Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana: A Treasure Trove of Ancient Manuscripts

Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana: A Treasure Trove of Ancient Manuscripts

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The main public square of the Italian city of Venice is the Piazza San Marco (St. Around this square are some of the most recognizable buildings in Venice. The most famous of these are the Basilica Cattedrale Patriarcale di San Marco (St. Mark’s Basilica) and its iconic bell tower, the Campanile di San Marco (St. Mark’s Campanile). As St. Mark is the patron saint of the city, it is little wonder that many of the public buildings in Venice are named after him. Another building on the Piazza San Marco named after the city’s patron saint is the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana (the National Library of St. Mark’s). The Biblioteca Marciana is located at the end of the Piazza San Marco, and separated from the Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace) by the Piazzetta San Marco. This building, which symbolizes the city’s wealth and tradition of public investment in intellectual and artistic pursuits, was designed by the Italian architect, Jacopo Sansovino.

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Portrait of Jacopo Sansovino, architect of the famous Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana in Venice. Artist: Tintoretto 1560-1570. Currently on display at the Uffizi Gallery. ( Wikimedia Commons )

The story of the Biblioteca Marciana begins with Cardinal Bessarion, a Cardinal Bishop of the Roman Catholic Church, and the titular Latin Patriarch of Constantinople. In 1468, the cardinal donated, to the Republic of Venice, about 750 codices in Greek and Latin as well as 250 manuscripts, followed soon after by a number of printed works, all from his personal collection. It is said that Cardinal Bessarion had intended to make these works accessible to the public. Incidentally, such a project was first envisioned by the Renaissance scholar, Francesco Petrarch, about a century earlier. Like Cardinal Bessarion, Petrarch also intended to donate his personal library to the Republic of Venice, though its contents never made it to the city.

Portrait of Cardinal Bessarion, 1473-75 by artists: Justus van Gent and Pedro Berruguete. Currently at the Louvre Museum, Paris. ( Wikimedia Commons )

In the collection of Cardinal Bessarion was a copy of Pseudo-Apollodorus’ Bibliotheca. This was a compendium of Greek myths believed to have been compiled during the 2 nd century AD, but was nearly lost in the 13 th century AD. Only one incomplete manuscript has survived, and is now only partially preserved in Paris. As Cardinal Bessarion’s copy was made when the aforementioned manuscript was still intact it is highly valuable, other later manuscripts are derived from it.

Although Cardinal Bessarion’s gift to the Republic of Venice was made in 1468, it was only much later that the Doge, Andrea Gritti, decreed the construction of a building to permanently house these precious works. Designed by the Italian architect, Jacopo Sansovino, construction began in 1537, and was only completed in 1588. Unfortunately, Sansovino would not live to see his masterpiece completed, as he died in 1570.

Prior to his death, however, Sansovino had completed 16 of the façade’s 21 arcaded bays, and began work on the frescoes and other decorations. Following Sansovino’s death, the task of completing the building fell on the shoulders of Vincenzo Scamozzi.

Photograph taken inside the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, the ornate ceilings, walls and marbled floors resemble the grandeur of the time when it was built, the artwork and intricate details are astounding. Photo by Wga. Hu ( Wikimedia Commons ).

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Portrait of architect Vincenzo Scamozzi by Paolo Veronese, dated mid 1500’s. He took over the architecture of the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana after the death of Sansovino. ( Wikimedia Commons )

Over the centuries, the Biblioteca Marciana’s collection was gradually enlarged by personal donations as well as by the acquisition of some manuscripts from the libraries of monasteries. In 1603, a law was introduced in Venice requiring printers to donate a copy of every book published to the library. It is said that this was the first law of its kind in Italy. During the Napoleonic era, some religious institutions were suppressed and a portion of their libraries collections were given to the Biblioteca Marciana.

View from the lagoon, Venice, of Sansovino's Libreria which contains the Biblioteca Marciana, and the two columns in the Piazzetta. Photo by: Peter J.StB.Green. Taken in 2000. ( Wikimedia Commons )

In 1811, the Biblioteca Marciana was transferred to the Palazzo Ducale, then moved again in 1904 to the Zecca (Mint), incidentally it was another building designed by Sansovino. In 1924, the Biblioteca Marciana, along with the Zecca, regained possession of the original building, as well as part of the Procuratie Nuove. Today, the Biblioteca Marciana houses around a million volumes, including about 13,000 manuscripts, 2,883 incunabola (printed European works prior to 150 AD) and 24,055 cinquecintene (European books printed in the 16 th century). Additionally, the decorations of the Biblioteca Marciana are as impressive as its collection. One of the highlights of this building is Titian’s La Sapienza , located on the ceiling, and has been the focus of a conservation project of the World Monuments Fund.

Featured image: Gentile Bellini: Procession in St. Mark’s Square (1496). Gallerie dell’Accademia – Venice. (

By Ḏḥwty


Diller, A., 1935. The Text History of the Bibliotheca of Pseudo-Apollodorus. Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, Volume 66, pp. 296-313., 2014. The Marciana Library. [Online]
Available at:

World Monuments Fund, 2015. Biblioteca Marciana. [Online]
Available at:, 2015. Monumental Rooms of the National Library of St. Mark's in Venice. [Online]
Available here., 2008. The Marciana National Library. [Online]
Available here.

10 of the most stunning libraries open to the public around the world

There's nothing a bookworm likes more than a reading holiday and what could be better than a holiday read? Surely only a holiday library. Many of the most beautiful in the world are open to the public for visits, so to celebrate Libraries Week, which runs until 14 October, we've picked our favourites from around the globe.


