Della Porta, Giovan Battista (ca. 1535-1615). De furtiuis literarum notis, vulgo de ziferis libri IIII... Naples, Giovanni Maria Scoto, 1563.

Della Porta, Giovan Battista (ca. 1535-1615). De furtiuis literarum notis, vulgo de ziferis libri IIII... Naples, Giovanni Maria Scoto, 1563.

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Della Porta, Giovan Battista (ca. 1535-1615).

De furtiuis literarum notis, vulgo de ziferis libri IIII...

Naples, Giovanni Maria Scoto, 1563.

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The birth of modern Cryptography

Della Porta, Giovan Battista (ca. 1535-1615).

De furtiuis literarum notis, vulgo de ziferis libri IIII... Naples, Giovanni Maria Scoto, 1563.

4° (205x146 mm). Collation: †4, *6, A-Z4, Aa-Dd4, Ee6. [20], 228 pages. Roman type. Woodcut arms of Philipp II of Spain on the title-page. Three full-page woodcuts on fols. K1, K4, and L2, each consisting of a dial of letters and numerals in an elaborate border with a circular volvelle piece attached with the original yellow or green thread at the centre. Twenty pieces of woodcut cipher messages, some with ornamental borders cut on the block (seven repeated). Later vellum, over pasteboards. Smooth spine, with title on red morocco lettering-piece. A fine copy, some light marginal waterstains, very lightly browned throughout.

Rare first edition – dedicated to Juan de Soto, secretary to Philipp II of Spain – of one of the masterpieces of Renaissance cryptography. Along with Johannes Trithemius and Blaise de Vigenère, Della Porta – founder of the Accademia dei Segreti in Naples, and well-known for his Magia Naturalis – is generally regarded as one of the founders of modern cryptography. In this celebrated treatise, Della Porta provides a detailed explanation of his secret code, by which units are replaced with cipher text. The term ‘zifera’ derives from the Arabic ‘sifr’, meaning zero, while the term ‘furtivus’ translates to ‘furtive’, ‘secret’, or ‘occult’.

De furtivis literarum notis is an extraordinary book. Even today, four centuries later, it retains the freshness and charm – and remarkably – its ability to instruct. Its great quality is its perspective: Porta saw cryptology in the round. Its four books, dealing respectively with ancient ciphers, modern ciphers, cryptanalysis, and a list of linguistic peculiarities that will help in solution, encompassed the cryptologic knowledge of the time” (D. Kahn, The Codebreakers: The Story of Secret Writing, p. 138).

In London in 1591, John Wolfe published a page-for-page reprint of this edition, including copies of the woodcuts. The original woodcuts were re-used for the second enlarged edition of the De furtivis literarum notis, issued in Naples in 1602.

Only four copies of the Naples edition of 1563 are found in the Italian institutional libraries today.

Adams P-1924; STC Italian 536; Mortimer Italian, 397; J. S. Gallard, Bibliography of Cryptography, Evanston, IL 1945, p. 146; Manzi, Annali di Giovanni Maria Scotto, p. 188 and pls. 21-22; D. Kahn, Codebreakers: The Story of Secret Writing, New York 1967, pp. 137-143.