Repertorium Pomponianum

Leto, Papinii Statii vita

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Pomponio's vita Statii is found in the autograph BAV, Vat. lat. 3279, ff.1r-2r, preceding his commentary on Statius' Thebais which has been dated to 1470-1471 (Maddalo 1991, 48. For the commentary, see also Fera 2002 and Accame 2008, 103-107). Vat. lat. 3279 is one of a series of manuscripts Pomponio wrote for his pupil Fabio Mazzatosta. The vita is written in the form of a letter to Gaspare Biondo, son of the more famous Biondo Flavio. Pomponio also copied Statius' Silvae and Achilleis for Mazzatosta, in the present Vat. lat. 3875. As far as I have been able to ascertain, the vita has been printed only once, in vol. 3 of Harold Anderson's The Manuscripts of Statius (Arlington 2009).

From 1466 Gaspare Biondo was head of the Registry of the Apostolic Chamber, he was a member of the Roman 'Academy', and Pomponio's c. 1470 edition of Nonius Marcellus opens with a letter to him (text here; on Gaspare see Fanelli 1968 and Bianca 2011, 51). He was responsible for the first editions of two of his father's works, namely Roma Instaurata (Rome before 22.6.1471) and Italia Illustrata (Rome 1474). Anderson (p. 106) tentatively identifies Gaspare as the editor of the editio princeps of Statius' Thebais and Achilleis which is by the same printer as the edition of the Roma Instaurata. If this is indeed the case, it is not acknowledged by Pomponio in the opening of letter containing the vita Statii, where he may allude to the accessus printed in the princeps.

Anderson, moreover, maintains that Gaspare was the dedicatee of Pomponio's commentary on the Thebais (ibid. p. 107). This claim is not substantiated by the text of the letter. If anything, the letter may imply that it accompanies a manuscript containing the Silvae: in his description of Statius' three main works, Pomponio briefly characterizes the epics, but says that Statius "Siluarum libros V edidit, in quibus et amicos et fortunam poete nosces" (Statius published the Silvae in five books in which you will get to know both his friends and the circumstances of the poet). So Pomponio assumes that Gaspare has a manuscript of the Silvae at his disposal, and given the rarity of these, it could well have been provided by Pomponio. At the end of the letter, Pomponio encourages Gaspare to look for more biographical information about Statius; again, since the Silvae was the only known classical source for Statius' life, apart from Juvenal 6.82-87 (for these, see below), Pomponio probably asked Gaspare to try to find the autobiographical passages in the Silvae, as he himself had done.

Anderson's assumption that Gaspare was the dedicatee of the Thebais commentary is also not supported by codicological evidence. In Vat. lat. 3279 the text of the Thebais and Pomponio's commentary begins on f. 3r which is clearly intended as the opening page of the manuscript: it has white vine-stem borders on three sides by Gioacchino de Gigantibus, a rubric in alternating gold, blue and red epigraphic capitals by Bartolomeo Sanvito, and the Mazzatosta coat of arms (Maddalo 1991, 62-63 and fig. 6). As mentioned, the letter to Gaspare is transcribed on ff. 1-2, which are the first two folia of the manuscript's first gathering, but it is completely devoid of ornamentation: there is no rubric mentioning Gaspare's name, though two lines are left empty for it, nor are there any borders to match those at the beginning of the commentary. The first two lines of the letter are, however, in epigraphic capitals, written in the same color of ink as the rest of the letter, but they are not in Pomponio's hand. They may be by Sanvito. Following the letter itself and an epigram on Statius, there are some notes on the genealogy of the Theban house. It is possible that the two folia were originally intended as cover folia, and that they were filled with text only in a phase later than the completion of the main text. The letter could actually be earlier than the commentary. The complete lack of explicit information on both sender and addressee makes it highly unlikely that it is the actual copy intended for Gaspare. An indication of its date may be the fact that Pomponio mentions Niccolò Perotti's work on Statius in the present tense, emendat aperitque. This would make it roughly contemporary with Perotti's commentary on the Silvae, written in the first half of 1470 (Abbamonte 1997 and Pade forthcoming 1-2). Moreover, at the end of the letter Pomponio refers to his life of Lucan, printed in Rome in 1469, as written superiore anno.

