LASCARIS, Constantine (1434-1501). Erotemata, in Greek. Milan: Dionysius Paravisinus for Demetrius Damilas, 30 January 1476.
Median 4° (232 x 164mm). Collation: [14 2-710 812] (1/1-2 blank, 1/3r preface by Demetrius Damilas in Greek, 1/4r Demetrius's preface in Latin, 2/1r text, 8/11-12 blank). 76 leaves. 25 lines. Type: 1/117Gk (text), 2:118R (preface, colophon). Initial spaces with guide-letters, pinholes preserved at outer corners. 18th-century Latin title added in manuscript to the second blank leaf within ruled frame and with arms of the Catellini da Castiglioni family of Florence, occasional traces of early quiring. (Small stain at extreme lower inside corner of first quire, very small marginal stain on 3/10-4/1, small hole in first blank leaf.) 16th-century flexible buff paper boards, pastedowns from a 14th-century Rhineland philosophical manuscript on vellum, spine lettered in ink probably in the 18th century (very faint spotting), vellum quire guards, modern polished black calf solander box, spine lettered in gilt. Provenance: Catellini da Castiglioni family of Florence (arms on 18th-century MS title); Walter Ashburner (armorial stamps); John Alfred Spranger (1889-1968, cf. Desmond Gill, 'John Alfred Spranger: Portrait of a Bibliophile', The Book Collector, Summer 1984, pp.179-188, sale Sotheby's, 21 November 1989, lot 36).
ONE OF THE FINEST COPIES OF THE FIRST EDITION of Lascaris' important Greek grammar and the 'FIRST ENTIRELY GREEK BOOK PRINTED' (Proctor p.7). Prefixed to Lascaris' text is a preface by Demetrius Damilas, in which he discusses his reasons for publishing the book and the difficulties he encountered in creating the type, namely the joining of letters and the placing of accents. Demetrius overcame these difficulties through abutting letters and kerning, and casting accented sorts. Demetrius worked as a professional scribe, but based the type not on his own hand, but on that of Michael Apostolis. Proctor considered it 'the first type of genuinely Hellenic character', influential well beyond the number of editions printed with it. The type was used again by Bonus Accursius to print Crastonus's Lexicon and an edition of Aesop (see lot 38), and its matrices supplied the type, with some revisions and additions, for the great 1488 editio princeps of Homer. The significance of the Greek printing of the Erotemata was recognised even by contemporaries, and Politian commemorated it in epigrams on the printer and type-designer, which were published in his Opera in 1498. Bonus Accursius praised Lascaris' text as a 'divinum opus' when he reprinted it in 1480.
Lascaris was a Greek scribe and scholar, who fled Constantinople when it fell to the Turks in 1453. In Italy he entered the service of Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan, as tutor to the duke's daughter, Ippolita. Lascaris wrote the Erotemata for his illustrious pupil, and an autograph manuscript of the work written about 1460-65 with a dedication to her is preserved at the Bibliothèque Nationale. On Ippolita's marriage to the King of Naples in 1465 Lascaris left Milan, going first to Naples on the advice of her husband, and finally settling at Messina in Sicily. Lascaris' reputation as a teacher was wide-spread and attracted distinguished pupils such as the future Cardinal Pietro Bembo. It was Bembo who brought a copy of the grammar, annotated and amended by Lascaris himself, to Aldus Manutius to print as the very first publication of the Aldine press.
THE PRESENT COPY IS PARTICULARLY FINE AND IS IN A NEAR-PERFECT STATE OF PRESERVATION. It retains its original forwarding, and thus is a rare example of a 15th-century binding structure sewn without supports. Stab holes still visible in the first and final quires are evidence of its earliest wrappers, and the present covers were attached probably in the mid-16th century. It is a large, extremely fresh copy with strong impressions. Cf. Proctor, Printing of Greek, p.51-59; N. Barker, Greek Script and Type, pp.37ff; HC 9920; BMC VI, 731 (IB. 26274-76); CIBN L-47; IGI 5690; Goff L-65.