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Though not distinguished as a writer, he contributed by his teaching to that zealous study of Latin style which was a characteristic feature of the Italian Renaissance. The "imitation of the ancients" was more than a literary fashion or a pedantic exercise.

It sprang from the desire of Italians, for whom Latin literature was being opened anew, to recover the tongue of their Roman ancestors,—that language, barbarised in the course of centuries, which bore witness to the ancient glories of the land in which they lived, and to the civilisation whose monuments were around them. Italy had many dialects, and Tuscan, even in the fifteenth century, had only a limited currency, while Latin was an universal language. But it was not easy to lift Latin to a higher level, while the medieval form of it was still current in the learned professions, in the offices of the Church, and in ordinary correspondence.

The Cambridge Modern History/Volume I/Chapter XVI

Letter-writing was the department of Latin composition to which the humanists naturally and properly gave their first attention. It was in this that Petrarch had especially shown his power. His younger contemporary, Coluccio de1 Salutati, who became Chancellor of Florence in , set the example of writing classical and elegant Latin in public documents. The higher standard of official and diplomatic Latinity which he introduced had the effect of opening employment to professional scholars in many chanceries and Courts of Italy.

A close study of Cicero's Letters, with a view to correctness and fluency in Latin correspondence, won a reputation for Gasparino da Barzizza, who, on the invitation of Filippo Maria Visconti, opened a school at Milan in Latin epistolography was now cultivated as a special branch of literature. The letters exchanged between eminent scholars were, as a rule, private only in form, being vehicles for the display of style, wit, and learning. They were usually intended, if not for publication in the modern sense, at least for a large circulation. The range of topics was conventionally restricted by a pervading desire to write somewhat as Cicero might have written to Atticus.

There is seldom any reference to contemporary politics, to questions of theology, or to any modern subjects which could not be handled without breaking the classical illusion. Sometimes, indeed, eminent scholars addressed theological or political pamphlets, in choice Latin, to princes or prelates; but such efforts lay outside the ordinary province of humanistic letter-writing. Nor were really private matters often confided to these Latin letters. It has also a larger claim on our gratitude.

It was an exercise, sufficiently pleasurable to be widely used, by which successive generations of lettered men gradually rose to the conception of a style which should be correct, fluent, and easy. In the darker ages the model of a good prose had been lost. The Italian letter-writers of the Renaissance, the imitators of Cicero, were labouring to restore it. They achieved their object; and the achievement bore fruit, not merely in Latin, but afterwards in the modern languages of Europe. He dealt with various points of grammar, with niceties of phrase and idiom, and with the discrimination of synonyms.

His book appears to have been reprinted nearly sixty times between and After Valla, the next Italian Latinist who became an authority on the more minute refinements of style was Bembo, whose reputation was at its zenith in the pontificate of Leo X But Bembo's scope was much more limited than Valla's. Cicero's usage was a law from which Bembo never consciously swerved.

In strong contrast with his timid and even morbid Ciceronianism,—a symptom that the Italian revival had passed its prime,—stands a quality which we recognise in the Latin writing of the more powerful and genial humanists. This is, briefly, the gift of writing Latin almost as if it were a living language. Politian had this gift in an eminent degree, and exhibits it in verse no less than in prose. Poggio, before him, had it too, though his Latin was much rougher and less classical.

The same quality may be ascribed to Paulus Jovius , whose vivid and picturesque style in narrative was compared by Leo X,—with some exaggeration, but not without some justice,—to that of Livy.

To write Latin as such men wrote it, demanded the union of general correctness with ease and spontaneity. The fact that several Italian humanists attained to this merit is a proof that the imitatio veterum was not necessarily lifeless or mechanical, but could serve a truly educative purpose, by helping men to regain a flexible organ of literary expression. Erasmus, though in touch with the Italian Renaissance, belongs to a stage beyond it. His ridicule of pseudo-Ciceronianism falls on the sect of Bembo. But his own Latin style, so admirable in its elasticity, edge, and force, is a result which only the Italian Renaissance had made possible.

Yet the cultivation of Latin style, while it was so salient a trait of the Italian revival, was only one of its manifold energies. The same study of the classical writers which incited men to imitate their form inspired also the wish to comprehend their subject-matter. There was a widespread desire to enter into the ideas and the meaning of the ancient Greek and Roman civilisations.

Italians were especially eager to reconstruct an image, as distinct as possible, of the manner in which their ancestors had lived. But the aids to such study, now so abundant, did not yet exist. There were no dictionaries of mythology, of biography, of antiquities, no treatises on classical archaeology, no collections of inscriptions.

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A teacher in the earlier time of the Renaissance, when he dictated an all-embracing commentary to his pupils, had to rely mostly on the stores gathered by his own reading. The erudite labour done by the Italian humanists was of great variety and volume. Latin translations from the Greek classics formed an important department of humanistic work, and were of the greatest service, not only at the Renaissance but long afterwards, in diffusing the study of Greek literature.

The learned humanist Tommaso Parentucelli, who became Pope Nicholas V in , was especially zealous in promoting such translations, many of which were made at Rome during his pontificate. Greek residents in Italy contributed to the work. But Italians were not less active; indeed there were few distinguished humanists who did not give this proof of their Greek scholarship.

