Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2003.05.04

Giancarlo Abbamonte, Lucia Gualdo Rosa, Luigi Munzi, PARRHASIANA II. Atti del II Seminario di Studi su Manoscritti Medievali e Umanistici della Biblioteca Nazionale di Napoli. Napoli, 20-21 ottobre 2000.   Naples:  Annali dell'Istituto Universitario Orientale di Napoli (AION), 2002.  Pp. 243.  ISBN ISSN 1128-7209.  

Reviewed by Julia Gaisser, Bryn Mawr College (
Word count: 2004 words

PARRHASIANA II is a collection of papers from the second seminar on medieval and humanist manuscripts at the Biblioteca Nazionale in Naples held at the Istituto Universitario Orientale di Napoli. As the title suggests, the focus of the collection is the humanist Aulo Giano Parrasio (1470-c.1521).

Parrasio is an important figure on a number of counts, but chiefly for his famous library, his early use of the manuscripts discovered at Bobbio in 1493, and his connections both intellectual and personal with his fellow humanists in Naples, Milan, and Rome -- men like Pontano, Barzizza, Cortesi, Valeriano, Inghirami, and the Greek émigrés Janus Lascaris and Demetrius Chalcondyles (his father-in-law). His personal life, like that of many humanists, was as interesting as his intellectual accomplishments (which were considerable). External events (wars and "regime changes," as we say these days) kept him on the move from city to city, but academic quarrels and allegations of pederasty also dogged his peripatetic career. Contemporaries claimed that he had married Theodora Chalcondyles because of his interest in her brother Basil (his pupil), and that Pope Leo X made his appointment at the University of Rome contingent on his living with his wife and supporting her.1 Etc., etc.

The present volume entirely eschews such interesting tidbits and largely omits all other (more edifying) personal detail in favor of rigorous philological discussion. The omission is understandable, for the authors are specialists in Neapolitan humanism of the early sixteenth century writing for other specialists, all of whom are expected to be steeped in the background and cast of characters. Readers not au courant with Parrasio and the scholarship produced by and on him may prefer to read the volume selectively, finding the places where Parrasio's interests intersect with their own.

PARRHASIANA II contains nine papers, prefaced by a helpful introduction by Lucia Gualdo Rosa and an interesting and detailed biographical memoir by Mirella Ferrari on the career of Giuseppe Billanovich (d. 2000), one of the founders of twentieth-century scholarship on Renaissance humanism. The nine papers are: Fulvio Delle Donne, "Epistolografia medievale e umanistica. Riflessioni in margine al manoscritto V.F.37 della Biblioteca Nazionale di Napoli"; Carlo Vecce, "Postillati di Antonio Seripando"; Roberto Palla, "Una trascrizione umanistica del Carmen de Iona"; Paolo Radiciotti, "La scrittura del Liber pontificalis nel codice bobbiese IV.A.8 della Biblioteca Nazionale di Napoli"; Angela Piscitelli, "Le note di Gasparino Barzizza alla versione di Crisolora/Decembrio della Repubblica di Platone (Napoli, Biblioteca Nazionale, ms. VIII.G.51)"; Giuseppe Ramires, "Parrasio e Servio"; Teresa Cirillo, "Note del Parrasio a un'edizione dell'opera di Tacito"; Carmela Ruggiero, "Lettere del Parrasio in un codice della Biblioteca Oratoriana dei Girolamini"; Luigi Ferreri, "I codici parrasiani della Biblioteca Vaticana, con particolare riguardo al Barberiano Greco 194, appartenuto a Giano Lascaris." The volume concludes with two good indices: one of manuscripts and incunables, the other of proper names (including those of modern scholars).

The intellectual quality of all the papers is high. I will devote most of my discussion to those that seemed to me of most interest either to classicists or to those concerned with general questions of Renaissance humanism.

