Coluccio Salutati (1331-1406) became chancellor of the University of Florence in 1385. Pier Paolo Vergerio (1370-1444) studied grammar at Padua and dialectic in Florence. He began teaching dialectic and went on to study physics and medicine at Bologna and law at the University of Padua. He was influenced by Petrarca and Salutati and was taught by Giovanni Malpaghini. In late 1390 or 1391 Vergerio gave a Ciceronian oration to persuade Francesco Carrara to withdraw his condottiere Bartolomeo Cermisone, who was still in Padua and was serving Gian Galeazzo Visconti. Cermisone was officially recalled in January 1392. Like Salutati, Vergerio vindicated Cicero, and in 1394 he wrote a reply to Petrarca’s letter to Cicero in Hades. He favored a republic, but he wrote biographies of the Carrara despots in his Vitae Principium Carrarensium. In his fragment De Monarchia Vergerio argued that more than one ruler tended to cause injustice and abuse of the weak as the strong strive for power. He wrote the Life of Francesco Petrarca before returning to Florence, where he studied Greek 1398-1400. Salutati and Vergerio were among the first to read Petrarca’s epic poem Africa about Scipio, and it was edited by Vergerio.
In 1404 while Francesco Novello da Carrara stopped paying his scholars in order to fund military defense, Vergerio’s teacher Giovanni Conversino wrote the Discussion of the Preferable Way of Life, which is a dialog between a Paduan and a Venetian. He argued that whenever the people took power, peace and prosperity were destroyed. He especially praised King Lajos of Hungary for lifting his country from barbarism to civilization while he ruled 1342-82, but he also admired Niccolo II d’Este of Ferrara and Francesco II da Carrara. Conversino noted that King Robert of Naples, Jacopa da Carrara, Niccolo d’Este, and especially Gian Galeazzo Visconti were the patrons of the new humanistic learning. He found that the Venetians were so absorbed in commerce that they had little time for studies. In 1405 Venice took over Padua, and both Conversino and Vergerio were forced to leave. Vergerio wanted to end the schism in the Church and attended the Council of Constance from 1414 to 1418. Emperor Sigismund crowned Vergerio poet laureate, invited him to his court, and gave him a pension. He spent the rest of his life in Germany.
In 1402 Vergerio wrote the influential humanist treatise on education, The Character and Studies Befitting a Free-born Youth (De ingenius moribus et liberalibus adulescentiae studiis liber) for young Ubertino da Carrara. He wrote that parents should instruct their children in the liberal arts so that they may learn virtue while they are young and impressionable. People desire wealth, glory, and pleasure, but they should seek to excel in what is greatest—virtue and the development of character. Humans should look to their own abilities and develop the intellect in order to be free. The well-constituted mind does not reject anyone but puts the best construction on what is said and done. In developing their character the youth should be discouraged from lying, which may become a bad habit. Vices change with age. The young burn with lust; the middle-aged are ambitious; and the elderly waste away in avarice. The young should be kept as pure as possible by preventing premature sexual activity, by keeping away from wine, by practicing religion, and by treating elders with profound respect.
Vergerio outlined a program of liberal studies worthy of the free that develops virtue and wisdom. Seeking profit and pleasure are for the illiberal. Excessive freedom may be too indulgent, but harsh discipline and criticism may sap intellectual vigor. A noble nature rises above hardships, and great wealth usually injures good minds more than poverty. Hercules took the path of virtue rather than pleasure. The pursuit of knowledge leads to wondrous pleasures in the mind and, when nurtured, bears fruit. Books extend human memories, and by reading one can learn from many generations and from far and wide. Knowledge of history aids the study of moral philosophy because of the examples. Philosophy is a liberal study because it makes one free. Developing eloquence helps one in civic life because one can persuade others. Rhetoric is the art of eloquence. Literature benefits the whole life for any kind of person. Disputation helps one learn science and opens up every kind of knowledge.
Music helps to harmonize the soul. Arithmetic and geometry are more exact sciences and discipline the mind. Studying nature opens the fields of science, and learning medicine is beneficial to bodily health. Being skilled in law is useful to the individual and the community, but Vergerio did not recommend the professional practice of law or medicine for the noble mind. The speculative intellect understands ideals and is good at metaphysics, and it complements the practical mind. Teaching is the best way to improve oneself if one continues to doubt and learn more. Vergerio went on to discuss physical exercises and military training, and he concluded by urging Ubertino to strive with all his strength to develop his abilities; for if he does not, he will only have himself to blame.
Leonardo Bruni (1370-1444) was the son of a Guelf grain merchant in Arezzo. In 1384 Ghibelline exiles and the French army seized his father and him. Leonardo was held prisoner in a castle in a room with a portrait of Petrarca. He later wrote that this experience inflamed his passion to study his writings. His father died in 1386 and his mother in 1388. Bruni spent two years in the studio (university) of Florence and four years in its law school. He studied with Petrarca’s leading disciple Salutati. Manuel Chrysoloras was the most eminent Byzantine scholar of the era, and in 1396 Salutati invited him to fill the first chair of Greek established at the University of Florence. Jacopo Angeli had gone to Constantinople in 1395, and he brought back Greek books with Chrysoloras in 1397. Chrysoloras helped Uberto Decembrio translate Plato’s Republic into Latin. Bruni learned Greek from Chrysoloras, and his 1401 translation of Basil’s Letter to Young Men was very popular.
About 1403 Bruni wrote Laudatio Florentinae urbis in imitation of the ancient panegyrics to Athens, especially the Panathenaicus by Aelius Aristides in the second century CE. Bruni believed that Florence was the greatest city on Earth and praised it for its architecture, cleanliness, moderate climate, large population, and prosperity. The city included farms, was self-sufficient, and was encircled by rings of protective walls. He believed that Florence had the right to have dominion over the entire world. Thus he prejudged that all its wars were just because they were to defend or recover its own territory. He bragged that Florence had the moral authority to settle all disputes and tried to do so by persuasion. He claimed that it never went back on a promise. When Florence was saved from aggression by Milan because of Gian Galeazzo’s death in 1402, he praised the city for crediting God with saving them. He believed that Florence was republican because they had checks and balances with nine magistrates, government by the majority with short terms of office, and two men elected from each of four quarters. Some issues were passed to the Council of the People and the Council of the Commune for a final decision. He admitted that the Florentine Guelfs were defeated by the Ghibellines at Montaperto in 1260; but Pope Urban IV sent them Charles of Anjou to gain revenge in 1265. Bruni claimed equality because the upper class was protected by its wealth, the lower class by the state, and all by fear of punishment. Florence also extended its protection to foreigners and even made them judges because of their impartiality.
In 1405 Salutati recommended Bruni, and he became secretary to Pope Innocent VII. That year Bruni finished his translation of Plato’s Phaedo. After Salutati’s death Bruni completed his Dialogi ad Petrum Istram, discussing the controversial issues between Salutati and his disciples. In the first dialog at Salutati’s house the master criticizes his students for failing to study disputation. In the second dialog, written several years later, at the home of Roberto Rossi, Niccolo Niccoli argues against his previous position, which he says he had taken to spur discussion. They argue whether the works of Dante, Petrarca, and Boccaccio are as great as the classics, and in the second dialog they consider them favorably. Bruni also served Pope Gregory XII, but he left him in 1409 to be a secretary for the new Pope Alexander V. He also served his successor Pope John XXIII until 1415 when the Council of Constance deposed all three popes. Then Bruni returned to Florence, where he spent the rest of his life, and he began writing his History of the Florentine People.
Bruni was a skilled Ciceronian stylist and translated into Latin four dialogs by Plato, several works by Aristotle, speeches by Demosthenes, and biographies by Plutarch. His manuscripts and printed editions of Aristotle’s Politics and Nicomachean Ethics were widely distributed. Instead of translating word for word, he tried to get the overall meaning of each sentence. In his Introduction to Moral Philosophy Bruni wrote that all the ancient philosophies, such as the Peripatetics, Stoics, and even the Epicureans as well as the Christians, emphasized that virtue is essential to the good life. About 1424 he wrote The Study of Literature for the Lady Battista Malatesta of Montefeltro, and he advised her to read only the best and most approved authors. Those he recommended included Augustine, Jerome, Ambrose, Cyprian, Lactantius, Gregory Nazianzen, John Chrysostom, Basil, Cicero, Virgil, Livy, Sallust, Julius Caesar, Tacitus, and Curtius. He encouraged her to devote herself to divinity and moral philosophy and added the names of Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato, Democritus, Aristotle, Theophrastus, Epicurus, Zeno, Varro, and Seneca. Among poets he also mentioned Homer, Hesiod, Pindar, Euripides, Ennius, Pacuvius, Accius, and Boethius.
Bruni became chancellor of Florence in 1427 and served until his death in 1444. In a funeral oration, modeled on the oration by Pericles in Thucydides, for the Ferrarese general Nanni degli Strozzi in 1428 Bruni favored a republican form of government. Strozzi’s personal sacrifice may have prevented a victory by Milan. Bruni believed that the laws of Florence aimed at the liberty and equality of all citizens. Every man has the hope of winning public honor if his natural gifts and industry enable him to lead a respected life. Gregorio Dati had written a history of Florence during the period of its wars with Milan (1380-1402) in 1406, using a question-and-answer method to discuss pertinent issues. Bruni built on this research and completed his History of the Florentine People from the ancient Etruscans to 1402 in twelve books before he died. He also wrote biographies of Dante, Petrarca, and Boccaccio. Bruni argued that the free city state caused the rise and fall of culture. When the Roman republic was taken over by a series of emperors, their literature deteriorated. He was one of the first to separate antiquity from the modern period by calling the era in between the middle ages.
Bruni’s research on ancient Italy’s Etruscan past was used in his 1439 Greek treatise On the Florentine Polity in which he argued that educated citizens, rather than the masses, should make political decisions. He believed that human perfection can only be reached in a civic community, and therefore knowledge of the state is the most important branch of human learning. He discovered useful philosophies of government in Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero as well as in Christian thinkers. Bruni found that when citizens fulfilled their duty of bearing arms to defend Florence, it was more democratic than when they hired mercenaries, which shifted power to rich aristocrats. In his history he noted that Florence abolished military service for its citizens in 1351. Also in 1439 a Byzantine delegation led by the Platonist Gemistos Pletho attended the Council of Florence. He wanted to set up a Platonist system, and he had a great influence on Cosimo de’ Medici and the humanists in Florence. The Byzantine John Argyropoulos stayed in Florence and taught Plato. George of Trebizond was also a Byzantine exile, but he criticized Plato in his Comparationes philosophorum Aristotelis et Platonis. Cardinal Bessarion then defended Plato in his In calumniatorem Platonis, showing how Plato’s philosophy was more similar to Christian theology than Aristotle’s.
Theodorus Gaza came from Greece to Italy about 1430 and taught Greek at Ferrara 1441-50 before settling in Rome. He is best known for his Greek grammar and his translations of Aristotle.
Vittorino da Feltre (1378-1446) was the son of a poor notary. In 1396 he went to the University of Padua, where he could study all the arts. Petrarca’s library of ancient books was available there. Over the next twenty years Vittorino studied grammar, rhetoric, dialectic, moral philosophy, and mathematics. He taught grammar and was the most popular math teacher. In 1407 the respected Gasparino Barzizza came there to teach rhetoric, and he lectured on the orations and other works by Cicero. Vittorino lived with Barzizza for several years.
Guarino was born in Verona in 1370 and learned Latin from Giovanni da Ravenna. He studied with Vergerio at the University of Padua. Guarino went to teach at Venice, where he met the Greek scholar Manuel Chrysoloras. In 1403 Guarino went with Chrysoloras to Constantinople, where he lived with him for five years. He brought back more than fifty Greek manuscripts to Venice in 1408. Guarino could not find a post in Venice and went to Bologna, where he met Poggio Bracciolini and Leonardo Bruni, who invited him to go to Florence. In 1411 Guarino published his translation of Plutarch’s influential treatise on education. The next year Florence re-opened its studium, and Guarino taught Greek there for five years. Like Chrysoloras, Guarino had difficulty getting along with Niccolo de’ Niccoli.
