Venice: Bernardinus Bindonus, 1537. First edition.
Very rare editio princeps of Apollonius’ Conics, the basic treatise on the subject, “which recognized and named the ellipse, parabola, and hyperbola” (Horblit 4, on the later edition of 1566). This is one of the three greatest mathematical treatises of antiquity, alongside those of Euclid and Archimedes. This first edition is very rare, preceding by 29 years the Commandino edition of the same four books canonized by Horblit (and taken over by Dibner and Norman), and this first edition is known to have been used by Tartaglia, Benedetti and, however critically, Maurolico (see Rose). Books I-IV were the only ones to survive in the original Greek; Borelli discovered Arabic versions of books V-VII and published them, in Latin translation, in 1661. “Apollonius (ca. 245-190 BC) was the last of the great Greek mathematicians, whose treatise on conic sections represents the final flowering of Greek mathematics” (Hutchinson’s DSB, p. 16).
Apollonius synthesized the work of his predecessors as well as contributing new methods and techniques of his own. “For a modern reader, the Conics is among the most difficult mathematical works of antiquity. Both form and content are far from tractable. The author’s rigorous rhetorical exposition is wearing for those used to modern symbolism... Apollonius has, in a way, suffered from his own success: his treatise became canonical and eliminated its predecessors, so that we cannot judge by direct comparison its superiority to them in mathematical rigor, consistency and generality. But the work amply repays closer study; and the attention paid to it by some of the most eminent mathematicians of the seventeenth century (one need only mention Fermat, Newton and Halley) reinforces the verdict of Apollonius’ contemporaries, who, according to Geminus, in admiration for his Conics gave him the title of The Great Geometer...
“The first real impulse towards advances in mathematics given by the study of the works of Apollonius occurred in Europe in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries... It is hard to underestimate the effect of Apollonius on the brilliant French mathematicians of the seventeenth century, Descartes, Mersenne, Fermat, and even Desargues and Pascal, despite their very different approach. Newton’s notorious predilection for the study of conics, using Apollonian methods, was not a chance personal taste... It was not until Poncelet’s work in the early nineteenth century... revived the study of projective geometry that the relevance of much of Apollonius’ work to some basic modern theory was realized...
“Hipparchus and Ptolemy absorbed his work and improved on it. The result, the Ptolemaic system, is one of the most impressive monuments of ancient science (and certainly the longest-lived), and Apollonius’ work contributed some of its essential parts” (DSB I 97-99).
The text was passed down by Eutocius, a Byzantine mathematician of the Justinian period, and translated from the Greek by Giovanni Battista Memo (1466-1536), Public Professor of Mathematics at Venice. A patrician who held a number of important government posts, he was instrumental in establishing the mathematical chair of which he became the first occupant in 1530. This is his principal work, published just a year after his death by his nephew. The Greek manuscript he employed is unknown, though Rose suggests it might have been the one which once belonged to the family of the present work’s dedicatee, Cardinal Marino Grimani. Rose groups Memo with the successors of Valla, Zamberti and Gaurico, who applied the new philology to Greek scientific treatises, especially mathematics.
Only five copies located in America (Harvard, Louisville, MIT, UNC, Yale). Brunet I.347; Essling II.667-8; Riccardi I 247 (‘raro libro’); Sander 480; Stillwell II.139; not in Adams; Heath, T.R., Apollonius of Perga: Treatise on Conic Sections (Oxford, 1896); Horblit 4, Dibner 101 and Norman 57 for the Commandino edition of 1566; P.L. Rose, The Italian Renaissance of Mathematics, 52-3 et seq.
Folio (306 x 220), pp  2-88  [1:blank], contemporary vellum, small red stamp to the bottom margin of title and colophon covered, woodcut title printed in red and black with a portrait of a mathematician in the centre surrounded by woodcut border showing 11 pairs of ancient scientists and philosophers, numerous geometrical diagrams in text and portrait of St. Peter beneath colophon at end. A fine copy of this very rare work.