Treasures of the Rare Books and Special Collections Library: Early printed books
Euclid. Liber elementorum in artem geometrie.
Venice : Erhard Ratdolt, 25 May 1482.
This Venetian printing of Euclid's Geometriae elementa of 1482 was produced by one Erhard Ratdolt, a native of Augsberg, who began printing in Venice around 1476. The layout of the book shows both a decorative sense and a flair for technical innovation on the part of the printer. The first page of the text has a handsome, three-sided border and initial in white on a black ground. The text has been set in a close black-letter type in one column leaving a wide outer margin for the geometric figures. This was the first instance of mathematical figures being reproduced in this way.
It is uncertain how much of the textual content of the Elementa is original and how much is a compilation of the work of earlier geometers. It is however regarded as the greatest geometrical work ever produced and it is undisputed that Euclid's book, written in the third century BC, immediately supplanted its predecessors and remained the basic treatise on geometry for well over 2000 years. The Latin version here is thought to have been translated from the Arabic by the great 12th century scholar, Adelard of Bath, with a commentary by Campanus of Novara.
Ratdolt's edition is remarkable not only as being the first appearance in print of this seminal text but also for the extremely high quality of its production, making it one of the finest of all mathematical books. It is probably one of the first, if not the first, extensive work to be printed with diagrams. Ratdolt's comments on the difficulty of doing these is noted in his introduction and dedication to the Doge, and his technique was to be used until well into the 16th century. As a piece of mathematical printing it has rarely, if ever, been surpassed.
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