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Festus, Sext. Pompeius

a lexicographer of uncertain date. He certainly lived after Martial, whom he quoted (s. v. Vespae), and before Macrobius, who refers to him more than once (Sat. 3.3, 5, comp. 8.). From his remarks upon the word supparus we conclude that he must have belonged to an epoch when the ceremonies of the Christian religion were familiar to ordinary readers, but Saxe has no authority for fixing him down to the close of the fourth century (Onosmast. A. D. 398).


The name of Festus is attached to a dictionary or glossary of remarkable Latin words and phrases, which is divided into twenty books, and commonly bears the title Sexti Pompeii Festi de Verborum Significatione. This is a compilation of the highest value, containing a rich treasure of learning upon many obscure points, connected with antiquities, mythology, and grammar; but before we can make use of it with safety it is necessary that we should understand the history of the work, and be made acquainted with the various constituents of which it is composed.

M. Verrius Flaccus, a celebrated grammarian, in the reign of Augustus [FLACCUS VERRIUS], was the author of a very voluminous treatise, De Significatu Verborum. This was compressed into a much smaller compass by Festus, who made a few alterations ( e. g. s. v. monstrum) and criticisms (e.g. Pictor Zeuais) of his own, inserted numerous extracts from other writings of Verrius, such as the De Obscuris Catonis; De Plauti Calculis; De Jure Sacro et Augurali, and others; but altogether omitted those words which had fallen into disuse (intermortua et sepulta), intending to make these the subject of a separate volume Priscorum Verborum cum Exemplis (see s. v. porriciam). Finally, towards the end of the eighth century, Paul, son of Warnefrid, better known as Paulus Diaconus, from having officiated as a deacon of the church at Aquileia, abridged the abridgment of Festus, dedicating his production to Charlemagne, after that prince had dethroned Desiderius, the last king of the Lombards, whom Paul had served as chancellor.

The original work of Verrius Flaccus has altogether perished with the exception of one or two inconsiderable fragments. Of the abstract by Festus one imperfect MS. only has come down to us. It was brought, we are told, from Illyria, and fell into the hands of Pomponius Laetus, a celebrated regarded scholar of the fifteenth century, who for some reason now unknown kept possession of a few leaves when he transferred the remainder to a certain Manilius Rallus, in whose hands they were seen in 1485 by Politian, who copied the whole together with the pages retained by Pomponius Laetus. This MS. of Rallus found its way eventually into the Farnese library at Parma, whence it was conveyed, in 1736, to Naples, where it still exists. The portion which remained in the custody of Laetus was repeatedly transcribed, but it is known that the archetype was lost before 1581, when Ursinus published his edition. The original codex written upon parchment, probably in the eleventh or twelfth century, appears to have consisted, when entire, of 128 leaves, or 256 pages, each page containing two columns; but at the period when it was first examined by the learned, fifty-eight leaves at the beginning were wanting, comprehending all the letters before M; three gaps, extending in all to ten leaves, occurred in different places, and the last leaf had been torn off, so that only fifty-nine leaves were left, of which eighteen were separated from the rest by Laetus and have disappeared, while forty-one are still found in the Farnese MS. In addition to the deficiencies described above, and to the ravages made by dirt, damp, and vermin, the volume had suffered severely from fire, so that while in each page the inside column was in tolerable preservation, only a few words of the outside column were legible, and in some instances the whole were destroyed. These blanks have been ingeniously filled up by Scaliger and Ursinus, partly from conjecture and partly from the corresponding paragraphs of Paulus, whose performance appears in a complete form in many MSS. This epitomizer, however, notwithstanding his boast that he had passed over what was superfluous and illustrated what was obscure, was evidently ill qualified for his task; for whenever we have an opportunity of comparing him with Festus we perceive that he omitted much that was important, that he slavishly copied clerical blunders, and that when any expression appeared perplexing to his imperfect scholarship he quietly dropped it altogether. He added a little, but very little, of his own, as, for example, the allusion to his namesake, the apostle (s. v. barbari), and a few observations under secus, sacrima, signare, posimerium, porcas, &c.

It is evident from what has been said that the book, as commonly exhibited, consists of four distinet parts:--

1. The fragments of Festus contained in the Farnese MS. now deposited in the Royal library at Naples.

2. The fragments of Festus retained by Pomponius Laetus, the archetype of which, although lost before the end of the sixteenth century, had previously been frequently transcribed.

These two sets of fragments, as far as they go, are probably a tolerably correct though meagre representation of the commentaries of Verrius Flaccus.

3. The epitome of Paulus Diaconus, consisting of inaccurate excerpts from Festus, a mere shadow of a shade, but even these imperfect outlines are very precious.

4. The interpolations of Scaliger and Ursinus, foisted in for the purpose of filling up the blanks in the outside columns of the MS. of Festus. These are of course almost worthless, since they must be merely as specimens of ingenuity.

Although it is manifest how much the four parts differ from each other in value, yet all are in most editions mixed up into one discordant whole, so that it is impossible, without much labour and research, to analyse the mass and resolve it into its elements. Hence we not unfrequently find in the essays of even distinguished scholars quotations professedly from Festus, which upon examination turn out to be the barbarous blunders of Paulus, or even simply the lucubrations of Ursinus. We have now, however, been happily relieved from all such embarrassments by the labours of Müller, whose admirable edition is described more particularly below.