In the field of textual criticism mention is due to Politian's edition of the Pandects of Justinian, perhaps the earliest work based on a careful collation of manuscripts and on a critical estimate of their relative authority. The manuals of grammar produced at the Renaissance were inevitably of a crude kind; but some of them, at least, had merits which made them standard works for several generations. Thus the earliest of the Renaissance Greek grammars, that of Manuel Chrysoloras afterwards translated from Greek into Latin by Guarino , held its ground well into the sixteenth century.

It was the first text-book used by Erasmus when teaching Greek at Cambridge: the next to which he introduced his pupils was the more advanced Greek grammar of Theodoras Gaza, dating perhaps from about , though first printed in The Greek grammar of Constantine Lascaris composed perhaps about , and printed in also had a high reputation. The Latin grammar of Nicholas Perotti, printed at Rome in , treats grammar in connexion with rhetoric, and is commended by Erasmus as the most complete manual on the subject then extant. The higher historical criticism is represented by Lorenzo Valla, already mentioned as a fine Latinist.

In , when Naples was at feud with the papal See, he published a tract on the Donation of Constantine, proving that the chief document of the temporal power was spurious. Eugenius IV was then Pope. His successor, Nicholas V, a scholar and a statesman, read in Valla's tract a sign of the times. The Council of Florence , where Greeks and Latins met in conference, had lately shown that the history of the early Church could not be fully understood without a knowledge of Greek writings. And now it was plain that the long impunity of ecclesiastical forgery was drawing to an end.

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Nicholas saw that humanism would be less disastrous to the Vatican as an uncongenial inmate than as an irrepressible critic. He made Valla an official of the Curia. It was a turning-point. The new papal policy was continued, with few breaks, down to the Reformation. Beyond the limits of strictly literary studies, there was a wide and varied field of interests which the classical revival opened to Italians.

A Latin epigram by Pius II -the first Pope who endeavoured to arrest their decay-attests the fact, to which there are other witnesses, that even then the citizens of Rome used to strip marbles from the ancient monuments, in order to burn them as lime. Where the Roman remains were capable of conversion into dwellings or strongholds, as was the case especially with some of the baths and tombs, they had often been occupied by medieval nobles, and had thus been exposed to further damage. Many such monuments had been destroyed, and the ruins had then been used as quarries.

But a change of feeling came with the spirit of the incipient Renaissance. The first phase of this new feeling was a sense of pathetic contrast between the majesty of the ancient remains and the squalor of the modern city. Petrarch compares Rome to a stately woman, of venerable aspect, but clad in mean and tattered garments.


The Kitchen Lioness: October

Poggio is reminded of a queen in slavery. He was the first man of the Renaissance who had studied the monuments of Rome with the method of a scholar and an archaeologist, comparing them with the testimony of the Latin classics. His Urbis Romae Descriptio-the title commonly given to the first section of his essay De Varietate Fortunae-is the clearest general survey now extant of the Roman monuments as they existed in the first half of the fifteenth century. Poggio gives us some idea of the rate at which destructive agencies had been working even in his own lifetime. But a better day was at hand.

The interest in Italian archaeology had already become active. Flavio Biondo Blondus , who died in , compiled an encyclopaedic work in three parts, Roma Instaurata, Roma Triumphans, and Italla Illustrata, on the history, institutions, manners, topography, and monuments of ancient Italy.

He lived to complete also more than thirty books of a great work on the period commencing with the decline of the Roman Empire, Historlarum ab inclinatiane Romanorum. In an age so largely occupied with style, which was not among his gifts, Biondo is a signal example of laborious and comprehensive erudition. He holds indeed an honourable place among the founders of Roman archaeology. It was just at the close of Blonde's life that Pius II, in , issued his bull designed to protect the remains of ancient Rome from further depredations.

The solicitude of which this was the first official expression was not always imitated by his successors. But the period from about to was one which saw a notable advance in the care and study bestowed on works of ancient art and architecture. Within that period the Museum of the Capitol and the Museum of the Vatican were founded.

The appreciation of classical sculpture was quickened by the recovery of many ancient works. Michelangelo saw the Laocoon disinterred from the ruined Baths of Titus. Leo X acquired the reclining statues of the Nile and the Tiber, and the so-called Antinous. These and other specimens of classical art, though not representative of that art at its best, helped to educate Italian taste, already well-disposed towards every form of classical culture.

The Latin verse-writers of Leo's age show the impression made by the newly-found works of sculpture. It is more interesting to note the remark of an expert, the Florentine sculptor Ghiberti, who, in speaking of an ancient statue which he had seen at Rome, observes that its subtle perfection eludes the eye, and can be fully appreciated only by passing the hand over the surface of the marble. The most memorable record of the new zeal for ancient Home is the letter addressed to Leo X, in , by RafFaelle. For a long time he had been engaged in a comprehensive study of the ancient monuments.

In them, he says, he had recognised "the divinity of those minds of the old world.

And then he unfolds his project. Mapping out Rome into fourteen regions, he urges that systematic works should be undertaken for the purpose of clearing, or excavating, all existing remains of the ancient city, and then safeguarding them against further injury.