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13.06.09, Baldassarri & Aldi, eds., Giannozzo Manetti: Historia Pistoriensis

13.06.09, Baldassarri & Aldi, eds., Giannozzo Manetti: Historia Pistoriensis

Only recently has Gianozzo Manetti (1396-1459) begun to receive the scholarly attention he deserves. Study of the Florentine politician and humanist, known best as author of De dignitate et excellentia hominis, has been hampered by a lack of critical editions of his work. The publication of Historia Pistoriensis represents an effort to remedy the situation and is thus very welcome. It is a skillful and erudite edition that will finally replace L. A. Muratori's outdated version, published in the eighteenth century. The modern editors offer insightful introductory essays and ample notes to the text that allow scholars to place the Historia more surely in its intellectual and political context.

The critical edition of the Historia is the work of three scholars. Stefano Baldassari is most responsible for editing the Latin text and provides introductory essays and discussions of major themes and literary conventions. Benedetta Aldi traces the manuscript tradition and assembled the index. William Connell gives a brief historical comment alongside the presentation of archival documents relating to the composition of the Historia and its reception. The collaboration is very effective, and the reader gains a strong sense of the circumstances under which Manetti wrote the history, the sources of the work and its subsequent influence.

The exact date of the composition of the Historia is unknown. Baldassari speculates that it derived from Manetti's service for Florence as capitano di custodia of Pistoia from October 1446 to March 1447 and was most likely composed at that time or shortly thereafter. Like Manetti's other works, the Historia was written quickly and contains redundancies and errors with respect to facts. Baldassari suggests that Manetti may have been motivated to write in part by a desire for reappointment to his post, which was essentially a sinecure. Manetti borrowed books from the Biblioteca Capitolare in Pistoia, including earlier histories of Pistoia and Giovanni Villani's chronicle, to use as sources for his work (the archival evidence for which is provided in the appendix by William Connell). Manetti relied heavily on Villani for the first part of the Historia and on Leonardo Bruni's Historiae Florentini populi for the more contemporary parts.

Manetti's view of Pistoiese history is broad and respectful. He traces the development of the city from its Etruscan origins, through its submission to Florence, until his own day. Manetti's Latin style is flowery and filled with literary devices. Baldassari carefully notes Manetti's use of alliteration and frequent recourse to classical formulae ("mirabile dictu"). Like previous works on Pistoia, the Historia stresses the local penchant for factional violence. In the humanist tradition, Manetti draws a great deal from classical authors, such as Cicero, Livy and Sallust. Baldassari emphasizes, however, that Manetti situates his Historia very much in terms of Leonardo Bruni's contemporary Historiae Florentini populi. The dialogue with Bruni is particularly evident in the discussion of the origins of the Pistoia. Manetti traces the founding of the city to the followers of Catiline, thus linking Pistoia to the Roman republic. This formulation is distinct from Bruni, who did not allow Pistoia such priority, reserving it (famously) for Florence, the only child of the republic. Manetti's revision of Bruni was, however, carefully done. Manetti allowed greater dignity to Pistoia, the city he served, but at the same time did not trample Florence's priority, which he readily acknowledged. The example, as Baldassari points out, allows a glimpse of Gianozzo Manetti the politician and a point of intersection in his career between the realities of public service, patronage and writing of humanist history.

It is important to stress the great care with which the editors have rendered Manetti's Historia. The text contains wonderfully detailed footnotes that allow the reader to trace Manetti's borrowings from other authors, both classical and contemporary. One sees clearly the many passages taken directly from Giovanni Villani and Leonardo Bruni. One also sees clearly Manetti's steadfast attention to military deeds, his penchant for lengthy digressions, inclusion of divine portents and attention to acts of faith. The last connects Manetti of the Historia to Manetti the devout Christian, author of a defense of Christianity and translator of the bible.

The editors also deserve credit for supplying a comprehensive bibliography of modern scholarship on Manetti, as well as a carefully composed index of names, places and authors. The current edition fits nicely with the recent publication (by Baldassari) of several other works by Manetti, including his parallel lives of Seneca and Socrates (inspired by Plutarch) and his biography of Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio. Collectively, the works shed much needed light on the career of an important and curiously underappreciated Renaissance figure.