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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Humanism and Creativity in the Renaissance: Essays in Honor of Ronald G. Witt edited by Christopher S. Celenza, Kenneth Gouwens (Brill's Studies in Intellectual History: Brill Academic Publishers) comprises original contributions from 17 scholars whose work and careers Ronald Witt has touched in myriad ways. Intellectual, social, and political historians, a historian of philosophy and an art historian: specialists in various temporal and geographical regions of the Renaissance world here address specific topics reflecting some of the major themes that have woven their way through Ronald Witt’s intellectual cursus. While some essays offer fresh readings of canonical texts and explore previously unnoticed lines of filiation among them, others present "discoveries," including a hitherto "lost" text and overlooked manuscripts that are here edited for the first time. Engagement with little-known material reflects another of Witt's distinguishing characteristics: a passion for original sources. The essays are gathered under three rubrics: (1) "Politics and the Revival of Antiquity"; (2) "Humanism, Religion, and Moral Philosophy"; and (3) "Erudition and Innovation."

Excerpt: The essays vary widely in focus and appropriately so, inasmuch as they suggest something of the range of Professor Witt's interests and influence. While some essays offer fresh readings of canonical texts and explore previously unnoticed lines of filiation among them, others present "discoveries," including a hitherto "lost" text and overlooked manuscripts that are here edited for the first time. This engagement with little-known material reflects another of our dedicatee's characteristics: a passion for work with original sources in the libraries and archives of Europe.

Inspired by one of his mentors, Hans Baron, Ronald Witt has always been acutely sensitive to the political contexts in which the revival of antiquity took place, as well as to ways that scholarship on antiquity provided humanists with instruments for analyzing their own social and political world. Evident throughout Witt's career, these interests are especially prominent in his early writings on Florentine politics and on Civic Humanism. We think, for example, of his essays on the views of politics and history in Coluccio Salutati's De tyranno; on the significance for Republican thought of an early Quattrocento Florentine tract responding to a Milanese invective; and on office-holding by new families in Florence in the politically crucial years around 1400.1 Witt's first book, a study of Salutati's public letters on behalf of the Florentine Republic, was fittingly dedicated to Hans Baron, whose own interrogation of Salutati's political thought in his Crisis of the Early Italian Renaissance inspired many of the questions that initially guided Witt's inquiry.'

Section One of our collection begins with an essay by James Hankins, a leading expert on another Florentine chancellor, Leonardo Bruni. Here, Hankins focuses on the relationship of classicizing humanism to vernacular culture. After opening with an elegant historiographical synthesis, the essay analyzes Bruni's vernacular writings, before examining how and why a number of his Latin works were translated into the vernacular. Bruni's case serves as an exemplar of an important insight: that although humanists were in one respect creating an "elite" culture, they saw beyond matters of linguistic imitation, many of them believing that the values they cherished in ancient texts were so important for the lives of an active citizenry not all of whose members could be expected to learn Latin and Greek well—that those values needed to be translated, culturally as well as literally, into the vernacular.

In the second essay, Anthony F. D'Elia broaches another important issue: whether stylistic imitation can contribute to ideological change. D'Elia's point of departure is a little-known oration by the Riminese humanist Pietro Parleo, which is here edited for the first time. In the work, Parleo defends a captain who disobeyed a direct order of Sigismondo Malatesta, thereby committing a capital offense. Using examples from Livy and other classical authors, Parleo describes the captain using the value system of ancient republicanism, even as he is presenting the oration to a despot. D'Elia compares the use that Parleo makes of classical sources with the use to which Machiavelli later puts them. The key point comes through clearly: although Parleo's oration may have been no more than a rhetorical exercise, it exemplifies how, in following ancient forms, Renaissance thinkers could often find themselves—sometimes even unwittingly adhering to ancient values.

Robert Black presents a synthetic portrait of a figure on whom he is the world's leading expert: Benedetto Accolti who, like his fellow Aretine, Bruni, and like Salutati, went on to became chancellor of Florence. This is the first short summary of Accolti's career and importance to appear in English, and it is a definitive one. Enriched with new manuscript discoveries, the essay also includes a thoughtful assessment of a dialogue in which Accolti uses a discussion of the quarrel of ancients and moderns as a framework for launching pointed criticisms at the moral condition of the contemporary papal court.

Staying within the Florentine environment, Melissa Bullard sheds new light on the collecting practices of the fifteenth century and, in particular, upon their affective dimension. Focusing on Lorenzo de' Medici's accumulation and deployment of his famous gem collection, she shows how physical remnants of antiquity could serve as social markers and endowers of virtue. Thus, the tangible past facilitated the creation of lived identities in the present, as patrons defined themselves within the interwoven contexts of the revival of antiquity and the pursuit of honore et utile that defined Quattrocento status-seeking and influenced social relations.

