Cristoforo Landino, Preface to Vergil in a Florentine Gymnasium (Part 5)
But, in order to finally return from such distant regions to Italy and Latium specifically, we should in no way think, my lords, that before Livy who (as Cicero has it) in the 410th year after the foundation of the republic first published the story that there was no poet among the Latins, when Marcus Cato in his Origins wrote that it was the most ancient custom for the notable deeds of excellent men to be sung to the tibia at dinner parties. Livy however, the truest historian of all, related that song was established in sacred ceremonies by Numa Pompilius. But I think that it has now been demonstrated by the most obvious arguments that there was no type of writers by which the poets were surpassed in antiquity.
But now, lest anything which we proposed be omitted, consider in the briefest account how much utility and pleasantness they offer both publicly and privately. But, since amidst such an abundance of material it is far more difficult to find the end than the beginning, I cannot find what I should say first, and what later. But in order to begin from that eloquence by whose strength nearly everything is ruled and which is rightly called “mind-bending”, who could be found with such a dull mind, that he doesn’t see how much spirit, how much splendor, how much dignity the poet offers to the orator? Who is ignorant of how sublime they are in the greatest matters, how moderated in the middling ones, how elegant in trifles? Let their exordia be attended to, let their narrations be read, their divisions be numbered, let their affirmations and refutations be weighed out carefully, and finally let their conclusions and epilogues not be passed over: you will understand, surely, that nothing could be found more accommodated to fostering good will, nothing more brief or clear for the purpose of narrating, nothing more indissoluble for division, nothing weightier in proof nor more forceful in refutation, nothing finally more abundant or ornate for delivering a conclusion. But all of these things pertain to oratorical arguments. Who handled philosophy itself more splendidly? Not only do poets select diverse passages from it and adorn them with a certain wondrous sweetness, but they even encompassed the whole business most totally, as we see among the Greeks Pittacus of Mytilene, Xenophanes, Parmenides, Empedocles, and many others from the family of the Pythagoreans; and among the Latins Lucretius, and Marcus Varro, whom Jerome called the most learned of all the Romans.
Sed ut quandoque ex tam longinquis regionibus in Italiam Latiumque redeamus, nullo pacto existimandum est, domini viri, ante Livium illum qui, ut est apud Ciceronem, decimo et quadringentesimo post conditam urbem anno primus fabulam edidit, nullum apud Latinos poetam fuisse, cum M. Cato in suis Originibus scriptum reliquerit vetustissimam fuisse consuetudinem, ut in conviviis egregia excellentium virorum facta ad tibiam canerentur. Livius autem, historicus omnium verissimus, a Numa Pompilio carmen in sacris cerimoniis institutum refert. Sed iam nullum esse scriptorum genus, a quo poetae antiquitate superentur, manifestissimis argumentationibus demonstratum esse arbitror.
Nunc vero, ne quid ex iis quae a nobis proposita sunt omittatur, quantum illi utilitatis, quantum etiam iocunditatis publice privatimque afferant, brevissimis accipite. Verum, quoniam in tanta rerum copia multo difficilius est finem quam initium invenire, quid prius, quid posterius dicam non reperio. Sed ut ab ea, cuius vi pene omnia reguntur quaeque iure «flexianima» appellata est, eloquentia exordiar, quis adeo hebeti erit ingenio, ut quantum spiritus, quantum splendoris, quantum dignitatis oratori poeta afferat non viderit? Quis quantum illi in maximis rebus sublimes, in mediocribus temperati, in humilibus elegantes sint ignoraverit? Attendantur exordia, legantur narrationes, enumerentur divisiones, pendantur diligentius confirmationes et confutationes, denique conclusiones epilogique non praetereantur: intelligetis profecto neque ad captandam benivolentiam accomodatius neque ad narrandum brevius et apertius neque ad dividendum absolutius neque ad confirmandum gravius neque ad confutandum vehementius neque postremo ad concludendum copiosius ornatiusque quicquam inveniri. Sed haec ad oratorias argumentationes pertinent. Philosophiam vero ipsam quis splendidius tractavit? Neque enim solum diversos ex ea locos decerpunt atque mira quadam suavitate condiunt poetae, verum etiam totam rem absolutissime perscripserunt, quemadmodum apud Graecos Pittacum Mytilenaeum, Xenophanem, Parmenidem, Empedoclem et plerosque alios ex Pythagoreorum familia, apud vero Latinos Lucretium et quem Romanorum omnium doctissimum Hieronymus appellavit M. Varronem videmus.