[Aldine Press] [Early Greek Typography] [Bible - Greek New Testament]

Carmina (Graece et Latine)
[with Evangelium secundum Ioannem Cap.I-VI (Graece et Latine)]

Venice: Aldus Manutius, June 1504.

$5,400   INQUIRE

Text in Greek and Latin.

EDITIO PRINCEPS of the collected poetical works of St Gregory Nazianzen (c. 329 – 390), Archbishop of Constantinople and one of the Cappadocian Fathers of the early Christian Church, here printed both in the original Greek and Latin translation.

The volume is also of great importance due to the inclusion of the Greek & Latin text of Chapters 1-5 and part of Chapter 6 of Gospel of John; which constitutes THE FIRST PRINTING OF ANY SIGNIFICANT PORTION OF THE GREEK NEW TESTAMENT, 12 years before the publication of Erasmus’ Novum Instrumentum and the Complutensian Polyglot.

The Greek N.T. text is here printed almost surreptitiously and not in a continuous sequence, but rather appears on the middle centerfolds of the inner bifolia of each gathering throughout the volume, and thus found scattered among St Gregory’s poetry.

The book was issued as the third (and last) of the Poetae christiani veteres series, printed by Aldus between 1501 and 1504; an important collection of early Christian poetry in Greek and Latin, described by Renouard as a “collection infiniment rare et precieuse,” and by Dibdin as being “among the very rarest of the Aldine publications to be found in a perfect state”. The “ambitious […] three volume collection of Poetae christiani published by Aldus Manutius in Venice between 1501 - 1503 [was intended] for 'studious adolescents' and 'all desiring to learn holy manners together with Greek letters' […] The early Christian texts were to supplant, we must assume, beginners' study of Persius, Juvenal, Terence, Plautus, and even Virgil. That a determined publisher of the classics such as Aldus should proceed thus is certainly unexpected.” (A. K. Frazier, Possible lives: authors and saints in Renaissance Italy, pp. 214-5)

The volume features an intricate system of quire interposition, devised by Aldus for this publication: the Greek and Latin text of Gregory’s poetry were printed on separate sheets (quires), so that they could be, if desired, bound separately or consecutively, but (as is the case with the bilingual portions of Vols. I and II of our set), but with an intent to have them interleaved in binding so that a Greek page always faces a corresponding page of a Latin translation (as in this volume). Aldus devised this complicated system with a view to making Greek easier to learn by having a Latin translation handily available on the facing pages. (This series was chiefly intended for young students, whose knowledge of Greek was not yet mature and fluent enough).

The problem with this complicated structure, however, is that “the plan is bound to fail for the two pages facing one another in the centre of each gathering - belonging to the same pair of conjugate leaves, they ought to be both in the same language. […] These inner pages then had to be left blank. Was it merely to occupy the space with something or other or was it as a ballon d'essai, that the blanks are occupied with the Gospel of St.John in Greek and Latin, a note being added on each occasion at the foot of the page [in Latin and Greek] quaere reliquum in medio sequentis quaternionis [‘look for the rest in the middle if the next quire”]. At the end of the volume Aldus announces that he will continue the ‘historia’ of St John's Gospel in the Latin version of Nonnus' paraphrase, then being printed by him in Greek. But the Latin never appeared, and St. John was never continued. Possibly the times did not seem ripe. […] It was not till after Erasmus’ edition of the Greek Testament had seen the light under papal privilege, that the Greek Bible was issued from the Aldine press.”

“Since there was as yet no printed text, Aldus must of course have set up these chapters of John direct from MSS. It is natural to look first among codices preserved in the Marciana at Venice […] as its source. […] This Aldine text is generally Byzantine but with good readings scattered up and down it: in any case of a vastly better type than the depraved text produced by Erasmus.” (C. Hamilton Turner, The Early Printed Editions of the Greek Testament, p.10-11)

St Gregory Nazianzen (c. 329 - 390), also known as Gregory of Nazianzus, was Archbishop of Constantinople, and an influential early Christian writer and theologian. He is widely considered the most accomplished rhetorical stylist of the patristic age. Gregory is a saint in both Eastern and Western Christianity. In the Catholic Church he is numbered among the Doctors of the Church; in the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Eastern Catholic Churches he is revered as one of the Three Holy Hierarchs, along with Basil the Great and John Chrysostom. Along with the brothers Basil the Great and Gregory of Nyssa, he is known as one of the ‘Cappadocian Fathers’.

