A book from Parrhasius’s library

By , 11 May 2010 3:12 pm

Giovan Paolo Parisio (1470-1522) of Cosenza, better known as Aulus Janus Parrhasius, was a famous humanist from Calabria (Italy).  He taught in Milan, Venice, Naples and Rome and was in contact with the most influencial intellectuals and litterati of his time, such as Giovanni Pontano, Jacopo Sannazaro, Luigi Tansillo, Girolamo Carbone, Vittorino Barzizza, and the Greek exiles Janus Lascaris and Demetrios Chalcondyles, the father of his wife Theodora.  He put together a celebrated library including manuscripts discovered by him at Bobbio in 1493.  At his death, he bequeathed his books and manuscripts to his friend Antonio Seripando (1486-1531).

Parrhasius’s library was already so well known during his life time that in December 1521, when Seripando rushed to Cosenza after hearing of Aulus’s death, he already found losses among the books listed in the inventory hastily compiled by the notary Francesco of Salerno at the request of the widow.

At Seripando’s death in 1531 his books passed on to his brother, Cardinal Girolamo Seripando, who in turn gave his entire library to the Augustinian convent of San Giovanni a Carbonara at Naples in 1536.  From then on what remained of Parrhasius’s library shared the destiny of the convent library, declared “Royal Library” by royal decree of King Ferdinand IV of Naples on 27 August 1792, and incorporated into the Borbone Library after the political and social unrests of 1799.  However, in the time intervened between Cardinal Seripando’s bequest and the royal decree of 1792, the convent library was predated of precious manuscripts and books on several occasions.  In some instances manuscripts and books were actually sold by the monks themselves.  Many of them can now be found in libraries around the world, including the Vatican Library and the national libraries in London, Paris and Vienna.

A copy of Plutarch’s Problemata, printed at Venice by Dominicus Siliprandus around 1477, was one of Parrhasius’s incunables.  Removed from the Augustinian library at an unknown date, it  is now held by Cambridge University Library [Inc.5.B.3.33[1489], Oates 1786].  The book is inscribed “Antonij Seripandi ex Iani Parrhasij testamento” on leaf h10 verso, and it is possibly identifiable with “no. 549. Plutarcii moralia translata” in the 1521 post-mortem inventory of Parrhasius’s library (see Caterina Tristano, “La biblioteca di un umanista calabrese, Aulo Giano Parrasio”, Manziana (Rome), [1988 ?], p. 275, no. 549).


Antonio Seripandi’s inscription and William Milton’s stamp – fol. h10 verso

On 8th September 1837 the book was sold in London by the auctioneer Benjamin Wheatley, who died sometimes afterwards between September and December d. 1837.  It later belonged to William Milton (1820-1882) of Exeter College, Oxford, before being bought by Francis Jenkinson, who presented it to the University Library in 1908.

The margins of the books are filled
with Parrhasius’s copious manuscript
notabilia, nota signs and maniculae.


6 Responses to “A book from Parrhasius’s library”

  1. Martin Davies says:

    Another Parrasio book at Cambridge is the Sallust at King’s (Rome: Eucharius Silber, 1490, Goff S-75), shelfmark XV.3.3. It is catalogued by Chawner, Incunabula of KCC, 45, though he doesn’t mention the inscription at the end ‘Antonii Seripandi ex Iani Parrhasii testamento’. There should be something about it in the Ulery-Osmond article on Sallust in CTC vol. 8 – it is quite thickly annotated. It came to King’s from Jacob Bryant, perhaps earlier in the collection of Giuseppe Valletta at Naples.

  2. Laura Nuvoloni says:

    Dear Martin,
    A good reason to stroll down to King’s and check on their book! Many thanks!
    Oates (2230) lists another book from Antonio Seripandi, i.e. Domizio Calderini, Commentarii in Juvenalem [Venice : Printer of Domitius Calderinus, 1476-77] (ISTC ic00035000). I have not worked on it as yet. Will keep you informed. And perhaps other Parrhasius’s or Seripandi’s books will surface in the future. All best, Laura

  3. Roger Pearse says:

    How wonderful to see Antonio Seripandi’s note on the end, just as it appears in some of the manuscripts! Thank you so much for this post, with the interesting details on the fate of Parrhasius’ books. These sorts of details, on the homes and wanderings of books, are invaluable to the non-specialist who finds himself dealing with a volume once in someone’s library and wondering what happened to it next!

  4. Saul Alpert-Abrams says:

    I have just discovered what might be a Parrhasius book in the Oberlin College Library, with many margin notes, and D8r has “Antonij Seripandi et amicoru[m]”! Exciting. No direct evidence linking it with Parrhasius (the annotations don’t look like his hand), but clearly from Seripandi’s library! It is a 1490 copy of Plautus’ comedies printed by Scinzenzeler. It seems like whoever annotated this loved Plautus, and no doubt. The notes are great. It was also in the library of Prince Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex. (It has his book plate, and shelf label). Eventually it made its way to Edmund B. Fairfield, a baptist preacher from Michigan, whence to Oberlin college. There is one more book plate on the front flyleaf but the name has been (maliciously?) scratched out. This book is a great treasure hunt/chest. Thanks for this great page!

  5. Dániel Kiss says:

    Thank you indeed for this entry, which has helped me study an incunable annotated by Parrasio and later inherited by Seripando (Aberdeen, Univ. Libr. Incun. 165: Catullus & Propertius, ed. Regio Emilia, 1481) and a beautiful manuscript of Catullus that was copied in 1495 for the Cardinal Luigi d’Aragona, and was also inherited by his protégé Seripando (Edinburgh, N.L.S. Adv. 18.5.2).
    I have a minor correction to make: Seripando was born not in 1476, but in 1486. The latter date is given by Carlo Vecce (‘Postillati di Antonio Seripando’, in: Parrhasiana II = Aion 24, 2002, 53-64, at 55) and is confirmed by the age of Seripando at his death given in his epitaph, which is quoted by Cesare D’Engenio Caracciolo (Napoli Sacra, Naples 1623, p. 164: “vixit ann. XLV men. XI D. 15”). The inscriptions from his tomb registered in in Napoli Sacra strongly suggest that his funerary monument also contained statues of Parrasio and of Francesco Pucci.

  6. Laura Nuvoloni says:

    Dear Dr Kiss, Thank you indeed for your kind message and information. I have now corrected the date of birth for Seripando in both the blog and catalogue entries. Laura Nuvoloni