Commentary on Arm. XXXIX v 27 F 436 (1509)


1. The Privilege

            Like many papal privileges granted during the 16th century, this privilege, the earliest presented in the Vatican documents section, rewards the first-time publication of an ancient work, Pliny the Elder’s treatise on medicine.  Pighinucci took the first three of his volumes from a Swiss codex (in which the three volumes were already attributed to Pliny), the "book four" in Pighinucci's edition is actually now attributed to a writer named Gargilius Martialis, and is believed to have come from Martialis' book on medicine husbandry. "Book five" is a work on diatetics now attributed to a writer named Alexander von Tralles. Important to note is that Pighinucci did not collate manuscripts himself, and the codex he relied on was apparently full of errors. So at least some of the errors in Pighinucci's volumes were not created by him. 

This early privilege articulates many of the elements that characterize later privileges, including:

Assertion that the work has never before been printed

The petitioner has financed the printing, at no small cost to himself

The printing of the work will benefit the public (here, learned men)

Concern that once the work is printed, others will immediately reprint and undersell the work to the petitioner’s detriment

The Pope wishes to reward the petitioner and provide for his heirs and successors in title

Duration: ten years

Geographic scope: here not specified (“whatever location”), but presumably anywhere within the Pope’s secular control, and perhaps all of Christendom (later privileges, post-Protestant reformation, reference domains subject to the “Holy Roman Church”)

Prohibited acts: printing, selling, aiding those who print or sell, without the grantee’s permission (later privileges also prohibit importing copies into the areas covered by the privilege; later privileges also cover translations into Italian and other modern languages, and other modifications of the work)

Enforcement: by church officials, as well as by secular authorities, upon grantee’s or third party’s request

Penalties: Excommunication latae sententiae (excommunication imposed automatically upon breaking of a law; to be distinguished from penalties ferendae sententiae, which are only imposed after the crime has been declared by a third party).  Almost every privilege granted through the papacy of Sixtus V (1585-90), included excommunication among the penalties.  (About half the privileges issued at te end of the 16th century under Clement VIII provided for excommunication.)  and a fine (here unspecified; later privileges set an amount, and divide it among the apostolic treasury and the grantee, and, occasionally, the executing judges; later privileges often also order confiscation of the infringing books and type fonts used to print them). 

This privilege also includes a clause to the effect of “Notwithstanding any prior decrees to the contrary.”  This, too, is fairly standard, though less typical is the specification of a Bull issued by Pope Boniface VIII. The privilege may be referencing Unam Sanctam, according to which, generally, secular authority, such as the monarchy, must answer to the Roman Catholic Church and act as the latter’s instrument only. See Perhaps there was concern that Unam Sanctam could be interpreted to forbid the kind of spontaneous enforcement of the privilege that Pope Julius II seems to be demanding when he orders the secular powers to proceed as if with his own authority in prosecuting violators in lines 23-26.  Less typical also is the extension of the “notwithstanding” clause not only to past Papal decrees, but also, as the last paragraph details, to future contrary decrees.  By contrast, most privileges from this period simply state: “In contrarium facientibus non obstantibus quibuscunque” (Anything to the contrary notwithsanding.)


2. Persons Mentioned

F. Castilioneus [Francesco Castiglione?] [to be completed]

Tommaso Pighinucci (?-?) is known for having this edition of the Medicine of Pliny the Elder published and is often noted as an associate of humanist and author Antonio Lelio. See Lelio, Antonio, Treccani Dizionario Biografico

Pliny the Elder

Gaius Plinius Secundus (23/24-49), also called Pliny the Elder, was a Roman naturalist and historian most known for his work Naturalis Historia—at 10 volumes, the largest work to have survived from the Roman empire—compiling a wide range of scientific, historical, and aesthetic knowledge from numerous sources. Pliny the Elder practiced law and was well-connected politically, appointed to four separate senior officer positions by Vespasian, a friend who, like Pliny the Elder, had climbed up the ranks of Roman politics from the equestrian class. Also noteworthy is Pliny the Elder’s no longer extant Bella Germaniae (The German Wars), which scholars believe to have influenced the writings of the most famous later Roman historians Tacitus, Suetonius, and Plutarch. According to letters to Tacitus written by Pliny the Younger (nephew of the Elder Pliny), Pliny the Elder died in the eruption of Vesuvius in 49 AD while trying to rescue his friend, the Senator Pomponianus. Pliny the Elder managed to get Pomponianus out of danger but, in doing so, was exposed to a plume of toxic fumes emitted in the eruption and perished. See, Ramosino, Laura Cotta (2004). Plinio il Vecchio e la tradizione storica di Roma nella Naturalis historia. Alessandria: Edizioni del'Orso; Syme, Ronald (1969). “Pliny the Procurator”. Harvard studies in classical philology. Pp. 201–236.