bonæ litteræ: occasional writing from David Rundle, Renaissance scholar

How an article is not like wine

Posted in Humanism by bonaelitterae on 25 February, 2012

A small change has been made to the page listing the publications of David Rundle: I am today able to add as published an article on Antonio Beccaria appearing in the Italian journal, Humanistica, for 2010.

Of course, I would like the year in which my wedding took place to last for many moons, but my wife assures me that 2010 is long past. Certainly, this is not the first occasion on which the journal in which an article of mine appears sports a different date on the cover than it does in its publication details. In some ways, I have an affection for this quaint demonstration of how we all can fail to live up to the strict demands we set ourselves — better that world than the one in which publication is an urgent requirement if one is to be perceived as an active researcher (a culture that mis-defines research as dissemination), one in which there is a Manichean opposition between the published and the damned.

What, though, strikes me more is how this article has not done what every good wine should do and matured as it has sat in the publishing house. The article considers Antonio Beccaria’s production, during his long stay in England, of a collection of translations of the Church Father, Athanasius – a collection more extensive than anything produced by Ambrogio Traversari, whose own version, I suggest, Beccaria had on his desk in England or, to be more precise, in Greenwich, in the palace of his employer, Humfrey, duke of Gloucester. I use this example to emphasise how humanist creativity was not confined to its supposed ‘centre’ of Italy and note, indeed, how these texts were imported to Beccaria’s hometown of Verona on his return there in the mid-1440s. There is another central argument to the piece which I now feel I expressed too softly and wish it had gained extra gusto of its own accord while waiting to appear in print: that argument is that the period that Beccaria took to produce his translations — a period of over six years — does not allow us to assume a single cause for the work, or a single message they are trying to convey. What, in particular, is unlikely is that Beccaria produced them conscious of one political context in which they might be useful for his master: the codicology of these manuscripts make them appear to be his own pastimes which he happened to present to Humfrey, rather than a demand placed on him each year by the duke.

If I wish I had been more forthright, there is another detail in which, following a recent visit to re-view the relevant manuscript in the Vatican (MS. Vat. lat. 413), I think my assertion is downright wrong. It does not change the overall argument of the article at all — it is a side-point to that discussion — but it is a hostage, an error I will need to unpick in my next publication (berating my own scholarship more harshly than I would anyone else’s, in print at least). This, then, is an article that has not matured and even, in one tiny element, is past its best. But, I hope, if you, most learned reader, care to look at it, you will not judge it has turned to vinegar.

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