From my diary

A little while ago I mentioned the lexicon of Sextus Pompeius Festus, a rather battered survival of Latin literature, probably from the 2nd century AD.  I also referred to the Festus Lexicon Project, which had set out to try to produce a reliable text and a translation.  The status of this was uncertain, so I wrote to Fay Glinister and asked.  Today an email arrived back, in which she said:

The Festus Lexicon Project continues to edit the Latin text and translate it into English, but it is a slow process, owing to the great complexity and fragmentary nature of the text. … We plan to publish online and in print, but are some years off yet.

The French text online (Savagner) is very outdated, and based on a version of the Latin that is in some ways more the result of Renaissance and early modern tinkering than the original text of Festus. It is is nevertheless helpful in the absence of any other comprehensive modern translation of this very interesting work.

It is very good news to know that this is still in progress, as well as a comment on the edition with French translation that may be found at

I also heard back from Francesca Schironi, who wrote that excellent book To mega biblion on the ending-marks of books of Homer in papyrus rolls in antiquity.  I enquired how one might locate papyri with such meta-textual elements.  She kindly replied:

To find this type of data, one should search for  key words (e.g end-titles, titles, colophons, etc.) in the Leuven Database of ancient books (a database with literary papyri: For non-papyrologists all the sigla and editions of papyri might be a bit confusing, though.

I must take the time to do this.  There is gold out there, I’m sure.  A first attempt this evening drew blank, however.

A bit more from Festus’ lexicon

A few more extracts might be of interest.

MERCURIUS, so-called from merces.[1]  In fact they consider him as the god of all commerce.

MEDIALIS they call a black sacrificial victim which they immolate at mid-day.

MACELLUM.  This place is so-called from a certain Macellus, who carried out robberies in the City.  After he was condemned, the censors Aemilius and Fulvius ordered that his house be turned into a food market.

M. MANILIUS.  It is not allowed for anyone from a patrician family to bear this name, because of a Manilius who expelled the Gauls from the capitolium, but attempted to become king and was put to death.

MARCULUS, a diminutive from Marcus.

MATRONAE they call those women who have the legal right to wear the stola.

MAXIMUS PONTIFEX is so-called because he is the judge of matters relating to sacred things and religions, and prosecutor of violations by private citizens or magistrates.

MAXIMI ANNALES are so-called, not because of their length, but because the pontifex maximus writes them.

MULTA they say is a kind of penalty in Oscan.  M. Varro says that it is a penalty, but a financial one, which he discusses carefully in book 1 of his Epistolary Questions.

MAGNUS ANNUS (=Great Year).  The astronomers call the great year in which the seven wandering stars[2], each having finished its individual course, are gathered together again.

MAIORES FLAMINES are called those of patrician origin, minores those of plebian.

MARTIUS MENSIS.  The month of March was the beginning of the year both in Latium and after the foundation of Rome because its people were very warlike.  This is shown by the fact that the later months which end the year are named after numerals, the last being December.[3]

MALEDICTORES[4] is what the ancients called those whom we call maledicos.  Cato, when he was about to depart for Spain, said: “The maledictors must be got rid of.”

MAXIMA DIGNATIO.  The Flamen Dialis[5] held the highest rank among the fifteen flamines, and while the rest had their degrees of importance, the lowest grade was the Pomonalis, because Pomona presided over the least important things from the fields, tree-fruits.

There is much more of interest in this section, relating to the customs of the Roman Republic, and quoting many lost authors.

  1. [1] Merces = merchandise.
  2. [2] The planets.
  3. [3] December from decem, ten; this being the tenth month.
  4. [4] Evil-speakers, calumniators.
  5. [5] Priest of Jupiter.

Some excerpts from Festus, De significatione verborum

I have been idly looking through the section of Festus for the letter ‘M’ — the first book preserved in the damaged manuscript.  Here are a few extracts.  Perhaps others will find these interesting also.

MINOR DELOS.  This name is given to Puzzuoli, because at one time Delos was the greatest commercial centre in the whole world.  It was then replaced by Puzzuoli, previously known in Greek as Δικαιαρχία.  From this Lucilius has said: Inde Dicaearcheum populos, Delumque minorem (Whence the peoples of Dicaearchia and the little Delos).

