BOEMUS, Johannes, 1485-1534
Omnium gentium mores leges et ritus ex multis clarissimis rerum scriptoribus … collectos: & in libros tris distinctos Aphricam, Asiam, Europam, optime lector lege
Augsburg : Augustae Vindelicorum excusa in officina Sigismundi Grimm medici, ac Marci Wirsung, 1520. [Imprint from colophon]. First edition. Folio, later vellum, three raised bands to spine; added title page: Repertorium librorum trium Ioannis Boemi de omnium gentium ritibus. Item index rerum scitu digniorum in eosdem, set within a decorative woodcut border, an old paper repair to centre; ff. 6, lxxxi, lacking the terminal blank; ornamental woodcut initials; water stains to last few leaves.
Rare first edition of a work that constitutes the first printed ethnographic compendium of the Renaissance. Its author, the humanist Johannes Boemus (or Böhm, 1485-1534), was canon of Ulm Cathedral. Although Boemus’ work, which attempts to describe the manners and customs of peoples of Europe, Africa and Asia, is based to a large extent on accounts by writers of antiquity, his information on the Arab world and Asia relies heavily on the account of the Bolognese Ludovico di Varthema (Vertomannus) of his travels by land and sea to the Far East, first published in 1510. Varthema visited Egypt, Mecca, Yemen, Persia, India, Ceylon, Burma, Sumatra, the Moluccas, Borneo and Java.
For a detailed discussion of Boemus’ work, see Klaus A. Vogel. Cultural variety in a Renaissance perspective: Johannes Boemus on “The manners, laws and customs of all people”, 1520, in: Shifting cultures: interaction and discourse in the expansion of Europe, edited by Henriette Bugge, Joan Pau Rubiés (Münster, 1995, pp. 17ff):
Vogel (ibid.) writes: ‘Johannes Boemus’ book on “The manners, laws and customs of all people, collected from many illustrious authors, and divided into three books; Africa, Asia and Europe”, written in Latin, and printed in July 1520 by Sigismund Grimm and Marcus Wirsung, [was] highly esteemed by his contemporaries and widely read all over Western Europe. Reprinted, expanded and translated into five vernacular languages, Boemus’ work formed a compendium on cultural variety and provided a fundamental source for reflections on the origin, evolution and diversity of mankind in Early Modern Europe. From 1535, when the first known Latin reprint appeared in Lyon, to 1620, there were at least 47 editions, including translations into Italian, French, English, Spanish and German … Margaret Hodgen, whose study on Early anthropology in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries still provides the only wide-ranging synthesis on the subject, takes Boemus’ book as significant for the decisive step from “Classical heritage” and “Mediaeval prologue” towards “Early anthropology”. For Hodgen this starts with the European expansion and the reception of its findings around 1500. According to Hodgen, “the time was early for this book”, as it appeared just a few years after Christopher Columbus “dropped anchor in the Tagus River at the port of Lisbon on that fateful day of his return to the Old World” … What made Boemus write his book between 1517 and 1520, and why did he write it the way he did? Modern historians have expressed puzzlement that Boemus, who was adept at condensing the most diverse sources from antiquity to the early 16th century, failed to make use of the latest literature of actual travels and discoveries. After all, a book on the manners of “all” people should start with a detailed account of those people who had been discovered most recently. But Boemus did not even mention Columbus, Vasco da Gama or Vespucci, and there is not a single allusion to the New World in the whole text. Does that mean that Boemus simply did not know about the Portuguese discoveries along [the] Africa[n coast] and the way around to India? Was America not yet discovered for Boemus? Does Boemus’ book provide proof of a humanist disdain for modernity, of a “striking unawareness” of the New, and in the words of John Elliott’s general thesis, of a “slowness to respond” to the discoveries?’
Adams B2275; Durling 609; Sabin 6117.
Although copies of later sixteenth century editions are not particularly scarce, the first edition of 1520 rarely appears in the market.