The epigram which consists of four distichs is pieced together from relevant passages from the Silvae, almost like a cento. Anderson (2009, Appendix III, V, p 138) transcribes the text from Vat. lat. 3279, ff. 2r-v and simply calls it an epitaph on Statius, but he does not speculate on the authorship. I haven't found the epigram anywhere else, so it is likely that it is by Pomponio, not least because it is written by someone with access to and a very good knowledge of both the Silvae and Statius' two epics which few people had at the time.

During the Middle Ages, about the only known antique classical source for Statius' life were six verses from Juvenal (6.82-87). Although the medieval accessus to Statius' two epics contain some biographical information, this is mostly erroneous. In contrast, Pomponio's vita is based chiefly on the new biographical information which could be gleaned from the Silvae, a text that had been virtually unknown in Italy during the Middle Ages and began to circulate only after Poggio found a copy of it during the Council of Constance which he sent back to Italy early in 1418 (Reeve 1983 and 1977). The editio princeps of Statius' two epics, which probably appeared in Rome shortly before Pomponio compiled his vita, contained a vita Statii based on a medieval accessus. Although he may be referring to this when he mentions recent discussions about Statius' life, otherwise he does not bother to comment upon the errors it contained. He could ignore them, as his friend and collaborator Niccolò Perotti was compiling his vita Statii which, as I have shown elsewhere, contains a detailed criticism of the medieval vitae (Pade forthcoming 1-2). Perotti's vita Statii is the opening gloss of his commentary on the Silvae, but unfortunately, the commentary is not preserved in its entirety. The last gloss is on 1,5,21-22 arida luctu flumina, so we don't know if he drew attention to the autobiographical passages later in the work that Pomponio used for his vita.


Pomponius Laetus, P. Papinii Statii vita, Città del Vaticano, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Vat. lat. 3279 (a. 1470-1471), lr-2r; A = Anderson 2009.



Nuper de Papinii uita sermo fuit, quae ignota est, ut aliorum fere poetarum. Scripsere ueteres, sed neglegentia quadam talia posteri contempsere. Nec mirum nam illustria Romanorum monumenta pene extincta sunt, et nisi grêca lingua opem tulisset, de tam magna re publica atque imperio maior pars desideraretur. Necesse ergo est hinc inde colligere, ut faciunt agricole in inculto campo, plerumque tamen siquê bone herbe sunt, sub insalubribus ita latent, ut inueniri nequeant.

Blondus pater tuus summa diligentia multorum saeculorum historias in lucem reduxit; ipse uero, si non adeo diligens, eo quo potui labore de qua locuti sumus uitam perquisiui nec patre in silentium dato in haec uerba diggessi.

P. Papinius Statius pater Greca et Romana lingua eruditus ad nouissimum usque diem professus est summo honore apud Domitianum habitus. A quo auro donatus et corona,1 digno principe erga praeceptorem munere. Primus genus suum propter inopiam oblitteratum,2 celebritate nominis | celebre fecit adeoque claruit, ut quod Homero, ei contigit [contigerit A]; due enim urbes, Selle Epyrotarum et Neapolis Campanorum de natali [<eius> natali A] solo certabant;3 singularis profecto contentio [singularis-contentio om. A] ex qua intelligi facile potest, quanto in pretio littere fuerunt. Ex Agilina [Agelina A] uxore quam unicam habuit et cuius superstes fuit, P. Papinium Statium suscepit cuius pueritiam ac iuuentutem litteris fouit, copia uarietateque rerum refersit et omne eius studium, quoad uixit, iuuit operaque castigauit.4 Senex uicio inexpergibilis somni periit.5

Papinius filius, iuuenis admodum, Claudiam Claudii Apollinaris filiam impatiens amoris uxorem duxit cui tanta modestia atque castitas et amoris obseruantia fuit, ut matrimonialem fidem absentia mariti XX annis non fraudarit.6 Vergens ad senium eam Neapolim comunem patriam reuocauit.7 Ambigitur quis superstes fuerit. Albe Domitianus Cesar eadem qua patrem qui prêsens erat, filium corona muniuit et auro insigniuit.8 Qua ex re non ingratus poeta Thebaida et Achillem dignissimo Cesaris numini [nomini a.c.] consecrauit.9

