Latin Classics The Evolution and Transmission of Texts of Specific Works [by M. Buonocore]

Terentius Afer, Publius, c. 195-159 a.C.

Terence was one of the most appreciated and richly illuminated classical authors in the Middle Ages. The text of the comedies was rediscovered in the Carolingian age. The oldest known witness of the late ancient period (4th-5th century), the Codex Bembinus (ms. Vat. lat. 3226), is, however, devoid of miniatures (Vedere i classici, pp. 168-176, 191-223). The oldest known copy of the illuminated comedies is ms. Vat. lat. 3868 (Wright, Scheda nr. 8, pp. 168-176); the codex was created around 825 in Aachen, following an antigraph of Late Antique origin, for a model, now lost (Wright, The Organization; Wright, The lost late). The illuminated apparatus of Terence’s comedies has over one hundred and fifty illustrations in blank space, wherein the artist inserts the characters, furnished with captions to identify them, in order of appearance following the papyrus style model, a portrait of the author at the beginning of the codex and a shelf containing the masks anticipates the beginning of the comedies (Fachechi, I classici illustrati).

Together with the Vatican copy, which remains the most faithful to the copy of the fifth century from the stylistic point of view, three other Carolingian copies have been preserved with the same illustrative layout: a manuscript realized in scriptorium of Corbie (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, latin 7900), two in Reims or near northern France (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, latin 7899; Milan, Biblioteca Ambrosiana, SP4 bis, formerly H. 75 inf.; Ravasi, Scheda nr. 15, pp. 191-192). This illustrative typology adopted in the Carolingian copies was reinterpreted in the codex Arch. Cap. S. Pietro H. 19, perhaps made in Cluny at the beginning of the eleventh century, without any kind of innovation (von Büren, Note sur le). Of great solidity and originality is the manuscript produced in Tours at the beginning of the twelfth century (ms. Vat. lat. 3305) which diverges from the Carolingian model and interprets the text of the plays according to a different illustrative plan, creating new iconographic designs freely inspired by the work of Terence (Wright, The Forgotten; Wright, Scheda nr. 27, pp. 218-220).

The manuscripts of Terence gave rise to a new impulse in the humanistic era. At the beginning of the fifteenth century, in fact, the comedies were accompanied by illustrative cycles of a very high quality, as is the case for latin 7907A (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France) by Jean de Valois, Duke of Berry (Cecchini, Terenzio) or ms. Ott. lat. 1368, made in Basel in 1436 with miniatures of a narrative character at the beginning of the comedies (Santini, Scheda nr. 88, pp. 363-365).

From the first graphic rendering of the works of Terence, typical of the Carolingian copies derived from a Late Antique model (which has since been lost), which was based on the antiquarian knowledge of the miniaturist and not on a direct knowledge of Classical theater (Wright, The Forgotten), we know arrive, in the Humanistic era, to an illustrative typology in which the miniaturist employs detailed settings, inspired by contemporary architecture, and scenes in which the characters are no longer stage masks but characters dressed according to the fashion of the time. Unlike other classical authors during the Middle Ages, Terence’s comedies continued to be transmitted not only through texts but also through illustrations, which were periodically modified to favor new visualization strategies.