Katherine Freeeman-Croft: “Rosalba Carriera, 1673-1757: Miniatures & Pastels”

Ambrus Gero: “Tintoretto’s Techniques”

Evelyn Golden: “Comparison of Ancient Texts Da Architectura and Le Minere della Pittura

Kosuke Kawahara: “Giotto’s Fresco techniques in Padua and Assisi”

Yi Luo: “Palladio at the Church of S. Giorgio Maggiore”

Jesse Sullivan: “Tracing Histories: The Morosini Altarpiece

Huier (Judy) Zhao: “Techniques of Bellini and his contemporaries”

Meirav Zaks-Zilberman: “Artemisia Gentileschi, Vision and Artistry: The Story of Esther”

Thursday, February 25, 2010


Mithridates VI Eupator (120-63 B.C.) was a famous king of Pontus--a region on the Black Sea--who in the last century of the republic long defied the power of Rome. In a series of three wars, fought between the 80s and the 60s B.C., he engaged with such great soldiers of the day as Sulla, Lucullus and Pompey. In modern times this resourceful and energetic monarch was the subject of a classic study by Théodore Reinach which appeared first in French (1890) and subsequently in German (1895) and later of important works by B. McGing (1986) and J. Ballesteros Pastor (1996). Now Adrienne Mayor has given us this detailed biography here under review. Although for the most part grounded on the ancient sources and modern scholarly literature, this work differs from its predecessors in its bold epic sweep. This is a highly coloured portrait and a very readable account of a complex individual with whom Mayor plainly has considerable empathy. The book therefore should find a wide audience and serve as an attractive introduction to its subject. The title Poison King would seem to suggest that perhaps Mayor, who is a noted authority in the field of ancient poisons, was first drawn to Mithridates because he, too, was a very great expert in such matters. However, Mayor goes far beyond such specialised interests and presents us with a richly detailed narrative of the king and his doings in which she constantly strives to put before us Mithridates' view of events.

There are, of course, gaps in our knowledge of Mithridates due to the state of our sources and Mayor attempts to fill them by imaginative reconstructions. Not so much a case of how things really were as how they might have been. This is not a course which will commend itself to all. For instance, however splendid the evocation of the landscape in pp.73-95 we may legitimately enquire if Mithridates' 'exile' from court was as Mayor describes it. Again we may wonder if there is any profit in describing what Sulla's fingers may have looked like (p.212). Moreover, I think we may attribute to that empathy we noted earlier the rather wistful attempt (pp.362-365) to suggest what might have happened at the end of the Third Mithridatic War if the King, instead of committing suicide, simply rode off into the sunset. Indeed I would add that I found far more fascinating than this speculation the few pages (pp.373-376) Mayor devotes to considering if Mithridates had a personality disorder.

Leaving aside now the problems posed by imaginative reconstruction it should be noted that there are a few instances of error or, at least, of questionable statements. Herodotus does not say the Persians learned from the Greeks to accept homosexuality, rather they learned of pederasty from them (p.89). Sulla and his army were not in Rome in the 90s B.C. when Marius met Mithridates (p.132). Marius was not a consul in 88 B.C. (p.165). I doubt if the Asiatic Vespers can be seen as a gesture of solidarity with the Social War rebels (p.174). Sulla did not destroy Athens (p.203). It is at least questionable whether the siege of Cyzicus began in 73 B.C. (p.270). In both the original (1992) and the revised version (forthcoming) of my biography of Lucullus I have argued in detail for 74 B.C. The writer was Sidonius not Sidonis Apollonaris (p.262).

But such reservations as I might have should not be seen as taking from what Mayor has undoubtedly achieved. She herself (p.11) says, 'Mithridates' incredible saga is a rollicking good story' and she has narrated it with verve, panache and scholarly skill.


Nell'Introduction, P. Ducrey sottolinea l'importanza di riunire sette studiosi apprezzati intorno a temi di loro specifica competenza per creare uno degli Entretiens sur l'antiquité classique per i quali la Fondation Hardt è giustamente famosa. In particolare il tema della sicurezza e dell'ordine pubblico è stato prescelto anche grazie all'interesse attuale che esso riveste.

Il primo saggio è di H. van Wees, Stasis, Destroyer of men. Mass, Elite, Political Violence and Security in Archaic Greece (pp. 1-39). L'autore descrive la società greca arcaica ed i violenti conflitti politici ed economici che coinvolgevano non solo le élites ma larghi strati delle comunità, mettendo in rilievo come tali conflitti non erano molto dissimili dalle staseis della Grecia classica. Nelle loro opere i poeti mostrano come le lotte intestine, più che gli attacchi dei nemici, abbiano effetti distruttivi sulle città, in una visione comune anche agli storici. Van Wees analizza le varie forme di violenza delle élites, in particolare il colpo di stato, spesso realizzato con poco spargimento di sangue, ma a volte attraverso la violenza armata. Le rivalità tra le élites per gli onori e il peso politico creava grande insicurezza nella città arcaica il principale tentativo di contenere questa violenza fu costituito dalle riforme di Clistene che, secondo lo studioso, diedero grande protezione ai poveri contro gli abusi. L'ostracismo, poi, offrì un mezzo perfetto per convogliare in canali non violenti sia le rivalità nelle élites sia lo scontento popolare. Discussione alle pp. 40-48.

