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Walters Ms. W.388, Pseudo-Aurelius Victor (?), De Viris Illustribus; Cornelius Nepos, De Excellentibus Ducibus Exterarum Gentium; Plutarch, Regum et Imperatorum Apophthegmata

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Pseudo-Aurelius Victor (?), De Viris Illustribus; Cornelius Nepos, De Excellentibus Ducibus Exterarum Gentium; Plutarch, Regum et Imperatorum Apophthegmata

Text title
Collection of texts by Pseudo-Aurelius Victor (?), Cornelius Nepos, and Plutarch


Authority name: Pseudo-Aurelius Victor


Authority name: Nepos, Cornelius


Authority name: Plutarch


Written in Italy in the second quarter of the fifteenth century, this manuscript contains works by Pseudo-Aurelius Victor (?), Cornelius Nepos, and Plutarch. The first text, De Viris Illustribus, concerns the history of the Roman Empire and dates to the fourth century CE. It gives short, concise biographies of important men from Rome's long history. It is one of many such texts that fall within the genre of Roman exemplary literature, the most famous of which is Suetonius' early second-century CE work "De Vita Caesarum" or “The Lives of the Caesars.” In the manuscript tradition, the author of De Viris Illustribus has been given as both Pliny Secundus Veronesis, otherwise known as Pliny the Younger, who was writing in the late first century CE, or as Aurelius Victor, a fourth-century CE historian. The Walters text adopts the former, naming the author as "Pliny Veronesis." Most scholars have dismissed both Pliny and Aurelius Victor as potential authors and instead prefer to say he was a late antique scholarly commentator working in the fourth or early fifth century CE. The second text, De excellentibus ducibus exterarum gentium, is written by the first-century BCE Roman biographer Cornelius Nepos. He was a prolific author, as attested by contemporary authors such as Cicero and Catullus. We now only have preserved parts of his book De Viris Illustribus, from which De excellentibus comes. The text was composed of biographies grouped into pairs, the first of which was usually reserved for those of Greek or foreign origin, and the second for Romans. It has been determined that categories such as generals, historians, kings, and poets organized a number of the pairs. The only extant pairing is that of great commanders and generals, which is preserved in the Walters manuscript. The biographies of Atticus, a prominent first-century BCE Roman statesman, and Cato the Elder, a late third- to early second-century BCE Roman senator and historian, are also preserved, but not in the Walters manuscript. For centuries it was believed that Aemilius Probus, a late fourth- to early fifth-century CE grammarian, was the author of Nepos' text because of an epigram that names Probus and appears in a number of versions of the text (including that of the Walters). This error was corrected beginning in the sixteenth century. The third text is the Regum et imperatorum apophthegmata of Plutarch, a first-century CE Greek writer. It is one part of a much larger group of dialogues, essays, and recorded speeches collectively known as the Moralia. The Regum text is organized into two parts with the sayings of Greek and foreign kings and commanders coming first followed by those of Roman origin. Francesco Filelfo first translated the Greek text into Latin sometime during the life of Filippo Maria Visconti, Duke of Milan (1392-1447), to whom the translation is dedicated.


Second quarter of 15th century CE







Literary -- Prose


The primary language in this manuscript is Latin.

Support material


Sections of paper are interspersed with periodic bifolia of parchment throughout the manuscript; the pastedowns and flyleaves are composed of modern paper; the original flyleaves are palimpsests from a re-used Carolingian(?) manuscript


Foliation: i+i-vi+128+i

Black ink foliation, upper right corners, rectos


Formula: i+Quire 1: 6 (prefatory material, fols. i-vi), Quires 2,3: 14 (fols. vi-27); Quire 4: 18 (fols. 28-45); Quire 5: 16 (fols. 46-61); Quire 6: 14 (fols. 62-75); Quire 7: 12 (fols. 76-87); Quire 8: 16 (fols. 88-103); Quire 9: 18 (fols. 104-121); Quire 10: 8 with 7th folio missing (fols. 122-128)

Catchwords: Written in blank ink on bottom right verso

Comments: After front flyleaf i, there are six folios of prefatory text that have been foliated i-vi


