Einsiedeln, Switzerland: Henrico Ebersbach, 1694. Octavo, measuring 6.5 x 4 inches: , 127, . Eighteenth-century Italian binding, three strips of vellum per board hand-painted with ornaments in black and gold around a central window of red and gold marbled paper, manuscript shelf label in black ink on spine, matching yellow, green, and pink ornamented spotted endpapers. Additional ink shelf mark on verso of second fly leaf. Old paper strip, covering an ownership inscription, and engraved bookplate mounted to half-title. Eighteen pages for notes (blank) added by binder at rear. Some bowing to boards, faint soiling, and light toning to spine.
First polyglot edition in vernacular languages of the Stoic classic Enchiridion, in an unusual early Italian painted vellum binding. Born a slave, and crippled early in life, Epictetus gained his freedom in Rome and moved to the Adriatic coast, where he opened a school of philosophy. His sayings were collected by his student Arrian, and edited into the handbook of moral philosophy known as the Enchiridion. Epictetus understood philosophy as an active pursuit, more difficult than the abstract exercise of logic: “Do you think that you can act as you do, and be a philosopher? . . . You must watch, you must labor, you must get the better of certain appetites, must quit your acquaintance, be despised by your servant, be laughed at by those you meet” (Carter translation). Epictetus's emphasis on self-knowledge and self-discipline greatly impressed the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, who quotes him at length in the Meditations, and his philosophy was read across Renaissance Europe, inspiring the Neostoicism movement and influencing the likes of Pascal and Descartes. While editions of the Enchiridion appeared in many languages, this is the first edition to contain multiple vernacular languages in a single publication: Spanish, German, Italian, and French. W.A. Oldfather, in Contributions toward a Bibliography of Epictetus, describes this polyglot edition as “extremely rare” (560). This copy is from the library of eighteenth-century Milanese collector Marquise Luigi Sylva, whose books are immediately identifiable by the exuberant hand-painting of their custom vellum bindings. While hand-painted vellum bindings were popular in eighteenth-century England and France, those from Sylva’s library provide some of the rare surviving Italian examples from the period. A wonderful example of an important vernacular edition in a vernacular binding.