The Vita dell'Abbate del Parto D. Francesco Maurolico was published in Messina in 1613. The author was Maurolico's nephew Francesco, Barone della Foresta. The biography was written, Francesco has reported in the preface, at request of his brother Silvestro1. The biography was perhaps written as a convenient introduction to the edition of the several manuscripts by Maurolico inherited by his nephews. Why did we decide to publish such a short tract (25 pages)? First of all, this was the first biography of Maurolico, since it was published only 38 years after his death. Moreover, the author, one of the heirs of Maurolico's books and manuscripts, appears to be quite well informed about the biographical vicissitudes of his uncle, if not because he lived with Maurolico during the last 15 years of the latter's life. The most important motive of interest, though, lies in being this booklet by far the main source of information about Maurolico's life. In fact, the available sources have been considerably reduced both by the fact that five centuries intervened between Maurolico and us and by the several earthquakes that have occurred in Sicily since then, most notably the 1908 earthquake that almost completely destroyed Messina. The biography by the Barone della Foresta was also the fundamental reference for every biography following it. Most of the latter simply consisted in paraphrases of the former, even if changing historiographic criteria and findings in other sources led to an enrichment of the dossier.
Several independent sources confirm the reliability of biography written by the Barone: Maurolico's autographs, i.e. his works and respective prefaces, often equipped with date and place, some of his letters, and the Sicanicarum rerum compendium, a history of Sicily in which Maurolico inserted some elements from his biography2. The data collected from such alternative sources almost always confirm, to the extent we have been able to check them, those provided by the Barone della Foresta (recall that he was in position to closely examine Maurolico's archives as he and his brother herited them).
Even if the biography can be considered fairly trustworthy, the reader must bear in mind that several limitations are to be imposed on its reliability. The text is a real panegyric of Maurolico and is written in a bombastic style, very much in line with the worse stylistic dictates of the epoch in matters of eulogy. The several references to the Church and to its prelates, as well as to the Ventimiglia family, give a good idea of the religious and feudal environment in which Maurolico lived and show that things were still unchanged when his biographer was writing. In several respects our text could thus be regarded as a promotional text. Both when it was written and when it was published (and this happened several years after the actual date of composing) Maurolico's nephews were in fact in search of fundings for the publication of those among the herited manuscripts that lain unpublished. The desire of seeing such manuscripts published surfaces on several occasion in the biography, and the same interpretation is suggested by the writings following it: a repertory of the references to Maurolico's works to be found in contemporary scientific texts and a new edition of the Index lucubrationum, i.e. of the catalogue of published and unpublished works of his.
The biography carries a few dates and is developed following an absolutely linear pattern, from birth to death. Only a few times the narrative is interrupted, just to list some works or to give room to a digression: we recall in particular the one concerning the discovery of St. Placido's remains. Certain quick surveys, concentrating in a few lines the events of several years of Maurolico's life, are to be taken with caution. Unfortunately, the years not covered by this biography have seldom been reconstructed in the subsequent ones.
The several references to astrology, to heavenly symbols, and to other superstitions are to be ascribed to the sole responsibility of the biographer and of the period in which he was writing. Maurolico was certainly less fond of such practices. The Barone della Foresta biography, with the limitations just pointed out, is thus an invaluable witness of Maurolico's (public) life. The referred to facts and the infomation we can extract from it are a good starting point from which a reconstruction of Maurolico's character can be attempted at. A few passages of this biography throw a vivid light on Maurolico the man: think for instance of the description of the last days of his life, or of the invitation addressed to an audience to the observation of the sun, compared to a jewel. Maurolico's voice can be heard of in such passages, and no incongruence is perceived between such inspired words and the serious and austere man described in the biography and represented in the portrait.
Rosario Moscheo holds that this biography was written between 1592, when the author's brother, Silvestro, was appointed abbot of Roccamatore -- a fact that is mentioned in the text --, and 1605, likely date of death of the author3. The work was published in Messina in 1613, and this is the text we present here. We have excluded Silvestro Maurolico's dedicatory letter, dated November 20, 1613, to Giovanni III Ventimiglia, marquis of Gerace and Prince of Castelbuono, a number of sonnets and verse glorifying Maurolico, the catalogue of authors referring to him, and the edition of his Index lucubrationum.
1 Francesco Marulì, Baron della Foresta, Vita dell'Abbate del Parto D. Francesco Maurolico, Messina 1613, first page of the preface numbered a2.
2 See the manuscript Fonds Latin 6177 of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France and the editio princeps F.Maurolico, Sicanicarum Rerum Compendium Maurolyco Abbate siculo authore, Messina 1562.
3 Rosario Moscheo, Francesco Maurolico tra Rinascimento e scienza galileiana. Materiali e ricerche, Società messinese di Storia Patria, Messina 1988, p.26.