When Francesco Barbaro (1390-1454) visited Florence in 1414, he persuaded Guarino to go with him to Venice. Barbaro was a Venetian humanist and had been tutored by Barzizza and Giovanni Conversini. Barbaro took Guarino into his house and learned Greek. In 1415 Barbaro wrote De re uxoria on marriage and dedicated a copy to the newly married Lorenzo de’ Medici and Ginevra Cavalcanti. Barbaro wrote that the purpose of marriage is to have children, and the wife’s duty is to educate them. The first book of De re uxoria discusses how to select a wife, and the second book explains her duties to her husband, household, and children. He expected the husband to give orders and the wife to obey. Wives are to love their husbands and practice the virtues of moderation and modesty, but they should be permitted to go out. She should teach the children. In 1419 Barbaro married and entered Venetian politics, rising to become the presiding officer over the Venetian Senate in 1449 and procurator of St. Mark in 1452, second only to the Doge.
Vittorino criticized Paduan students for celebrating Bacchus too often, and in 1415 he too moved to Venice. Guarino da Verona taught him Greek, and Vittorino’s mastery of Latin helped Guarino, who taught Latin to George of Trebizond. George had come to Venice in 1415 to teach Greek. In 1416 a plague drove Guarino and Vittorino back to Padua. Like Barzizza and Guarino, Vittorino took students into his house, and he became the most popular teacher. In 1418 Guarino married and returned to his native Verona, where he was elected professor of rhetoric. He fathered at least a dozen children who were well educated. After Barzizza went to Milan in 1422, Vittorino reluctantly accepted the chair of rhetoric at Padua. However, he disliked the temptations there, and in 1423 he resumed teaching in Venice. That year Marquis Gian Francesco Gonzaga invited Guarino to come to Mantua, but he declined and recommended Vittorino. Gonzaga offered to pay Vittorino whatever he wanted, and he agreed on the understanding that the Marquis would not require him to do anything unworthy. He said he would serve the lord of Mantua as long as his life commanded respect.
Francesco Filelfo was in Constantinople 1421-27, and he brought back Greek books by Herodotus, Thucydides, Polybius, Demosthenes, and Aeschines and seven plays by Euripides. The Florentine priest Christoforo Buondelmonti was in Greece 1414-30.
For 22 years Vittorino lived and taught in the Gonzaga palace until his death in 1446. A large garden-house in the castle park became the school and was called the “Joyful House.” The entire text of Cicero’s De Oratore had been discovered in 1422 at Lodi, and Vittorino began lecturing on Cicero’s rhetoric. He taught Gonzaga’s sons and daughters and the sons of his friends who included princes from northern Italy. Even the great scholars Guarino, Poggio, and Filelfo sent their sons to his school in Mantua, where there were fewer temptations. Sons of the wealthy paid high fees, but those without means paid nothing. Vittorino insisted on removing luxuries and distractions, and all his students were expected to lead a sober life. The Greek ideal of training the body included diet and exercise. He had as many as seventy students under his charge, but he did not use harsh punishments. Although he was quick-tempered, Vittorino practiced self-control. Corporal punishment was not used except as an alternative to expulsion. Vittorino respected the boys’ freedom and dignity, and he did not force the unwilling to learn.
Vittorino’s students ranged from age four or less up to 21. He devised games to help the youngest learn their letters. By the age of eleven they were writing their own compositions. Reading aloud was a regular exercise and accompanied meals. He emphasized grammar and rhetoric in both Latin and Greek. They were taught to recite and later to declaim. Students memorized classical writings, and some even learned all of Virgil's Aeneid. Virgil was from Mantua. Latin was the common language of the educated in western Europe. Vittorino included geometry in mathematics and some algebra. Music was carefully supervised and was sometimes played at meals. He often lectured on Livy, and the biographies of Plutarch were also used to learn history and morals. Advanced and older students read the works of Plato and Aristotle. Vittorino had acquired essentially all the extant books by Plato. Logic was studied to improve thinking in definitions, classification, inference, and detection of fallacies. He used the Socratic method of asking questions to expose ignorance and arrogance.
At that time European universities emphasized theology, law, and medicine, but the schools of Vittorino and Guarino broadened the curriculum to include the humanities of literature, history, and philosophy. Vittorino taught seven or eight hours a day, lecturing to classes in the day and tutoring individuals in the evening. Physical exercises were important, and many games were played. Students were required to attend religious instruction and practice the ordinances of the Church. The Gonzagas helped Vittorino expand their palace library. Manuscript copiers were employed so that books could be shared. The Marquis did not allow his oldest son Ludovico to participate in military exercises as he did his second son Carlo. Ludovico’s resentment led to a breach, but Vittorino was able to reconcile the father with his oldest son. Vittorino’s health began declining in 1444, and he died in 1446. The scholar William Harrison Woodward called Vittorino the “first modern schoolmaster.” Ognibene da Lonigo revived the spirit of the school in 1449 for the next four years before moving on to Vicenza.
In 1429 Marquis Niccolo d’Este invited Guarino to Ferrara to tutor his son Leonello and other children for a stipend of 350 ducats, which was later increased. He was allowed to teach others too. When Leonello married in 1435, Guarino moved into a house and began taking in boarders. The next year the Ferrara Municipio appointed him professor of rhetoric. Guarino served as a translator of Greek at the Council of Ferrara that began in 1438 and then moved to Florence. Leonello d’Este became Marquis of Ferrara and organized the school that Emperor Friedrich III proclaimed a university in 1442.
Guarino edited and translated Strabo’s Geography, and he published On the Art of Orthography. He is best known for his textbooks on Greek and Latin grammar. He used detailed methods for teaching grammar and the writings of historians and poets. To the traditional trivium and quadrivium he added the study of history, literature, rhetoric, and philosophy (Plato and Aristotle). His instruction of rhetoric was based mostly on works by Cicero and Quintilian. Virgil, Terence, and Lucan were the primary poets used. Guarino was a devoted Christian and also lectured on Augustine's City of God and the works of Basil, Jerome, and Cyprian. He made his students adhere to religious principles, and he developed teaching manuals for all his courses. His humanistic school became famous and attracted students from all over Europe. Guarino wrote more than seventy orations and more than nine hundred letters, and he translated Livy, Plautus, some of Plutarch’s Lives, Pliny the Elder, and Catullus. He also wrote commentaries on Juvenal, Martial, Persius, Aristotle, and Cicero. He died at Ferrara on December 4, 1460.
Poggio Bracciolini (1380-1459) grew up in Florence and studied grammar with Giovanni da Ravenna and Greek with Chrysoloras. He studied with the humanist Coluccio Salutati and became a friend of Niccolo Niccoli. Poggio was skilled at copying manuscripts and became a notary and a secretary to Cardinal Maramori. Bracciolini went to Rome in 1403 and spent about fifty years serving in the papal curia. He worked for Pope John XXIII during the Council of Constance 1414-18. He found many valuable Latin manuscripts in the monasteries of France and Germany, including a complete text of Quintilian’s Institutio Oratoria, one of the most important works on classical education. He also discovered the last twelve comedies of Plautus. He went with Bishop Henry Beaufort to England but did not like it and returned to Rome in 1422 and became secretary and advisor of Pope Martin V.
Poggio studied the ruins of Rome and published four volumes describing them. He translated Diodorus and Xenophon’s Cyropaedia. At the age of 56 he married an 18-year-old woman and wrote the apologetic tract On Marriage in Old Age. Over the years he wrote many moral essays including On the Inconstancy of Fortune, On the Misery of the Human Condition, and On the Infelicity of Princes. In On Nobility he contended that true nobility comes from a person’s spirit, not from birth, and he bitterly condemned hypocrisy in Contra hypocrita. Poggio is also known for a collection of salacious anecdotes called Facetiae.
In 1453 Poggio was appointed chancellor of Florence, and he wrote a history of Florence from the middle of the 14th century to the Peace of Lodi in 1454. He resigned in 1458 and died the next year. In his dialog On Avarice he condemned most churchmen of the day except San Bernardino da Siena. Bartolomeo da Montepulciano uses classical allusions to show that avarice is the worst human affliction. Then Antonio Loschi argues that the needs of society and government require capital to function well. However, the theologian Andrea of Constantinople condemns avarice as ruinous in many ways. He concludes by quoting Cicero.
For there is nothing so characteristic
of narrowness and smallness of soul as the love of riches,
and there is nothing more honorable and noble
than to be indifferent to money if one does not possess it,
and to devote it to beneficence and generosity
if one does possess it.1
Battista Alberti was born in Genoa on February 18, 1404, and later in life he adopted Leone as his first name. He was one of two illegitimate sons of a wealthy Florentine merchant who became his heirs. His father was in exile, and they were vagabonds. His father taught him mathematics and sent him to be educated for four years by Gasparino Barzizza at Padua. His father died in 1421, and Alberti spent seven years at the University of Bologna. When he was twenty, he wrote the Latin comedy Philodoxus, pretending it was from an ancient codex. Many years later Aldus Manutius printed it as by the ancient Roman Lepidus. Alberti earned his doctorate in canon law in 1428, and that year Pope Martin V removed the ban on the Alberti family from Florence.
Alberti became secretary to Cardinal Albergati and traveled with him to France and Germany. By 1429 he had written “On the Utility and Disadvantages of the Study of Letters” in Latin, and he wrote two dialogs in Italian on the difficulties of love. In 1431 he went to Rome to be Cardinal Biagio Molin’s secretary. The next year Alberti became a secretary in the papal chancery, and he served as apostolic abbreviator until 1464. He went with Pope Eugenius IV in 1434 when he left Rome and fled to Florence. Alberti was ordained and appointed to the priory of Gangalandi in Florence. A patron hired him to revise the traditional lives of the saints in more elegant Latin.
Although Alberti continued a religious life, his own writings tended to be humanistic and secular. He wrote the first three books of On the Family between 1432 and 1434 and published it in four books in 1443. The first book is on education, the second on creating a happy family, the third on the household economy, and the fourth book is on friendship. Influenced by Cicero and Seneca, he believed that the family is the most important social unit. Parents are responsible for providing for their children and for educating them as well. He valued the vernacular and spoke Italian in his home. Games may be used, and one should have a spirit of inquiry. He believed that the father should be head of the house because women are more passive. Everyone’s duty is to pursue justice, the primary social value, and he emphasized the importance of working for the common good. He believed in the power of will and that much could be accomplished. After justice the most important virtues are truthfulness and self-control. Humans are born to be useful to others, and virtuous action is important even in failure.
In 1435 Alberti wrote On Painting in Latin and explained the mathematical rules of perspective. He became a friend of the geographer Toscanelli and collaborated with him on astronomy. Alberti wrote a treatise on surveying and mapping, using Rome as an example. In 1437 he wrote On Law and attended the ecumenical council at Ferrara with Pope Eugenius. The council moved to Florence in 1438. There Alberti knew Cosimo de’ Medici, Brunelleschi, Donatello, and Masaccio. In the early 1440s Alberti wrote On the Origin of the Gods, two moral dialogs, Sofrona on love, and Uxoria on marriage. He returned to Rome with Pope Eugenius in 1443.
Alberti was influenced by Lucian, Apuleius, and Aesop, and he wrote the comic Momus between 1443 and 1450. To be like a god Alberti writes a book that is rare because it is so unusual. The god Momus is in love with Mischief and does many things to entertain and exasperate the gods and goddesses such as creating insects. He falls out of heaven and lands in Italy where he pretends to be a poet and then a philosopher. He criticizes religion. Humans increase their prayers so much the gods have to work hard, and gifts pile up. Momus returns to heaven and tries to please Jupiter, but he provokes strife among the gods. Momus gives Jupiter books of advice, but Jupiter goes down to earth and meets Diogenes. The other gods resent Momus being the representative of Jupiter, and they throw him out and castrate him. Momus thwarts the gods’ view of earth by getting sea deities to create a black cloud. Momus is chained to a rock as the gods play in a theater. Jupiter realizes he should read the books Momus gave him on government and how good and evil should be distributed.