Mark Jurdjevic offers a provocative analysis of a little-studied set of writings: the Discorsi palleschi, recommendations by Medici partisans about how to deal with possible instability after the suppression of the Florentine republics of 1494-1512 and 1527-30. Overwhelmingly, the authors turned to a re-theorized variety of aristocratic "republicanism" that in effect represented oligarchy. In so doing, they wound up transforming earlier "civic" traditions of humanism: retaining the classicism, but jettisoning the ideals of a more open, active citizenry.

Turning our attention north of the Alps, John Headley deftly analyzes the relationship between Guillaume Budé and Thomas More in the years 1515-20. This crucial half-decade saw the ascent of Francis I to the French throne and Budé's publication of De asse, his complex treatise on wealth and its physical forms in antiquity; and on the English side More's publication of Utopia and his own fateful decision to remain in government service. By juxtaposing the two treatises, and assessing their significance in the contexts of the authors' correspondence and their careers, Headley elucidates the contributions that both made to early sixteenth-century discussions of the role and the suitability of the intellectual in politics. While taking us far from the particularities of Florence, this essay—like the others in Part One, and like much of Ronald Witt's work enriches our understanding of the dynamic interplay of the humanists' revival of antiquity with the political exigencies of their own distinct historical moments.

Humanism, Religion, and Moral Philosophy

Part Two of our collection centers on another cluster of concerns integral to Professor Witt's scholarship: "Humanism, Religion, and Moral Philosophy." In his second monograph, a sophisticated biography of Coluccio Salutati, he assesses with unprecedented thoroughness, precision, and eloquence his subject's intellectual growth and pivotal place in the development of the Humanist movement.' Dedicated to the memory of Witt's doctoral advisor at Harvard, Myron P. Gilmore, this comprehensive study offers a profound, well-rounded understanding of Salutati's thought and its contexts in his experience. To be sure, political issues are not absent from this narrative, but its focus is elsewhere: namely, on Salutati's efforts to integrate—or at least to juxtapose with less tension—his classicism and his Christianity. Thus, the chancellor's engagement with civic concerns is less central here than are his ruminations on whether the ancient pagan poets could truly be eloquent, his efforts to fashion a Christian Aristotelianism, and his growing ambivalence in his later years—precisely in the critical decade around 1400—about the usefulness of humanistic studies to those who took seriously the call to progress along the path to Christian virtue.

Part Two begins with a piece by Timothy Kircher that bridges the Tre- and Quattrocento, vernacularity and Latinity. Kircher discovers an affinity between the Leon Battista Alberti of the Intercenales—those short, ironic dinner pieces written in elegant humanist Latin   and the Giovanni Boccaccio of the Decameron. This affinity is to be found in their use of irony, in a skeptical attitude toward publicly lived virtues, and in a style of moralizing that is anti-didactic in form, even as it communicates a powerful critique of existing modes of behavior.

John Monfasani's study recovers and edits a work hitherto thought lost: the final section of a dialogue On Faith by George Amiroutzes, a Byzantine intellectual and native of Trebizond who entered the household of Mehmed the Conqueror after that sultan took Trebizond in 1461. The work records a sustained conversation about Christianity between Amiroutzes and the Sultan which, even if it has been idealized in a literary fashion, does seem actually to have occurred. The original Greek text remains lost, and prior knowledge of this treatise was restricted to an incomplete Latin version. Monfasani recovers the lost portion and edits the treatise in its entirety. In addition, he provides more concrete proof than previously available that its translator into Latin was Zanobi Acciaiuoli, O.P. (1461-1519).

Next, Edward P. Mahoney makes a compelling case that Marsilio Ficino be considered not just a member of the Platonic tradition in his capacity as a translator and an exegete of Plato, but as someone who strove to be a philosopher in his own right, taking part in three separate areas of a lengthy ancient and medieval tradition of philosophical debate. Ficino comments suggestively on the problems of metaphysical hierarchy in the universe; epistemologically, he is committed to a variety of "innatism," ringing his own particular changes on traditional Platonic anamnesis (recollection); and with respect to political philosophy, in Mahoney's view, Ficino harbored an ultimate preference for monarchy owing to his deep commitment to a theory of Platonic forms.

