Improving on Antiquity

Coluccio Salutati, de Laboribus Herculis 1.7.11

“The investigations of any science would quickly dry up if posterity had accepted each field’s principles with such simplicity that it thought nothing therein worth inquiring after but what the original thinkers either could or would make known. Indeed, our sciences have grown mature by successive and continual gradations; and, by the force of new and daily considerations, many things have been discovered which not only could escape, but in fact did escape the notice of the first thinkers.”

Image result for coluccio salutati

Nimis etenim arida foret cuiuslibet artis speculatio si que ex arte dicta sunt adeo simpliciter posteritas recepisset quod nichil in eis duceret speculandum nisi quod inventores ipsi potuerint vel voluerint declarare. Adoleverunt equidem artes successivis et continuis incrementis, et novis in dies considerationibus multa sunt deprehensa que priscos illos nedum latere potuerunt sed sine dubio latuerunt.

Rome Should Be Proud Of Its Fall

Petrarch, Against a Man Who Slandered Italy (15):

But what will our detractor do? I know. He will praise the taverns of Gaul – quite fine praise for a teetotaler. I recently went by and saw them entirely wrecked and deserted. He will praise the peace of his fatherland, which I for my part have seen disturbed and anything but peaceful. “But the change there is not as great as in Rome.” Who does not know this and also know the reason for it? The ruin of insignificant things cannot be great, and the people of Gaul are spared this fear. Nothing can fall from the heights if it forever lies in the dirt. Rome therefore fell from on high, but Avignon will never fall. Where could it fall from, or how would it suffer any loss, when it is already nothing?

Roman Capriccio The Pantheon and Other Monuments by Giovanni Paolo Panini.jpg
Giovanni Paolo Pannini, Roman Capriccio

Sed quid aget? Scio. Laudabit Gallie tabernas – pulcra laus sobrii hominis -, quas ego tamen illac nuper transiens et eversas vidi et desertas. Laudabit patrie quietem, quam profecto turbidam inquietamque prospexi. Sed non est ibi mutatio, quanta est Rome. Quis hanc rem reique causam non videt? Minutarum rerum ruina magna esse non potest, procul absunt ab hoc metu: nunquam cadet ex alto, qui in imo iacet. Roma igitur ex alto cecidit, non cadet Avinio. Unde enim caderet, aut quomodo decresceret, que est nichil?

The Drinking Cure

Poggio Bracciolini, Facetiae 135:

A certain outstanding drinker of wine fell into a fever, from which he contracted a thirst which was much greater than usual. Physicians were summoned, and deliberated about removing both the fever and the excessive thirst. The sick man, ‘I just want you to take on the task and burden of removing the fever – leave the cure of the thirst to me!’

De potatore

Quidam vini potator egregius incidit in febrem, ex qua multo maiorem solito sitim contraxit. Accersiti medici cum de removenda febri et siti quoque maiuscula agitarent: “Febris tantum” inquit aegrotus “removendae officium et onus sumatis volo, sitim autem mihi curandam relinquite”.

Why Rome Is the Eternal City

Petrarch, Against a Man Who Slandered Italy (13):

In the first place, our detractor rails on about the changes of the city of Rome, which he has inveighed against with a certain ridiculous pedantry by comparing the various figures of the moon to the Roman state, as if Rome alone, and not all cities and kingdoms (and this is even more true of humans) were not changing constantly, as though we were not all exposed to the vicissitude of time until we have reached eternity.

Ancient Babylon collapsed to its foundations, so too did Troy and Carthage, and not Athens, Sparta, and Corinth are nothing at all but bare names. Rome did not entirely collapse, and although it was greatly diminished, yet it is still something more than a name. The walls and the palaces have fallen, but the glory of her name is eternal.

Pannini, Giovanni Paolo - Gallery of Views of Ancient Rome - 1758.JPG
Giovanni Pannini, Gallery Views of Ancient Rome

Atque in primis varietates urbis Rome, quas hic quidem usque ad curiositatem ridiculam prosecutus est figuras lune varias romano statui comparando, quasi Roma sola, et non urbes ac regna omnia, multoque magis singuli homines, mutentur assidue, et temporali vicissitudini tam diu simus obnoxii, donec pervenerimus ad eterna. Babilon illa vetustior funditus ruit, Troia itidem et Carthago, Athene insuper et Lacedemon et Chorintus, iamque nil penitus nisi nuda sunt nomina. Roma non in totum corruit, et quanquam graviter imminuta, adhuc tamen est aliquid preter nomen. Muri quidem et palatia ceciderunt: gloria nominis immortalis est.

I’m Not Avignour Shit!

