03.04.06, Pellegrini, Umanisti Bellunesi fra Quattro e Cinquecento

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Ron Witt

The Medieval Review baj9928.0304.006


Pellegrini, Paolo, ed.. Umanisti Bellunesi fra Quattro e Cinquecento: Atti del Convegno di Belluno, 5 novembre 1999. Series: Biblioteca Dell' "Archivum Romanicum": Serie I: Storia, Letteratura, Paleografia, 299. Florence: Leo S. Olschki, 2001. Pp. 294. ISBN: 88-222-5063-x.

Reviewed by:
Ron Witt
Duke University

This collection of essays based on papers presented at a conference held in Belluno in 1999 are of widely varying quality. Most are focused on the two major humanists the city produced, the Franciscan friar Urbano Bolzanio (1442-1524) and his nephew Pierio Valeriano (1477-1558). The claim of Belluno on the first is more tenuous than on the second. Urbano left Belluno in his mid-twenties and lived most of the rest of his life in Venice, Florence, and Rome. Valeriano, who left Belluno for Venice at fifteen to study and lived for many years away from his natal city, nevertheless returned periodically for long stays and in 1538 established himself permanently in Belluno until his death. The collection, however, curiously lacks an essay dealing with Valeriano's influence on Belluno's literary and scholarly culture, especially during the last two decades of his life when he was continuously in residence.

After a short biographical sketch of the two humanists by Giuseppe Frasso in an introduction, Manlio Pastore Stocchi's essay "Pierio Valeriano e l'Umanesimo" briefly characterizes each of the humanist's major works while making the important point, supported by successive essays, that Valeriano's scholarly endeavors signal a new phase in Italian humanism. By the early sixteenth century, the vein of riches mined from the classics by Italian humanists using a philological approach was running out and "ambitions of renewal, enthusiasms, hopes, and civic passions nourished by the study of the classics had given way to pure rhetorical emulation of ancient forms and to the taste for writing poetry and systematic erudition with elegance and exactness" (9). Noticeably absent from Stocchi's treatment of Valeriano's Contarenus seu de litteratorum infelicitate is a reference to the fine pages of Kenneth Gouwens, Remembering the Renaissance. Humanist Narratives of the Sack of Rome (Leiden, 1998), 153-67, dealing with that work.

According to Vincenzo Fera's "Dai Miscellane alle Castigationes virgilianae" the approach of Valeriano's Castigationes virgilianae of 1521 to systematic analysis and evaluation of variants in early codices of Vergil represents the passage from humanist philological criticism to humanist literary criticism (135). Whereas fifteenth-century philologists sought a vera lectio in their editions, that is, the true meaning of the text, Valeriano pursued a casta lectio, a meaning determined partially by aesthetic considerations. In the case of Virgil, Valeriano's practice was to detail the variety of variants found in the most ancient Virgilian codices for a particular passage and determine the proper reading not on the basis of an argument but rather of its relative elegance. Frequently the choice of the proper reading was left to the taste of the reader. Nowhere is the role of decor and suavitas in establishing readings more prominent than in Valeriano's analysis of Virgil's meters where the appropriateness of the sound appears to be the ultimate determinant.

Valeriano's Praelectiones in Catullum, a fragmentary collection of lectures on Catullus' poetry he delivered in Rome from late 1521 until spring 1523 reflects the same emphasis. As Anita di Stefano's "Pierio Valeriano e la nascita della critica catulliana nel secolo XVI" shows, in his approach to Catullus, grammatical and philological observations accompanied by brief paraphrases common to earlier commentaries are complimented "by suggestions and cues of a more refined literary and artistic nature" (155). More a poet than a philologist, Valeriano is interested in studying why a particular meter serves to articulate a particular theme or in justifying the poet's choice of words in individual passages. Consequently, for di Stefano the work marks the beginning of modern literary criticism because "the dry philological framework gives way...to the construction of a total commentary attentive to the whole texture of the poem, both structural and poetic" (160).

The Grammaticae institutiones of Valeriano's uncle, Urbano Bolzanio, was, according to Antonio Rollo's excellent article "La grammatica greca di Urbano Bolzanio," innovative in its own way. After a concise discussion of Greek grammars written in Italy since the late Trecento, grammar manuals essentially epitomes heavily dependent on the oral teaching of a master, Rollo contrasts them with Urbano's work. Not only was Urbano's grammar written in Latin but it offered an extensive synthesis of the theoretical and normative teachings of Greek grammar drawn from the author's extensive study of the Byzantine grammatical tradition. Published in three successively expanded editions in 1498, 1512 and 1545, the Grammaticae institutiones itself, however, did not become widely diffused. Rather its importance lay in its becoming the theoretical model on which Greek grammar textbooks were henceforth composed.

Also related to Urbano's scholarship is Piero Scapecchi's "Vecchi e nuovi appunti su frate Urbano." In this article, Scapecchi explores in turn the identity of Urbano's first Greek teacher, details of his association with the Medici, and the relationship of Urbano as well as Valeriano with Pietro Bembo. The author also offers new information on Urbano's connection to the print shops of Aldo Manuzio and Tacuino, both of whom had a role in the publication of his monumental Greek grammar.

Two articles in the collection of essay are devoted to Valeriano's curious Hieroglyphica, a work written over many decades but published only two years before his death in 1558. Stephane Rolet's "Genése et composition des Hieroglyphia de Pierio Valeriano: essai de reconstitution," first addresses the problem of the publication of two editions of the same work in the same year by different publishers; and secondly endeavors to establish the stages in which the work was composed. In his study "Medicina e simboli nei Geroflifici di Pierio Valeriano," Ernesto Riva concludes that Valeriano had no understanding whatsoever of Egyptian hieroglyphics and that his discussions of their meanings throughout the immense volume were based on pure speculation. He seems to have been convinced that the symbols were signs of secret knowledge known only to a restricted circle of learned men and that study of hieroglyphics as images held the key to their meaning.

The three remaining essays in the collection reflect perhaps concessions to local scholarship. Marco Perale's "1517: L'istituzione dell'arcipretura della cattedrale nei nuovi equilibri postcambraici a Belluno," chronicles in massive detail the tension between imperial and Venetian sympathies in Belluno that helps to explain why Leo X created a new office of archpraetor in the city's cathedral in 1517 and appointed Valeriano to fill it. The complicated narrative may be of interest to a historian of Belluno, but the point is of minor significance for the biography of the humanist. Similarly the summary description and inventory of the hundred-and-ten printed volumes from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in the Biblioteca civica of Belluno has little or no interest for an international scholarly public. Finally, the article by Paolo Da Col, "'In montibus nutritus': il compositore Cristoforo da Feltre nelle fonti di cronaca ed'archivio," seems out of place in the volume. Devoted to the biography of an early fifteenth-century musician, who served as music teacher in the cathedral chapter from 1406 to 1432, the article has nothing to do with a conference on humanism.

Despite the uneven quality of the essays, the best ones, those devoted to Valeriano's role in the development of humanist literary criticism and to Urbano's breaking with the fifteenth-century tradition of composing Greek grammars make this volume recommended reading.

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Ron Witt

Duke University