 MIRACULA.  This word, which we apply today to things deserving of admiration, was only given by the ancients to hideous things. [1]

MISCELLIONES.  Those who have no certain opinions, but are of varied and mixed judgements.

MIRACIDION. First adolescence.

MEDDIX is the title of a magistrate among the Oscans.  Ennius says, Summus ibi capitur meddix, occiditur alter.[2]

MEDITRINALIA.  This is the origin of this word.  It was the custom among the Latin peoples that, on the day when one sampled the new wine for the first time, to say: Vetus novum vinum bibo, veteri novo morbo medeor.[3]  From the same words is formed the name of the goddess Meditrina, whose celebrations were called Meditrinalia.

MEDITERREA.  Sisenna considers this form as preferable to mediterranea

MELO, alternative name for the Nile.

MEGALESIA.  Games in honour of the Great Goddess. 

I will look some more at this later on.

  1. [1] i.e. monstrosities, prodigies, rather than marvels.
  2. [2] The senior magistrate (Meddix) was captured there, the other was killed.
  3. [3] Old, I drink the new wine; from the old wine I would acquire a new illness.

More on the manuscript of Festus’ Lexicon

An early editor, Antonio Agustin, in his preface to his edition of 1559, describes the transmission as follows:

In these twenty books, which he entitled de verborum significatione, or priscorum verborum cum exemplis, Sextus Pompeius Festus abridged the books of Verrius Flaccus on the same subject. For he omitted the words which were, in Verrius’ own words, ‘too old, and dead and buried and were of no use and authority’. He dealt with the same words [that Verrius had discussed] more clearly and more briefly, setting out the original words in a smaller space. He also provided a critical treatment of examples found in other sources. He often corrected Verrius’ errors, and he always explained most learnedly why he did so.

Now this book had the misfortune to suffer harm of several kinds very long ago. For we could not find out either who this Festus was, or when he wrote this work. Only one or two references to it are to be found here and there in Charisius and Macrobius.

While the whole book was still extant in the time of Charlemagne, one Paulus thought it would be useful if he made a sort of epitome of the parts he liked best. Ignorant men liked his book so much that it took Festus’ place in every library.

One codex survived the slaughter. But that was like a soldier whose comrades have been defeated and massacred, and who creeps along at random with his legs broken, his nose mutilated, one eye gouged out, and one arm broken. This book supposedly came from Illyria. According to Pio and Poliziano, Pomponio Leto had some pages of it; Manilius Rallus had the greater part. Angelo Poliziano received the book from them, went over it, and copied it, and he tried to use it in his Miscellanea to emend a verse of Catullus. Using this same copy by Poliziano, Pier Vettori has begun, with his customary learning, to emend the vulgate text of Festus at various points in his Variae lectiones.

The remains of the codex passed to Aldo Manuzio, who tried to combine them with the epitome of Paulus, thus making one body from two sets of parts. But so much was omitted [or] changed in publication that it was still necessary for other critics to intervene. Achille Maffei, the brother of Cardinal Bernardino, has another copy, similarly confIated from both texts; it is fuller than the Aldine. Thus there have been three recensions of the same text, all imperfect. There is the old MS of half of Festus; of this, nothing remains before the letter M, and from that letter to the end barely half of what there used to be. The second text is Paulus’s epitome. As we show in this edition, even the most ignorant can see from a comparison of the texts how carelessly that was put together. The third text is that conflated from the other two, like those of Aldo and Maffei, and our own.

Stirring stuff!  Anthony Grafton, who translated the Latin [1] rightly remarks, “by no one has [the story] ever been told in livelier terms”.

Grafton corrects the picture slightly.  Various editions of the epitome by Paul the Deacon started to appear in print from 1471 onwards.  The solitary codex to survive the Middle Ages is Naples, Bibliotheca Nazionale IV.A.3, written in the second half of the eleventh century, probably at Rome.  It originally contained sixteen gatherings, the first seven of which had already been lost by the time that it reappeared in the fifteenth century.  He continues:

The nine that remained had also been damaged by fire, so that some leaves were missing, and on many leaves most or all of the outer column of the text was also lost. Manilius Rallus, a Greek from Sparta who became a successful Roman Catholic churchman and Neo-Latin poet, brought it to Italy at some time before 1477. He is said to have found it in Dalmatia.

