A Fine Venetian Incunabulum

Horace [Horatius Flaccus, Quintus.] (65-8 B.C.)

Opera [Edited and with a commentary by Cristoforo Landino]

Venice: Joannes and Gregorius de Gregoriis, 17 May, 1483


SECOND EDITION WITH LANDINO’S COMMENTARY. [The editio princeps was printed ca. 1471, also at Venice.]

Bound in contemporary quarter calf over quarter-sawn wooden boards with expert repairs to the spine. There is a small metal attachment for a now-lost clasp. This is an almost spotless copy with only a light ink smudge on leaf x5v. The margins are broad, the paper crisp, and the text is rubricated in red and blue throughout. There are some contemporary marginal notes and interlinear glosses. Beautiful. Provenance: There is a contemporary or near-contemporary ownership inscription and an old institutional stamp of the Herzoglicher S. Meiningischer Bibliothek both on the blank recto of the first leaf.

The works of Horace with the commentary of the celebrated Renaissance humanist Cristoforo Landino (1424-1498), tutor to Lorenzo and Giuliano de Medici and member of Marsilio Ficino’s Florentine academy. His literary skills were wide-ranging and his edition of the “Commedia” marked a watershed in Dante criticism. Landino’s was the first humanist commentary to be written on Horace’s poems.

“Horace as the poet of serene balance, of detachment from passion, of moderation: this image is deeply rooted. And the traditional image, in this case as in others, is quite close to the truth. It leads us to sense, first of all, the central role that thought and philosophical culture plays in Horatian lyric. Here it is natural to think of the poet of the Satires and the assimilation, through the diatribe tradition, of concepts and problems of the Hellenistic schools of philosophy; this feature renders Horace’s pronouncements substantially different from those of early Greek lyric.

Nonetheless, it is no more than a genuine moral inquiry based on the critical observation of others. In a certain sense one may say that the Odes begin where the Satires leave off, with a thoughtful meditation upon a few fundamental achievements of philosophy, Epicurean philosophy in particular. These basic notions, which, to be sure, also owe something to common sense, receive from Horace a formulation that is so clear and incisive that they have become part of the European cultural heritage, which has often drawn upon Horace’s poetry as a storehouse of maxims.

"The cardinal point is the awareness of the brevity of life, which implies the need to take the joys of the moment, without getting lost in the fruitless concerns over hopes, ambitions, and fears. The exhortation to Leuconoe is the most famous of all:

‘Sapias, vina liques, et spatio brevi spem longam reseces. Dum loquimur, fugerit invidi aetas: carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero.’


‘Be wise, strain the wine; and since time is brief, reduce lengthy hope. While we are speaking, envious life will have fled: seize the day, and do not trust to tomorrow.’[I.II.6 ff.]


"The wise man will deal with events as they are and be able to accept them. He relies on the present alone, which he seeks to capture in its flight, and he acts as if each day of life were his last. The ‘carpe diem’ therefore, should not be misunderstood as a banal invitation to pleasure; in Horace, as also in Epicurus, the invitation to pleasure is not separate from the keen awareness that the pleasure itself is fleeting, as human life is fleeting. The only possibility is to erect, against the imminence of death or misfortune, the solid protection of possessions already enjoyed, happiness already experienced." (Conte, "Latin Literature, A History")

Goff H 448; GW 13459; BMC , V 339