[Early Printing - Incunabula - Cologne] [Classical Literature - Latin Classics - Poetry]
[Mythology - Roman & Greek] [Agriculture, Farming and Viticulture - Ancient Rome]

Publius Vergilius Maro

Georgica (with commentary by Hermannus Torrentinus)
[bound with]

Cologne: Heinrich Quentel, 1499.


Printed in Cologne by Heinrich Quentel, 1499.
Two works bound together in one volume.
Text in Latin. Georgica edited with commentary by Hermann von der Beeke (Hermannus Torrentinus); Opuscula are also accompanied with copious (although anonymous) commentary.

BOTH WORKS EXTREMELY RARE! BL ISTC locates only 22 extant copies worldwide of the first work and only 17 copies of the second (of which no copies are found in American libraries!).

Quentel's editions of Virgil were clearly intended for the students of the Latin schools, whose curriculum since the mid 15th century, began to to reflect the ideas of Renaissance humanism. The copious manuscript marginal notes (and a couple of charming amateurish drawings) in our copy, almost certainly by contemporary students, offer a fascinating glimpse into the use of Virgil's poetry in a circa 1500 German classroom.

The editor of this rare incunable edition was late 15th-century Dutch humanist, Hermann von der Beeke (ca.1450-1520), known mostly under his Latinized name Torrentinus, or Torrentius (meaning "brook" or "torrent", as translated from the original word 'beeke') was born ca. 1450 in Zwolle, Netherlands, about 80 miles north-east of Amsterdam. He received initial education in his native town in the School of the Brethren of the Common Life (Fratres Vitae Commune), a Roman Catholic religious community founded in the 14th century by Gerard Groote, and devoted to education and teaching. The brethren didn't take up irrevocable vows, in difference from a regular monastic community, but led a simple and chaste life, practicing ascetic discipline and devoting all their time to attending Divine services, reading, and labors. They lived in the common houses and had meals together.

The year 1490 finds Torrentinus in Groningen, teaching rhetoric in the Brethren of the Common Life School. After the death of his father Torrentinus had to return to Zwolle to help and support his mother, where he took a position of school teacher. Torrentinus is known as an editor of Virgil's Eclogues and Georgics and as the author of a Elucidarius Poeticus (1498), a dictionary of proper names of people, places, plants, etc., encountered in history and poetry.

Publius Vergilius Maro (70 BC - 19 BC) usually called Virgil in English, was an ancient Roman poet of the Augustan period. He wrote three of the most famous poems in Latin literature: the Eclogues, the Georgics, and the epic Aeneid. A number of minor poems, are attributed to him as well. Virgil is traditionally ranked as one of Rome's greatest poets. His work has had wide and deep influence on Western literature, most notably Dante's Divine Comedy, in which Virgil appears as the author's guide through Hell and Purgatory.

The Georgica (referred to in English as the Georgics) is a classical Latin poem by Virgil, likely published in 29 BCE. The work consists of 2,188 hexametric verses divided into four books. As the name suggests (from the Greek word γεωργικά, i.e. "agricultural things") the subject of the poem is agriculture; but far from being an example of peaceful rural poetry, it is a work characterized by tensions in both theme and purpose.

Virgil begins his poem with a summary of the four books, followed by a prayer to various agricultural deities as well as Augustus himself. Numerous technical passages in the 1st book of the Georgics include a curious description of the plow. Virgil's account of the succession of ages is modeled on Hesiod; the age of Jupiter and its relation to the golden age and the current age of man are crafted with deliberate tension. After detailing various weather-signs, Virgil ends with an enumeration of the portents associated with Caesar's assassination and civil war.

