Tuesday, February 7, 2012


Anna Modigliani, Patricia Osmond, Marianne Pade, Johann Ramminger (ed.), Pomponio Leto tra identità locale e cultura internazionale: atti del convegno internazionale (Teggiano, 3-5 ottobre 2008). RR inedita, Saggi 48. Roma: Roma nel Rinascimento, 2011. Pp. xii, 284. ISBN 9788885913523.

Reviewed by Julia Haig Gaisser, Bryn Mawr College (jgaisser@brynmawr.edu)

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents

This volume contains the proceedings of a conference on Pomponio Leto held in Teggiano, Italy in 2008 under the joint auspices of the Parco Letterario Pomponio Leto in Teggiano and the Repertorium Pomponianum, an international consortium of scholars dedicated to research on Pomponio and his sodality.

Pomponio Leto (1428-1498) is one of the most fascinating figures in Italian Renaissance humanism.1 He taught at the Studium Urbis in Rome for several decades in the second half of the fifteenth century, gathering around him dozens of students devoted to the study of Roman antiquity and still more to Pomponio himself. He headed a famous sodality (generally called "the Roman Academy"), whose members took classical names and transcribed classical texts, modeling their script so closely on Pomponio's distinctive hand that modern scholars sometimes find it hard to distinguish the imitators from their master. Pomponio and his sodality read Roman authors, studied Roman topography, explored the catacombs, staged Roman comedies, and celebrated the Parilia. In 1468 they fell afoul of Pope Paul II, who charged them with paganism, sodomy, and conspiracy. The validity of the charges and the real basis for the pope's animosity remain in doubt, but the disastrous consequences for the Pomponiani are well documented. Several, including Pomponio and Platina (later prefect of the Vatican Library), were imprisoned and tortured for months in Castel Sant'Angelo. The sodality was dissolved and reestablished only under Paul's successor, Sixtus IV. Disdaining the culture and institutions of fifteenth-century Rome, Pomponio tried as far as possible to live like an ancient Roman. He modeled his dress on that of the ancients, cultivated his garden in the manner prescribed by Varro and Columella, and longed to be buried in a sarcophagus on the Appian Way. He had an elaborate funeral at the church of Araceli, but did not get his Roman sarcophagus. As Symonds puts it, "He was conveyed from Araceli to S. Salvatore in Lauro, and there buried like a Christian."2

Pomponio was interested in the whole of Roman antiquity. Monuments, topography, history, texts, inscriptions, institutions—he was a passionate student of them all. But he published rather little. Much of his work is preserved in the lecture notes of his students and the marginalia of his manuscripts. The breadth of his interests, the complex history of his sodality, and his collaborations and relations with other humanists make him an important focus for the study of classical reception and fifteenth-century intellectual history. The same extent and diversity—combined with the fact that most of the essential materials are in manuscripts (many as yet unidentified) scattered in libraries all over Europe (and a few in the US)—make it difficult to get a full picture of his achievement. At the beginning of the last century, Vladimir Zabughin collected and discussed a mass of material in a large two-volume work.3 Zabughin's work, a rudis indigestaque moles, disorganized and badly indexed though it is, remains of fundamental importance; but there have been many important discoveries and advances in manuscript studies in the last century that it could not take into account. In the last twenty years or so there has been an exciting resurgence in Pomponian studies, based on recently discovered materials and both broadening and deepening our understanding of Pomponio and his world. Many of these articles and books are the work of members of the Repertorium Pomponianum and the contributors to the present volume.

The volume hangs together very well. The fifteen papers are arranged to highlight several themes, as the editors note in the preface (ix- x): "Pomponio: Vita e insegnamento"; "Pomponio filologo"; "Pomponio storico-antiquario": and "La fortuna di Pomponio." The intellectual quality of all the papers is high. In what follows I will follow the thematic structure of the editors, emphasizing the papers that seemed to me of the greatest general interest to classicists and scholars of reception.

Pomponio's life and teaching are the subject of the first three papers. Massimo Miglio ("Homo totus simplex. Mitografie di un personaggio") gives a quick but very useful sketch of Pomponio's life in the context of late fifteenth-century Rome, emphasizing Pomponio's distance from contemporary culture and institutions, including the Curia and Studium. He makes the interesting argument that Pomponio's sodality was an alternative to the culture of both. Rossella Bianchi's paper ("Gli studi su Pomponio Leto dopo Vladimiro Zabughin") will be an essential starting point for anyone working on Pomponio. Her primary subject is the contribution to the subject made by Maria Accame in her recent book, Pomponio Leto. Vita e insegnamento (Rome 2008), which she places in the context of Pomponian studies from Zabughin on. The paper highlights Accame's most important arguments, sets out the current state of our knowledge, and gives a fine picture of Pomponio's intellectual interests and achievements. Arturo Didier ("La patria di Pomponio Leto") gives a geographical and demographical account of Diano (modern Teggiano), Pomponio's probable birthplace.

