[Augsburg], Anton Sorg, 3 September 1477.


FIRST EDITION. Folio, 368 unsigned leaves (of 370, lacking the title leaf and the blank. The title consists of five lines with no other decorative printing and it appears on the verso of the initial leave, whereas the recto is blank). Roman letter. Large woodcut Maiblumen initial opening the text (Prologus), woodcut outline initials, partly rubricated. The register is here bound at the end, other copies in public libraries have it at the beginning. Some light waterstaining on a few initial and final leaves; repaired small tears at foot of first leave of the prologue, towards gutter, and at last 5 leaves, a few leaves with ink stains in lower margin. Contemporary blindstamped calf over wooden boards. Lacking clasps, spine somewhat rubbed, headcap chipped. Notwithstanding the missing title leaf, this is a wide-margined and generally very clean first edition of a famous incunable with long annotations throughout in a neat and fine contemporary hand. Some short marginalia in red ink and other brief early annotations (some of which later and in pencil), and maniculae by other hands. An excellent copy. 

“Wrongly attributed to Berengarius de Landora [Archbishop of Santiago de Compostela (circa 1262-1330)]. The text is also treated as anonymous (Goff) or found under the editor’s name” (ISTC ib00341400). Nevertheless, it has been variously attributed to Berengarius, Godfrey of Vorau, John XXII. This is the first incunabular edition of this compendium of natural and moral philosophy. The brief description on the title page – here lacking – informs the reader that it is “a very fine book, called The Light of the Soul, discussing great topics of moral and natural philosophy”.

The book first includes a short prologue followed by a text divided in 74 headings. In this part of the book, a long annotation is placed besides the discussion of the Christian Holy Ghost, symbolised by the white dove, as corresponding to the Neoplatonic interpretation of the hypostasis as light, which is the essential subtile substance unifying the whole universe; here described as the sweet, loving and edifying divine light, or fire. The reference in the text is to the philosopher Calcidius’ C4th translation into Latin of Plato’s Timaeus. Some shorter marginalia comment heading 14, on the vice of sloth, with reference to the behaviour of turtles and salamanders, which were used as examples for imparting moral teachings. There are other annotations regarding the nature of atoms and Avicebron’s stance on the topic in his book The Origin of Life.

After the initial part, it follows a variant of a work called the Psychomachia, literally “battle of the soul”, written by Prudentius in C4th, which profoundly influenced the allegorical depiction of man’s moral conflict as a battle between personified virtues and vices. This later variant, also called the Etymachia (“battle over the re-establishment of the original truth”), is referred to in the title as the De septem apparitoribus (ca.1332) (“On the seven apparitors”, i.e. “magistrates” or “ecclesiastical court officers”). It is an anonymous preacher’s handbook that appeared both independently and as part of the present encyclopaedic work. This text, in the present book, has scattered annotations and nicely rubricated initials with the names of the seven deadly sins also written in elegant red ink on the margins. Lack of annotations seems to reveal less interest in the following virtues. Pride is described as the greatest of the sins, given that it was pride that sentenced Lucifer to become the Devil. Peacocks and lions are taken as leading examples of pride in nature. The former strive to be admired for the beauty of their tail, the latter take pride in being the ruler of the forest.

After this second part, the book includes an alphabetical index of the topics illustrated in it and, then, it goes on to discuss at length quotations from the Church Doctors and the Professors of the Orthodox Faith, supporting their various arguments with the authority of ancient poets and orators. There are 167 headings of paraphrased quotations listed in alphabetical order. Among the most important thinkers discussed, one can find Aristotle, Theophrastus, the elder Pliny, Ptolemy, Solinus, Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome, Isidore, Hugh of St Victor, and Avicenna, to name but a few. This C14th collection of exempla was mainly used for the composition of sermons. An elegant and extensive annotation comment on the section 90, which concerns Faith and its infinite curative and beneficial effects on man, based on Saint Augustine’s authority. To a much minor extent, attention was bestowed by an early reader on a passage on hypocrisy and simulation regarding equity, which becomes a “double iniquity”.

The longest, and most beautifully written, marginal annotation adorns the section devoted to Wisdom, which is the “eye of the heart” and “the greatest possession” above all other material belongings, or intellectual sharpness and achievements, according to Alain de Lille. At the end of this third part is the explicit where one learns about the printer and the circumstances of the printing of this work, followed by the statement of the editor, who was the monk Matthias Farinator (fl.1472-80), and several leaves of table of contents. 

Provenance: In 1646, this copy entered the library of the Society of Jesus in Burckhausen, Bavaria, as stated on the top of the first leaf.

H *10329; GW M16911; BMC II 344; Bod-inc B-159; BSB-Ink L-286; ISTC ib00341400; Goff L-393.