A MILESTONE IN PRE-RENAISSANCE SCHOLARSHIP, WITH THE “EARLIEST PRINTED MAP OF THE WORLD”

 

$42,000

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AUTHOR:

ISIDORUS HISPALENSIS

TITLE:

Etymologiae

CONDITION:

Small folio. 264 leaves, 38 lines, roman letter, three full-page woodcuts, small woodcut map, early eighteen-century calf. Full-page woodcuts trimmed, worming especially in index where there are areas of loss and facsimile restoration. The fold-out family tree has replacement in facsimile. A compromised copy of a landmark incunable; the is in excellent condition.

DATE:

[Augsburg], Gunther Zainer, 19 November 1472.

DESCRIPTION:

First printed encyclopedia of Isidore of Seville (c. 560-636 CE), “of infinitely greater importance” (PMM) than contemporary incunable encyclopedias, containing “the earliest printed map of the world” (Stillwell) and comprising a singular wealth of information for natural philosophers, geographers and navigators of the Renaissance.

Compiled from over 150 works of Latin antiquity, the
Etymologiae draws chiefly from classical Roman writers – Horace, Virgil, Pliny the Younger, Galen, Solinus – and early church fathers such as Augustine, Ambrose, Tertullian and Gregory I. “An industrious and uncritical compiler, he supplied factual as well as fantastic information culled from all the ancient authors available to him (and incidentally preserved much material that has since been lost). Isidore thus became the chief authority of the Middle Ages, and the presence of his book in every monastic, cathedral and college library was a main factor in perpetuating the state of knowledge and the modes of thought of the late-Roman world” (PMM).

Aside from its acknowledged significance as an encyclopedia, the
Etymologiae contains the first printed world map, a circular ‘T-O’ mappa mundi depicting the three continents – Asia, Europe and Africa – encircled by the ocean and divided by a T-shaped inland sea. Book XIV of the encyclopedia (De terra et partibus), in which it appears remained a crucial source of medieval geographical information; it was, for example, “the most frequently cited source for the fiery wall round paradise, and for the identification of the [Biblical] rivers” (Flint). Isidorus also provided a touchstone for 15th century navigators during the heated debates on the habitability of the Antipodes; he is cited in both Pierre D’Ailly’s Imago Mundi and the correspondence of German explorer Martin Behaim (1459-1507), and he earns a brief mention in Columbus’ letter to Santangel (1498) regarding the possible location of earthly Paradise – “San Isidro y Beda y Damasceno Y Estrabon… y todos los sacros teologos tosos conciertan quell Parayso terrenal es en fin de oriente” – a letter that unquestionably demonstrates “the range and scope of [Columbus’] authorities” (Flint).

The widespread availability of Isidorus’ encyclopedia in 15th century libraries, due in part to the swift release of new editions in Strassburg (1473), Cologne (1478), Venice (1483, 1493), Basel (1489) and Paris (1499), suggests that it remained a standard authority throughout the 15th century.

REFERENCES:

Inventory No. 13508

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