Latin vs. Philology: Part I

Francesco Filelfo, Letter to Lorenzo Medici (Part 1)

“Lorenzo Medici, since I see that some are wrapped up in that error and believe that there is no real difference between literary and Latin speech, and furthermore that that they all use this same speech common at those times at which the most outstanding poets – the comedians as much as the tragedians and the most eloquent orators – flourished, and which we ourselves use now, I thought (since you are endowed with the noblest birth, intellect, and learning) that you would not be displeased in light of our friendship to learn from me what opinion I think we should take on the subject.

I have done this with more accuracy, since Leonardo Bruni, our friend and surely a most eloquent man, has discoursed much against Flavio Biondo, and Poggio, following Leonardo’s death, gratified Karolus of Arezzo by covering up the little book written against Biondo’s writings which offended the glory of his fellow citizen. Neither of these people properly discharged his duty. But I, serving the cause of truth, shall bring forth not what others have wished or would wish, but what pertains to the matter at hand.

First of all I think that I can say without doubt and clearly affirm that nothing is more abhorrent to the old mode of Roman speech than this common language which all of Italy now uses.

For if the ancient Romans had used speech of this sort, some of their writings or books would have remained either in verse or in prose – such volumes as we now see a lot of, written learnedly and elegantly by those who have earned a reputation in modern times: the two Guidos of Florence, Dante, Petrarch, Bocaccio, Asculanus Cicchus, and many others, whose monuments no memory will ever obscure.

And so, this common language which all of Italy now speaks, even though it is worse in some regions than in others, has nothing in common with that ancient speech which was in use during the age of Cicero.

There is no wonder here, given that so many barbarous tribes overran Italy. The Vandals, the Huns, the Lombards, the Germans, the Burgundians, the British, the Franks, the Belgians, one nation upon another, who confused and corrupted the language itself and our customs and all of our learning and the majesty of our speech.”

Cum viderem nonnullos in eo versari errore, Laurenti Medices, ut arbitrarentur nihilo prorsus inter se differre sermonem litteralem et latinum, praeterea eadem hac omnes usos vulgari lingua temporibus iis, quibus egregii poetae, tam comici quam tragici, et oratores eloquentissimi floruerunt apud Romanos, qua ipsi nunc utimur, existimavi tibi, qui nobilissimo es et genere et ingenio et doctrina, pro nostra amicicia fore non ingratum si ex me cognosceres quid ea de re sentiendum putem.

Quod eo feci accuratius, quoniam et Leonardus Arretinus, familiaris noster, vir sane facundissimus, adversus Blondum Flavium multa disseruit, et post Leonardi obitum Poggius, Karolo gratificatus Arretino, quem disertissimi concivis gloriam offenderet libellum etiam contra illius scripta contexuit; cum neuter suo sit functus officio. At ego, veritati inserviens, non quid caeteri aut voluerint aut velint, sed quid in rem sit, in medium referam.

Et omnium primum illud mihi videor indubitato posse ac dilucide affirmare, nihil magis abhorruisse a communi loquendi Romanorum consuetudine, quam hanc vulgarem linguam qua nunc omnis utitur Italia.

Nam, si huiusmodi sermone prisci Romani illi essent usi, extarent aliqua eorum scripta, aliqui libri, aut versu aut soluta oratione, qualia videmus hac tempestate volumina plurima perdocte et eleganter scripta ab iis qui proximis temporibus claruere: duobus Guidonibus florentinis, Dante Aldigerio, Francisco Petrarca, Ioanne Boccacio et Asculano Ciccho aliisque quam plurimis, quorum monimenta nulla unquam memoria obscurabit.
Itaque lingua haec vulgaris qua nunc universa loquitur Italia, tametsi in alia quam in alia eius regione deterius, nihil habet omnino commune cum vetusto illo sermone qui Ciceronis memoria erat in usu.

Et ne id quidem mirum, cum tot deinceps barbarae gentes in Italiam irruerunt. Vandali, Hunni, Gotthi, Longobardi, Germani, Burgundiones, Britanni, Franci, Belgae, et aliae atque aliae nationes, quae et linguam ipsam et mores doctrinamque omnem maiestatemque dicendi confuderunt atque inquinarunt.

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