Venice: Aldus Manutius, IV 1501, 8°
London, The British Library, C.19.f.7

The renowned edition of Virgil which in 1501 introduced the series of enchiridia, books in the small octavo format which could easily be carried about and held in the hand and with their texts in the new italic type cut by Francesco Griffo, who, with his “Daedalus-like hands”, is thanked by Aldus in some short prefatory verses entitled In grammatoglyptae laudem. The choice of Virgil as the pre-eminent Latin poet to open the series was deliberate and symbolic, as was Aldus’ choice to present the text by itself, without commentary or textual apparatus: this kind of edition was aimed at a wider public than trained scholars, as Aldus explicitly states, consisting of all those who “optime scire Latinam linguam desiderant”. Editions in the same format of Horace and of Petrarch – as a vernacular classic, in another important novelty, implicitly given parity with the Latin classics through his inclusion in what is in effect the first monographic series or collana in publishing (though the standard Italian term only came into use with Giolito later in the sixteenth century) – followed quickly within the same year.

The edition of Virgil’s works opens with the Eclogues (or Bucolica to use Aldus’ term), the Roman poet’s imitation of the Theocritean pastoral idyll; it was “popular” editions of this text which led to the rise of pastoral as one of the main literary genres in the sixteenth century and beyond. In this remarkable copy on vellum, from the Gonzaga library in Mantua – presumably the copy sent specially to Isabella d’Este Gonzaga in the summer of 1501 – just three months after publication – by Lorenzo da Pavia as mentioned in his letter dated 26 July to the Marchioness – the first page of the book has been finely illuminated with a rich border; by 1529 the book was in the possession of her second son, Ercole, then in his early twenties, who signs his name on the first (blank) vellum leaf and adds a complaint that as a boy he was not taught to appreciate Virgil, and then, at the end of the sixteenth century, of Vincenzo Gonzaga, the fourth Duke of Mantua, who wrote a poignant tribute to the Latin poet in the volume dated october 1594 (Aldo Manuzio 1867, p. 10; Rhodes 1954, pp. 377–380; Aldo Manuzio editore 1975, 1, pp. 48–51).

Catalogues: edit16, cnce 55823; Renouard 1834, p. 27, no. 3; Scapecchi 2013, p. XXIIII, no. 42.

Stephen Parkin