[Incunabula] [Latin Classics - Poetry] [Early Book Illustrations - Woodcuts - 15th-century - Alsace]

Quintus Horatius Flaccus (Horace)

Opera cum quibusdam annotationibus, imaginibusque pulcherrimis aptisque ad Odarum concentus et sententias (ed. by Jacobus Locher; with comment. by Nicolaus Perottus)

Strasbourg: Johann (Reinhard) Grüninger, 12 March 1498.

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The edition printed by Grüninger is rightly famed for its illustrations and is considered one of the finest illustrated books produced in Germany during the fifteenth century. The text is enhanced by 168 woodcuts, executed by an artist known as the 'Terence Master'. According to Kristeller and von Arnim, only 37 woodblocks were originally designed and cut for this work. The major part of the illustrations are a re-use of woodblocks employed previously for other editions issued from Grüninger's printing house, such as the famous Narrenschiff by Sebastian Brant, which appeared in 1494-1495, the Terentius of 1496, and the Libro philomusi by Johann Georg Locher of 1497; the large opening woodcut depicts Horace as a crowned poet laureate.

THESE FASCINATING WOODCUTS PROVIDE SOME OF THE BEST ILLUSTRATIONS OF THE EARLY RENAISSANCE COSTUME, MANNERS AND INTERIORS. Arthur Hind in his Introduction to a History of Woodcut (p.339-40) writes that Grüninger "is of great interest in our history for the new character of woodcut which appears to have been introduced in his workshops. It consisted in a close system of parallel lines of shading, straight or curved, according to the requirements of form, which approximated more nearly than woodcut had hitherto done, to the richer tonal character of line-engraving".

This edition of Horace is also an excellent specimen of the new approach to book illustration developed by Grüninger: "Grüninger hit upon the novel idea of making woodcuts by combining several smaller blocks, often as many as five, into one. Arranging these blocks in various ways, he was able to produce a multitude of pictures - at greatly reduced expense. He first employed this method in his Terence of 1496; and in fact he used many of the same woodcuts also in his [1498] Horace." (More Books: Being the Bulletin of the Boston Public Library, Vol. 15, p.426).

Dibdin's Bibliotheca Spenceriana (quoting Bibliotheca Harleiana, III, no. 754) calls this edition "one of the greatest curiosities in the whole Harleian collection: being adorned with a vast number of cuts, reckoned extremely beautiful...", and also remarks on its textual significance, noting that "all the previous impressions of Horace had been taken from MSS found in Italy; the present one gives us the text of a MS found in Germany. On this account Bentley valued this edition." Brunet considered this an editio princeps, since it was the first edition printed from a German manuscript.

The 1498 Horace was part of Grüninger's publication program including illustrated folio editions of some of the greatest Latin classics (Terence, Horace, Virgil and Boethius) of which the Horace is generally recognized as the rarest and most important textually: "Of the several Classics published In this style by Grüninger, the Horace is by far the rarest, and scarcely ever occurs, in the fine condition." (H. G. Bohn, Catalogue of Books: pt.II sec.1. Greek and Latin classics, p.533)

In his study of Grüninger's printing activity Mark Morford ('Johann Grüninger of Strasbourg', in Syntagmatia: Essays on Neo-Latin Literature, pp. 119-135) writes:

"'What is the use of a book without pictures?’ asked Alice at the beginning of Alice in Wonderland, and Grüninger seems to have had the same opinion, at least in his editions of classical texts. The first book containing woodcuts to be printed in Strasbourg that can be securely dated was Jacobus de Theramo, Belial, printed by Heinrich Knoblocher in 1477. The most important printer who included woodcuts, however, was Grüninger, whose first dated book with woodcuts was Brant's Narrenschiff, printed in 1494 [...]. He printed books with woodcuts throughout the rest of his life. [...] Grüninger printed the works of seven classical authors [...] all with woodcuts. The earliest was Terence, printed in 1496 and reprinted in 1499, 1503, and 1511 [...] he printed a German edition of Terence, also in 1499. His next classical authors were Horace (1498) and Boethius (1501), neither reprinted, and Virgil (1502), whom he printed in a German translation in 1515. [...]

