Repertorium Pomponianum

Bartolomeo Sacchi

Italian humanist, born in Piadena (in Latin Platina, near Cremona, Lombardy); close friend of Pomponio and member of the "Academy" from its inception.

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Relations with Pomponio Leto—Testimonia

1. Platina, De flosculis quibusdam linguae Latinae (1465-66), in Platina, De flosculis quibusdam linguae Latinae, ad Laelium; De amore, ad Lodovicum Angellum, ed. Pietro Agostino Filelfo (Milan: Giovanni da Legnano and Antonio Zarotto, 18 August 1481), fols c4v-c5r (digital reproduction: Bibliotheca Gallica: c4v, c5r):
Has ego superioribus diebus cum Iulio Pomponio, litteratissimo viro, humi serpens propter angustias loci situ et fimo repleti, cum horrore et religione quadam ingressus, ubi statuam marmoream vidi: vitulum scilicet Menecini [sic, for Menecmi] [...].
Note: In this and the following quotations, I have sometimes normalized punctuation but not spelling; as regards the critical editions, I have kept the editorial interventions as I found them. Bianchi 2003 discusses this archaeological tour by Pomponio and Platina into a cave on the Capitoline hill where, crawling in the mud, they found an ancient sculpture. They identified it with the help of a passage from Pliny (nat. 34, 80).
2. Platina, De honesta voluptate (1466-67?), in Platina (ed.) 1998:
[Pomponius] Pythagoreorum pietatem laudat et rem rusticam sectatur," 232; "cepas atque allium ascaloniumve […] convivis apponit," 256; "Ova integra in carbones ardentes coniicito, ac calida donec frangantur fuste percutito […]. Hoc non faceret Pomponius noster qui temere adeo amissis duobus ovis, unde alia emeret ob inopiam non haberet," 406; (on bass which could be caught in the Tiber): "ad hunc Pomponius, Tyberis accola, Martio, Aprili et Maio me saepius invitabat," 438
[. . .] Lautorum haec [i.e., pavones ac phasiani] erunt obsonia et eorum maxime quos non virtus et industria, sed fortuna atque hominum temeritas ex infima sorte [Milham: forte], utpote e ganeis, e stabulis, e popina, non ad divitias, quod esset ferendum, sed ad summos dignitatis gradus erexere […]. Cepam et allium mecum devoret Pomponius meus; adsit Serenus et Septumuleius Campanus, nec extra triclinium pernoctet Cosmicus […]," 242.
Note: Platina's cookbook provides interesting details about his meals with Pomponio, who had little money and accordingly lived very simply. Pomponio, he writes, "praises the piety of the Pythagoreans and pursues the rustic life"; he "serves onions and shallots to his guests"; he does not have the means to buy two eggs to replace those he has lost; and he seems to have caught fish from the nearby Tiber.
Poverty was apparently a distinguishing characteristic of the "Academicians," who took pride in their "respectable" pleasure. (But see also the remarks of Giovanni Antonio Campano, below.) Platina points out that while some people, who had pursued careers in questionable ways, ate peacocks and pheasants, Pomponio and his friends preferred to munch onions and garlic.
3. Prefatory letter to Platina in Pomponio's edition of Varro's De lingua Latina, asking Platina to inspect the text for errors [Rome: Lauer, c. 1471-72], sig. a1r (full text see textus):
Pomponius Platinae salutem.
[…] Tu qui castigatissime omnia inspicis, si laborem hunc laudaveris habebunt mihi gratias qui legerint, sin minus calamo non parcas. Quoniam ego, et scio non fallor, in hac fece hominum tanti te facio quanti M. Tullium, cui dedicavit hos libros, seculo eruditissimo fecit Varro [ling. 5,1].
4. Correspondence with Pomponio
a) Letter by Platina to Pomponio, 1468/1469, following their arrest and imprisonment on charges, among others, of conspiracy against Paul II (ed. Vairani 1778, I, 38):
Platina Pomponio infortunato s.