Prominent themes of the 2nd book include agriculture, viewed as man's struggle against a hostile natural world, and the ages of Saturn and Jupiter. Like the first, it begins with an address to the divinities associated with the matters to be discussed: viticulture, trees, and cultivation of the olive. Virgil then deals at length with forest and fruit trees, their propagation and growth. Sections on grafting are of particular interest: presented as marvels of man's alteration of nature, and includes a catalogue of the world's trees, and other products of various lands. Found here is of the most famous passages of the poem, the Laudes Italiae or Praises of Italy, presented by way of a comparison with foreign marvels: despite all of those, Virgil deems no land as praiseworthy as Italy. Next comes the care of vines and advice on when to plant them. Here we find another famous passage: the Praises of Spring. The poet then returns to didactic narrative on vines, stressing their fragility and laboriousness, in contrast with the olive which requires little effort from the farmer. In a passage known as the Vituperation of Vines, Virgil recalls the myth of the battle of the Lapiths and Centaurs. The remainder of the book is devoted to extolling the simple country life over the corruption of the city.

The 3rd book is chiefly concerned with animal husbandry and the selection and breeding of horses and cattle (includes a description of the furor induced in all animals by sexual desire), the care and protection of sheep and goats and their products. It concludes with a description of the havoc and devastation caused by a plague in Noricum.

In the 4th book the first half is didactic and deals with the life and habits of bees, supposedly a model for human society. Bees resemble man in that their labor is devoted to a king and they give their lives for the sake of the community, but they lack the arts and love. In spite of their labor, the bees perish and the entire colony dies. The restoration of the bees is accomplished by bugonia, spontaneous rebirth from the carcass of an ox. This process is described twice in the second half and frames a mythological epyllion beginning at line 315, where the tone of the book changes from didactic to epic and elegiac. This epyllion contains within it the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, intertwined with the myths about Aristaeus, the nymph Cyrene, and the binding of Proteus.

"Of all the literary works of classical antiquity, Virgil's Georgics, a didactic poem on the subject of husbandry written in the years 37-30 B.C., was deemed by eighteenth-century British writers an unparalleled model of literary perfection. John Dryden esteemed the Georgics 'the divinest part of all [Virgil's] writings,' and Joseph Addison judged it 'the most Compleat, Elaborate, and finisht Piece of all Antiquity.' [...] The dearest and often contradictory desires of the age, for mastery, for improvement (of one's mind, soul, or land or enterprise), for connection to place and landscape, for political and social justification, all found expression in the language and idiom of the georgic. A poem ostensibly dedicated to the dissemination of the art of farming resonated ... with complex symbolic and thematic harmonies. In taking as his subject the self-reliant life of the Roman farmer, Virgil was understood to broach large philosophical questions. [...]

"[Despite] Seneca's critical judgment in the first century A.D. that Vergil [...] aimed, not to teach the farmer, but to please the reader.' ... it was widely held that the poet intended his farming advice to serve practical as well as poetic ends. According to a venerable critical tradition, Virgil put pen to papyrus at the request of his patron, Maecenas, as part of a campaign to repair the damage Roman agriculture had suffered during the protracted series of civil conflicts (49-29 B.C.) that presaged the end of the Roman republic. John Martyn, professor of botany at the University of Cambridge from 1732 to 1762, notes in his edition of the Georgics, 'A great part of the lands in Italy had been divided among the soldiers, who had been too long engaged in the wars, to have a just knowledge of Agriculture. Hence it became necessary that the ancient spirit of Husbandry should be revived among the Romans. To this undertaking Virgil dedicated himself with zeal, producing, in Martyn's view, a precise set of instructions for the farmer. So well did he perform his commission that 'it has been found by experience, that most of his rules may be put in practice, even here [in Britain], to advantage.'" (Frans De Bruyn, Reading Virgil's Georgics as a Scientific Text, ELH, Vol.71, No. 3 (2004) pp. 660-1)

Bound with the Georgics here is the 1499 Quentell edition of the Opuscula, which includes five minor poetical works, almost definitely spurious, but ascribed to young Virgil during the Middle Ages and early Renaissance, and sometimes included in the Appendix Vergiliana:

"The Est et Non and the Vir Bonus are in the manner, and may be confidently assigned to the period of the 4th-century revival in which Ausonius is the principal figure, while the elegy on the death of Maecenas, whether it is a piece actually written on the occasion, or an academic exercise on that theme composed at a somewhat later date, has in either case no connexion with [Virgil] who predeceased Maecenas by eleven years." (J.W. MacKail, Virgil and Virgilianism, Classical Review XXII (1908), no.193, p.65)

