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Titus Maccius Plautus (c. 250-184 BC)

Plautus integer / cum interpretatione Joannis Baptistae Pii. 1500

29.4 x 21.5 x 5.1 cm (book measurement (conservation)) | RCIN 1057309

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This incunable is an early edition of the comedies of Plautus. These plays, first performed in the second century BC, are the earliest surviving examples of Latin literature, and their use of themes originating in works by authors such as Aristophanes, clearly demonstrates the influence of Greek literature on Roman playwrights.

This volume is useful in illustrating the history of the book, both in its printing, and through its binding. The book was printed at Milan by Ulrich Scinzenzeler in 1500. Scinzenzeler's printing follows the styles used by early printers, consciously imitating manuscript texts by placing the core text in the centre of the page with commentary arranged around it. However, because early printers did not use standardised typefaces, Scinzenzeler's use of Greek type in the text is different from that of his contemporaries, particularly Aldus Manutius in Venice. Scinzenzeler's type, likely purchased from acquaintances of the scholar Demetrios Chalkokondyles, is more legible than those of Manutius, who adapted the manuscript Greek of his associates in Venice. 

The book is not in its original binding. This was replaced when the volume came into the possession of Charles II from the library of the book-collector John Morris who has helpfully signed the title page  following the Restoration in 1660. The binding proudly displays the Royal cypher of Charles II: two addorsed Cs surmounted by a crown and bordered by palm leaves. The initials "I.M." can be found at the bottom of the spine. These were added when the book was presented to the nation with the rest of the Old Royal Library in 1757. Printers' waste can also be seen underneath the pastedowns inside both the front and the back board, giving some indication as to how the book was re-bound in the seventeenth century.

Contemporary binding of red goatskin with triple-fillet border to central panel, with cipher of Charles II (a crowned pair of addorsed Cs between pair of palm fronds) to each corner, spine in seven panels with I.M. [John Morris] at the bottom of the spine, lettered in the second with the rest with the crowned cipher of Charles II, all edges gilt. Printers waste is visible inside and linings on both boards.

  • Creator(s)

    Titus Maccius Plautus (c. 250-184 BC) (author)

    Giovanni Battista Piu (editor)

    Ulrich Scinzenzeler (active 1477-1500) (printer)

  • 29.4 x 21.5 x 5.1 cm (book measurement (conservation))

  • Purchased by Charles II as part of the library of John Morris (d. 1658), the first major acquisition to the Old Royal Library at St James's Palace following the Restoration in 1660. Presented to the nation by George II and sold as a duplicate by the British Museum in 1788 (Lot no. 4213), where it was purchased by Michael Wodhull (1740-1816) for 11s. The book was later acquired for the Royal Library during the reign of Queen Victoria.

    • Language, Linguistics and Literature
      • Literature
        • Classical literatures
          • Classical Latin literature
        • Drama
          • Comedies