This Genoa Psalter in the Old Library is the first known polyglot (multi-lingual) work to be published. Hebrew, the Latin Vulgate, the Greek Septuagint, Arabic, Chaldean, literal Latin versions of the Hebrew and Chaldean, and explanatory notes represent the eight columns of text that go across each double-page.
The text also contains the first printed reference to the most famed Genoese, Christopher Columbus. It may seem strange that a short biography of Columbus appears in a biblical Psalter, but the editor, Agostino Giustiniani, believed that Columbus’s voyages were an embodiment of Psalm 19 verse 4, ‘their sound is gone out through all the earth and their words to the end of the world’. Giustiniani’s life came to an end on a voyage of his own: he drowned on a journey to Corsica (where he was Bishop of Nebbio) in 1536. Born into a noble Genoese family, he had also taught Hebrew and Arabic at the University of Paris.
At the rear of the volume there is a wonderful printer’s device. The printer, Petrus Paulus Porrus, only used this device on this particular publication. The picture of the leek featured is a pun on the printer’s name: Allium porrum is the Latin for leek. The Genoa Psalter is highly important in the history of printing, due to the complexity of setting each different language on the page.
There have been many blog posts written about this particular book, however Magdalene’s copy can offer plenty of unique provenance evidence in the form of handwritten inscriptions and a mysterious binding.
There is an inscription in a neat, stylised hand on title page as depicted above: “Gilbertus Sherington me possidet ex dono Edouardi Clere”.
Edward Clere is probably Sir Edward Clere of Blickling Hall, Norfolk. Sir Edward Clere died bankrupt in 1605, having squandered the Clere family’s substantial wealth. Perhaps Clere’s acquaintance or friendship with Gilbert Sherington was a case of ‘birds of a feather sticking together’. Sherington was a lawyer of seemingly ill-repute and involved in some questionable property transactions. He was expelled from Gray’s Inn in 1588 after causing a riot in the Star Chamber of the Palace of Westminster.
There is marginalia throughout, including next to the Columbus reference in the text, as we can see in the illustration above. These give an insight into the reception of the text by the reader.
There are gilt initials stamped on the upper and lower boards of the book, ‘HL’. If anyone has any ideas about who this could be referring to, please leave a comment below. Perhaps the initials would reveal a missing link between the book in Gilbert Sherington’s possession and its place in Magdalene’s Old Library.
By Catherine Sutherland
Deputy Librarian, Pepys Library and Special Collection
Bibliography and Acknowledgements
With thanks to John Gandy of the National Trust who provided information about Sir Edward Clere and Blickling Hall.
Hilgert, Earle. “Johann Froben and the Basel University Scholars, 1513-1523.” The Library Quarterly: Information, Community, Policy 41, no. 2 (1971): 141-69.
Le Long, J. Bibliotheca Sacra in binos syllabos distincta…Paris: F. Montalant, MDCCXXIII .
Chetham’s Library | Genoa Quadruplex Psalter (no date). Available at: http://library.chethams.com/collections/101-treasures-of-chethams/genoa-quadruplex-psalter/ (Accessed: 24 November 2017).
LambethPalaceLibrary (2017) Happy #StDavidsDay. Device of Petrus Paulus Porrus from Genoa Psalter [Sion A10.16/1516]. It is a pun- Allium porrum is Latin for Leek.pic.twitter.com/acuhR242by, @lampallib. Available at: https://twitter.com/lampallib/status/836930554444595201 (Accessed: 11 December 2017).
The First Polyglot Psalter | Three Faiths | The New York Public Library (no date). Available at: http://exhibitions.nypl.org/threefaiths/node/35?nref=32&key=3 (Accessed: 24 November 2017).
Polyglot Psalter (Genoa: Petrus Paulus Porro, 1516). | St John’s College, Cambridge (no date). Available at: https://www.joh.cam.ac.uk/library/special_collections/early_books/pix/psalter.htm (Accessed: 24 November 2017).