Monday, February 29, 2016


Angela Fritsen, Antiquarian Voices: The Roman Academy and the Commentary Tradition on Ovid's 'Fasti'. Text and Context. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2015. Pp. xvi, 239. ISBN 9780814212844. $69.95.

Reviewed by Frances Muecke, University of Sydney (

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents

Pomponio Leto is no longer dismissed as he was by Wilamowitz as an indulger in "basically harmless antics", such as "keeping the feast of Pales", who made no lasting contribution.1 In this book Fritsen builds on a century of (mainly Italian) interest in Pomponio Leto and his Roman "Academies", in which Paolo Marsi, author of the first printed commentary on the Fasti, has been a key figure since the pioneering study of della Torre.2 At the same time as understanding of the special character of fifteenth-century Roman humanism has advanced, so views of Ovid's Fasti have become enormously more complex and sophisticated. The third ingredient to be added to the mix is the recent transformation of attitudes to older commentaries. They are now recognized as texts that speak for their times.

Fritsen persuasively argues that Ovid's Fasti had special value for the Roman quattrocento humanist milieu influenced by Pomponio Leto. In her book she takes two aspects of the Fasti — as a calendar poem and as a mirror of Roman civilization — as foci for a wide-ranging study both of scholarship on the Fasti in the Renaissance as a whole and of intellectual and political aspects of the poem's reception as well. The story is exciting as well as complicated, involving well-known figures and more obscure ones, and following the typically peripatetic careers of some of the protagonists. The world of the Renaissance Latin commentators has not received many sympathetic studies in English and Fritsen's imaginative and lively book is a welcome addition.

Chapter 1 (Reading Ovid's Fasti) sets the scene. In it Fritsen gives a brief synthesis of modern scholarly views of the Fasti as a calendar poem and then identifies aspects of the Fasti that particularly invited commentary, especially the absence of the last six books. Teaching and imitation of Ovid in the twelfth century is highlighted, as providing not only precedents for the humanists but probably manuscript glosses they used. When discussing some medieval verses supposedly from the opening of Book 7, however, Fritsen appears not to realize that Konrad Celtis and C. Celtes Protacius (1459-1508) are the same person (pp. 26-27).

Chapter 2 (Fifteenth-Century Revival) surveys teaching and commentary on the Fasti in Italy in the fifteenth century. It is here that the two commentators that are the main focus of the book begin to come to the fore: Paolo Marsi (1440-84) and Antonio Costanzi (1436-90). Their commentaries were first printed in 1482 and 1489, respectively. The first section of the chapter sets them in the contexts of their careers, contacts, and of other work on the Fasti. For fifteenth-century teaching of the Fasti some evidence also survives in MSS. Thus at pp. 49-50 Fritsen compares glosses in Vat. Lat. 1595 (Pietro Odi, ca. 1450), Vat. Lat. 1982 (associate of Pomponio Leto, ca. 1485) and Vat. lat. 3263 (Pomponio Leto, post 1488) (see Appendix II). It is unfortunate that she was not aware of Odi's hand in Vat. Lat. 2784 (glosses dated 1445). The Vatican Library has now put a digitized version of this MS online.

Fritsen argues that the Fasti commentaries are a special case, to be related to contemporary Roman antiquarianism. This is why she highlights a late link of Antonio Costanzi of Fano to Pomponio's Roman "Academy" (pp. 44-45, 109). He was not really part of this group, though he may have looked towards it. Costanzi's interest in the Fasti can be dated from about 1470. In 1480 he presented a finished MS commentary to Federico da Montefeltro, and it underwent continuous revision until it was printed in 1489. Marsi's commentary similarly had a long period of incubation from when he began lecturing on the poem at the Roman Studio (from 1474, p. 34) to its first printing in 1482 at Venice (pp. 30-33). Thus Marsi's work belongs to the heady days of Rome in the 1470s so brilliantly described by Maurizio Campanelli.3 The rivalry characteristic of this period is echoed in Marsi's and Costanzi's prefaces and elsewhere (pp. 87-98). Thus the fascinating topic of commentary writing early in the age of printing is explored in Chapter 3 (Commentary and Professional Identity).

In Chapter 4 (Antiquarianism I: The Roman Academy, the Fasti, and a New Historicism) the notion of the Fasti as an antiquarian handbook is floated. Here Fritsen nicely illustrates how especially in Rome the humanist enterprise of recovering the buildings and monuments went hand in hand with that of restoring the texts to legibility. Flavio Biondo's foundational antiquarian works stimulated the following generation, especially the Roman "Academy", to further study of the archaeological remains and Roman institutions. I agree that the Fasti played a special role here, both in Roma instaurata and in Roma triumphans. Finally, Fritsen is interested in instances of empirical observation being used to test information derived from the auctores, especially as a result of travel.

