Borrowed Quotation and Minor Exaggeration

R.R. Bolgar, The Classical Heritage and Its Beneficiaries (p. 9):

The works of a number of major writers have been examined from this point of view, and we are in a position to form a clear picture of the classical reading of Alcuin, John of Salisbury, Dante, Chaucer, Rabelais, Ronsard, Spenser, Shakespeare, and Ben Jonson, to name only a few. Caution, however, is very necessary. If a man quotes a passage, he has read it; but we must not assume that he has read the work in which it occurs. Quotations were often taken second-hand from grammar books. The researches of C.K. Ullman have revealed that anthologies contributed largely to the classical knowledge of medieval scholars; and everybody has been aware for a long time now that many of the Renaissance pundits, like Rabelais and Ben Jonson, similarly derived the greater part of their erudition from popular handbooks. Nor can we accept without reserve the claims made by individuals that they or others had read certain classical authors, for no medieval or Renaissance writer is altogether free from the minor vice of exaggeration.

Medieval scholar, 16th century - Stock Image - C011/1864 - Science Photo Library

The Revival of Greek in Italy

Paolo Giovio, 

Elogia Doctorum Virorum: Chrysoloras

“Emanuel Chrysoloras, who first brought Greek literature back to Italy seven hundred years after it had been driven out by various barbarian invasions, was endowed with such humanity of liberal intellect in his teaching, that his famous image seems worthy of being placed first among the images of Greeks of exceptional merit, although no monuments of his weighty learning remain except some rules on the art of grammar. He was an indefatigable teacher, but he is open to the charge of having been lazy in writing, since the other part of the glory which we have chosen was sought by his useful profession.

He was sent from Byzantium by the emperor John to seek aid for Greece, which was on the verge of collapse, by pleading with all of the kings of Europe. He completed this task with such diligent traveling that he finally stopped in Italy when Greece was liberated from fear, since Tamerlane – the terror of the East – had captured alive near Mount Stella the Ottoman sultan Bayezid I (who had received the epithet of “Lightning” from the incredible swiftness of his movements). And so Chrysoloras, delighted that Greece had been freed from such an awful enemy, first in Venice, then in Florence, Rome, and finally in Pavia, which was under the rule of Giangaleazzo Visconti, managed to excite such a zeal for Greek literature that there sprang from his school minds worthy of the highest honor which on that account will never perish. Among these were Leonardo Bruni, Francesco Barbaro, Francesco Filelfo, Guarino Veronese, and Poggio Bracciolini. Later, when the synod which was called for resolving the controversy surrounding the pseudo-pontificate roused with desire to see such a spectacle, when Baldassare Cossa was deposed. Chrysoloras died in Constance. Poggio Bracciolini decorated his tomb with these lines:

‘Here lies Manuel Chrysoloras, the ornament of the Attic tongue, who came here to seek help for his afflicted country. Italy, this was a fortunate event for you, for he restored to you the grace of the Greek language, so long hidden. This was a fortunate event for you, Emanuel, for you found on Italian soil the honor which Greece never gave you – Greece, ruined in war.'”


F**k Sleep, I’m Going to the Library! [FTS Week]

Petrarch, Epistulae Familiares 19.16:

“You know how I eat, and even how I sleep – no fortune could ever persuade me to add anything to these. Rather, I subtract a little every day, and it has reached the point now that only a little bit can be subtracted. Even if some royal fortune befell me, it could not drive frugality from my table or drive me to look for more sleep at night. My bed never holds me if I am healthy and awake, and I never toss in the sheets unless I am sick or sleeping. As soon as sleep departs from me, I depart from the bed, and I will lie enough or even more than enough on a bed of earth or rock.

Thinking about it, I hate my bed and I never return to it but at the urging of necessity, but soon I sense that I am freed from it as from the chains of nature, and without delay I rip myself out of it and flee to the closest library as though it were a citadel. This divorce occurs between me and my bed in the middle of the night: if by chance a shorter night or some late hours drag on, yet certainly dawn never sees us together. Finally, I strive with all my heart to prevent anything from coming between me and my more pleasant concerns, except that which the necessity of nature extracts from me in an imperious way – I mean things like sleep, food, and the short and honorable solace which is just enough for relaxing the body and replenishing the spirit.”

