bonæ litteræ: occasional writing from David Rundle, Renaissance scholar

Searching for Guarino in Ferrara

Posted in Humanism by bonaelitterae on 22 September, 2012

Holidays are still, in some residual sense, holy days. Even without working hours vacated, apart from the chore of site-seeing in the sun, there remain some duties, some acts of respect that order the days. Site-seeing itself is a habit of reverence, not an adherence to any faith more stringent than the cult of culture, perhaps, but certainly a recognition of others’ faith. We step out of the sunlight into the shade of a church and may not comprehend the deity who once inhabited there (and may do still); we may consciously contrast our cerebral engagement with the cultish goings-on that have had their home there but by our visiting presence – like it or not – we are conforming to an appreciation of the power the place has had and, by conforming, extending its after-life.

The reverence we show, of course, is not confined to locations of the religious. There are plenty of sites for secular pilgrimage, whether they be the homes of famous figures or temples to the arts. I have talked before of my experience of Arquà Petrarca in the Euganean hills, complete with his stuffed cat (these places are often the sites of relics all as dubious as the medieval splinters of the True Cross). One of the artefacts on display there were the visitors books, recording the grand tourists who had come to pay their respects to the little god who was the house’s long-dead inhabitant; I saw last week in Ferrara an equivalent in the house of Ludovico Ariosto, where the page rests permanently open at the signature of Giuseppe Verdi – we bend forward (the natural movement of the supplicant) to take a closer look of when opera met epic.

But being in Ferrara on my summer break, I was not there as a true believer in Ariosto. As you might expect from my interests, I was more interested in the physical remains of the studia humanitatis. In particular, it  would have seemed an act of impiety not to seek out the memorials to Guarino da Verona who, as his name demonstrates, was not a local son but who, invited here to lecture at the university by Leonello d’Este stayed for most of the rest of his life, dying in 1460. Indeed, it was his reputation as a schoolmaster and a scholar – much more than Angelo Decembrio’s verbose idealisation of Leonello’s court or even Leon Battista Alberti’s transient association with Ferrara – that made the d’Este city a site of significance on the humanist map. Considering that I have recently polished off an article suggesting we should rethink the construction of Guarino’s reputation (building on comments I made in Humanism in Fifteenth-Century Europe), some might suggest that my search for Guarino was more an act of penance than simply of reverence. If so, I think I can say I have expiated for my sins.

What I found remarkable was that, despite all the cobbled streets with the red-bricked houses being so evocative of the city’s Renaissance past, there was little trace of Ferrara’s best-known humanist. There is, of course, the inscription in memory of him in the church of San Paolo – a copy of the original which was destroyed in the 1570 earthquake that shook the city; I remember seeing and transcribing that inscription when I first visited the city eleven years ago but by the 450th anniversary of Guarino’s death, when I was again briefly in Ferrara, the church was closed for restoration, and it remains so. Perhaps, in part, because that was inaccessible and so could not sate my interest, I wanted to find other evidence. But in a city which has various methods of marking their monuments and their characters – the municipal yellow street signs announcing in terse fashion the details of a palazzo or a church, the older inscriptions written into a building’s wall remembering the notable birth or other event that occurred therein, the red-lettered plaques erected by Ferrariae Decus – there is precious little outward and visible sign of Guarino’s presence. In a city which marks on its tourist map the house not only of Ariosto but also of Ercole d’Este’s favourite architect, Biagio Rossetti, and where Ariosto has certainly become the favourite son, celebrated in the name of both a piazza and a street (let alone one named after his masterpiece, Orlando Furioso), and where the city’s troublesome export to Florence, the fiery friar, Girolamo Savonarola, is commemorated by a statue in the shadow of the castello as well as the road running past (ironically) San Francesco, there is no place for an external plaque or memorial to the humanist who is credited with having given life to Ferrara’s Renaissance. There is a via Carbone, presumably named after Ludovico, the humanist who saw himself as Guarino’s successor and who delivered his funeral oration; the street is now known for its cinema. There is also, outside the city walls, a modern via Pannonio, perhaps after Janus Pannonius, Hungarian student of Guarino, later bishop and rebel against Matthias Corvinus, as well as being the author of bisexual erotic poetry. Where, though, is Guarino himself?

