Adulatio perniciosa

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Author Barberini, Maffeo (Urban VIII)
Full title Adulatio perniciosa. Ode
In Illustrissimi et reverendissimi Maffaei sanctae Romanae ecclesiae cardinalis Barberini, sanctissimi domini nostri signaturae iustitiae praefecti etc. poemata, p. 46–9
Year 1620
Place Paris
Publisher/Printer Estienne, Antoine
Era 17th century
Form/Genre Panegyric poem, Other (see description)
Discipline/Content Astronomy/Astrology/Cosmography
Digital copy Adulatio perniciosa
Description In 1620, the first edition of Cardinal Maffeo Barberini’s collection of poetry was printed in Paris. Among its 31 poems is a Latin ode in 19 Alcaic stanzas titled Adulatio perniciosa (“Pernicious Adulation”). The title refers to the perils of a king’s life: His life might look like the most splendid life from the outside, but a king’s joys are tainted by worries like Prometheus is wounded by the eagle. These worries are caused by the adulation of his surroundings, which drives truth away from the king’s door and makes it impossible to know whom to trust. A dire example for the dangers of adulation is the giant Argus, who, even though he has one hundred eyes, is lulled to sleep by Mercury’s beautiful song and killed.

The poem is introduced by a lengthy simile from astronomy: On a clear night sky, various wondrous stars and planets can be observed – one is drawn to look at the Evening Star, Mars and the Milky Way, another at the Polar Star, Antares, and Sirius, a third may marvel the companions of Jupiter or Saturn, which were discovered with the telescope –, but the sun outshines everything. In the same way, everyone is attracted to different life styles, but still, the life of a king seems to be the happiest to all. As has become evident, a panegyrical reference of Galileo’s recent telescopic discoveries is worked into this simile: Miratur alter vel Iovis asseclas / patrisve Saturni repertos, / docte, tuo, Galilaee, vitro (“Another one wonders at the companions of Jupiter, or of his father Saturn, which were discovered by your glass, learned Galileo.”). While the telescopic discoveries here are presented as just another way to observe the skies in addition to the naked eye, they assume a pointed meaning in relation to the topic of the poem in the second instance they are referenced in the poem: Not everything that is splendid from the outside is splendid on the inside, too: just as the sun has been revealed to have spots by Galileo’s art, a king’s outward joys are disturbed by worries: respicimus nigras / in sole – quis credat? – retectas / arte tua, Galilaee, labes (“I think about the black spots on the sun – who would believe it? –, which were discovered by your art, Galileo”).

Barberini thus works the praise of Galileo’s incredible and marvelous discoveries – the moons of Jupiter, the three bodies of Saturn, and the solar spots – as similes into a poem on another subject. Galileo is addressed twice in the poem in an apostrophe, making him the dedicatee of the poem. This is confirmed in a letter which Barberini sent, together with a copy of the poem, to Galileo on August 28th, 1620. In the letter, he explains that the poem arose from his respect for the scientist (he even signs as come fratello, cf. Opere, vol. XIII, no. 1479, p. 48–9). Barberini, who became pope Urban VIII in 1623, was a patron of Galileo until 1633, when after the publication of his Dialogo, Galileo was tried by the Inquisition. However, in the great number of subsequent editions and reprints of Barberini’s poemata, the Adulatio perniciosa was always kept as part of the collection.

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How to cite this entry Barberini, Maffeo (Urban VIII): Adulatio perniciosa, in: Noscemus Wiki, URL: (last revision: 02.05.2019).