[...] Ad meliorem fortunam deprecatione, Pomponi, hoc tempore, non aculeis utendum est. Lenire oportet pontificis mentem, unius hominis non sobrii stultitia in nos concitatam. Iustus fuit pontificis dolor; honesta tanta suspicione questio. Proinde et nos ferre aequo animo debemus, si saluti suae, si christianae religioni cavit. Contemnere rumores de tanta re non est consilium, ne malis detur causa ad delinquendum.
Note: Platina turned to other friends as well for consolation, including Marco Lucido Fazini. The prison letters among the various friends are not to be taken at face value as sources. Since the letters were intended to be published together after the group's release, they should be seen as literary products. They were meant both to facilitate their release and to maintain their innocence in the eyes of readers (Bauer 2006, 65-66).
b) An exchange of letters, which can be dated to c. 1480-81 from the mention of Pomponio's visit to Nuremberg (ed. Bracke 1992, 109; not autographs). For Leto's trip see Bracke 1989.
Pomponius Letus Platine s.
Guttifredo Condaino Nurimbergensi plurimum quidem debeo; nam ab [a] Urbe Nurimbergam profectum in domum recepit pluribusque diebus suo [h]ere victum sugessit potuissemque de ea domo non secus ac de mea disponere. Ipse vero inpresentiarum ad sua quedam expedienda negocia Romam proficiscitur; petiit igitur a me ut alicui ex meis intimis eum commendem; et quia dignus est tua amicitia et qui in nostram academiam ascribatur, vir profecto et eruditissimus et liberalissimus, ego eum tibi commendo ac si me ipsum commendarem. Quicquid enim favoris, auxilii, gratie ei prestiteris, mihi te prestitisse existimabo. Vale.
Ibid., 110.
Platyna ad Pomponio s.
Guttifredo, da ti ad mi recommandato, ho receputo in casa per referirli gratia delli beneficii ad ti prestati et in ogne cosa che l'è stato bisongnio lo ho aiutato. Quanto habia fatigato per lui saperai da esso quando serrà tornato ad Nurimberga. Piaceme tal peso da ti essereme stato imposto, perché veramente è homo degno a chi ogne academico satisfaccia, che veramente in costumi non havo niente de barbaro ma è ornato de humanità et boni costumi. Se altro vorrai da mi, sempre serrò apparecchiato. Vale.
Platina Pomponio s.
Gottifredum, abs te nuper mihi commendatum, ut pro eius in te benemeritis referrem gratiam, apud me recepi et omnibus in rebus quibus opus fuit opem tribui. Quantum pro eo laboraverim, cum Nurimbergam redierit, ab ipso accipies. Placet id abs te mihi ponderis inpositum, quia quidem vir est maxime dignus cui omnes academici morem gerant, qui in moribus nihil barbari refert sed humanitate summa atque bonis artibus ornatus est. Si quid aliud velis, semper me paratum habebis. Vale.
Note: The authenticity of these letters is discussed in Bracke's (1992) "Introduzione," 9-55. It is not clear if they were first written in Latin or Italian; one assumption is that the Italian version was dictated to pupils in a translation class.


Coming from a poor background, Platina (born 1421) served as a mercenary soldier under the condottieri Francesco Sforza and Niccolò Piccinino. Shortly before the age of 30, he began to receive his humanist education at the Mantuan school of Vittorino da Feltre (recently deceased); his teacher was Ognibene da Lonigo. In 1453 Platina became the successor to Ognibene as head of the school, and in this capacity he taught the sons of the Marchese of Mantua, Ludovico Gonzaga. In 1457 he moved to Florence to study philosophy, and some Greek, under the Byzantine philosopher John Argyropulos. There he met the Medici and Florentine humanists. Around 1462 he followed the young Cardinal Francesco Gonzaga to Rome, where he entered the humanist circle (so-called "Academy") around Pomponio Leto and enjoyed the protection of Cardinals Jacopo Ammannati Piccolomini and Bessarion. In 1464 he purchased the office of Abbreviator in the chancery of the humanist pope Pius II (Enea Silvio Piccolomini); but in the same year he was discharged, together with many of his colleagues, by the newly-elected Pope Paul II. After having threatened Paul II, in boundless rage, with calling a general Church council to regain his position, he had to spend, in 1464-65, four hard winter months in the prison of Castel S. Angelo.