W. Riess, Private Violence and State Control. The Prosecution of Homicide and its Symbolic Meanings in Fourth-Century BC Athens (pp. 49-92). Lo studioso si chiede dapprima come riuscì lo stato ateniese a contenere la violenza non essendo dotato di una regolare forza di polizia e, quindi, quanta autotutela sia accettabile in uno stato che ufficialmente proclama il razionale governo della legge. Nella persecuzione dell'omicidio la tensione tra autotutela privata e controllo statale rimane evidente anche in età classica. La normale procedura con la quale la famiglia della vittima cominciava a perseguire l'omicidio era la dike phonou, ma l'autotutela aveva un ruolo di primo piano nella seconda tra le procedure più importanti, l'apagoge. Riess analizza la flessibilità procedurale del diritto ateniese da una prospettiva simbolica. Per lo studioso, infatti, la scelta della procedura invia messaggi simbolici alle varie corti sottolineando differenti concetti di diritto e coinvolgendo la comunità politica a vari livelli: scegliendo una dike phonou, per esempio, sembra che si volesse enfatizzare la legalità dell'iniziativa scegliendo un'apagoge, invece, si enfatizzava il fatto che il crimine aveva delle amplissime dimensioni politiche. Dopo un esame minuzioso di tutti i casi di omicidio e della relativa procedura di repressione attestati dalle fonti, Riess perviene alla conclusione che il diritto ateniese in questa materia era fondamentalmente orientato su base privata, con la dike phonou che era la procedura primaria. Riguardo alla tensione tra autotutela e controllo statale il diritto ateniese era un ibrido: da una parte, effettivamente, il controllo statale non poteva far nulla senza iniziativa privata e autotutela dall'altra, Draconte aveva intrapreso passi decisivi per ridurre la faida di sangue, almeno nei casi di omicidio involontario. Alla fine una Appendix (pp. 93-94), nella quale sono elencati gli omicidi attestati ad Atene tra il 422 e il 350 a.C. e la forma della loro repressione, e la Discussione (pp. 95-101).

A. Chaniotis, Policing the Hellenistic Countryside. Realities and Ideologies (pp.103-145). In molti decreti del mondo ellenistico ricorrono espressioni formulari che esprimono una delle necessità fondamentali delle comunità greche di questo periodo: la tutela della chora. Anche quando tali iscrizioni non sono specificamente rivolte ad esigenze protezionistiche del territorio, ma ineriscono alla materia fiscale o finanziaria, la preoccupazione relativa alla phylake tes choras risulta essere un dato costante. Chaniotis in sei paragrafi ricostruisce l'ideologia sottostante alla salvaguardia degli interessi territoriali delle comunità interessate, vagliando le singole realtà esaminate attraverso il puntuale richiamo epigrafico. Lo studioso introduce l'argomento presentando un decreto ateniese del 325 a.C. (IG. II 2 1629) sono poi illustrate sei differenti prospettive sulla sicurezza dei luoghi e sui pericoli cui la popolazione può essere esposta. Si occupa, quindi, dettagliatamente della varietà di pericoli per il territorio: invasioni nemiche attacchi di briganti perpetrati ai danni di viaggiatori, commercianti, pellegrini e pastori incursioni di gruppi di etnia barbara comportamenti illeciti di soggetti che sfruttano indebitamente le risorse della chora assalti di pirati o di altre comunità conflitti civili rivolte di guarnigioni nei forti e occupazione dei forti stessi da parte di esuli. La fuga di schiavi invece sembra rappresentare un pericolo solo in situazioni eccezionali tuttavia, specifiche norme regolavano la loro permanenza nei santuari come supplici e la loro cattura. Sono poi analizzate le misure di difesa impiegate, quali la costruzione di postazioni fortificate vigilate da guarnigioni, o l'istituzione di truppe regolarmente addette alla sorveglianza, ma anche inviate da sovrani stranieri, o, infine, presidii di milizie cittadine, composte in genere da efebi. Nelle città di consistenti dimensioni le iscrizioni testimoniano la presenza di ufficiali preposti esclusivamente alla salvaguardia del territorio. Le funzioni di controllo degli (h)orophylakes sono trattate da Chaniotis in un apposito paragrafo (il 5, erroneamente indicato come 4), in cui è evidenziata la variabilità delle loro prerogative in base al contesto geografico considerato. In chiusura sono esaminate epigrafi aventi ad oggetto le dedicazioni religiose compiute dalle guardie territoriali in cave e santuari: tra le attività di questi corpi esse sono quelle meglio attestate dalle fonti. Discussione alle pp. 146-153.

C. Brélaz, L'adieu aux armes: La défense de la cité grecque dans l'empire romain pacifié (pp. 155-196). In questo contributo, dal titolo suggestivo, lo studioso illustra come le città greche durante il principato romano abbiano accettato di abdicare ai loro diritti di fare guerra e come la smilitarizzazione abbia pesato nella storia della mentalità. Brélaz ritiene interessante studiare le ragioni per le quali si mantennero uno spirito militare e le manifestazioni relative in zone pacificate quali le comunità greche nell'età imperiale romana. Esordisce con un discutibile paragone tra le città oggetto, appunto, del suo studio, e la Svizzera, uno stato dove pur non essendoci guerre da più di 100 anni continuano a mantenersi vivi simboli ed istituzioni militari. 1 Compie quindi un'ampia panoramica dei problemi di smilitarizzazione delle città greche, della pax Romana dal punto di vista dei Greci, della conservazione della cultura militare, dell'immagine del soldato e sull'ephebia come istituzione tradizionale tipicamente militare del ruolo delle mura del problema della "guerra fantasma", cioè la competizione tra le città greche per ottenere onori e privilegi. Mette in rilievo come i conflitti interni sfociarono spesso in rivolte, assimilate dagli autori contemporanei ad atti di guerra, e come lo spirito militare delle città risorgesse in caso di saccheggio da parte di briganti o incursioni di barbari. In base a tutto questo, nelle "Conclusions" sottolinea l'attualità della tradizione militare e del tema della guerra nella vita pubblica di queste comunità, benché fossero state private del loro apparato militare, attraverso la conservazione di simboli militari. Queste città cercavano in vari modi di gestire la materia militare: attraverso l'idealizzazione del passato militare, nelle forme di espressione artistica, nell'esaltazione dei valori militari nella vita politica interna ed esterna e con l'esaltazione di ogni dimostrazione di forza. La tradizione militare, per quanto profondamente attenuata, sopravvive durante il principato e la guerra rimane una potenzialità, ragion per cui Brélaz può individuare caratteri di continuità dell'identità civica greca dall'epoca ellenistica fino a quella imperiale. Discussione alle pp. 197-204.

