Poggio and Guarino

Scipio or Caesar, peace or war

composed on the base of: Anthony Grafton, The Artist at Court: Alberti in Ferarra, Chaper 6, p.189-224

by Mari Hoshizaki / edited by autorbis

Poggio Braccioloni (1380 - 1459) (here a second vita, see also the main page and his relevance at the council of Constance and possibly the Imperatori deck) is one of the most interesting intellectual persons in the first half of 15th century. From humble birth he ascended to a famous text-collector, he was in the service of 8 popes and finally chancellor of Florence. His satirical scriptures took an immense influence and did lead to heavy fights with other humanists, especially Valla and Filelfo. He developed archeological interests ("Indeed it may be said that he was the first to practise archæology systematically"). His interest in the Ferrarese circle might have helped to bring the council in 1437 to Ferrara, finally the council got more successful in Poggio's favoured manuscript world than in the real political world, Constantinople got lost.

...In the middle of the 1430, Ferrarese and Florentine circles were in regular contact. Leonello himself briefly visited Florence in 1435. In May of that year, his brother Meliaduse and erudite courtier Feltrino Boiardo, the grandfather of the poet Boiardo, took part in a lively discussion in the more secret part of the papal curia in Florence with "some men of the highest quality."

Poggio spoke at length in praise of the Roman historian Livy, arguing that the vast chronological and substanstive range of materials that he had covered and the brillant Latin prose in which he had done so made him the greatest of historians, whatever Plutarch and other Greeks might say. Feltrino Boiardo agreed. When Poggio, the great explorer of monastic libraries, went on to say that he heard plausible news of the existence of more books of Livy than the thirty already in circulation, Boiardo demurred at first. But after Poggio reported in detail on the rumor that he had heard, that a manuscript with one hundred books of Livy, wirtten in Lombardic script with an admixture of Gothic has been sighted in a Cistercian monastery somewhere in Dacia, Boiardo showed interest. He demanded that Poggio transmit the report to his erudite prince (Leonello).

Like other collectors, Leonello found Poggios enthusiasm contagious. Two years later he bought from Poggio an expensive manuscript of the letters of St. Jerome. Eventually Leonello also bought, read and praised a three-volume set of Livy's history, prepared by the Florentine stationer Vespasiano da Bisticci and adorned on its opening pages with interlaced white vine leaves - the most fashionable style of Florentine book produced in this period. For all Leonello's love of the intricate traceries drawn by Ferrarese illuminators, he had to admit that Florence was the richest source of generally well-corrected classical manuscripts. (1)

Not all contacts between Florentine and Ferrarese intellecturals were friendly or even polite. In 1435, in fact, a sharp literary dispute broke out between Poggio and Guarino. Poggio was heartily sick of the aggressive foreign policy of the Albizzi regime, which had ruled Florence until 1433. In order to show that he sided with Florence's new and thoroughly modern rulers, the Medici family, Poggio insisted that Scipio, the man of peace, had been the greatest of ancient heroes.
Other humanists who wrote in praise of the first Medici to control the city, Cosimo, consistenly represented him as the bringer of peace. But Guarino, the servant and teacher of rulers whose military prowess he admired, prefered the other side in Florence and admired Caesar, whose works he read to the young Leonello. The debate continued for some months, the course of which Poggio produced at least one powerful document - a long letter in which he argued the republican liberty, of the sort that represented by Scipio, had played a vital role in fostering literature and arts in ancient Rome. For the most part, however, the controversy enabled Poggio and Guarino to show off their considerable rhetorical skills and biting with -- as well as their ability to read whatever modern messages they liked into classical texts. For a time, the contest became so bitter that it threatened the tranquility of the humanist republic of letters. By May 1436, however, peace had been restored, thanks to the intervention of Leonello and a learned young Ferrarese canon, Francesco Marescalco. (2) From that point on, Florentine and Ferrarese humanists enjoyed close relations. By the 1440's, Poggio sent his own son Gian Battista to mingle and study with the learned in Ferrara (3).

Personal Comment (autorbis): The irony of life made Ferrara to the one peaceful location between the wars of Milano and Venetia during Leonellos reignment. The discussion between Poggio and Guarino happened during the time, when Leonello's "education time" ended (Guarino engaged then - 1436 - in the Ferrarese university). Leonello followed Poggio's way, not Guarinos suggestion.

(1) Poggio Bracciolini, Lettere, II:Epistolarium familiarium libri, ed. H. Harth (Florence, 1984), 251-52

(2)The Court of Ferarra and its Patronoage, ed. M. Pade, L.W. Peterson, and D. Quarta (Copenhagen and Ferarra, 1990.

