Latinus Latinius (1513-1593) – a long life in Patristics

The classics and the fathers were rediscovered at the renaissance.  Enthusiasts scampered up and down Europe searching for books, banging on the doors of abbeys in search of lost texts.  They often met with hostility; the ignorant curators saw the interest only as a chance to charge for access, something not unknown to us in the age of digitising material.  Once this first phase of copying was over, and texts like Tacitus and Quintillian began to circulate, first in manuscript copies, then in print, then progress consisted of emendation and improvement.  In the 16th century this was the nature of scholarly work.  Even so, they knew of material now vanished.  Latinus Latinius, or more properly Latino Latini, was a scholar of this period.  I have been reading an article on him by Pierre Petitmengin 1 for the last few days, from which these notes are taken.

Latini was a self-effacing man.  He published only short items under his own name in his life-time, of the kind that would today be published in journals.  His name does not appear on his most important work, the Roman edition of the works of St. Cyprian.  But his name appears here and there in other scholarly output of the day, always indicating a formidable scholar.  The Pamelius edition contains his conjectures; he wrote a piece on the obelisks of Rome which attracted a long reply.  His critical observations circulated widely among scholars in manuscript via letters.  They display a wide range of interests; words found in Galen or whether St. Ambrose was consecrated bishop of Milan in the life time of Auxentius.

He did not come from money.  His parents were middle-class, although educated, and he had to live by his skills as a master of Ciceronian Latin, holding the post of secretary ab epistulis for a series of cardinals.  The death of the first of these in 1563 was a crisis; “I have had to abandon working on Cyprian, leaving it only partly corrected, and also my other studies.”  The next two patrons each died after a year.  He then entered the employment of Marcantonio Colonna.  The cardinal allowed him free lodging at a little house in the Via Lata, near his palace, and tranquility returned.  He was to remain there for more than 20 years, from 1572 until his death. 

He travelled little.  His obligation to his employer obliged him to go with him to Bologna in 1565, where he found manuscripts and scholars; and to Salerno in 1573, where he found neither, and where even the bread was poor and expensive and the wine less good than Rome.  Otherwise his life was externally quiet and uneventful.  From the age of 70 he was obliged to stay at home – often in bed – because of poor health.  In 1575 he went for months without visiting St. Peter’s; a visit to the Vatican Library became an event worthy of notice in a letter.  He never sought out the Great and the Good, preferring freedom to the waste of time and energy necessarily involved in dancing attendance on these in hopes of obtaining something.  But in the end this solitary life came to press on him.  He writes that he had become bored, especially once his failing sight deprived him of his favourite past-time, the reading and correction of copies of Latin and Italian poets, and writing to friends.  It deprived him of the salt of his existence, the “gentle company of good and learned men” (virorum optimorumque suavissima consuetudine frui), as he wrote to one of them.

The first time we encounter him in a circle of scholars is in the preface to the editio princeps (published in 1555) of the Library of Apollodorus, that 2nd century handbook of classical mythology.  His foremost colleage was Guglielmo Sirleto, who was to abandon Chrysoloras and take up the study of the Greek fathers, and end by becoming a cardinal and the librarian of the Vatican library.  Other colleagues were not always so fortunate; one died in prison, another in the pontifical galleys.  Another associate was the orientalist Andreas Masius, to whom he addressed many letters.  Yet another was the wealthy bibliophile, Fulvio Orsini, whose collection of manuscripts and rare books entered the Vatican en bloc after his death.  This circle of classical-minded people did not survive the changes made in Rome by Paul IV and Pius IV and the beginning of the Counter-Reformation.

Latini corresponded widely, although never with protestants.  He was happiest in the middle of doing a number of things.  In Rome he became something of an institution, visited by learned foreigners.  Claude Dupuy (Puteanus) visited in 1586.  Less welcome was a German Jesuit who sought to embroil him in a crusade against protestant scholarship, addressing him with titles which Latini felt were undeserved and inappropriate.  During this time he was engaged on a long and tedious task, revising the Decretal of Gratian, which finally appeared in 1582.  Gradually a new circle of scholars gathered around him, mostly of a younger generation.  The future cardinal Baronius, the biblical scholar Antonio Agellio, and Bandini, who was to catalogue the Vatican collection.

A scholar of this period did not have the advantages of a modern scholar.  Latini sought to build a library that would allow him to work, of the kind that those working in very specialised areas must still build for themselves.  His ambition was to own a copy of every work by every ancient author.  His collection became known, with that of Orsini, as one of the most complete in Rome.  Not rich, he had to buy or beg books, for instance writing to a friend on hearing that a German Jesuit had translated the Commentary on Luke of Titus of Bostra, although the book is not among his collection today.  When a long-desired book arrived at the little house, it would be something of an event.  Latini would read it carefully, and write a little review which would be attached at the top of the book, on its merits or demerits.  For authors where he had more than one copy, one would form his working copy, and all the notes on that author would appear in that copy.  These volumes, filled with Latini’s acute observations, became treasures.  Cardinal Sirleto considered his bible, the companion of his whole scholarly life, the apple of his eye and even mentioned it in his will.  Latini was particularly attached to his Gelenius edition of Tertullian (1550) which he never stopped using from 1554 until he died.  The majority of his books are still in the collection in Viterbo.

One that is not is a 1535 Aldine Lactantius and Tertullian which wandered as far as Paris.   Latini collated the Apologeticum of Tertullian with two manuscripts from Bologna.  He used siglum L for one in litteris Longobardicis, A for the other, V for the consensus of both.  The mss still exist, so Latini’s work is only of historical interest.  But he did the same for the codex Veronensis of Cyprian, very ancient and now lost, which makes his collation one of the most important textual witnesses for the letters of Cyprian.  Another feature of his work is the careful cross-referencing.  He read and reread all the authors in his library, and down the years would link related material as the works gradually became part of his mind and memory.

In so many ways he was a modern figure.  The frequency and content of his Italian correspondance reminds us of modern emails.  His scholarly care shows what 19th century scholarship was to become.  But like ourselves he had to live in a world in which political interference in what could be said and written was on the increase.  I will write another post on Latini and the Index expurgatorius.

He left his library to his home town, Viterbo, where it rests today, his working copies heavy with careful, erudite observations, mostly unpublished.  Interest in him disappeared after the 17th century, after the death of canon Domenico Macri (1604-1672), who published two collections of his letters and assembled a selection of the scholarly notes in Latini’s books.  While Viterbo has named a road after him, his books remain in boxes in a chapel of San Lorenzo, awaiting the reopening of the Archivio Capitolare.

1. Pierre Petitmengin, Latino Latini (1513-1593): Une longue vie au service des Peres de l’eglise. in Humanisme et Eglise en Italie et en France meridionale (xve siecle – milieu du xvie siecle), ed. Patrick Gilli, Rome (2004), pp. 381-407.

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