The principle upon which the words are classified is at first sight by no means obvious or intelligible. The arrangement is so far alphabetical that all words commencing with the same letter are placed together. But the words ranked under each letter are, as it were, divided into two parts. In the first part the words are grouped, according not only to the initial, but also to the second and even the third and fourth letters; the groups, however, succeed each other not as in an ordinary dictionary but irregularly. Thus we find at the beginning of R, not the words in ra-, but those in ru-, next those in ro-, next those in rum-, next those in rh-, next those in re- and ri- mixed, next those in ra-, and again re- and ri- mixed. In the second part regard is paid to the initial letter alone without reference to those which follow it, but the words placed together have in most instances some bond of connection. Thus in the second part of P we find the series palatualis, Portenta, Postularia, Pestifera, Peremptalia, Pullus, all of which belong to sacred rites, and especially to auspices. Again, Propius Subrino. Possessio, Praefecturae, Parret, Postum, Patrocinia, Posticam lineam, terms relating to civil law; Pomptina, Papiria, Pupinnia, Pupillia, names of tribes, and so on. The same word is frequently explained both in the first and in the second part, and sometimes the two explanations are at variance; thus, Reus, Ritus, Rustica Vinalia, occur in both the first and second parts of R, while the remarks on Obsidium, Obsidionem, in the first part of O are inconsistent with what is said upon the same words in the second part. The same word is never repeated twice in the first part, but this sometimes happens in the second, when it falls to be interpreted under two heads, as in the case of Praebia. The first part in some letters is headed by a few words altogether out of their order, which seem placed in a conspicuous position on account of their importance or from some superstitious feeling. Thus M is ushered in by Magnos Ludos, Meltom, Matrem Matutam, while the first fifteen articles in P are almost all derived from the most ancient memorials of the Latin tongue. These facts, taken in combination with the authorities quoted here and there, would lead us to infer that the words in the first part of each letter were taken directly from the De Significatu Verborum of Verrius, while those in the second constitute a sort of supplement, collected by Festus from the other writings of the same author. We might also surmise, from the singular order, or rather want of order, discernible in the first part, that Verrius wrote down his observations upon certain sets of words upon separate sheets, and that these sheets were bound up without regard to any circumstance except the initial letter. An elaborate discussion upon these points will be found in the preface to the edition of Müller.


The edition published at Milan, by Zarotus, on the 3rd of August, 1471, and inscribed, Sext. Pompeius Festus de Verborum Significatione, that of Joannes de Colonia and Joannes Manthen de Gherrezen, 4to. Venet. 1784, a very ancient impression, perhaps older than either of the above, and probably printed at Rome by G. Lauer, together with several others, merely reprints of the preceding, and all belonging to the fifteenth century, present us with nothing except Paulus Diaconus. A volume appeared at Milan, in 1510, containing Nonius Marcellus, Festus, Paulus, and Varro. This work was commenced by Jo. Bapt. Pies, who revised the Nonius, and was carried on by a certain Conagus, who was acquainted with both portions of the MS. of Festus, which he incorporated with Paulus, thus giving rise to that confusion which afterwards prevailed so extensively. The above grammarians were reprinted, in the same form, at Paris in 1511 and 1519, at Venice by Aldus Manutius, in 1513, and very frequently afterwards, in different parts of Europe. More valuable than any of those already mentioned is the edition of Antonius Augustinus, archbishop of Tarragona, 8vo. Venet. 1559-1560, in which we find not only a correct collation of the Farnese MS., but a separation of Festus from Paulus. Augustinus was closely followed by Joseph Scaliger, 8vo. 1565, who displayed great skill in his conjectural emendations and supplements, and by Fulvius Ursinus, Rom. 1581, who again collated and gave a faithful representation of the Farnese MS., and, following out the labours of Scaliger, filled up the blanks. The edition of Dacier " In usum Delphini," Paris, 1681, has been often reprinted, but possesses no particular value. Lindemann, in his Corpus Grammaticorum Latinorum, vol. ii. Lips. 1832, has placed Paulus and Festus completely apart from each other, has revised the text of each with great care, and added a large body of notes, original and selected; but far superior to all others is the edition of K. O. Müller, Lips. 4to. 1839, in which we find,--

1. A preface, with a critical account of the MSS. of Festus and Paulus, their history, and a most ingenious and laborious investigation of the plan followed in the arrangement of the words.

2. The text of Paulus in its best form, from the most trustworthy MSS.

3. The text of Festus, from the Farnese MS., carefully collated, in 1833, expressly for this edition, by Arndts. The fragments are printed exactly as they occur in the MS., in double columns, and placed face to face with the corresponding portions of Paulus, so as to admit of easy comparison. The most plausible of the conjectural supplements by Scaliger and Ursinus are inserted in a different type.

4. The text of the Pomponian sheets, printed also in double columns, the contents of each page having been determined by accurate calculation.

5. A collection of the most useful commentaries.


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398 AD (1)
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