[Incunabula] [Bible - Genesis - Exegesis and Commentaries]

Aurelius Ambrosius (St Ambrose, bishop of Milan)

De paradiso.
De Cain et Abel.
De ortu Adae.
De arbore interdicta.

Milan: Antonius Zarotus, [between 28 March 1476 and 25 May 1477].
On the dating of this edition see T. Accurti, Editiones saeculi XV pleraeque bibliographis ignotae, pp.121 ff.; Goff and GW date it as "not before 1475".

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Text in Latin, with manuscript Greek words in text supplied in red in an elegant contemporary hand.

Edited by Masellus Venia, with his prefatory epistle to Ambrogio da Cora, the Prior General of the Augustinian Order.

FIRST EDITION of this collection of St Ambrose's exegetical works on Genesis, including the second edition of his Hexameron (first printed in Augsburg in 1472).

SCARCE in the US (ISTC locates 7 copies in the US libraries), and rare on the market.

In addition to the Hexameron this edition also includes "On Paradise", "On Cain and Abel", "On the Forbidden Tree", etc., as well as the Vita S. Ambrosii (Life of St. Ambrose).

"This is the second edition of the Hexameron and of the Vita and the first edition of the other four works. (F. Valsecchi, Incunabuli dell'Ambrosiana, n. 75). The Vita S. Ambrosii is erroneously attributed to S. Paulinus Nolanus. The author is the deacon Paulinus of Milan who was secretary to S. Ambrosius [...] The Sermo de ortu Adae and the Sermo de arbore interdicta, sometimes attributed to S. Augustinus and here to S. Ambrosius, is part of Book VI of the Instructio ad competentes of Nicetas Remesianus." (William J. Sheehan, Bibliothecae Apostolicae Vaticanae Incunabula, I, p.60)

St. Ambrose (c.340-397) was the thirteenth bishop of Milan and one of the most influential ecclesiastical figures of the fourth century. He was a prolific writer and is counted as one of the four original doctors of the Church. Ambrose's Hexameron, considered one of his most important works, is an extensive homiletic commentary on the Old Testament narrative of the Six Days of Creation (Genesis 1.1-26).

The term Hexameron refers to the genre of theological writings, popular in the early church, describing or interpreting God's work on the six days of creation, usually in the form of commentaries on Genesis I. The word derives from. Most often these theological works take the form of commentaries on Genesis I. The word derives its name from the Greek roots hexa-, meaning "six", and hemer-, meaning "day". Using the Genesis account as a framework, the works of the days of creation are described as follows: 1st: Light; 2nd: The firmament of Heaven; 3rd: Separation of water and land, creation of plant life; 4th: Sun, moon, and stars; 5th: Marine life and birds; 6th: Land animals, and man & woman.

One of the earliest (and most famous) extant works of its kind, the Hexameron originated as a series of homilies on the six days of creation delivered in Milan during Holy Week, c. 386-390, and subsequently revised by Ambrose. It has been noted that Ambrose's Hexameron draws heavily on the Greek work of the same title by Basil the Great (330 - 379). The division into six books reflects the earliest surviving manuscripts. In addition to its discussion of religious and moral topics, the text is of interest for discussing an array of topics in various natural sciences from astronomy to zoology, and its use of examples from the natural world to illustrate moral lessons.

Ambrose's Hexameron has even been called "a compendium of popular science of his day" (Boniface Ramsey, Ambrose, p. 56).

The text of the first four books of the Hexameron, which discuss the creation of light, the firmament of Heaven, the separation of water and land, and the creation of plant life and the sun, the moon and the stars, contains much early medieval scientific knowledge, including discussions of the spherical nature of the Earth, and the inherent problems of the oceans and rivers not running off the convex surface of this sphere. The last two books of the Hexameron dealing with the creation of marine life and birds, land animals and humans, contain much curious material gleaned from the early medieval bestiary tradition, including extracts from the supposed habits of formica (ants), serpens (the serpent), ecinus (the hedgehog), camellus (the camel) equus (the horse) and elephantus (elephant), including a story about the potential uses of dogs in solving murder cases. The treatment of zoological topics in the Hexameron influenced the later writers of the bestiaries, who occasionally quote from it directly. Ambrose's stature as a Father of the Church ensured that his account of the creation of animals would be accepted as the authority.

St Aldhelm in his Carmen de Virginitate describes the Hexameron as "a lucid little work, unfolding with devout reckoning how from the first beginnings the wisdom of the supreme Father had made this present world through six periods of days, disposing the ages with an eternal command". Ambrose's work is an established source for Bede's commentaries on Genesis, Aelfric's own Hexameron, and (along with Lactantius' Carmen de ave phoenice) of the 9th-century Old English poem The Phoenix.