Delle Donne's paper ("Epistolografia"), the only one in the collection in no way related to Parrhasio, none the less makes a fine introduction to the volume. The early fifteenth-century manuscript Naples, Biblioteca Nazionale ms. V.F.37 contains a small collection of medieval and early humanist letters introduced by an anonymous letter addressed by an anxious adviser to a young man on the threshold of his career. The advice is one that 'humanists' have heard from the time of Ovid on: give up poetry in favor of the law if you want to get ahead. Delle Donne's discussion of the vicissitudes of the manuscript, his account of the anonymous letter, and his treatment of its relation to the letters it accompanies, perfectly place the manuscript and its contents in two different contexts: later European history (for the manuscript's successive owners) and the intellectual world of nascent humanism, so closely linked to the medieval mind-set, as Kristeller argued long ago.2

Vecce ("Postillati di Antonio Seripando") takes the fate of books in a different direction. Seripando (1486-1531) was the heir of Parrasio's famous library, but Vecce is more interested in the books he acquired from other sources, particularly from the library of his teacher Francesco Pucci (d. 1512) and from that of his fellow pupil under Pucci, Iacopo Perillo. Pucci's books were much sought after, but his philological notes on various authors were more readily available. Copies of them circulated widely (more widely than they deserved, at least in the case of Catullus);3 as they passed from the margins of one book to another, they took on a life of their own, acquiring additions and revisions by other hands. Vecce has traced some of these journeys. His interesting discussion adds Perillo's copy of Pucci's notes on Catullus (Naples, Biblioteca Nazionale, S.Q. X.H.25) and a selection by an unknown copyist of the Catullan notes of Pucci, Perillo and Seripando (Naples, Bibl. Naz. S.Q. XIX.B.4) to the eighteen versions of Pucci's notes previously known.4 Even more important, however, it places Pucci and Seripando squarely in their Neapolitan ambiente and emphasizes the circulation of marginal notes of well-known humanists by their students and friends (and friends of friends), a general Renaissance phenomenon often less important for the understanding of ancient authors than for the information it provides on contemporary humanist networks and the movement of books. Vecce's discussion also reminds us of the humanists' disagreeable tendency to lay unjust claim to the work (and the books) of others: Perillo's copy of Pucci's notes fails to mention Pucci (pp. 57, 60); Seripando later expunged Perillo's name from many of the subscriptions in his books.

Palla ("Una trascrizione umanistica") discusses Parrasio's transcription of pseudo-Tertullian's Carmen de Iona (Naples, Bibl. Naz., lat. 55), arguing that although Parrasio used a manuscript of the late seventh or early eighth century from Bobbio (Bibl. Naz., lat. 2), he compared the text of the Bobbio manuscript with that of at least one other manuscript (now lost) and prepared an intermediate version before writing out the text in Bibl. Naz., lat. 55 (p. 69-70). Parrasio's transcription has not been consulted by editors of the poem; Palla argues that it should be.

Radiciotti ("La Scrittura del Liber pontificalis") is concerned with another manuscript from Bobbio used by Parrasio, but not with Parrasio himself. He is interested in the genesis of the manuscript and its texts. The manuscript (Naples, Bibl. Naz., ms. IV.A.8) is an eighth-century palimpsest whose scriptiones superiores are Carisius (edited by Parrasio) and a mutilated Liber pontificalis (Radiciotti's subject). Radiciotti's complex paleographical and codicological argument connects his manuscript with several other Bobbio manuscripts linked by three facts: they are palimpsests; their scriptiones inferiores are Greek texts or rare or valuable Latin texts; their scriptiones superiores are written either in an insular hand or in 'corsiva nuova' (p. 86). He suggests that the parchment (and lower texts) originated in Ravenna (a center of Greek studies between the sixth and seventh centuries) and that some of the upper texts may have been copied from Ravenna manuscripts. When the Longobards occupied Ravenna and sacked its libraries in the eighth century, they used many of the books as writing material for the grammars and chronicles that interested them. This paper is extremely important for anyone interested either in medieval intellectual history or in the history of the book.

Piscitelli ("Le note") presents an edition of Gasparino Barzizza's notes to the Crisoloras/Decembrio translation of Plato's Republic. The connection with Parrasio is that he later owned the manuscript (Naples Bibl. Naz., ms. VIII.G.51), along with many others from Barzizza's library.

Ramires ("Parrasio e Servio") discusses Parrasio's notes in an incunable of Vergil with Servius' commentary (Naples, Bibl. Naz., V.A.36), one of at least six Vergils with Servius in Parrasio's library (p. 127). The paper is part of Ramires' long-term project to produce a new critical edition of Servius (p. 125). His argument is complex and detailed -- more so, it seemed to me, than his rather narrow conclusions warrant. This is one article in the collection that would have benefited both from a tighter organization and a greater interest in Parrasio and his intellectual context; but it undoubtedly makes a contribution to the study of textual criticism of Servius in the early sixteenth century.

