Repertorium Pomponianum

Ps.Leto, Testamentum Cuspidii


Rabelais published in 1532 two "remains of venerable antiquity", a will and a contract for the sale of property (Lucii Cuspidii testamentum and Contractus venditionis antiquis Romanorum temporibus initus). Both texts had probably been printed separately before (see Cooper 1978; none of the imprints has a date). It is generally assumed that Rabelais believed these documents to be genuine (cf. Plattard 1930, 117; Screech 1977, 46), and the contemporaries voiced no doubts. Both texts, however, are rather obvious fictions not half a century older than their date of publication.

The purchase and sale contract concerns a small house Sarnensi in suburbio, sold by one "Pascutius Culita" for the price of unciolae tres. The names of the people mentioned in it, like Culita himself (from culus = "arse"), the neighbour Cocleatius Surripo (from surripere = "steal"), and the witness Plotius Locusta ("the locust"), give this piece a fine comic quality – which it is difficult to believe Rabelais did not appreciate. As the interlocutors at the beginning of Pontano's Actius discuss what purports to be a draft of the same contract (Giovanni Pontano, I dialoghi, ed. C. Previtera [Florence 1943], 127ff), there can be little doubt that the contractus was either penned by Giovanni Pontano (1429-1503), or is just a playful 'reconstruction' of a supposed original based on the Actius. This makes it difficult to take Rabelais' claim to have copied the text "from a manuscript of extraordinary antiquity" (ex membranis mirae vetustatis) at face value. Caelius Rhodiginus, who alludes to a passage of the contractus under the name of Pontanus in his Lectiones antiquae (13,8, ed. Bâle 1542, 477), probably knew the piece from the Actius.

The testamentum contains dispositions concerning the ample property (including a fundus Tusculanus) of the testator, one Lucius Cuspidius, the resolution of various financial obligations, and provisions for dependents and slaves (amongst them Davus and Geta, the slaves of Roman comedy!). There is even mention of a house with a garden left to his learned friends where they are to establish a gymnasium dedicated to literis et eloquentiae. Attribution of authorship for this piece rests exclusively on internal evidence. The first to connect it with Pomponio Leto was Antonio Agustín in his Diálogos de las medallas, inscripciones y otras antigüedades (Tarragona 1587, see Heulhard 1887, 47). The attribution gained currency with La Monnoye's Dissertation (La Monnoye 1722, 238), and was upheld by Heulhard and others, even though according to Heulhard "il n'y a aucune preuve matérielle que le Testament soit une divertissement de Pomponius Laetus" (Heulhard 1887, 46). The only (tenuous) connection with Pomponio is that Cuspidius in his will mentions a son "Laetus", already deceased at the time of the will, supposedly an allusion by Pomponio to himself. If the scribe of the Prato ms. was a relation of the famous Tommaso Inghirami who acted the part of Phaedra in Seneca's Hippolytus in Rome in 1488, we can add what might be another (however slight) connection with Pomponio (the ms. itself was written after the Rabelais-imprint, and so far we do not know whether any of the other mss. are earlier). The attribution to Pomponio was not mentioned any more in CIL vol. VI, where the text is grouped with the "Inscriptiones falsae saeculi XV et XVI".



Date: Romae Kal. Martiis. Gn.(!) Pompilio et L. Martio coss. (the date is fictitious)
Mss.:Paris, BN, Nouv. acq. lat. 1867 (s. XVI), fol.1r-2v, see Kristeller, Iter 3, 293b.
Paris, Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal, ms. 828 (s. XVI), see Kristeller, Iter 6, 478b.
Pienza, Società di Esecutori di Pie Disposizioni in Siena, legato Colonello Silvio Piccolomini della Triana, ms. 76 (s. XVI), fol. 60r-62v (together with other Roman documents), see Kristeller, Iter 6, 140a.
Prato, Bibl. Roncioniana, Q V 6 (10) (at the end: "Scripto il presente libro per me Franc. Phedro Ingerrami da Volterra el di XV Dicembr. MDXXXX"), see Kristeller, Iter 2, 80b.
Venice, Biblioteca Giustiniani Recanati, ms. VI 12 (865) (s. XVI), see Kristeller, Iter 6, 287b.
Imprints:Formula testamenti pagani Romanorum antiquum L. Cuspidii testamentum, nunc primum ex impressione representatum (s.l. s.a.). The testament only. The print is dated to Rome before 1532 by Cooper 1978. Electronic facsimile: Bibliotheca Gallica.
  Formula testamenti pagani Romanorum, Antiquum L. Cuspidii testamentum (Louanii s.a.). "Louanij ex officina Rutgeri Rescii, Sexto Idus Aprilis". The testament only. Electronic facsimile: Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Wien.
  Contractus Uenditionis: Antiquis Romanorum temporibus initus, ex membranis mirae vetustatis nunc primum typis chalcographis descriptus (s.l. s.a.). The contract only. Electronic facsimile: British Library, London / Google.
  Ex reliquiis venerandae antiquitatis Lucii Cuspidii testamentum. Item, Contractus venditionis antiquis Romanorum temporum initus. ed. F. Rabelaesius (Lugduni: Gryphius, 1532). Electronic facsimile: Bibliotheca Gallica, bibliothèque numérique de Lyon.
Ex reliquiis venerandae antiquitatis. Lucii Cuspidii Testamentum; ad haec contractus venditionis, antiquis Romanorum temporibus initus. ed. Hen. Glareanus (Friburgi : Joan. Emmeus, [1533]). Electronic facsimile: The Digital Library of Slovenia -
Antoine Terrasson, Histoire de la Jurisprudence romaine (Paris 1750), Appendix p.87-89 no.103.
Ed.:Heulhard 1887, v–xiv. Electronic facsimile:





La Monnoye 1722; Heulhard 1887; CIL VI,5 (Berlin 1885), p.15* no.59*(b). Jean Plattard, The Life of François Rabelais. English translation by L. D. Roche (London 1930, repr. 1968), 117. Screech 1977, 43-46 (on a copy of the Rabelais-edition which Boniface Amerbach received from Erasmus' secretary Gilbert Cousin in 1533). Cooper 1978.




Johann Ramminger
21 October 2008
with update by Frances Muecke, 8 March 2019.



This entry can be cited as follows:
Johann Ramminger, "Ps.Leto, Testamentum Cuspidii," Repertorium Pomponianum (URL:, ).