In the succeeding years, he sought, in vain, a permanent position and remained dependent on the patronage of the Gonzaga, until he was imprisoned again in 1468. This time, he was charged with participating in a "conspiracy" allegedly instigated by the circle around Pomponio Leto against the papal government and life of Paul II (the actual existence of which has been neither proved nor disproved). Despite the additional charge of heresy, probably combined with an underlying accusation of Epicureanism, however, it can be assumed that Platina was securely rooted in Christianity. He recovered from the year-long, wearisome imprisonment, and several interrogations under torture, during summer holidays with the Gonzaga at the baths of Petriolo and in Albano. After the death of Paul II (1471), Platina was more than rehabilitated when Sixtus IV, who was friendly to the humanists, made him prefect of the newly-opened Vatican library. His appointment as prefect in 1475 is depicted in a fresco by Melozzo da Forlì, which shows him kneeling before the pope (Vatican Museums). Subsequently, he settled down to a less eventful life, except that in 1477 he participated in a nasty quarrel connected to the trial of Jews at Trent, where, like Pomponio Leto, he sided with the anti-Semitic bishop Johannes Hinderbach. Platina died of the plague in Rome on 21 September 1481.
This lively humanist made his name in the manner of his time by composing biographies, eulogies, and works of history. He wrote the first cookbook ever printed, On Right Pleasure and Good Health (De honesta voluptate et valetudine, Editio princeps: Rome c. 1470), which he counted among his philosophical works. As a moralist, he disdained the worldliness and decried the corruption in the Church. He supported, nonetheless, Sixtus IV's programme of a renovatio of the city of Rome in the style of ancient emperors – an expression of the consolidation of papal power after the end of conciliarism. In his principal work, the Lives of the Popes (Liber de vita Christi ac omnium pontificum, 1475), Platina succeeded in creating "the most effective remodelling of papal history according to humanist ideals of language and values" ("die wirkungsvollste Umformung der Papstgeschichte nach humanistischen Sprach- und Wertvorstellungen": Fuhrmann 1989, 142).
Platina's popes moved in the field of politics like worldly rulers. By including profane historians among his sources, he was "the first author who freed general church history from its religious isolation ("der erste Autor, der die allgemeine Kirchengeschichte aus ihrer geistlichen Isolierung befreite": Fueter 1936, 48). He did not trace the development of the Church as an institution and carried out little original research on sources; however, his scepticism with regard to medieval legends was in some cases influential (as in the case of "Pope Joan"). His self-confessed priorities were moral instruction and elegance of presentation. Platina is regarded as the most important predecessor of the church historians Onofrio Panvinio (1530-68) and Cesare Baronio (1538-1607) who, however, surpassed him greatly in their criticism of sources. Catholics read his Lives of the Popes as the standard work of papal history, especially in the edition which contained notes and continuations by Panvinio (Venice 1562; 2nd ed. Cologne 1568). The book was also broadly received among Protestants because of its open criticism of the morals of churchmen; an example of this is the intensive way in which it was used by Matthias Flacius (1520-75), who counted Platina among the "witnesses of truth". From the beginning of the sixteenth century onwards, translations of Platina's Lives of the Popes were published in five languages and in numerous editions (in French 1519-1651, Italian 1543-1765, German 1546-1627, Dutch 1650, English 1685-1888). Only the Italian translation (editions from 1592 onwards) was censored by the Congregation of the Index, by the controversial theologian Robert Bellarmine and others. Since 1568 the Latin text has been published only north of the Alps; its last edition dates from 1664.
