[Early printing - Aldine Press] [Italian Renaissance Humanism] [Neo-Latin Poetry] [Astrology]


Venice: Aldus Manutius, 1505.
(First colophon dated May 1505, second colophon - August 1505.)

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Two parts in one volume. Text in Latin.

RARE FIRST EDITION of Pontano's poetic works, printed at the famous Aldine Press in the beautiful Aldine italic type, and with two different versions of Aldus’ anchor-and-dolphin device.

Giovanni Pontano (1429-1503) was the most important humanist of fifteenth-century Naples and remains today one of the most highly admired of the Renaissance Latin poets. A greatly respected figure in his time, he had a distinguished career - apart from his literary achievements - in the service of the Aragonese rulers of Naples as a soldier, historian, mediator, royal secretary, and head of the academy formed by Alfonso.

The great Venetian printer dedicated the first part of this 1505 edition of Pontanus's poetical works to the Imperial secretary, Johann Kollauer, in gratitude for his intervention with Emperor Maximilian on behalf of Aldus's plan to found an Academy in Germany. This relates to Aldus's (ultimately unrealized) hopes of re-establishing the Greek New Academy and his press under Imperial patronage north of the Alps.

A curious feature of this rare 1505 Aldine imprint is the printer’s device on the title page. Fletcher notes that this version of the device was used only twice in the press’ history: “The next device (No. 4) was used only twice and then discarded, for which we probably ought to be grateful. A stunted and quite ugly version, without ALDVS, it is clearly the runt of the litter. Nonetheless, its diminutive size, 39×30 mm, was dictated by the format [32º] of the book for which it was cut, the [very rare] Greek Hours of the Virgin of July 1505 … The second and last time device No. 4 appears is on the title-page of the August 1505 Pontanus, where it seems thoroughly out-of-place (it is certainly out-of-scale).” (Fletcher III 48).

Fletcher also remarks that, unlike most of the other devices, this one does not have the printers name (letters “AL/DVS”) on it. It is also less smooth in design than other device variations, such as, for instance, the one used in the back of this edition (leaf gg10v); this device (Fletcher’s no.2) does include the legend “ALDVS.” Most Aldine editions’ title-pages have a much larger device, sometimes taking up nearly full page, so it is quite puzzling that the 1505 Pontano uses a device cut specifically for a book of a different (much smaller) format.

Another interesting anomaly about this edition is the absence of foliation (leaf numbering), despite the presence of a full index at the end of the volume. The leaf number references given in the index would be perfectly correct if the book was foliated.

While there is no definitive answer as to why these page numbers are missing, research indicates that the press moved to a new location in Venice in 1505 and that Aldus Manutius also was married to Torresani’s daughter this year. Both of these events may have resulted in some disorganization and a distracted editor who forgot to set the type for page numbers.

This elegant and curious Aldine edition contains the first collection of Pontano’s most celebrated poetical works: Urania, Meteora, De hortis Hesperidum, Lepidina, Meliseus, Maeo and Acon in Part I, and Hendecasyllabi seu Baiae, Tumuli, Neniae and Epigrammata (his collected epigrams) in Part II, covering a fascinatingly wide range of topics.

The most famous among these is Urania - the ambitious didactic composition in hexameters, embodying the astronomical science of the age, and adorning its high theme with brilliant mythological episodes. Urania soon won the admiration of Italy and still remains a monument of fertile invention, exuberant facility and energetic handling of material. Pontano’s Lepidina is a charming account of the wedding between a river god and a nymph. His De Hortis hesperidum is a didactic poem on the cultivation of orange trees, while Hendecasyllaborum is a collection of shorter poems about personal matters.

Rivaled in his time only by Poliziano as a Latinist, Pontano writes as if Latin were his native language and graceful, harmonious verse his natural means of expression. His most attractive poems are often those expressing the intimate joys and sorrows of family life, perhaps because of his own devotion to his wife and children. While Pontano never saw his poetical works published (this edition appeared 2 years after his death), most were known in manuscript, performed and circulated in Naples and beyond during his prolific career.

