Detail map of Roma, Lazio, Italy,Innenstadt, Köln, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany,Oromia, Ethiopia

A: Roma, Lazio, Italy, B: Innenstadt, Köln, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany, C: Oromia, Ethiopia

Marcellus Silber Issues the First Book Printed in the Ancient Ethiopian Language of Ge'ez and the First Book Printed in Rome in Oriental Type

First leaf (recto) showing full page woodcut of King David playing the harp. From the copy in the library of King

First leaf (recto) showing full page woodcut of King David playing the harp. From the copy in the library of King's College London

The first book printed in the ancient Ethiopian language of Ge'ez, and the first book printed in an Oriental type face in Rome, was issued by printer Marcellus Silber in 1513. Entitled the Psalterium David et cantica aliqua in lingua Chaldea, this book was the result of a remarkable collaboration between the Ethiopian Christian community in Rome and Johannes Potken, a German churchman, papal notary, and scholar/printer who became fascinated with Ethiopian liturgy, language and culture. The book, which was printed in red and black, and began with a striking woodcut portrait of David printed in red, contained the Psalter, certain Biblical hymns and prayers, and the Song of Solomon.

Potken commissioned the Ethiopian typeface and published the volume. He based his text on Vat. etiop. 20, a manuscript Ge’ez Psalter in the Vatican Library, as well as other Ge'ez Psalters in the Vatican. "Oddly, despite his long study of the Ge’ez language and evident erudition, Potken made the fundamental mistake of believing that Ge’ez was a version of the Aramaic or Chaldean language, and he never swerved from this belief, referring consistently to the language of the Psalter as Chaldean." When he left Rome in 1515-16 Potken took his Ethiopian type font with him, and in 1518 in Cologne he published, with the help of a relative, Johannes Soter, a Psalter with parallel texts in Hebrew, Greek, Ge'ez, and Latin entitled Psalterium in quatuor linguis hebrea graeca chaldea latina.

In December 2014 a digital facsimile of Psalterium David et cantica aliqua in lingua Chaldea was available from Kings College London at this link.

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