De situ orbis.

Venice: in the house of Aldus and Andrea Torresani, November 1516 Stock Code: 142408
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Fine Greek printing in black and red; the Macclesfield copy

Editio princeps, that is, the first edition in the original Greek, of the first attempt at a unified treatise of geographical knowledge, which is "by far the most important source for ancient geography, a priceless document of the Augustan age, and a compendium of important material derived from lost authors" (Oxford Classical Dictionary, p. 1447).

The Greek geographer, philosopher, and historian Strabo (64/63 BCE - c.24 CE) studied philosophy in Nysa and Rome, where he became a Stoic through the influence of Augustus' teacher Athenodorus, before travelling widely across the Roman Empire. He journeyed to Egypt and Kush, as far west as coastal Tuscany and as far south as Ethiopia in addition to his travels in Asia Minor.

Strabo relied in part on the work of the first systematic geographer, Erastothenes (3rd century BCE), whose writings are now lost. Strabo relied on other Greek sources but paid scant attention to recent Roman records and probably had poor Latin, despite the generally agreed assumption that he wrote his Geography in Rome under the emperor Tiberius for an intended Roman readership. His descriptions of the Mediterranean regions, Asia Minor, and Egypt are excellent, while those of Gaul, Britain, and Greece are weaker (the latter may have been due to his excessive veneration of Homer, whose authority he extended to geography).

Following Erastothenes, Strabo presented the world as a single ocean-girt landmass on the northern half of a sphere, immobile within a revolving universe. He "devoted much attention to the forces that had formed the oikoumene inhabited land... Strabo suggested that some islands were torn from the mainland by earthquakes, while others (including Sicily) were thrown up by volcanic action. He gave examples of both local and widespread land subsidence and alluded to the uprising of seabeds with consequent flooding; he further described the silting of rivers that form alluvial plains and deltas" (DSB).

Among other points of interest, Strabo is one of the key witnesses to the history of the Arabs in antiquity. His text preserves material including explicit quotations from books now lost, notably the History of Posidonius of Apamaea. Posidonius was a native of Syria and evidently had first-hand information about the Arabs in that country. "The passages in Strabo explicitly and implicitly from Posidonius give a surprisingly detailed picture of the ethnic conditions in Syria and Northern Mesopotamia The information about the Arabs may serve as a suitable basis for conclusions and a summary of the history of the Arabs in the Middle East on the eve of the Roman conquest of Syria" (Retsö, 351).

The work was not generally known until the fifth century but came to be the standard geographical reference work during the Middle Ages. The Latin translation of Guarinus Veronensis was first published at Rome in 1469. Strabo's notion that India could be reached by travelling round the world to the west was put into practice by Christopher Columbus (Dueck, p. 153).

Not much is known about Benedictus Tyrrhenus (Benedetto Tirreno), the editor of this editio princeps. Marcus Musurus began its preparation; after his departure for Rome in October that year, Tirreno continued the work. His dedication of the edition to Alberto Pio, prince of Carpi, sought to maintain the close links between Carpi and the Aldine Press despite the death of Aldus in 1515.

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Folio (305 x 209 mm). Bound for the earls of Macclesfield in 19th-century red hard-grain morocco by Hatton of Manchester, gilt arms on covers, gilt edges. Later leather-entry slipcase, red moire cloth sides.


Woodcut Aldine device on title-page and final verso, headpieces, initial and titles to each book printed in red, Greek type.


First large initial drawn in brown and red ink, a few annotations in Greek. From the library of the Earls of Macclesfield, with armorial bookplate dated 1860; sale, Sotheby's, 15 March 2007, lot 3293. Leaves b6-c5 with some staining, creasing and a few marginal tears, other occasional light soiling, leaf m4 folded in at fore edge to preserve the Greek marginalia, showing the book to have been only lightly trimmed, the paper generally fresh, clean, and strong, an excellent copy.


Cataldi Palau 21; Edit16 37553; Renouard 1516/7; UCLA 149. D. Dueck, Strabo of Amasia, a Greek man of letters in Augustan Rome, 2014.


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