Vergil, Aenied and Georgics, in Latin hexameter verse, 2 fragments of bifolia from a decorated manuscript on paper. Northern Germany (Rhineland, probably Cologne, Colmar or Wolbeck), c. 1466.
Substantial fragments of 2 bifolia, with sections of Georgics, book III and the opening lines of book 1 of the Aenied (that below a three-quarter length blank space, presumably left for large miniature, perhaps emulating an ancient exemplar: see K. Weitzmann, Late Antique and Early Christian Book Illumination, 1977, pls. 1-4, all from the Vatican Vergil, a codex of c. 400 which belonged to the humanist Pietro Bembo, and pl. 11, from the Roman Vergil, a fifth-century codex also now in the Vatican), as well as parts of books IV-V of the same with the argumentum for book V, each individual leaf once measuring c. 282 by c. 205mm., with losses at top of leaves removing some lines of text, and trimming to edges from reuse in a binding, single column, 25 lines in a skilled semi-humanist hand (written space 205 by 110mm.), another contemporary hand adding parts of Georgics, smaller semi-humanist script glossing the opening of the Aenied, initials touched in red, paragraph marks in red, one 2-line red initial in florid brushstrokes, remains of base of a large simple initial ‘I’ (opening “Interea medium Aeneas …”) with half-bauble mounted within its foot, watermark in centre of a leaf in each bifolium a match for Briquet 8567 (securely recorded in Colmar and Cologne in 1466, and Wolbeck in 1467), discolouration, slight offset from printed leaves running at right angle to direction of manuscript text, tears to top of leaves and paper there woolly in places, and small wormholes mostly in lower border, all concomitant with reuse in binding, but overall in fair and presentable condition.
Vergil (more properly Publius Vergilius Maro, 70 BC.-19 BC.) was the foremost Latin poet of the Roman Empire, and these fragments must be all that remains from a fine German-Renaissance copy of his greatest poetic works. The Aeneid is perhaps his finest work, and one of the fundamental texts of Western literature. He wrote it during the last years of his life, from 29-19 BC. for Emperor Augustus. The later biographical traditions relate that he recited books 2, 4 and 6 to the emperor personally, and that the last of those caused Octavia, the emperor’s sister, to swoon. It quickly was accepted as the national epic of the Roman Empire, relating the story of Aeneas the Trojan refugee and his struggles to fulfill his destiny and get to Italy – which in Roman mythology was the founding act of Rome. It remained unfinished on the sudden death of the author in 19 BC., and Augustus ordered the poet’s literary executors to disregard his wish that the work be burned, having them publish it instead with as few editorial changes as possible. The Georgics was probably composed in 37-29 BC. when the author was in the sway of Maecenas, Emperor Octavian’s great politician, and the work is dedicated to this statesman. It is on agriculture and the running of a farm (with books on raising crops and trees, livestock and horses, and beekeeping), an ideal and tranquil pursuit thought noble and instructive for Roman senators and politicians alike. The author is said to have taken turns with Maecenas reciting the work to Octavian on his return from defeating Antony and Cleopatra in the Battle of Actium in 31 BC. Together these two works form much of the bedrock of Latin poetry throughout Western history. As Reynolds states in the Texts and Transmissions volume (1983, p. 433), “Greatness of that order has its own destiny … No poet became the pastime of grammarians and commentators as soon or to such a degree; no other text, whether by accident or design, has reached us in manuscripts written in the lapidary script more appropriate to monuments of stone; no other author with a full-blooded medieval Vergil, Aenied and Georgics 57 transmission has a text which is so largely built on surviving ancient codices, as imposing as the monuments and ruins of Antiquity itself”. Ovid quotes and summarises the Aenied, Lucan engages closely with the same work, Silius Italicus was a devout admirer, Macrobius saw it as the summit of all human knowledge, and Statius in the epilogue to his Thebaid advises his own poem not to try to “rival the divine Aeneid, but follow afar and ever venerate its footsteps”. The Georgics drew a similar readership, and has been been credited with laying the foundations for all later didactic poetry. Moreover, other works of Vergil were interpreted as predicting the birth of Christ, and so he continued in readership throughout the Middle Ages, with medieval authors from the sixth century onwards too numerous to list here quoting and emulating his works. He was fundamental for the humanists from their earliest beginnings, and Dante made Vergil his guide in Hell and much of Purgatory in the Divine Comedy.