Palazzo Guarini-Giordani, Ferrara

Not, it should be said, where he is claimed to be. The city does have a via Guarini, so-called because it begins at the corner of the Palazzo Guarini-Giordani, designed by Biagio Rossetti and far up within the ‘addizione erculea’, the grandiose town-planning project of Ercole d’Este to extend the city north of the original walls of the city that ran alongside the Castello (a scheme perhaps as egotistical but undeniably more successful that Æneas Sylvius Piccolomini’s renaissance of his home village as the papal retreat of Pienza). Above the doorway into the Palazzo, now part of Ferrara’s university (much expanded since Guarino’s day), there is what I take to be a nineteenth-century notice celebrating the palace’s famous inhabitants; it names as the first of those Guarino da Verona himself. So, here we have the evidence for which I am searching – except it is so obviously implausible, Guarino having been dead for a half a lifetime before the building was begun in 1496. It was, in fact, designed for one of Guarino’s many sons, Battista, who followed his father in his scholarly pursuits, but he lived to enjoy his new house only for a few years, dying in the high summer of 1503. The Palazzo and the road beside it are, in reality, named after the dynasty that could trace itself back to Guarino, rather than the humanist himself.

Ferrara, Palazzo Guarini-Giordani, notice recording the ‘presence’ of Guarino

Recognition of the error made me want all the more to find as precisely as possible where Guarino actually resided in his adopted town – where, that is, he lived, slept and ran his private school, his conturbernium, which the likes of Janus Pannonius attended and where English travellers like William Gray, future bishop of Ely, and John Tiptoft, earl of Worcester, would presumably have visited him. My pursuit, I must admit, drove my darling mild-mannered wife to distraction.

Ferrara, via del Turco, the presumed site of the house of Guarino

Some brief searching (not enough to interrupt the rest of the holiday) showed that we do have some written evidence of the humanist’s residence, largely thanks to the researches of the incomparable Remigio Sabbadini: we know that he lodged at the house of the Strozzi and that, as the Dizionario biografico degli italiani states, ‘andò ad abitare nell’attigua casa dei Boiardi, in via S. Michele, che prese in affitto per tre anni e che poi acquistò per 3500 lire marchesane, 550 delle quali donategli dal marchese’. There is a slight complication: there is not now in the street plan of Ferrara any record of a road of San Michele, but there is a church, closed, deconsecrated and in poor repair. The route to it is now called the via del Turco (after the medieval Turchi family) and it was at the upper end of this road, near the via Cortevecchia, that Guarino had his house. The casa Strozzi was pulled down long ago, replaced in the seventeenth century by a wooden theatre which itself was replaced by a brick building in the nineteenth century which later became a cinema. The picture-house, in contrast to the successful one on via Carbone, has closed for business and the empty building shows a lack of loving care. As Guarino’s more permanent home – known as the casa Boiardi after the noble Boiardo family, forefathers of the poet Matteo Maria – was next door to the casa Strozzi, we can identify its location and view the spot, but much of it has now disappeared: there is a break in the building line, with an area now used for parking. Behind that, though, there are houses and they include one Renaissance lintel above a low doorway. Perhaps this is one small remnant of the building Guarino called home.

There is not, you will be unsurprised to hear, any plaque or notice to record the connexion of the site with the learned humanist. As I have suggested, this is not because the Ferrarese are adverse to advertising their heritage. Indeed, further down the same street, a modern apartment block has retained one stone of an older building, which records the Pico della Mirandola stopped there. I enjoy the juxtaposition of notices that now festoons that wall.

Ferrara, via del Turco 29, inscription to Pico and its modern accompaniment

It is, of course, understandable that Guarino has become overshadowed in the city of Ariosto; the poet has long been the talisman of Ferrara’s contribution to culture. In 1933, the ‘centenario ariostesco’ was celebrated, for instance, by a significant exhibition of local Renaissance art including the likes of Cosmè Tura and Garofalo. I think we can anticipate with some confidence that there will be a menu of cultural events as rich as the local dish of salama da sugo organised to mark the next significant Ariostean anniversary in twenty-one years’ time. But rejoicing in that maestro of the volgare should not mean that a Latinate scholar who was also important to Ferrara’s identity need be forgotten. Perhaps in the years running up to 2033, the Ferrarese could find a moment to remember the achievements of their most famous schoolmaster – 2029 would mark the sixth centenary of the arrival of Guarino da Verona in their city. If they did arrange such an act of pietas, I for one would willingly make the pilgrimage to their doorstep.


Lost Plutarch Lives, lost Humfrey manuscripts

Posted in Humanism, Manuscripts by bonaelitterae on 9 July, 2009

As I have mentioned recently, I am working away on providing addenda and corrigenda to Roberto Weiss’ Humanism in England, which, forty years after its author’s death, is to be resurrected virtually, as it were, with an on-line edition on the Society for the Study of Medieval Languages and Literature website. It has given me the opportunity to bring together some shards of information which help clarify, if not fully resolve, some quandaries. Here is one of those.

Humfrey, duke of Gloucester, owned several manuscripts of Latin translations of Plutarch’s Vitae, some of which he gave to the University of Oxford, in his donation of 1444, and one of which, as we shall see, was shipwrecked in Cambridge after his death. The relevant booklists have been or are being edited in the Corpus of British Medieval Library Catalogues (that for Oxford by Rod Thomson, and that for King’s, Cambridge, already published, by Peter Clarke); I use the sigla of that series in the following notes. I will also cite the invaluable guide to the Latin Plutarch recently published by Marianne Pade and which I have discussed elsewhere.

