A cicerone’s Cicero

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 27/52

http://openn.library.upenn.edu/Data/0023/lewis_e_066/data/web/5230_0006_web.jpg   5230_0006_web
Cicero, Epistolae ad familiares (Letters to Friends), Philadelphia, Free Library of Philadelphia, Lewis E 66, fol. 1r

The recovery of ancient collections of letters provided new stylistic models for humanists eager to break with the old-fashioned Medieval formularies, the stilted writing manuals that had until then structured letter-writing practices. The great poet and text-hunter Francis Petrarch had uncovered Cicero’s Epistolae ad Atticum in 1345 in Verona, but it was only in 1392 that Coluccio Salutati brought to light the entire sixteen books that make up the Epistolae ad familiares. Beyond its exemplary style of Latin prose, this collection of letters provided invaluable historical information concerning the final years of the Roman Republic. The fine humanist manuscript we are looking at today, Free Library of Philadelphia Lewis E 66, contains a complete copy of the Epistolae ad familiares, save for the first four letters of book 16, which appear to have been omitted purposefully. 

The text is written in a competent but informal humanistic cursive, somewhat at odds with the more refined tricolor square capitals that mark the beginning of each book. The frontispiece displays the type of bianchi girari decoration intertwined with the gilded initial and set against tri-colored background fills that is the hallmark of well-produced humanist manuscripts and inclunables. The writing of the book was completed in Ferrara on 12 March 1468 by a certain Gregorio Martinello de Buccassolo, as noted in the closing colophon on folio 174v: “M.cccc. lxviij. die xij. Martij Ferrariae hora ui quarta uigesima per me Gregorium de Martinellis de Buccassolo”.

Lewis E 66, fol. 174v

Lewis E 66, fol. 174v (detail of colophon)

The escutcheon in the lower margin of folio 1r, also surrounded by florid vinework, was never filled-in. During a recent visit to the Free Library’s Rare Book Department with colleagues from the Kislak Center’s Steven Miller Conservation Laboratory, we attempted to use portable UV lighting to decipher what looked like a rubbed inscription in this area, but to no avail. Perhaps further examination with more specialized equipment would allow us to read what looks to be a proper name, perhaps added by a later owner or by the initial owner, in anticipation of the addition of a painted coat-of-arms.

Lewis E 66, fol. 1r (detail of the unpainted escutcheon under UV light)

Little is known regarding the scribe, Gregorio Martinello, as his name does not appear in any of the usual repertories of names of Renaissance scribes. However, thanks to the wonders of digitized books, we can learn a little more about him. He appears to have been a school master in Finale Emilia, just west of Ferrara, and seems to have transcribed a copy of Federico Frezzi’s epic poem of circa 1400, the Quadriregio.1

Extract from Pietro Canneti’s Dissertazione Apologetica… Intorno al Poema de’ Quattro Regni, detto altramente il Quadriregio (Foligno: Campana, 1723), 20.


  1. Pietro Canneti, Dissertazione Apologetica di D. Pietro Canneti Abate della Congregazione Camaldolese Intorno al Poema de’ Quattro Regni, detto altramente il Quadriregio (Foligno: Campana, 1723), 20.