The Ames Foundation




An ‘Ocean of Law’. The Harvard Law School’s copy of TUI1584 is bound in 29 physical volumes, 17 inches high, 18 ‘tomes’ in 25 physical volumes and 4 physical volumes of indices.


There is a large amount of misinformation in circulation about medieval early modern jurists. Much of it is the product of what the late Domenico Maffei called the ‘fasificazione editoriale’ of 16th-century printers, but medieval scribes must also share in the blame as must early modern and modern bibliographers and cataloguers. In the case of place and dates of birth and death the last-named are probably more responsible than the first two. Too many bibliographers and cataloguers have made guesses, which then appear in ‘authority files’, frequently without an indication of the source. These are then repeated by librarians who rely on the authority files. The authority files then become difficult to change because library cataloguers use them for identification purposes.

We considered including place and date information only where it could be supported by a modern scholarly source, preferably one that cited manuscript or epigraphic sources. That would have resulted, however, in many authors being given just floruit or century dates with question marks, or nothing at all. Lacking such a source, we turned to national biographical dictionaries, even if they were not totally modern. Lacking that, we did look at library authoirty files. There can be little doubt that much that appears in such files is simply wrong. (A common error is to assign a floruit date to an author on the basis of the first publication date of his works, which frequently can be shown to be after his death.) Many of the dates and places in these files, however, seem to be reliable, and ultimately we decided to use them even where we had no other confirmation. We did, however, where we could, check the original printings of the author’s work where they were available online. If they contained a dated dedicatory epistle by the author, that is probably a good indication that he was alive on the date in question. Such epistles also sometimes contain personal information about the author, which is probably reliable.

Since we have always indicated the source of our information, the reader can decide what is reliable and what is not. There are a couple of things that are worth noting generally: First, places of birth and death may not be literally accurate. Many medieval and early modern authors described themselves or are described by others as having come from a particular place. That is not necessarily his place of birth, but that of his hometown, where, in the case of most jurists, he came from when he went to university. Similarly, if someone is reliably described as having died in office in a particular place, we have given that place as his place of death, unless we knew that he died elsewhere. Second, we tried to resist, but ultimately did not always resist, the temptation to assign an approximate date of birth to someone, the first known hard fact about whom was the date of his university doctoral degree, particularly where reliable secondary sources had done the same thing. There were some prodigies, and there were those who did not take a degree until mid-career, but the vast majority of early modern jurists, and probably medieval ones as well, took their doctoral degrees in their mid- to late-twenties. Third, our bracketing dates, indicated by ‘X’, are not as strict as some are. They do not necessarily mean ‘not before the first date and not after the second’. Rather, particularly in the case of floruit dates, they indicate that the person is found between the two dates, not excluding the possibility that he may be found before or after those dates.

Charles Donahue, Jr.
February, 2018


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