Two of Humfrey’s Plutarch manuscripts are known now to survive. One is London: BL, MS. Harl. 3426, a set of translations by Leonardo Bruni, given to Oxford (UO3.97); the other Oxford: Magdalen College, MS. 37 (A), including renditions by the little-known (and less-loved) Antonio Pacini. This latter codex does not appear in Humfrey’s gifts to the University. Several other inventory entries attest to manuscripts that are now lost, like, for instance the mention of a Vita Pelopidae (UO3.100), which must be the translation produced by Humfrey’s secretary, Antonio Beccaria of Verona, and dedicated to Pietro del Monte (Pade, i, pp. 221 – 23 & ii, pp. 70 – 71). Another example occurs in the inventory of King’s College, Cambridge, probably made in 1457.

Here I should enter a caveat: as it is known that King’s asked for books owned by Humfrey on his death to be donated to the new college and as two surviving manuscripts from the King’s inventory (Cambridge: King’s College, MS. 27 and London: BL, MS. Harl. 1705) are, indeed, Humfrey books, it has sometimes been assumed that his library was given wholescale to King’s. This is demonstrably incorrect: probably only a small proportion of Humfrey’s collection reached Cambridge, as is shown by the fortunes of several of the prince’s other books; and only a proportion of the books listed in 1457 came to King’s from the chattels of the late duke of Gloucseter. But, having said all that, there is one lost book, formerly owned by King’s, that we can say for certain came from the duke’s palace of Greenwich. The entry reads ‘Vita Agidis et Cleomenis Lacedemoniorum regum…’ (UC29.154), which the modern editor, Peter Clarke, identifies as ‘Plutarch, Vita Agidis et Cleomenis, probably as tr. Antonio Beccaria (together with nine other of the lives)’. I think we should delete the word ‘probably’ , and the clause in parantheses.

The evidence Peter Clarke has in mind is a passage in a lively late-fifteenth-century eulogy of Vittorino da Feltre, schoolmaster to princes and to humanists like Beccaria. In it, the author, another of his pupils, Francesco Prendilacqua, takes the opporunity to praise Beccaria, and lists his works, which, he says, include translations of:

Vitas ex Plutarcho XI Romuli, Thesei, Solonis, Demetrii, Agidis, Cleomenis, Pelopidae, Coriolani, Alcibiadis, Timoleontis, Eumenis [F. Prendilacqua, De Vita Victorini Feltrensis Dialogus, ed. J. Morelli (Padua, 1774), pp. 66 – 67]

This list has sometimes been considered suspect and, certainly, for some of these translations there is no independent evidence, but Beccaria certainly did, as we have already seen, put into Latin while in England the Pelopidas, as well as the Romulus (even though that version, even including the dedication to Humfrey, was cribbed from Giovanni Tortelli). As the only other known translation of the Agis & Cleomenes was made in the late 1450s, after the production of the King’s catalogue, we should give Prendilacqua credence and be confident that the entry refers to Beccaria’s translation.

However, we should not entertain the suggestion that the King’s manuscript included all of the humanist’s renditions of Plutarch. That is, in fact, an impossibilty, since two of Beccaria’s known renditions of Plutarch, the Alcibiades paired with the Coriolanus, were composed about a decade after the humanist had returned to his homeland [Pade, i, pp. 323 – 26]. Nor would this suggestion sit well with what we can surmise of Beccaria’s habits. We know a fair amount about how Antonio Beccaria worked, because we have some other of his translations, from St. Athanasius, in his holograph, in London: BL, MS. Royal. 5 F. II and Cambridge: King’s, MS. 27. You can know see Beccaria’s script on-line, thanks to the generosity of the British Library. The manuscript now in the Royal collection is formed of booklets and it appears that he presented the work to his master, Humfrey, section by section: he practised the rule of small gifts often, rather than outsize presents irregularly. In that case, the booklets were gathered together and presented as one volume to Oxford (UO3.21). But, in the case of his Plutarch versions, the evidence of the book-list would suggest that each Life was kept separately and appears as a separate entry.

I have talked of there being ‘some’ lives are in the 1444 Oxford book-list. I have mentioned two, for both of which Humfrey’s copy is lost: Pelopidas, and Romulus (UO3.105). Immediately following the second entry, there is another (UO3.106), one which has left scholars, including myself, scratching our heads. It refers to a ‘Vita Demetrii’ — but the only known translation of Plutarch’s life of Demetrius comes from the end of the 1450s. However — and here is the point of this intricate discussion — look at the list from Prendilacqua above: he states that his former class-mate at Vittorino’s school translated this very work. The explanation for the entry, then, is that it was another Plutarch Vita translated by Humfrey’s Veronese secretary, presented to the duke and given away by him only a few years later.

