Sunday, November 5, 2017


László Takács, Attila Tuhári (ed.), Two Renaissance Commentaries on Persius: Bartholomaeus Fontius' and Ioannes Britannicus' Commentaries on Persius. Studia philologica, 4; Commentarii in Persii Satiras saeculorum XIV-XVI, 1. Piliscsaba; Budapest: Avicenna Institute of Middle Eastern Studies; Szent István Társulat, 2015. Pp. xxviii, 310. ISBN 9789632775241.

Reviewed by Frances Muecke, University of Sydney (

Version at BMCR home site

Nam quid olim Persio obscurius? Quid nunc Persii carminibus nitidius et clarius?1

This volume is the first in an ambitious and daunting project of publishing or re-publishing the Persius commentaries written from the Middle Ages through the sixteenth century. The two chosen to begin the series are nos. 19 and 20 in Robathan's catalogue in CTC III,2 and the first to appear in print, 1477 and 1481, respectively. They were not the first by significant figures of the fifteenth century. Commentaries based on lectures by Guarinus Veronensis (before 1458), Christophorus Landinus (before 1462), and Martinus Phileticus (1468-69), among others, also circulated in manuscript. The commentaries of Fonzio (Fontius) and Britannico (Brittanicus), however, were the most widely diffused and reprinted, often together, and later on with 'Cornutus' and Ascensius.

Besides the editions of the two commentaries, the volume contains a minimalist Introduction (pp. IX-XXVIII),3] Fonzio's letter to Francesco Sassetti, De mensuris et ponderibus (dated 1 January 1472), as it appears in the autograph presentation manuscript written for Matthias Corvinus at the beginning of 1489 (W=Wolfenbüttel, Herzog August Bibliothek, 43 Aug. 20),4 and his Tadeus sive de locis Persianis. De mensuris et ponderibus was included in the editio princeps of the commentary, Florence 1477, but instead of collating this, the editor has used a manuscript 'based on an incunable', Vienna, Nationalbibliothek, Cod. Lat. 292 (Phil. 388) (V) (p. XVI). For Tadeus, the editor uses W, and Florence, Biblioteca Riccardiana, Riccardianus 1220 (R).5 Fonzio's commentary is edited from Riccardianus 666 (R), Florence, Biblioteca Laurenziana, Laur. plut. 54, 23 (M), V, and W.

In contrast, Tuhári has used printed editions for Britannico's commentary: the editio princeps (Brescia, 1481), the third, corrected edition put out by his brother Iacobus in 1500 also in Brescia, and the first composite edition (Venice, 1491), a substitute for the 'inaccessible' second edition.6 There are a couple of oddities in Tuhári's description of his edition (pp. XXII-III): a reference to 'available manuscripts', and a confusing use of the term 'interpolations' for authorial additions, of which there are many in the 1500 edition.

Both editors, therefore, present their commentaries in a merged form of the earliest and latest phases attributable to the commentators, signaling by spaced-out letters the later additions. In the case of Fonzio, the situation is complex. R (666), autograph, is what Zabughin called a 'chirografo', the author's copy kept beside him and worked on for many years.7 It was the basis of the printed edition of 1477. M also contains autograph corrections. It was the presentation copy for Lorenzo de' Medici, although it is not easy to see this from the description on p. XVI. W (1488) was a presentation copy for King Matthias Corvinus. But this is not the end of the story. Takács does not mention that Angelo Brumana found in Lucca, Biblioteca Statale, MS 369, ff. 118r-42r a text of Persius' Satires with a collection of notes and explanations written by Fonzio himself, probably for a lecture course but updated at later stages, using works published after 1477 and thus, showing 'un continuo lavore di aggiornamento e integrazione'.8 Brumana also found evidence that Fonzio used the anonymous sylloges of Persian scholia in Laur. plut. 52, 4 and 52, 23.9 The Lucca commentary is not the one Takács has edited, but it and Brumana's analysis of it throw much light on Fonzio's study of Persius.

The principles of the edition are set out clearly, but its remit is limited. Generally, it does very little to evaluate the two commentaries or to set them in the context of Italian humanist scholarship. The aim is 'to make these commentaries easily accessible in a more readable, comprehensible and usable form' (p. VIII). In practice this means that the edition does not go beyond presenting a cleaned-up text in Classical Latin with an apparatus criticus and with the explicit quotations from Latin and Greek authors identified by references in square brackets within the text. Doing this much accurately, as they mostly do, is, I am well aware, already a considerable achievement, and reading a text in this form is certainly easier than doing so in a digitized version of an early printed book. Nevertheless, much remains to be done, as the two commentaries come without the historical-philological exegesis that they need.10

