176 leaves (8 1/2 x 5 3/4 in.; 217 x 148 mm). collation: 1–710, 88, 910, 108, 1110, 128, 1310, 148, 1510, 168, 1710, 18–198: quires unsigned; complete. Some staining and browning; ownership and bibliographic notes on endpapers; modern foliation in pencil, a few scattered Hebrew manuscript notes. A large copy (British Library: 200 x 125 mm). Eighteenth century blind paneled calf, spine in four compartments with raised bands; worn.
the first Hebrew book printed during the author's lifetime
A learned treatise on Hebrew rhetoric, Nofet Zufim drew heavily on the classical writings of ancient literature. Unlike its non-Jewish contemporaries, which took as its exemplars the foremost orators of Greek and Roman antiquity, Nofet Zufim relied on the words of Moses and other prominent biblical figures. The author, Judah Messer Leon, physician, scholar, and philosopher was living as a teacher in Mantua at the time of the publication of this work.
The first printer of Hebrew books in Mantua, Abraham Conat, was well acquainted with Messer Leon and his writings. A manuscript copy of this work, written in Ferrara by Menahem de Rossi and dated 12 October 1474 includes, before the colophon, a poetic commendation of Messer Leon by Abraham Conat: "I thank Thee, O God Eternal, for having caused Judah Messer Leon to create this work ...". The same commendation is included in the printed edition, which likely went to press not long after the Ferrara manuscript, now in the Ambrosiana, was completed.
Nofet Zufim was the second Hebrew book printed in Mantua. The first book from this press, according to A. K. Offenberg's analysis, was the extremely rare Behinat ha-Olam of Jedaiah Ha-Penini (Offenberg 75), , whose colophon mentions not Conat himself, but his wife Estellina and a workman, Jacob Levi of Tarascon.
Literature: A. K. Offenberg, "The Chronology of Hebrew Printing at Mantua in the Fifteenth Century," The Library 6th ser. 16 (1994) 298-315; Isaac Rabinowitz: The Book of the Honeycomb's Flow ... by Judah Messer Leon (Cornell, 1963).
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