Within a century after the Irish missionary, Saint Columban (ca. 561.615), founded a monastery in Bobbio (North Italy) in 614, the scriptorium of the new monastery recycled about half of a two or three-centuries-old parchment codex by gently washing off the ink of Cicero’s De re publica. Instead, a scribe copied a highly important work for the community of the monks, namely a portion of Saint Augustine’s Expositions on the Psalms. Augustine’s exhaustive textual commentary summarized his theology, line by line, along the entire cycle of 150 Psalms. The Psalms held a great importance to the lives of the monks, because they were recited in the Liturgy of the Hours in weekly repeated cycles of prayers. We do not know what happened to the other half of the recycled codex which had contained the work of Cicero, nor its state of conservation at the moment of its recycling. Perhaps it was already damaged and incomplete at that time. However, the fact that all seventh-century folios of Vat. lat. 5757 derive from the same fourth or fifth-century codex leads to the likely hypothesis that the extensive portion of Augustine’s large commentary that was lost, to some extent derived from the same codex, and that the act of rewashing took place in Bobbio, as happened to a number of other old codices most likely in the same monastery. From the series of three volumes (commentaries on Ps 1-50, 51-100, 101-150), Vat. lat. 5757 preserves a portion of the last volume, Ps 119-141. The manuscript arrived at the Vatican Library in 1618, together with a group of manuscripts from Bobbio containing several important palimpsests. Cicero’s De re publica was discovered by Angelo Mai in 1819.
Mai’s new discovery turned out to be an important source for ancient political philosophy and the development of the political structure of ancient Rome. Cicero’ De re publica is a fictitious dialogue between Scipio Africanus the Younger and eight of his friends who convened in 129 BC; each participant was an important and well-known figure from Roman history with particular rhetorical styles, political views, and high erudition. Cicero, an excellent rhetorician himself, produced a fascinating dialogue replete with Roman political thought and composed in perfect rhetoric, reflecting his profound expertise in Greek philosophy and Roman politics. In Vat. lat. 5757, most of Book I and II survive, as well as a smaller portion of Book III, and no more than five folios from Books IV and V. Book I contains his political theory on the good citizen, the unconditional service of the community; Book II contains a detailed constitutional history of Rome from the seven kings to the age of Scipio Africanus the Younger.
Vat. lat. 5757, p. 275
The text of Cicero’s De re publica was copied in Uncial in the late fourth-early fifth century, in two columns, with 15 lines each [cf. CLA I, n. 35]. Ziegler has identified two hands [Ziegler, Praefatio, pp. xv-xxiii]. Soon after the production of the codex, a corrector amended the corrupted text between the lines and in the margin, probably collating it with an alternative version [cf. Taylor, The Corrector of the Codex].
Vat. lat. 5757, p. 275 and Vat. lat. 10696, f. 1v. Uncial script