This identification allows us to make a further, tentative suggestion. Note the ordering of Prendilacqua’s list. It would not seem to have any rationale in relation to the subjects of the Lives themselves and, of course, it could simply be random. But it is usually assumed that the Romulus was the first text presented by Beccaria to Humfrey in the late 1430s, and the Pelopidas is tentatively dated to 1441 – 2, while it is known, as I have mentioned, that the Alcibiades and Coriolanus were translated in the late 1450s. Might the list be in chronological order of translation? If so, it would suggest that Antonio Beccaria also rendered Plutarch’s Vitae of Solon and of Theseus into Latin while in England — versions which, like several others he produced, are lost.

The identification of Humfrey’s Vita Demetrii as being by Beccaria does away with the need to muse, as Marianne Pade does [i, pp. 254 – 56], about whether Guarino could have sent to Humfrey a translation of the Demetrius but which no longer survives. Guarino certainly wrote a letter to the duke, which may have been accompanied by a manuscript of Plutarch translations. Pade suggests that it might have included a collection of Guarino’s versions plus the Lucullus translated by Guarino’s pupil, Leonardo Giustiniani. If so, it would equate with the 1444 reference to ‘vitam Timonis et Lucilli 2o fo. hominibus (UO3.91, where the lectio probatoria appears in Giustiniani’s preface [Pade, ii, p. 120]). But there were other routes by which the Giustiniani, a popular translation, could have reached England, and if Guarino did send a manuscript with his letter, it may instead have been of his translation of Plutarch’s moral essays, one of which was certainly available in Oxford in the mid-1440s.

This brings me to my final point: the strange death of the Lives in England. Humfrey’s library shared the interest in Plutarchan biography that was fashionable in Italian humanist circles. But the taste at the ducal palace in Greenwich was no trail-blazer in England: interest in that aspect of Plutarch was surprisingly limited this side of the channel. It was, indeed, the moral essays that entertained Humfrey’s compatriots more. The neglect that eventually saw several translations of Plutarch vanish began soon after the duke of Gloucester’s own demise.

New set of links: Latin humanist texts

Posted in Humanism by bonaelitterae on 28 September, 2008

If you scroll right down to the bottom of the screen, you will see on the right-hand side a short set of links. I am building up a list of humanist (mainly quattrocento) texts available on-line and this is the first step.

There are some useful sites which act as gateways or collect together relevant texts. I have found especially useful the Society for Neo-Latin Studies webpages, and the neo-Latin section of The Latin Library. The texts I have cited come partly thanks to their assistance and partly through wider trawling. They are hosted on a range of websites and appear in a range of formats: some are html texts, others are as images of printed books (either early modern or later), one is a transcription with a link to images of a relevant manuscript. They differ in elegance – the text of Carbone’s funeral oration on Guarino is a sad specimen: it is taken from Garin’s indispensable Prosatori latini, and appears with ragged ends of each line, reflecting the line-ends in the printed text. The quality of the edition also varies.

What particularly strikes me, however, is the paucity of texts available on-line, and the curious nature of what does appear. It might be said that the web of the new millennium need not have any space for a dead language but the democracy of the on-line universe is a Babel of idioms, including the lingua franca of Old Europe (I particularly like the Finnish Latin news station). The Latin of the quattrocento humanists, of course, could be accused of being neither one thing nor the other: not given to the freedom of medieval Latin, at the same time, it does not meet the standards expected of neo-Latin. That said, neo-Latinists are a tolerant bunch and do mention fifeenth-century texts in the on-line resources they are compiling. Whatever the reasons for the relatively low number of texts – at a time when the I Tatti Library series is making many works accessible in hard-copy – what is most striking is the curious nature of what is available.

Often, the texts which can be viewed are not the major works by that author. The best example of this is Leonardo Bruni, the pre-eminent Florentine humanist of the early quattrocento. His De Studiis, as you can see, is available — a relatively minor work but one in which there is modern scholarly interest. Apart from that, Biblioteca Italiana provides a copy of his short tract on whether all Romans spoke Latin which though it may be of interest could hardly be called a work through which he made his reputation. If we wanted to read a work which was  seminal to his intellectual formation, we would want to see his Dialogi ad Petrum Paulum Histrum or his Laudatio Florentinae Urbis. Neither is available, and with the latter of these there is a particular irony. The Laudatio, his praise of Florence which has become a foundation text of civic humanism, was a best-seller in his own lifetime and one of the works for which he was best known — but, after his death, in the age of new-fangled print, it was somehow forgotten and not edited until the twentieth century, by Hans Baron. So, as one medium gave way to another, this small but significant work lost its leading status. Is this happening again? Is the dictum that history repeats itself being proven true?