bonæ litteræ: occasional writing from David Rundle, Renaissance scholar

Lecture II: Machiavelli and the humanist tradition

Machiavelli and the humanist Tradition

Historiography of humanism

humanismus – educational definition

Burckhardt – philosophical definition

Paul Oksar Kristeller – studia humanitatis (term used by Cicero in Pro Archia; text rediscovered in trecento, and used, late 14thC, by Coluccio Salutati)

loose ‘classicising’ definition

difficulties with the loose definition

P. O. Kristeller, ‘Humanism’ in C. B. Schmitt & Q. Skinner ed., The Cambridge History of Renaissance Philosophy (Cambridge, 1988).

R. Black, ‘Humanism’ in New Cambridge Medieval History, vii, ed. C. Allmand (Cambridge, 1998).

Humanist coteries and garden gatherings

Roman Academy – Pomponius Lætus (1428 – 1498)

Platonic Academy of Florence – Marsilio Ficino (1433 – 1499)

Aldine Academy of Venice

res publica litteraria / Republic of Letters

bonae litterae

Orti Oricellari – ‘a general refuge and retreat for learned men, whether visitors or Florentines, through the humanity, courtesy and kind hospitality of Bernardo Rucellai and his offspring’ (Jacopo Nardi (1478 – 1563), History of Florence) – setting of Art of War, with interlocutors including Cosimo Rucellai and Fabrizio Colonna – Rucellai also dedicatee of Discoures, with Zanobi Buondelmonti

F. Gilbert, ‘Bernardo Rucellai and the Orti Oricellari’, Journal of Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, xii (1949), pp. 101 – 131, reprinted in id., Machiavelli and Guicciardini (Princeton, 1965).

Humanist acitivities

  • the rediscovery of classical texts, both Latin and Greek, previously little-known in Western Europe
  • translation of Greek texts, both classical and patristic, into Latin
  • composing a range of texts (eg. letters, orations, dialogues) in eloquent, Ciceronian Latin
  • writing in ‘antique’ script

Latin versus the vernacular


questione della lingua – Pietro Bembo (1470 – 1547); Baldassare Castiglione (1478 – 1529)


Conrad Sweynheym and Arnold Pannartz (Rome)

Aldus Manutius (Venice)

Filippo Giunti (Florence) – printed Art of War (1521), Discourses (1531), Prince and Florentine Histories (1532).

Machiavelli and the humanist arts of writing

  • dialogue (Art of War) – Petrarch (1304 – 1374), Poggio Bracciolini (1380 – 1459)

A seminal example, Poggio’s On Avarice is translated in B. Kohl & R. Witt ed., The Earthly Republic (Manchester, 1978).

  • history – Leonardo Bruni, Poggio Bracciolini

The first books of Bruni’s History of the Florentine People are translated by J. Hankins [I Tatti Renaissance Library, 3] (Cambridge MA, 2001).

  • speculum principis / mirror for princes – medieval tradition continued by, eg, Giovanni Pontano (c. 1426 /9 – 1503)

See extracts in Cambridge Translations of Renaissance Philosophical Texts, ii, ed. J. Kraye (Cambridge, 1997).

  • biography (Life of Castruccio Castracani, dedicated to Zanobi Buondelmonti and Luigi Alamanni) – exempla of morality, imitating Plutarch who was translated by, eg, Bruni, Guarino da Verona (1374 – 1460) – but Castracani a hybrid text
  • comedies (Mandragola etc) – weak humanist tradition in Latin, with fifteenth century examples including Momus by Leon Battista Alberti (1404 – 1472), but developed in Italian in early sixteenth century, with plays by, eg, Pietro Aretino (1492 – 1556)
  • letters to Francesco Vettori – epistle collections of Bruni or Poggio

Important recent discussion in C. Najemy, Between Friends (Princeton, 1993).

  • commentary (Discourses) – Poliziano (Politian; 1454 – 1494) and the philological tradition

David Rundle


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