Ferrara’s Marquis Leonello d’Este asked Alberti to restore the work of the ancient architect Vitruvius. In 1447 his friend became Pope Nicholas V and made Alberti his architectural advisor to restore buildings in Rome. They initiated the reconstruction of St. Peter’s and the Vatican Palace. In 1452 Alberti published his influential Ten Books on Architecture, which was first printed in 1485. In the next twenty years he carried out various architectural projects. In 1459 he went with Pope Pius II to Mantua, where Ludovico Gonzaga commissioned him to design two churches. He 1460 he wrote a handbook on rhetoric in Latin that he dedicated to Lorenzo de’ Medici. He invented the odometer, a device for measuring the depth of the sea, and the polyalphabetic cipher which is called the Alberti cipher. In 1468 he wrote in Italian De iciarchia, a moral dialog on the prince and the first citizen. Alberti was also known as an athlete, and he composed music. He died in 1472 and is an early example of the multi-talented universal person who flourished during the Renaissance.
Matteo Palmieri (1406-75) was a Florentine who was educated by famous humanists. Like Alberti he emphasized the importance of civic life. He wrote Della vita civile in 1429 and began circulating it in 1435. In a dialog the main speaker Agnolo Pandolfini discusses the virtues most desired to perfect citizens. The first of the four books is on the training and education of the child. The next two books discuss the moral life and the importance of justice and honesty in all human relations. The fourth book is about the motives of individual perfection and social responsibility. The youth learns to control his lower self, and this discipline is carried over into family and social life. To overcome poverty Palmieri urged the state to provide free schools for the sons of all the citizens.
Palmieri wrote the first history of the Middle Ages by continuing the work of an ancient chronicler from 449 to 1449 in De temporibus. He also wrote a history of Florence and an account of how Florence captured Pisa in 1406. Palmieri was guided by a dream to write the Italian poem La citta di vita in 100 cantos in imitation of Dante. The poet is guided by a Cumaean Sibyl in the Elysian Fields where the souls of angels have refused to decide between God and Satan. They are to be born as humans in order to choose. He did not publish the poem during his life but left instructions for it to be opened after his death, and the Church later condemned it as heretical.
Lorenzo Valla (1407-57) was born in Rome and was the son of a lawyer in the papal court. He studied Latin grammar and rhetoric in Rome. A lost book he wrote compared Cicero and Quintilian, and he favored the style of the latter. In 1429 Valla went to the University of Pavia, where he taught rhetoric. He published On Pleasure and later changed the title to On the True Good, which is a dialog between a Stoic, an Epicurean, and a Christian. The Stoic philosopher represented by Bruni takes an ascetic position against nature and is refuted by the Epicurean who defends nature and utility. The Christian is named after Niccolo Niccoli but represents Valla and argues for a life of faith and virtue that will lead to happiness after death. Valla contended that orators are superior to philosophers because they are moral by appealing to the values of many people. One serves God by virtue (honestas) and people by being useful (utilitas). He became a priest in 1431. His Epistola de insigniis et armis on judicial methods challenged the authority of Bartolo da Sassoferrato, and he was forced to leave Pavia in 1433.
After a few years in Milan and Florence Valla went to Naples in 1437 and served as secretary and historian to Alfonso V of Aragon. He wrote a history of the reign of Alfonso’s father, Fernando I (1412-16). In his dialog De professione religiosorum he criticized the monastic vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, recommending devotion instead. During the Middle Ages a legend circulated that Pope Sylvester healed Emperor Constantine of leprosy, and in gratitude the Emperor gave the Pope the territory around Rome in 324 CE and moved his capital to Byzantium, which was renamed Constantinople. In 1440 Valla’s Declamation on the Donation of Constantine presented proof that the document donating temporal power by Emperor Constantine to Pope Sylvester was a forgery because some words in it were not used until the 8th century. He also exposed that the letters claiming to be between the philosopher Seneca and the apostle Paul were fictional. He questioned whether the “Apostles’ Creed” was written by the original twelve apostles, and he applied his humanist philology to criticize Jerome’s Latin translation of the New Testament. In On Free Will he argued against ideas in The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius.
In The Profession of the Religious in 1442 Valla argued that monks may not excel laymen in holiness. He also criticized Aristotelian scholastic philosophers in his Dialectical Disputations. An orator is greater than a philosopher because he can persuade others of what is good. He believed that the seat of the soul was neither the intellect nor the will but the heart and that love is really the only virtue. Valla visited Rome in 1444 and urged the people to overthrow the papal state. Pope Eugenius had him summoned before the Inquisition in Naples. Valla merely stated his orthodox views, and Alfonso persuaded them to release him. After Alfonso was reconciled with Eugenius, Valla wrote a letter apologizing to the Pope and asking for a pardon. Valla reduced Aristotle’s nine categories to substance, quality, and action. He returned to Rome in 1448 and served as Pope Nicholas V’s secretary while teaching rhetoric. That year Valla’s Elegantiarum latinae linguae was published, and it became a popular textbook of grammar and was printed in 1471. Erasmus considered Valla the best guide to Latin grammar. Valla translated Aesop and the histories of Herodotus, Thucydides, and others into Latin. He continued as papal secretary to Pope Calixtus III.
In 1450 Valla competed with George of Trebizond for the chair at the Roman studium and won. He revised his Elegances and completed his Notations on the New Testament by 1453. In 1457 Dominicans invited Valla to give an encomium on Thomas Aquinas, but he advocated a return to the Fathers of the Church and criticized Thomas for his style and for being too interested in logic. Valla never married but had three children by his mistress in Rome.
Gianozzo Manetti (1396-1459) was born into a wealthy family in Florence, and he worked as head clerk in his father’s bank. He also mastered Greek, Latin, and Hebrew, sleeping only five hours a night so that he would have more time for study. He joined a circle of humanist friends that included Poggio Bracciolini, Leonardo Bruni, Francesco Filelfo, Niccolo Niccoli, and Lorenzo Valla. Manetti began serving the republic of Florence in 1429, and they appointed him governor of Pescia in 1440 and of Pistoia in 1446. Pistoia was divided by factions, but he won the favor of all and was honored for stopping corruption and settling disputes. He was very honest, and the humanist librarian Vespasiano da Bisticci wrote that he never heard him speak falsely. Whenever Manetti received a gift, he would either pay for it or give it back. He taught that honesty pays best. He believed that we must account for every moment of our lives. He wrote and published a collection of biographies in 1439, and in 1440 he wrote comparative biographies of Socrates and Seneca and of Dante, Boccaccio, and Petrarca.
Manetti became a member of Florence’s Assembly and served on several councils. He represented the city in several diplomatic missions to Genoa in 1437, Siena in 1448, Venice in 1448 and 1453, and he visited the popes Eugenius IV and Nicholas V several times and Alfonso of Naples many times from 1443 to 1451. In March 1452 Manetti led the Florentine embassy to Rome for the imperial coronation of Friedrich III. He was made Florence’s vicar of the Scarperia, and he solved difficult disputes, calling on those who refused to come to him. During this time he wrote On the Dignity and Excellence of Man and sent it to King Alfonso of Naples. When Manetti opposed Cosimo de’ Medici’s order to change their alliance from Venice to Milan, Cosimo imposed a heavy tax on him. In 1448 Manetti gave two orations condemning Alfonso V’s policy; but he went on numerous diplomatic missions for Naples in the next five years, and he favored the peace treaty negotiated in 1451. He left Florence in February 1453 with no money and went to Rome, where the humanist Pope Nicholas V made him his secretary and gave him a pension of 600 ducats a year beyond his salary. He translated the Psalms and began the collection of Hebrew manuscripts in the Vatican Library. Nicholas sent him as his ambassador to Florence, and Manetti told the Signory how he had paid them 135,000 florins already.
Manetti’s controversial On the Dignity and Excellence of Man answered The Misery of the Human Condition by Pope Innocent III. He dedicated this work to Alfonso V as an exemplar of a worthy person. In Book I Manetti described the great endowments of the human body, in Book II the rational soul, and in Book III the admirable attributes of the whole person. In Book IV he chose to answer those who had argued for the misery of human existence and the advantages of death. He showed how the pleasures of life far outweigh the pains. With his faith in Christ he listed the blessings of the after-life as perpetual health, eternal youth, freedom, beauty, immortality, and peace. The opposites of these may be suffered by the miserable damned. He argued that those who follow the divine commandments will obtain temporal rewards as well as eternal ones. He urged his readers to shun all vices and love virtue with the power of one’s soul and body. Those who practice virtue will be blessed. Manetti also translated the New Testament and Aristotle’s Magna Moralia and Nicomachean Ethics into Latin before completing his controversial work against the Jews and Gentiles.
Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini was born into a noble Sienese family in exile on October 18, 1405. After attending the University of Siena, he became Cardinal Domenico Capranica’s secretary and went with him to the Council of Basel in 1431. For the next six years he worked for clerics who wanted to make the Council superior to the Pope, and then he published his Commentary on the Council of Basel. In 1439 after Pope Eugenius IV transferred the Council to Ferrara, Piccolomini became secretary to the remnant Council’s chosen Pope Felix V.
In 1442 Germany’s King Friedrich III invited Piccolomini to Vienna and made him poet laureate and his secretary. His excommunication was lifted after he renounced Felix in 1445. He suffered a serious illness and gave up his dissolute life that had included fathering several illegitimate children. Piccolomini was ordained a priest in 1446. After Pope Eugenius IV deposed two German archbishops who were imperial electors, Piccolomini successfully reconciled the Pope and the German princes. In 1447 Pope Nicholas V appointed him bishop of Trieste, and three years later he was transferred to Siena. In 1450 he negotiated Friedrich’s betrothal to the princess Eleonora of Portugal, and the next year he was sent as an envoy to the Hussite George of Podebrady. In 1452 Piccolomini went to Rome with Friedrich and attended his wedding and coronation as Emperor by Pope Nicholas. Piccolomini became a cardinal and then Pope Pius II in 1458. He died in 1464.
Piccolomini wrote The Education for Boys in 1450 for ten-year-old Laszlo V of Hungary. He urged the pursuit of learning as the greatest way of acquiring virtue and suggested that a king needs this learning more than anyone. He addressed the boy and his teachers and discussed instructions for the body and the mind. He advised teachers to guide pupils with advice instead of blows. He cited several ancient authorities who opposed the custom of flogging students. He argued that blows can cause hatred that lasts into manhood. Nothing is worse than for students to hate their teachers, for they should love learning. He considered the intellect and reason most excellent. He warned the young king not to let riches spoil his virtue, and he recommended moderate eating and drinking. Piccolomini assumed that he was being instructed as a Christian with the Lord’s prayer, the Gospel of John, the creed, the ten commandments, and other teachings. He emphasized that he seek first the kingdom of God, and he asked what we must do to know God. He realized that his people would know Hungarian and Bohemian, but he urged them all to learn Latin also.
Piccolomini warned the prince against baseness in speech as well as the extremes of servility and arrogance. He must learn to express himself with distinction. Memory is a great aid to learning, and he suggested that he commit some verses or maxims to memory daily. Grammar is the basis of learning and literature. He described its four principles as logic, antiquity, authority, and custom. Logic uses analogy for comparison and etymology to understand the origin of words. Old words often have a majesty or religious attraction. Authority may come from orators, historians, poets, and philosophers as well as from Christians. Custom in speech is a kind of common currency. The ancients believed that reading should begin with Homer and Virgil. Piccolomini doubted that his student could learn Greek; but he argued that it would be useful in governing Hungary. He often cited Jerome as a useful source, and he recommended Cicero as the greatest orator. He urged students to read historians such as Livy and Sallust, but he warned that boys should not read Suetonius. He quoted Cicero who said, “History is the witness of the times, the light of truth, the teacher of life, the messenger of antiquity.”2 He accepted the Pythagorean belief that music soothes and refreshes the mind. Geometry helps one to develop perceptive and reasoning abilities and should be added to arithmetic.
