Three editions of Cicero side by side

Last month, we used the IIIF image-viewing tool Mirador to compare Bodleian and Vatican Ashkenazi Pentateuchs, finding differences and similarities in appearance and content between the two manuscripts. Today we're doing the same with three incunable editions of Cicero's Epistolae ad familiares, all printed in Italy, in three different cities and by three different printers, over a span of ten years.

 

        Inc.III.1, the first printed edition of the text, printed by Sweynheym and Pannartz in Rome, 1467

        Inc.II.2, the second edition, printed by Johannes de Spira in Venice, 1469

        Auct. O inf. 1.41, printed by Philippus de Lavagnia in Milan, c.1476

 

A fourth edition printed in 1480 has also been digitized by the Bodleian.

 

The three volumes in question can be seen side by side here:

 

[See these in a horizontal rather than a vertical grid]

 

The most obvious difference is that the first page of the 1467 edition (left) has been elaborately decorated. Furthermore, while all three editions leave space for painted initials at the beginning of each letter, the initials have only been added (in red) in the 1467 edition; in the other two editions, the space is blank. It appears that the buyer of the 1467 edition was willing to spend a little more on decoration than the buyers of the other two editions.

 

The 1467 and 1476 editions are quartos (31 and 36 lines per page, respectively), while the 1469 edition (middle) is a larger folio (41 lines per page). Due to its small size, the 1467 edition contains the most folios (246 vs. 136 and 178), but its text block itself is visibly more compact. The lines appear slightly closer together than in the other editions, and there is heavier use of abbreviative sigla in the place of common letters or syllables. Compare, for example, the first sentence in each: in the 1467 edition we see four abbreviations in the first sentence, versus two in the 1469 edition and only one in the 1476 edition. This density of sigla continues throughout the volume, a factor that--combined with the slightly curved and irregular typeface--makes this edition more difficult for the modern reader. (Astute readers will notice that the text also differs slightly between the three versions, with frequent variations in the order of words; for example, in the second sentence, "in tua causa efficio" versus "in causa tua efficio".)

 

All three editions bear the marks of early readers. The 1467 edition contains one or two marginal notes, very faint running book titles ("Liber Primus", "Liber Secundus", etc.) at the top of each page, and occasional section headings in faint red ink.

 

Inc.III.1 fol. 13rInc.III.1 fol. 36v
Inc.III.1, fols. 2r and 13r

 

The 1469 edition has been more heavily annotated in the margins, and it also contains section headings in brown ink.

 

Inc.II.2 fol. 3r
Inc.II.2, fol. 3r

 

The 1476 edition is the only one of these three in which the section headings were actually printed rather than written in later. The Bodleian's copy of this edition appears to have been well-used; it contains marginal and interlinear annotations on nearly every page, with the occasional manicule to draw attention to a key line. 

 

Auct. O inf. 1.41 fol. [a6]r
Auct. O inf. 1.41, fol. [a6]r

 

The Bodleian copy contains one more interesting feature. In addition to the main Latin text, Cicero's letters contain a number of Greek words. The 1467 edition preceded the first use of Greek type in Italy by several years, however. The printers of all three of these editions of Cicero (and of the 1480 edition as well) left out the Greek letters entirely, simply providing empty spaces where rubricators or readers could write in the Greek text. The Bodleian's copy of the 1476 edition is the only one where a reader actually bothered to do it, however, as can be seen here:

 

 

While both libraries have digitized several Greek incunabula (for example, Emanuel Chrysoloras' Erotemata, in Greek with a Latin translation, printed c.1475), it wasn't until the end of the 15th century that the Venetian printer Aldus Manutius began printing extensively in Greek, producing popular editions of classical texts.

 

For more information on these editions, see the Incunable Short Title Catalogue and Bod-Inc.