(3) E. Walser, Poggious Florentinus, Leben und Werke, (Leipzig and Berlin, 1914), 172 n. 2, 170-71.

Later Additions (October 2007)

A biography of Poggio is given by William Shephard: The Live of Poggio Bracchiolini, 1837. Some interesting points are:
  • It includes the description of a visit of Poggio in a letter of Poggio in the baths of Baden during his stay at the council of Constance 1416. He enjoys the free time and the discrepances between German and Italian life. He describes games in the bath, but doesn't mention playing cards (he doesn't mention chess or tables either, possibly it's not the place for such sort of games) (p. 59 - 68).

  • Poggio and Guarino already in the year 1416 had letter contact to each other (p. 85).
    Poggio, who lost with the abdiction of pope John XXIII. his role as papal secretary, started with his stay in Constance his book collecting activities. His activities lead to the admiration of his Italian friends, Leonardo Aretino wrote to him on his acquisition of a perfect copy of Quintilian's treatise on Oratory: "I have seen the letter which you wrote to our friend Niccolo, on the subject of your last journey, and the discovery of some manuscripts. In my opinion the republic of letters has reason to rejoice, not only on account of the acquisition of the works which you have already recovered, but also on account of the hope which I see you entertain of the recovery of others. It will be your glory to restore to the present age, by your labour and diligence, the writings of excellent authors, which have hitherto escaped the researches of the learned. The accomplishment of your undertaking will confer an obligation, not on us alone, but on the successors to our studies ... It will be recorded to distant ages ..." (p. 95).
    And Leonardo promises financial resources for his activities. For the Italian mind of the time the scholars release the valued texts of the "dungeons of the barbarians". Later on a younger German with the name of Nicolaus of Treves (= Cusanus) gets great importance of getting lost texts from Northern countries, which Italians in earlier barbaric states failed to conserve.

  • The detection of the Manilius text, important for the later design of Palazzo Schifanoia in Ferrara (1469), also respected by Regiomontanus (1472; he printed it) and perhaps of relevance for the production of Michelino deck in ca. 1425 (both, Manilius text and Michelino deck, use the concept of the "12 Olympian gods", although in a different form) is mentioned in a short note: "In a long and elaborate letter which Poggio received from Francesco Barbaro, and which bears the date of June 7th, 1417, this learned patrician congratulates his correspondent on the glory which he had acquired by his labours in the cause of learning, and ascribes to the unremitted diligence of his investigations, the recovery of the works of the following authors, in addition to others which have been already enumerated ; Manilius, Lucius Scptimius, Caper, Eutychius, and Probus." (p. 102).
    At another place I found the note, that the Manilius text reached Italy in 1421.

  • It seems, that Poggio's major stay was in Constance till the election of pope Martin V., whom he followed in May 16 in 1418 to Geneva (for some monthes), to Milan and then to Mantua, where Martin resided for some time, cause the papal states were in political trouble (Poggio had hoped, that the new pope would become Zarbarella, cardinal of Florence, but Zarbarella died 1417; in this case Poggio would have prolonged his post as papal secretary). So Poggio, as it seems, was in Milan, and news about the Manilius text might have reached Filippo Maria Visconti this year, perhaps by Poggio himself (likely his findings were also intensively discussed in the papal delegation). From here Poggio quitted the papal court and left for England, following an invitation of Beaufort, bishop of Winchester, where Poggio stayed some time, more or less discontent by his absence from Italy and his friends.

  • The Scipio-or-Caesar-conflict, described above, is given with some more detail at p. 271. Interestingly the year 1435, when this episode took place, became the year of marriage for Poggio, himself 55 years, the bride nearly 18. Accompanying a debate is given, in which Poggio and Niccolò Niccoli take position (p. 274 - 280) ... Niccolò had caused some erotical trouble earlier, when he took the mistress of his brother for his own in the time, when Poggio was in England (p. 120-123), getting some accusations as a foolish galant from his friends.
    Niccolò died two years later, short before the council of Ferrara - he had the greatest private library in Florence and left it to Cosimo, who formed with it the library of San Marco in 1444, reknown as the first public library in Italy.

  • At another occasion Poggio tried to reconcile the young Ludovico Gonzaga with his father (p. 291 - 296). Poggio earned some honour of the Mantuan signore during the council in Ferrara (1438), and finally - after some years - the trouble disappeared, although it became the source for a lifelong conflict between Ludovico and his brother Carlo.

  • Curiously the search engine didn't gave back any results on Leon Battista Alberti for this text. Likely one should conclude, that both hadn't too much relationship to each other, Poggio a generation older than Alberti.
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