Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2012.07.42

Iñigo Ruiz Arzálluz, Francesco Petrarca. La Vita Terrentii de Petrarca. Studi sul Petrarca, 39.   Roma; Padova:  Editrice Antenore, 2010.  Pp. xix, 159.  ISBN 9788884556479.  €21.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Fabio Stok, Università di Roma Tor Vergata (

The Vita Terrentii by Petrarch has been studied in the past few years by Claudia Villa,1 who also carried out a census of the manuscripts of this text. A valuable critical edition of the work has now been published by Iñigo Ruiz Arzállus, a scholar already known for a detailed essay on Petrarch’s hexameter.2 Previously, the Vita could be read, as well as in some of the editions of Terence of the past centuries, in the transcriptions of one or few manuscripts published by Geppert,3 Abel,4 and the same Villa.5 Ruiz Arzálluz has used, for his edition, 86 manuscripts, containing the whole Vita or fragments of it, and he discusses the complex relations between them.

The Vita is usually copied in the manuscripts before the comedies of Terence, not always under the name of Petrarch (in fact, it is ignored in the manuscript tradition of Petrarch’s works). Petrarch himself wrote it as a preface to a manuscript of Terence (about which we do not have more information) and never mentions it in other works. The historical interest of the Vita lies in Petrarch’s approach: he avoids the medieval form of the accessus preferring a biographical approach, and bases his reconstructions on the ancient sources, arguing against the medieval biographical tradition (that of the ignorant scholastici, as he says at the beginning of the work). He particularly disputes the identification of the poet Terence with Q. Terentius Culleo, a Roman senator captured by the Carthaginians during the war and released by Scipio. This identification dated back to the historical work of Orosius (4.19.6), and had been repeated in medieval biographies of Terence. The mistake was discovered by Petrarch while he was reading Livy, whose third decade was accessible to him from 1326. Livy’s information on Terentius Culleo concerns a Roman senator (30.45), whereas Terence the poet was African, born in Carthage, as Petrarch knew from the well known epitaph (AL 487c Riese) that he mentions in the Vita.

The book has six chapters. The first (pp. 3-20) is devoted to the stemma codicum, for which Ruiz Arzálluz gives a convincing justification. Three families of manuscripts derive from the archetype: the first (a) is divided into two branches (b and c) which include 37 and 12 manuscripts respectively. The second family (d) consists of 27 manuscripts, the third (e) of three. The family e presents a very good text and is represented by copies written in France at the beginning of the fifteenth century; they derive from a manuscript perhaps copied at Avignon.

In chapters 2-4 the other families are examined, both in their stemmatic configurations and in their historical contexts. The family c (chapter 2, pp. 21-48) documents the activity of the school of Pietro da Moglio in Bologna. Pietro knew and admired Petrarch and was Coluccio Salutati’s teacher. For his study he used a copy of the text of Terence edited in 1358 by Petrarch. The Vita is placed before the comedies in the several manuscripts used in the last decades of the fourteenth century in Pietro’s school. The second family, b (chapter 3, pp. 49-72) also originates from the same sub-archetype a, upon which the Bologna tradition depends. This family includes the oldest dated manuscript, the Montpellier H 332 copied in 1370, but also several manuscripts copied in the fifteenth century in North Italy. A branch of this family includes manuscripts copied in Basel and in Vienna in the second half of the fifteenth century. The family d (chapter 4, pp. 73-92) confirms the circulation of the Vita during the fifteenth century, mainly in Italy (dated manuscripts were copied e.g. in Pavia in 1445, Naples 1458, Ferrara 1463), but also in other countries (manuscripts copied in Lérida 1430, Germany 1465 and others).

