BMCR 2023.09.06

Porcelio de’ Pandoni. De sestertio et talento

, , Porcelio de' Pandoni. De sestertio et talento. Naples: Paolo Loffredo, 2022. Pp. 204. ISBN 9788832193916.

Existing works on the humanist Porcelio de’ Pandoni have been enriched by the critical edition accompanied by an Italian translation of De sestertio et talento, by Nicoletta Rozza, and by Andrew Burnett who is responsible for the English translation. This 202-page book includes a preamble by Antonietta Iacono (a recognized scholar on Porcelio de’ Pandoni), an extremely well-constituted bibliography (p. 9-26) including both primary and secondary sources, an introduction by Andrew Burnett (p. 30-83), the presentation of the critical edition (p. 89-138), the Latin text (p.143-148), the Italian translation (p. 151-155) by Nicoletta Rozza, the English translation (p. 159-163) and an extensive commentary by Andrew Burnett (p 167-183), as well as valuable and exhaustive indexes (p. 187-200).

The original text is a short treatise on coinage in antiquity prefaced by a dedicatory letter to Cicco Simonetta, chief minister of the Duke of MyOU ilan, dated February 1st, 1459 or 1460. The Italian and English translations are very accurate and avoid all the pitfalls of translations of realia, that is to say, the temptation not to translate but to transpose when one does not have the exact equivalent in the contemporary language. Here the choice was made to systematically use hendiadys to keep the Latin word and translate it, while typographically marking it with italics or straight brackets: as for example, p. 144 “haec as ab aere dicta est”, translated on p. 152 by “essa è detta anche asse dal nome del bronzo aes“, and p. 160 “it is called as  aes [sc. copper, bronze]”.  I salute the two translations which make the text available for readers less well versed in Latin, but  must admit that the value of the volume derives from all its scientific parts and from the fact that it provides the first independent critical edition of this text. Indeed, because of its hybridity, part letter and part treatise, the two surviving manuscripts see it accompanied by Giovanni Tortelli’s De orthographia. As for its content, it was superseded by Guillaume Budé’s De asse (1515) which was considered the first major work to take an interest in the economic aspects of Roman antiquity.

Accordingly, Burnett presents the De sestertio in the global context of collectors of ancient coins in the Middle Ages from Petrarch onwards, but especially in the Quattrocento,when at the same time the humanists, Poggio Bracciolini, Ciriaco d’Ancona, Lorenzo Valla and all the dynasties of the Italian peninsula, the Este, Gonzaga, Aragonesi, use these collections to relate to Roman antiquity. Burnett then presents an outline of Porcelio de’ Pandoni’s book (p. 39-42), detailing very explicitly the system of values and equivalences presented in it. This then allows him to contextualize the work (p. 43-83). In this part, the largest of the introduction, Burnett presents a precise table of works on ancient coins or in any case those which include lexicographical passages concerned with coins, from Guarino da Verona to Angelo Colocci, i.e. throughout the Quattrocento. Extensive quotations are taken from each of the works cited, along with an English translation. Indeed all the great humanists of the century (Biondo Flavio, Giovanni Tortelli, Niccolò Perotti, Ermolao Barbaro) devoted part of their work to coins, and certain manuscripts, dating from the years 1440-1450, were printed from the 1470s, proving that the problem has an echo in these periods of intense economic exchanges. Burnett shows how Ermolao Barbaro’s the  reading of Pliny, for example, feeds into his demonstration of the knowledge of antiquity and its coins but is also the prelude to Guillaume Budé’s reading (p. 68-72). Burnett traces the affiliations between the humanists, linked by their putting their critical and philological rereading of antiquity at the service of the economy, or, in any case, of a discourse on contemporary economy and finance based on a common knowledge. The originality of Porcelio here (p. 83) is undoubtedly to attempt to link the value of ancient coins to their modern equivalents and to dedicate it to a ducal “minister”, presumably in charge of public finances.

The critical edition produced by Nicoletta Rozza follows the strictest philological principles in the description and collation of the three existing manuscripts (kept in Florence, Philadelphia, Venice), and the establishment and choice of variants. The printed copy kept at the Staatsbibliothek in Berlin is also examined in order  to present an edition that is as philologically as correct as possible. This very long part (p. 89-148) shows to what extent the work of critical editing is a thankless and tedious task but one more than necessary to enable the contemporary reader to read a text free from any accretions of the past, whether intellectual or ideological. The stemma codicum (which could seem simple to achieve in the presence of only three manuscripts (p. 135)) required an enormous work of collation where one becomes aware of the manipulations that texts can undergo and therefore of the interest of reading versions of them. The text itself occupies only five pages (p. 143-148) and next come the Italian and English translations (p. 151-162). We have already mentioned above the quality of these translations which respond to different logics according to the language used but it should be noted here that the Latin text is abundantly annotated according to a double system: the critical apparatus with the variants and then notes which identify and clarify all cross-references or parallels with ancient and other earlier texts. Rozza’s work of erudition has to be saluted. No reference seems to be omitted and this testifies to the author Porcelio de’ Pandoni’s great knowledge of the ancient sources but also to Rozza’s application in transmitting it to us. Burnett’s commentary finally closes the book (p. 164-183) and corresponds to what could have been footnotes. Their absence from the translations greatly facilitates reading.

I must therefore salute this hybrid work which presents both a Latin text in its critical edition produced with the greatest philological scrupulosity, easy-to-read translations into contemporary language that allow the meaning of the text to be conveyed to less erudite readers, an introduction which situates the work in history and an erudite commentary which is addressed to specialists. It is to the honor of the researchers that they have deployed so much effort to make available a five-page text, one that is witness to the great historical and cultural debates of its time.