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Victum meum nosti, somnum quoque; his ut addam, nulla michi unquam fortuna suaserit; demo potius aliquid in dies, iamque eo perventum est ut modicum demi possit; denique non si regie opes advenerint, aut e mensa frugalitatem pellere poterunt aut in cubiculum longos somnos arcessere. Nunquam me sanum ac vigilem lectus habet, nunquam nisi eger aut dormiens stratis versor; simul et me somnus et ego lectum desero, et somnum morti et lectulum busto simillimum duco. Cum supremus sopor obrepserit, satis superque satis in cubiculo terreo seu saxeo iacebimus; id meditans lectulum meum odi et ad illum nisi urgente necessitate non redeo, sed ab illo mox ut me nature vinclis explicitum sentio, incuntanter avellor inque bibliothecam illi proximam velut in arcem fugio. Fit hoc inter nos media nocte divortium, quod siquando forte vel nox brevior vel vigilie longiores traxerint, at profecto nunquam simul aurora nos invenit; postremo modis omnibus nitor nequid melioribus curis interveniat, preter id solum quod imperiose necessitas nature exigit, somnum dico et cibum et breve honestumque solatium vegetando corpori refovendoque animo duntaxat ydoneum.  Id enimvero quia pro varietate temporum ac locorum variari oportet, et quale michi nunc sit nisi audias nosse non potes, dicam. Amo solitudinem ut soleo sectorque silentium nisi inter amicos, inter quos nemo me loquacior, hanc reor ob causam quod amicorum presentia solito rarior nunc est; raritas autem desiderium accendit. Sepe igitur annuum silentium diurna loquacitate compenso rursumque amicis abeuntibus mutus fio; importunum negotium cum vulgo loqui aut omnino cum homine quem non amor tibi seu doctrina conciliet.

F**k Poggio!

Francesco Diana to Lorenzo Valla (December 1452)

Never did anyone feel greater joy than I did when I read your Invective against Poggio, that endlessly garrulous shit talker. You shut the mouths of his zealous little partisans who used to mock me for preferring your writings to all of their scribbles after they read his Invective against you. I triumph over them and, as they say, return like for like; and this hurts them to no end. They marvel at your genius and your learning, and I brought them from sickness into health so that now they always have the name of Lorenzo in their mouths.

Nulla umquam maior letitia fuit quam ea quam nuper ex invectiva tua in Pogium, procacissimum hominem et maledicum accepi; quod multis Pogii studiosissimis, qui me ridebant, accepta illius in te Invectiva, quod omnium scriptis tua preferebam, os compressisti. Triumpho ego inter illos et par pari, ut aiunt, refero; quod eos vehementissime mordet. Admirantur ingenium tuum et doctrinam et ex insanis sanissimos eos feci, adeo ut Laurentium semper in ore habeant.

Too Much Elegance!

Lorenzo Valla to Giacomo Moro, 

Letter ca. March 1433:

Your letter seemed to me so decorous, so serious, so stuffed with the noblest sentiments, that I didn’t dare to write back to you before now. And so, you ought to be mad with and chalk the fault up to your own excessive elegance rather than to my excessive negligence. Who would dare to look at the rays of the sun? In just such a way, your letter did a number on my eyes with its overpowering light. Now, after a long time, as if I had regained my sight and strength, I am writing back to you.

Lorenzo Valla - Wikipedia

Littere tue ita ornate, ita graves, ita optimis sententiis referte vise sunt, ut adhuc scribere ad te non sim ausus. Itaque debes magis succensere et imputare tue nimie elegantie quam mee nimie neglegentie. Quis enim audeat in solis radios inspicere? Ita tue littere pernimio fulgore oculos meos perstrinxerunt. Nunc itaque post longum tempus quasi resumpto visu recuperatisque viribus ad te scribo.

