Small folio, , 71 ff. + one leaf; gothic letter, title printed in red and black within a composite woodcut border of renaissance ornament, printer’s woodcut device in the centre, woodcut initials, headpieces, etc; last leaf (blank except for printer’s device on recto) in deceptive facsimile; obtrusive wormhole in lower blank margins of three gatherings carefully filled in, one leaf (I1) remargined on three sides with loss of a few letters; some light browning; despite these defects a very sound and large copy with some uncut edges, in recent limp vellum wrappers.
US $5229 €4276
First edition in Spanish of Alberti’s Momus [or De principe], translated by Augustín de Almaçan and with an introductory 8 pp. Exposición by the Toledo ascetic writer and scholar Alejo Venegas (1495?–1554?).
An indispensable source for Alberti’s political thought and a ‘supremely interesting example of how the comic spirit of the early Renaissance expressed itself in literature’ (Martini, below), Alberti’s Momus is a political and social satire set in the form of an allegorical/ mythological fable. Its mood is that of a light-hearted humanist jeu d’esprit; its humorous and even farcical manner was intended, as Alberti states in his preface, to make readers laugh while at the same time confronting them with serious political/social issues: in particular, with the question of what makes a good ruler.
Macchiavelli apparently derived the title of his Il Principe from Alberti, and Erasmus too seems to have read it. “It could be that Erasmus when he talks of Momus lately hurled to earth by the indignant gods was echoing Alberti: for is there anywhere, in Lucian, or another, such a fate for Momus: But we do not need prodding by Erasmus to see in Momus the most conspicuous instance of the wake of Lucian ... Momus was written in the 1440s, twice printed in 1520, had no real breakthrough at either time. Yet it is demonstrably the most sustained, the most inventive offshoot from Lucian before Gulliver’s Travels, and it is on a scale which Lucian himself never attempted; while as its subtitle, Momus, seu de Principe, shows, it is also the halfway house between the Monarchy of Dante and that other Prince, of Machiavelli” – J. H. Whitfield, “‘Momus’ and the nature of humanism”, in Classical Influences in European Culture, ed. R. R. Bolgar, CUP 1971.
Momus, son of Night in Hesiod’s Theogony, is the god of disorder, malevolence, ill-will and sarcasm. The most outspoken of all the gods, he is compelled to learn to hide his character through suffering certain injustices (according to the story told by Alberti in Book I) and, ironically, becomes the spirit of dissimulation, or of ‘mummery’ in effect. Alberti gives his Momus a subtlety and ‘genius in evil-doing’ that far exceeds anything in his antique sources – principally Lucian. But where Lucian’s satire has a bitter edge, that of Alberti is more genial and more fanciful. The story centers on Jupiter’s dealings with Momus, amidst a royal court of other gods and goddesses, each representing some human failing, excess or attribute. Jupiter himself, preoccupied solely with his own amusements, is a weak and vacillating ruler; unable to make firm decisions, he surrounds himself with advisors who are always badly chosen. His rule and its consequences may be referred, in comparison, to the allegory of Male Governo, or Bad Government painted by Ambrogio Lorenzetti in the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena. Book IV of the Momus centres on Alberti’s two most vividly drawn and original characters: Charon, representing wisdom and good sense, and Gelastro, a philosopher, as caricature of the absurdity of intellectual pretension.
Palau 5193. There was a second edition in 1598.
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