Chapter 5 (Antiquarianism II: Christian Fasti and Papal Connections) approaches the Fasti as a text exploitable for Renaissance purposes. It consists of four rather disparate sections, three of which deal with aspects of the Christian environment and the possible influence on Marsi of Ludovico Lazzarelli's Fasti christiane religionis (1475-80). Lazzarelli's sixteen-book Latin elegiac composition includes a reference (dated 1483-84) to the Pomponian literary sodalitas's celebration of the Palilia on the feast of St. Victor (1483). Marsi's interpretation of the death of Pan as the passion of Christ (F. 1.397) is suggested as another instance of Lazzarelli's influence. Here Fritsen's view that quem nam deum intelligi oporteret is an interpolation by Marsi into the translation of Plutarch's De defectu oraculorum (and that it refers to "God") cannot be right (pp. 153-54). It means that Tiberius asked "which god, tell me (quisnam), ought he be thought to be", the answer being "the son of Penelope and Mercury". I suspect that when Marsi distances himself from Eusebius he means the Latin translation of Eusebius by George of Trebizond.

The Afterword argues for a link between Marsi's Venetian patron Giorgio Cornaro (who supported the printing of the Fasti commentary) and Giorgio's son Francesco's commissioning of Mantegna's The Introduction of the Cult of Cybele at Rome in 1505. Fritsen has missed the compelling case made by M. A. Pincelli to show that it is likely that Mantegna used the reduced combination of Livy 29.10, 11 and 14 and Ovid F. 4.247-348 (dropping Claudia Quinta altogether) in Biondo Flavio's Roma triumphans (ed. Basel, 1531, p. 33) as his source.4

As what I have written so far shows, much of Fritsen's argument is carried by discussion of many intricate points of detail with a few of which I have had to take issue. The book's main strength indeed lies in its ability to pursue broader interesting and important questions through painstaking research into detailed evidence and specific problems. Hence the material is not organized straightforwardly. Each chapter is divided into sections, which may be more or less related to each other. Historical development is followed, but not exclusively. Fritsen's method is to move to and fro between topics and broader themes to build up a rich context for her two main commentators. While she is interested in the educational, social, and political aspects of commentaries, philology for its own sake is played down.5 This lack of interest in philology may explain why the Fasti commentaries are hardly ever set in the context of contemporary commentaries on other authors.

All Latin quotations are translated (sometimes incorrectly).6 An appendix of biographies introducing less well-known figures would have made her book more user-friendly to a broad audience.


1.   U. von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, History of Classical Scholarship, ed. by H. Lloyd-Jones (London, 1982), p. 27.
2.   A. della Torre, Paolo Marsi da Pescina. Contributo alla storia dell'Accademia Pomponiana (Rocca di San Casciano, 1903).
3.   M. Campanelli, Polemiche e filologia ai primordi della stampa. Le "Observationes" di Domizio Calderini (Rome: Storia e Letteratura, 2001).
4.   M. A. Pincelli, "La Roma triumphans e la nascita dell'antiquaria: Biondo Flavio e Andrea Mantegna", Studiolo, 5 (2007), pp. 19-28.
5.   On p. 83 there is a misunderstanding of what Marsi did with the paradosis Palaestinas at F. 4.236, where palam Stygias is Roeper's conjecture. Marsi explained it as "of Palaeste", adducing Caes. B.C. 3.6.3, where he found in codice vetustissimo the reading phaleste (i.e., he says, paleste) for the printed text's Pharsalia, and Lucan 5.460. Except for the reference to and emendation of B.C. Costanzi says much the same. That these Palaestinas…deas were the Furies who had a temple at Palaeste is an interpretation Marsi attributes to another scholar recently deceased, who also told it to Pomponio.
6.   p. 13 species est surely just means "a kind of"; p. 14 per eas notatas refers to the prosperitates et adversitates; p. 19 the translation and text of Arnulf's comment on F. 1. 213 look wrong; p. 32, l. 11 religaverit means "tied up" and this line goes with the following one; p. 33 umbracula is good Latin for "parasol"; p. 42 nobis pueris "when I was a boy". facile has dropped out after pueris; p. 65 "There is no other text which would inform us", i.e. if it were complete; p. 98 Servius has noxiam vero culpam ("noxia as offense"); p. 107 put religiosae before litterariae; p. 177 plebeios homines has not been translated. It is the common people, not the soldiers, who succumb to dazed bread.

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