In 1502 Aldus had dedicated an edition of the Thebaid by the Roman poet Statius to Pontano, offering to publish anything he chose to send him. Pontano responded promptly by sending copies of his three major poetic works just before his death. The publisher was enthusiastic, but decided to wait for additional works hinted at by Pontano before going to press. Unfortunately, a manuscript dispatched by Pontano went missing for a year when the messenger to whom it was entrusted took ill and died in Padua in the summer of 1503. Pontano himself died in September of that year, and the poems languished unpublished for two years, until Pontano's fellow Neapolitan humanist Pietro Summonte sent additional pastorals to Aldus for inclusion in the collection. Aldus's 1505 text thus represents the author's final version of the poems.

“On the first folio of a manuscript that used to belong to Angelo Colocci, a book collector living in sixteenth-century Rome, an erudite named Girolamo Borgia described the public performance of a poem entitled Urania on February 1, 1501, in Naples. As Borgia's annotation informs us, the author and performer of this five-book poem in Latin hexameters, which sets out to explain poetically the astrological causes of earthly events, was the Umbrian humanist Giovanni Gioviano Pontano, once the leading political and intellectual figure of Quattrocento Naples, an old man retired from public life at the time of the event: February 1, 1501. [...] Great expectations must have surrounded this official presentation of Pontano's Urania, a poem that many authoritative critics – among them Angelo Poliziano (1454–1494) – had already praised but only few had the opportunity to read in its entirety. More than 30 years had passed since Pontano, in a programmatic text of his youthful collection Parthenopeus (1450–1471; first printed 1498), had solemnly promised a poem on the nature of things to his older friend, and fellow astrologer, Lorenzo Bonincontri from Siena. [...] Political duties, family problems, countless intellectual pursuits and a restless labor limae, however, all interfered with Pontano's promise to Bonincontri. Only in 1505, many years after his friend's death, was the manuscript of Pontano's works finally received and printed by Aldo Manuzio in Venice. Pontano, however, would never see his book in print.” (Matteo Soranzo, Poetry and Identity in Quattrocento Naples, pp.1-2)

Bibliographic references:

Renouard, p. 46: 1505/4; Ahmanson-Murphy (UCLA) 91; Aldo Manuzio tipografo 93.

Physical description:

Octavo, text block measures 156 mm x 92 mm. Bound in late 20th-century brown crushed morocco gilt-paneled in period style (in imitation of the Fugger binder), spine gilt-ruled in compartments and lettered in gilt. All edges gilt.

Two parts in one volume.
242 unnumbered leaves (forming 484 pages).
Collation: a-z8 aa-ff8 gg10.
Collated and COMPLETE.

Title-page with a rare small-size unlettered woodcut Aldine device (Fletcher no. 4); another, larger woodcut Aldine device (Fletcher no. 2) on verso of the final leaf gg10v.

Printed in Italic type (I1:80); 30 lines per page. With running heads, but no foliation. Initial-spaces with guide-letters; some 3-line typographical initials, and a 6-line floriated woodcut initial 'S' at opening of Neniae.

Includes Aldus’ dedication (on verso of title) to Johann Kollauer, imperial secretary to Maximilian I; and a another dedication to Suardino Suardi of Bergamo, also by Aldus, prefaced to Part II (leaf aa1r,v) Also includes Aldus's note to the reader (o4v prefacing the text of Meteora) on how this brief work on meteorology is related to the preceding Urania

First colophon (dated May 1505) and register to Part I on z8r (verso blank). Index at the end of the volume (leaves gg2v-gg10r), with the general register and the second colophon (dated May 1505) on gg10r (with Aldine device on verso).


Near Fine. A few leaves with very light marginal soiling; final quite gg with a small marginal wormhole at bottom of gutter (far from text). A very pleasing, clean, solid, attractively bound example of one of the rarer early Aldine imprints.

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