"Of his classical texts (leaving the woodcuts out of consideration) only the 1498 Horace was important, for it was the first edition by a German editor (Jakob Locher) and printer, and it was based on a German manuscript. Its importance was recognized by the usually acerbic Richard Bentley, in his edition of Horace: 'And I thought I should not overlook the early editions [of Horace] and the most important of all, the Venetian of 1478 and the Strasbourg of Jacob Locher, the poet laureate, of 1498, [...] which was printed from German manuscripts.' [...]

"Locher [...] included in the front matter several of his own poems encouraging the public to buy the book, to approach the grove of the muses (this poem is illustrated by a woodcut of the Muses, with Calliope crowning Horace); after several more poems comes the dedication to the Margrave of Baden (accompanied by a woodcut of Locher, as poet laureate, addressing the Margrave, with the latter's coat of arms between them), a Vita Horatii, 17 Sapphic stanzas addressing Apollo, and, last of all, nine elegiac couplets in which Horace himself, speaking from the Elysian fields, praises Locher. Locher met the difficulty of Horace's metres by adding some rules for scansion followed by Niccolò Perotti's metrical tables, first printed at Bologna in 1471. [...] Locher also added interlinear glosses, printed in small Gothic type, in addition to the commentary, which was printed in two columns on either side of the text.

"The title-page has a large woodcut of Horace as a mediaeval poet laureate at his desk, repeated at the beginning of each of the eight books (other than Book 1 of the Odes), of Horace's poems. [...] Grüninger would place small woodcuts next to each other in different arrangements, so that a single illustration might consist of as many as five different designs. Each poem was preceded by such an illustration, but the first poem of Book 1 of the Odes, which has an elaborate half-page woodcut of Horace, laureate, addressing Maecenas (dressed as a mediaeval king) and two courtiers: between Horace and Maecenas is a scroll with the first line of the text, 'Mecenas atauis edite regibus’. The second ode, addressed to Augustus also has a half-page woodcut, showing Julius Caesar en empereur turc (as Schmidt puts it) with Brutus to the left and Cassius to the right stabbing him. Each is accompanied by a scroll with his name."

Quintus Horatius Flaccus (65 - 8 BC), known in the English-speaking world as Horace, was the leading Roman lyric poet during the time of Augustus, the first Roman Emperor; thus, his career coincided with Rome's momentous change from a republic to an empire. An officer in the republican army defeated at the Battle of Philippi in 42 BC, he was befriended by Octavian's right-hand man in civil affairs, Maecenas, and became a spokesman for the new regime. For some commentators, his association with the regime was a delicate balance in which he maintained a strong measure of independence, being "a master of the graceful sidestep" (J. Michie, The Odes of Horace, 14).

Horace is best known today for his Odes, which express ordinary thoughts and sentiments with a deceptive finality and simplicity, covering a wide range of subjects – Love, Friendship, Wine, Religion, Morality, Patriotism; poems of eulogy to Augustus and his relations; and a miscellany of topics and incidents, including the uncertainty of life, the cultivation of tranquility, contentment, and moderation (or the aurea mediocritas, i.e. "the golden mean"). Alexander Pope said of the Horatian Odes: "What oft was thought, but ne'er so well expressed." The rhetorician Quintilian regarded his Odes as just about the only Latin lyrics worth reading, saying: "He can be lofty sometimes, yet he is also full of charm and grace, versatile in his figures, and felicitously daring in his choice of words." The Odes were developed as a conscious imitation of the short lyric poetry of the 7th and 6th centuries BC (such as Pindar and Sappho).

Horace also crafted elegant hexameter verses (Satires and Epistles) and caustic iambic poetry (Epodes). The hexameters are amusing yet serious works, friendly in tone. His Ars poetica, which was written in the form of a letter, has also had a profound influence on later poetry and criticism. The Epistles may be considered among Horace's most innovative works. There had been nothing like it in Greek or Roman literature before. Occasionally poems had had some resemblance to letters, but nobody before Horace had ever composed an entire collection of verse letters, let alone letters with a focus on philosophical problems.

Along with Virgil, Horace is the most celebrated of the Augustan poets. His work would deeply influence later writers including Ben Jonson, Alexander Pope, W.H. Auden, Robert Frost, and many others.

