Classic erotic poems, with the first edition of the commentaries by a renowned gay scholar

Catullus, Gaius Valerius. [Carmina]. Catullus, et in eum commentarius M. Antonii Mureti.

Venice, Paulus Manutius Aldus, 1554.

Small 8vo (155 x 100 mm). (4), 134 (but: 136), (2) ff. With Aldus's woodcut anchor and dolphin device on the title-page, repeated on the verso of the otherwise blank final leaf, and spaces with guide letters left for two 5-line and about sixty 3-line manuscript initials (not filled in). Set in an Aldine italic (with upright capitals) with occasional words (mostly names) in roman and frequent passages in Greek. Gold-tooled mottled calf (ca. 1700?), sewn on 5 supports (vellum tapes?), each board with a frame made with a 2 mm roll, the spine with a gold-tooled red morocco label in the 2nd of 6 compartments but otherwise decorated as a single field filled with a 7 mm roll of diagonal lines (the bands on the spine are nearly flat), gold-tooled board edges, headbands in brown and beige, dark brown ribbon marker, marbled endpapers (Dutch pattern, curled, close to Wolfe 12), red edges.


First edition to include Muret's important and influential commentaries, of the poems of the passionate (if self-centred) Roman poet Catullus (84 - ca. 54 BCE), often given the collective title Carmina. Both the poems and the commentaries appear here in the original Latin. Although the poems are not numbered and there is no table of contents, Muret's present edition established the order for the numbering from 1 to 116 that remains in use, even though poems 18-20 are now usually omitted as false attributions and a few are sometimes divided into two poems distinguished with "a" and "b". Poems 18 and 19 are addressed to the fertility god Pirapus, best known for his enormous perpetual erection, and poem 20 is also a Priapeia. Among the 113 poems universally accepted as authentic, many are addressed to "Lesbia", whom Catullus passionately loved. He gave her this pseudonym in allusion to the Greek love poems of Sappho from the Island of Lesbos, which influenced him strongly. She is generally identified as Clodia, the wife of a Roman nobleman. Catullus was one of her several lovers and he names and rails against some of the others. While Catullus's greatest passions were heterosexual, poems 48, 50 and 99 express romantic and sexual interests in men. In his poems he is quick to attack others, both politically and personally, and after he fell out with two male friends he wrote poem 16, threatening to sexually abuse them.

Catullus' poems, with the exception of poem 62, survive only in corrupt manuscripts from the 1360s or later, so establishing their texts remains a difficult task today. De Spira at Venice published the first edition in 1472 and Muret generally follows the order established in by the 1490s, though with some additions. The scholarly editions by Statius (1566) and Scaliger (1577) follow his order and at least the latter includes many of his notes. Skinner notes that they were "better text critics than Muret and less interesting commentators". Paulus Manutius produced a second edition with Muret's commentaries in 1558.

The French humanist Marc-Antoine Muret (1526-85), recognised as a brilliant scholar in his teens, taught at Paris from 1551, when he published his first book there. Accused of being a Huguenot and a homosexual, he had to flee Paris in late 1553 but Aldus Manutius's son Paulus, who had taken charge of the family's Venice printing office, offered him shelter. The present book was Muret's first publication in Venice, with his preliminary note date 15 October 1554. He was well-versed in Greek and first pointed out that Catullus modelled poem 51 (to Lesbia) on a poem by Sappho, inserting the original Greek in his commentary. He also sometimes inserts poems he wrote himself.

With minor damage to the lower outside corner of the first few leaves, not approaching the text, but still in very good condition. The hinges are slightly worn and the spine label has a small chip, but the binding is otherwise also very good. A seminal edition of Catullus's passionate and often erotic poems, especially important as the first edition of his extensive and important commentaries.

Adams C 1145. Edit 16, 10364. Gay/Lemonnyer I, 498. Renouard 162. Marilyn Skinner, Companion to Catullus, passim. USTC 821188.