14.0 cm wide by 20.5 cm high

Written surface

9.5 cm wide by 15.0 cm high

  1. Columns: 1
  2. Ruled lines: 22

fols. 1r - 128v:
  1. Title: Collection of texts by Pseudo-Aurelius Victor (?), Cornelius Nepos, and Plutarch
  2. Hand note: Written in humanist cursive; likely the same hand for all three texts
  3. Decoration note: The initial for each text and/or section left blank except for on fol. 1r; text in black ink with some added decoration in red ink on fol. 1r
fols. i,r - i,v:
  1. Title: Unidentified Text
  2. Incipit: Virgo deus cel(?) virgo(?)
  3. Contents: Likely a prayer to the Virgin
fols. ii,r - vi,v:
  1. Title: Title Page, Table of Contents, and Index
  2. Incipit: Plinius de viris illustribus
  3. Contents: Fol. ii, r is a title page listing the three texts, fol. ii, v is a table of contents and lists the three texts along with their location (foliation); Fols. iii-v, r serve as an index and give a list, in alphabetical order, of the different people discussed in the three texts along with their locations
  4. Text note: The relationship of this text to the rest of the manuscript is unclear; based on the hand, was perhaps contemporary with the manuscript itself or added within a century of its creation
fols. 1r - 25v:
  1. Title: De Viris Illustribus
  2. Author: Pseudo-Aurelius Victor
  3. Rubric: Plinius de viris illustribus incipit
  4. Incipit: Proca rex albanorum amulium et numitorem filios habuit
  5. Contents: Text detailing the lives of illustrious Romans
fols. 26r - 85v:
  1. Title: De excellentibus ducibus exterarum gentium
  2. Author: Nepos, Cornelius
  3. Rubric: (?)...ab(?) aemilio probo
  4. Incipit: Non dubito fore plerosque Attice qui hoc genus scripturae leve
  5. Contents: This text is the only preserved book (of approximately 16) of Nepos' longer work De Viris Illustribus. It contains the biographies and descriptions of famous commanders and generals. Originally the text was believed to be written by Aemilius Probus, a late fourth- to early fifth-century grammarian, based on an epigram that appears after the "Life of Hannibal" naming him. Later scholars found evidence that the text was in fact written centuries earlier and, in addition, discovered two biographies from Nepos' book on Roman historians (on Cato and Atticus) in the letters of Cicero. Though other copies of Nepos' text include the biographies of Cato and Atticus alongside those of the commanders and generals, the Walters' text concludes after the life of Hannibal and following epigram.
  6. Text note: At the end of the text is a twelve line epigram that was added by Aemilius Probus to Nepos' text as described above.
  7. Hand note: Unclear if the rubric is original or added later, but the handwriting suggests it is roughly contemporary
fols. 86r - 87v:
  1. Title: Dedicatory letter preceding Plutarch's Regum et imperatorum apophthegmata
  2. Rubric: Apothegmata plutarch...(?)
  3. Incipit: Lectitanti mihi nuper grece quedam princeps optime
  4. Contents: Dedicatory letter from Francesco Filelfo to Filippo Maria Visconti (1392-1447)
  5. Hand note: Unclear if rubric is original or was added later, but the handwriting suggests it is roughly contemporary
fols. 87v - 127v:
  1. Title: Regum et imperatorum apophthegmata
  2. Author: Plutarch
  3. Incipit: Cum Artaxerxi Persarum regi


fol. 1r:

  1. W.388, fol. 1r
  2. Title: Rubric and incipit for Pseudo-Aurelius Victor's De Viris Illustribus
  3. Form: Text page
  4. Text: Pseudo-Aurelius Victor's De Viris Illustribus


The binding is original.

Original fifteenth century Italian binding in brown sheep(?) leather; the gatherings in paper with parchment bifolio between each; blind tooled rectangular design, the central panel with four-petaled flowers and the external frame with interlocking half circles; the original flyleaves palimpsests from a re-used Carolingian(?) manuscript; two strap clasps now mostly missing, only scarlet stubs remain; impressions of now-missing rosette-shaped catch plates preserved; re-backed ca.1900-1930(?) when the boards were interchanged and machine-made paper inserted at the beginning and end of the text; the manuscript title on the fore edge in caps


Created in Italy in the fifteenth century CE

Henry Walters, Baltimore, purchased from Leo S. Olschki (bookseller, Florence) before 1931 (inv. no. 30176; list ca. 1912, no. 26(?))


Walters Art Museum, 1931, by Henry Walters' bequest


Nepos, Cornelius and John Carew Rolfe. On great generals; On historians. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1929.

De Ricci, Seymour. Census of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts in the United States and Canada. Vol. 1. New York: H. W. Wilson Company, 1935, p. 838, no. 471.

Sherwin Jr., Walter K. "De Viris Illustribus: Two Unexamined MSS in the Walters Art Gallery." Classical World 65, no. 5 (1972): 145-146.

Marshall, Peter K. The manuscript tradition of Cornelius Nepos. London: Institute of Classical Studies, 1977, p.65.

Sage, Michael M. "The 'De Viris Illustribus' Authorship and Date." Hermes 108 (1980): 83-100.

Titchener, Frances. “Cornelius Nepos and the Biographical Tradition.” Greece & Rome 50, no. 1 (2003): 85–99.

Pryzwansky, Molly M. “Cornelius Nepos: Key Issues and Critical Approaches.” Classical Journal 105 (2009): 97–108.

Meer, Tineke ter. Apophthegmatum. Libri I-IV Libri I-IV. Leiden: Brill, 2010.


Principal cataloger: Berlin, Nicole

Cataloger: Walters Art Museum curatorial staff and researchers since 1934

Editor: Herbert, Lynley

Conservators: Polidori, Elisabetta; Quandt, Abigail

Contributors: Emery, Doug; Tabritha, Ariel; Vinson, Aubrey; Wiegand, Kimber


The Walters Art Museum


Licensed for use under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Access Rights, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/legalcode. It is requested that copies of any published articles based on the information in this data set be sent to the curator of manuscripts, The Walters Art Museum, 600 North Charles Street, Baltimore MD 21201.