The literary Relationship
[A. Lecoy de la Marche, Le Roi René. Sa vie, son administration, ses travaux artistiques et littéraires. D’après les documents inédits des archives de France et d’Italie. Paris, Firmin-Diderot, 1875, vol. 2 pp. 180-182]
between René d’Anjou and Jacopo Antonio Marcello
Translated by Ross Gregory Caldwell
Many Italians of letters maintained relations with the King of Sicily, even after he had left their country. The renaissance of letters cast its first brilliant light in Italy: the papyrus was exhumed, forgotten authors were taken out of the dust, the slightest remnant of antiquity was admired, with an enthusiasm whose excess soon produced a sort of neo-paganism. Because of his knowledge as well as his position, René was necessarily called to be a participant in this movement, to support it, and to be an activist of it: it could be said that he was one of its principal promoters, and that he had the good fortune to be associated with it before the passion for the classics turned to exaggeration and abuse. While pursuing the conquest of the Kingdom of Naples, he became associated with the Doge Thomas de Campofregozzo, the grammarian Filelfo, Antonio Marcello and with other distinguished erudits. The first corresponded frequently with him, and his letters show the effects, in both their form and what informs them, of the cult of the ancients. The second, even though he was the protégé of Alfonso of Aragon, had a tight literary correspondence with the French Prince, and was called to be next to him in the expedition of 1453: his son Marius obtained, on his recommendation, the office of Palace Judge in the County of Provence (1). As for Marcello, he appears to have been still more the intimate of René. Dubbed Knight of the Crescent, he wrote a Latin poem in honour of this new Order. Because of his devotion for its founder, he was made the Defender of the Angevine cause in Italy; his credit was up to his zeal: even Francesco Sforza engaged his ally not to neglect him, and to profit to the utmost extent from his ardent sympathy (2). Later on, circumstances were such that these two learned individuals, united by common tastes and by an old friendship, met one another  at the head of two opposing armies: the one Marcello, having become providitor of the Republic of Venice, who received the declaration of war sent to this power by the King of Sicily, and who was beaten by him in the Lombard plains. One does not see that this official hostility had altered their reciprocal sentiments; for the noble Venetian, four years later, sent his royal friend an exemplar of the Cosmography of Ptolemy, accompanied by a most affectionate letter, “In speaking with the knight Louis Marcello concerning the affairs of Your Majesty,” he wrote to him, “I have learned that he was searching out for him a good and handsome mappemonde (world map). Wishing above all things to delight in your desires, and knowing that Onofrio Stroza, one of the most noble and respected of people, son of the illustrious Knight Pallanti, citizen of Florence, was a great lover of these sorts of objects, that is to say of everything which serves towards the dignified studies of a free man, I inquired by him of the manner in which I could procure for myself a mappemonde more complete and more careful than all others. I have your deal, he said to me, smiling, here is one which was precisely destined to you, and which is decorated with your arms. But it is not completely finished. I took it, and I got it completed. Competent and learned men judged it perfect. It was created according to the model of an old world map with Greek letters, about eight hundred years old, and that many even believe is from the time of Ptolemy, the inventer of this science.” This is why Antonio joined to his letter the treatise of the celebrated astronomer, corrected by exemplars recovered but recently; plus a sphere covered with foreign characters (peregrinis litteris), which were taken for Chaldean, for he knew, he said, that René was pleased to research everything which came from this nation (an allusion to his collection of objects from the Levant); finally a description of the Holy Land, written in the hand of Lombard, the companion of Francesco Petrarca, who, some thought, had collaborated on it himself (1).
Another time, Marcello, having been able to get the transcription of a recently discovered homily of Saint John Chrysostom, hastened to communicate it to the King of Sicily as to one of those whom such a fine discovery should interest the most. “Sire,” he questioned him about this, “your rank and the fame that your virtues and your fine deeds have given you, gives so much weight to the care with which you honour me, that I would be the most ungrateful of men if I did not continue to earn it. A savant of my acquaintance has discovered, among some Greek manuscripts, a work equally appropriate to our instruction in religious devotion as to our consolation in the miseries of life. I asked him to let me translate it into Latin, to the end of sending it to you after having read it, if it appeared to me worthy of being addressed to you. I am sending it to you in Greek and in Latin; you may surely read it with pleasure and even with fruit (1). René procured for himself also, through the intermediary of Marcello, a copy of the text of Quintillian, newly discovered by Poggio, the treatise of Pomponius Laelius de Arte grammaticae, and the first Latin translation of the geographer Strabo, made by Guarini da Verona (2). One could put again among the number of Italian erudits who enjoyed his favour Junien Maggio, editor of Pliny, to whom he made urgent offers to attract him to Provence (3), and the philologist Lorenzo Valla, who lived for a long time in Naples and became the historian of King Alfonso. His library contained one of the works of this last writer, which he had no doubt brought from Italy to France.
(1) V. Papon, Hist. De Provence, III, 351 ; Villeneuve-Bargemont, II, 105.
(2) Letter of 24 February 1448 (Bibl. nat., mss. ital. 1585, fo. 81.).
(1) This letter, which I have abriged, is dated the 1st of March 1457. It is found at the head of the
exemplar of Ptolemy which is conserved today at the Bibl. nat. (ms. lat. 17542) and which appears written
in the same hand.
(1) Ms. du Vatican cite par Papon, op. cit., III, 386.
(2) Ms. lat. 17512 of
the Bibl. nat. Ms. of the library of Albi cited by M. de Quatrebarbes, IV, 198. Villeneuve-Bargemont,
(3) Letter of Maggio, cited in the memoirs of Saint-Vincens (Vill.-Barg., III, 21).