Five papers on Pomponio as a philologist follow. Maria Accame in "Note scite nei commenti di Pomponio Leto" takes as her starting point Pomponio's travels to the Black Sea and beyond in 1479 or 1480 (the date is disputed) and goes on to excavate notes on Scythia from Pomponio's commentaries and the course notes of his students. The project is more interesting than it sounds. Accame is able to cite a very large number of notes on the customs, food, and flora and fauna of Scythia—some drawn from Pomponio's own observations, others from Pliny's Natural History, but very few from contemporary accounts. Lucia Gualdo Rosa's valuable paper ("La fortuna—e la sfortuna—di Seneca nel Rinascimento europeo") should be of special interest to classicists. She discusses the history of the pseudepigraphic correspondence between Seneca and Paul and traces the discussions about the identity (or identities) of Seneca from Lorenzo Valla to Marc-Antoine de Muret, with particular emphasis on the contributions to the debate by the Pomponiani, especially Paolo Pompilio. The paper is particularly important for its presentation of the Senecan discussions in their historical and political/religious contexts. Fabio Stok ("Pomponio Leto e Niccolò Perotti") discusses the joint study of Martial and Statius by Pomponio and Perotti in 1469- 70 and makes the interesting suggestion that Perotti played a role in Pomponio's reentry into Roman cultural life after his imprisonment (pp. 83-6). Marianne Pade ("Pomponio Leto e la lettura di Marziale nel Quattrocento") is also concerned with the work of Perotti and Pomponio on Martial. Her detailed discussion makes a close examination of their intellectual exchanges and teases out the relations among their Martial commentaries in three different manuscripts. Giancarlo Abbamonte ("Il commento di Pomponio Leto alle opere di Virgilio: problemi ecdotici") is interested in the complex problem of sorting out the strata in the several versions of Pomponio's commentary on Virgil. He suggests (p. 125) that a critical edition of Pomponio's notes might be formatted like the Harvard Servius—a terrifying prospect for anyone familiar with the publication history of that work.

Next, four papers on Pomponio the historian and antiquarian. Francesca Niutta ("Fortune e sfortune del Romanae historiae compendium di Pomponio Leto") reconstructs the phases of composition and follows the fortuna of this history, one of the small number of Pomponio's published works. Her brief discussion of Pomponio's treatment of Mohammed in the Compendium and its fortunes (p. 157) is particularly interesting. Angelo Mazzocco ("Biondo e Leto: protagonisti dell'antiquaria quattrocentesca") compares the antiquarianism of Pomponio and Biondo with respect to their purposes and audiences. Biondo, he suggests (p. 177), wanted to give a complete picture of Roman civilization as a stimulation and inspiration to scholars and princes, while Pomponio was writing for his students and colleagues. The argument is nicely supported by his quotation (p. 177) of Zabughin's translation of a comment from Pomponio's antiquarian work De Romanorum magistratibus: "Scrivano più diffusamente gli altri: a Pomponio basta piacere ai suoi." The words would make a suitable epigraph for Pomponio's work as a whole. Patricia Osmond ("Testimonianze di ricerche antiquarie tra i fogli di Sallustio") discusses the manuscript commentaries in copies of Pomponio's edition of Sallust (1490). She observes (p. 193) that Pomponio's method was not to synthesize but to focus on detail, commenting on texts or composing handbooks on laws, magistrates, and institutions. But she also uses Pomponio's notes to suggest that he, not a native Roman himself, considered "Romanness," or at least Roman culture, open to newcomers and even foreigners. Federico Rausa ("Pomponio Leto, Pirro Ligorio e la querelle sull'edificio decagono dell'Esquilino") contrasts the "new" sixteenth-century archeology of Ligorio and his contemporaries with the antiquarian approach of Pomponio and his fellow humanists.

The volume concludes with three papers on the fortuna of Pomponio. Anna Modigliani's interesting discussion ("Pomponio Leto e i Romani: tracce della memoria di un grande maestro") treats the cult of Pomponio after his death. Pomponio's pupil Marco Antonio Altieri provided in his will (1511) for an annual celebration for himself, Platina, and Pomponio on the anniversary of his death. But there are other signs of a cult as well, which she traces in contemporary legal documents containing examples of "Pomponio" or "Pomponia" as a child's name—the suggestion being that these children were named after their master by members of the sodality. The name is unusual, and she makes a good case (p. 223-4) for her claim that Pomponio had assumed it himself in imitation of some ancient Pomponius (perhaps Titus Pomponius Atticus). Johann Ramminger ("Pomponio's Nachleben: A Phantom in need of research?") briefly sketches the early reception of three printed works, two definitely by Pomponio (De antiquitatibus urbis Romae and Romanae historiae compendium) and a third of possible but not certain Pomponian provenance (a poem with the title Carmen in gigantum ossa), and looks at the dissemination of Pomponio's ideas by his students. He suggests some directions for further research, particularly on the transmission of Pomponio's ideas by his students into northern Europe. Annalisa Esposito (". . .Il cardinal Federico Borromeo raccoglie notizie intorno a Pomponio Leto") discusses the foundation of the Ambrosian Library in Milan in the early seventeenth century by Borromeo and Borromeo's attempts to find information about Pomponio. The fact that Borromeo's informants could find out very little leads her to the conclusion that within a century after his death Pomponio had become virtually unknown.

The volume as a whole gives a good sense of the range of current Pomponian studies, presenting snapshots of Pomponio, his activities, the breadth of his interests and associations, and the fortunes of his works and reputation. It should certainly stimulate further research. Unlike many such collections, it has indices (one of manuscripts, the other of names). Its usefulness is somewhat marred, however, by its lack of a general bibliography. Anyone wanting to pursue particular topics is condemned to trolling through the very detailed notes to each article.


1.   The contemporary biography (1499) of Pomponio by Marco Antonio Sabellico is given on the Repertorium website.
2.   John Addington Symonds, The Renaissance in Italy. Part two. The Revival of Learning. New York, 1881. 362.
3.   Vladimir Zabughin, Giulio Pomponio Leto. Saggio critico 2 vols. Rome-Grottaferrata, 1909-12.

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