Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Finding Something Never Lost: A "Ghost" Edition of Ovid

Typically, references to “ghost” editions indicate the absence of a physical book. The volume appears in letters, auction catalogs, library checklists, or the footnotes of other works, but its tangible existence still eludes the bibliographer. This edition, however, is the reverse; we have the book in hand, with a clear colophon and a shred of provenance, and yet it has left no trace in the abstract bibliographic record. I undertook research on the volume, in the hopes of illuminating some as-yet feature that would contextualize it more solidly, but the “ghost” edition is, in fact, a ghost. What I accomplished instead was some strenuous exercise of my bibliographic toolkit for early modern books, a comforting return to my academic roots in Classical literature, and a few more drops of information on the volume itself.

The book contains two of Ovid’s later works, the Heroides and Ibis, each with accompanying commentary. Alongside the Heroides, as usual for such renderings of the period, appear Angelo Sabino’s letters, in which he posed as Ovid’s poetic friend Sabinus. The volume is consistently formatted as a folio in sixes, except for the final gathering of four. The pagination is sloppy, both in structure and typography. Of 94 folios, only the first forty-two are foliated, and of those, the foliation statement is: 1-22, 24 [23], 23 [24], 25-36, [37], 38, [39-40], 41, 43 [42]. The printer prefers “Y” to “V”, and sticks with an uppercase set until page thirty-one, at which point he starts to mix upper and lower cases. New chapters in both the main text and in the surrounding commentary begin with wood-block initials, except for the start of Ibis, which is missing its decorated “T”. The running headers are entirely in uppercase until near the end of Hermione’s letter to Orestes, at which point they follow normal capitalization rules for proper nouns. The text is in an anonymous sort of Roman type, with the title in Gothic.

Overall, the book appears to represent the work of a somewhat adept printer, who had little taste for frills and less for consistency. The colophon attributes the edition to “Caligulam Bacielerium Civem Bononiensem”, or Caligola Bazalieri of Bologna, thanks to VIAF authority records. Bazalieri was active form 1490 to 1512, and thus this volume, printed in 1501, marks the midpoint of his career. Bazalieri’s brother, Bazaliero Bazalieri, was also a printer, and the two adopted similar styles. We have suggested that Caligola Bazalieri’s version of the Heroides mirrors an earlier edition printed by his brother, but since Caligola was also an author and translator, the attribution is murky. Seventeen of Bazalieri’s supposed forty-two editions are known only through bibliographies, making the possession of one at all, and especially one unrecorded, particularly rare. Bazalieri’s significance to the history of the book comes not from the Classical or religious literature that comprises most of his body of work, but from his printing of Buovo di Antonia, a medieval romance originating in the British Isles. Bazalieri’s 1497 edition of the text is believed to be the source of the edition printed a short time later by Elye Bokher, which was the first non-religious book to be printed in Yiddish (Rosenzweig, 29).

The book’s other foothold is in its provenance. A penciled library inscription attributes the volume to the library of the Durazzo family, particularly the avid collector Giacomo Filippo Durazzo III, and indicates that it was bound by Carlo Zehe. These two statements make sense together; Zehe was Durazzo’s legatore di fiducia, or trusted personal bookbinder, and his name is scattered throughout Alberto Petrucciani’s catalog of Durazzo’s collection of incunabula (Petrucciani 1984, 301). Durazzo amassed a vast collection of books and other natural and cultural curiosities, which he eventually housed in a private villa called “Cornigliano” and displayed as a sort of museum. In keeping with the fashion of the time, Durazzo at one point asked for all his incunabula to be washed of marginalia (Jensen, 153). Thus, while the 1501 imprint on this particular volume has probably kept it just barely out of a catalog, it also saved the black and brown hand-written annotations that fall on many of its pages. Though the book is bound in a style not uncommon to Zehe – quarter red morocco with red morocco tips and light red paper over boards and gilt work to the spine – there are no clear marks of provenance. There are some shelf marks on the endpapers, but otherwise the volume is anonymous and attributing it to the Durazzo library is largely speculation. The book remains a tangible ghost.


Jensen, Kristian. Revolution and the Antiquarian Book: Reshaping the Past, 1780-1815. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

Petrucciani, Alberto. "Bibliofili e Librai nel Settecento: La Formazione della Biblioteca Durazzo (1776-1783)." Atti della Societa Ligure di Storia Patria 24 (98) Fasc. 1. Genoa, 1984.

-----. "Gli Incunaboli della Biblioteca Durazzo." Atti della Societa Ligure di Storia Patria 28 (102) Fasc. 2. Genoa, 1988.

Rosenzweig, Claudia. Buovo d'Antona by Elye Bokher. A Yiddish Romance: A Critical Edition with Commentary. BRILL, 2015.

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