Rallus lent this codex to Pomponio Leto, who found it most helpful for his pioneering research into Roman antiquities. He drew on the new codex for his university lectures on Varro and other authors. Unfortunately, he treated the codex with his usual lack of scruple – he kept the eighth, tenth, and sixteenth gatherings, which have subsequently disappeared, and must be reconstructed from a number of surviving transcripts. 

These statements about the ms. Grafton references to the edition of W. M. Lindsay (1913), p.iii-xi (the statements about Leto are from elsewhere).

However Fay Glinister disagrees on one important point:

When the manuscript surfaced, some time before the death of the humanist and philosopher Lorenzo Valla (1406-1457), it was already incomplete.[6]

[6] For the date, see Lorenzo Valla, Le postille al”Institutio oratoria’ di Quintiliano, eds. L. Cesarini Martinelli and A. Perosa (Padua 1996). There had previously been a claim that the MS was found in Dalmatia in the 1470s, by the Greek Manilius Rhallus; it is now evident that this was a mistake.

I presume from this hasty reference that there is evidence that Valla referred to Festus (and not to the epitome of Paul the Deacon), but without access to the Valla text, it is not clear what the argument is. 

Lindsay on the other hand tells us:

In Illyrico codicem repertum fama erat, sed non satis certa.

It is supposed that the codex was found in Illyria, but this is not quite certain.

No reference is given for this statement.  Rhallus’ claim to discovery is based on his edition of the epitome by Paul the Deacon in 1471, in which he refers in the preface:

Nuper cum legissem Pompei Festi mutilatos libros qui priscorum verborum inscribuntur, vehementer dolui quod tantum opus integrum non remansit.

Recently when I read the mutilated books of Pompeius Festus which are inscribed priscorum verborum, I greatly regretted that such a work should not be preserved complete.

But whether this refers to the manuscript, or to the epitome is not clear.

The Illyria story seems to derive from the preface of the editio princeps, 1500, at Milan, from Io. Angelus Seinzenzeler, which contained Nonius, Festus with Paul the Deacon, and Varro.  The editor was Io. Baptista Pius.  In his preface he writes:

His quae nobis venerunt ex codice pervetusto et ob hoc fidelissimo, qui ex Illyrico Pomponio Laeto fuerat oblatus, …

These things, which came to us from a very old and therefore very reliable codex, which was brought from Illyria by Pomponio Leto, …

There are no other references to a find in Illyria in Lindsay.  It would be good to clarify precisely what is, and is not, known about the circumstances of the rediscovery.

  1. [1] Anthony Grafton, Joseph Scaliger: A study in the history of classical scholarship, Clarendon, 1983, p.134.

From my diary

I’ve written to a couple of people who have done translations for me, offering them a better rate.  It would be good to get some projects in progress again.

My local library has received an ILL request for the English translation of the Saturnalia of Macrobius, made by P. V. Davies in the 60’s.  I need to consult this for information on Festus.  They wrote back to tell me that a book that I had ordered, on colophons in ancient papyri of poetic works, is in.  I shall get hold of that tomorrow.

I’ve also written to Fay Glinister, who was responsible for the Festus Lexicon Project, enquiring about the status of that project.  In particular there was talk of an English translation.  Festus should exist in English, and it would be nice to see if that could be made to happen.

A kind correspondent has placed a copy of Festus as edited by W. Lindsay (1913) in my hands.  Since this is the standard critical edition, it may well be helpful in getting a translation made.  I’ve also been able to glance at Glinister’s book, Verrius, Festus and Paul (2007), containing papers of a conference on these people.  It’s excellent stuff:

It was compiled during the Roman imperial period, but about Festus himself we know virtually nothing. Mainly on the basis of references to Lucan and Martial in Paul the Deacon’s epitome of the Lexicon, Festus is thought to have lived in the second century AD; his work certainly fits well with the literary climate of that era.[2] A fourth-century grammarian, Charisius, provides a terminus ante quem when he cites Porphyrio, in the early third century, as having used Festus.[3] A connection with Narbo in Gaul has long been posited, but is highly tenuous.[4]  The Lexicon is Festus’ only extant text, although another work is advertised in one of the entries (242.19F poriciam).