Philosophy seeks wisdom and so goes beyond the seven liberal arts to understand human and divine causes. In moral philosophy one should learn one’s duty to God, parents, elders, strangers, civil and military powers, fellow citizens, wife, friends, tenants, and slaves. Moral philosophy will also teach him to despise avarice and greed for money, behave modestly toward women, be affectionate to children and relatives, treat servants without cruelty, obey laws, control anger, despise pleasures, pity the oppressed, help the needy, reward the deserving, punish the guilty, and render to everyone what is due. Most of all, one should not be overjoyed by favorable fortune nor be sad because of misfortunes. Finally Piccolomini recommended writings by Cicero, Seneca, Pliny, and Boethius, and he urged him to practice what he has been taught.
Marsilio Ficino was born on October 19, 1433 near Florence. He began studying Greek in Florence with John Argyropoulos in 1459, and in 1462 Cosimo de’ Medici granted him a villa and gave him access to Greek manuscripts in exchange for his teaching Platonic philosophy. In 1463 Ficino translated the complete Corpus Hermeticum into Latin. He became a priest in 1473 and received several benefices. In his De Christiana Religione in 1474 he defended Christianity against Jews and Muslims. He translated all of Plato’s works into Latin by 1477, and he considered Plato a forerunner of Christianity. He also wrote a biography of Plato and Platonic Theology. He wrote a book on love and introduced the ideal of Platonic love to western Europe. He exchanged love letters with Giovanni Cavalcanti, but in his Convivium he condemned sodomy. In 1484 Pico della Mirandola visited Florence and persuaded Ficino to translate The Enneads of Plotinus which he completed in 1491. Pico became one of Ficino’s disciples who was honored with the title “conphilosophus.” Ficino became interested in astrology and was accused of magic and heresy by Pope Innocent VIII in 1489. That year he published his influential Three Books on Life. In 1492 Lorenzo paid for the publication of Ficino’s translation of the Neo-Platonist Plotinus.
Ficino wrote that a new golden age had restored the liberal arts of grammar, rhetoric, poetry, painting, sculpture, architecture, and music while perfecting astrology. He believed that loving a person prepares one to love God. The true love between persons is like the common love for God. Ficino wrote to Cavalcanti that friendship by mutual consent of the lovers cultivates the soul through virtue. Yet the true and stable union between persons cannot be established except through the eternal unity of God. Ficino wanted to base his school on the concept of Platonic love, which is the love of God concretely confirmed in the love of friends. Happiness comes from the knowledge of God and in the soul separating from the body in ecstatic joy. The mind can be purified from all disturbances of the body through moral discipline directed by an ardent love of divine truth. Ficino noted that Democritus laughed at the stupidity of men while Heraclitus mourned their misery. He recommended fighting against fortune with prudence, patience, and generosity. Peace may be made with fortune by adjusting our will lest we be dragged there by force. The strong do not submit to injustices but overcome them.
Patience enables us to bear and transform evils into good. Most virtues consist of doing well, but patience is able to suffer well without increasing the passion caused by evils. Those who act badly convert goods into evils; but those who suffer well turn them into good, for by enduring evils one becomes good. For Ficino moral philosophy is separating the soul from the passion of the body. Plato recommended meditating on death, which is the liberation of the soul from the body. Thus philosophy is the ascent of the soul from lower to higher things and from darkness to light, and the end is the highest good, the best guidance for humans. Ficino believed that evil is imaginary or an illusion because under infinite good all things turn out well. Pleasure appears in the guise of good, but it contains evils. People are ashamed of the mortal blessings because they are neglecting the eternal good. If what we have learned does not enable us to know ourselves, then we must unlearn what we have learned. We must learn what we have neglected in order to know ourselves. The soul cannot be forced from outside; but by love it delves into the body, and by love it emerges from the body.
Angelo Ambrogini (1454-94) was born on July 14, 1454 in Montepulciano and was called Poliziano (Politian). His father died when he was ten years old, and he went to Florence, where he learned Greek and Latin. By the time he was sixteen he was translating Homer’s Iliad into Latin verse. In 1473 he began teaching the Medici children and became the friend of Lorenzo. He wrote poetry in Latin, even for his lectures on classical authors at the University of Florence, as well as in Italian and Greek. He began writing the epic poem Stanze per la Giostra about Giuliano de’ Medici and Simonetta Vespucci in a tournament. Simonetta died in 1476 of tuberculosis, and Giuliano was murdered two years later. Poliziano never finished the poem, but he wrote an account of how Giuliano was murdered as Lorenzo survived. He compared Lorenzo to Augustus who survived after Julius Caesar was assassinated. His edition of Justinian’s Pandects stimulated the study of Roman law.
In 1477 Lorenzo got Poliziano the benefice of the priory of San Paolo and in 1483 a villa in Fiesole. His lyrical play Fabula di Orfeo was performed with music in 1480 at a princely feast in Mantua. In June of that year Lorenzo recalled Poliziano to teach in the Studium in Florence. The first century of Poliziano’s Miscellanea was published in 1489, and the second century was not completed. His Nutricia describes the Greek and Latin poets. He came into conflict with the more practical Bartolomeo Scala in 1493. Poliziano has been called the greatest classical scholar of his era and the best Italian poet in the fifteenth century.
Giovanni Pico della Mirandola was born on February 24, 1463 as the younger son of the Count of La Mirandola and Concordia. He studied canon law at the University of Bologna and transferred to the University of Ferrara in 1479. That year he visited Florence and became friends with Poliziano. Pico studied the Averroist philosophy of Aristotle at the University of Padua for two years and began learning Greek in 1482. After traveling he went in 1484 to Florence, where he met Lorenzo de’ Medici and Marsilio Ficino and began studying the works of Plato.
The next year Pico went to the University of Paris, but he came back in 1486. He studied Hebrew and proposed 900 theses in the scholastic style of Latin used in Paris. To introduce his theses he wrote his Oration on the Dignity of Man. Pico was going to Rome to a public disputation on his theses, but at Arezzo he fell in love with the wife of Lorenzo’s cousin and tried to run off with her. Her husband wounded Pico and had him put in prison until Lorenzo had him released. The disputation was cancelled by Pope Innocent VIII in February 1487, and a papal commission decided that six of the theses were heretical and that six were suspect. Pico fled to France, but Philip II of Savoy had him arrested and imprisoned at Vincennes. Lorenzo and several Italian princes persuaded Charles VIII to release Pico, and the Pope let him go back to Florence in 1488. Pico defended his theses with an Apology.
Pico was welcomed back to Florence by his friend Marsilio Ficino, and Lorenzo provided him with a villa near Fiesole. Pico wrote Heptalus or Septiform Narration of the Six Days of Creation in 1489 as a commentary on Genesis, and he also wrote commentaries on the Psalms. In 1491 he wrote On Being and the One (De ente et uno) to reconcile the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle. Pico became friends with Savonarola and persuaded Lorenzo to invite him to Florence. After Lorenzo died in 1492, Pico moved to Ferrara. In 1493 Pope Alexander VI granted Pico a full pardon. Pico studied Hebrew, and he tried to harmonize the Jewish Kabbala and the Greek Hermetics with Christian theology. In 1494 he wrote Disputations Against Astrology to emphasize his belief in free will. Pico died of illness on November 17, 1494, and a rumor spread that he was poisoned by his secretary for having supported Savonarola, who delivered his funeral oration. The bodies of Poliziano and Pico della Mirandola were exhumed in 2007, and forensic tests showed that they probably died of arsenic poisoning. Lorenzo’s successor, Piero de’ Medici, is suspected.
In his Oration on the Dignity of Man Pico della Mirandola wrote about the great wonder that is man. God placed humans in the center of the world in order to see what is in the world. Humans are the molders and makers of themselves. They can grow down in the lower natures of brutes or grow upward from the soul’s reason into the higher nature of the divine. Humans are able to reason and love beauty and wonder at its greatness. If a person takes himself up into the center of his own unity and is made one spirit with God, who is above all, then one will stand ahead of everything. A philosopher who is using right reason is a heavenly rather than an earthly animal. A pure contemplator in the innermost recesses of the mind is more superbly a divinity clothed in human flesh. As the prophets said, we are all gods, children of the most high. Pico urged people to spurn earthly things and struggle toward the heavenly. Fly beyond the chambers of the world to the most lofty divinity. A lover is in God, and God is one with that person. Because we are flesh and of the earth let us go to the ancients who can give us substantial faith.
Let us fly on winged feet like earthly Mercuries
into the embrace of our most blessed mother
and enjoy the longed-for peace: the most holy peace,
the indivisible bond, the friendship which is one soul,
the friendship whereby all minds do not merely
accord in one intellect that is above every intellect
but in some inexpressible fashion become absolutely one.
This is that friendship
which the Pythagoreans say is the end of all philosophy.
This is that peace which God makes on his heights
and which the angels descending to earth
announced to men of good will,
that by this peace the men themselves
ascending into heaven might become angels.
Let us desire this peace for our friends, for our age.3
For Pico death is the fullness of life which the wise meditate on to study philosophy. He asked who does not want to be initiated into those mysteries which make one a companion of the gods and immortal in the heavenly Jerusalem. He followed the precepts of the Delphic oracle to be moderate and avoid excess and to know oneself. He studied the doctrines of Zarathushtra and the Kabbalists. Those who set their entire lives on making money or ambition do not embrace the knowledge of truth for itself. Philosophy taught him to weigh things by his own conscience rather than by the judgments of others. He believed that disputation strengthens the soul as gymnastics exercises the body.
Pico noted that the ancients studied every school of thought, and so he endeavored to bring into view what is taught in every doctrine so that by comparison the truth may be found. He proposed the concord of Plato and Aristotle. He laid down 72 new doctrines which he thought out from Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy. He hoped that by contemplating the wonders of God he would be inspired to worship and love the creator. Yet some people condemn and hate what they do not understand just as dogs bark at strangers. Jesus warned against giving what is holy to dogs. Pico concluded his oration by declaring he was ready for the disputation.
Pico della Mirandola discussed metaphysics in On Being and the One, but in the last chapter he went into how the argument leads to improving conduct. If we wish to be blessed, we must imitate God and possess in ourselves unity, truth, and goodness. Ambition upsets the peace of unity and tears the soul apart. The splendor and light of truth can also be lost in the darkness of pleasures. Greed steals goodness from us. Pico urged people to fly to God and the unifying peace, truest light, and best happiness. Love of what is above gives us the wings, but the desire of earthly things will make us lose unity, truth, and goodness.
Giovanni Nesi (1456-1506) was a disciple of Marsilio Ficino, and his poem Oracle of the New Century (Oraculum de novo saeculo) in 1496 was influenced by Pico della Mirandola and Savonarola. Pico’s mysticism also inspired Girolamo Benivieni’s poem Canzone d’Amore, and in 1496 Benivieni translated Savonarola’s treatise on the Christian life. After Ficino died in 1499, humanist scholars in Florence continued to meet in the Rucellai Gardens led by Francesco Cattani da Diacceto, who wrote Tre libri d’Amore and translated it into Italian. Ficino’s theory of love can be found in Pietro Bembo’s 1505 Asolani and Leone Ebreo’s Dialoghi d’Amore.
In 1499 Angelo Colocci published his erotic novel Poliphili’s Dream about Love’s Struggle (Hypnerotomachia Poliphili) in Venice. Jacopo Sannazzaro (1458-1530) produced a Christian epic poem in Latin called De partu Virginis, and he pioneered pastoral poetry in the Renaissance with his Arcadia which was composed in the early 1480s and was first published in 1504. The poet imagines himself as Sincero who comes to live among the shepherds and tells them of his unhappy love affair. In 1508 Jacopo Caviceo dedicated his romantic Libro del Peregrino to Lucrezia Borgia. In 1513 Cardinal Bernardo Dovizi da Bibiena staged his obscene play La Calandria at the court of Urbino. The first classical tragedy in Italian was Trissino’s Sofonisba in 1515.
Students came from all over Europe to study at Italian universities, and Italian replaced French as the best-known foreign language. The libraries of princes became repositories for books in Greek, and Pope Nicholas V (1447-55) added many to the Vatican library. Duke Federigo of Urbino (1422-84) collected Greek books, and Lorenzo de’ Medici (1449-92) acquired an excellent collection.
