Genealogia Deorum(Venice, 1472)

(Phillips, 1838)

Giovanni Boccaccio. Genealogia deorum. Venice, 1472.

The Genealogia Deorum (Genealogy of the Gods) of Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-75), author of the famed Decameron, is the first great compendium of classical mythology of the Middle Ages. It is divided into 15 books, and the whole is dedicated to Hugh IV, the Lusignan King of Cyprus (reigned 1324-9) and titular King of Jerusalem, at whose request it was written. This incunabulum is the work of Vindelinus de Spira, who was printing in Venice from 1470 to 1477.

Book Six is wholly devoted to the Royal House of Troy from Dardanus to Ilia, the mother of Romulus and Remus. On the left-hand page is shown the tree of the entire house. The text begins on the right; after the title and a 'prohoemium', it deals with each member in turn, again ending with Ilia.

Dardanus (son of Jupiter and the Pleiad Electra) is shown at the 'root' of the tree, and the main trunk shows the direct descent through Erecthonius, Troius (Tros), Ilion (Ilus), Laumedon (Lao medon) and Priamus (Priam) to Hector and finally Astyanax, represented by a dying shoot where the line ends. The names of many of Priam's children, for instance Cassandra, Deiphobus,Helenus, Polydorus and Polyxena, can be easily identified.

There is an uncompleted and unilluminated addition to them - of the name Lycaon - at the lower right-hand side. From Troius a single sprig to the left represents Ganymede, while the long flourishing branch spiralling to the right traces the descent through Assaracus, Capis (Capys), Anchises, Aeneas, Iulius Posthumus and the Kings of Alba Longa to Ilia at the centre of the spiral. It can be seen that the Alba Longa Kings are not descended from Aeneas' son by Creusa, Ascanius (who is represented on a short 'side branch' with two children Iulius Sylvius and Rhoma), but from Aeneas' posthumous son by Lavinia, another Iulius; traces of this tradition are to be found in the early chapters of Livy Book 1.

The tree, like all the others in the book, is drawn and illuminated by hand.The capital letters in the text on the right-hand page - the large blue 'D' and the smaller red '0' - are also coloured in by hand; the small printed 'd' and 'o' inserted as a guide to the illuminator can be seen behind the coloured characters. Not all the capitals in the book have in fact been filled in in this way; sometimes there is only the small printed guide letter in the blank space left for the illumination.

Bound in with this copy of Genealogia Deorum is another treatise by Boccaccio, also printed in Venice by Vindelinus de Spira, but in the following year, 1473. This is his De Montibus, Sylvis, Fontibus, Lacubus, Fluminibus,Stagnis seu Paludibus, de Nominibus Maris (On Mountains, Woods, Springs, Lakes, Rivers, Swamps or Marshes, on Names of the Sea).