Aurelius Ambrosius[a] (c. 340 - 397), better known in English as Ambrose, was one of the four original Doctors of the Church, and one of the most influential ecclesiastical figures of the 4th century, and is the patron saint of Milan Ambrose was born into a Roman Christian family in Gallia Belgica and was educated in Rome in rhetoric and law. In about 372 he became the Roman governor of Liguria and Emilia, headquartered in Milan, and held that position until 374, when he was made bishop of Milan by popular acclamation. Ambrose was a staunch opponent of Arianism. Traditionally, Ambrose is credited with promoting "antiphonal chant." He is also notable for his influence on St Augustine.

His works not only show a creative engagement with earlier works, but also successfully adapt these works to the pastoral needs of the Church. Ambrose had a working knowledge of Greek, and an extensive knowledge of classical as well as Christian sources. Most of his works, like the Hexameron, were the product of his preaching, an important duty of the fourth-century bishop. His biblical commentaries include numerous works that focus on Genesis, where he found the essential foundations for Christian life. His knowledge of the Bible was prodigious, and his commentaries combine the Christian allegorical interpretation based on Philo and Origen, earlier Greek theologians, with his admiration of the ethical teachings of classical authors including Cicero, Virgil, Seneca and Livy.

Printing in Milan began in 1471, with Pamfilo Castaldi, for whom the printer of this edition, Antonius Zarotus (aka Antonio Zarotto) worked as foreman, before entering into partnership with Gabriel de Ossonibus and others in May 1472. Zarotus' press remained steadily active until 1493, producing over 100 editions, and further, at a somewhat diminished rate, until the end of the 15th century. Much of Zarotus' work was done on commission for the publisher Joannes de Legnano and others. Since only very few (not more than five) books printed by Pamfilo Castaldi have survived, some bibliographers give Zarotus the title of "the first printer of Milan" (see e.g. Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science, Vol. 23, p.332; and some Bernard Quaritch's catalogues of late 19th-century).

Bibliographic references:

Goff A-556. Polain 4131. BMC VI:715. CIBN A-295. BSB-Ink A-476. GW 1605. Oates 2256. Bod-inc A-233. Proctor 5812. Reichling, Appendices to Hain-Copinger, 902. Ganda, I primordi della tipografia milanese: Antonio Zarotto, 42.

Physical description:

Chancery Folio; leaves measure 267 mm x 186 mm. Bound in 17th-century full vellum over rigid pasteboard, with yapp edges; flat spine with author's name in manuscript and a (somewhat later) gilt-lettered label; all edges dyed teal.

165 unnumbered leaves (forming 330 pages).
Signatures: AA8 BB10 [-BB10 blank] A–C8 D6 E-F8 G6 H-I8 k6 L8 M6 N4 O–Q8 R6 S-T8 V10 [V10 blank present].

COMPLETE, including the terminal blank V10 (but without the blank BB10 at the end of preliminaries).

Printed in single column; 33-34 lines per page; in an elegant roman type (Typ. 5:111R). Initial spaces (without guides), most of which filled in contemporary hand with Roman capitals painted red. Many printed capitals in text neatly highlighted in pale-yellow. Greek words in the text supplied in manuscript (in spaces left blank by printer specifically for that purpose) in red ink in very neat, elegant contemporary hand (resembling Greek fonts of Aldus and other early Italian printers). Contemporary manuscript foliation (partially cropped) in red to top outer corner on rectos.

Preliminaries include Masellus Venia's dedicatory epistle to Ambrogio da Cora, the Prior General of the Augustinian Order (leaves AA1v-4v); prefatory verses ‘Italia perditorum librorum recuperatione gaudens...', followed by Venia's address to the reader in verse, and a table of contents (all on AA5r); Vita Ambrosii (Life of St Ambrose) dedicated to St Augustine, by Paulinus Mediolanensis, but erroneously ascribed to Paulinus Nolanus (leaves AA5v-BB9v).


A Latin possession note of an 18th-century(?) Italian owner, Ugo Albergoni of Crema (in Cremona, Lombardy).

A very early (15th- or early 16th-century) unidentified French ownership or gift inscription to blank recto of leaf AA1, and (above it) a Latin inscription: "Qui me scripsit scribat, semper cum domino vivat" (may he who wrote me keep writing and live always with God). Numerous marginal notes in Latin in late 15th- or 16th-century hand(s).


Very good wide-margined copy. Complete. Vellum binding slightly rubbed, a bit soiled. Early manuscript marginalia to some leaves; early ownership inscriptions (see Provenance) to front free endpaper and blank recto of AA1. Some of the manuscript marginalia slightly cropped by the binder. A few minor, harmless ink-smudges or spots. In all, a very attractive, well-margined, clean and solid example of this scarce, elegantly printed edition.

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