Yet the greatest collector of Greek volumes was Cardinal Basilios Bessarion (1403-72) who gave more than 700 Greek and Latin manuscripts to the Marciana Library in Venice. He rose in the Greek Church and became archbishop of Nicaea in 1437. He attended the Council of Florence and was instrumental in bringing about a union of the Greek and Roman Churches in 1439, though it did not last long. Pope Eugenius IV made him a cardinal in December 1439 and offered him a position at his papal court in Florence, where he studied Latin and Italian. Bessarion served as papal legate in Bologna 1450-55 and revived the university. He welcomed Greek refugees into his home. He wrote In Calumniatorem Platonis, a defense of Plato in four books against the attacks made by George of Trebizond. In 1463 Pope Pius II gave Bessarion the title “Latin Patriarch of Constantinople.”
Flavio Biondo (1392-1463) coined the term “Middle Ages” as the period that began in 412 CE when the Roman empire divided into eastern and western parts. He saw the end of this medieval period as his own time which was breaking free of old patterns. Bruni also used a three-period framework at the same time in his History of the Florentine People (1442). Biondo pioneered archaeology in his three volumes of Rome Restored (Roma Instaurata) which he completed in 1446 and historical geography in his Italy Illuminated which he finished in 1458. Both these books were published in 1474. In Rome Triumphant (1459) he recommended ancient Rome as a model for reforming government and the military. His Decades of History from the Deterioration of the Roman Empire, which was completed in 1453 and published in 1483, is a history of Europe in 32 books from 410 CE to 1442.
Most of the major Latin classics were printed between 1465 and 1473. The Greek geographies of Ptolemy and Strabo were studied, and the work of the cosmographers Pierre d’Ailly and Paolo dal Pozzo Toscanelli gave Columbus the confidence he needed to sail west in 1492. In 1510 Paolo Cortesi wrote that an erudite education and good writing had helped Nicholas V, Pius II, and Sixtus IV become cardinals and popes.
Ermolao Barbaro the Younger (1453-93) was Venetian and studied in Verona, Rome, and at the University of Padua. He edited and translated Aristotle’s Ethics and Politics in 1474 and his Rhetoric in 1479. In 1483 he was elected to the Senate in Venice, and the next year he established a private school based on the Aristotelian system. Barbaro became ambassador to Milan in 1489 and then to Rome in 1490. The next year Pope Innocent VIII nominated him to be Patriarch of Aquileia. Venetian law prohibited its ambassadors from accepting a position from a foreign power; but the Pope and his successor threatened to excommunicate him if he renounced being Patriarch. The Venetian Senate cancelled his ambassadorship and exiled him. Barbaro died during a plague at Rome in 1493. In 1492 he had published his Castigationes Plinianae, explaining the difficult passages in Pliny’s Natural History. Barbaro’s friend Girolamo Donato (1457-1511) translated De Anima by Alexander of Aphrodisia.
In 1487 Alessandro Farnese (later Pope Paul III) left Rome to study Greek in Florence. His sister Giulia was mistress to Pope Alexander VI and helped Farnese become a “petticoat cardinal” in 1493. He became Bishop of Parma in 1509 and was known for his careful administration.
Pietro Pomponazzi (1462-1525) was born in Mantua and studied at Padua where he became a physician in 1487 and a professor of philosophy the next year. He taught natural philosophy there until the war in 1509 caused him to move to Ferrara, where he lectured on Aristotle’s book On the Soul. In 1512 he accepted a position at Bologna. In 1516 Pomponazzi wrote On the Immortality of the Soul, which caused so much controversy that Catholics during the Fifth Lateran Council threatened his life. He wrote two pamphlets to defend his combination of materialistic philosophy and Catholic belief. In morality he argued that virtue is good and is its own reward just as vice brings its own punishment by divine justice. By refusing to do an unjust act, a person becomes virtuous. In De incantationibus he tried to give natural explanations for demons and spirits, miracles and wonders, and astral influences. He studied cycles of history and wondered if Christianity was beginning to decline. He was influenced by Stoicism, and in On Fate he discussed fate, free will, and divine predestination. While holding to his Christian beliefs he explored philosophical issues with a scientific spirit.
Pietro Bembo was born in Venice on May 20, 1470. Eight years later his father went to Florence as ambassador, and they lived there two years. In 1492 Pietro left Venice to learn Greek from Constantine Lascaris in Messina. The next year he came back to Venice and was part of the circle around the publisher Aldus Manutius. In 1497 his father helped Venice rule Ferrara, and Pietro lived at the court. There he became friends with Lucrezia Borgia who was married to Duke Alfonso d’Este. He began writing his three dialogs (Gli Asolani) on Platonic love and dedicated the book to her when it was printed in March 1505. Bembo had had a love affair with a Venetian woman identified as M. G. who was from a lower social class. In his second affair he wrote 77 love letters to another Venetian woman in 1501 and 1502. The letters between Pietro and married Lucrezia have been published as The Prettiest Love Letters in the World.
These three love affairs gave Bembo the experience to write his Gli Asolani about Caterina Cornaro who was forced to abdicate as Queen of Cyprus to become the Lady of Asolani in 1489. Bembo visited her there in 1495. He published a revised edition of Gli Asolani in 1530. In the presence of the Lady of Asolani three gentlemen accompanied by three young ladies give discourses on love. In the first book the unhappy lover Perottino expresses his bitterness about love. The second book contrasts this with the fortunate experience of Gismondo who describes the good aspects of love. In the third book Lavinello explains that earthly love is bad, but the Platonic love that contemplates ideal beauty is the best. Lavinello then relates what a holy man told him about the divine love of true beauty, concluding, “We must believe that virtuous love is to be eternally enjoyed and that the other which is evil damns us to eternal grief.”4
Bembo edited Petrarca’s Conzoniere and Dante’s Divina Commedia, and these were published by Aldus Manutius in 1501 and 1502. In his Prose della volgar lingua Bembo set up Petrarca as the best literary model. In 1506 he went to the Montefeltri court at Urbino, and Castiglione used his name for the climactic discourse on Platonic love in his Book of the Courtier that was set there. After six years in Urbino, Bembo went to Rome with Giuliano de’ Medici in 1512, and he became a secretary to Pope Leo X. He wrote in Latin a history of Venice from 1487 to 1513 that was not printed until 1551. He eventually became a cardinal in 1539, and he died in 1547.
In addition to Manetti several other humanists served King Alfonso V of Naples and Sicily. Antonio Beccadelli was born at Palermo in 1394 and was known as Panormita. The University of Palermo awarded him a grant to study abroad. He went to Florence and in 1420 to Padua where he studied with Gasparino Barzizza. He studied law at Siena from 1421 to 1424. Panormita wrote in the epigrammatic style of Martial the obscene Latin verses of Hermaphroditus, which he dedicated to Cosima de’ Medici. Published at Bologna in 1425, the sexually explicit poem was greeted with cries of scandal, and it was banned by the Church. Guarino praised its style and defended its subject matter that included celebrating various forms of sexual activity. The Franciscan preacher Bernardino of Siena denounced sodomy and organized public burnings of the book in Milan, Bologna, and Ferrara. Panormita admitted the poem was obscene and at times regretted he published it.
Panormita was such a scholar that he once sold a farm to buy a manuscript of Livy. He became a professor of history at Milan, and in December 1429 Duke Filippo Maria Visconti appointed him court poet with a stipend of 400 gold florins per year. In May 1432 Emperor Sigismund crowned him poet laureate at Parma. He returned to the University of Pavia to teach rhetoric for only 30 florins a year. Then he went back to his native Sicily and supervised Alfonso’s library at Palermo. In 1434 he accompanied Alfonso V to Naples as one of the first humanists to serve the Aragonese king, tutoring his son Ferrante for 450 ducats a year. In 1440 Panormita persuaded the alternative Pope Felix V in Savoy to recognize Alfonso’s claim to Naples. In 1451 Alfonso sent him as a diplomat to Florence, Ferrara, and Venice, and in 1452 he met with Emperor Friedrich III in Rome. In October 1453 Panormita urged the Genoese to join the Italian alliance against the Turks. Then from 1454 to 1469 he served as royal secretary in Naples. In 1456 he was granted 1,000 ducats for completing his Sayings and Deeds of Alfonso (De dictis et factis Alphonsis).
Bartolommeo Facio studied with Guarino at Verona in the 1420s, and then he tutored the three sons of Venice’s Doge Francesco Foscari. In 1441 he was serving the Genoese admiral Francesco Spinola and Raffaele Adorno. Those two men expelled Doge Tommaso Fregoso in December 1442, and Adorno was elected doge in January 1443. Facio went on diplomatic missions for Adorno, and in September he negotiated peace between Genoa and Alfonso of Naples. In February 1444 Adorno sent Facio to Naples as chancellor of the commune, and Panormita gave him a position in Alfonso’s court. In 1446 he completed his De humanae vitae felicitate and in 1448 On the Dignity and Excellence of Man (De excellentia ac praestantia hominis) which was dedicated and sent to Pope Nicholas V. Facio served as court historian and wrote ten books on the career of Alfonso V of Naples 1420-55. Facio gave the King a collection of short biographies called De viris illustribus liber in 1456. Facio criticized the language in Valla’s history of Fernando of Aragon, and they exchanged a series of invectives.
Giovanni Pontano (1426-1503) went to Naples with Alfonso V in 1447, and Panormita became his patron. Pontano became a leader of their Neapolitan Academy and tutored the royal children. He wrote many treatises on political and moral themes including De principe, De rebus coelistibus, De fortitudine, De liberaliste, De beneficentia, De magnificentia, De splendore, De conviventia, De magnanimitate, De fortuna, and De sermone. In De obedientia he argued that a monarch could bring about peace, harmony, and stability better than a republican government.
Pontano also served in the court of King Ferrante (r. 1458-94) of Naples, became his chancellor, and tutored his son Duke Alfonso of Calabria, later serving as his diplomat until he abdicated in 1495. Pontano’s only historical work, De bello neapolitano, in 1499 described Ferrante’s struggle to consolidate his rule over the kingdom of Naples 1458-64. Also in 1499 Pontano wrote De prudentia and recommended for governing the qualities of consideration, looking ahead (providence), perspicacity, versatility, willingness to deceive when there was no good alternative, appraising situations, industry, and vigilance. In his 1501 De immanitate he discussed how human beings degenerated into bestial behavior and how they can be cured.
Diomede Carafa (1406-87) also served Alfonso V and Ferrante, and he tutored Ferrante’s son Alfonso. About 1475 he completed a work on the duties of a prince in which he argued that governing with love is better and more effective than ruling by fear because subjects will come to the prince’s aid willingly if they believe he cares about them. Yet he also noted that the presence of soldiers can encourage obedience and deter evil actions.
Educated Jews, who had to flee from Portugal and Spain, also ended up in Italy and Naples. Isaac ben Judah Abravanel (1437-1508) was the son of Portugal’s treasurer and succeeded him in that office. After Joao II became king in 1481, he was accused of conspiracy and had his fortune confiscated. In 1483 Abravanel fled to Toledo in Castile. He had studied rabbinical literature and wrote commentaries on the Pentateuch, the books of Kings and Samuel, and Guide for the Perplexed by Maimonides. He also organized provisions for the royal army and made another fortune from which he made loans to the government during the Moorish wars. He refused to become a Christian in 1492 and went to Naples, where he became the royal treasurer until the French army took over the city in 1495. Abravanel became a refugee again and ended up in Venice, where he served as a diplomat before he died.
Judah Leon Abravanel (Leo Hebraeus) may have been Isaac’s son and was also born in Lisbon about 1460. During the 1480s he studied at Seville, and in 1492 he also went to Naples, where he became physician to the Viceroy. Later Leon went to Florence and joined the circle of Platonists around Ficino. He wrote his Dialogs on Love in Italian, and they were translated into French, Spanish, Latin, and Hebrew. Philo and Sophia discuss the differences between love and desire. Sophia argues they are incompatible affects of the will because we love things we possess but desire only what we do not have. Philo suggests that love of pleasure is universal. Sophia agrees but believes that the love of virtue is most worthy. Philo states that some things such as children may be desired for their use while the love between a husband and wife is pleasurable. Love and desire of power may combine pleasure and profit. Philo also expounds upon friendship and the love of God. The latter also requires desire because God is infinite and cannot be possessed. Philo lists the five faculties of the intellect as art, prudence, understanding, science, and wisdom. Sophia considers reason the ruler of all good, but Philo believes that love is most important.
