De Senectute, De Amicitia, and Paradoxa Stoicorum. Marcus Tullius CICERO.
De Senectute, De Amicitia, and Paradoxa Stoicorum.
De Senectute, De Amicitia, and Paradoxa Stoicorum.
De Senectute, De Amicitia, and Paradoxa Stoicorum.
De Senectute, De Amicitia, and Paradoxa Stoicorum.
De Senectute, De Amicitia, and Paradoxa Stoicorum.
De Senectute, De Amicitia, and Paradoxa Stoicorum.

De Senectute, De Amicitia, and Paradoxa Stoicorum.

Illuminated manuscript, written in Latin on vellum. Italy, Florence, ca. 1450-1460. 241 x 171 mm. (justification: 157 x 96 mm.), vellum, 42 leaves & modern pastedown with flyleaves in front and back. Collation: I-III10, IV10+2 (added bifolium, fols. 40-41), perpendicular catchwords in lower margin; one column of 28 lines (ruled in blind), written in black ink in a fine Littera Humanistica. The hand tends to write smaller in the 2nd text (see fol. 22 and ff.), rubrics in red by the same hand, in texts and in margins (fol. 3, citations in Greek), 8 three- to five-line golden initials on a field painted in blue, red and green, one penwork initial (fol. 36v) added later, four large, four- to eight-line white vine-scroll initials in gold on red, green and blue grounds (fols. 1r-v, 17r, 32v, on fol. 1: 2 butterflies and a full lower border with 2 deer and a lion in gold, possibly an unidentified coat of arms). Some contemporary annotations and corrections, several different probatio pennae added on final leaves. Binding: modern cedar wood covers, executed by Jean de Gonet (b. 1950), innovative French binder who was honored in exhibitions (New York and Brussels, 1987), most recently, in Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France (2013, see Literature, below).


1. The coat of arms of the first patron, a golden lion on an azure field is unidentified.

2. In the 16th century owned by Antonio Lanza of Padua.

3. Monogram MF.

4. Later collection note “no. CLXXXVI” (fol. 1r, headed by: IC XRI).


Fols. 1-16v: Marci Tullii Ciceronis, De Senectute or Cato Maior de Senectute. Liber feliciter incipit: O Tite, si quid ego adiuero curamve levasso quae nunc te coquit et versat que in pectore fixa,et qua de primeris enquid erit premii? Licet enim

Explicit: Haec habui de senectute quae dicerem, ad quam utinam veniatis, ut ea, quae ex me audistis, re experti probare possitis!

The text is divided in three main parts: Preliminary or Prohemium, dedication to Titus Atticus, fols. 1r-v; Introductory conversation, fols. 1v-3r; Cato’s Defence of Old Age, fols. 3r-16v.

Fols. 17r-32r: M. C., De Amicitia feliciter incipit: Quintus Mutius Augur Scaevola multa narrare de C. Laelio socero suo memoriter et iucunde solebat nec dubitare illum in omni sermone appellare sapientem

Explicit: Haec habui de amicitia quae dicerem. Vos autem hortor, ut ita virtutem locetis, sine qua amicitia esse non potest ut ea excepta nihil amicitia praestabilius putetis.

Fols. 32v-39v: Marcus Tullius Cicero, Paradoxa Stoicorum. Incipit: Animadverti, Brute, saepe Catonem, avunculum tuum, tuum, cum in senatu sententiam diceret, locos graves ex philosophia tractare abhorrentes ab hoc usu forensi et publico, sed dicendo consequi tamen, ut illa etiam populo probabilia viderentur

Explicit: Nos vero si nec possumus

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 B.C.), the great Roman lawyer, orator, philosopher and politician, had an immense influence on the Latin language. In the 14th century, Petrarch (1345) and other Italian humanists rediscovered his works: letters, philosophical texts, and rhetorical books. Together with some poetry, this oeuvre gives us a clear picture of Cicero and his role in the politics and turmoil of his time. After the murder of Julius Cesar (44 B.C.), Cicero pleaded for the restoration of the Republic in his famous Philippics. Declared enemy of the state, he was killed in Rome upon order of Marc Antony (43 B.C.).

On Old Age, the first text in the manuscript at hand, bears as full title Cato Maior de Senectute. Written in 45-44 B.C., it is dedicated to Cicero’s friend Titus Pomponius Atticus (109-32 B.C.). The earliest surviving manuscripts are Carolingian codices of the 9th and 10th centuries now in Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale and Leyden, University Library. The text is written in the form of a dialogue with vivid discussions and some drama. The arguments had comforted Cicero himself, and he hoped they would do the same to his friend Atticus. De Senectute became a popular ethical treatise, applying the principles of philosophy to lighten the troubles of old age, the so-called “heaviest burden of life.” The discussion supposedly occurred in 150 B.C., between Cato, then 84, Scipio, then 35, and Laelius, then about 36. The principal speaker on Old Age was the elderly Marcus Porcius Cato (234-149 B.C.), admired for his vigour of body and mind. Cato had served a long military career but also had fought against the lax morals of his time, exhibiting the ideal Roman virtues (simplicity, principle, and self-sacrificing patriotism) that Cicero thought missing in his own days. Publius Scipio Africanus Minor (ca. 185-129 B.C.) was adopted by the son of Scipio Africanus Major. He was the consul who destroyed Carthage in 146 and, according to Cicero, one of the noblest men in history. Gaius Laelius (ca. 235- after 160 B.C.), son of a friend of the elder Scipio, also gained credit as military commander in Spain. He was a man of great learning, a philosopher, and eloquent orator.