Pomponio read the manuscript of Platina's Lives, at times leaving his characteristic sign in the margins to call attention to certain passages. Such signs are found in both the first known manuscript, Florence, Biblioteca Nazionale, Conventi soppressi, C.4.797 (Scapecchi 1999, 250), and in the presentation manuscript, Vat. lat. 2044 (Gaida 1913, LXXXVI). In addition, Pomponio left his sign in other works by Platina. For example, he marked various passages in Platina's dialogues De principe (1470), in MS Mantua, Biblioteca Comunale, A.I.13 (Zabughin 1909-12, I, 60–61), and De optimo cive (1474), in MS Vat. lat. 2045 (Blasio 1999, XLI-XLII). In both cases, it seems that Pomponio's signs were copied by the scribe. For photographs of such signs from Vat. lat. 3229 (not Platina), see Zabughin, vol. I, tav. II; vol. II.1, tav. VIII. Although Zabughin discusses this habit of Pomponio's (I, 61), it remains to be studied why he pointed out what he pointed out.
Like Pomponio and other members of the "Academy," Platina had an avid interest in antiquities. In his Lives of the Popes he writes about his visits to what he thought were the Catacombs of San Callisto (as we know now, they were actually the Catacombs of San Sebastiano): "Invisi ego haec loca cum amicis quibusdam religionis causa. Visuntur adhuc cineres et ossa martyrum, visuntur sacella, ubi privatim sacrificia fierent [...]" (Liber de vita Christi ac omnium pontificum, ed. G. Gaida [Città di Castello, 1913-1932], RIS2, III.1, 33; on the visits to the Roman catacombs by members of the "Academy," see Oryshkevich 2003, 217-323; Occhipinti 2007, 346-349; on the collection of ancient inscriptions at Platina's home, see Magister 1999, 181; Magister 2001, 142).
Platina also came to be seen as an expert on the topic of love (on which he had written in his De amore), so that after his death he was made an interlocutor in Paolo Pompilio's dialogue De vero et probabili amore (1487), dedicated to Pomponio Leto (Vat. lat. 2222, fols 46r-76v). The dialogue, between Platina and Alessio Stati is set in 1476/78; further participants include Antonio Volsco and Papinio Cavalcanti (see Chiabò 1986, 508; Bracke 2002, 434-35.) Marco Antonio Altieri (1450-1532), another friend of Platina and student of Pomponio, mentions his "memories" of conversations between the two humanists about weddings. Both men, according to Altieri, affirmed God's special interest in matrimony. Whether or not this is a true story, Platina was again regarded as an authority on a question related to love (Altieri, Li nuptiali, ed. E. Narducci [Rome: Bartoli, 1873]; repr. ed., M. Miglio and A. Modigliani [Rome: Roma nel Rinascimento, 1995], 30-31. See Kolsky 1987, 77-78).
Regarding his lifestyle, Platina was accused of not practising what he preached. The image of frugality he sought to maintain was mocked, for instance, in a poem by Giovanni Antonio Campano, who acknowledged Pomponio's poverty but juxtaposed it to Platina's snooty avoidance of smelly onions and even good-quality leeks:
Iulius ad potum friget stringitque gelato
    dente nivi similem, cum sitis urget, aquam;
contemnunt musae rodentem crustula, Phoebus
    spernit et a tristi Pallas abit genio.
Calvus, Aricini sordent cui prandia porri,
    laetum, nec bulbos ore obolente, canit:
non faba duritiem stomacho facit aut cicer aut nux
    nec varia est ratio ventris et ingenii.
(Campano, Ad Iulium [Pomponium Laetum], Opera, Elegia VII. 37, in Cecchini 1995, 123).
