The First Aldine Dante

Dante Alighieri (1265-1321)

Le terze rime di Dante.

Venice: Aldus Manutius, August 1502


Octavo: 15 x 9.1 cm. 244 unnumbered leaves. Collation: a-z8, A-G8, H4. Leaf l2 is a blank.

FIRST ALDINE EDITION of Dante’s “Divine Comedy”.

Bound in late 18th-century light brown calf, richly gilt spine with five raised bands and gilt title, panels within triple gilt fillets, on the front panel is the name ‘Caifsottil’ in gilt, marbled endpapers, green silk bookmark, gilt edges. Restoration to gutter of title page, small round wormhole in the lower blank margin in the second half of the volume, not affecting the text. 18th c. bookplate of George Rainy.

This is the issue with the Aldine anchor and dolphin device on the final leaf. Quires a-c were also completely re-set, the present copy having the headline 'INFERNO' on a2r, and 'INF' in all the other leaves of these quires.

The edition – titled here simply “Le terze rime” – signals a linguistic restoration of the work and an important advance in the recovery of the original text.

The edition was carefully prepared by the Venetian patrician and humanist Pietro Bembo (1470-1547), who used as his primary source an authoritative mid-fourteenth-century manuscript taken from the library of his father Bernardo, which Boccaccio had sent as a gift to Petrarch between 1351 and 1353 (Biblioteca Vaticana, ms Vat. lat. 3199). The second identified source is the Landino edition of 1481, which had become the standard text of the “Commedia” by the end of the fifteenth century. According to Bembo’s own notes in the copy-text – now in the Vatican Library – the editorial work began on 6 July 1501 and was finished on 26 July 1502.

Aldus published the text in August 1502; it is assumed that Bembo sent the quires in sequence to the printer as he finished working on them. The Aldine Dante is quite different to all previous editions of the poem. For the first time the “Commedia” is set in italic type and printed in the easily portable octavo format, unencumbered by the extensive commentary which, from the Vindeliniana onwards, had always accompanied Dante’s cantiche in the earlier and larger format editions. The colophon is followed by Aldus’s warning against counterfeited editions, “Cautum est ne quis hunc impune imprimat, uendat ue librum nobis inuitis”.

De Batines, I, pp. 60-62; Mambelli, 17; Renouard, p. 34, no. 5; Ahmanson-Murphy, 59; Dionisotti-Orlandi, “Aldo Manuzio editore”, no. XXX; Adams, D-83; Gamba, 385