Returning our attention north of the Alps, Charles Fantazzi elucidates the early Parisian years of Juan Luis Vives. Drawing on some recent discoveries, Fantazzi shows that Vives remained in the city from 1509 to 1514, not departing for Bruges in 1512, as has generally been supposed. While lecturing and studying in Paris, in part under the humanist Nicole Bérault, Vives wrote praelectiones, inaugural lectures, which in that context could also serve as introductions to the course. Fantazzi's analysis shows how these orations foreshadow Vives' later works, even as they offer insight into early sixteenth-century Parisian intellectual life. The early Vives emerges here as one unafraid to challenge entrenched authority; and certain themes are sounded which Vives will later develop in depth as part of his enduring masterpiece of pedagogical and cultural criticism, De disciplinis libri xx.

In the last essay of Part Two, Anthony Grafton investigates the way a wide-ranging group of sixteenth-century intellectuals dealt with the phenomenon of dreaming. They prescribed foods that were believed to control the types of dreams one had, delved into all manner of ancient sources to elucidate their meaning, and in general made dream-investigation a part of the "technologies of the self" that were fast developing in this age of Erasmus and Montaigne, Castiglione and Della Porta, Luther and Melanchthon. Grafton gives particular attention to the phenomenon of prophetic dreams, whose destabilizing potential was especially dangerous in an age of fundamental religious conflict.

Erudition and Innovation

The remaining four essays approach in diverse ways the themes of erudition and innovation        themes that receive lucid articulation in Professor Witt's magisterial study of the origins of humanism, "In the Footsteps of the Ancients."' A persuasive reconceptualization of the devel-

opment of humanism as a stylistic ideal, this much-honored book opens with a dedication to the memory of Paul Oskar Kristeller, whose prodigious contributions to the study of Italian Humanism and its relationship to Medieval rhetoric provided a key stimulus for Witt's own erudite innovations.

Paul F. Grendler starts us off by examining the life and work of a pioneering historian, Georg Voigt, whose contributions deserve greater recognition than they have tended to receive. Voigt's 1859 masterpiece Die Wiederbelebung des classischen Alterthums oder das erste Jahrhundert des Humanismus (The Revival of Classical Antiquity; or, The First Century of Humanism), is often overshadowed by Jacob Burckhardt's classic Die Cultur der Renaissance in Italien, published only a year later. Grendler offers a portrait of Voigt, showing how the East Prussian historian became part of nineteenth-century Germany's rich scholarly tradition. In Grendler's reckoning, Voigt's work on the Italian Renaissance emerges as an original, sharply focused account concerned primarily with the revival of antiquity, the location and chronology of humanism, and that movement's literary taxonomies.

David Lines follows, presenting a challenging rereading of the relationship between Italian humanism and universities. Instead of seeing "two cultures"—scholasticism and humanism—he argues that there was considerable interaction between humanists and universities from the fourteenth century onward. Lines documents humanists teaching at Italian universities as early as the mid-fourteenth century, and he shows that scholastic philosophers were often receptive to a variety of humanist innovations. The relationship between university culture and humanism becomes, in his analysis, more one of collaboration (with occasional disciplinary frictions) than one of mutual incomprehension and hostility.

In our own contribution, we analyze a text only recently rediscovered to explore the variety of factors—methodological and stylistic, yet also institutional and social—that shaped humanists' translations of Aristotle. In 1521, the Venetian humanist Pietro Alcionio (1490s?-1528) published a volume comprising several Latin translations of Aristotle, including ten books from the philosopher's writings about animals. Less than a year later, the prominent Spanish humanist Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda (1490-1573) who had already labored long on his own rendition of the same materials—wrote a tract enumerating and ridiculing Alcionio's infelicities and mistakes. The fusillades that Sepulveda directed at Alcionio highlight the points of controversy, and thus help to orient a comparative analysis of the translations from a less engaged perspective. In addition, we assess the social significance of the rivalry between these humanists as they competed for recognition and for the preferment of a common patron: Cardinal Giulio de' Medici, the future Pope Clement VII.

In a coda to the volume, Louise Rice tackles an intriguing scholarly mystery: how can it be that in 1602, nearly a quarter-century before the first known European sighting of a marsupial, an animal that looks suspiciously like a kangaroo appears in an engraving by the Italian printmaker Francesco Villamena? In solving this puzzle, Rice touches on New World discoveries, the customs of late sixteenth-century dissertation defenses, and the curious varieties of early modern naturalism; in so doing, she suggests a solution to the mystery. Marrying the performative, lived reality of early modern life to the textual scholarship in which her subjects were engaged, she fittingly closes a volume dedicated to a scholar who has always been open to new evidence, innovative ideas, and fresh readings of old materials.

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