De sacris Aegyptiorum notis. Aegyptiac expressis libri duo. Iconibus illustrate & aucti. Nunc primm in Latinum ac Gallicum sermonem conversi

Autore HORAPOLLO (fl. 5th cent.).
Tipografo Galliot du Pr & Jean Ruelle
Dati tipografici Paris, 
Prezzo 2.350,00
De sacris Aegyptiorum notis

Two parts with continuous pagination in one volume, 8vo. [8], 107, [1] leaves. Collation: *8 A-N8 O4. The last leaf is all blank but for a typographical ornament on verso. Title within a historiated border, and 193 woodcut vignettes within ornamental borders. The emblems on leaves C3r and G7r are printed upside down; the emblem on leaf I4r is printed sideways. Second part begins on numbered leaf 43 (F2) with special title page: Le second livre d'Orus Apollo niliaque des lettres sacrees des Aegyptiens. On the front pastedown illustrated bookplate F. Valter. Later vellum over boards, some light dampstains and browning, upper blank corner of the last three leaves a bit gnawn, but a fine copy with an old entry of ownership on title page “J. Vosterman”, possibly by the famous Dutch landscape painter (ca. 1643-1699) who lived for a while in France and England.

FIRST LATIN-FRENCH EDITION. The ‘editio princeps' of Horapollo's Hieroglyphica was printed by Aldo Manuzio in Venice in 1505. The present Latin edition translated from Greek by Bernardino Trebazio was first printed by Froben at Basel in March 1518 with a dedication to Konrad Peutinger. Numerous scholars cite an edition printed at Augsburg in 1515, which, however, is a ghost. The error probably originated from the dedication to Peutinger, which is dated Augsburg, April 21, 1515 (cf. S. Sider, Horapollo, in: “Catalogus Translationum et Commentariorum. Mediaeval and Renaissance Latin Translations and Commentaries: Annotated Lists and Guides”, E. Cranz, ed., Washington, D.C., 1989, VI, pp. 21-22).

Trebazio's translation, which was also used in the present bi-lingual edition, became quite popular and was reprinted several times until it was superseded by a new translation by Jean Mercier in 1548 (cf. J.-F. Brunon, Jean Mercier traducteur d'Horapollon, in: “Jean et Josias Mercier: l'amour de la philologie à la Renaissance et au début de l'âge classique. Actes du colloque d'Uzès, 2 et 3 mars 2001”, F. Roudot, ed., Paris, 2006, pp. 111-129).

A first French translation was published by Jacques Kerver at Paris in 1543 under the title De la signification des notes hieroglyphiques des Aegyptiens. In this rather poor translation, variously attributed to Geoffroy Tory, were printed for the first time the emblematic woodcut vignettes generally attributed to Jean Cousin and Jean Goujon. A far better translation, attributed to Jean Martin, known as translator of Vitruvius and the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, was printed also by Kerver in 1553 with the title Les sculptures ou graveures sacrées d'Orus Apollo and is reprinted in the present bi-lingual edition (cf. J.F. Brunon, Les sculptures ou gravures sacrées d'Orus Apollo, 1543-1553. Édition critique avec introduction et notes, Thèse, Montpellier, 1977, passim; see also K. Giehlow & R. Raybould, The humanist interpretation of hieroglyphs in the allegorical studies of the Renaissance: with a focus on the triumphal arch of Maximilian I,Leiden, 2015, pp. 17-19; and R. Aulotte, D'Égypte en France par l'Italie: Horapollon au XVIe siècle, in: “Mélanges à la mémoire de Franco Simone. France et Italie dans la culture européenne”, Genève, 1980, I, pp. 555-571).

The woodcuts in the present edition are close to those in the 1553 Kerver edition, but certainly were re-engraved since their design is much finer, and furthermore all the vignettes are surrounded by various types of ornamental borders (cf. L. Volkmann & R. Raybould, Hieroglyph, emblem, and Renaissance pictography, Leiden, 2018, p. 157).

Written reputedly by an Egyptian magus, Horapollo Niliacus, in the fifth century A.D., the Hieroglyphics of Horapollo is an anthology of nearly two hundred “hieroglyphics,” or allegorical emblems, said to have been used by the Pharaonic scribes in describing natural and moral aspects of the world. The text, extant in a Greek translation dating back to 5th century, informed much of Western iconography from the sixteenth through the nineteenth centuries. This work not only tells how various types of natural phenomena, emotions, virtues, philosophical concepts, and human character-types were symbolized, but also explains why, for example, the universe is represented by a serpent swallowing its tail, filial affection by a stork, education by the heavens dropping dew, and a ‘horoscopist' by a person eating an hourglass (cf. E. Iverson, The Myth of Egypt and its Hieroglyphs in European Tradition, Princeton, NJ, 1993, passim).

The manuscript of the Hieroglyphica made its way to Florence, from the island of Andros, in the hand of Cristoforo Buondelmonti in 1422 and is today housed in the Biblioteca Laurenziana. In spite of its being confined originally to a tight circle of Florentine Humanists in the fifteenth century, its content would become enormously popular at the end of the century, with the dissemination of the new sensibility represented by Francesco Colonna's Hypnerotomachia Poliphilii (written around 1467 and published in Venice by Aldo Manuzio, in 1499). It offered a treasure trove of new allegories that the humanists utilized either directly in their works – such as the famous Ehrenpforte by Albrecht Dürer – or, more commonly, by consulting the very complete and systematic compilation undertaken by Giovanni Pierio Valeriano, also entitled Hieroglyphica (1556).

But the major relevance of Horapollo's book consisted mainly of inaugurating a new and widely disseminated model of symbolic communication. Beginning with Ennead V.8 of Plotinus, along with the commentaries of Ficino, hieroglyphic representation was understood as an immediate, total and almost divine form of knowledge, as opposed to the mediated, incomplete and temporal form appropriate to discursive language. These ideas inspired not only Ficino or Giordano Bruno, but also Erasmus, Athanasius Kircher, and even Leibniz. On the other hand, this work initiated the mode of “writing with mute signs” (Alciati) – as expressed in the preface of so many emblem books – thus contributing decisively to the evolution and popularity of the emblematic genre. In fact, in this period emblems were normally seen as the modern equivalents of sacred Egyptian signs. It also fueled the fascination with the concept of an original universal language, and seemed to justify the obsession of the age, a belief that matter and idea, form and content, were one and the same and that symbol and allegory were the key to an understanding of the ultimate realities (cf. U. Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, London 1995, p. 145).

Universal STC, no. 34929; Adams, H-852; A. Adams & S. Rawles, A Bibliography of French Emblem Books of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, Genève, 1999, pp. 625-626, F-332; S.F.W. Hoffmann, Bibliographisches Lexicon der gesammten Litteratur der Griechen, Leipzig, 1839, II, p. 385; R. Mortimer, French 16th-century books,Cambridge, MA, 1964, no. 316; A. Pettegree, & al., eds, French Vernacular Books: Books Published in the French Language before 1601, Leiden, 2007, I, p. 163, no. 30097;M. Wildish, Hieroglyphic Semantics in Late Antiquity, Durham, 2012, p. 145, no. 11; M. Praz, Studies in 17th-century imagery, Rome, 1964, p. 82; J. Landwehr, French, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese emblem books, Utrecht, 1976, no. 389.

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