[Bible. Old Testament. Psalms. Ethiopic].
Psalterium David et Cantica aliqua. Rome, Marcello Silber for Johannes Potken, 30 June - 10 September 1513.
4° (225x160 mm). Collation: [1-128, 13-146].  leaves. Ethiopic and roman type. Printed in black and red. On the recto of the first leaf full-page woodcut showing David crowned, with a harp in his hand and framed within a candelabra and floral border signed 'S C'. Woodcut headings and initials printed in red throughout; woodcut head-pieces in knotwork pattern, likewise in red. Contemporary, probably French, elaborately blind-tooled brown calf, over pasteboards. Covers within multiple fillets, and a large roll with interlaced foliate motifs and acorn tools. The centre panel tooled with two vertical candelabra rolls, and a central smaller strip with bee-shaped tools. Traces of four pairs of ties, one at head and tail, as well as two at the fore-edge. Spine with four raised bands, skilfully rebacked. Gutter reinforced with a leaf from a parchment manuscript. Very good copy; old repair to the blank outer margin of the first leaf; small repaired wormholes on the last leaf. Minor waterstains to the first and last leaves. Covers abraded in places, corners slightly bumped. The number '60' written by an early hand on the upper outer corner of the title-page. Pencilled bibliographical notes in French on the recto of the front flyleaf, 'Psalterium Premier livre en ethiopien'.
Provenance: Gabriele da Casale, capuchin of the Province of Genoa, named in 1622 General Commissar (ownership inscription on the front pastedown, 'Questa Cantica è stata mandata da Genoua dal P. Gabriele di Casale Prouinciale de Capucini, anno 1606. mensis Nouemb').
Very rare first edition of the first book printed in the Ge'ez language or Ethiopic – and the first book of the Bible printed in an Eastern language other than the original Hebrew – edited by German churchman and papal protonotary Johann Potken (ca. 1470 - ca. 1525), who also published it at his own expense. The book contains the Psalter, Biblical hymns, and the Song of Solomon, alongside basic notions on the Etiophic language, misleadingly considered here a version of Chaldean. “Of interest is the typographical care Potken has taken to represent the short a by a lower case letter a with the ascender filed off, and the long o with a character resembling the lower case omega” (Smitskamp III, 233).
Potken had learned this language from the abbot Thomas Walda Samuel, member of the Ethiopian Christian community of the church of Saint Stephen of the Abyssinians, and had become fascinated with the liturgy and culture. “Potken describes in his preface how he had heard Ethiopian strangers in Rome reciting sacred hymns, in which he recognized the names of the Blessed Virgin, the Apostles and certain Saints. Aroused by curiosity he determined to learn Ethiopic – which he calls lingua Chaldea – and eventually succeeded in mastering enough of the language to enable him to publish this edition in the native character” (Darlow & Moule).
For this publishing initiative, Potken borrowed an Ethiopic Psalter manuscript from the Vatican Library (Vat. Etiop. 20) and commissioned the cutting of types in Ge'ez script to Marcellus Silber, a printer from Regensburg engaged by the Curia. The fruit of this collaboration is one of the finest liturgical books printed in Rome. The text is printed in red and black, and opens with a handsome woodcut within a border, stamped in red and signed with the monogram 'S C', depicting the traditional image of King David playing on the harp and singing psalms.
Adams B-1481; STC Italian 99; Tinto, Annali Silber, 157; Fumagalli, Bibliografia Etiopica, p. 353; Bohatta II, 376; Darlow & Moule 3560; Nagler IV, 3990; Smitskamp III, 233; Fact and Fantasy 17; Sander 5942; Philobiblon, One Thousand Years of Bibliophily, no. 55.