£500 For Sale

Vitae Excellentium Imperatorum [Lives of Excellent Commanders - 1704 edition (Latin), original ve...

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Oxfam Books & Music Islington

This is the only surviving work by Cornelius Nepos, and itself is only one volume of the larger "De Viris Illustribus," originally containing "descriptions of foreign and Roman kings, generals, lawyers, orators, poets, historians, and philosophers," in addition to this (thought to be complete) book of commanders and generals (imperatores). It appeared in the reign of Theodosius I, as the work of the grammarian Aemilius Probus, who presented it to the emperor with a dedication in Latin verse, claiming it as the work of his mother or father (the manuscripts vary) and his grandfather. Although the preface was addressed to "Atticus" when the work was supposedly dedicated to Theodosius, no one seemed to have doubted Probus's authorship. However, eventually, in a manuscript of Cicero's letters were found biographies of Cato and Atticus, apparently by a contemporary and friend of Atticus; the manuscript was headed 'E libro posteriore Cornelii Nepotis' ('from the last book of Cornelius Nepos'), and Dionysius Lambinus's edition of 1569 included a commentary demonstrating on stylistic grounds that the work must have been that of Nepos alone, and not Aemilius Probus. More recent scholarship agrees with Lambinus, but considers that Probus probably abridged the biographies when he added the verse dedication. Various prefaces to the text chart this fascinating history.

Cornelius Nepos (c. 110 BC–c. 25 BC) was a Roman biographer, born in Cisalpine Gaul not far from Verona. His simple style of writing has made him, in the UK at least, a standard choice for passages of unseen translation in Latin exams, from prep school, even up to degree level. Of his historical/biographical works, only the 'Vitae' survives.

Our book is in remarkably good condition for its age, bound in cream vellum which is very darkened and marked, but without any frank damage, apart from very slight lifting of the folded-in edge of the front cover. The vellum lacing is clearly visible on the spine, which is slightly creased at top & bottom, and has 'Cornel Nepos' in brown lettering near the top. Inside, the binding is firm with no loose pages; all pages are clean, but very browned generally. Endpapers are particularly badly affected. One or two small ink notations on pastedowns.

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