Lüneburg: J. & H. Stern, 1624.
Folio: 29.4 x 18.8 cm. , 493,  pp., complete with the half-title, engraved title, and folding letterpress table. Collation: a-c6, folding table, A-Z6, Aa-Rr6, Ss8 (with final blank leaf Ss8). Lvs. Q3-5 folded by the binder to avoid trimming.
Bound in contemporary Dutch vellum (a few small chips to spine, vellum lightly soiled). Half-title lightly soiled and with small tears to edges, engraved title, lightly soiled, tipped in on a stub (the lower edge of the sheet slightly shorter than the text-block.) V6 paper flaw, Ee1 trimmed close. Provenance: From the Macclesfield Library 119.K. 27.
A fine, unspotted copy of this important book on practical and theoretical cryptography and steganography, written by Duke August of Braunschweig-Lüneburg, founder of the great Wolfenbüttel library. The book also includes the text of the prohibited “Steganographia” of the famous cryptographer Trithemius, Abbot of Sponheim (1462-1516).
Presented as a defence and elucidation of Trithemius’ work, the book presents hundreds of cryptographic and steganographic systems. The folding table at the beginning is a synoptic diagram of all systems of encryptions contained in the book; each of the nine books is preceded by a schematic table of contents. The text is replete with woodcut cryptographic diagrams, codes, and alphabets; and printed music. There are three engravings (1 full page) in the text.
“This celebrated book on codes and cryptography presents a comprehensive survey of encryption and code-breaking methods, including examples of substitution ciphers, musical ciphers, steganography (the embedding of secret messages in a larger text), graphical encryption in images, and other techniques. The book has some notoriety in the (seemingly endless) Shakespeare-Bacon authorship debate. The title page has been interpreted as a visual code depicting Bacon (a skilled cryptographer) seated at a desk, writing “Shakespeare’s” plays, which are then delivered to a man with a spear and wearing actor's buskins (“shake-spear”).”(Martin J Murphy)
Duke August, a ‘Wunder unter den Fürsten’ (miracle among princes), was one of the most learned men of his time and a master of cryptography. He exchanged coded messages with Johann Valentin Andreae, the supposed ‘founder’ of Rosicrucianism, mystic, and utopian writer. In his library at Wolfenbüttel, the Duke assembled a collection of 180,000 printed volumes and manuscripts. He mined his collection of cryptological texts (perhaps the largest assembled in the 17th century) for his monumental treatise on the subject.
As Strasser (The rise of cryptology in the European Renaissance) writes, with almost two hundred pertinent primary sources, printed and manuscript, in his possession, Duke August made use of just about all of the writers from ancient times up to the 1621 plagiarism of Vigenère’s Traicté. Among his sources were the first and second editions of the earliest major cryptologic treatise written in German, Daniel Schwenter’s “Steganologia” & “Steganographia”, both editions published under the pseudonym of Resene Gibronte Runeclus Hanedi in the 1610s. Schwenter, a professor of mathematics and Oriental languages at the Altdorf (Nuremberg) Academy, drew heavily on Italian source materials, in particular on Porta; his books focus on optical and acoustic telegraphs (and telepathy) and list various ways of communication by means of “sympathetic” inks. Duke August also drew upon the 1593 “Scotographia” of Abram Colorni, the “Jew of Mantua”, as he called himself, who served the Hapsburg emperor Rudolph II at Prague. “His elaborate polyalphabetic substitution systems appealed to Duke August so much that no other author except Trithemius occupies more space in his compendium.”(See Strasser, The rise of cryptology in the European Renaissance, in History of Information Security, pp.277-325)
Duke August and the Elucidation of Trithemius:
As stated in the title, the book seeks to elucidate the “Steganographia” of Trithemius, Abbot of Sponheim (1462-1516), author of the first printed book on cryptography, the “Polygraphia” of 1518.
Suspected of witchcraft, Trithemius left his “Steganographia” unfinished ca. 1499. In a letter to his friend Arnoldus Bostius, Trithemius “said that the book would be full of marvels, including over a hundred kinds of secret writing, a method for communicating one’s thoughts by fire over a distance, a method for teaching rude uneducated people Latin and Greek, and a method for expressing thoughts to another while eating, sitting, or walking, without words, signs or nods, and many other things which are not to be divulged publicly. Trithemius, it was alleged, was either a liar or (if he really could do these things) an employer of demons.”(Reed, The Ciphers in Book III of Trithemius’s Steganographia, p. 2)
While the book did circulate in manuscript (John Dee (1527-1608), Giordano Bruno (1548-1600), and Agrippa of Nettesheim all knew the work), the extant parts of Trithemius’ work were not printed until 1606. Three years later, it was placed on the Index. Given the delicate nature of his undertaking, Duke August published his own book under the pseudonym Gustavus Selenus. Duke August presented a (mostly) successful elucidation of Books I and II of Trithemius’ work. Although he was unable to unlock the mystery of the incomplete, third book, the Duke published the text in full so that future students of cryptography might do so.
The full-page engraving:
“Selenus uses this illustration as a cumulative exercise for the student who has just worked through numerous examples of ciphers. In a kind of final exam, readers are challenged to notice the sheer volume of ciphers that could possibly be before them in a work of art or, even, out in the world in an everyday landscape. The Duke’s subject is ‘complete,’ he notes, in the scope of a single scheme, expressing the key and the hidden principle of a great cryptographic device…
“The illustration stresses the existence of ciphers in nature. The inhabitants of this image are surrounded by ciphers (and are also ciphers themselves). From the top to the bottom, readers see birds with wings and feet outspread in shapes that indicate meaning; fruits positioned in a tree that may align with an alphabetic key; windows in distant buildings that remind readers of other illustrations in the manuals that use open and closed (and dark and light) windows as signals. The people in the illustration are all moving, bending, and gesturing toward and away from the viewer and one another. Tools are crossed, a cow and a horse raise their hooves in mid-step. A mother holds her children, an index finger outstretched, while a man nearby drinks from a bladder. And across the full scene itself, almost everyone is busy laboring, with the exception of a man lounging in the field taking a break and an undressed child looking bored as his mother milks a cow. The illustration shows the extent to which the multimodality of cryptographic literacy extends into the reader’s everyday life, creating an augmented reality in which the deciphering mind must be constantly at work even when observing a lovely picture or working in the fields.”(Ellison, “Deciphering and the Exhaustion of Recombination” in A Material History of Medieval and Early Modern Ciphers, p. 192).
VD17 23:285820R; Caillet 10114; J.S. Galland, An historical and analytical bibliography of cryptography (NY 1970) pp. 166-167.