A. W. Lintott, How High a Priority did Public Order and Public Security have under the Republic (pp. 205-220). Nella prima parte dell'indagine evidenzia come durante la repubblica i Romani probabilmente consideravano la sicurezza sociale come il risultato di un conflitto piuttosto che della repressione. Tuttavia nel lungo periodo appare chiaro che la pace sociale poteva essere minata dai disordini prodotti mediante l'uso della violenza privata anche se finalizzata alla sicurezza e all'ordine pubblico. Lintott ritiene che la violenza "non produttiva" sia stata progressivamente eliminata dall'ordinamento romano. Le norme delle XII Tavole in materia di procedura civile ed esecuzione e quelle relative agli illeciti privatistici utilizzavano il principio di "giustizia popolare" nell'interesse dell'ordine giuridico con la formalizzazione della in ius vocatio e l'introduzione del vadimonium queste procedure furono modificate. Fondamentale per cogliere la relazione tra diritto e violenza è la tutela interdittale della possessio: nella valutazione pretoria la vis diventa il parametro per discriminare la legittimità del possesso attuale e della pretesa restitutoria dello spoliatus solo in ipotesi particolari il pretore poteva concedere eccezioni. A partire dall'età dei Gracchi la legislazione repubblicana comincia a reprimere in maniera sistematica la vis. Nella seconda parte del contributo lo studioso si sofferma sul ruolo dei tribuni della plebe nella storia della violenza politica. Dopo aver ricordato l'origine di questa magistratura, ed aver sottolineato l'importanza politica dell'intercessio tribunicia, Lintott esprime la convinzione che le prerogative dei tribuni potessero essere impiegate anche in chiave riconciliativa, allo scopo di evitare i disordini, come chiarito in alcuni episodi riferiti dalle fonti (Gell. N.A. 4. 14. 1-6 Liv. 42. 32. 7 Livii Per. 48 55). Con la lex Sempronia de capite civium furono aperte le porte al sistema delle quaestiones perpetuae le quali, oltre che oggetto di continua contesa tra senato e ceto equestre, costituirono anche una valvola di sicurezza per il risentimento e l'agitazione popolare: il corretto funzionamento di questi tribunali costituì per i Romani un'alternativa allo scontro violento. Discussione alle pp. 221-226.

R. MacMullen, The problem of the fanaticism (pp. 227-260). In questo suggestivo studio, MacMullen descrive il fanatismo, sconosciuto alle religioni politeistiche, come una devozione a una fede religiosa per la quale si è disposti anche a morire e le sue caratteristiche: il sentimento monoteistico per un solo dio l'irrazionalità delle azioni la difficoltà di controllo e il fatto che costituiva effettivamente un problema politico interno durante l'impero. Dopo aver illustrato il fenomeno attraverso le pagine di Flavio Giuseppe, in relazione alle tre rivolte ebraiche, descrive l'ostilità fra Ebrei e non Ebrei, e si sofferma sulle violenze contro la comunità cristiana e la persecuzione dei Cristiani da parte dei non Cristiani, che presentano caratteristiche analoghe a quelle degli Ebrei, soprattutto perché "they endured the most exquisite agonies with a smile" (p. 237). Il punto fondamentale, per lo studioso, è che il fanatismo è "a thing not of calculations but of feelings" (p. 235). Anche nel tardo impero i contrasti dovuti al fanatismo non furono sopiti: si diffusero quelli originati dalle diverse correnti religiose (Donatisti, Cecilianisti, Meliziani, ecc.): un dialogo tra i differenti gruppi basato sulla ragione era quasi impossibile. Il fanatismo era basato essenzialmente sulle emozioni, e non può essere spiegato se non entrando "in the affective zones of their (scil. of the fanatics) mind, not the cognitive". 2 Discussione alle pp. 252-260.

