BMCR 2021.09.22

Altera pars laboris: studi sulla tradizione manoscritta delle iscrizioni antiche

, , , Altera pars laboris: studi sulla tradizione manoscritta delle iscrizioni antiche. Antichistica, 24. Venice: Edizioni Ca'Foscari, 2019. Pp. 345. ISBN 9788869693755 €34,00.

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[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

At the end of 1872, Theodor Mommsen reflected on the challenges facing the editors of the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum (CIL), the project that he had first proposed to the Berlin Academy 25 years before. Some of his concerns were stoked by contemporary politics. He saw how the Franco-Prussian war and the rise of nationalism were threatening his vision of epigraphy as something that united scholars across borders, and were “making friends strangers, and strangers enemies”. He also reflected on the practical problems facing his team of researchers. Travelling and finding inscriptions were certainly difficult. (He included these reflections in the preface to CIL III, dealing with Latin inscriptions from around the eastern Mediterranean.) But far harder, he wrote, was the other part of the project, the “altera pars laboris” from which this volume takes its title. That part involved not examining stones, but assessing earlier copies of those stones. Whereas the former was circumscribed, the latter was “virtually limitless.” It required trawling libraries, museums, and private archives across Europe, and creating a network of sympathetic and learned investigators willing to share their research.[1] This erudite and useful volume takes its cue from Mommsen’s comments and provides a series of case-studies and reflections on the manuscript tradition for Roman inscriptions, with a clear focus on what contemporary epigraphers can learn from it.

Mommsen’s thoughts notwithstanding, epigraphers have not tended to devote much of their time to assessing the history and achievements of their predecessors. In large part, this is a testament to the success of Mommsen and his immediate disciples. They did as effective and remarkable a job of locating and filleting valuable epigraphic manuscripts as they did of finding inscriptions. Rodolfo Lanciani recorded that when Giovanni Battista De Rossi found a particularly valuable codex in Venice, “he spent thirty-six hours in devouring, as it were, the volume, with no consideration whatever for food or rest, and did not leave his long-sought-for prey until he actually fainted from exhaustion” (10). The judgments that the early CIL editors made about early epigraphers’ abilities have largely stood the test of time, and so historians have cited the inscriptions edited on the basis of manuscript testimony with some confidence. The early editors also described their sources in some detail. As Marco Buonocore shows here, in an 1881 letter to De Rossi Mommsen sketched out his plans for a Bibliotheca Epigraphica Manuscripta, to start with a catalog of all the epigraphic manuscripts that he had consulted. But while some scholars published descriptions of individual manuscripts, a project of the scale Mommsen proposed got nowhere. In fact, the references to manuscripts in prefaces and introductions to particular towns in CIL volumes, and in De Rossi’s preface to the second volume of his Inscriptiones Christianae, have provided more than enough information to work with. Buonocore points out that it is only now, thanks to the extensive digitization of archival materials that has taken place in the last decade, that scholars are willing to conceive of creating such a resource.

One issue for such a project is the question of what exactly constitutes an epigraphic manuscript. As some of the papers show here, inscriptions can turn up in various contexts. François Bérard shows how Claude Bellièvre recorded the examples that he saw in early sixteenth-century Lyon in a rather baggy and disordered series of notes that he made when he was trying to write a history of the city. Elizabeth Deniaux examines the eighteenth-century Orientalist Antoine Galland, better known as the first European translator of The Thousand and One Nights, who cited and interpreted inscriptions from Vieux in letters about the antiquity of the town. Anne Raffarin shows how part of an inscription dismissed by Mommsen as a forgery (CIL VI.18*) appears in a manuscript copy of Flavio Biondo’s Roma triumphans, and argues that the words preserved there probably were discovered in the remains of the temple of Isis in Rome.

For those new to the field, the essays that focus on manuscripts or sheets that seem to have been compiled primarily to preserve inscriptions are the easiest introduction. Silvia Orlandi’s essay on a manuscript from the collection of Bonifacius Amerbach is the best example.[2] Amerbach was a Swiss humanist and lawyer from the first half of the sixteenth century, the sort of figure one would expect to be interested in inscriptions. The manuscript, though, is scrappy. It includes pages from more than one scholarly notebook. Some transcriptions are in Amerbach’s hand, some are not, and some of the material included clearly postdates Amerbach’s death. There is no consistency in presentation of the material: some texts are in lower case, some in upper case, some illustrated with their monuments, some not, most with indications of where they were found, and some with annotations. The examples come from Italy, France, and Germany, and so it seems very likely that Amerbach had not seen all of them at first hand, though he does not indicate his sources. Orlandi concludes that it is no great surprise that the manuscript has yet to attract much attention. On the other hand, it includes two inscriptions from Rome unknown to the editors of CIL, one of which has yet to be published since. Because of the way that Amerbach presents the monument, it is hard to be sure of its original form, but Orlandi argues persuasively that it is genuine and provides Roman comparanda.