Luigi Pulci was born on August 15, 1432 in Florence. He loved poetry and began working on the epic Morgante about 1460. He was befriended by Lorenzo de’ Medici and wrote the poem La Giostra di Lorenzo de’ Medici in 150 stanzas describing a tournament in Florence on February 7, 1469. Pulci went on missions for Lorenzo to Naples in 1471 and to Milan in 1473. He was a jester and made Charlemagne into a comic character in his Morgante, which was first published in 23 cantos in 1481. The long epic tells fantastic stories about the legendary Orlando and Rinaldo during the era of Charlemagne. The giant Morgante is Orlando’s squire. The 28-canto edition was published as Morgante Maggiore at Florence in February 1483. There is a time break in the story before the last five cantos which recount the heroic battle of Roncesvalles and the death of Roland (Orlando). Pulci died while traveling to Venice when he fell ill at Padua in the fall of 1484. The poet Byron was influenced by Morgante and translated the first canto in 1822.
Matteo Maria Boiardo (1440-94) became count of Scandiano in 1460. He was a poet who adopted as his motto Amor omnia vincit (Love conquers all). His uncle was the humanist poet Tito Vespasiano Strozzi, and his cousin was Pico della Mirandola. In 1469 Boiardo fell in love with Antonia Caprara and wrote a Petrarcan sequence of sonnets on love in three books. His love was unrequited, and he turned to the love of God. In January 1476 Duke Ercole d’Este of Ferrara gave him a stipend as a companion at court, but he returned to Scandiano in 1478. He married Tadda Gonzaga the next year, and they had six children. In July 1480 Ercole made Boiardo governor of Modena. During the Ferrara war citizens of Modena mobbed storehouses to relieve their hunger, and Boiardo was replaced by his uncle Roberto Strozzi on January 23, 1483. Boiardo went back to Scandiano and issued the first sixty cantos of his Orlando Innamorato. Ercole, descended from the characters Bradamante and Ruggiero, may have published the poem to enhance the importance of Ferrara.
In January 1487 Boiardo became captain of Reggio for the rest of his life. He became known as a generous governor who would rather write verses than punish criminals. He suffered from gout and finished only 69 cantos of Orlando Innamorato before he died in 1494 during the French invasion. His poem was published in 1495 and went through sixteen editions. However, his Tuscan diction was not considered as pure as that of Ariosto who wrote a continuation called Orlando Furioso in 1516. Francesco Berni edited Boiardo’s poem in 1542, but it was not reprinted between 1545 and 1725. Boiardo’s original manuscript was discovered and published by Antonio Panizzi from 1830 to 1835.
Boiardo’s romantic epic is based on earlier Carolingian and Arthurian cycles. Orlando is the hero of the old French Le Chanson de Roland. King Charlemagne invites his paladins and barons to tournaments and feasts in Paris that include Saracens as well as Christians. Uberto with four giant bodyguards brings his beautiful sister Angelica and offers her to any knight who can defeat him in jousts, but he will take as prisoner any knight he unhorses. Orlando immediately desires Angelica. The magician Malagigi learns that Uberto is Argalia, son of King Galaphron of Cathay. Malagigi tries to cast a spell on Argalia and Angelica, but he is captured and put in a dungeon. Argalia in the jousts takes many prisoners before the Spanish knight Ferrau kills the four giants. Then Argalia and his sister disappear and are pursued in the Arden forest by Ferrau, Ranaldo, and Orlando.
Ranaldo drinks from a fountain that Merlin used to relieve the love between Tristan and Isolde, causing him to hate Angelica. She drinks from a stream that causes her to love Ranaldo who flees from her. Ferrau finds Argalia and kills him in combat. Orlando lays down beside sleeping Angelica, and Ferrau finds them and assumes he is her protector. They duel as Angelica flees. The maiden Fiordespina tells Ferrau that King Gradasso of Sericane has invaded Spain, and Ferrau departs with her to help his country. Gradasso is trying to get Orlando’s Durindana sword and Ranaldo’s horse Bayardo. Charlemagne summons his knights and sends an army led by Ranaldo to help King Marsilio against the pagans. Ranaldo plans to fight Gradasso for the prisoners, but Angelica has persuaded Malagigi to help her get Ranaldo, who is lured away from his troops. Gradasso invades France and takes Charlemagne and his knights prisoners. Charlemagne agrees to get Durindana and Bayardo for Gradasso and is released with his lands restored. Astolpho refuses to give up the horse and challenges Gradasso to a duel. Astolpho wins with an enchanted lance, and Gradasso releases the prisoners and goes home.
Orlando searches for Angelica and learns that King Agrican of Tartary was rejected by Angelica and is besieging Albracca, capital of Cathay. Orlando and Astolpho help defend Cathay, but Ranaldo, hating Angelica, fights for Agrican. Orlando kills Agrican in single combat and then begins fighting Ranaldo. At night they withdraw, and Angelica to save Ranaldo sends Orlando to destroy the garden of Falerina in Orgagna.
Meanwhile King Agramant of Africa with a large army, which includes Rodamonte, Ferrau, and Gradasso, is besieging Paris to avenge his father Troiano who was killed by Orlando. Agramant is advised he cannot succeed without the knight Ruggiero, who is imprisoned by the magician Atlantes on Mount Carena. Ranaldo pursues Orlando but disappears into a lake with a ruffian. King Rodamonte decides to invade France. Agramant learns that Orlando needs Angelica’s magic ring to free Atlantes and find the invisible garden, and the dwarf Brunello offers to get the ring. Orlando accomplishes his quest and comes upon Ranaldo’s arms by the lake. Orlando defeats the guardian there and frees the prisoners from the enchanted garden under the lake who had been held by the sorceress Morgana. The knights go back to defend France, but Orlando is reconciled with Ranaldo and goes back to Albracca.
With the aid of the ring Agramant gets Ruggiero to join his tournament and become his knight. Ranaldo fights Rodamonte in single combat and pursues him to the Arden forest. When Orlando arrives at Albracca, Angelica persuades him to help her escape and go to France because she is in love with Ranaldo. After many adventures they arrive in the forest of Arden where she drinks the waters of hate while Ranaldo drinks from the stream of love. Then she runs away from him. Ranaldo and Orlando fight again as Angelica flees to Charlemagne’s camp. Ranaldo’s sister Bradamante is a warrior and falls in love with Ruggiero and goes over to the Saracens. When she takes off her helmet, Ruggiero falls in love with her. They are attacked, and she is wounded in the head. Ruggiero defeats the enemies but is separated from Bradamante, his future wife and the mother of the noble Este family that the poet Boiardo served.
Ludovico Ariosto was born on September 8, 1474 in Reggio as the oldest of ten children. While his father had him studying law 1489-94, Ludovico was more interested in theater and acted in the comedies of Plautus and Terence. He studied Latin and Greek under the humanist Gregory of Spoleto, and in 1498 he entered into the service of Duke Ercole d’Este of Ferrara. When his father died in 1500, Ludovico took over the raising of his younger brothers and sisters. He began serving Cardinal Ippolito d’Este in 1503 and was sent as an ambassador to Rome. He began working on his epic poem, Orlando Furioso, about 1506.
In 1508 Ariosto presented the comedy La Cassaria based on three plays by Plautus and two by Terence, and he wrote I Suppositi, which was produced the following year. Set in Ferrara, the young aristocrat Erostrato pretends to be his own servant Dulipo so that he can be near Polinesta. They get a Sienese man to pretend to be Erostrato who is being impersonated by Dulipo; but the mistaken identities abound when Erostrato’s father Filogono arrives to see his son. The comedy ends happily, and even the gluttonous parasite Pasifilo gets a free meal. In 1519 I Suppositi was presented before the pontifical court of Leo X before two thousand guests with a curtain painted in perspective by Rafael.
Ariosto fell in love with Alessandra Benucci in June 1513. Her husband Tito Strozzi died in 1515, but they waited until 1526 to marry secretly so that Ariosto could maintain his ecclesiastical income or to protect her legacy from her first marriage. In 1516 Ariosto published the first edition of his Orlando Furioso in forty cantos. In 1517 the poet refused to go with Ippolito to Hungary and fell out of favor. He began writing satires. In 1518 Ariosto entered the service of Duke Alfonso d’Este, and on February 7, 1522 the Duke appointed him commissioner of the wild Garfagnana province. Ariosto wrote 157 letters from there complaining about the brigands and his lack of support to enforce the laws. In 1523 he made a treaty with the republic of Lucca for the extradition of brigands and for cooperation in arresting them. In 1525 he refused to be an ambassador to Pope Clement VII, and he returned to Ferrara. Like his father had been, he was elected Judge of the Twelve Sages in 1528. His final edition of Orlando Furioso in 46 cantos was published in 1532, and a copy was presented to Emperor Charles V. Ariosto died in July 1533.
Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso took up the story where Boiardo left off in his unfinished Orlando Innamorato. Pursued by Christian and Saracen lovers, Angelica flees into the woods to try to take a ship back to her home in Cathay. She sees Ranaldo and flees from him, running into the tired warrior Ferrau. While he and Ranaldo fight over her, she rides off. They follow but take different forks in the road. Angelica is found by King Sacripant of Circassia and pretends to love him so that he will help her. Ranaldo catches up with them and fights Sacripant, whose shield is shattered. Angelica flees again and meets an elderly magician who puts her into a trance. Some sailors take her on a boat to the island of Ebuda where beautiful maidens are sacrificed to a monster orc. The islanders prepare her to be sacrificed; but Orlando in besieged Paris dreams she is in trouble and begins searching for her.
Meanwhile Ranaldo’s sister Bradamante is looking for her Saracen lover Ruggiero. Count Pinabel tells her that he is imprisoned in the castle of old Atlantes in the Pyrenees. Pinabel tries to kill her by pushing her into a deep cavern, but she falls into a tree. The seeress Melissa tells her they are in the wizard Merlin’s cave. Melissa foretells her wonderful future with Ruggiero and advises Bradamante to get the magic ring that King Agramant of Africa gave to his dwarf Brunello. Bradamante finds the dwarf and uses the ring to liberate Ruggiero and the other imprisoned knights. Ruggiero manages to capture the magician’s hippogryph that flies off with him to Alcina, a sorceress who has enchanted Astolpho. Bradamante consults Melissa again and learns that Ruggiero succumbed to the beauty of Alcina. Melissa transports herself and gives Ruggiero a magic ring to break the spell. He gets on the hippogryph and flies to Ebuda, where he sees Angelica chained and naked. He puts the ring on her finger and then battles the monster, blinding him with his shield. Ruggiero flies away with Angelica to Britain, and he swears to be true to her forever.
However, Angelica uses the ring to become invisible and leaves Ruggiero. The hippogryph has flown back to its master, and Ruggiero returns to his country. There he sees Bradamante submitting to a giant. His former tutor Atlantes to protect him lures him to an enchanted palace where many knights and ladies are held captive.
In Paris the Christians have defeated the Saracens led by Rodamonte, and Ranaldo has killed King Dardinello of Zumara. While the Christians are celebrating at night, two Saracen youths, Cloridan and Medoro, kill Christian warriors in revenge. At dawn Prince Zerbino and his Scottish knights kill Cloridan and leave Medoro on the field to die. Angelica finds Medoro and at a shepherd’s hut nurses him back to health. She gives her bracelet to the shepherd and returns to Cathay with Medoro, whom she makes a king. Orlando happens on the hut, and the shepherd tells him how Angelica fell in love with Medoro and shows him her bracelet. Orlando goes mad and throws away his armor and clothes, wandering naked in the forest.
