The late antique edition of Livy by the Nicomachean family

The vast history Ab urbe condita by Livy was so enormous – well over 100 books – that it was transmitted in collections of 10 books.  Most of these “decades” are lost.  We possess only the first, third, fourth, and half of the fifth decade.

In late antiquity the texts of the first century came back into fashion, and were once more copied and amended.  We learn from a letter by Q. Aurelius Symmachus, the opponent of St Ambrose, that “Munus totius Liviani operis quod spopondi etiam nunc diligentia emendationis moratur.” (Epist. 9.13: “The gift of the whole of the works of Livy which I have promised is also now delayed by the task of removing errors”.)  This letter seems to date to 401.[1]

What is remarkable is that this work of correction, undertaken by the interlinked Symmachan and Nicomachean families, is attested in the colophons of surviving manuscripts of the First Decade.  These are well-known to scholars.  But it is wonderful to find that we can see an example online at the Biblioteca Mediceo-Laurenziana in Florence, ms. Plutei 63.19, “M” to the editors.  This was written sometime before 968 at the Cathedral of Verona.  Tweeter GiorgiaV has extracted four pages with examples.

Here’s the end of book VI (fol.138):


Titi Livi Nicomachus VC III prefect urbs emendavi ab urbe cond Victorianus VC. Emendabam Domnis Symmachis Liber VI Explicit.

Nichomachus, 3 times urban prefect, I have corrected the “Ab urbe condita” of Titus Livy.  Victorianus, I corrected [it] for the noble Symmachi.  Book 6 ends.


And the end of book V:

TITI LIVI Nicomachus Dexter V.C. emendavi ad exemplum parentis mei Clementiani; ab urbe condit. Victorianus VC emendabam domnis simmachis.

Nicomachus Dexter, I corrected against the copy of my Clementian parents; the “Ab urbe condita” of Titus Livy. Victorianus, I corrected [it] for the noble Symmachi.


At the end of book 8:

Emendavi Nicomachus [F]lavianus Titi Livi ter praef. urb. apud hennam [i.e. terminam] ab urbe conditor.  Victorianus VIC [i.e. VC] emendabam domnis Symmachis. lib. VIII. explicit.

I, Nicomachus Flavianus, 3 times urban prefect, have corrected the “Ab urbe condita” of Titus Livy at the end.  Victorianus, I amended it for the noble Symmachi.  Book 8 ends.

Fol.172v has the colophon for book 8.

VC is vir clarissimus, a member of the aristocracy.  All these people engaged in textual criticism were very senior people indeed.  Victorianus is Tascius Victorianus.  He also worked with Nicomachus on a translation from Greek of Philostratus Life of Apollonius of Tyana, as we learn from Sidonius Apollinaris, letter 8.3.[2]  The publication in Latin of a life of this controversial figure, used then and now for anti-Christian purposes, reinforces the pagan background of the editorial team.

An old 1828 edition here provides a sometimes inaccurate transcription of these and other colophons.  Charles W. Hedrick’s volume History and Silence p.28 tells us about the three terms as urban prefect of Flavian Nicomachus, presumably ending in 408 AD.

The grammatical structure is sometimes a bit weird.  There is an article by J.E.G. Zetzel, “The Subscriptions in the Manuscripts of Livy and Fronto and the Meaning of Emendatio”, in Classical Philology 75 (1980), p.38-59.[3]  This offers an intriguing suggestion, that, particularly for book 7, we’re looking at the result of copying a colophon laid out like this:

emendaui Nicomachus Flauianus
uc ter praef. urbis apud Hennam
Victorianus uc emendabam domnis Symmachis

The Livy stuff is in capitals, the colophon info interspersed between it.  So one of the medieval copyists ran together what he found in the exemplar before him.

But the manuscript has yet another interesting feature for us, on fol.163v, in book 8, chapter 15:3, describing how a vestal virgin was buried alive.  Here we find a marginal note:

I am  unable to read this, but Zetzel informs us that it begins by paraphrasing the text and then reads:

miror autem, cum defossam indicat, omisisse illum ex libris Sibillinis hoc esse praeceptum, ut legisse me in ipsis apud Flegontem temporis istius uersibus recolo.

But I amazed, when he says that she was buried [alive], that he has omitted that this was commanded in the Sybilline books, as I recall that I read in them, in Phlegon in the poems of that time.

References in Latin to Phlegon are rare and late; found only in the Historia Augusta, and in Jerome.  It’s not likely that a medieval annotator could write such a thing, so it looks as if at least some of the marginalia also belong to antiquity, and quite possibly the Nicomachean editors.

It’s wonderful what you find in old books.

  1. [1]Zetzel, p.38.
  2. [2]S. Stucchi &c, Apollonius of Tyana in Legend and History, p.170.
  3. [3]JSTOR

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