1499 · [Strasbourg]
Preaching is work, and for some it is hard work that can be made less hard with the use of preaching aids, such as published sermons that can be cribbed in whole or in part, collections of fables and stories with moral lessons to be woven into a sermon, lives of saints to provide inspiration to the congregation, Bible commentary to illuminate a point being made, and so forth. In the late 13th or early 14th century, either in England or somewhere on the European continent, someone or some people compiled one such preaching aid, a volume of exempla (moralizing or illustrative stories) we now know as Gesta romanorum.
The demand for this work, whether in aid of preaching or simply because it was "a good read," is attested to by its 25 printed editions in Latin, French, German, and Dutch produced between 1473 and 1501. And its significance does not end with its service in aiding preachers and those "just" wanting a good story, for various of its tales were => sources for Chaucer (Man of Laws Tale), Gower (the story of Darius and his three sons), Hoccleve (the story about Apollonius of Tyre), Shakespeare (Merchant of Venice, King Lear), and other medieval and Renaissance writers.
The compiler(s) of Gesta romanorum cast such a wide net for its contents that it contains two stories about => chess (chapters 166, "De ludo schacorum," and 178, "De omnium divitiarum matre, providentia"), bringing the book into the canon of early books of the game. Despite the descriptions being somewhat garbled, one is notable for establishing that by the time the compilation was made the queen had the power to move both to squares of different colors and diagonally to squares of the same color.
This incunable edition is basically a page-for-page reprint of the Husner editions of 6 August 1489 and 25 January 1493. The date of publication as given in the colophon has caused some confusion: "Anno nostre salutis .Mccccxcix. In octaua epiphanie d[omi]ni." Goff and the BMC interpret this to mean 7–12 January 1499.
The text is printed in double columns, in gothic type, 46 lines per column. There are initial spaces, some with guide letters; all initials are indited in neat red ink.
Provenance: Ownership inscription in the top margin of leaf [pi]2r, in Latin, dated 1500 of Matthew Schach, the Carthusian Prior at Prüll, and "tit. Bp. of Salona (Dalmatia), suffragan Bp. of Freising" according to Paul Needham's Index Possessorum Incunabulorum; mid-19th-century ownership signature on title-page of A. De Welles Miller, Charlotte, North Carolina, a Doctor of Divinity, but we do not know of which denomination. He was a devoted collector of early printed books. (Sincere thanks to Eric Johnson [Ohio State University Library] and Eric White [Princeton University Library] for assistance with the Shach provenance note.)
Evidence of readership: Early marginalia next to chapters (or their morals) 15, 16, 28, 33, 36, 43, 47, 55, 72, 80, 91, 92, 106, 111, 125, 128, 135, 144, 164, 173, and 178. A correction to the moral of 115 and an interlinear addition to moral 55.
Goff G-296; GKW 10902; BMC I, 146 (IB. 1928); ISTC ig00296000. Recent ebony-brown calf old style: Round spine with raised bands accented by gilt rules, cream leather title label, fillets extending onto covers from each band to terminate in trefoils; a vertical blind-tooled "rope" to covers beyond the trefoils and covers framed in blind double fillets. Title-leaf stained and with old repairs, pencilling, and ownership indicia as above; very old bookseller's description glued to same not approaching type or inkings. Variable waterstaining throughout; pinhole-type worming, minor and not costing letters; leaf l4 torn in upper margin extending into text with loss a very few words in the top two lines of one column on each page of the leaf. Lacks the final blank (only). => A significant book, and a handsome incunable in a very interesting copy. (Inventory #: 39525)