Take the sources. Renaissance commentators notoriously use their predecessors without acknowledgement. They quote ancient sources indirectly or in paraphrase, and they use contemporary compilations. For example, in Fonzio's commentary the note on 1.123 is based on Hor. serm. 1.4.1-5. The note on 1.16a mostly comes from Plin. nat. 37. 85-89, cf. Britannico on 1.16b, where Tuhári gives the reference because Pliny's name is mentioned. The conventions of this edition do not allow an attempt to detect what comes anonymously from 'Cornutus'. Little advantage is taken of the opportunities to show how Fonzio interacted with his contemporaries, a vital part of commentary writing in the 1470s. For example, Tortellius (Giovanni Tortelli) is named in two of Fonzio's notes on the choliambs, 2 and 4b (and on 1.4b). Given that there is a reference for Politianus at Britannico 4.1a, here at least there should have been a reference to Tortelli's article 'Prologus' in his De orthographia (printed 1471).11 Britannico too more than once adopts or attacks Tortelli's views but without ever naming him. 'Eorum opinio' in Britannico chol. 4d is probably another reference to Tortelli's view that Pyrene was a valley. In the note on Fonzio 6.73b 'quodam' is Galeotto Marzio in his Liber de homine.12 Here Takács does not report a marginal note in R that refers to Domizio Calderini's Observationes (VII) of 1475 (f. 130r).13 Galeotto Marzio's witticism against Giorgio Merula about Gauls' trousers and bare bottoms referred to in Tadeus (p. 93) had already been made in Marzio's Refutatio obiectorum in librum de homine a Giorgio Merula (1476). Brumana detects Landino's commentary at Fonzio 5.135c, and so on.14 What is puzzling about this edition is not so much that the editors leave spotting these references to the reader (the Italian series 'Edizione nazionale dei commenti ai testi latini in età umanistica e rinascimentale' follows the same convention of giving references only to explicitly named sources), as that they do not address the problem in the Introduction.

Turning to the identification of the classical sources, usually well done, not all is smooth sailing, however. On chol. 1-2, esp. nec in bicipiti somniasse Parnaso, where both commentators have a form of words about Ennius' dream of Homer that stems from Porphyrio on Hor. epist. 2.1.50, Nam in somnis vidisse dixerat se, quod anima Homeri in ipsum … transisset, Takács refers to Varro l. l. 7.20 (=Ennius ann. 1, Musae quae pedibus magnum pulsatis Olympum), while Tuhári has Ennius ann. 4, 5 at Britannico 1a and Porph. at 2c. My view is that the reference should be to the source that the commentator was using. Similarly, if the quotation is indirect through a closer source (i.e. ap.) references to both should be given, if possible. Another trap for the unwary is that some works were not available in the fifteenth century. An example is Hyginus' Fabulae. Hence, at Britannico chol. 1d the reference should be to astron. 2.17. A tricky editorial problem is what to do when works were attributed to the wrong author in the fifteenth century. Cornelius Nepos, for example, was known to fifteenth-century humanists from references in Pliny the Elder and others, but his Lives were attributed in the manuscripts and early printed editions to Aemilius Probus (see Britannico 4.1d, 4.3c). I would put Nepos in the commentary and in the Index auctorum (=Index locorum), leaving Aemilius Probus in the Index nominum.

A growing interest in and recognition of the importance of commentaries as a vehicle of knowledge have led to a number of collections or monographs on commentary and commentaries in the last forty or so years but to very few editions of Latin commentaries written by humanists on poetic texts.15 I know of no modern edition that so conveniently allows two different commentaries to be compared. Such a comparison would be instructive given the different milieux and intellectual formations of the two commentators: Fonzio, devoted scholar and versatile, well-connected humanist, turned his hand to a variety of activities in multiple settings in Florence, Rome, and Hungary, while Britannico (as far as we know) soon settled as grammaticus in Brescia and as a corrector and editor in his brothers' publishing venture, closer to the new technology of learning.


1.   From a student's speech in praise of his teacher, Giovanni Britannico, in A. Brumana, 'Per i Britannico', IMU 48 (2007), 113-218, at 207. Brumana has discovered from new archival evidence that Britannico was taught by Giorgio Merula in Venice in 1475 (pp. 115-18).
2.   D. M. Robathan, F. E. Cranz, P. O. Kristeller and B. Bischoff, 'A. Persius Flaccus', in Catalogus Translationum et Commentariorum: Mediaeval and Renaissance Latin Translations and Commentaries, ed. P. O. Kristeller and F. E. Cranz (Washington, 1976), III, 201–312, at p. 202.
3.   Bibliography is kept to a bare minimum.
4.   For the text of the revised version, addressed to Francesco di Matteo Ricci, see Bartolomeo Fonzio, Letters to Friends, ed. A. Daneloni, trans. M. Davies (Cambridge, MA and London, 2011), pp. 148-55.
5.   Takács' transcription of R differs at several points from Robathan's (pp. 266-67). In one of these, at least, she must be right.
6.   The British Library Incunabula Short Title Catalogue lists Brescia, 1486 in 28 libraries but no digitized version.
7.   It is not clear why this commentary is said to have been completed about 1471 (p. XIII).
8.   A. Brumana, 'Bartolomeo Fonzio commentatore di Orazio e di Persio in un codice autografo', IMU, 53 (2012), 225-333 (esp. pp. 318-332, see p. 320).
9.   Brumana, 'Bartolomeo Fonzio', p. 330.
10.   See the foretaste of the late Simona Mercuri's work on Tadeus in Francesco Bausi, 'Simona Mercuri (1976-2015)', Interpres 34 (2016), 7-14.
11.   See further, Brumana, 'Bartolomeo Fonzio', passim. Fonzio often used Tortelli 'silently'.
12.   See Brumana, 'Bartolomeo Fonzio', 306-10 (Marzio underlies the note on 1.87b too).
13.   See M. Campanelli, Polemiche e filologia ai primordi della stampa. Le 'Observationes' di Domizio Calderini (Rome: Storia e Letteratura, 2001), p. 188, n. 16.
14.   Brumana, 'Bartolomeo Fonzio', p. 328.
15.   For some recent ones see SISMEL - Edizioni del Galluzzo.

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