The important early German printer Johann Grüninger (c. 1455 - c. 1533) was "born in Markgroningen, in Wurttemberg, received part of his training as a printer in Basel, probably in the shop of Johann Amerbach. In 1481 he established his own shop in Strasbourg, where he acquired citizenship in 1482 and became one of the most important printers, publishing at least 389 books during the forty-nine years of his active career. His work covered a broad repertory: collections of sermons; editions of the classics; dictionaries; medical and surgical manuals; and popular legends and tales. He was one of the few in the early decades of printing who published for both the vernacular market and the scholarly market. He was interested in profit and pushed editions through his presses with great rapidity." (P. G. Bietenholz, T. B. Deutscher (eds.), Contemporaries of Erasmus, Vol. II, p.140)

Bibliographic references:

Hain-Coppinger *8898; Goff H-461; BMC I, 112; Bod-inc H-214; Proctor 485; BSB-Ink H-370; GW 13468; CIBN H-285; Schreiber 4240; Schramm, Bilderschmuck der Frühdrucke XX p.23; Dibdin, Bibliotheca Spenceriana, II, 269.

Physical description:

Chancery Folio; text block measures 296 x 210 mm); wide margins. Bound in contemporary blind-paneled calf over wooden boards (spine painted white, as often in monastic libraries), edges dyed light-green.

Foliated in Roman numerals: (6), 207 leaves (forming 426 pages).
Signatures: π6 A-Z6 AA-II6 KK-LL8 (-LL8 blank).
Complete, except for the final blank LL8, and the final quire χ6 comprising indexes, which is supplied in excellent facsimile. The entire text complete with all the illustrations present.

Horace's text printed in the center of the page (in Roman type 22:89R) 74 lines per page, surrounded with commentary (in smaller roman 23:64bR); interlinear gloss in a very small gothic 4:48G. Running headlines and chapter headings in large gothic type 17:145G, and two top lines of title in even larger gothic 19:280G.

Prefatory matter printed in double column.

Illustrated with 168 WOODCUT ILLUSTRATIONS FROM 101 BLOCKS BY THE TERENCE MASTER, most printed from composite blocks, many repeated. Four woodcuts with delicate contemporary handcoloring.

Particularly noteworthy is the large woodcut on the title page, representing Horace seated at his desk (partially hand-colored) which reoccurs at the beginning of each of the subsequent eight books). On π2r is a woodcut showing the Nine Muses with an enthroned Calliope crowning a kneeling Horace (superbly and fully hand colored!). The dedicatory epistle (π2r) has an illustration showing the arms and portraits of the dedicatee, the Margrave of Baden, and the editor, Jacob Locher (partially hand-colored). The opening page of Horace's Odes (A1r) is illustrated with a large woodcut showing the poet facing his famous patron Maecenas, with two attendants. At the beginning of the 2nd ode (A3r), addressed to Augustus, is another large woodcut showing Cassius and Brutus stabbing Caesar, wearing an oriental costume, complete with scimitar and turban, as well as the Imperial crown.

2- and 3-line initial spaces with printed guide-letters, rubricated throughout with (intermittently) red and blue painted lombard initials and red and blue paragraph marks.

Preliminaries include Locher's prefatory verses and his dedicatory epistle to Margrave Karl von Baden (dated 1497), Life of Horace, Locher's introductory treatise on metrics in classical poetry, and Perottus' notes on Horace's poetic meters.

Colophon on LL7v with Grüninger's woodcut device (H.W. Davies, Devices of the Early Printers, 168).


Very Good. Complete, except for the indexes (final 6-leaf quire), which is supplied in excellent facsimile; thus, textually and pictorially complete. Binding slightly rubbed, with light edge-wear and minor soiling; old repairs to ends of spine; original clasps gone (retaining portions of straps, and small metal catch-pegs); spine (and adjacent areas of boards) painted white, and with traces of a shelf-mark sticker to bottom of spine. Title page with a couple of minor repairs (affecting four letters only) and some harmless marginal excisions: a narrow strip at top edge and tips of both outer corners cut off (text and woodcut not affected); an early ownership inscription (mostly faded) to top margin, and a later ink shelf-mark number to outer margin. Occasional light soiling. A few minor worm-holes, mostly marginal, towards the beginning and the end of the volume, rather harmless due to their diminutive size (not affecting legibility). A few small unobtrusive stains to a couple of leaves. In all, a clean, wide-margined and desirable example, in contemporary binding and with attractive contemporary rubrication throughout and with pleasing, delicate hand-coloring to four of its 168 splendid woodcuts.

Please click on thumbnails below to see larger images.