Notes on the Laus Pisonis

My copy of Texts and Transmissions is still lying beside my computer with a bookmark at the page on the manuscripts of Juvenal.  But over the page is a short entry on a Latin text previously unknown to me.  This is an anonymous Latin panegyric known as the Laus Pisonis (Praise of Piso).  Fortunately I find the text and a translation already present at Bill Thayer’s site, Lacus Curtius, here.

The work survived to the renaissance in a single manuscript, which in 1527 was found at the South German abbey of Lorsch.  The text was published by Johannes Sichard in that year at Basle (by Froben?), which is fortunate for the Lorsch codex has since disappeared.  Lorsch was founded in the middle of the Dark Ages, and was sacked, like the other abbeys of Southern Germany, during the Thirty Years War.  The manuscripts of Lorsch, such as survived, were taken to Heidelberg.  The collection of manuscripts at Heidelberg ended up in the Vatican collection, as the “Palatine” manuscripts.  But like the two volume Tertullian, listed in a medieval catalogue, the collection of minor Latin poets which contained the Laus Pisonis did not make it. 

Anyone wishing to edit the text is therefore dependent upon the fidelity of Schard’s edition.  This is not an enviable fate.  Even so good an editor as Beatus Rhenanus, who printed the editio princeps of Tertullian at Basle in 1521, was quite willing to simply mark up the manuscript for the printer and send it to the monkeys of the press to be typeset in the new moveable type.   Quite a number of errors could creep in, from such a hands-off policy.  Rhenanus did just this, in 1520, with the only manuscript of Velleius Paterculus (since lost).  But in that case, once sample sheets had been printed, errors were noticed — and one of Rhenanus’ associates recalled the manuscript from the printer, and collated it against the print.  The collation was then itself added to the edition.

The process also led to the loss of manuscripts.  A careless editor might well feel that the parchment manuscript, by now considerably defaced, was of no further interest, now that he had a nice new clean copy.  It is a lamentable fact that quite a few unique manuscripts survived the Dark Ages and the Middle Ages, only to be chopped up for parchment once printed.  However we happen to know that the manuscript of Velleius survived this treatment and existed as late as the 18th century.  Similarly the manuscripts of Tertullian used by Rhenanus did not perish at that point; one, indeed, survives today among Rhenanus’ papers in the little town of Selestat in Alsace.  But we can only speculate whether the only manuscript of the Laus Pisonis perished in 1527, cut up to line baking dishes, or suffered some other fate somewhat later.

Fortunately a second source is available, in the form of a 12th century anthology of texts, the Florilegium Gallicum.  This contains 75% of the Laus Pisonis, and so can be used to correct the text.

The poem itself praises a young Calpurnius Piso, one of a number of that name.   The references to Maecenas suggest a date in the mid- to late-first century.


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