Thebaida uero, ut ipse ait, multa cruciauit lima ac Iunii Maximi eloquentissimi uiri iudicio publicauit.10 Cum Achillis etatem caneret, absentem | Crispinum, Vectii Bolani filium, clarum militia iuuenem, mente formauit;11 utrumque opus graue uerum [uero A] et in altero copia rerum magnitudo ingenii et ineuitabile mortalium fatum. In altero indoles magni ducis exprimitur, unde cognoscimus Virgilii quem ipse magistrum fatetur, sepulchrum coluisse.12 Siluarum libros V edidit, in quibus et amicos et fortunam poete nosces. Hos ex omni parte corruptos multa uigilia et laudabili industria Nicolaus Perotta Pontifex Sipontinus in quo, ut mea fert opinio, tantum acuminis atque doctrine ad interpretandum est, quantum ueteres habuerunt, emendat aperitque [emendat aperitque add. Pomponius in fine lineae].

Habes non de filio tantum sed et de patre que legi; perquire tu, forte aliquid amplius adicies, nam elucubratio duorum maior est quam unius. Interea non minus hoc legentibus, si probaueris, quam quod de Lucano superiore anno Fabio Ambusto scripsimus, gratum fore spero.



Papinio genitus nomen studiumque paternum
Mite solum13 fecit patria Parthenope.14
Donatus pater est auro pacisque corona
Atque eadem tribuit Caesaris Alba mihi.15/
 5Uxor cara fuit seruati pignus amoris,16
Claudia Laertis uincere docta nurum.17
Oedipodam mea musa canit describit Achillem
Et que praecipiti facta calore fluunt.18



Recently19 there has been talk about Statius' life, unknown as that of most other poets. The ancients wrote about it, but later generations carelessly did not treasure what they wrote. One should not wonder at that, since the glorious records concerning the Romans were almost lost, and if there had not been assistance from Greek works, most facts regarding a state and empire of such magnificence would have been missing. So one has to collect material here and there, as farmers in an untended field, even though good herbs may be irretrievably hidden under unprofitable ones.

With the utmost assiduousness your father, Biondo,20 brought the history of many ages back to light. Though not quite on his level, I have myself researched the life we talked about with every possible effort, and I have not passed the father by in silence in my account.

P. Papinius Statius the Elder was well versed in both Greek and Latin. He was a teacher until his death and held in the highest esteem by Domitian, from whom he received riches as well as a crown, a worthy present for an emperor to give to his tutor. Due to poverty, his family had almost fallen into oblivion, but his fame reversed its fortune, and he became so renowned that the same thing happened to him as to Homer: for there were two cities, Selle in Epiros and Naples in Campania that claimed to be his birthplace. An extraordinary contest that clearly shows the esteem in which literature was held. From Agilina, his only wife, whom he survived, he begat P. Papinius Statius whose childhood and youth he enriched with literature, making his son familiar with all kinds of subjects, and as long as he lived he helped his son in his endeavours, reading his works critically. He died an old man of a sleep that could not be interrupted.

Still only a youth and impatient for love, Papinius the Younger married Claudia, the daughter of Claudius Apollinaris.21 Such was her propriety, chastity and respect for their love that she never betrayed her marriage vows, though her husband was absent for 20 years. On the brink of old age he recalled her to Naples, their common fatherland. It is not clear who survived the other. At Alba, Domitian bestowed on the son the same crown he had once given the father, who was present at the occasion, and distinguished him with gold. In his gratefulness, the poet dedicated the Thebais and the Achilleis to Caesar's most worthy divine majesty.

As he puts it himself, he let the Thebais undergo many revisions and published it following the judgment of the eloquent Junius Maximus; by singing about the life of Achilles, he educated the absent Crispinus, the son of Vectius Bolanus and a young man of military renown - both truly important works and in one of them one encounters a wealth of subjects, a greatness of intellect and the inevitable fate of men. In the other the character of a great leader is expressed from which we learn that he revered the grave of Virgil whom he himself professes to be his master. He published the Silvae in five books, in which you will get to know both his friends and the circumstances of the poet. Corrupt in every passage, these books are being emended and annotated by Niccolò Perotti, bishop of Siponto, with endless and laudable industry.22 In my opinion he shows such acumen and learning in his commentaries that he equals the ancients.

Here you have what I read not just about the son but also about the father. Try if you can to add anything, for two see more than one. In the meanwhile I hope this, if you approve of it, will be no less pleasing to readers than what I wrote for Fabius Ambustus23 last year about Lucan.

Fare well.