The Saracens besiege Paris again, but in camp Rodamonte fights over the Spanish princess Doralice with Prince Mandricardo of Tartary. When she chooses Mandricardo, Rodamonte leaves King Agramant’s camp and goes to Princess Isabella of Galicia. Mandricardo killed her lover Zerbino, and she is mourning him. Rodamonte gets drunk and kills her. In remorse he builds a bridge near her tomb and challenges passing knights. Only the naked Orlando and Bradamante are able to defeat him. Because Rodamonte had captured Brandimart, his wife Flordelice persuaded Bradamante to fight the Saracen. When Rodamonte is defeated, he promises to release all his prisoners. Bradamante takes the horse Frontino, which belongs to Ruggiero, and asks Flordelice to return it to him. Melissa had released Astolpho from Alcina, and Astolpho then frees Ruggiero from the spell of Atlantes. Astolpho then mounts the hippogryph and flies to the land of Prester John, who gives him a tour of the regions of the moon. Astolpho sees the lost wits of Orlando in a vial and takes them down to Nubia, where Orlando regains his senses and leads a Nubian army with Astolpho that sacks the city of Biserta.
Ruggiero goes back to the Saracen camp, quarrels with Mandricardo, and kills him in single combat. The Saracens are divided by dissension, and Agramant withdraws his army. They decide to settle the war by a battle of champions. The Christian Ranaldo fights Ruggiero, but during the duel Agramant breaks his oath and attacks the knights of Charlemagne. Ruggiero had promised Bradamante that he would become a Christian after the battle, but he leaves with the defeated Agramant. He ends up on a desert island, where a holy man baptizes him.
Orlando, Oliver, and Brandimart fight against the Saracen kings Agramant, Gradasso, and Sobrino, defeating them at Lipadusa. Agramant, Gradasso, and Brandimart are killed, and the elderly Sobrino converts to Christianity. Orlando returns by way of the desert island and rescues Ruggiero. The Christians are glad he has been baptized. Ranaldo promises his sister Bradamante to Ruggiero, but her parents want her to marry Emperor Constantine’s son Leo and lock her up in a castle. Ruggiero goes to challenge Leo and joins the Bulgarian army to fight Constantine’s forces. The Greeks flee, and he pursues them into their territory. Ruggiero is captured and imprisoned by Constantine’s sister Theodora.
The chivalrous Leo rescues Ruggiero and hides him in his home. They learn that Bradamante has vowed she would wed only a knight whom she could not conquer in combat. Leo does not know Ruggiero’s name but persuades him to be his champion. Ruggiero defeats Bradamante and goes alone into the forest. Leo finds him weak with grief, but he learns who he is and renounces his claim to Bradamante and goes with Ruggiero back to Charlemagne’s court. There Ruggiero betroths Bradamante. Rodamonte accuses Ruggiero of apostasy but is slain in single combat. The Christian knights celebrate the wedding of Ruggiero and Bradamante, and news comes that the Bulgarians have chosen Ruggiero to be their king.
After he stopped serving Cardinal Ippolito in 1517, Ariosto began writing his seven Satires which he completed by 1525. In the first one he is without employment and satirizes his own poverty, though he is happy to be free. In the second satire he criticizes the greed, pride, and ambition of clerics, noting how prelates never seem to have enough money to satisfy themselves. In his third satire Ariosto explains why he is better off working for Duke Alfonso rather than his brother the cardinal. He also tells how he went to Rome and talked with his friend, the new Pope Leo X, but he did not represent the Este family and was generally disappointed. He was granted the financial rights to his Orlando Furioso, and his son Virginio was declared legitimate. In the fourth satire Ariosto describes his problems governing the Garfagnana province and how in his letters to the Duke of Ferrara he asked for help in driving out the thieves who are all around him.
Ariosto discusses marriage in his fifth satire after being offended for not having been sent an announcement of the wedding of his cousin Annibale Malaguzzi to Lucrezia Pio from the ruling family of Carpi. Ariosto admits he has no wife because of various circumstances, but he writes, “No man can perfect himself in all good fortune without a wife to help him. Nor wifeless, can one live without sin.”5 This is why priests are cruel and ravenous. He advises his cousin not to marry a woman who is used to wealth because she will spend more than he can afford. He recommends a simple girl rather than a society dame raised at court. He suggests he examine how her mother and sisters behave. Ariosto urges him to marry an equal so that this wife will not start new customs in his house. He should never take a wife who is older or the same age but recommends that she be about ten years younger.
Ariosto’s sixth satire is dedicated to the famous poet Pietro Bembo, whom he is asking to tutor his son Virginio in the arts that ennoble a man. Bembo had persuaded Ariosto to purify his language in Orlando Furioso by using the lingua toscana. He hopes that his son will have a preceptor who is moral and does not ignore small vices as many humanists do. In the seventh and last satire he explains why he is reluctant in 1524 to accept being an ambassador to another Medici prelate, Pope Clement VII. The poet renounces the life of ambition, preferment, benefices, and sinecures. He claims he has all the honor he wants, and he only needs enough money to live in freedom without having to borrow. Ariosto loves his nest and wants to stay there.
Leonardo da Vinci was born on April 15, 1452 as an illegitimate son of the notary Ser Piero di Antonio da Vinci and the peasant Caterina in Vinci in the domain of Florence. His first five years were spent in the home of his mother. Then she married, and he moved to the household of his father and grandfather. Leonardo was educated in Latin, geometry, and mathematics. In 1468 his father moved to Florence, and Leonardo became an apprentice to the painter Andrea del Verrocchio. He asked unusual questions about mathematics and learned to play the lyre. Leonardo quickly took to drawing, painting, sculpture, and architecture, but he also learned drafting, chemistry, metallurgy, plaster casting, leather-work, mechanics, and carpentry. Other apprentices of Verrocchio included Sandro Botticelli, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Pietro Perugino, and Lorenzo di Credi.
In 1472 the Guild of San Luca recognized Leonardo as master, and his father Pietro set him up in his own shop. Yet he continued to do work in Verrocchio’s studio until 1478. On April 9, 1476 Leonardo, Verrocchio’s 17-year-old assistant Jacopo Saltarelli, and two other apprentices were accused of sodomy, but the charges were dismissed on June 16. Leonardo never married and once said, “You own yourself when you are alone.” Verrocchio let Leonardo paint two angels in his “Baptism of Christ,” and some believed his angels were better than the master’s work. In January 1478 his father Piero helped him get his first major contract to do an altar painting for the Bernhard Chapel in Florence’s government palace. Leonardo did not finish the work, and he often was so distracted by his studies that he failed to complete his projects. He wrote, “Despise me not, for I am not poor—Poor is he only who has material desires.”6
In 1482 Leonardo wrote to Ludovico Il Moro Sforza in Milan offering his expertise as a military engineer, painter, and sculptor. Leonardo had made his own lyre of silver and played it for Ludovico. His musical performance was superior; he could improvise, and his conversation was most interesting He completed the altar painting “Virgin of the Rocks” in 1486, and in the next two years he worked as the consultant architect in the Milan Cathedral Workshop. In 1489 he designed festivities for the wedding of Gian Galeazzo Sforza and Isabella of Aragon. That year Leonardo volunteered to make a huge equestrian statue to be cast in bronze as a memorial to Ludovico’s father, Francesco Sforza, the founder of the ruling dynasty in Milan. However, he designed it so large that it could not be cast in one piece. The enormous clay model was preserved; but when the French came to Milan, they smashed it. In 1490 Leonardo took the ten-year-old boy Salai into his house, and they became close friends for many years. In 1492 Leonardo designed the costumes for a parade of Scythians and Tartars at the wedding of Ludovico Sforza Beatrice d’Este.
Ludovico Sforza became duke of Milan in 1494 and persuaded Leonardo to paint a “Nativity” scene for an altarpiece that was sent to the Emperor. In November Sforza used the bronze acquired for the equestrian statue to make cannons to defend against the French invasion led by Charles VIII. In 1495 Ludovico commissioned Leonardo to paint “The Last Supper” in the Dominican monastery of Milan, and he finished it in 1498. On February 9 that year Ludovico sponsored a scientific duel between Leonardo, the mathematician Luca Pacioli, and theologians, teachers, and physicians. Also in 1498 Pacioli published his De Divina Proportione with illustrations designed by Leonardo.
Once when asked to paint a fresco, Leonardo spent several days sitting and looking at the wall. When his patron asked him when he was going to begin working, the artist replied that he was doing the most difficult part of the work before he started painting.
After the French defeated Ludovico Sforza in 1499, Leonardo left Milan in December and went to Mantua and then Venice. He returned to Florence in April 1500, and the next year he painted the “Virgin and Child.” In August 1502 Cesare Borgia hired him as his chief architect and military engineer for his campaign in Romagna. Leonardo made topographical studies and a map of Imola.
Leonardo employed musicians and jesters to keep his models entertained while he painted them, and the beautiful Mona Lisa was depicted with an unusual smile. In 1506 Leonardo left unfinished his wall painting of the Battle of Anghiari in Florence and went back to Milan, where the French governor Charles d’Amboise became his patron. In July 1507 King Louis XII made Leonardo his “regular painter and engineer.” He also studied human anatomy by dissecting corpses, and in 1510 he studied anatomy at the University of Pavia with professor Marcantonio della Torre. Leonardo loved animals and was a vegetarian.
Leonardo probably met Machiavelli as early as November 1502 in the court of Cesare Borgia, and it is likely they were friends over several years. Leonardo persuaded Machiavelli who got approved a project to divert the water of the Arno River away from Pisa in the summer of 1503. In his Notebooks Leonardo discussed how massed artillery changed the vulnerability of castles and shifted the military advantage from defense to offense. Machiavelli also adopted this view in his Discourses 2:17. Both Leonardo and Machiavelli looked at the human condition with scientific detachment and worked to find practical ways of improving living.
Leonardo drew from life and made clay models. He made drawings for flying machines and a bicycle with two equal wheels and a chain connecting one wheel to pedals. He designed musical instruments, drums, clocks, motors, mills, fulling machines, engines to drive water, parabolic mirrors for using solar energy, machines for manufacturing concave mirrors, textile machines for spinning thread or twining cord, and military machines. He learned how to lift weights with levers, hoists, a revolving crane, and winches, and he used pumps to clean harbors. He wrote in reverse with his left hand and kept it secret that these could be read in a mirror. In his Notebooks he wrote that a good painter will learn from nature rather than by imitating the works of others as the painters did after the Roman era. He noted that Giotto lived in the mountains and drew things as he saw them so that he surpassed those who came before him. Another Florentine called Tommaso, who was known as Masaccio, also perfected his work by taking nature as his standard.
In 1513 Leonardo went with Giuliano de’ Medici to Rome where Giuliano’s brother Giovanni was elected Pope Leo X. Leonardo stayed in Rome, working on experiments and a project to reclaim the Pontini marshes south of Rome. After Giuliano died in March 1516, Leonardo accepted an invitation to be the court painter of King François, who had recaptured Milan in October 1515. He spent the rest of his life at the French court, and according to legend the King visited him on the day of Leonardo’s death on May 2, 1519. Leonardo left his manuscripts to his student and disciple Francesco Melzi.
Raphael was born in Urbino on March 28 or April 6, 1483. His mother died a few years later, and his father, a painter, introduced him to humanist philosophy at the court of Urbino before his death in 1494. Raphael became an apprentice of Perugino at Perugia by 1495, and he was declared a master in 1500. His early paintings included “Coronation of the Virgin,” “The Marriage of the Virgin,” “Vision of a Knight,” “Three Graces,” and “St. Michael.” By 1504 he had moved to Florence to meet Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. He was influenced by the lighting and shading techniques of Leonardo and completed three more paintings of madonnas by 1507. That year a Perugian commissioned him to paint the “Deposition of Christ.”
Bramante persuaded Pope Julius II to invite Raphael to Rome in 1508, and he spent the rest of his short life there. In 1515 Pope Leo X appointed him superintendent of antiquities in Rome. Raphael is most famous for his three “Stanza” paintings at the Vatican. The “Stanza della Signatura” includes “The School of Athens,” “The Parnassus,” and the “Disputa,” and the “Stanza di Eliodor” contains “The Mass at Bolsena” and “Deliverance of St. Peter.” Raphael is also admired for “Galatea,” “The Miraculous Draught of Fishes,” “Il Spasimo,” and “Transfiguration.” His most famous portraits are of Elizabetta Gonzaga, Pope Julius II, Bindo Altoviti, and Baldassare Castiglione. Raphael never married but was known for having several mistresses including La Fornarina, whom he painted. After a night of excessive sex with her he was given a wrong prescription and after fifteen days of illness died on Good Friday, April 6, 1520.
