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From A Literary Source-book of the Italian Renaissance, by Merrick Whitcomb, PH. D., University of Pennsylvania; 1900; pp. 70-79.



Born in Florence, 1421. Died 1498. Little is known of Vespasiano’s life beyond the fact that he was a book-seller, and in this manner came in contact with the leading humanists and patrons of learning of his time.

From Life of Nicholas V. — The Papal Library.*

XXIV.   At this time came the year of jubilee, and since it was the true jubilee, that is, at the end of a period of fifty years, according to the law of the Church, the concourse of people at Rome was such that no one had ever known a greater. It was a wonderful thing to see the great assemblage of people who came. In Rome and Florence the streets were so crowded that the people seemed like swarms of ants; and at the bridge of Sant’ Angelo there was such a crowd of people of all nationalities, that they were jammed together, and unable to move in any direction. So great was the crowd, indeed, that in the struggle between those who came to seek indulgences and those who were already at the place, more than two hundred persons, male and female, lost their lives. When pope Nicholas, who felt much anxiety in regard to these matters, heard of the accident, he was much displeased, took provisions to prevent its recurrence, and caused to be built at the approach to the bridge two small churches in memory of so great a disaster as was this destruction of so many men upon the occasion of the jubilee, and he provided for their burial.

XXV.   A great quantity of money came by this means to the Apostolic See, and with this the pope commenced building in many places, and sent for Greek and Latin books, wherever he was able to find them, without regard to price. He gathered together a large band of writers, the best that he could find, and kept them in constant employment. He also summoned a number of learned men, both for the purpose of composing new works, and of translating 71 such works as were not already translated, giving them most abundant provision for their needs meanwhile; and when the works were translated and brought to him, he gave them large sums of money, in order that they should do more willingly that which they undertook to do. He made great provision for the needs of learned men. He gathered together great numbers of books upon every subject, both Greek and Latin, to the number of 5000 volumes. So at his death it was found by inventory that never since the time of Ptolemy had half the number of books of every kind been brought together. All books he caused to be copied, without regard to what it cost him, and there were few places where his Holiness had not copiers at work. When he could not find a book, nor secure it in any way, he had it copied. After he had assembled at Rome, as I said above, many learned men at large salaries, he wrote to Florence to Messe Giannozzo Manetti, that he should come to Rome to translate and compose for him. And when Manetti left Florence and came to Rome, the pope, as was his custom, received him with honor, and assigned to him, in addition to his income as secretary, six hundred ducats, urging him to attempt the translation of the books of the Bible and of Aristotle, and to complete the book already commenced by him, Contra Judeos et gentes; a wonderful work, if it had been completed, but he carried it only to the tenth book. Moreover, he translated the New Testament, and the Psalter De hebraica Veritate with five apologetical books in defense of this Psalter, showing that in the Holy Scriptures there is not one syllable that does not contain the greatest of mysteries.

XXVI.   It was pope Nicholas’ intention to found a library in St. Peter’s, for the general use of the whole Roman curia, which would have been an admirable thing indeed, if he had been able to carry it out, but death prevented his bringing it to completion. He illumined the Holy Scriptures with innumerable books, which he caused to be translated; and in the same way with the humanities, including certain works upon grammar, of use in learning Latin. The Orthography 72 of Messer Giovanni Tortelle, who was of his Holiness’ household and worked upon the library, a worthy book and useful to grammarians; the Iliad of Homer; Strabo’s De situ orbis he caused to be translated by Guerrino, and gave him 500 florins for each part, that is to say, Asia, Africa and Europe; that was in all 1500 florins. Herodotus and Thucydides he had translated by Lorenzo Valla, and rewarded him liberally for his trouble; Xenophon and Diodorus by Messer Poggio; Polybius by Nicolò Perotto, whom, when he handed it to him, he gave 500 brand new papal ducats in a purse, and said to him, that it was not what he deserved, but that in time he would take care to satisfy him. The work of Philo the Jew, a book of the greatest worth, of which the Latin tongue had as yet no knowledge; Theophrastus De Plantis, a most able work; Problemata Aristoteles; these two were translated by Theodorus the Greek, a man of great learning and eloquence. The Republic of Plato and his Laws, the Posteriora, the Ethics and Physics, Magna Moralia, and Metaphysics, the Greater Rhetoric, George of Trebisond. De Animalibus of Aristotle, by Theodorus, a most excellent work. Sacred works, the works of Dionysius the Areopagite, an admirable book, translated by Brother Ambrogio. There were before this other translations utterly barbarous. I was told by pope Nicholas that this translation was so good, that one got a better idea from the simple text than from the other texts accompanied with elaborate comments. The wonderful book, De præparatione evangelica, of Eusebius Pamphili, a work of great erudition. Many works of St. Basil, of St. Gregory of Nazianzus; Chrysostom on St. Matthew, about eighty homilies, which had been lost for 500 years or more; for twenty-five homilies were translated by Orosius more than 500 years ago, and the work was much sought for by ancients and moderns; for it is written, that St. Thomas Aquinas, on his way to Paris, when, as he was approaching, the city was pointed out to him, said: “I would rather at this moment have St. 73 John Chrysostom on St. Matthew than Paris.” Such a reputation it had! This was translated by George of Trebisond. Cyril on Genesis, and on St. John, excellent works. Many others works translated and composed at the desire of his Holiness, of which I have no knowledge. I have mentioned only those of which I have knowledge.

