Nothing Left for the Learned

Leon Battista Alberti,
On the Advantages and Disadvantages of Literature (Part II):

“Therefore, turning over many things in my mind both for my own sake and that of my friends, I was meditating in what worthy endeavor I might test the strength of my intellect, and then – with the encouragement of my friends – I might test whether it was in me. Nothing ever came to my mind during this investigation which itself had not already been taken up beautifully by those divine ancient writers, and so it seemed that it was not left for the most learned man of this age to speak upon a matter better than the ancients did themselves, nor was it left to me to do anything similar to them in a fitting or worthy way. The ancients themselves embraced all serious and trivial subjects so thoroughly, and they left for us only the opportunity and the necessity of reading and admiring them.

Then, in our time, those who are of an older age seized, for the sake of their praise and reputation, upon some things which had perhaps been lying neglected by the ancient authors. For those who desired glory thought rightly that it was much better to attempt something even if it be not entirely perfect and absolute, than simply to grow old from silence in the study of letters. What then about us? Will we to no good end imitate that orator Isocrates, who is said to have praised the most worthless tyrant Busiris and heaped scorn upon Socrates, the best and holiest philosopher, in his celebrated speeches? To be sure, here is what I think: I have conceded many things to us especially as we exercised our talents in youth, which otherwise are denied to us as mature men in the perfection of our erudition.”

Leon Battista Alberti

Itaque et mea et meorum causa sepe ac multum animo et cogitatione plurima ipse mecum versans meditabar quidnam possem dignum adinvenire in quo vires ingenii mei periclitarer, tum meis iubentibus, si quid in me esset, obtemperarem. Nihil mihi unquam pervestiganti in mentem subiit, quod ipsum a priscis illis divinis scriptoribus non pulchre esset occupatum, ut neque eam rem viro hac etate doctissimo quam iidem illi melius dicere neque mihi similia illis apte et condigne agere relictum sit; ita et seria omnia et iocosa veteres ipsi complexi sunt, nobis tantum legendi atque admirandi sui facultatem et necessitatem dimiserunt.

Tum hac etate qui maiores adsunt natu nonnulla que fortassis a superioribus scriptoribus neglecta latitabant laudis et nominis gratia deprehenderunt. Nam prestantius esse recte opinantur ii qui laudem cupiant quippiam etsi non omni ex parte perfectum atque absolutum conari, quam in litteris silentio consenescere. Quid igitur nos? Num parum commode Isocratem illum rhetorem imitabimur qui Busiridem nequissimum tyrannum laudasse ac Socratem optimum et sanctissimum philosophum conditis orationibus vituperasse fertur? Sane sic censeo: multa ingenium exercentibus nobis presertim iuvenibus concedi, que alioquin maturis et perfecte eruditis viris denegarentur.

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