Y. Rivière, L'Italie, les îles et le continent. Recherches sur l'exil et l'administration du territoire impérial (Ier-IIIe siècles) (pp. 261-310). In questo bel saggio, lo studioso sceglie di affrontare il tema da un punto di vista cronologico, partendo da un approfondimento delle caratteristiche dell'esilio a partire dal principato di Augusto egli nota come a seconda dei periodi storici emergano preferenze per determinati gruppi di isole (tirreniche sotto il primo dei principes, da Tiberio in poi le Cicladi), e differenze anche nelle conseguenze patrimoniali per l'esiliato: sotto Augusto quest'ultimo poteva conservare il patrimonio ed avere anche un certo numero di accompagnatori in seguito viene a trovarsi in condizioni molto più misere. In epoca alto imperiale i condannati sono esiliati anche nelle isole del Mediterraneo occidentale, che essendo molto più grandi offrivano in genere condizioni di vita migliori nel tardo impero invece in quelle dell'Adriatico. Scopo dell'esilio era principalmente l'allontanamento da Roma del condannato ed il suo isolamento: costituisce di certo una manifestazione della potenza dell'imperatore, che poteva far mutare la condizione dell'esiliato con un atto di indulgentia. Dopo le riforme di Augusto e Tiberio l'istituto vive per tre secoli: vi sono la relegatio in insulam, che lasciava la cittadinanza al relegatus, persiste l'aqua et igni interdictio (tipica dell'età repubblicana) e nell'epoca dei Severi viene introdotta la deportatio, che implicava la perdita della cittadinanza le condizioni del relegatus sono ampiamente illustrate dai Digesta giustinianei, che danno altresì notizie sul ruolo subordinato al princeps del governatore della provincia nella gestione della condanna. Negli archivi imperiali, tuttavia, non vi sono notizie sui relegati, ma solo sui deportati, perché le sentenze ad essi relative dovevano essere vistate dal principe. Queste notizie sull'esilio testimoniano per Rivière soprattutto lo sforzo di razionalizzazione dei Romani.

Épilogue di C. Brélaz et P. Ducrey (311-316): gli studiosi fanno un bilancio dell'incontro di studio, notando come gli autori abbiano cercato di chiarire fino a che punto i problemi della sicurezza e dell'ordine pubblico siano stati presenti nelle varie epoche e come, di volta in volta, siano stati affrontati, con attenzione alle forme espressive utilizzate dalle fonti ed ai mezzi attuati per contrastare le minacce, e come le questioni dell'ordine pubblico abbiano costituito una preoccupazione costante dei regimi dell'antichità. Chiudono il volume un Index Locorum (pp. 317-334), che è però anche un indice dei nomi antichi, e l'Index auctorum recentiorum (pp. 335-340).

Questo volume costituisce un'opera di forte interesse, seppure soprattutto per gli specialisti. Anche se, infatti, presenta le fonti quasi sempre in traduzione, questo non è sufficiente a permetterne la lettura ad un pubblico non specializzato. Un elemento da sottolineare è il ricco dibattito che segue ogni saggio, che contribuisce a chiarire aspetti particolari delle singole relazioni, ed a volte contiene importanti approfondimenti dei vari temi discussi. Nel complesso il libro presenta una visione molto sfaccettata e direi quasi esaustiva di come il problema dell'ordine pubblico, della violenza in chiave antigiuridica e degli oppositori del regime sia stato posto nell'antichità greca e romana e come di volta in volta, a seconda dei mezzi a disposizione e delle diverse situazioni politiche, l'ordinamento abbia cercato di creare dei rimedi.

1. Il paragone non mi sembra particolarmente calzante (per tacere delle epoche e, quindi, dei contesti così enormemente diversi), per l'evidente differenza della condizione politica: la Svizzera è uno stato sovrano, le città greche erano sottoposte a Roma.
2. Il ruolo delle emozioni anche nel campo del diritto è oggetto di dibattito non solo negli Stati Uniti a partire dagli anni 90 del XX secolo: importante su questo tema il lavoro di Martha C. Nussbaum, Upheavals of Thought. The Intelligence of Emotions, Cambridge University Press, 2001 trad. it. L'intelligenza delle emozioni, Bologna, Il Mulino, 2004.

Jewish Museum

Venice has a rich Jewish history, albeit not a very proud one, dating back to the 1500’s. During this time, Europe as a whole wasn’t very welcoming of the Jews, and as a result, they had to travel far and wide just to find work and shelter. A majority of the Jews ended up in Venice as it is was one of the few cities where they could find employment. But here too, they were discriminated against and were made to stay in a separate neighbourhood, away from everyone else. And thus, was born the first ever Jewish Ghetto.

Located in between two of the city’s most ancient synagogues, the Jewish museum in Venice, provides an insight into the lives and traditions of Venetian Jews, and also enlightens viewers on the situation and plight of the community back in the 16th century. Some of the objects on display include ancient crowns, spires, keys, manuscripts, books and other liturgical materials that were of great use and importance to daily Jewish life.


This paper shows how Islamic astronomy played a significant role in the education of one of the most important Christian figures in the history of culture between eastern and western Europe, promoter of a crusade against the Ottoman Turks, namely Cardinal Bessarion (1400/1408–72). While the Byzantine polymath has generally been considered a purist of Ptolemaic astronomy, his interest in Islamic astronomy can be traced back to his youth and persisted throughout his life, as is testified by several sources from his manuscripts collection. It is misleading therefore to consider him a ‘purist’ of Ptolemy. The paper provides a survey of the texts of Islamic astronomy among the manuscripts of Bessarion’s estate. These are compared to Ptolemaic astronomy in order to assess the importance of Islamic astronomy within the framework of Bessarion’s collection. The results shed new light not only on Bessarion’s astronomical interests, but also on the reception of Islamic astronomy in non-Islamicate contexts in the fifteenth century, such as the late Byzantine Empire, Rhodes, Crete, Venice, and European humanism.

Grammatical Studies

Leto’s humanism depended heavily on mastery and appreciation of the Latin language, which made grammar an important part of his scholarship and teaching. Ruysschaert 1954 and Ruysschaert 1961 offer an overview of Leto’s grammatical studies, while Accame Lanzillotta 1998, Accame Lanzillotta 1990, and Moscadi 1992 focus on his work with Marcus Terentius Varro (b. 116–d. 27 BCE ), an influential Roman grammarian.