As a classically trained orator and philosopher he infused Hellenism into the early church, establishing the paradigm of Byzantine theologians and church officials. Saint Gregory was patron saint of medieval Bosnia before the Catholic conquest. He made a significant impact on the shape of Trinitarian theology among both Greek- and Latin-speaking theologians, and he is remembered as the "Trinitarian Theologian". Much of his theological work continues to influence modern theologians, especially in regard to the relationship among the three Persons of the Trinity.

Apart from authoring several theological discourses, Gregory was also one of the most important early Christian men of letters, a very accomplished orator, perhaps even one of the greatest of his time, as well as a very prolific poet who wrote theological, moral, and biographical poems.

Gregory composed the greater part of his copious poetical works during the six final years of his life after his final retirement to his birthplace, near Nazianzus, in southwest Cappadocia (in modern Turkey) where he spend his days as a hermit. These include a valuable autobiographical poem of nearly 2,000 lines; about one hundred other shorter poems relating to his past career; and a large number of epitaphs, epigrams, and epistles to well-known people during that era. His poems dealing with personal affairs refer to the continuous illness and severe sufferings - physical as well as spiritual - which assailed him during his final years. In the tiny plot of ground at Arianzus, all that remained to him of his rich inheritance was by a fountain near which there was a shady walk.

Gregory Nazianzen is one of the most open and self-revealing of the Fathers of the Church, and his poetry is remarkable for its personal character. In these poems, he speaks of the joys and frustrations of his own life; he reveals his inner questioning about the purpose and values of life in the face of sin and mortality, and his ultimate faith in Christ as redeeming and reconciling all things. St Gregory's poetry has often been compared with St Augustine's Confessions, as showing a peculiarly modern interest in the self.

Bibliographic references:

Adams G-1142; Ahmanson-Murphy 84; Renouard 46:4; Hoffmann IΙ, 175-177; Dibdin, Rare and Valuable Editions of Greek & Latin Classics, Vol. 2, p.357-8.

Physical description:

Quarto, textblock measures 206 mm x 145 mm. Bound in late 16th- or 17th-century semi-flexible vellum, with a manuscript title to spine in brown ink written in an elegant large early script. Edges speckled red; endpapers renewed.

234 unnumbered leaves.
Signatures: A/AA10.8 BB/B8.8 C/CC10.8 DD/D8.8 E/EE10.8 FF/F8.8 G/GG10.8 HH/H8.8 I/II10.8 KK/K8.8 L/LL10.8 MM/M8.8 N/NN10.8 OO/O4.4 [π]2 [χ]2.
COMPLETE, including the (often missing) four unsigned leaves ([π]2, [χ]2) at the end containing the errata and the table of contents.

Each pair of corresponding quires of Roman Greek and Latin text (A with AA; B with BB, etc) are interleaved to present Greek and Latin text in parallel on facing pages; while the centerfold of the inner bifolium of every quire (A5v-6r, B4v-5r, C5v-6r, etc.) contains the continuous text of Gospel of John (chap. 1-5 and chap. 6 to verse 58a) in Greek (on the left) and Latin (on the right).

Printed in Roman and Greek types (R2a:82 and Gk3), in single columns. Capital spaces with printed guides (unrubricated). Large woodcut Aldus's device on OO4v.

Colophon and register on O4v.

Includes at the end a table of contents (Index eorum, quae hoc volumine continentur ) on leaves [π]1r-2r ([π]2v blank) and Errata on leaves [χ]1r-2r ([χ]2v blank).


Front pastedown with an elegant modern bookplate of Livio Ambrogio, a prominent Italian bibliophile, known mostly as the owner of the world's greatest private Dante collection.

An attractive gilt stamp of Collezione Aldina di Stelio Valentini with the Aldine anchor-and-dolphin device (also on front pastedown). Stelio Valentini was a notable 20th-century Italian collector of Aldines.


Very Good+. Complete. Binding a bit rubbed with minor soiling, but very solid and tight, vellum very supple and fresh. Evidence of formerly present silk or leather ties, now gone; endpapers renewed. Occasional very light marginal soiling. Several leaves with moderate browning or foxing. An exceptionally pleasing, clean, genuine, wide-margined example of this rare work.

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