MAI, ANGELO (1782-1854), Italian cardinal and philologist, was born of humble parents at Schilpario in the province of Bergamo, Lombardy, on the 7th of March 1782. In 1799 he entered the Society of Jesus, and in 1804 he became a teacher of classics in the college of Naples. After completing his studies at the Collegium Romanum, he lived for some time at Orvieto, where he was engaged in teaching and palaeographical studies. The political events of 1808 necessitated his withdrawal from Rome (to which he had meanwhile returned) to Milan, where in 1813 he was made custodian of the Ambrosian library. He now threw himself with characteristic energy and zeal into the task of examining the numerous MSS. committed to his charge, and in the course of the next six years was able to restore to the world a considerable number of long-lost works. Having withdrawn from the Society of Jesus, he was invited to Rome in 1819 as chief keeper of the Vatican library. In 1833 he was transferred to the office of secretary of the congregation of the Propaganda; on the 12th of February 1838 he was raised to the dignity of cardinal. He died at Castelgandolfo, near Albano, on the 8th of September 1854.
It is on his skill as a reader of palimpsests that Mai's fame chiefly rests. To the period of his residence at Milan belong: Fragments of Cicero's Pro Scauro, Pro Tullio, Pro Flacco, In Clodium el Curionem, De acre alieno Milonis, De rege (Alexandrino (1814); M. Corn. Fronton is opera inedila, cum epistolis item ineditis, Antonini Pit, Marci Aurelii, Lucii Veri et Appiani (i8i5;newed., 1823, with more than too additional letters found in the Vatican library); portions of eight speeches of Quintus Aurelius Symmachus; fragments of Plautus; theorationof Isaeus De hereditate Cleonymi; the last nine books of the Antiquities of Dionysius of Halicarnassus, and a number of other works. M. Tullii Ciceronis de repub.'ica quae supersunt appeared at Rome in 1822; Scriptorum veterum nova collectio, e vaticanis codicibus edila in 1825-1838; Classici scriptores e vaticanis codicibus editi in 1828-1838; Spiciltgium romanum in 1830-1844; and Palrum nova bibliotheca in 1845-1853. His edition of the celebrated Codex raticanus, completed in 1838, but not published (ostensibly on the ground of inaccuracies) till four years after his death (1858), is the least satisfactory of his labours and was superseded by the edition of Vercellone and Cozza (1868), which itself leaves much to be desired. Although Mai was not as successful in textual criticism as in the decipherment of manuscripts, he will always be remembered as a laborious and persevering pioneer, by whose efforts many ancient writings have been rescued from oblivion.
See B. Prina, Biografia del cardinale Angela Mai (Bergamo, 1882), a scientific work, which gives a full and, at the same time, a just appreciation of his work; Cozza-Luzi, Epistolario del card. Angela Mai (Bergamo, 1883); life by G. Poletto (Siena, 1887).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)