The poem, De littera Y Pythagorae treats on the moral interpretation of the Greek letter Ypsilon which is purported to have been used by Pythagoras as an emblem of the forking path of virtue or vice in human life. The pseudo-Virgilian poem "offers a concise general paradigm for moral choice that was often discussed in the Renaissance. As we head down the path of life, the road forks, with the way of virtue being arduous at first but offering rest and praise at the end, while the path of sloth and dissipation is initially broad and easy but ultimately thrusts those who take it into destruction." (Craig Kallendorf, Printing Virgil: The Transformation of the Classics in the Renaissance, p.124)

The pseudo-Virgilian poem Vir bonus was apparently influential enough during the Renaissance, for Sebastian Brant to have concluded the first German edition of his famous Narrenschiff ("The Ship of Fools") with Chapter 112 entitled "Der wys man", which was, in fact, a free paraphrase of the contents of the Vir bonus.

Bibliographic references:

I: Goff V230; Copinger (Hain suppl.) 6150; Davies & Goldfinch, Vergil, 170; Copinger, Incunabula Virgiliana 154; Mambelli, Edizioni virgiliane, 593 = 627; Bod-inc V-116; Proctor 1362; GW M50104; Voulliéme, Köln, 1207.

II: Copinger (Hain suppl.) 6169; Davies & Goldfinch, Vergil, 177; Copinger, Incunabula Virgiliana 173; Proctor 1354; BMC I 290; BSB-Ink V-138; GW M50139.

Physical description:

Quarto, textblock measures 197 mm x 140 mm. Bound in 17th-century full vellum over rigid boards with two pairs of cloth ties (renewed); flat spine with later printed title-label.

Foliation and signatures:
Georgica: LXXXI, [2] leaves (forming 166 pages); collation A-O8.4 [-O4].
Opuscula: [18] leaves (forming 36 pages); collation A-C6.

Georgica textually complete, only wanting the final leaf of index O4, which also contains colophon.
Opuscula absolutely complete, including the colophon.

Text printed in single columns, in Roman letter (Virgil's text in larger, and commentary in smaller type); 32 lines of text, and 43 lines of commentary per page, plus running heads and foliation; printed marginal notes.

Title of Georgica on A1r printed in large gothic type.

Capital spaces (unrubricated).

Georgica includes an Index at the end (leaves O1r-4r), of which the last leaf (containing colophon) is missing. Opuscula with colophon on C6r, with the year 1499 expressed as "Anno virginei partus ante iubileum centesimum." Both works with short prefaces on verso of their respective title-pages.


Front pastedown with a small ex-libris ticket of Hanns-Theo Schmitz-Otto (1908 - 1992), and his small bookplate (with a stylized monogram resembling early printers' devices). Schmitz-Otto was a German bookseller and collector based in Cologne. Schmitz-Otto donated numerous books to the Cologne University library. A significant portion of his collection dealt with the history of Cologne and the early printing in the city.

Georgica with manuscript marginalia throughout in early hands, probably by Renaissance students using the book in their studies of Latin, including amateurish drawings in brown ink of an owl (leaf C6v) and a tree (leaf C7r) in Georgics.


Good antiquarian condition. Complete, except for the final index leaf in Georgica. Vellum binding rubbed and somewhat dump-soiled. Pervasive damp-staining to the interior, occasionally rather heavy, causing substantial discoloration. However, although sometimes cosmetically unsightly, the damp-staining does is rather harmless structurally, without any noticeable paper corrosion and without any loss of legibility. Final quire in the Opuscula with some worming and some archival rice-paper repairs, affecting a few words, but preserving legibility; final leaf C6 laid down on its blank verso. Numerous interesting early 16th-century manuscript marginal notes (including two simple drawings) in several several hands (mostly rather diminutive), some partly washed off. Some soiling and occasional ink-spots. In all a solid, well-margined, genuine example, if somewhat 'tired', clearly well used by Renaissance students.

Please click on thumbnails below to see larger images.