De magno obelisco circensi circo. Q. Maximo epistola. et. carmen. Sixto V. Pontifice Max. [...] regnante

Autore: CATENA, Girolamo (fl. 2nd half of the 16th cent.)

Tipografo: in aedibus Populi Romani apud Georgium Ferrarium (Stamperia del Popolo Romano presso Giorgio Ferrari)

Dati tipografici: Roma, 1587

4to (225x164 mm). 16 pp. Collation: A-B4. Woodcut coat-of-arms of Sixtus V on the title page. Roman and italic type. Modern half calf (slightly rubbed, two small tears around the spine). On the front pastedown embossed bookplate of the Naples noble family of Montalto, princes of Lequile and dukes of Fragnito. Two handwritten marginal notes. Some light foxing and staining throughout.


First edition of this work on the newly excavated obelisk of Circus Maximus, today called Flaminian obelisk. The text consists of an epistola on the history and meaning of the obelisk and a short final carmen celebrating the finding and the transportation (pp. 14-16).

The Flaminian obelisk, as it is called today, dates to the reign of pharaoh Seti I (1290-1279). It was originally placed in Heliopolis and eventually completed by Seti's son and successor, Ramses II. The Flaminian obelisk was the second of two early obelisks that Augustus ordered to be delivered to Rome in 10 BCE (the first was the Obelisk of Montecitorio). It was erected in the Circus Maximus, at the east end of the spina, the barrier around which the racetrack turned. Like its traveling companion, the Flaminian obelisk was also topped with a gilt-bronze sphere, and inscribed with identical commemorative text to the emperor Augustus' conquests. Over the centuries, the obelisk fell and was buried, either due to natural causes or vandalism. It was not until Pope Sixtus V (1585-159090) that a comprehensive search and re-erection of the obelisk was undertaken. After the removal of the damaged section of the obelisk's shaft and the reconstruction of Augustus' inscription, the obelisk was raised in the Piazza del Popolo in 1589. Subsequently, Pope Pius VI (1772-1799) redesigned the square, adding a marble base and a fountain, decorated with Egyptian-style lions, to the obelisk. The Flaminian obelisk remains in the Piazza del Popolo to this day (cf. S. Sorek, Susan, The Emperor's Needles: Egyptian Obelisks and Rome, Bristol, 2009, pp. 53-56).

Catena was born in Norcia in the first half of the 16th century at a unknown date. At a very young age he was taken to Rome to the papal court, where he began those humanistic studies that were to give him fame and power. His life was spent almost entirely in the papal court, except for a few sojourns in Pavia where the Accademia degli Affidati, of which Catena was a member, had its seat. Catena was in the service of Cardinal Dolera until 1568, of Girolamo da Correggio until 1572, and of Cardinal Alessandrino, Michele Bonelli, son of a nephew of the pope, until about 1585, when Sixtus V called him to join the Sacra Consulta. In Rome Catena exercised a cultural activity that brought him into contact with many men of letters, who came to him, as the very rich epistolary testifies, to receive opinions on their works. It is precisely from the letters, some of which were published in Rome in 1589, that we have most of the information about Catena's activity: they offer an exemplification of the vast erudition that led him to intervene on a variety of issues, historical, literary, social, moral, and political. The letters also reveal an intense association with Torquato Tasso, who probably turned to Catena, as well as to Cardinal Bonelli, for protection from the persecution of ecclesiastical censorship. Catena presumably died shortly before the end of the century, at about seventy years of age. Catena is the author of several historical and literary works. A collection of verse, entitled Hieronimi Catenae Academici Affidati Latina Monumenta and dedicated to Cardinal Bonelli, was published in Rome in 1577. The collection also includes a laudatory ‘Life of Veronica Gambara'. In 1579 he published in Rome the Discorso fatto all'Accademia degli Illustrissimi Affidati sopra la traduzione delle scientie e d'altre facultà, a speech that he had previously held in Pavia. In 1586 Catena's most important work, the Vita del gloriosissimo papa Pio V (‘Life of the Most Glorious Pope Pius V'), was published in Rome, and it took Catena a good fifteen years to compose it. Finally, in 1591 he published in Padua the discourse Della beretta rossa da darsi ai Cardinali (G. Patrizi, Catena, Girolamo, in: “Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani”, vol. 22, 1979, s.v.).


Edit 16, CNCE10243; Index Aureliensis, 133972.