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First edition of ‘the oldest mathematical textbook still in common use today’ (PMM) and one of the earliest printed books with geometrical figures. The text is the standard late mediaeval recension of Johannes Campanus of Novara, based on the 12th-century translation from the Arabic of Adelard of Bath. The text is preceded by a dedicatory letter by Erhard Ratdolt to Giovanni Mocenigo. Ratdolt’s method of printing diagrams to illustrate a mathematical text and his finely printed astronomical books became the models for subsequent scientific publishing. Campanus’s recension of the Elements, whose earliest witness is a manuscript dated 1259, became the standard version of the high and late Middle Ages. It was based on but enlarged from the translation from the Arabic made by Adelard of Bath about one hundred twenty years earlier, the so-called Adelard version II. Campanus’s recension continued to be printed at least as late as 1558. Its textual history both in manuscript and print remains to be closely studied, and there is no modern edition. Books I–XIII are the Elementa proper; book XIV is the supplement of Hypsicles of Alexandria (2nd century BC) and XV the supplement assigned to the school of Isidore of Miletos, architect of Hagia Sophia (6th century AD). Goff, GW, and most of the other standard incunable literature have given to Campanus an apocryphal forename, Johannes. Ratdolt’s Euclid was the first substantial mathematical work to be printed, and is one of his technically most advanced and accomplished productions. His dedication to the doge of Venice expresses his amazement that hitherto no major work of mathematics had been printed in Venice, the reason being the difficulty of supplying the diagrams without which much of mathematics, and especially geometry, can hardly be understood. He points out that, by his own invention, he has been able to remedy this, so that diagrams can now be printed “as easily as letters.” These diagrams have traditionally been identified as woodcuts (BMC, GW), but it seems much more probable that they were in fact cast in typemetal. Euclid’s Elements is the only writing of classical antiquity to have a continuous history of textbook use from the pre-Christian era to the 20th century. Sir Thomas Heath, editor of the standard modern edition, remarked, “No work presumably, except the Bible, has had such a reign; and future generations will come back to it again and again as they tire of the variegated substitutes for it, and the confusion arising from their bewildering multiplicity.”
Chancery folio (305 × 207 mm), 137 unnumbered leaves, without the final blank. Old vellum boards panelled in gilt, skilfully rebacked to match. Housed in a flat back cloth solander box made by The Chelsea Bindery. White-on-black woodcut border and red printed headline to a2r, white-on-black woodcut initials, geometric typemetal marginal diagrams throughout. First two lines of a2r (printed in red) follow BMC’s transcription for the copy at IB.20513; line 45 of o8r has the corrected setting of the text: “culi prostrati sed non sunt adinuicem equales. hoc aut scies si perpendiculares a” – cf. Curt M. Bühler, “A typographical error in the editio princeps of Euclid”, ‘Gb Jb’ (1966), p. 102-104. Sig. a1 extended at top margin and with skilful repair to central vertical tear without loss, minor worming to first four quires and from sig. n3 to end (mostly a single hole at end); toning and light spotting to early and late leaves, a few small spots to contents, else clean and bright; overall, a very good copy.
Bibliography: HC 66793*; GW 9428; Proctor 4383*; BMC V 285; PMM 25; Sander 2605; Goff E-113.Don't understand our descriptions? Try reading our Glossary