Platina remained close to Pomponio throughout his life, despite their differences in origins and character. Pomponio's principal modern biographer, Zabughin, is not a reliable guide to their relationship, since he professes his feelings of utter contempt for Platina (Zabughin, I, 73-74 and passim). Laurioux, on the other hand, has posed the interesting question of how close the two men actually were; his arguments may be summarized as follows. Platina was seven years older. The two met for the first time as adults, when both had already finished the formative experiences of their early lives, in the first half of the 1460s. They came from different regions, Pomponio from the south, Platina from the north. In character, Pomponio was more of a non-conformist. He was a "declassé," a bastard of a noble family, and rigorously preferred studying to leading an aristocratic life. As opposed to many of his admirers in his circle, he was not attached to any cardinal's household. His priority was to preserve his freedom in all respects. According to Laurioux, few things would have drawn Pomponio to the ambitious Platina, except for their common love for antiquity and learning (Laurioux 2006, 133-35). To this it could be objected, however, that such common love for learning between humanists was able to bridge any gap; and, secondly, that Platina was as strong a character as Pomponio and may well have seen himself as a non-conformist, too. Even though it remains impossible for us to understand how deep their friendship was, there is no reason to doubt that it was genuine. That Platina was often high-handed, self-righteous and irascible, is another matter and does not necessarily have a bearing on their friendship.
The two men had neighbouring houses at Montecavallo on the Quirinal Hill (Borsi 1975, 47-51; Del Piazzo 1975, 249, 253; Tissoni Benvenuti 1986, 216, 219; Magister 1999, 181; Magister 2001, 136; Magister 2003, 56-63). On 18 April 1482, members of the Roman "Academy" and other friends were invited by Demetrio Guazzelli to commemorate Platina in S. Maria Maggiore, where he was buried. When Bishop Battista de' Giudici, another neighbour of Platina's, had finished mass, Pomponio delivered a solemn and elegant oration. Next, however, Platina's friends caused a minor scandal when a poet from Perugia mourned him in elegiac verses, a display which seemed to smack of paganism. As Jacopo Gherardi reported:
Pomponius Romanus, princeps sodalitatis litterariae, vir doctissimus, pulpitum ascendit basilicae atque orationem funebrem habuit in laudem et commendationem defuncti; eam orationem elegantius scriptam edidit quam recitavit. Post eum ex eodem pulpito oravit Astreus Perusinus poeta, versu elegiaco, actione plurimum commendata. Carmen quoque elegantissimum habitum est, id dumtaxat non probatum intelligo, quod in sanctissima aede beatissime Matri Dei dicata secularis homo, qui neque habitum neque signum aliquod religionis haberet, repente post divinum ministerium versiculos decantare presumpserit, quamvis elegantes, ut dixi, tamen a nostra catholica professione alienos et loco illo sacratissimo valde indignos. Pomponii oratio religiosa fuit et gravitate sententiarum referta, tanto magis commendata, quanto soluta oratio versu gravior existimatur. (Gherardi 1904-1911, 98).
A banquet followed at Platina's former house on the Quirinal, where more poems were recited. Although Gherardi states that Pomponio later published his commemorative oration, no trace of this has been found. The other Academicians' poems fared better, as they were collected by Demetrio Guazzelli and came out as an appendix to Platina's works in 1504 under the title Diversorum academicorum panegyrici in parentalia B. Platynae (Bauer 2006, 83).


For Platina's works (manuscripts and printed editions) see the bibliography in Bauer 2006, 323-28. For a list of his works see also Bauer 2003, of which there is an updated version available at BBKL. Links to digital editions are assembled here (see under Platina).
Thanks go to Patricia Osmond and Martin Davies for their help. I am also grateful to the Gerda Henkel Stiftung, Düsseldorf, for its financial support.
Stefan Bauer
(September 2008, corr. Juli 2013)
This entry can be cited as follows:
Stefan Bauer, "Bartolomeo Sacchi (Platina)," Repertorium Pomponianum (URL:,