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Title page of Commandino's Italian translation of Euclid's Elements, 1575. Photo ID RB-E1575-1


In the News

Old, new, rare, and mostly Italian

Recently two 16th-century translations of Euclid's Elements were supplemented by a third, the work of the Italian scholar Federico Commandino of Urbino, from 1575. Italian was the first vernacular language into which Euclid was translated.

Commandino, described as the most competent mathematician among all Renaissance translators, produced his Italian text from Greek editions. His rival, Nicolas Tartaglia, who takes the prize for the first Italian Euclid (1565), relied on earlier Latin versions. Between these two Italian editions appeared the first English translation of Euclid, by Henry Billingsley (London, 1570). The Archives holds all three early translations.

Giordano Bruno (1548-1600), the Italian Renaissance philosopher who was ultimately burned as a heretic by the Roman Inquisition, is the author of another recent acquisition, the De monade numero et figura (On the Monad, Number and Figure). This work is part of the trilogy of Latin verse works published in Frankfurt in 1591 and considered to be Bruno's philosophical testament. In the De monade Bruno discusses Pythagorean number symbolism and the meanings of the numbers 1 to 10. The Archives' copy was originally part of the personal library of the great rare book collector and historian of medicine Walter Pagel. In his important study of William Harvey (William Harvey's Biological Ideas, 1967), Pagel links Brunos ideas on geometrical symbolism and the philosophy of circles to Harvey's discovery and observation of the circulation of the blood by the heart.

Shown above right: From Giordano Bruno's discussion of the properties of the number 5 in De monade, 1591, a diagram of the human hand. Photo ID RB-GB1591.

The Gregorian calendar is the theme of another valuable new book. A first edition, the work is by Ugolino Martelli (1519-1592) and was written in Italian but published in France in 1583. It is bound together with a very rare French work on the same subject, Briefve explication de l'an courant by Pierre de Belloy (1540?-1613). The Gregorian calendar, the accepted international civil calendar, was decreed by Pope Gregory XIII, after whom it was named, on 24 February 1582. Both the guide by Martelli and the work by Pierre de Belloy were published just after the decree.

The first two volumes of an English translation of the collection of scientific papers by the Swedish chemist Torbern Bergman (1735-1784), Opuscula Physica et Chemica, concludes the list of recently acquired rare books. Bergman was well known for his work on the chemistry of metals. This translation from the original Latin is by Edmund Cullen. It includes notes and illustrations by Cullen and was published in 1784 by J. Murray, London.

Shown above: Illustration of Torbern Bergman's chemical apparatus supplied by translator Edmund Cullen for an English audience, 1784. Bergman was professor at Uppsala. Photo ID RB-TB1784

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