His Parthenopean fatherland gave Papinius his birth, family name, and father's zeal for study, and its mild soil. My father received gold and the crown of peace, and imperial Alba gave me the same.24 My beloved wife is the pledge of enduring love, Claudia, who learned to surpass Laertes' daughter-in-law.25 My muse sings about Oedipus, she tells about Achilles and all that gushes forth, in the heat of the moment.26


Editorial Note: I have retained the spelling of Pomponio's autograph in BAV, Ms. Vat. lat. 3279, but I have modernized the punctuation and the use of capitals. I would like to thank Patricia Osmond for many helpful suggestions.



1A quo - corona Silv. 5,3,112.     2primus - oblitteratum Silv. 5,3,117-118. 3Primus - certabant Silv. 5,3,124-129a.     4cuius pueritiam - castigauit Silv. 5,3,210-214 et 233-237.     5Senex - periit Silv. 5,3,260-261.     6cui - fraudarit Silv. 3,5,6-10.     7Vergens - reuocauit Silv. 3. Proem., 3,5,6-8 et passim.     8Albe - insigniuit Silv. 5,3,227-229.     9Cp. rubric of Vat. lat. 3279, f. 3r "P. Papinii Statii Thebais Domitiano Avg." and that of Vat. lat. 3875 f. 79r "P. Papinii Statii Achilles divo Domitiano Avg. Germ.", but otherwise nothing indicates that Statius dedicated the two poems to Domitian. Theb. 12,814 "iam te magnanimus dignatur noscere Caesar" may be what gave Pomponio - and Niccolò Perotti - the idea.     10Thebaida - publicauit Silv. 4,7,25-28.     11Cum Achillis - formauit Silv. 5,2,162-163. 12Virgilii - coluisse.     13Mite solum Silv. 3,5,29.     14patria Parthenope e.g. Silv.1,2,260-261.     15Donatus-mihi Silv. 5,3,227-229.     16pignus amoris Silv. 3,2,81.    17Claudia-nurum Silv. 3,5,6-10.     18praecipiti […] calore fluunt cp. Silv. 1 praef. subito calore [...] fluxerunt.     19Probably a reference to the editio princeps of Statius' Thebais & Achilleis, with commentary. Rome: Printer of Statius, about 1470. ISTC: is00700600.     20The humanist Flavio Biondo was the father of Gaspare Biondo, the addressee of the letter. 21I have not been able to identify Pomponio's source for his information regarding Claudia's father. Tacitus mentions a Claudius Apollinaris who was an admiral under Vespasian (hist. 3,57,1).     22On the corrupt text of the copy of the Silvae sent by Poggio to Francesco Barbaro in 1417, see Abbamonte 1997, p. 9.     23I.e. Fabio Mazzatosta. Ambusta was the cognomen of the ancient gens Fabia.     24In 90 AD, in the Alban Games instituted by Domitian. 25I.e. Penelope.     26I.e. the Thebaid, the Achilleis, and the Silvae.



Abbamonte 1997

G. Abbamonte, "Ricerche sul commento inedito di Perotti alle Silvae di Stazio," Studi Umanistici Piceni 17 (1997), 9-20.


Anderson 2009

H. Anderson, The Manuscripts of Statius III, revised edition, Reception: The Vitae e/and? Accessus (Arlington 2009).


Fanelli 1968

V. Fanelli, "Biondo, Gaspare," Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani 19 (Roma 1968), 559-560.


Pade forthcoming (1)

M. Pade, "The Vitae Statii of Niccolò Perotti and Pomponio Leto," Vitae Pomponianae: Biografie di autori antichi nell'Umanesimo romano/ Lives of Classical Writers in Fifteenth-Century Roman Humanism (Proceedings of the conference held at the Danish and American Academies of Rome, 23-24 April 2013), Renæssanceforum 9 (2014).


Pade forthcoming (2)

M. Pade, "P. Papinius Statius poeta Neapolitanus… La Vita Statii di Niccolò Perotti," Studi Umanistici Piceni 34 (2014).


Reeve 1977

M.D. Reeve, "Statius' Silvae in the Fifteenth Century," The Classsical Quarterly 27 (1977), 202-215.




Marianne Pade
17 June 2014

This entry can be cited as follows:
Pomponius Laetus, Papinii Statii vita, ed. Marianne Pade, Repertorium Pomponianum, URL:,