77 leaves (of 78, without the initial blank). 36 lines, semi-gothic type, three- & six-line initial spaces left blank. Small folio (268 x 193 mm.), 17th-cent. style vellum over boards (tear to leaf d8 expertly restored, first & final leaf with light finger-staining, final leaves restored in the gutter). [Speyer: Printer of the Gesta Christi, c. 1472-73]. First edition and very rare on the market; this is one of the most popular and widely disseminated of medieval religious romances; it is a Christianized version of the story of Gautama Siddhartha, the Buddha, with which it agrees not only in broad outline but in essential details for Buddha's youth. Barlaam and Josaphat are "principal characters of a legend of Christian antiquity, which was a favourite subject of writers in the Middle Ages. The story is substantially as follows: Many inhabitants of India had been converted by the Apostle St. Thomas and were leading Christian lives. In the third or fourth century King Abenner (Avenier) persecuted the Church. The astrologers had foretold that his son Josaphat would one day become a Christian. To prevent this the prince was kept in close confinement. But, in spite of all precautions, Barlaam, a hermit of Senaar, met him and brought him to the true Faith. Abenner tried his best to pervert Josaphat, but, not succeeding, he shared the government with him. Later Abenner himself became a Christian, and, abdicating the throne, became a hermit. Josaphat governed alone for a time, then resigned, went into the desert, found his former teacher Barlaam, and with him spent his remaining years in holiness. Years after their death, the bodies were brought to India and their grave became renowned by miracles. Barlaam and Josaphat found their way into the Roman Martyrology (27 November), and into the Greek calendar (26 August). Vincent of Beauvais, in the thirteenth century, had given the story in his 'Speculum Historiale.' It is also found in an abbreviated form in the 'Golden Legend' of Jacobus de Voragine of the same century… "The story is a Christianized version of one of the legends of Buddha, as even the name Josaphat would seem to show. This is said to be a corruption of the original Joasaph, which is again corrupted from the middle Persian Budasif (Budsaif=Bodhisattva)."-Catholic Encyclopedia. This text has been traditionally ascribed to Johannes of Damascus (ca. 676-749), as given in the present work ("Meyster der histori Damascenus"), but other hypotheses have existed since the 18th century. Today, the Georgian monk Euthymios Hagioreites (d. 1028), from a monastery on Mount Athos, is widely accepted as the person who caused the story to be translated from Georgian into Greek, the whole being reshaped and supplemented. The Greek romance soon spread throughout Christendom, and was translated into Latin, Old Slavonic, Armenian, and Arabic. An English version (from Latin) was used by Shakespeare in his caskets scene in The Merchant of Venice. This book was printed at the anonymous press which may be a continuation of the Printer of Postilla Scholastica shop, which dated a book in 1471 (Goff P-947). Thirteen works have been assigned to the Printer of the Gesta Christi. A very good copy of a book which is extremely rare on the market. PROVENANCE: Sigmaringen, Fürstlich Hohenzollernsche Hofbibliothek. Pencil shelfmark on pastedown: 10075.3.116. ❧ Goff B-125. See Encycl. Brit. for an excellent account. (Inventory #: 6156)
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