Accame Lanzillotta, Maria. “Il commento varriano di Pomponio Leto.” Miscellanea greca e romana 15 (1990): 309–345.

An exhaustive overview, with plates, of Leto’s study of Varro’s grammatical treatise, analyzing the various textual witnesses and discussing what points in the text interested Leto and what he had to say about them.

Accame Lanzillotta, Maria. “Le annotazioni di Pomponio Leto ai libri VIII–X del De lingua Latina di Varrone.” Giornale italiano di filologia 51 (1998): 41–57.

Examines an autograph manuscript of Leto’s that contains his commentary to Varro, a key source for the grammatical teaching that occupied much of his attention while he was teaching in Rome.

Moscadi, Alessandro. “Festo nel corso di Pomponio Leto sul De lingua latina di Varrone.” Prometheus 18 (1992): 75–89.

Analyzes Leto’s grammatical studies, identifying his citations of the Roman grammarian Festus in his annotations to Varro’s De lingua latina.

Ruysschaert, José. “Les manuels de grammaire latine composés par Pomponio Leto.” Scriptorium 8.1 (1954): 98–107.

Brings to bear new evidence to fill out and correct the account in Zabughin 1909–1910 (cited under Modern Studies of Leto’s Life and Works) of the grammar treatises written by Leto over the course of his lifetime. Also contains texts of two brief documents relevant to the discussion.

Ruysschaert, José. “À propos des trois premières grammaires latines de Pomponio Leto.” Scriptorium 15.1 (1961): 68–75.

An overview of three newly identified manuscripts that allow the step-by-step reconstruction of Leto’s work in the field of Latin grammar.

Strapper Jimmy Kean, Royal Gem, and a love story…

In a recent post, I traced Jim Kean all the way to January 1949, as he headed off to America accompanying top-performing racehorse Royal Gem to a new home in America. Royal Gem had just been bought for 150,000 USD (a very significant sum at the time) by Mr. Warner L. Jones Jr., owner of Hermitage Stud Farm in Kentucky, most likely on behalf of a syndicate. (The Adelaide News reported that the planned stud fee would be £312.)

Forthcoming in this series

Guillaume de Machaut, The Complete Poetry and Music, Vol 12: The Ballades

Edited by Yolanda Plumley, Anne Stone, Tamsyn Mahoney-Steel and R. Barton Palmer

Guillaume de Machaut, the most important poet and composer of late medieval France, was a pioneer of a new school of lyric composition. The forty-two ballades that Machaut set to music reflect his most adventurous musical thinking all but one of them are polyphonic settings and they are the earliest extant examples of a new order of chanson in the intricate Ars nova style associated with the period. This fresh edition of Machaut's ballades is designed to meet the needs of advanced scholars and musicians as well as students and performers new to Machaut's work. The lyrics, with full English translation, are presented at the end of each work. Supporting materials include: an introduction discussing the life of the author and his artistic achievement, providing insights into the poetry and music of the ballades notes for performance and pronunciation an art-historical commentary on the accompanying manuscript illuminations and detailed commentaries, including collation of manuscript variants, for each work.

Guillaume de Machaut, The Complete Poetry and Music, Vol 11: The Rondeaux and Virelais

Edited by Yolanda Plumley, Uri Smilansky, Tamsyn Mahoney-Steel, Anne Stone and R. Barton Palmer

Guillaume de Machaut, the most important poet and composer of late medieval France, was a pioneer of a new school of lyric composition in his day. His works influenced musicians and poets in France and across Europe in his own time and in the generations that followed. Machaut was instrumental in the development of the so-called 'fixed forms' that dominated secular song composition from ca. 1350 onward. He played a significant role in developing the rondeau and the virelai forms. This fresh edition is designed to meet the needs both of advanced scholars and musicians as well as students and performers new to Machaut's work. The lyrics are presented with full English translation at the end of each work, and supporting materials include: an introduction that discusses the life of the author and his artistic achievement and provides fresh insights into the poetry and music of these songs notes for performance and pronunciation an art-historical commentary on the accompanying manuscript illuminations and detailed commentaries, including collation of manuscript variants, for each work.

Guillaume de Machaut, The Complete Poetry and Music, Vol 10: The Lays

Translated by R. Barton Palmer and edited by Uri Smilansky, Yolanda Plumley and Tamsyn Mahoney-Steel

Guillaume de Machaut, the most important poet and composer of late medieval France, was a pioneer of a new school of lyric composition. Machaut was the last composer to produce a corpus of lays set to music the lay was considered the most challenging of the so-called 'fixed forms' that dominated song composition in this period and Machaut played a leading role in perfecting the form. This fresh edition of Machaut's lays is designed to meet the needs of advanced scholars and musicians as well as students and performers new to Machaut's work. The lyrics, with full English translation, are presented at the end of each work, and supporting materials include: an introduction discussing the life of the author and his artistic achievement, providing fresh insights into the poetry and music of the lays notes for performance and pronunciation an art-historical commentary on the accompanying manuscript illumination and detailed commentaries, including collation of manuscript variants, for each work.

Le Roman de Saladin: Middle French with Modern English Translation

Edited by Tara Foster, Rebecca A. Wilcox and Marie Lindsay Turner

Available for the first time in modern English translation, the fifteenth-century Roman de Saladin gives a highly romanticized account of the famed sultan and provides a unique perspective on medieval European attitudes toward the Crusades and the “Islamic enemy” that continue to influence Western perceptions to this day. With its engaging story and energetic characters, the romance evokes enough common medieval literary tropes to put it in conversation with other medieval (or modern) texts, but it offers material that is also strikingly different from many of the texts most frequently taught in courses dealing with the Middle Ages. It will prove useful to scholars and instructors in a broad range of disciplines.

