Geneva: Ex officina Henrici Stephani, 1557.
Quarto: 21.2 x 15 cm. , 397,  (blank) Collation: a-f4, g-z8, A-B8, C-I4 (complete with leaf I4 blank)
FIRST COMPLETE EDITION of the tragedies of Aeschylus and the “editio princeps” of the “Agamemnon”.
A fine copy, bound in eighteenth-century sprinkled calf, with one blind-tooled compartment with ornamental tools at the corners and a central armorial stamp, gilt on both boards. Spine with attractive red morocco label, tooled in gold. Binding in fine condition, with minor cracking to the leather along the joints and a tiny amount of loss at the head of the spine; corners bumped. The text is in fine condition, the text crisp, with a few blemishes (title page dusty, a few marginal stains, tiny hole in blank margin of one leaf.) The Greek text is printed in two sizes of Claude Garamond’s "grecs du roi" type. Estienne’s Printer’s device (Device 15, See p. 255 of Schreiber) appears on the title page. Each tragedy is introduced by a large woodcut historiated initial and an attractive headpiece. PROVENANCE: John Carteret, First Earl Granville (1690-1763), armorial stamp on binding.
“The three previous editions of Aeschylus’ Greek tragedies (the Aldine of 1518, and Robortello's and Turnèbe's editions of 1552) had all been based on a manuscript tradition exhibiting a lacuna of more than two-thirds of the Agamemnon, owing to the loss of 14 leaves in the famous 11th-century Medicean codex, from which this tradition derives. The eminent Florentine humanist Piero Vettori restored the 1275 missing verses of the Agamemnon from the 14th-century Laurentian codex F, which also allowed him to give an improved text of the Scholia. Vettori, for the first time, carefully distinguishes the Agamemnon from the next play, the Choephoroi ('The Libation Bearers') unlike all previous editors, who had combined the two plays into one tragedy.” (Schreiber)
“Stephanus gives the text of Aeschylus as it was to remain practically unchanged until the end of the eighteenth century, except for the work of Canter and Stanley on the lyrical parts, and he wrote the first commentary on the complete Aeschylus to be printed that is worth mentioning and that was to remain the only one until Stanley’s edition (1663).”(Gruys)
First performed in 458 B.C., Aeschylus’ Oresteia trilogy is the playwright’s last work and the only trilogy of dramas to survive from antiquity. The beauty of the language, and the richness and complexity of the texts continues to stimulate the imagination and intellect, and there is still vigorous debate over Aeschylus’ message and the meaning of this sprawling tale of betrayal, murder, vengeance, matricide, and absolution. In brief, the plays may be summarized as follows.
“The Oresteia tells the story of the house of Atreus. The first play, Agamemnon, portrays the victorious return of that king from the Trojan War and his murder by his wife, Clytemnestra, and her lover, Aegisthus. At the play’s end Clytemnestra and her lover rule Argos. The work has extraordinary, sustained dramatic and poetic power. Particularly notable are the fascinating richness of Clytemnestra’s deceitful words and the striking choral songs, which raise in metaphorical and often enigmatic terms the major themes—of theology, politics, and blood relationships—that are elaborated throughout the trilogy.
“The second play, Choephoroi (Libation Bearers), takes its title from the chorus of women servants who come to pour propitiatory offerings at the tomb of the murdered Agamemnon. It details the revenge of Agamemnon’s daughter Electra and his son, Orestes. The siblings together invoke the aid of the dead Agamemnon in their plans. Orestes then slays Aegisthus, but Orestes’ subsequent murder of Clytemnestra is committed reluctantly, at the god Apollo’s bidding. Orestes’ attempts at self-justification then falter, and he flees, guilt-wracked, maddened, and pursued by the female incarnations of his mother’s curse, the Furies (Erinyes).
“The third play, Eumenides, opens at the shrine of Apollo at Delphi, where Orestes has taken sanctuary from the Furies. At the command of the Delphic oracle, Orestes journeys to Athens to stand trial for his matricide. There the goddess Athena organizes a trial with a jury of citizens. The Furies are his accusers, Apollo his advocate. The jury is evenly divided in its vote, and Athena casts the tie-breaking vote for Orestes’ acquittal. The Furies then turn their vengeful resentment against the city itself, but Athena persuades them, in return for a home and cult, to bless Athens instead and reside there as the Eumenides (“Kind Goddesses”) of the play’s title. The trilogy thus ends with the cycle of retributive bloodshed closed and supplanted by the rule of law and the justice of the state.”(EB).
Adams A266; Schreiber 145; Renouard 116, #15, Moeckli 32; Hoffman 134-135; Brunet I, 78; Graesse I, p. 29; Catalogue of the Gennadius Library: GC1726; J. A. Gruys, The Early Printed Editions of Aeschylus, II. 6 (pp. 77-96).