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The Vatican Mythographers

Ronald Pepin

Publication Year: 2008

The Vatican Mythographers offers the first complete English translation of three important sources of knowledge about the survival of classical mythology from the Carolingian era to the High Middle Ages and beyond. The Latin texts were discovered in manuscripts in the Vatican library and published together in the nineteenth century. The three so-called Vatican Mythographers compiled, analyzed, interpreted, and transmitted a vast collection of myths for use by students, poets, and artists. In terms consonant with Christian purposes, they elucidated the fabulous narratives and underlying themes in the works of Ovid, Virgil, Statius, and other poets of antiquity. In so doing, the Vatican Mythographers provided handbooks that included descriptions of ancient rites and customs, curious etymologies, and, above all, moral allegories. Thus we learn that Bacchus is a naked youth who rides a tiger because drunkenness is never mature, denudes us of possessions, and begets ferocity; or that Ulysses, husband of Penelope, passed by the monstrous Scylla unharmed because a wise man bound to chastity overcomes lust. The extensive collection of myths illustrates how this material was used for moral lessons. To date, the works of the Vatican Mythographers have remained inaccessible to scholars and students without a good working knowledge of Latin. The translation thus fulfills a scholarly void. It is prefaced by an introduction that discusses the purposes of the Vatican Mythographers, the influences on them, and their place in medieval and Renaissance mythography. Of course, it also entertains with a host of stories whose undying appeal captivates, charms, inspires, instructs, and sometimes horrifies us.The book should have wide appeal for a whole range of university courses involving myth.

Published by: Fordham University Press


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Title Page

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p. vii

In 1831, Angelo Mai, Prefect of the Vatican Library, published three separate Latin compilations of classical myths composed during the Middle Ages. Mai had discovered these in Vatican manuscripts, one of which had once belonged to Christina, the expatriate Queen of Sweden. Only three years later, Georg H. Bode decided to issue a new edition of these three...

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p. ix

First, I am deeply grateful to the anonymous readers of Fordham University Press for their insightful suggestions and candid assessments of my work. My translation and introduction are better for their input, and they are, of course, absolved of responsibility for any mistakes or infelicities that might remain...

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pp. 1-12

Since their first appearance together over one hundred and seventy years ago, the Three Vatican Mythographers have been viewed as a single entity. They have been treated collectively in histories and studies of medieval literature, although their individual substance and style have invited closer scrutiny in recent years. Before characterizing each Mythographer...

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First Mythographer

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pp. 13-98

After Prometheus created men, he is said to have ascended into the sky with the help of Minerva. With a little torch applied to the Sun’s chariot wheel, he stole fire, which he made known to mankind. Angered by this, the gods sent two evils upon the earth: fevers, that is emaciation, and diseases. Also, with the help of Mercury, they bound Prometheus to a...

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Second Mythographer

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pp. 99-205

Poets gave a name to fables from fando, ‘‘speaking,’’ since they are not deeds that have been done, but only invented in speech. Thus, they were introduced so that a certain representation of the life of human beings might be recognized in the conversations of imaginary dumb animals among themselves. Tradition has it that Alcmaeon of Croton first...

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Third Mythographer

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pp. 207-334

There was in Egypt a very rich man named Syrophanes. He had an only-begotten son whom he loved beyond measure. It happened that the son died. Out of excessive feelings of love, the father set up in his house a statue of his son, and while he sought a cure for sorrow, he found rather a seed bed of grief. That statue was called eidolon, which in Latin we call...


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pp. 335-344

Select Bibliography

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pp. 345-346


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pp. 347-357

E-ISBN-13: 9780823248629
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823228928
Print-ISBN-10: 0823228924

Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 2008

OCLC Number: 794702340
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Vatican Mythographers

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Subject Headings

  • Mythology, Classical -- Early works to 1800.
  • Mythology, Roman -- Early works to 1800.
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