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Cosimo’s Library 13/12/2010

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Vespasiano da Bisticci c. 1480, Le Vite

When Cosimo had finished the residence and a good part of the church [San Lorenzo], he fell to thinking how he should have the place peopled with honest men of letters; and in this way it occurred to him to found a fine library; and one day when I happened to be present in his chamber, he said to me: ‘In what way would you furnish this library?’ I replied that as for buying the books it would be impossible, for they were not to be had. Then he said: ‘How is it possible then to furnish it?’ I told him that it would be necessary to have the books copied. He asked in reply if I would be willing to undertake the task. I answered him, that I was willing. He told me to commence my work and he would leave everything to me; and as for the money that would be necessary he would refer the matter to Don Archangel, then prior of the monastery, who would draw bills upon the bank, which should be paid. The library was commenced at once, for it was his pleasure that it should be done with the utmost possible celerity; and as I did not lack for money I collected in a short time forty -five writers, and finished 200 volumes in twenty-two months; in which work we made use of an excellent arrangement, that of the library of pope Nicholas, which he had given to Cosimo, in the form of a catalogue made out with his own hands.

Coming to the arrangement of the library, in the first place there is the Bible and the Concordance, with all their commentaries, as well ancient as modern. And the first writer who commenced to comment on the Holy Scriptures, and who indicated the manner of commenting to all the others, was Origen; he wrote in Greek, and St. Jerome translated a part of his works, on the five books of Moses. These are the works of St. Ignatius the martyr, who wrote in Greek, and was a disciple of St. John the Evangelist; most fervent in his Christian zeal, he wrote and preached and for this won the crown of martyrdom. There are the works of St. Basil, bishop of Cappadocia, a Greek; of St. Gregory of Nazianzus, of Gregory of Nyssa, his brother, of St. John Chrysostom, of St. Athanasius of Alexandria, of St. Ephraem the Monk, of John Climacus, also a Greek; all the works of the Greek doctors that are translated into Latin are there. Then follow the holy doctors and holy writers in Latin, beginning with the works of Lactantius, who was very ancient and had praiseworthy qualifications; Hilary of Poitou, a most solemn doctor; St. Cyprian of Carthage, most elegant and saintly; the works of Tertullian, the learned Carthaginian. Then follow the four doctors of the Latin church, and all their works are here; and there is no other library that has these works complete. Then begin the works of St. Jerome; all the works of St. Gregory, the moral doctor; all the works of St. Bernard the Abbot, of Hugh of St. Victor, of St. Anselm, of St. Isidore, bishop of Seville, of Bede, of Rabanus Maurus. Coming then to the modern doctors, of St. Thomas Aquinas, of Albert Magnus, of Alexander of Hales, of St. Bonaventura; the works of the Archbishop Antonino of Florence, that is, his Stimma.

Coming to the philosophers, all the works of Aristotle, both his moral and natural Philosophy; all the commentaries of St. Thomas and Albertus Magnus on the philosophy of Aristotle, and still other commentators upon the same; his Logic and other modern systems of Logic. In canon law, the Decretum, the Decretals, Liber Sexius, the Clementines, the Summa of the bishop of Ostia; Innoceutius; Lectures of the bishop of Ostia on the Decretals; Giovanni Andrea, on Liber Sextus, and an anonymous lecture on the Decretum, and still other works on canon law by the abbott of Cicilia and others. Of histories, all the Ten of Livy; Caesar’s Commentaries; Suetonius Tranquillus, The Lives of the Emperors; Plutarch’s Lives; Quiutus Curtius, the Deeds of Alexander the Great; Sallust, De bello Jugurthino et Catilinario; Valerius Maximus, The Memorable Deeds and Sayings of the Ancients; Emilius Probus, Great Leaders of Foreign Peoples; a history by Ser Zembino, who commenced at the beginning of the world, and came down to pope Celestine, a work of great information; the Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius Pamphili, and De temporibus  the Historiale of Vincenzo; all the works of Tully in three volumes; all the works of Seneca in one volume; Quintilian, De institutione oratoria, and the Declamations; Vocabulista; Nonius Marcellus; Pompeius Festus; the Elegantiaeoi Valla; Papias; Uguccione; Catholicon. Poets: Virgil, Terence, Ovid, Lucan, Statius, the tragedies of Seneca, Plautus. Of grammarians, Priscian. And all the other works necessary to a library, of which no one was wanting; and since there were not copies of all these works in Florence, we sent to Milan, to Bologna and to other places, wherever they might be found. Cosimo lived to see the library wholly completed, and the cataloguing and the arranging of the books; in all of which he took great pleasure, and the work went forward, as was his custom, with great promptness.