Middle English Poems on the Childhood of Jesus

While it is well known that devotion to Christ's humanity and to his merciful mother Mary flourished in the later Middle Ages, the circulation of vernacular legends about Jesus' childhood, about which Scripture says very little, has not been adequately studied. To better understand affective piety, conceptualizations of children, and the various aspects of anti-Judaism in late-medieval England, this volume explores the legends that describe how the young Jesus interacted with those around him in his childhood, specifically, how a playful and vengeful God caused much unrest within his community. This contextual examination of these legends also reveals how devotional narratives overlapped with secular romances, how literature, art, and theology interacted with each other, and how Christ remained a figure of awe and reverence, even as medieval English Christians frequently meditated on a passive Jesus who endured brutal tortures and a shameful death.

John Gower, Vox Clamantis, Vol 1, Books II-IV

Edited and translated by Stephanie Batkie and Matthew W. Irvin

John Gower's Vox Clamantis, a complaint and analysis of medieval English society written in the shadow of the 1381 Peasant Rising, is a major work of Anglo-Latin poetry by one of medieval England's best-known poets. This new facing-page edition and verse translation pays close attention to Gower's poetic forms and wordplay, bringing its lively criticism and rhetorical power to modern audiences. It also provides extensive explanatory notes, exploring Gower's relationship to classical, Biblical, liturgical, and contemporary sources, as well as a critical introduction, which examines Gower's poetic methodology, and the relationship of the Vox to his major poems in English and French.

The Destruction of Jerusalem, or Titus and Vespasian

Edited by Kara L. McShane and Mark J.B. Wright

Within the English fall of Jerusalem tradition, nearly all scholarly attention has gone to Siege of Jerusalem, which has enjoyed critical and pedagogical attention of late. Michael Livingston’s 2004 edition with the Middle English Texts Series/MIP drew attention to the text, and Adrienne Williams Boyarin has recently published a new translation with Broadview Press that appears in the Broadview Anthology of British Literature’s medieval volume (and as a stand-alone volume). With this edition of the Destruction of Jerusalem, we hope to bring the poem (which is extant in more copies than Siege) into the conversation. METS/MIP is precisely the right series and press to publish Destruction. The work would complement METS volumes such as The King of Tars, Richard Coer de Lion, and Crusades romances such as Three Middle English Charlemagne Romances. Indeed, given METS’s broad offerings in Middle English romance, the series is a natural home for Destruction. Destruction would be of tremendous value particularly in courses focused on Crusades traditions, traditions of medieval anti-Semitism, vernacular theology, or late medieval depictions of difference more broadly, matters of considerable scholarly and pedagogical interest to medievalists of late.

The world's most extraordinary libraries

I t is a measure of how important books are to us that some of the most beautiful buildings and interiors in the world are libraries. For the centuries before the invention of the printing press, when every book had to be copied by hand, they were our most valuable possessions, and even now, when digitisation and cheap printing make them readily available to everyone, we still treasure the places where we read and study. This collection of libraries takes in everything from spectacular Baroque monasteries to the airy, serene reading rooms of the present day, embracing the best of all spaces to get lost in a book.

Prague's Strahov Monastery was founded in 1143 by the Order of Canons Regular of Prémontré. It underwent major rebuilding throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, which included the creation of this library, the Theological Hall, in the 1780s. The ceiling fresco by Anton Maulbertsch is a depiction of "The Intellectual Progress of Mankind", from Adam and Eve to the classical philosophers, along with saints and historical figures associated with the abbey. The hall holds more than 42,000 volumes.

In 2011, the Stuttgart municipal library moved from its previous home in a former royal palace to this new building designed by Korean architect Young Yi in Mailänder Platz. The building is a grey cube on the outside, but glows blue in the evening. Its openness to people of all nations is symbolised by the inscriptions on the outer walls: the word "Library" in silver letters is in English on the west wall, in German on the north, in Korean on the East and in Arabic on the south.

The library of the University of Coimbra dates to the 18th century and the reign of Portugal's King John V, for whom the building is named. It houses around 200,000 volumes within its Baroque interiors, including treasures from the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. The library is also famous for its colony of bats, who consume insects that might otherwise damage the rare texts.

Part of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, this library was originally the royal library, moved to these premises by Louis XIV when the Louvre ran out of storage capacity in the 1660s. The building was once the palace of Cardinal Mazarin, the Chief Minister of France under Louis XIV and an insatiable book collector. He bequeathed his collection to the state upon his death in 1661, and the library later expanded into the neighbouring buildings. The famous Labrouste Reading Room was designed in the 1860s by Pierre-François-Henri Labrouste, using 16 iron pillars inspired by Parisian markets and railway stations.

The Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library is one of the biggest rare book libraries in the world, housed within a Modernist cube on the Yale campus. The cube shape is echoed on the inside by a central glass stack tower which holds around 100,000 of the library's volumes. A public exhibition hall surrounds it, displaying among other treasured texts one of the 48 extant copies of the Gutenberg Bible.

The Black Diamond was built in 1999 as an extension to the old building of the Royal Danish Library in central Copenhagen. Designed by Danish architects Schmidt Hammer Lassen, the building is clad in polished black granite, with a striking central ‘crevasse’ in glass which floods the central atrium with natural light.