From Life of Frederick of Urbino. — The Ducal Library.

XXVIII.   Coming to the holy doctors, who are in Latin, he wished to have all the works of the four doctors; and what letters! what books! and how excellent! having no regard for expense. The four doctors having been finished, he then desired all the works of St. Bernard, and all the holy doctors of antiquity; he desired that none should be wanting: Tertullian, Hilary, Remi, Hugh of St. Victor, Isidore, Anselm, Rabanus Maurus, and all the holy doctors of antiquity that have ever written. Coming from the Latins to the sacred writers of the Greeks, which are converted into Latin, he desired in Latin the works of Dionysius the Areopagite, of St. Basil, Cyril, Gregory of Nazianzus, John of Damascus, John Chrysostom, Gregory of Nyssa, Eusebius, all his works, Ephraem the Monk, the most excellent writer Origen. Coming to the Latin doctors, as well in philosophy as in theology, all the works of St. Thomas Aquinas, all the works of Albertus Magnus, all the works of Alexander of Hales, all the works of Scotus, all the works of Bonaventura, the works of Richard of Mediavilla, all the works of the Archbishop Antoninus, and all the modern doctors who are of authority, he wished to have, down to the Conformities of St. Francis; all the works upon civil law, most beautiful texts; all the lectures of Bartolo, in kid-skin, and many writers in civil law. The Bible, most excellent book, he had done in two pictured volumes, as rich and fine as might be made, covered with gold brocade, enriched with silver; and he had this done so elegantly, as the first of all writings. And all the commentaries, those of 74 the Master of the Sentences, of Nicholas de Lyra, and all the doctors of antiquity who have written commentaries, as well the Latins as the Greeks, and all the glossary of Nicholas de Lyra; this is a book like to which in this age no other has been made. All the writers on astronomy and their commentaries; all the works on geometry with commentaries; all the works on arithmetic; all the works on architecture, all the works De re militari, all books treating of the machines of the ancients for conquering a country, and those of the moderns, which was a very remarkable volume. Books of painting, of sculpture, of music, of canon law, and all the texts and lectures and the Summa of the bishop of Ostia, and more works in this department. Speculum innocentiæ. In medicine all the works of Avicenna, all the works of Hippocrates, of Galen, the Continente of Almansor plus quam commentum, all the works of Averroes, both on logic and on natural and moral philosophy. A book of all the ancient councils; all the works of Boethius, as well on logic as on philosophy and on music.

XXIX.   All the works of the modern writers, commencing with pope Pius. He has all the works of Petrarch, both Latin and vulgar; all the works of Dante, Latin and vulgar; all the works of Boccaccio in Latin; all the works of messer Coluccio; all the works of messer Lionardo d’ Arezzo, both original and translations; all the works of brother Ambrogio, original and translations; all the works of messer Gianozzo Manetti, as well original as translations; all the works of Guerrino, original and translations; all the works of Panormita, as well in verse as in prose; all the works of messer Francisco Filelfo, both in prose and in verse, original and translations; all the works of Perotti, translations and original; all the works of Campano, in prose and in verse; all the original works of Maffeo Vegio; all the works of Nicolò Secondino, translations and original, he who was the interpreter for the Greeks and Latins at the council of the Greeks in Florence; all the works of Pontanus, original and translations; all the works of Bartolomeo Fazi, translations and original; all the works of Gasparino; 75 all the works of Pietro Paulo Vergerio, original and translations; all the works of messer John Argyropolus, translated, that is: the whole of the Philosophy and Logic of Aristotle, as well moral as natural, except the Politics; all the works of messer Francisco Barbaro, translations and original; all the works of messer Lionardo Giustiniano, both original and translations; all the works of Donato Acciaiuoli, original and translations; all the original works of Alamanno Renuccini; all the original works of messer Cristofano da Prato Vecchio; all the works of messer Poggio, both translations and original; all the works of messer Giovanni Tortella, both original and translations; all the translations of messer Francesco d’ Arezzo, who lived at the court of King Ferrando; all the works of Lorenzo Valla, translations and original.

