Cicero on Good and Evil


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Cicero on Good and Evil: A Classical Manuscript from the Niccolini Library in Humanistic Minuscule


Cicero, De finibus bonorum et malorum. Single folio on vellum. Italy, probably Veneto, allegedly dated 1463: 252 mm x 179 mm (justification, 156 mm x 97 mm). The Venetian origin is complicated by the parent manuscript’s early sixteenth-century provenance in the Niccolini Library, Florence, but surviving until modern times in an original Venetian binding. On balance, the Venetian original seems likelier. Otto F. Ege deduced a date of 1463, but none of the auction or dealer records confirms this date. It seems very specific, and two other leaves are known to bear the dates 1456 and 1466. Yet the decade of the 1460s seems entirely plausible for the production of our manuscript. Both folios are lightly ruled in diluted ink. Single column, 28 lines. Undecorated, but with infrequent litterae notabiliores. Recto foliated “61” in the upper right in modern pencil, while both recto and verso are foliated “61r, 61v” in the lower outside margins in modern pencil. Elegantly written in Humanistic Minuscule, which is quite possibly identifiable.

 Text: De finibus was Cicero’s major philosophical work, and in it he critiques Epicureanism, Stoicism and Platonism. The work was immensely popular in the Italian Renaissance and widely copied. The edition cited here is H. Rackham, Cicero: De finibus bonorum et malorum (London, 1914), repr. in the Loeb Classical Library: book IV, §2 <insti>tutio … §3 ipsa que tu (pp. 302-8). Cicero critiques the generation of Platonists following Plato, Speusippus, Aristotle and Xenocrates, especially Zeno. “What a vast amount they have written on politics and on jurisprudence! How many precepts of oratory have they left us in their treatises, and how many examples in their discourses!” … “in themes demanding ornate and dignified treatment, how brilliant, how imposing is their diction!”

Provenance: Our manuscript has a rich and storied provenance. The parent manuscript has been traced to the Niccolini Library in Florence, the property of Angelo Niccolini (d. 1567) according to an inscription: “Angeli Nicholini Dec. Do. Laurentii et Amicorum.” It also once bore a Niccolini Library stamp. Angelo Niccolini was archbishop of Pisa and later Cardinal under Pope Pius IV. It re-appeared in the nineteenth century, in three catalogues of Payne and Foss, London, the latest being February 1830 no. 1111, whence it was acquired by Sir Thomas Phillipps (d. 1872). Sold by the Phillipps heirs at Sotheby’s, 17 May 1897 lot 198, then again by the new owner at Sotheby’s, 25 July 1900 lot 1132. It entered the collection of the American Preston A. Perry and was auctioned in New York on 21 April 1908 lot 269. It was acquired afterwards by Coella Lindsay Ricketts (d. 1941) and then by Otto F. Ege, the Cleveland bookseller, who dated it 1463. Ege broke it up. Selling individual leaves for $2 from at least 1944. His daughter Elizabeth Ege Freudenheim sold these folios and others at Sotheby’s, 26 November 1985 lot 79.

Condition: Excellent, lightly soiled, crease in lower margin; small natural hole in the vellum; slight evidence of Japanese tissue mount in extreme inner margins.

PRICE: $1650

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