The Bodleian is one of the oldest libraries in Europe, founded in 1602 as a continuation of an Oxford library which had existed since the early 1300s. A major donation of manuscripts by Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester in the 1430s cemented the library’s reputation, but the extensive support of Thomas Bodley at the beginning of the 17th century gave the library its name and impressive Gothic buildings. The Bodleian contains one of the most extensive and valuable book collections in the world, including a Gutenberg Bible and the First Folio of Shakespeare.

What started in the seventh century as a hermitage for an Irish monk near the shores of Lake Constance eventually became one of the richest of all medieval monasteries. The library at St Gall has survived fires, invading Magyars, the Reformation, and even the abbey's secularization at the end of the 18th century. It is still one of the most important collections of medieval manuscripts in the world, and houses around 160,000 books in its sumptuous Rococo building.

The library of ancient Alexandria, built in the 3rd century BC by the Ptolemaic rulers of Egypt, was the most significant centre of learning of its time in the world, gathering together a vast collection of Greek texts along with the scholars who flocked to read them. Major advances in geography, astronomy, and medicine were made at Alexandria until the library declined in importance after the Roman conquest. The current Alexandrian library is a tribute to its ancient predecessor's achievements, as well as an important repository for Arabic and French texts. It celebrates the ideal of global learning in its very architecture: the granite exterior is carved with characters from 120 different languages.

The Library of Congress stretches back to the earliest days of American independence originally established by James Madison, the library was burned during the British invasion in 1814, and Thomas Jefferson offered up his own personal library to replace its fledgling collection. Now it is said to be the largest library in the world–around 15,000 volumes arrive at its doors every day, since everything published in the US is required to be deposited there. The buildings on Capitol Hill are open to anyone, as long as they sign up for a reader's card.

As its name suggests, the library at Trinity College, Cambridge was a creation of the great architect Sir Christopher Wren. Large windows flood the space with light, while marble busts (mostly carved by) Louis-François Roubiliac of eminent Trinity men keep watch on the scholars as they work. Wren designed the bookcases, each of which features a Grinling Gibbons carving at its end. The library has many important possessions, including the manuscript of Milton's poems and Isaac Newton's notebook.

The city of Baltimore in the nineteenth century was a bustling industrial seaport and a place where fortunes were made. One of these fortunes, that of wealthy merchant George Peabody, went towards the founding of this library, which originally belonged to the Peabody Institute, but was incorporated into Johns Hopkins University in 1982. The building was designed by Edmund George Lind, and features a spectacular central reading room with six storeys of wrought-iron galleries.

Prague's Clementinum complex has had quite a varied history, beginning life in the 11th century as a chapel to St Clement, transforming into a Dominican monastery, a Jesuit college, and part of the national university. The library here has existed since at least the seventeenth century, and is now the national library of the Czech Republic. The baroque interior houses many relics of its Jesuit past, including portraits of the order's saints and globes created by its members.

The New York Public Library actually has more than ninety buildings around the vast city, but its main branch, the Beaux-Arts building in Bryant Park, Manhattan, is of course the most famous, and makes regular appearances in film and TV. The library owes its existence to some of America's wealthiest philanthropists: a legacy from John Jacob Astor created the first of the libraries that would be merged in 1895 to form the NYPL, and a later donation by Andrew Carnegie ensured its expansion and survival.

Named for Venice's patron saint, St Mark, the Jacopo-Sansovino-designed Bibliotheca Marziana dates all the way back to the sixteenth century, when the Italian Renaissance was in full bloom and classical texts were frequently being rediscovered and rescued from obscurity. The heart of its original collection was the library of Cardinal Bessarion, a Greek Orthodox abbot who had become a Catholic cardinal, and one of the most important humanists and book-collectors of his age.

The Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, founded in 1558 as the court library of Duke Albrecht V, is one of the most important research libraries in the world, with a collection of more than 10 million books. Its collection was founded on that of Johann Jakob Fugger, who had assembled a treasure trove of medieval manuscripts which still yields new discoveries: a scholar came across an 11th-century codex of homilies by the Alexandrian theologian Origen as recently as 2012.

In the village of Huairou on the outskirts of Beijing, this serene library with its timber frame blends seamlessly into its countryside surroundings. Designed by architect Li Xiaodong, the frame is filled in by the wooden sticks which the village's inhabitants gather to fuel their cooking stoves. Its very understatedness makes it an important foil to the imposing libraries of urban environments.

Trinity College Library in Dublin is the recipient of many more tourists than most of the places on this list, since it houses one of Ireland's most significant national treasures - the 9th-century illuminated gospel book known as the Book of Kells. Its extravagant, complex illumination has influenced the development of Irish art, and visitors stream in to see it every day. Like its Cambridge counterpart, this Trinity reading room is also punctuated by the marble busts of great writers and patrons of the college, also created by Roubiliac and Scheemakers.

The new building of Warsaw's university library eschews the grand columns and elaborate decoration of many important libraries, focusing instead on environmental credentials. Designed in the 1990s, it includes a botanical garden covering the roof of the main building, filled with bridges, streams, pathways, sculptures and plants.

The Vatican's library is surely one of the most impressive in the world, and comprises around 75,000 manuscripts and 1.1 million printed books, both theological and secular. Among its most important possessions is Codex Vaticanus Graecus 1209, the oldest known nearly complete manuscript of the Bible, which sits in state-of-the-art climate-controlled surroundings, among 26 miles of shelving for the library's immense collection.

Watch the video: Biblioteca Marciana