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les Enluminures

De fatti e detti memorabili della citta di Roma ad Tiberio Cesare, translation of VALERIUS MAXIMUS, Factorum et dictorum memorabilium urbis Romae historia (History of the memorable deeds and sayings of the city of Rome)

In Italian, illuminated manuscript on parchment
Northern Italy, c. 1400-1450

TM 813

i (paper) + 105 + i (paper) folios on parchment (very fine and smooth), modern foliation in pencil, upper outer rectos, 1-105, lacking five leaves, else complete (collation i10 [-2; with loss of text in Book 1] ii-viii10 ix10 [-1; with loss of text in Book 7] x10 [-8 to 10; with loss of text at the end of Book 9]), horizontal catchwords, lower center, ruled in hard point with full-length vertical and horizontal bounding lines, prickings visible in outer margins (justification 193-197 x 160-162 mm.), written below top line in dark brown ink in a fine Gothico-Antiqua script in two columns of forty lines, guide letters for initials, extensive gloss added between lines and in the margins of Books 1 to 6 in smaller glossing script on up to eighty-nine lines, some capitals touched in yellow, red rubrics, one-line red paraphs, two- to three-line spaces left for initials within each chapter, four- to sixteen-line spaces left for initials at the beginnings of chapters, corrections by scribe, some contemporary annotation, including many pointing hands in the second half of the book, some discoloration of parchment on ff. 74v-75 and 105v with no loss of legibility, an occasional leaf with a small tear at the edge (eg. f. 4), some worming in the first and final few leaves, otherwise in excellent condition with wide and clean margins.  Bound in nineteenth-century parchment over pasteboards, spine with five raised bands, some spots and small stains.  Dimensions 295-298 x 221-229 mm.

The author of this translation of an influential classical history was once thought to be Giovanni Boccaccio.  It certainly originated in early humanist circles in the fourteenth century, perhaps among the students of Dionigi da Borgo San Sepolcro (c. 1290-1342), the author of the first commentary on the text, a close friend of Petrarch, and one of Boccaccio’s teachers.  Out of the thirty-two manuscripts preserving this text of which only one, a fragment, is in North America, this manuscript includes extensive marginal glosses that are unedited.


1. Evidence of script points to this book’s origin in Italy, most likely Northern Italy, in the first half of the fifteenth century, c. 1400-1450.  According to Albert Derolez, “in Northern Italy, where Gothic traditions were particularly strong and Humanistic models few, ... Gothico-Antiqua is a common phenomenon” (2006, p. 179).

2. This book remained in Italian hands in the eighteenth-century, judging from the identifying inscription at the top of f. 1: “Storia Romana di Valerio Massimo, e Tiberio Cesare ed altri.”

3. Nineteenth- or early twentieth-century pencil marks, “NS/H” and “Q.3538” inside front board.

4. Private European collection.


f. 1rv, [Table of Contents] Rubriche del libro primo di ualerio Maximo, incipit, “Della religione, Capitulo primo ... De miracoli, Capitulo 6o”;

Following its list of the chapters in Books 1-9, the table of contents lists the chapters of Book 1 again.  All subsequent books are preceded by their respective chapter lists, so this was almost certainly a deliberate choice.

ff. 1v-105v, Comincia Il primo libro di ualerio Maximo de fatti e detti memorabili della citta di roma Ad Tiberio Cesare, incipit, “[L]I facti e li dicti li quali sono digni de memoria della citta di roma e delle strane gente ... arrotino li ferri temperino li stocchi pil//”

De fatti e detti memorabili della citta di Roma ad Tiberio Cesare is an Italian translation of Valerius Maximus’s Latin Factorum et dictorum memorabilium urbis Romae historia (History of the memorable deeds and sayings of the city of Rome). This translation was produced in the first half of the fourteenth century, as early as 1326 (or shortly before), or, perhaps, in the late 1330s or early 1340s.  Some scholars have attributed it to Giovanni Boccaccio, although recent scholarship has questioned this attribution (see below). Extensive glosses accompany six of the nine books in this work. 

This text is known in only thirty-two complete, or nearly complete, witnesses, including this one; four additional manuscripts preserve fragments of the text (see Casella, 1982 for this list, with the provision that the Yale University copy listed there, Marston 43, in fact only contains extracts from this text rather than the text itself and has therefore not been included in our list).  The text survives in three principle versions, designated A, B, and C (Zampieri, 1975-76 and 1977-78).  The most popular version, B, appears in the majority of the manuscript witnesses, as well as in four sixteenth-century print editions.  This version was also edited in the nineteenth century, based on the consultation of fourteen manuscripts (Visiani, 1867). The present manuscript contains a copy of the B version, and collation with Visiani (1867) reveals some textual variation, but no major differences of structure or content.  It is important to note, however, that the substantial glosses present in this manuscript and others do not appear in Visiani and are unedited.  Nearly all the manuscripts preserving De fatti e detti are housed in Italian repositories; only five witnesses are to be found outside of Italy and, of these, only one copy (a fragment) is held in North America.  The present manuscript is the only copy of De fatti e detti to go on the market in this century.