Other papers also show the advantages of studying this type of evidence, as well as some of the difficulties that Mommsen knew. Annarosa Gallo demonstrates the rewards of surveying the epigraphic history of a particular site, Tarentum. Like Orlandi, Umberto Soldovieri has found unpublished inscriptions, in his case three examples from Campania in the papers of the eccentric eighteenth-century erudite Abate Ferdinando Galiani. Records contained in manuscripts can help supplement readings on fragmentary or worn stones. Another eighteenth-century abbot, Joseph-Dominique Fabre de Saint-Véran, produced what Nicolas Mathieu describes as a catalogue of the inscriptions of Vaison; his versions provide a useful complement to Otto Hirschfeld’s editions in CIL XIII. Manuscript records of inscription collections, such as that discussed by Simona Antolini, can offer valuable testimony for the state of pieces at a particular time, as well as hints to where monuments without a provenance might have been found. On the other hand, the essays also offer plenty of examples of early epigraphers adapting, interpreting, and inventing material. Some copyists preserved line breaks and abbreviations as they appeared on the stone, others did not; some were interested in the monumental setting for the texts, most ignored them. An interesting exception here are the drawings by Jacopo Bellini that Donato Fasolini examines, where the artist seems to have invented an equestrian statue to stand above one text. Roland Béhar and Gwladys Bernard argue that Rodrigo Caro was obliged to preserve inscriptions invented by his predecessors, even when he was probably aware that they were questionable.[3]

This collection should, therefore, provide a very valuable introduction to the issues involved in manuscript research for anyone preparing an edition of Roman inscriptions. The authors appear in alphabetical order, as if the editors imagined that readers would pick and choose their contributions; this means that for anyone reading straight through, essays with thematic or chronological connections (e.g., the contributions of Mathieu and Rossignol) appear at different points. Read collectively, though, the papers give a very good sense of the state of the field. The collection is available digitally on open access, it is richly and thoughtfully illustrated, and has comprehensive indices of manuscripts and inscriptions as well as of people.

Authors and titles

Introduction. Alfredo Buonopane, Lorenzo Calvelli, and Giovannella Cresci Marrone, “La parte più difficile del mestiere di epigrafista”
1. Simona Antolini, “Il Museo Nani in un manoscritto di Aurelio Guarnieri Ottoni”
2. François Bérard, “L’apport du Lugdunum priscum de Claude Bellièvre à la connaissance de l’épigraphie lyonnaise”
3. Roland Béhar and Gwladys Bernard, “‘Dans les pierres, il ne peut y avoir de fiction’? Authentiques, faux et pastiches dans l’oeuvre érudite et poétique de l’humaniste sévillan Rodrigo Caro (1573-1647)”
4. Marco Buonocore, “Bibliotheca epigraphica manuscripta: dal 1881 a oggi”
5. Elizabeth Deniaux, “L’orientaliste Antoine Galland et la découverte des inscriptions de la cité des Viducasses en Normandie”
6. Donato Fasolini, “Le iscrizioni dell’album del Louvre di Jacopo Bellini. Una fonte attendibile per epigrafia e iconografia?”
7. Annarosa Gallo “La tradizione manoscritta delle epigrafi latine di Tarentum
8. Pierre Laurens, “Certissimo argumento aeternitati plus conferre tenuissimas membranas quam praedura marmora. De la plausibilité de quelques restitutions”
9. Nicolas Mathieu, “Les inscriptions relatives à Vaison-la-Romaine (Vaucluse, France) à la lumière de Joseph-Dominique Fabre de Saint-Véran”
10. Fara Nasti, “Tradizione giurisprudenziale manoscritta dei Digesta e tabulae ceratae da Londinium: TLond. 55 e 57”
11. Silvia Orlandi, “Una nuova dedica a Ercole da un manoscritto di Bonifacius Amerbach”
12. Gianfranco Paci, “Da Vid a Venezia: due reperti antichi tra collezionismo ed interessi eruditi nel sec. XVIII”
13. Anne Raffarin, “Fortune de l’inscription du temple d’Isis des manuscrits épigraphiques du Quattrocento aux Antiquités de la Ville d’Andrea Fulvio (1527)”
14. Bernard Rémy †, “L’apport des manuscrits de Joseph-Marie de Suarès à l’élaboration du Corpus des inscriptions latines de Vaison-la-Romaine et de son territoire”
15. Benoît Rossignol, “Épigraphie en révolution. La visite du Père Dumont à Vaison (1790)”
16. Umberto Soldovieri, “L’Abate Galiani epigrafista”


[1] For these comments, see CIL III, pp.VI-VIII, inc. “ex amicis hostes facti sunt, ex hostibus inimici” (VIII) and “Ille enim labor ut sua natura certis finibus continetur, ita hic paene infinitus est” (VI).

[2] Basel, Universitatsbibliothek C VIa 77, digitized at e-manuscripta.

[3] A companion volume to this collection, edited by Lorenzo Calvelli, examines epigraphic forgery in more detail: La falsificazione epigrafica: questioni di metodo e casi di studio. Antichistica, 25. Venice: Edizioni Ca’Foscari, 2019, open access at Edizioni Ca’Foscari Digital Publishing.