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Poggio Bracciolini.
(Gian Francesco) Poggio Bracciolini (February 11, 1380October 30, 1459 AD) was one of the most important Italian humanists. He recovered a great number of classical texts, mostly lying forgotten in German and French monastic libraries, and disseminated manuscript copies among the educated world.

Biography

Poggio di Duccio (the surname Bracciolini was added during his career) was born at the village of Terranuova, since 1862 renamed in his honour Terranuova Bracciolinimarker, near Arezzomarker in Tuscany.

Taken by his father to Florence to pursue the studies for which he appeared so apt, he studied Latin under John of Ravenna, and Greek under Manuel Chrysoloras. His distinguished abilities and his dexterity as a copyist of manuscripts brought him into early notice with the chief scholars of Florence: both Coluccio Salutati and Niccolò de' Niccoli befriended him;. At the age of twenty-one he was received into the Florentine notaries' guild, the Arte dei giudici e notai and in the year 1402 or 1403 he was received into the service of the Roman Curia, as secretary ammanuensis to Cardinal Maramori. His functions remained those of a secretary; and, though he profited by benefices conferred on him in lieu of salary, he remained a layman to the end of his life. It is noticeable that, while he held his office in the curia through that momentous period of fifty years which witnessed the Councils of Konstanzmarker, in the train of Pope John XXIII, and of Basel, and the final restoration of the papacy under Nicholas V, his sympathies were never attracted to ecclesiastical affairs.

The greater part of Poggio's long life was spent in attendance to his duties in the papal curia at Rome and elsewhere. But about the year 1452 he finally retired to Florence, and on the death of Carlo Aretino (Marsuppini) in 1453 was appointed chancellor and historiographer to the Republic. On the proceeds of a sale of a manuscript of Livy in 1434, he had already built himself a villa in the Valdarnomarker, which he adorned with a collection of antique sculpture (notably a series of busts meant to represent thinkers and writers of Antiquity), coins and inscriptions, works that were familiar to his friend Donatello. In 1435-36 he had married a girl of eighteen, Selvaggia dei Buondelmonti, of the noble Florentine family. His declining days were spent in the discharge of his honorable Florentine office, editing his correspondence for publication and in the composition of his history of Florence. He died in 1459, and was buried in the church of Santa Crocemarker. A statue by Donatello and a portrait by Antonio del Pollaiuolo remain to commemorate a citizen who chiefly for his services to humanistic literature deserved the notice of posterity.

Methods

Nothing marks the secular attitude of the Italians at an epoch which decided the future course of both Renaissance and Reformation more strongly than the mundane proclivities of this apostolic secretary, heart and soul devoted to the resuscitation of classical studies amid conflicts of popes and antipopes, cardinals and councils, in all of which he bore an official part. Thus, when his duties called him to Konstanzmarker in 1414, he employed his leisure in exploring the libraries of Swissmarker and Swabian abbeys. The treasures he brought to light at Reichenaumarker, Weingartenmarker, and above all St. Gallmarker, restored many lost masterpieces of Latin literature, and supplied students with the texts of authors whose works had hitherto been accessible only in mutilated copies.

In his epistles he describes how he recovered Quintilian, Statius' Silvae, part of Valerius Flaccus, and the commentaries of Asconius Pedanius at St. Gallenmarker. Manuscripts of Lucretius, Columella, Silius Italicus, Manilius and Vitruvius were unearthed, copied by his hand, and communicated to the learned. Wherever Poggio went he carried on the same industry of research. At Langresmarker in the summer of 1417 he discovered Cicero's Oration for Caecina and nine other hitherto unknown orations of Cicero's, at Monte Cassinomarker a manuscript of Frontinus. In 1415 at Clunymarker he found Cicero's complete great forensic orations, previously only partially available. He also could boast of having recovered Ammianus Marcellinus, Nonius Marcellus, Probus, Flavius Caper and Eutyches.

If a codex could not be obtained by fair means, he was ready to use fraud, as when he bribed a monk to abstract a Livy and an Ammianus from the library of Hersfeld Abbeymarker. Resolute in recognizing erudition as the chief concern of man, he sighed over the folly of popes and princes, who spent their time in wars and ecclesiastical disputes when they might have been more profitably employed in reviving the lost learning of antiquity. This point of view is eminently characteristic of the earlier Italian Renaissance. The men of that nation and of that epoch were bent on creating a new intellectual atmosphere for Europe by means of vital new contact with the texts of antiquity.

Works

Poggio, like Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini (who became Pius II), was a great traveller, and wherever he went he brought enlightened powers of observation trained in liberal studies to bear upon the manners of the countries he visited. We owe to his pen curious remarks on Englishmarker and Swiss customs, valuable notes on the remains of antique art in Rome, and a singularly striking portrait of Jerome of Prague as he appeared before the judges who condemned him to the stake. It is necessary to dwell at length upon Poggio's devotion to the task of recovering the classics, and upon his disengagement from all but humanistic interests, because these were the most marked feature of his character and career.