Cirillo's article ("Note del Parrasio", by contrast, should be required reading for anyone interested either in Parrasio and his library or in the Renaissance reception of Tacitus. She begins with a magisterial short survey of the various sightings of Parrasio's books from his death to the mid-twentieth century, gradually narrowing her focus until she arrives at the object of her attention: Parrasio's copy of the edition of Tacitus' Opera edited by Filippo Beroaldo the younger in 1515, now in the Biblioteca Oratoriana dei Girolamini in Naples. (I could find no reference to its shelf mark -- a curious omission.) Both Beroaldo's edition and Parrasio's notes are products of early sixteenth-century Roman humanism in its halcyon days under the Medici pope Leo X. Beroaldo's work, the first edition of Tacitus' Annales 1-6, was published from the unique witness to the text (Florence, Biblioteca Laurenziana 68.1), then owned by Leo. Parrasio, called to the university of Rome by Leo in 1514, presumably acquired and began to annotate the Tacitus soon after its publication. Cirillo presents a detailed discussion of Parrasio's notes on Annales 1, comparing them with his notes on Chalcondyles' Latin translation of Cassius Dio (Naples, Bibl. Naz., V.G.3) and a Greek text, Epithome rerum Romanarum (Bibl. naz., gr. 13). Parrasio's notes are generally brief, but, as Cirillo demonstrates, they both show a keen interest in ancient Roman institutions and reflect the culture of Leonine Rome -- especially its interests in the Caesars and in astrology and prediction of the future (pp. 166-8).

Ruggiero ("Lettere del Parrasio") discusses another book in the Biblioteca Oratoriana dei Girolamini. This late sixteenth-century manuscript (shelf mark XXVIII.1.62) contains a collection of 34 of Parrasio's letters to friends, including one to the famous Roman orator Tommaso Inghirami (widely called "Fedra" or "Phaedra," the name given to commemorate his performance in the title role of Seneca's tragedy in a notorious humanist production in the late fifteenth century). As Ruggiero rightly notes, the collection is potentially a valuable source for Parrasio's biography. She gives a detailed description of the manuscript in an appendix, including the folio numbers, addressees, and incipits and explicits for each of the letters.

Ferreri's paper ("I codici parrasiani della Biblioteca Vaticana") is an important contribution to the history of Parrasio's library. The outlines of this history are well known: Parrasio left his books to his friend Antonio Seripando, who left them in turn to his brother, Cardinal Girolamo Seripando, who left them to the convent of S. Giovanni a Carbonara in Naples, whose monks were poor stewards of their treasure -- neglecting, selling, and losing them over a period of many years. But Ferreri adds interesting details to the story of the diaspora and presents some new information about the "pious" depredations of Lucas Holst in the seventeenth century on behalf of Cardinal Francesco Barberini. (The excuse was just what we might expect: the monks were careless and did not deserve their books.) After this introduction, Ferreri proceeds to an interesting discussion of two of Parrasio's books: Vatican Library, Barb. Gr. 194; and Vat. lat. 5233. The former is one of the books taken from the Biblioteca Carbonara by Holst: a manuscript of John Lydus owned by Janus Lascaris and studied by Poliziano as well as Parrasio. The latter is Parrasio's autograph of his philological work, Liber de rebus per epistolam quaesitis, which takes Lydus' work into account and was used by Henri Estienne for his 1567 edition of Parrasio's Quaesita per epistolam .

PARRHASIANA II is a valuable volume that hangs together better than many such collections. It should certainly find a place in every major research library and on the bookshelf of any scholar of early sixteenth-century Italian humanism.


1.   For Parrasio as seen by his contemporaries, see Julia Gaisser, Pierio Valeriano On the Ill Fortune of Learned Men. A Renaissance Humanist and his World (Ann Arbor, 1999) 314-15, with further bibliography. Valeriano discusses Parrasio at De litteratorum infelicitate (ed. Gaisser) 1.31; 2.11; 2.77.
2.   Paul Oskar Kristeller, "Humanism and Scholasticism in the Italian Renaissance," Byzantion 17 (1944-5) 346-74.
3.  . See F. Calonghi, "Marginalia," Miscellanea Pandiani (Genoa, 1921) 97-114; B. Richardson, "Pucci, Parrhasius and Catullus," IMU 19 (1976) 277-89; Julia Gaisser, "Catullus," Catalogus Translationum et Commentariorum 7 (Washington, D.C., 1992) 243-9.
4.   Gaisser, "Catullus."

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