Two Renaissance Readers of Apuleius: Filippo Beroaldo and Henri de Mesmes

Gerald Sandy

University of British Columbia

Apuleius was one of the first classical Latin authors to appear in print: [Opera:] Metamorphosis sive De asino aureo, Florida, Apologia, De deo Socratis, De Platone et eius dogmate, De mundo, Hermes Trismegistus, Asclepius, ed. Johannes Andreas de Buxis (Giovanni Andrea de'Bussi) (Rome, 1469). The Apuleian corpus occupies the fifth position in a chronological listing of editiones principes of classical Latin authors, preceded on the list by only Cicero (not surprisingly) and Lactantius. Apuleius' Golden Ass also enjoys the distinction of being the subject of one of the earliest Renaissance commentaries on a classical Latin author, that of the Filippo Beroaldo I (1453–1505) (to distinguish him from his nephew of the same name), the popular professor of rhetoric at the University of Bologna whose lectures drew hundreds of international students each morning. The commentary, published in 1500, is a huge folio volume of some 600 pages. One of his colleagues at the University of Bologna claimed that Beroaldo established the "lex commentandi" (the rules for writing a commentary). In the limited time available I will attempt to give an impression of the lasting impact of the commentary on Apuleian scholarship by focusing on a few examples of Beroaldo's philological acumen and interpretative powers, which have persisted in shaping our understanding of Apuleius' Golden Ass for more than 500 years. Many modern scholars advance seemingly innovative solutions to Apuleian puzzles without realizing that Beroaldo has already done so.

In the words of St. Jerome, Lectio sine stylo aut calamo somnus est. Italian humanists and their northern successors developed systems of note-taking (ars excerpendi) and note-making (ars animadvertendi) that were to persist for centuries. These two artes are evident in the unpublished Apuleian excerpta of Henri de Mesmes (1532-1596), a bibliophile, inveterate annotator and prominent legal authority. The excerpta reveal that he was a diligent reader of the Apuleian corpus and of Beroaldo. I have recently studied three of de Mesmes' manuscripts housed at the Bibliothèque nationale de France. Of the three manuscripts MS LAT 8720 contains the most "Memmian" intervention and therefore provides the best opportunity to observe de Mesmes' engagement with the text of Apuleius. I shall focus on the kinds of linguistic details a member of the sixteenth-century bourgeoisie du savoir thought worthy of note. In effect, we shall look over the shoulder of de Mesmes as he sat in his study with his notebook, Beroaldo's commentary and the 1522 Florentine edition of the Apuleian corpus in front of him.


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