1580 (Lepolemo) Historia del Valorosissimo Cavallier della Croce (The Knight of the Cross), Salazar. Provenance, de Thou. Venice.


1580 Italian edition (parts one and two; bound in one volume) of the popular 16th century chivalric romance Historia del Valorisissimo Cavallier della Croce, also known as Lepolemo, or, The Knight of the Cross.

The leather binding bears the arms (while still a bachelor, pre-1588) of Jacques Auguste de Thou, the noted 16th century bibliophile and author.

Cervantes mentions this book in Don Quixote, the Knight of the Cross is one of the instigating books in Quixote's library and was subsequently burnt by the priest, niece and housekeeper for being the genesis of Quixote's troubles:

"'So religious a title,' quoth the priest, 'might, one would think, atone for the ignorance of the author; but, it is a common saying, the devil lurks behind the cross so to the fire with him.'"

About the Work -

Although based on the same storyline, books one and two were not conceived by the same author; the second book is a sequel produced by another author (accredited to Pedro de Lujan) after the first book's great success.

Book One - The Lepolemo is a Spanish book of chivalry, the work of Alonso de Salazar, first printed in 1521 under the title Book of the Invincible Knight Lepolemo. It was also known by the name of The Knight of the Cross.

Lepolemo is presented as a work originally written in Arabic by a Moor named Xarton, a contemporary of the protagonist. In its pages are related the life and adventures of the knight of that name, son of the Emperors of Germany, who in his childhood is kidnapped by Turkish corsairs and sold as a slave in Tunisia, where his early years pass. Knighted by the soldier of Egypt, he performs prodigious acts of courage in a war between that monarch and the Grand Turk and later carries out other feats, including killing the giant Morbon and freeing his real parents, who were the giant’s captives. The story concludes with Lepolemo's marriage to the beautiful Andriana, Princess of France, after the secret of his identity has been revealed.

Lepolemo’s action is quite realistic and plausible, and departs in many elements from what was typical in the books of chivalry, since in the work there are no incantations, no tournaments, no wandering maidens. Even the geography and description of the customs of North Africa are relatively exact, so the scholar Pascual de Gayangos y Arce assumed that the author had been captive in Algiers or Tunis.

The first edition of 1521 was long missing from bibliographies, and even when Bernard Quaritch found a copy it was missing the title page, so the authorship remained disputed (see Quaritch's 1882 catalogue on Google Books, entry 7579).

But, Google Books now has a copy of the first edition scanned online (search for "1521 Lepolemo") and the authorship of Alonso de Salazar, the explorer, is clearly stated. It was always known that the author would be well-traveled because of the accurate African descriptions.

Book Two - Leandro el Bel is a book of chivalry apparently originally written in Spanish by Pedro de Luján, and whose first known edition in Italian appeared in Venice in 1560, under the name Pietro Lauro. It continues the action of the Spanish play Lepolemo, better known as The Knight of the Cross, with the deeds of Leandro el Bel and his brother Floramor, sons of Lepolemo and Princess Andriana of France. It is presented as originally written in Greek by King Artidoro and later translated into Spanish and then to Italian.

About the Printer -

Both books, of this edition, were printed in 1580 by Pietro Deuchino in Venice. Deuchino achieved some lasting notoriety because he was tried by the Inquisition for heretical behavior and possession of books on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (banned books); his trial was well-documented.

Provenance -

The boards of the binding bear the arms of Jacques Auguste de Thou, before his first marriage. De Thou was an author, politician and historian, in addition to possessing a great personal library. He served both Henry III and IV, notably negotiating the Edict of Nantes with the Protestants.

The Encyclopedia Britannica notes that De Thou's library was "rich", possessing two librarians. The University of Iowa (Jan. 12, 2022) posted a biography of de Thou, noting that at his death he had 13,000 books.

The pastedown of this volume also bears the ex-libris of Kenneth Rapoport, a noted 20th century collector of early works.

There is a toned $1,800 sales receipt/description with the book, seller unstated.

Bibliographic Details -

This edition not listed in the Universal Short Title Catalogue.

Three copies are listed in the World's Libraries using Worldcat - OCLC numbers 470153719 (BnF Quai Francois Mauriac, Paris), 937066677 (Libris of Stockholm Sweden) and 937764822 (Biblioteca Nacional de Espana).

I found this edition on page 215 of Brunet, Volume 3, 1838; Brunet includes the work among those of the Meliodas legend.

Physical Attributes -

Measures approx. 16 x 10 x 4.75 cm. Leather binding, boards with central gilt arms of de Thou. Smooth spine with the title in gilt. It looks like the top-edge had color but it is now faded.

Printer's marks at both title pages.

Pages - Flyleaf, blank binder's leaf, viii, 171, blank (Y4 leaf), xvi, 283, blank (Nn4 leaf), 2 blank binder's leaves, rear flyleaf.

Collation Part One - +4, X8, Y4

Collation Part Two - a8, A-Mm8, Nn4

Condition -

See pictures. Stored in modern clamshell case. Boards worn with edge and corner wear and some rubbing, but gilt arms bright. "(J4)" de Thou shelfmark written on front board. Spine dry with some crazing and chipping at head/tail. Front joint cracked. Worm hole at bottom of spine. I can't tell if it has been re-spined, possibly not; British Library ex-libris de Thou shelfmark 672a17 also has a smooth spine and bachelor arms. Ex-libris plate on pastedown. Library shelf mark and numerous bookseller notes on pastedown. Oiling of leather caused a little ghosting on blank front unpaginated binder's leaves.

Some toning throughout. Occasional thumbprint, dog-eared page, errant ink spot, fox spot, etc throughout. Title page with several ink notes near bottom, old hand, appear to be a number and name. Occasional moisture intrusion at edges, no text affected, possibly from coloring of the edges now faded away. Pages mostly clean and nice margins. At page 170 of 1st part it looks like a line of type contacted it. 248 pt2 deckled at bottom edge (folded short of trimming). Bookseller notes at rear endpaper.

Despite notes, an interesting and nice 16th century binding.

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