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The Vatican Mythographer ( ), a major source of Greek mythology, is any of three anonymous authors, of a manuscript in the Vatican Librarymarker and in other manuscripts. The pseudonym was given by Angelo Mai in 1831, when he published a first edition of the author whom he designated the Vatican Mythographer, who is in fact only connected with the Vatican through a single manuscript, Vatican Reg. lat. 1401, in which his text is rendered in five mid-twelfth-century hands.

Mai did not compare his text to any other manuscripts. Later readers separated out a Second and a Third Vatican Mythographer, whose texts were also represented in other manuscript traditions.

Though no Classical authors were directly quoted, two main sources stand out: Servius and the scholiast on Statius; for the modern reader who is not a specialist, the interest lies mainly in sources that have been lost, for which Mythographus Vaticanus is the only testament. The Vatican Mythographers aimed to provide a pared-down "fact-book" of mythology, stripped of nuance, not unlike the Fabulae of Hyginus, who, however, had provided no Roman stories and so could not suffice. Taken together, the "Vatican Mythographers" provided a source-book for the myths of Greeks and Romans and their iconography through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance; their texts were copied in manuscripts as late as the fifteenth century. The Vatican Mythographer provided texts that were parsed allegorically to provide Christianized moral and theological implications, "until in time the pagan divinities blossomed into full-fledged vices and virtues" (Elliott 1947:191). Their testimonia, sources and parallel passages provide central documents in tracing the transmission of Classical culture to the Medieval world, which is a major theme in the history of ideas in the West.

The Second Vatican Mythographer and the Third Vatican Mythographer are distinguished by the fact that their texts, which appear in the Vatican manuscript published by Mai, also exist in other manuscripts, ten for the Second and more than forty for the Third Vatican Mythographer, who is the only writer of the three with a possible identity, one Alberic, perhaps working in London.

Angelo Mai made many slips in rapidly transcribing the manuscript under difficult conditions, and he was in the habit of substituting euphemisms where the original was too steamy to transcribe and publish, even in Latin. A revised, indexed edition of 1834, corrected by Georg H. Bode without access to the Vatican manuscript, is the version that replaced Mai's first edition and has been represented in popular twentieth-century anthologies of Greek mythology, such as those by Edith Hamilton, Robert Graves or Karl Kerenyi. In 1947 the Vatican Mythographers were described as "highly deceptive sources which should be used with much caution". Since then much modern work has been done to unravel the sources of the texts, which is represented in a new edition by Navio Zorzetti, 1995.

Nevio Zorzetti places the original text of the First Vatican Mythographer between the last quarter of the ninth century and the third quarter of the eleventh.


  1. A. Mai, volume 3 of Class. auct. e Vat. codices (Rome) 1831.
  2. "Reg." refers to Regina Christina of Sweden, who donated her library of manuscripts to the Vatican.
  3. At least twelve manuscripts bear the name Albericus, four adding the epithet Londiniensis; see also Zorzetti 1995.
  4. G.H. Bode, Scriptores rerum mythicarum latini tres Romae nuper reperti, 2 vols. (Celle) 1834.
  5. (Elliott 1947)


  • Nevio Zorzetti and Jacques Berlioz, 1995. Le Premier Mythographe du Vatican (Paris: Collection des Universit├ęs de France). The standard modern edition, in Latin (with regularized orthography) and a French translation, with exhaustive annotations.
  • Charles S. F. Burnett, 1981. "A Note on the Origins of the Third Vatican Mythographer" Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 44(1981) pp 160-166.
  • Kathleen O. Elliott; J. P. Elder, 1947. "A Critical Edition of the Vatican Mythographers" Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 78 (1947), pp 189-207. Though the edition did not materialize, the article provides a useful summary of the understanding of the Vatican Mythographer as of 1947.

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