Although allusions to the Sack can be found in various inscriptions, there is only one in which any of its episodes are described in detail. It is a commemorative plaque mounted with a portrait bust opposite No. 17 Via Penitenzieri:
IVLI II LEONIS X ET CLEMENTIS
VII PONTTT MAXXX AVRIFICI
AC GEMMARIO PRAESTANTISS
QVI CVM IN SACRO BELLO PRO
PATRIA IN PROX IANIC PARTE
HOSTIVM PLVREIS PVGNANS
OCCIDISSET ATQVE ADVERSO
MILITI VEXILIVM ABSTVLISSET FOR
TITER OCCVBVIT PR N MAI MDXXVII
V A XXXVII M VI D XI
IACOBVS ET OCTAVIANVS PASSERII
FRATRES PATRI AMANTISS POSVERE
To God, Best and Greatest.
For Bernardino Passeri,
most outstanding goldsmith
to Popes Julius II, Leo X and Clement VII,
who, after he had slain
from a soldier opposite him,
bravely fell on 6 May 1527.
He lived thirty-seven years, six months and eleven days.
The brothers Giacomo and Ottaviano Passeri
set this up for their most affectionate father.
The Latin shows the polish typical of the High Renaissance: the only outright error is VEXILIVM for VEXILLVM (line 10). The dedication D O M (‘to God, Best and Greatest’) was contrived by Christian humanists as a substitute for the pagan dedication D M (dis manibus, ‘To the Spirits of the Dead’), which frequently appears at the head of ancient epitaphs. The extent to which the humanists were willing to ‘classicize’ their religion is seen in the fact that the phrase optimus maximus (‘best and greatest’) is borrowed from a title of Jupiter, whom the ancients had worshiped as Jupiter Optimus Maximus at the great temple on the Capitoline Hill.
Abbreviations, where they occur, are in strict conformity with classical usage. Whereas medieval inscriptions often omit letters in the middle of words, the ancients instead employed suspension – that is, letters were omitted from the end. In the fifth and final lines of the present text, for example, the words praestantissimo (‘most outstanding’) and amantissimo (‘most affectionate’) appear as PRAESTANTISS and AMANTISS. The seventh line has PROX(ima) IANIC(uli) PARTE (‘on the neighboring part of the Janiculum’) and the twelfth line has V(ixit) A(nnos) XXXVII M(enses) VI D(ies) XI (‘he lived thirty-seven years, six months and eleven days’).
In the fourth line, suspension is combined with the multiplication of the terminal letters to produce an evidently bizarre collocation: PONTTT MAXXX. This is in fact quite conventional. In classical Latin, the final letter of a suspension was frequently doubled to indicate that it represented a plural. For example, COS = consul and COSS = consules. By extending this principle, it is possible to obtain a series such as the following: D N = dominus noster (‘our lord’), DD NN = domini nostri (‘our lords’), DDD NNN = domini nostri [tres] (‘our [three] lords’). In the final example, the word tres (‘three’) is merely implied by the threefold repetition of the characters: the abbreviation conveys more information than the grammatical forms that it represents.
In the eleventh line, the date appears thus: PR(idie) N(onas) MAI (‘on the day before the Nones of May’). Although the suspension of the first two words is classical, the form MAI (‘of May’) reflects a holdover of medieval usage. In classical Latin, the date would be expressed with the month appearing as an adjective: pridie Nonas Maias (literally, ‘the day before the May Nones’, Maias being in grammatical agreement with Nonas). In medieval Latin, as in English, the names of months generally appear as nouns (‘Nones of May’).
Finally, there is a curious hypercorrection. From their study of ancient inscriptions, the humanists of the Renaissance were aware that forms such as PLVREIS (line 8) occurred alongside the more familiar PLVRES. They naturally inferred that PLVREIS represented a more archaic (and thus a more authentic) grammatical form. They were half right. In Old Latin, the third declension plural in the nominative case was in fact spelled -EIS (ultimately deriving from the Indo-European termination *-eyes). In the accusative case, however, the form was always -ES (deriving through the Italic *-ens from Indo-European *-ms). Because PLVREIS is here the accusative direct object of OCCIDISSET, the form must be PLVRES.