GAIUS PLINIUS SECUNDUS. (23 - 79 A.D.). Naturalis Historiæ. Venice: Rainaldi de Nouimagio, 1483.
One of the foremost authorities on science in ancient Europe, Pliny was educated in Rome, and for some years he followed a military career. After serving in the army, he studied jurisprudence, but retired ca. 57 A. D. to devote himself to scholarly study and writing. Pliny wrote many historical and scientific works, but his great encyclopedia of nature and art in 37 books, the Naturalis Historiæ, is the only one of his works that has been preserved. In 79 A. D., eager to examine more closely the great eruption of Mount Vesuvius that overwhelmed and destroyed Herculaneum and Pompeii, he sailed across the bay of Naples to Stabiae, where he was suffocated by the vapors from the eruption.
Pliny's book about natural history is an encyclopedia of the ancient world covering many subjects, including astronomy, chemistry, geology, mineralogy, botany, husbandry, zoology, geography, anthropology, ethnology, and much on the history and practice of medicine and art. A most industrious compiler, Pliny states in the preface that the work contains over 20,000 facts culled from some 200 books and over 100 selected authors. Actually there are 473 authors mentioned: 146 Roman and 327 Greek. But for his diligence, a vast amount of material preserved in the Naturalis Historiæ would have been lost to the world. Pliny's greatest fault, however, was his uncritical nature as a compiler of facts. Therefore, included in his text is an incredible amount of data, often of improbable character.
Pliny's book contains discussions of the octahedral crystals of diamonds, the hexagonal crystals of quartz, the cubic crystals of pyrite, and many other minerals. For example, he gives an almost entirely correct account of the nature and provenance of amber, but not before he has related all the myths and speculations about it that have come to his notice. Despite its flaws, Pliny's work would be the definitive mineralogical text, along with that of Theophrastus until the industrial revolution.
The exhibit shows a copy of the ninth edition of Pliny's book, which was printed in 1483; the popularity of his text is evident from the fact that 15 editions of it were published before 1500.
Schuh, Curtis P. Mineralogy & Crystallography: An Annotated Bibliography of Books Published 1469 through 1919. Tucson: privately published, 2005, p1156-1157.