latter's widow and then was in a partnership for 10 years with John Clarke before establishing his own bindery in 1851. He shortly became recognized as the leading binder in the fashionable West End of London, and his firm enjoyed prosperity not only until his death, but for 10 years afterwards, under the ownership of Joseph Shepherd. Bedford bindings are almost always elegantly traditional in their design and intricate in their gilt decoration, and the binding here gives a sense of the style of Venetian bindings produced at the time of publication.

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PJP Catalog: 75.174