In literature he embraced the whole sphere of contemporary studies, and distinguished himself as an orator, a writer of rhetorical treatises, a panegyrist of the dead, a violent impugner of the living, a translator from the Greek, an epistolographer and grave historian and a facetious compiler of fabliaux in Latin. On his moral essays it may suffice to notice the dissertations On Nobility, On Vicissitudes of Fortune, On the Misery of Human Life, On the Infelicity of Princes and On Marriage in Old Age. These compositions belonged to a species which, since Petrarch set the fashion, were very popular among Italian scholars. They have lost their value, except for the few matters of fact embedded in a mass of commonplace meditation, and for some occasionally brilliant illustrations.

Poggio's History of Florence, written in avowed imitation of Livy's manner, requires separate mention, since it exemplifies by its defects the weakness of that merely stylistic treatment which deprived so much of Bruni's, Carlo Aretino's and Bembo's work of historical weight. Bracciolini's Facetiae, a collection of humorous and indecent tales expressed in the purest Latin Poggio could command are the works most enjoyed today: they are available in several English translations. This book is chiefly remarkable for its unsparing satires on the monastic orders and the secular clergy.

In the way of many humanists of his time, Poggio himself wrote only in Latin, and translated works from Greek into that language. His letters are full of learning, charm, detail, and amusing personal attack on his enemies and colleagues. It is also noticeable as illustrating the Latinizing tendency of an age which gave classic form to the lightest essays of the fancy. Poggio, it may be observed, was a fluent and copious writer in the Latin tongue, but not an elegant scholar. His knowledge of the ancient authors was wide, but his taste was not select, and his erudition was superficial. His translation of Xenophon's Cyropaedia into Latin cannot be praised for accuracy.

Among contemporaries he passed for one of the most formidable polemical or gladiatorial rhetoricians; and a considerable section of his extant works are invectives. One of these, the Dialogue against Hypocrites, was aimed in a spirit of vindictive hatred at the vices of ecclesiastics; another, written at the request of Nicholas V, covered Amadeus VIII, Duke of Savoy, the Antipope Felix V with inventive scurrilous abuse. But his most famous compositions in this kind are the personal invectives which he discharged against Francesco Filelfo and Lorenzo Valla. All the resources of a copious and unclean Latin vocabulary were employed to degrade the objects of his satire; and every crime of which humanity is capable was ascribed to them without discrimination.

In Filelfo and Valla, Poggio found his match; and Italy was amused for years with the spectacle of their indecent combats. To dwell upon such literary infamies would be below the dignity of the historian, were it not that these habits of the early Italian humanists imposed a fashion upon Europe which extended to the later age of Scaliger's contentions with Scioppius and Milton's with Salmasius.

Legacy

Poggio was famous for his beautiful and legible cursive handwriting. in 1501 (after his death) Aldus Manutius and the Aldine Press invented italic type in emulation of it, as a condensed type for simple, compact volumes. Poggio was himself emulating the cursive handwriting of blackletter, which he (mistakenly) believed to be the writing style of Ancient Rome. When we read italic type to this day we are basically reading the handwriting of Poggio Bracciolini.

Notes

  1. Following an old engraving; from Alfred Gudeman, Imagines philologorum: 160 bildnisse..., (Leipzig/Berlin) 1911.
  2. Paolo Piccardi. "Alcuni contratti di Poggio Bracciolini"
  3. After John' was declared antipope, Poggio Bracciolini followed Henry, Cardinal Beaufort to England for a time, returning to Rome in 1423.
  4. A silver-gilt reliquary bust in the form of a mitred bishop, bearing Poggio's and his wife's arms, made to contain relics of Saint Lawrence in 1438 or 1439, is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (James J. Rorimer, 'A Reliquary Bust Made for Poggio Bracciolini" The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin New Series, 14.10 (June 1956), pp. 246-251)
  5. "Classical Scholarship"; Braccio's manuscript codex of eight of the orations, Vatican Library lat. 11458. Braccio's Latin colophon to one may be translated "This oration, formerly lost owing to the fault of the times, Poggio restored to the Latin-speaking world and brought it back to Italy, having found it hidden in Gaul, in the woods of Langres, and having written it in memory of Tully [Cicero] and for the use of the learned."


References



Further reading

Works by Poggio Bracciolini

  • Poggio's works were printed at Basel in 1538, ex aedibus Henrici Petri.
  • Storer, Edward, trans. "The Facetiae of Poggio and other medieval story-tellers." (English translation). Online version
  • P. W. G. Gordan, Two Renaissance Book Hunters: The letters of Poggius Bracciolini to Nicolaus de Niccolis, New York (1974). (English translation of his letters to Niccolo Niccoli).


Works on Poggio Bracciolini

  • Dr. William Shepherd's Life of Poggio Bracciolini (1802) ( 1837 edition available online) is a good authority on his biography.
  • For his position in the history of the revival, see Voigt's Wiederbelebung des classischen Alterthums, and Symonds's Renaissance in Italy.
  • John Winter Jones, trans., "Travelers in Disguise: Narratives of Eastern Travel by Poggio Bracciolini and Ludovico de Varthema" Cambridge: Harvard University Press, Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, 1963, with an introduction by Lincoln Davis Hammond.
  • Tacitus and Bracciolini, The Annals Forged in the XVth Century, by John Wilson Ross (19th century attempt to defame Tacitus, by way of picturing Bracciolini as a forger)



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