Retirement and Its Labors

Petrarch, de Otio et Solitudine (4):

I recount leaders in war. Marcus Tullis Cicero, after the innumerable labors which he bore in politics, after so many pivotal moments which his highly turbulent consulship and that immortal contest with the wicked had given rise to, and once the liberty of the citizens had been broken, he sailed away from everyone as though with his stern submerged, stripped of all ornaments, and retreated into retirement. In this retirement, he spoke of himself as ‘traversing the country, he was often alone.’ But what business, I ask, what busy activity could be compared to his retirement? To be sure, he took pity on his country’s downfall and greatly bewailed it, but from that grief there flowed forth monuments of his divine intelligence, which made their way to all people. He says in the same place, ‘In a short time, I wrote more things once the republic had been overturned than I had in the space of many years while it still stood firm.’ But indeed, he could not bend his fate: he was safe in the storm, but suffered a shipwreck in port.

Petrarch and the Sonnets | Dave Z'Art

Duces bellorum memoro: M. Tullius Cicero post innumerabiles labores quos in republica pertulit, post tam multa discrimina que sibi suus ille turbulentissimus consulatus et cum improbis certamen immortale pepererat, fracta tandem libertate civium, velut puppe submerse nudus ornamentis suis omnibus enavit inque otium secessit. In quo quidem «rura peragrando», sicut ipse de se loquitur, «sepe solus erat». ⟨2⟩ Sed quod negotium, queso, cum illius otio, que frequentia cum illius solitudine conferenda est? Quam licet ipse casum patrie miseratus graviter defleat, inde tamen ad omnes populos perventura divini ingenii monimenta fluxerunt: «plura» enim, ut ibidem ait idem, «brevi tempore eversa quam multis annis stante republica scripsit». Atqui fatum suum declinare non valuit: in tempestate tutus, in portu naufragium passus est.

The Age of Achilles

Politian, Miscellanies 1.45:

There is an opinion long disseminated and accepted among everyone that Patroclus was younger than Achilles and was, as it were, loved by him as Hylas was by Hercules. Martial seems to make a nod to this when he says

The young friend was closer to Aeacides.

Therefore a dirty little verse from the Hermaphrodite was commonly applauded. Statius however claims in his Achilleid that they were both of equal age, writing,

There follows, joined then by a great love, Partoclus, and works as a rival to Achilles’ great deeds, equal in his pursuits and age, but much inferior in physical strength, and nevertheless set to see Troy with an equal fate.

Plato, however, argues something far different in the Symposium. For he declares that Achilles was much younger and that he was loved by Patroclus, being still beardless and not only more beautiful than Patroclus, but also than all the other heroes. Indeed, for that cause, he says, the gods loaded him with exceptional honors to send him off to the Blessed Isles, because he made such a big deal of his lover that he not only opted to die for him, but even chose to die for him rather than to grow old in his homeland.

Indeed, Plato criticizes Aeschylus for being a clown because he put forth the claim that Achilles was Patroclus’ lover and cited Homer as the authority for the ages of the two. If anyone would like the words of Homer to be shown to them, they may read them in the eleventh book of the Iliad in the character of Nestor with the orders which Menoetius used to send his son Patroclus to the war.

Analinguistic Reflections

Politian, Miscellanies 1.2:

Valerius Catullus says in a certain epigram:

With that very tongue of yours, if you ever needed to, you could lick assholes and leather shoes.

Many have asked but no one yet has explained what carpatinae or carbatinae or crepidae are. Each of these are right, but even carbasinae is sometimes found. Certain literary hacks and charlatans remove this word and substitute who knows what: either cercopythas or coprotinas, words which they got from the pigpen and not from school; mere words, hollow names, the sounds of nothing. I will whip out from my Greek tool box (as if drawing from the pantry) authorities not to be despised or distrusted, by which the reading can be laid out unharmed and shaken free of interpretive fog.

First of all, Julius Pollux himself in his ninth book for Commodus says that carbatinas are a kind of rustic shoes whose name was derived from the Carians. Aristotle, in Book II of On the History of Animals, says that camels wear leather shoes so that they aren’t tired out by long military marches. There are four incredibly elegant little books in Greek called the Poemenicon, in the second of which a certain old man is introduced wearing a pouch and leather shoes. Lucian, in his dialogue called Alexander or The False Prophet says that some orators from Paphlagonia wore leather shoes. Xenophon, the follower of Socrates, says in the third book of his Anabasis, “When there old shoes were no longer any good, they had leather shoes (carbatinas) made from fresh hides.” Suidas cites this passage (while ignoring the author). Indeed, some commentator or other on Xenophon says that carbatinae are barbarian shoes.