XXX.   Having acquired all the books of every department which were to be found, written both by ancient and modern doctors, and translations as well in every branch, he desired to have all the Greek books that were to be found; all the works of Aristotle in Greek; all the works of Plato, each volume bound in the finest kid-skin; all the works of Homer in one volume, the Iliad, the Odyssey and the Batracomiomachia; all the works of Sophocles; all the works of Pindar; all the works of Menander; and as well all the poets that were to be found in the Greek tongue; all the Lives of Plutarch, in one most excellent volume; the Cosmography of Ptolemy, with illustrations, in Greek, a most excellent book; all the moral works of Plutarch, a most worthy book; all the works of Herodotus, of Pausanias, of Thucydides, of Polybius; all the works of Demosthenes and of Aeschines; Plotinus the philosopher, all his works; all the commentaries that are found among the Greeks, as for example the commentaries upon Aristotle; all the works of Theophrastus, the Physica de plantis; all the Greek lexicographers, the Greek with the Latin explanation; all the works of Hippocrates and of Galen; all the works of Xenophon; part of the Bible in Greek; all the works of St. Basil; all the works of St. John Chrysostom; 76 all the works of St. Athanasius, of St. John of Damascus; all the works of St. Gregory of Nazianzus, of Gregory of Nyssa, of Origen, of Dionysius the Areopagite, of John Climacus, of St. Ephraem the Monk, of Aeneas the Sophist; the Collations of John Cassianus, the Book of Paradise, Vitae sanctorum patrum ex Aegypto; the Lives of Barlaam and Josaphat; a Psalter in three tongues, a wonderful thing, in Hebrew, Greek and Latin, verse for verse, a most excellent book; all the books on geometry, on arithmetic, and on astronomy that are found in any language. There are numerous Greek books, by various authors, which when he was not able to get them otherwise, he sent for them, desiring that nothing should be wanting in any tongue which it was possible to acquire. There were to be seen Hebrew books, all that could be found in that language, beginning with the Bible and all those who have commented upon it, rabbi Moses, and other commentators. Not only are these Hebrew books the Holy Scriptures, but also on medicine, on philosophy and in all branches, all that could be acquired in that tongue.

XXXI.   His Lordship having completed this worthy task at the great expense of more than 30,000 ducats, among the other excellent and praiseworthy arrangements which he made was this, that he undertook to give to each writer a title, and this he desired should be covered with crimson embellished with silver. He began, as has been noted above, with the Bible, as the foremost of all, and had it covered, as was said, with gold brocade. Then beginning with all the doctors of the Church, he had each one covered with crimson and embellished with silver; and so with the Greek doctors as well as with the Latins. As well philosophy, history and books on medicine and all the modern doctors; in such a manner that there are innumerable volumes of this kind, a thing gorgeous to behold. In this library all the books are beautiful in the highest degree, all written with the pen, not one printed, that it might not be disgraced thereby; all elegantly illuminated, and there is not one that is not written on kid-skin. There is a singular thing about 77 this library, which is not true of any other; and this is, that of all the writers, sacred as well as profane, original works as well as translations, not a single page is wanting from their works, in so far as they are in themselves complete; which cannot be said of any other library, all of which have portions of the works of a writer, but not all; and it is a great distinction to possess such perfection. Some time before I went to Ferrara, being at Urbino at his Lordship’s court, and having catalogues of all the libraries of Italy, commencing with that of the pope, of St. Mark at Florence, of Pavia, — and I had even sent to England to obtain a catalogue of the library of the university of Oxford, — I compared these with that of the duke, and I saw that all were faulty in one particular; that they had numerous copies of the same work, but they had not all the works of one writer complete as this had; nor were there writers of every branch as in this.

From the Life of Cosimo de’ Medici. — Founding a Library.