Chapter 5 (pp. 93-119) considers the composition of the work. Petrarch does not give information about it, but the Vita is datable around 1340, at the time of the composition of the first version of the Life of Scipio (included in his De viris illustribus), where Petrarch also refers to Terence’s false identification with Terentius Culleo. It is very likely that Petrarch corrected and expanded the Vita in the following years: the quotation from Hieronymus’s Chronicon was added after 1347, the year in which he acquired a copy of this work. Another source used by Petrarch is the Vita Ambrosiana, which he did not use in the Life of Scipio but perhaps read in the following years. From the Vita Ambrosiana Petrarch learnt of the story of Terence’s last trip to Greece, which is recounted by Donatus in his life of the poet (Petrarch did not know Donatus, whose Commentary was discovered by Aurispa in 1433). Other problems discussed in this chapter regard Cicero and Plautus. Cicero’s work mentioned by Petrarch for his judgment on the style of Terence is probably the De inventione 1.27 or1.33, rather than Att. 7.3.10 (the Letters to Atticus were discovered by Petrarch only in 1345). An allusion to Plautus was suspected in Petrarch’s reference to the other comic poets which he read, disagreeing with Servius’s ad Aen. 1.410 reductive opinion of Terence. Ruis Arzálluz rightly considers this reference too vague to trace it back to Plautus, whose eight comedies Petrarch knew only later.

Petrarch’s acquired knowledge of Plautus was perhaps one of the reasons why he did not copy his Vita in the manuscript of Terence he edited in 1358, among whose direct descendants only the mentioned Montpellier H 332 also includes the Vita. It seems unlikely, in this context, that Petrarch would have reworked it at this time. This possibility is considered by Ruiz Arzálluz with regard to some textual changes testified by the branch c, that could have been introduced by Pietro del Moglio as a result of his direct contacts with Petrarch. Two changes in particular are detected, that of sinum Illiricum instead of sinum Maliacum (the location of the shipwreck suffered by Terence), and that of debita reverentia et veneratione instead of debita veneratione (Terence’s attitude toward Scipio). Unlike Villa, who considered Illiricum Petrarch’s version, Ruiz Arzálluz rightly chooses sinum Maliacum, Petrarch’s adaptation of Malean which he read in the Vita Ambrosiana. On the contrary, he attributes the correction debita reverentia et veneratione to Petrarch, on the basis of Petrarch’s usus scribendi, and publishes it as the text of the Vita. But a compiler could also easily have made this change, and perhaps it would have been more prudent to maintain this variant in the apparatus.

Chapter 6 presents the list of the manuscripts (pp. 123-37), the Latin text of the Vita, a Spanish translation, and two apparatus, that of the textual variants and that of sources and parallels (pp. 138-49). Apart from the mentioned exception reverentia et of the branch c adopted by the editor, the constitution of the text is generally guaranteed by the tripartite structure of the stemma, and there is no need to correct it.

The orthography is that documented in Petrarch’s manuscripts, e.g. ystoria, sue, Terrentius (but the ramist letters u-v are used). A conspectus siglorum would have been useful: to identify the sigla present in the apparatus it is necessary to scroll through the whole book. The work also includes indices of names and manuscripts (pp. 153-59). The printing is correct; my only query concerns the form “Gianno” (Parrasio) for “Giano” (Ianus Parrhasius).

In conclusion, this is a philologically rigorous edition, which represents an important acquisition for the studies on Petrarch and his literary fortune.


1.   Claudia Villa, La «Lectura Terentii» I. Da Ildemaro a Francesco Petrarca, Padova: Antenore, pp. 191-216; Ead., “Petrarca e Terenzio”, Studi Petrarcheschi 6 (1989), pp. 1-22; Ead., “Successi e sfortune della Vita Terrentii nell’Umanesimo”, Quaderni Petrarcheschi 9-10 (1992-93), pp. 554-69; Ead., “La Vita Terentii di Francesco Petrarca”, in Estravaganti, disperse, apocrifi petrarcheschi, a c. di C. Derra e P. Vecchi Galli, Milano: Cisalpino, 2007, 573-82.
2.   Iñigo Ruiz Arzálluz, El hexametro de Petrarca, Firenze-Vitoria: Le Lettere-Universidad de País Vasco, 1993.
3.   Carl Eduard Geppert, “Zur Geschichte der Terentianischen Texteskritik”, NJPh 18 (1852), 48-50.
4.   Jenő Ábel, “Az ó- és középkori Terentius-biographiák”, Értekezések a nyelnvi és széptudományok körébol 14 (1887), 47-51.
5.   Villa, “La Vita” [n. 1], 580-82.

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