PLATO (427?-347 B.C.). Opera que extant omnia, in Greek with Latin translation by Jean de Serres (1540-98). Edited by Henri Estienne II (1531-98). [Geneva:] Henri Estienne, 1578.
3 volumes in one, 2 (360 x 237mm). Printer's device (Schreiber 19) on title, ornamental initials, head- and tailpieces. Greek and Latin text in parallel columns, shoulder notes. (Small tear in one leaf affecting shoulder note, lightly browned, some spotting, heavy in one leaf.) Contemporary calf gilt, large arabesque central and corner ornaments, rebacked in 18th? century with calf, gilt-stamped with hatched leaf tools and rolls, red edges gilt (sides rubbed, some wear at extremities).
FIRST COMPLETE EDITION OF THE WORKS OF PLATO and one of the finest and most important books published by the scholar-printer, Henri Estienne II. Estienne prepared the Greek text himself, collating the Aldine edition of 1513, two Basel editions (1534 and 1566), and the Louvain edition of 1531 for the Laws, as well as manuscripts. Conforming to his high scholarly standards, he also commissioned a new Latin translation by Jean de Serres, which Estienne then edited and revised himself. Serres, a Protestant, also composed three dedicatory addresses, one for each of the three volumes, to Queen Elizabeth, James VI of Scotland (later James I) and the republic of Berne. 'For two centuries [Estienne's edition] remained the indispensable instrument of Platonic studies; to this day its pagination is universally accepted as the standard system of reference to the text of Plato' (Schreiber), with citations made according to the 'Stephanus' number.
Having been embraced by the Renaissance (indeed it was Ficino's Latin translation, made for Cosimo de' Medici, that Estienne replaced with Serres's) as a priscus theologus, Plato has maintained his pre-eminence among philosophers: 'it has been truly said that the germs of all ideas can be found in Plato' (PMM). His reputation was maintained in the Middle Ages, even in the absence of a manuscript of the original text, in part by St. Augustine, who praised Plato as perfect in three regards: moral, natural and rational (the passage from De civitate Dei is prominently reprinted by Estienne).
The lavish production of his Plato, along with his Thesaurus linguae graecae, published six years earlier, contributed to Estienne's financial ruin (cf. Schreiber). A HANDSOME COPY WITH ALL THE BLANKS, JOINED, UNUSUALLY, INTO ONE MONUMENTAL VOLUME. Adams P-1439; Renouard Estiennes pp.145-46; Schreiber Estiennes 201; PMM (1484/1485 edition).