Lips to the Ciceronian Udder

Paolo Cortesi, Letter to Politian:

I would venture even now to assert what I have often said in the past: that no one after Cicero has ever earned praise in writing (excepting one or two people here and there) who was not raised and nourished as it were on Ciceronian milk. But there was then a certain mode of imitation which ran up against a rejection of similarity and so that shining mode of writing was seasoned with a sprinkling of cheer. But now that mode lies either neglected or ignored among people of our time. My dear Politian, I would like to be similar not as an ape to a human but as a son to his parent. That ridiculous imitator only fixes with similitude the deformities and depraved faults of the body. The son, however, represents the countenance, the walk, the stature, the movement, the form, the voice, and finally even the figure of the parent’s body, and yet has in this similarity something of his own, something different, such that when they are compared, they still seem to be not entirely the same as each other.

Ausim nunc etiam affirmare idem quod saepe: neminem post Marcum Tullium in scribendo laudem consecutum, praeter unum aut alterum, qui non sit ab eo eductus et tamquam lactis nutrimento educatus. Sed erat tum quaedam certa imitandi ratio, quae et fastidio similitudinis occurrebatur et nitidum illud genus hilaritate quadam aspersa condiebatur. Nunc autem illa ab hominibus nostris aut neglecta est aut ignorata. Similem volo, mi Politiane, non ut simiam hominis sed ut filium parentis. Illa enim ridicula imitatrix tantum deformitates et vitia corporis depravata similitudine effingit. Hic autem vultum, incessum, statum, motum, formam, vocem denique et figuram corporis representat, et tamen habet in hac similitudine aliquid suum, aliquid naturale, aliquid diversum, ita ut cum comparentur dissimiles inter se esse videantur.

Aristotle Knew Everything

Petrarch, Epistulae Familiares 4.15:

“It is difficult to say how much re-reading your letter two or three times soothed my ears, which were so worn down by the noise of the rabble. Even if this letter seemed verbose to you (as I learned from its ending), I find nothing to accuse you of but terseness. And so, I looked on the final threat, in which you claimed that you would write more briefly in the future, with unwilling eyes. I would have you be more prolix. As you will – you’re the father. It is right for me to accommodate my ways to you, and not the other way around. But will the whole business not be in your hands? Or do you not know that quite often the actual event differs from the plan? Perhaps you will hear what forces even one who is eager for silence to talk. You want me to fulfill the threats which I seem to be making now?

I stand as a witness, in the first place, that I have the same opinion of you which Macrobius had of Aristotle (whether it be love or the truth which gave rise to it). That is, I hardly think that you could not know something. If something has slipped your lips which seems to be contrary to the truth, I suspect that you either have not thought it out far enough, or just as Macrobius says of Aristotle, I suspect that you are playing around.”

Dictu difficile est quantum aures meas, vulgari fessas strepitu, epystola tua bis terque relecta permulserit; que quanquam tibi verbosa videretur, ut ex fine cognovi, ego tamen in ea nil preter breviloquium accusavi. Itaque comminationem illam ultimam, quod deinceps compendiosior sis futurus, invitus aspexi; mallem prolixior. Ut libet tamen; tu pater; non te michi, sed me tibi morem gerere dignum est. Sed ita ne totum in tua manu positum erit? an ignoras quod sepe consilio dissimilis est eventus? Audies forte quod vel silentii avidum loqui cogat. Vis quod minitari videor, iam nunc rebus impleam?

Testor in primis eandem me de te opinionem gerere, quam de Aristotile Macrobius, seu illam amor, seu veritas genuerit: vix te aliquid “ignorare posse” arbitror; siquid autem vero adversum tibi excidit, aut minus providisse aut, quod de eodem ait idem, lusisse te suspicor.

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