In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Festus

  • Introduction
  • The Manuscript of Festus (Naples IV.A.3)
  • Rediscovery of the Manuscript
  • Humanist Use of the Manuscript
  • Editions and Commentaries
  • Studies on Editors of Festus
  • Translations
  • Composition and Structure of the Text
  • Works on Republican Literary Sources Used by Festus
  • Festus, Paul, and Medieval Glossaries
  • Textual Emendations Post-Lindsay

Classics Festus
Fay Glinister
  • LAST REVIEWED: 05 June 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 July 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0268


Sextus Pompeius Festus was the author of a Latin lexical work of the mid-imperial period, generally known as the De Verborum Significatione or De Verborum Significatu (On the Meaning of Words). This work included discussions of obscure words, and is particularly important because it contains many fragments of early Latin poetry and prose from otherwise lost works. Festus’s date is uncertain, but he was probably active in the 2nd century CE, to judge from citations of his work in late antique authors such as Macrobius (who in Saturnalia 3.8.9 gives the title of Festus’s work as De Verborum Significationibus, and calls him Julius Festus). A terminus ante quem is provided by the 4th-century CE grammarian Charisius, who says that Festus was cited by Pomponius Porphyrio, a scholar working in the early 3rd century CE (Char., Gramm. p. 285.12 Barwick). Quotations of Lucan and Martial in the lexicon, if added by Festus and not by his medieval epitomator Paul the Deacon, would mean that Festus was creating his epitome after 85 CE. Since the Renaissance, Festus’s work has been recognized as an epitome of the De Verborum Significatu of Verrius Flaccus (b. c. 55 BCE–d. c. 20 CE), an antiquarian scholar in the employ of Augustus. Verrius’s work is largely lost, and there is some dispute as to whether Festus produced a straightforward abridgement or used other authors as independent sources. Festus’s text was itself epitomized in the Carolingian era by the noted cleric and scholar Paulus Diaconus (Paul the Deacon, b. c. 720–d. 799 CE). It is impossible to separate the works of Verrius, Festus, and Paul, which are almost always treated together. The text of Festus survives in a single, fire-damaged manuscript, produced in the area of Rome in the late 11th century and rediscovered in uncertain circumstances in the mid-15th century. It is known as the codex Farnesianus (F) after the family that acquired it in the early 16th century; since 1736 it has been housed at the Biblioteca Nazionale in Naples (callmark IV A 3). When the Farnesianus was rediscovered, a large part was already lost (everything before the letter M); other parts disappeared before the manuscript entered the possession of the Farnese. Some sections can be reconstructed from seven late-15th/early-16th century humanist apographs (handwritten copies), not always entirely accurate representations of the original text. Other reconstructions rely on supplements from the much briefer version of Paul (who had his own agenda and must be used with caution). From the Renaissance onward, many major scholars have taken an interest in reconstructing the text.

General Overviews

This section contains references to discussions with a general bearing on the history of the lexicon of Festus and the three scholars linked with the text: Verrius, Festus, and Paul the Deacon. The lexicon is a key source for many aspects of the history, religion, law, language, and culture of ancient Rome.

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