Petrarch, Against a Man Who Slandered Italy (7):

O stony heart! O slippery and unrestrained tongue! What monstrosity of feral license is this? What temerity, not to say madness of speech (or perhaps I should say babbling) is this? To use a Homeric phrase, “what word has crossed the bulwark of your teeth?” Your voice should have stuck in the gullet, not burst forth into the open to offend the taste of every learned and pious person. I shall say what I think: if you had had any power of intellect, shame would have ripped the pen from you hands and prevented you from laying such a foundation for a shameful speech, on which nothing good could ever be built. What, I ask, is someone about to say other than the worst thing they can imagine when they begin in the opening of the speech by deprecating Rome – the seat of Peter – with inane words, while straining to raise Avignon, that shithole of the world and shameful den of barbarism, to the heavens?

O cor saxeum! o lubrica et effrenis lingua! Quenam hec feralis monstra licentie? Quenam ista temeritas, ne dicam rabies loquendi, dicam minus improprie, blaterandi? utque sermone utar homerico, “quod verbum sepem dentium transivit”? Debuit faucibus vox herere neque in apertum erumpere, doctis piisque omnibus stomacum concussura! Dicam certe quod sentio: siquid fuisset ingenii, pudor e manibus calamum extorsisset, ne fede prorsus orationis tale iaceret fundamentum, super quo boni nichil posset edificari. Quid enim, nisi pessimum, queso, dicturus sit qui, in ipso sermonis exordio, Petri sedem – Romam! – deprimens verbis inanibus, celotenus illam mundi fecem turpemque barbariem nitatur attollere?

Galen Yields to Pliny

Petrarch, Against a Certain Physician 1.17:

I expect in your next letter, you most absurd censor of the world, that you will order that grammar be subservient to the wool trade, that dialectic be subservient to weapons manufacturing. What could I think that you would not dare to do, when you think that I have set my mouth against even by touching on doctors, that divine and celestial race, when you yourself were not afraid to open your disgusting mouth against Pliny, the most preeminent man in learning and intellect of his entire age? Thus I see that they wrote about him, without excepting Galen, his contemporary (if I am not mistaken) who was himself a not unlearned man, but he had the most ample supply of uneducated and talkative successors.


Proximis tuis literis expecto, ridiculosissime rerum censor, ut lanificio iubeas subesse grammaticam, dyaleticam armature. Quid enim te rursus non ausurum putem, qui me os in celum posuisse dicas, quoniam medicos divinum ac celeste genus attigerim, cum tu impurissimum os aperire non sis veritus in Plinium Secundum, virum ex omnibus sue etatis doctrina ingenioque prestantissimum? Ita enim de illo scriptum video; nec excipitur Galienus, coetaneus – nisi fallor – suus, vir et ipse non indoctus, sed indoctorum atque loquacium abundantissimus successorum.

Rome vs. Avignon (Or, “Avignon Sucks!”)

Petrarch, Against a Man Who Slandered Italy (6):

In order to finally put an end to these prefatory remarks, that advocate for France has, in the mode more of a preacher than a letter writer, taken up this piece of the Gospel as the foundation of his argument: “A certain person was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho,” and so on. Alas, what is this that I hear? Especially as it comes from the mouth of a literate person? By the faith of Heaven, what an inept and ugly beginning to his little tale! Has this arrived then to such a state of wretched madness that when a Christian, especially the pope, leaves Avignon to go to Rome, he is said to go down from Jerusalem to Jericho? Is it not better to say that he comes from the deepest sewer of all vice, indeed even from the Hell of the living, and goes up to Jerusalem? The matter has fallen so far that Avignon, that massive disgrace and most extreme rotting stench of all the world should be called Jerusalem, while Rome, the capital of the world, the queen of cities, the seat of empire, the citadel of Catholic faith, the fount of all memorable examples, should be called Jericho?

Giorgio Vasari, Return of Pope Gregory XI to Rome from Avignon

Ut vero iantandem his preludiis modus sit, prolocutor iste, non scribentis epystolam sed sermocinantis in morem, pro fundamento sui sermonis evangelicum illud assumit: “Homo quidam descendebat a Ierusalem in Ierico” et reliqua. Ei michi, quid est quod ego audio, ex ore presertim literati hominis? Pro superum fidem, o ineptum ac turpe principium fabelle! Eo ne igitur miseriarum ac vesanie ventum est, ut quicunque cristicola, maximeque Pontifex Romanus, Avinione digrediens Romam petat, a Ierusalem descendere dicatur in Ierico, et non potius e sentina profundissima vitiorum omnium, imo quidem ex inferno illo viventium, in Ierusalem dicatur ascendere? Huccine igitur res prolapsa est, ut Avinio, probrum ingens fetorque ultimus orbis terre, Ierusalem dicatur, Roma vero, mundi caput, urbium regina, sedes imperii, arx fidei catholice, fons omnium memorabilium exemplorum, Ierico nuncupetur?