XII.   When he had finished the residence and a good part of the church, he fell to thinking how he should have that place peopled with honest men of letters; and in this way it occurred to him to found a fine library; and one day when I happened to be present in his chamber, he said to me: “In what way would you furnish this library?” I replied that as for buying the books it would be impossible, for they were not to be had. Then he said: “How is it possible then to furnish it?” I told him that it would be necessary to have the books copied. He asked in reply if I would be willing to undertake the task. I answered him, that I was willing. He told me to commence my work and he would leave everything to me; and as for the money that would be necessary he would refer the matter to Don Archangel, then prior of the monastery, who would draw bills upon the bank, which should be paid. The library was commenced at once, for it was his pleasure that it should be done with the utmost possible celerity; and as I did not lack for money I collected in a short time forty-five writers, and finished 200 volumes in twenty-two months; in 78 which work we made use of an excellent arrangement, that of the library of pope Nicholas, which he had given to Cosimo, in the form of a catalogue made out with his own hands.

XIII.   Coming to the arrangement of the library, in the first place there is the Bible and the Concordance, with all their commentaries, as well ancient as modern. And the first writer who commenced to comment on the Holy Scriptures, and who indicated the manner of commenting to all the others was Origen; he wrote in Greek, and St. Jerome translated a part of his works, on the five books of Moses. These are the works of St. Ignatius the martyr, who wrote in Greek, and was a disciple of St. John the Evangelist; most fervent in his Christian zeal, he wrote and preached and for this won the crown of martyrdom. There are the works of St. Basil, bishop of Cappadocia, a Greek; of St. Gregory of Nazianzus, of Gregory of Nyssa, his brother, of St. John Chrysostom, of St. Athanasius of Alexandria, of St. Ephraem the Monk, of John Climacus, also a Greek; all the works of the Greek doctors that are translated into Latin are there. Then follow the holy doctors and holy writers in Latin, beginning with the works of Lactantius, who was very ancient and had praiseworthy qualifications; Hilary of Poitou, a most solemn doctor; St. Cyprian of Carthage, most elegant and saintly; the works of Tertullian, the learned Carthaginian. Then follow the four doctors of the Latin church, and all their works are here; and there is no other library that has these works complete. Then begin the works of St. Jerome; all the works of St. Gregory, the moral doctor; all the works of St. Bernard the Abbot, of Hugh of St. Victor, of St. Anselm, of St. Isidore, bishop of Seville, of Bede, of Rabanus Maurus. Coming then to the modern doctors, of St. Thomas Aquinas, of Albert Magnus, of Alexander of Hales, of St. Bonaventura; the works of the Archbishop Antonino of Florence, that is, his Summa.

XIV.   Coming to the philosophers, all the works of Aristotle, both his moral and natural Philosophy; all the commentaries 79 of St. Thomas and Albertus Magnus on the philosophy of Aristotle, and still other commentators upon the same; his Logic and other modern systems of Logic. In canon law, the Decretum,, the Decretals, Liber Sextus, the Clementines, the Summa of the bishop of Ostia; Innocentius; Lectures of the bishop of Ostia on the Decretals; Giovanni Andrea, on Liber Sextus, and an anonymous lecture on the Decretum, and still other works on canon law by the abbott of Cicilia and others. Of histories, all the Ten of Livy; Caesar’s Commentaries; Suetonius Tranquillus, The Lives of the Emperors; Plutarch’s Lives; Quintus Curtius, the Deeds of Alexander the Great; Sallust, De bello Jugurthino et Catilinario; Valerius Maximus, The Memorable Deeds and Sayings of the Ancients; Emilius Probus, Great Leaders of Foreign Peoples; a history by Ser Zembino, who commenced at the beginning of the world, and came down to pope Celestine, a work of great information; the Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius Pamphili, and De temporibus; the Historiale of Vincenzo; all the works of Tully in three volumes; all the works of Seneca in one volume; Quintilian, De institutione oratoria, and the Declamations; Vocabulista; Nonius Marcellus; Pompeius Festus; the Elegantiae of Valla; Papias; Uguccione; Catholicon. Poets: Virgil, Terence, Ovid, Lucan, Statius, the tragedies of Seneca, Plautus. Of grammarians, Priscian. And all the other works necessary to a library, of which no one was wanting; and since there were not copies of all these works In Florence, we sent to Milan, to Bologna and to other places, wherever they might be found. Cosimo lived to see the library wholly completed, and the cataloguing and the arranging of the books; in all of which he took great pleasure, and the work went forward, as was his custom, with great promptness.


*  Vite di vomini illustri del Secolo XV. Ed. Adolfo Bartoli. Florence, 1859.

  (?) Oronzio in the original.

  Richard of Bury (?)

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