2) These authors are mentioned only in Paul’s epitome, however, and may not have been included in the corresponding entry of Festus; Paul, however, takes his quotations straight from Festus and seldom if ever adds them himself.
3)  Charisius, Gramm., 285.12, ed. C. Barwick (Leipzig 1944), cites: Porphyrio ex Verrio et Festo. Cf. R. Helm, s.v. Pomponius Porphyrio’, RE 42 (1952), coll. 2412-16.
4) A catalogue from the monastery at Cluny (no. 328, c. 1158-1160) contains amongst other works a liber Festi Pompeii. The dedication is ad Arcorium Rufum, corrected by M. Manitius, ‘Zu Pompeius Festus’, Hermes 27 (1892) 318-20 to Artorium, and identified as a descendant of the grammarian C. Artorius Proculus, mentioned by Festus. Inscriptions from Narbo (CIL XII 4412, 5066) connect the families of the Pompeii with the Artorii, providing a possible, if very speculative context for the author of the Lexicon.[1]

A lot of solid information, there, in a few lines.  Excellent stuff!  The reference to the catalogue of Cluny, online here is interesting:

328. Volumen in quo continentur vite sanctorum Sylvestri, Antonii, Maxentii, Syri Ticinensis, Dyonisii Mediolanensis, Eucherii atque Consortie, Justi Lugdunensis, Maximi episcopi, Euvertii, Lanteni et Jacobi Darendariensis, atque passio Leodegarii, Cantici, Canticiani et Canticianille, et liber Festi Pompeii ad Arcorium Rufum, habens in capite Augustinum de [decem] cordis et quandam collectionem versuum de psalmis, abbreviationem in Cantica canticorum.

An odd volume, mostly hagiographical but with Festus at the back.  And this volume must either be the sole surviving copy, when it was more complete; or else another manuscript.

  1. [1] Glinister, Verrius, Festus and Paul, p.1.

Some notes on the lexicon of Festus

There is a manuscript in the Farnese collection, in the Biblioteca Nazionale in Naples (shelfmark Bibl. Naz. IV.A.3), known as the Farnesianus or F, because it once formed part of the library of Cardinal Ranuccio Farnese.  This contains a text consisting of words and definitions, entitled De significatione verborum, On the meaning of words.  The manuscript tells us that the author is an otherwise unknown Sextus Pompeius Festus.[1]  The manuscript itself is 11th or 12th century.

The manuscript consists of 41 folios of parchment, written on both sides in two columns, giving us 164 columns of text.

The manuscript has suffered damage.  More than a few of the columns show signs of burning on their exterior margin, and most of the folios show evident traces of fire.  However, for some folios, the burned portion has been cut away, and on folio 19, this means that the outer column is completely gone.  The first eight folios are often nearly illegible.  The parchment itself is often pierced here and there by small holes or cuts.

From the ninth folio, the writing is very neat and clear, but heavily abbreviated.  Each entry is begun with majuscule letters, used only for this purpose.

The manuscript seems to have been discovered in Illyria at the start of the 16th century, and brought to Italy.[2]

A good bibliography may be found in the Festus Lexicon Project, which points out that the French translation is at here.  I was unable to locate a copy of the W. M. Lindsay edition of 1913 online, unfortunately.

Fay Glinister writes at the Festus Lexicon Project:

The text, even in its present mutilated state, is an important source for scholars of Roman history. It is a treasury of historical, grammatical, legal and antiquarian learning, providing sometimes unique evidence for the culture, language, political, social and religious institutions, deities, laws, lost monuments, and topographical traditions of ancient Italy.

Festus is important, too, in terms of his numerous explicit citations of early Roman authors, from Fabius Pictor on. He quoted or used many ancient sources, including authors – poets, grammarians, jurists and antiquarians – whose works do not survive elsewhere.

In the case of Plautus, the quotations that survive in Festus are particularly important, as they antedate the edition from which the archetype derives, and sometimes preserve a true reading not otherwise attested.

We could sometimes wish that Festus included more: in quoting, his practice is typically to complete the line, whether or not the sense of the passage can be understood.

The text of Festus sometimes preserves very early traditions, or readings of other authors. For example, the quotation from the Augustan jurist Antistius Labeo’s work on pontifical law in Festus 474, 476L, apparently from priestly records, may be earlier than Varro’s discussion of the Septimontium in LL 5.41.