De Senectute not only had an ethical but also a political purpose, as it was Cicero’s intention to raise admiration for what he regarded as the Golden Age of Roman politics (during the Punic Wars), in sketching a contrast between that age and his own.

The second text in the present manuscript, De Amicitia — also dedicated to Atticus — was written by Cicero in 44 B.C., shortly after the death of Julius Caesar and before the conflict with Antony. He based his work on early Greek philosophers such as Plato and Theophrastus. Again the text is written as a dialogue between prominent figures, in this case Gaius Laelius and his sons-in-law Gaius Fannius and Quintus Mucius Scaevola — teacher to Cicero himself. Although Cicero wrote about his own experiences with friendship, he used the relationship between the younger Scipio and Laelius as an example and a large part of the text is devoted to Laelius’ speech on the death of his friend Scipio in 129 B.C., expressing his bereavement and how to bear the loss. Thus Cicero described what qualities make a good friend (and what characterizes a bad friend), providing examples from his personal life. The work shows the author’s dramatic power in entering Laelius’ feelings and resignation, emphasizing the importance of virtue in friendship and how true friendship cannot exist without it.

Cicero’s Paradoxa stoicorum, the third text, was only rediscovered in the early 15th century. Cosimo de Medici is known as owner of an early Monte Cassino manuscript since 1418 and Florence may have been a centre of dispersion of this text (a list of extant manuscripts and editions is found in Ronnick, 1991, pp. 143-99). The Paradoxa is an introduction to Stoicism in which Cicero lays out six stoic principles (called paradoxes) and tries to make them understandable for the “average” listener. It is an exercise into plain speech without requiring to actually agree to any of the paradoxes. These are: 1. moral value is the only good; 2. virtue is sufficient for happiness; 3. all virtues and vices are equal; 4. all fools are insane; 5. only the wise man is really free; and 6. only the wise man is rich. Cicero wrote that the work was an exercise composed for his own amusement, but at the same time it was a serious work that enabled him to display his rhetorical skills. It can also be interpreted as an attack on his enemies. Although, or perhaps because the Paradoxa stoicorum (Stoic Paradoxes, written 46 B.C.) is a short text, it exerted enormous influence on Western intellectual thought as it became a standard school text during the Middle Ages and onwards.

Being an exceptional translator, Cicero rendered Greek ideas into such eloquent Latin that he influenced teaching for many centuries to come: his Latin prose provided a model for early Church Fathers, for humanists as well as for students of Latin for the many centuries that his texts were used as school books.


Written in an experienced humanist hand of one scribe who also added the rubrics, the manuscript is carefully corrected. The many probatio pennae on the flyleaves do not make much sense. The texts are decorated with eight three- to five-line golden initials on a field painted in blue, red and green. One penwork initial (fol. 36v) seems to have been added later. The major illumination furthermore consists of four large, four- to eight-line white vine-scroll initials in gold on red, green and blue grounds (fols. 1r-v, 17r, 32v). On fol. 1 there are also two butterflies (looking like winged caterpillars) and a full lower border with two deer and a lion in gold, possibly an unidentified coat of arms. The three animals in the lower margin on the opening leaf are interestingly woven into the vine-stems and are an integral part of the decoration. All three figures are known as designs taken from the inventory that the Master of the Playing Cards (Germany, c. 1455-60) used for his copperplate engravings — a use we often see in northern manuscripts and early printed books, but less in Italian humanist manuscripts. However, they were part of the stock of designs of Francesco d’Antonio del Chierico as is illustrated in Florence, Bibliotheca Medicea Laurenziana, ms 82,3 (New York 1994, ill. p. 50), containing Pliny the Elder’s Natural History, written in Florence, in 1458.

In all the present manuscript is a fine humanist book with wide margins and interesting texts in a notable modern binding.


R. Black, Humanism and Education in Medieval and Renaissance Italy: Tradition and Innovation in Latin Schools from the Twelfth to the Fifteenth Century, Cambridge and New York 2001.

P. F. Gehl, A Moral Art: Grammar, Society, and Culture in Trecento Florence, Ithaca, NY, 1993.

M.V. Ronnick, Cicero’s Paradoxa stoicorum, Frankfurt am Main, 1991.

On the binder Jean Gonet, see: A. Coron, Jean de Gonet, Relieur. Exhibition: Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris, 2013. 360 pp., with 150 illustrations.

On the Master of the Playing Cards:

A. H. van Buren & Sheila Edmunds, “Playing Cards and Manuscripts: Some Widely Disseminated Fifteenth Century Model Sheets,” in: The Art Bulletin 56. March 1974, pp.12-13.H. Lehmann-Haupt, Gutenberg and the Master of the Playing Cards, New Haven, 1966.

The Painted Page: Italian Renaissance Book Illumination 1450-1550, edited by Jonathan J. G. Alexander, New York, 1994, see for details of the animals as on the Playing cards: (dear, bear) no. 50.

Price: $125,000.00

Item ID: 4791

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