If not for medieval interventions, Deeds and Sayings would not have survived in any language.  Valerius Maximus (c. 20 BCE – c. CE 50) was a Roman writer known for this text, which collects historical anecdotes relating how the earliest Romans had lived.  It presents many of these accounts as instructive or edifying examples of virtues cultivated under the Roman Republic.  Early on, the work furnished a popular source for rhetoricians seeking to embellish their speeches with exemplary narratives.  Only a single copy of the Latin text survived into the Middle Ages, but renewed interest in the Carolingian period assured its survival.  A Benedictine monk of Fleury, Rodolfus Tortarius (c. 1063-c. 1122), produced a versified version of the text, De memorabilis, and by the thirteenth century complete copies of Factorum et dictorum could be found in Italian libraries.

The Italian translation of Factorum et dictorum emerged during another period of humanist renewal, the fourteenth-century Italian Renaissance.  The simple fact is that we do not know the author or authors of this translation, which survives in three versions, almost always accompanied by one of four different versions of a marginal commentary, all in the Tuscan dialect, but it is tied – by content, use, and literary style, if not by authorship – to Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375), and through the marginal glosses, to Dionigi da Borgo San Sepolcro (c. 1290-1342), the author of the first commentary on this text, who was a close friend of Petrarch, and one of Boccaccio’s teachers.  Boccaccio uses this text often in his works, and although he owned a Latin copy, he cites it from an Italian translation.  Maria Teresa Casella argued that Boccaccio was not only using a vernacular translation of Valerius, but he was in fact the author of the translation (Casella, 1982); a theory she later retracted (1990) (part of the dispute hinges on the date of the translations and the glosses, as well as the complexity of the transmission of the various versions).  The debate over the identity of the author of this translation should not be allowed to mask the intrinsic interest of this manuscript.

Much of the fascination of this translation centers on the unedited glosses that accompany the text here and elsewhere.  Early versions of these glosses were designed to make this translation more accessible to its intended readers, who lacked training or practice in reading Latin; later glosses introduced by humanists aimed to restore the work’s Latinity and to emphasize its alterity.  Dionigi da Borgo San Sepolcro (c. 1300-1342) was the author of what would become the standard commentary on Factorum et dictorum; this commentary was a major source for the glosses.

Recent scholars, including Alison Cornish (2013), discussing Casella’s earlier case for Boccaccio as author of De fatti e detti, have drawn attention to the wording of a gloss in an early manuscript witness.  This gloss’s language (which refers to events taking place in 1326 as “today”) suggests that the manuscript was copied in 1326, when Boccaccio was thirteen years old, and that the translation must therefore be dated to 1326 or earlier.  This evidence for the date of the translation is based on a single gloss, and the matter warrants further investigation and corroboration, as dates from glosses typically do (scribes often copied earlier material, even with topical references, verbatim).  This as yet unstudied copy of De fatti et detti will play a crucial role in expanding our knowledge of an early vernacular translation of this text – a translation which is undeniably important, whether it was written by Boccaccio or, even more intriguingly, perhaps, by an unknown author from the same circle.


Lippi Bigazzi, ed. Un volgarizzamento inedito di Valerio Massimo, Florence, 1996

Teresa Casella, Maria Teresa. “Sul volgarizzamento Boccaciano di Valerio Massimo. Un codice rintracciato: Una chiosa imbarazzante?” Studi sul Boccaccio 19 (1990), pp. 191-208;

Casella, Maria Teresa. Tra Boccaccio e Petrarca: I volgarizzamenti di Tito Livio e di Valerio Massimo, Padua, 1982.

Cornish, Alison.  Vernacular Translation in Dante’s Italy: Illiterate Literature, Cambridge, 2011.

Cornish, Alison.  “Vernacularization in Context (Volgarizzamenti of Livy, Valerius Maximus, and Ovid),” in Boccaccio: A Critical Guide to the Complete Works, ed. Victoria Kirkham, Michael Sherberg, and Janet Levarie Smarr, Chicago, 2013, pp. 255-261.

Crab, Marijke. Exemplary Reading: Printed Renaissance Commentaries on Valerius Maximus (1470–1600), Scientia Universalis 1; Studien zur Wissenschaftsgeschichte der Vormoderne 2, Munster, 2015.

Derolez, Albert.  The Palaeography of Gothic Manuscript Books: From the Twelfth to the Early Sixteenth Century, Cambridge, 2006.

Tanturli, Giuliano.  “Volgarizzamenti e ricostruzione dell’antico: I casi della terza e quarta deca di Livio e di Valerio Massimo: la parte del Boccaccio (a proposito un’attribuzione),” Studi medievali 3rd ser. 27 (1986), pp. 811-887.

Zampieri, Adriana.  “Per l’edizione critica del volgarizzamento di Valerio Massimo: I. La tradizione,” Studi sul Boccaccio 9 (1975-76), pp. 21-41.

Zampieri, Adriana.  “Per l’edizione critica del volgarizzamento di Valerio Massimo: II. Classificazione dei manoscritti e delle stampe,” Studi sul Boccaccio 10 (1977-78), pp. 55-107.

Zampieri, Adriana.  “Una primitiva redazione del volgarizzamento di Valerio Massimo,” Studi sul Boccaccio 10 (1977-78), pp. 41-54.

Online Resources

“Boccaccio’s Life and Works,” Decameron Web, Brown University, 2014

Valerius Maximus, Factorum et dictorum memorabilium libri novem, The Latin Library

Visiani, Roberto de, ed.  Valerio Massimo, De’ fatti e detti degni di memoria della città di Roma e delle stranie genti, Bologna, Gaetano Romagnoli, 1867

TM 813