Michelangelo Buonarroti was born on March 6, 1475 in Caprese, and his father was the mayor of that town. That year they moved to Florence, and his mother died in 1481. After going to school but not learning Latin, Michelangelo was apprenticed to the painter Domenico Ghirlandaio in April 1488. The next year he began studying sculpture in the Medici garden. For two years the young artist was allowed to live in the Palazzo Medici and dine with Lorenzo de’ Medici, Poliziano, Pico della Mirandola, and Marsilio Ficino. He also heard sermons by Savonarola, and they probably influenced his painting of “The Last Judgment.” He carved reliefs of “Madonna of the Stairs” and “Battle of the Centaurs.” After the death of Lorenzo in 1492 Michelangelo returned to his father’s house, and the prior of the Santo Spirito hospital allowed him to use a private room to dissect corpses and learn anatomy. Piero de’ Medici persuaded him to live in the Casa Medici in January 1494, but later that year Michelangelo fled to Bologna. He came to back to Florence in 1495 but moved to Rome in June 1496 and lived in Cardinal Riario’s house. After carving “Bacchus” in marble for the banker Jacopo Galli, he sculpted his famous “Pieta” that depicts the crucified Jesus laying in his mother’s lap.
Michelangelo went back to Florence in 1501 and completed his gigantic statue of “David” in April 1504. In August the Commune’s secretary Soderini persuaded him to paint a fresco on a large wall of the “Battle of Cascina” in which Florentines defeated Pisans in 1364. At the same time Soderini commissioned Leonardo da Vinci to paint on the opposite wall the “Battle of Anghiari” showing Florence’s victory over Milan in 1440. These two great artists often quarreled, and neither completed these battle scenes. Michelangelo fled from Rome on April 17, 1506, but he humiliated himself before Pope Julius II at Bologna in December. He made a bronze statue of Julius by February 1507, which was sent to Ferrara, but Duke Alfonso d’Este had it melted down to make cannons in May 1512. Michelangelo began painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in May 1508 and completed it in October 1512. The next year he began working on a tomb for Julius which included his famous “Moses” sculpture. He was obligated to do much more and for years he quarreled with the heirs of Julius.
Baldesar Castiglione was born on December 6, 1478 near Mantua. In 1494 he began studying with humanists in Milan. He served Duke Ludovico Maria Sforza from 1496 until the Duke was taken prisoner by the French in 1500. Then Castiglione served the ruler of Mantua for a while before working for Duke Guidobaldo da Montefeltro (r. 1482-1508) at Urbino. In 1506 Castiglione wrote a pastoral play and the eclogue Tirsi. Urbino’s Duke Francesco Maria della Rovere (r. 1508-17) sent him as an ambassador to Rome in 1512, and he became a close friend of Raphael, who painted his portrait. In 1516 Castiglione went back to Mantua and married Ippolita Torelli. That year he wrote The Book of the Courtier (Il Libro del Cortegiano) which was set at the court of Urbino in 1507 but was not published until 1528. In the next 88 years 108 editions were published. Castiglione’s ecclesiastical career began in 1521, and he died in 1529.
Castiglione addressed each of the four books of The Courtier to Alfonso Ariosto, cousin of the poet Ludovico Ariosto. He began by describing Urbino and its pleasant surroundings and expressed admiration for its former Duke Federico da Montefeltro who ruled Urbino 1474-82. The court has a beautiful palace well furnished with statues, paintings, musical instruments, and rare books. Guidobaldo da Montefeltro was only ten years old when he became Duke, and by twenty he was suffering from gout. Pope Julius II made him Captain of the Church, and his court was filled with gentlemen who knew Latin and Greek. The Duke usually retired after supper, and the Duchess Elisabetta Gonzaga presides over the court discussions with Emilia Pia. Castiglione wrote that everyone wants to please the Duchess, and they enjoy fine conversation and intellectual games. After Pope Julius subdued Bologna in 1506, he visited Urbino for several days on his way back to Rome.
The Duchess asks Gasparo Pallavicino to suggest a game, and he proposes that each person say which virtue is best and which defect in the beloved is worst. They agree to exempt the ladies, and Emilia asks Cesare Gonzaga to begin. He suggests that each discuss his own folly. After hearing these Emilia asks Federico Fregoso to suggest a game, and he proposes they describe the perfect courtier. Emilia agrees and tells Count Ludovico da Canossa to begin. He wants their courtier to be from a noble family because they attempt to go beyond their ancestors; but Gasparo judges that Fortune is foremost because humble people may also be endowed with great talents. The Count admits they may be virtuous and says they must be good with arms and be loyal and courageous, yet humane and modest. Gasparo complains they often praise themselves.
Bernardo Bibbiena suggests they should have beauty and grace. The Count adds he should be a good horseman and have good judgment and nonchalance (sprezzatura). They discuss this and various attributes of a good courtier at length. The Count finally gets around to the virtues of honor and the soul such as prudence, goodness, and temperance. They also discuss how courtiers should be well versed in literature and speak and write well. Being skilled in music and painting also help, and they retire to sleep.
In the second book Federico Fregoso emphasizes wisdom and doing things well. A courtier should be able to converse well with different people without being obstinate and contentious. Humility is important, and one should be deserving of honors without seeking them, though many do the latter. One should hold to the good and refuse to serve one who is wicked. One is obligated to disobey a dishonorable order. Federico warns that they should choose their friends carefully because people judge a person by their friends. The poet Pietro Bembo doubts whether one should ever trust a friend completely; but Federico believes the supreme friendship is good, and there can be no real friendship with the wicked.
Federico recommends that the courtier “sweeten and refresh the minds of his hearers”7 with witticisms and pleasantries. Bembo asks what part art plays in this. Federico suggests that humor often results from something incongruous but not amiss. They share various funny anecdotes and try to analyze them. Bernardo Bibbiena discourses and relates that the Archbishop of Florence told Cardinal Alessandrino that people “have only their goods, their body, and their soul: their goods are harried by lawyers, their body by physicians, and their soul by theologians.”8 Using biting remarks about the powerful is imprudent, and to do so about the weak is cruel. Bernardo goes into practical jokes and finds they are often based on a friendly deception that leads to something contrary to expectation. One may deceive someone in an amusing manner or gradually draw one into a trap that causes a man to trick himself.
Gasparo Pallavicino, who is ridiculed for his belief that women are inferior or at least should not be given special privileges that men do not receive, complains that even disgracing a woman’s chastity can have a parallel dishonor among men. Boccaccio’s tales often showed clever women fooling men. Emilia asks Giuliano de’ Medici to comment, and he says the courtier should show fitting respect for women to show that he is discreet and courteous. He has found that most men of merit love and honor women and that their virtue is not inferior to that of men. The Duchess concludes the evening by asking Giuliano to describe the highest perfection in women the next day.
Giuliano de’ Medici begins the third book by saying that as men should behave with sturdy manliness, a woman should show a soft and delicate tenderness and be graceful in all her actions. Both ought to have the virtues of prudence, magnanimity, temperance, and kindness. She must be able to recognize the kind of person she is talking to and respond accordingly. She is more concerned in her personal appearance with beauty than men are. Once again Gasparo interjects with his prejudice against women, but Giuliano argues that women are equal to men in understanding and intellect. Men have been in more powerful positions because they have arrogated to themselves authority over women. Giuliano gives several examples of great women from ancient Rome, and he commends the Sabine women for stopping the violence of the Romans against their men, helping the two peoples to become one. He also gives recent examples of great ladies such as Queen Isabel of Spain. Cesare Gonzaga counters the misogyny of Gasparo by noting that women benefit the world by bearing children, and they should be commended for abstaining from appetites more than men do. He gives examples of women who have courageously committed suicide after having been dishonored by rape, both in the ancient world and in their time.
Federico Fregoso asks Giuliano to discourse on what women know about love and how they should converse discreetly with lovers. Giuliano suggests that she can discreetly pretend not to recognize the intentions of a lover. She can respond with spiritual love but may react honestly to someone who may marry her. She should not give men hope of obtaining anything dishonorable from her. If she is virtuous, the courtier is more likely to be worthy also. The Duchess congratulates Giuliano for having told how women should love even though how the courtier should love had not been described.
Unico Aretino believes that they should teach the courtier how to be loved, and Emilia asks him to do that. Unico says that men can gain the favor of ladies by serving them and pleasing them, and they can learn these from the ladies themselves. He asks Emilia to say what pleases women, and she responds. Giuliano says that the courtier may make his love known to the lady by actions rather than words, and he advises him to keep his love secret. Gasparo asks Giuliano how a man is to keep his love a secret. Giuliano warns them not to trust anyone. Ottaviano wants to hear more about what makes a courtier more perfect, and at the conclusion of the third evening the Duchess asks him to do that the next night.
In the fourth book of The Courtier Ottaviano Fregoso arrives late and goes into how a courtier should win favor from a prince by showing him how honor and benefit will come to him from justice, liberality, magnanimity, gentleness, and other virtues. He should tell the truth to the prince. Some princes try to impose their will by force and think only of how to maintain their power. Not knowing how to govern causes the worst disasters to mankind. The honest courtier can gain the good will of the prince and gain access to him. Gradually he should teach him justice, courage, and temperance. Nothing is better than a good prince nor worse than a bad one. Wicked courtiers try to manipulate the prince for their own profit by turning him from virtue to vice. Gasparo questioned whether princes can be taught these things because he believes they are natural and granted by God. Ottaviano replies that virtues can be learned as prudence develops. Yet reason can be overcome by passion, but those with true knowledge will not err. One can learn to moderate the passions with temperance.
Pietro Bembo suggests that God gives us liberty as the supreme gift and that well ordered republics preserve freedom. Gasparo asks more questions, and the Duchess requests Ottaviano to answer how he would teach his prince. Ottaviano believes that contemplation is the goal of life as peace is the goal of war and rest is of work. We should teach by practicing how to govern appetites by using intelligence. The prince should consult with the wisest gentlemen and give them authority to speak honestly to him about anything. Maintaining justice is the prince’s most important duty, and he should appoint prudent judges. Princes can better understand justice by being pious and guided by God. The prince should love his country and his people and not keep them in bondage. Excessive wealth, as in Italy, can lead to ruin when other people seek it. The value of the people to the prince is not their numbers but their worth. Judgment can be easily corrupted by pleasure, and so the prince should practice the mean between excess and lack.
After hearing Ottaviano, Giuliano criticizes him for raising the courtier above what a court lady may attain and for putting him above the prince himself, but Ottaviano denies he did that. In regard to courtship Pietro Bembo offers to show how older courtiers who are wise can also love. He explains the three ways of cognition as the appetite of animals, the reason of humans, and the intellect of angels from which comes will. He discusses the importance of beauty to love but goes beyond physical beauty to the Platonic concept that lifts one from the senses into the mind. He argues that rational love is better than sensual love and says chaste lovers are satisfied by a kiss that unites souls. Thus the courtier can turn his love from the body to beauty itself. Ultimately we may direct our thoughts to the “most holy light” that leads us to heaven.
1. Cicero, De officiis 1.26.92 in On Avarice by Poggio Bracciolini tr. Benjamin G. Kohl and Elizabeth B. Welles in The Earthly Republic, p. 288.
2. Cicero, De oratore. 2.9.36 in The Education of Boys by Piccolomini 73 in Humanist Educational Treatises tr. Craig W. Kallendorf, p. 225.
3. On the Dignity of Man by Pico della Mirandola tr. Charles Glenn Wallis, p. 11-12.
4. Gli Asolani by Pietro Bembo tr. Rudolf B. Gottfried, p. 194-195.
5. The Satires of Ludovico Ariosto tr. Peter Desa Wiggins, p. 125.
6. Codex Atlanticus, 71 recto quoted in Leonardo da Vinci: The Tragic Pursuit of Perfection by Antonina Vallentin tr. E. W. Dickes, p. 3.
7. The Book of the Courtier by Baldesar Castiglione tr. Charles S. Singleton, p. 140.
8. Ibid., p. 165.