Other frequently cited authors include Lucilius, Caecilius, Accius, Afranius, Titinius, the grammarian Cornificius, and of course Varro (directly cited about twenty times; in addition a number of other entries have been attributed to him). Festus also includes many glosses of legal character, and cites jurists such as Mucius Scaevola, Sulpicius Rufus, Ateius Capito and so on.

Festus’ many sources represent a wide range of Republican scholarly antiquity, but it is also worthwhile looking at him in the context of his own time. The choice he made to work on such material is quite an interesting one. Clearly, he was interested in the Roman past, but as the first part of his work is lost, we lack any explicit personal statement of his aims.

Nevertheless, his literary activity can be understood in the general context of the cultural attitudes of the second century. He is concerned with the recovery of Roman antiquities of all kinds, and with early literary works (such as those by Ennius and Cato), which fits in with the arcaising and antiquarian interests of a number of near-contemporary Latin authors such as Probus, Apuleius, and most notably Aulus Gellius, author of the Attic Nights.

Hmm.  Now that sounds interesting, although an English translation would definitely need footnotes.  She also believes he is a writer of the 2nd century, not the 4th.

I’ve had a quick look at a couple of sections of the remacle transcription, and came across one entry that seemed interesting:

SOL.  The sun is so named because it is alone.  It is named sometimes sun, sometimes Apollo: You are Apollo, you are alone (Sol) in the sky / heaven.

In this light, the cult of Sol Invictus in the late empire takes on a new meaning.

Likewise the expression “sub corona”, under the crown, is of interest.  There are versions of this in the extracts by Paul the Deacon, as well as the direct text.

SUB CORONA: Captives are said to be sold “under the crown”, because they are sold with their head decorated with a crown.  Cato says: “Let the people give thanks to the gods for giving them success, rather than see themselves sold, wearing a crown, following a defeat.”

SUB CORONA: We say “sold under the crown” because usually a crown is placed on the head of captives when they are sold, as Cato says in his book On the military art: “Let the people go and give thanks to the gods for a success, wearing a crown, rather than be sold, wearing a crown, following a defeat.” However this sign indicates that nothing is owed by the people, as Plautus also indicates in his Little Garden: “Let the crier be crowned, so that he may be sold for any price.”

I wonder whether the custom may explain the passage in Tertullian’s De corona militis where soldiers who worshipped Mithras refused to wear a crown during the distribution of the donatives from the emperor, on the grounds that “Mithras is my crown”?  The crowns were worn for celebration; but clearly it could have another meaning, of ownership.

Another anecdote:

RIDEO, INQUIT GALBA CANTERIO [“I laugh,” said Galba to his horse], is a proverb which Sinnius Capito interprets thus: “If a man falls at the first moment when he begins something.”  Suplicius Galba, setting out for the province that had been assigned to him, saw his horse fall right at the gate of the City.  “I laugh,” he said, “O horse, to see you already tired, with so long a journey to do and so short a distance from the start.”

PRAETORIA COHORS.  The praetorian cohort, so named because it always accompanied the praetor.  Scipio Africanus was the first to select the bravest men from the army, and form a body who would always accompany him during the war, being exempt from all other service and receiving a sixfold wage.

PRAETORIA PORTA.  This name is given to the gate of the camp from which the army goes out to go to fight, because in the beginning the praetors fulfilled the functions assigned today to the consuls, and directed the operations of the war: their tent was likewise called the “praetorium”.

PUNICUM.  A type of cake, the use of which came from the Carthaginians.  Also called probum, because much more delicate than the others.

PECULIUM.  Money belonging to slaves is so called from pecus, just as money belonging to the head of the family is called pecunia.

Other entries of interest that I saw were those on the October Horse and the Ordo Sacerdotum (order of precedence of the priests), but there is much else of interest to the casual reader in this work.  If Aulus Gellius can be read in English, it seems like a pity that Festus cannot be.

  1. [1] C. O. Muller, p.ii, footnote 2, quoting Politian to this effect.
  2. [2] A. Savagner, Sextus Pompeius Festus, De la Signification des mots, vol. 1, 1846, preface.