Infomotions, Inc.The Civilisation of the Renaissance in Italy / Burckhardt, Jacob, 1818-1897

Author: Burckhardt, Jacob, 1818-1897
Title: The Civilisation of the Renaissance in Italy
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): italy; italian; fifteenth century; fifteenth; florence; renaissance
Contributor(s): Garnett, Constance, 1861-1946 [Translator]
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The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy

by Jacob Burckhardt

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Redactor's Note:  This version of Burckhardt is from the 2nd edition.
 Many later editions were issued, but this is the last with Burckhardt's
 own input. Burckhardt received nothing for his labors for this book, 
 and so it is fitting that it is returned to the public domain.
Italics are preserved and are bracketed by underscores (_).

The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy

by Jacob Burckhardt

Table of Contents
Part One: The State as a Work of Art
1-1 Introduction
1-2 Despots of the Fourteenth Century
1-3 Despots of the Fifteenth Century
1-4 The Smaller Despotisms
1-5 The Greater Dynasties
1-6 The Opponents of the Despots
1-7 The Republics: Venice and Florence
1-8 Foreign Policy
1-9 War as a Work of Art
1-10 The Papacy
1-11 Patriotism
Part Two: The Development of the Individual
2-1 Personality
2-2 Glory
2-3 Ridicule and Wit
Part Three: The Revival of Antiquity
3-1 Introductory
3-2 The Ruins of Rome
3-3 The Classics
3-4 The Humanists
3-5 Universities and Schools
3-6 Propagators of Antiquity
3-7 Epistolography: Latin Orators
3-8 The Treatise, and History in Latin
3-9 Antiquity as the Common Source
3-10 Neo-Latin Poetry
3-11 Fall of the Humanists in the Sixteenth Century
Part Four: The Discovery of the World and of Man
4-1 Journeys of the Italians
4-2 The Natural Sciences in Italy
4-3 Discovery of the Beauty of the Landscape
4-4 Discovery of Man
4-5 Biography in the Middle Ages
4-6 Description of the Outward Man
4-7 Description of Human Life
Part Five: Society and Festivals
5-1 Equality of Classes
5-2 Costumes and Fashions
5-3 Language and Society
5-4 Social Etiquette
5-5 Education of the 'Cortigiano'
5-6 Music
5-7 Equality of Men and Women
5-8 Domestic Life
5-9 Festivals
Part Six: Morality and Religion
6-1 Morality and Judgement
6-2 Morality and Immorality
6-3 Religion in Daily Life
6-4 Strength of the Old Faith
6-5 Religion and the Spirit of the Renaissance
6-6 Influence of Ancient Superstition
6-7 General Spirit of Doubt


By Jacob Burckhardt

Translated by S. G. C. Middlemore, 1878

Part I



This work bears the title of an essay in the strictest sense of the 
word. No one is more conscious than the writer with what limited means 
and strength he has addressed himself to a task so arduous. And even if 
he could look with greater confidence upon his own researches, he would 
hardly thereby feel more assured of the approval of competent judges. 
To each eye, perhaps, the outlines of a given civilization present a 
different picture; and in treating of a civilization which is the 
mother of our own, and whose influence is still at work among us, it is 
unavoidable that individual judgement and feeling should tell every 
moment both on the writer and on the reader. In the wide ocean upon 
which we venture, the possible ways and directions are many; and the 
same studies which have served for this work might easily, in other 
hands, not only receive a wholly different treatment and application, 
but lead also to essentially different conclusions. Such indeed is the 
importance of the subject that it still calls for fresh investigation, 
and may be studied with advantage from the most varied points of view. 
Meanwhile we are content if a patient hearing is granted us, and if 
this book be taken and judged as a whole. It is the most serious 
difficulty of the history of civilization that a great intellectual 
process must be broken up into single, and often into what seem 
arbitrary categories in order to be in any way intelligible. It was 
formerly our intention to fill up the gaps in this book by a special 
work on the 'Art of the Renaissance'--an intention, however, which we 
have been able to fulfill only in part.

The struggle between the Popes and the Hohenstaufen left Italy in a 
political condition which differed essentially from that of other 
countries of the West. While in France, Spain and England the feudal 
system was so organized that, at the close of its existence, it was 
naturally transformed into a unified monarchy, and while in Germany it 
helped to maintain, at least outwardly, the unity of the empire, Italy 
had shaken it off almost entirely. The Emperors of the fourteenth 
century, even in the most favourable case, were no longer received and 
respected as feudal lords, but as possible leaders and supporters of 
powers already in existence; while the Papacy, with its creatures and 
allies, was strong enough to hinder national unity in the future, but 
not strong enough itself to bring about that unity. Between the two lay 
a multitude of political units--republics and despots--in part of long 
standing, in part of recent origin, whose existence was founded simply 
on their power to maintain it. In them for the first time we detect the 
modern political spirit of Europe, surrendered freely to its own 
instincts. Often displaying the worst features of an unbridled egotism, 
outraging every right, and killing every germ of a healthier culture. 
But, wherever this vicious tendency is overcome or in any way 
compensated, a new fact appears in history--the State as the outcome of 
reflection and calculation, the State as a work of art. This new life 
displays itself in a hundred forms, both in the republican and in the 
despotic States, and determines their inward constitution, no less than 
their foreign policy. We shall limit ourselves to the consideration of 
the completer and more clearly defined type, which is offered by the 
despotic States. 

The internal condition of the despotically governed States had a 
memorable counterpart in the Norman Empire of Lower Italy and Sicily, 
after its transformation by the Emperor Frederick Il. Bred amid treason 
and peril in the neighbourhood of the Saracens, Frederick, the first 
ruler of the modern type who sat upon a throne, had early accustomed 
himself to a thoroughly objective treatment of affairs. His 
acquaintance with the internal condition and administration of the 
Saracenic States was close and intimate; and the mortal struggle in 
which he was engaged with the Papacy compelled him, no less than his 
adversaries, to bring into the field all the resources at his command. 
Frederick's measures (especially after the year 1231) are aimed at the 
complete destruction of the feudal State, at the transformation of the 
people into a multitude destitute of will and of the means of 
resistance, but profitable in the utmost degree to the exchequer. He 
centralized, in a manner hitherto unknown in the West, the whole 
judicial and political administration. No office was henceforth to be 
filled by popular election, under penalty of the devastation of the 
offending district and of the enslavement of its inhabitants. The 
taxes, based on a comprehensive assessment, and distributed in 
accordance with Mohammedan usages, were collected by those cruel and 
vexatious methods without which, it is true, it is impossible to obtain 
any money from Orientals. Here, in short, we find, not a people, but 
simply a disciplined multitude of subjects; who were forbidden, for 
example, to marry out of the country without special permission, and 
under no circumstances were allowed to study abroad. The University of 
Naples was the first we know of to restrict the freedom of study, while 
the East, in these respects at all events, left its youth unfettered. 
It was after the examples of Mohammedan rules that Frederick traded on 
his own account in all parts of the Mediterranean, reserving to himself 
the monopoly of many commodities, and restricting in various ways the 
commerce of his subjects. The Fatimite Caliphs, with all their esoteric 
unbelief, were, at least in their earlier history, tolerant of all the 
differences in the religious faith of their people; Frederick, on the 
other hand, crowned his system of government by a religious 
inquisition, which will seem the more reprehensible when we remember 
that in the persons of the heretics he was persecuting the 
representatives of a free municipal life. Lastly, the internal police, 
and the kernel of the army for foreign service, was composed of 
Saracens who had been brought over from Sicily to Nocera and Lucera--
men who were deaf to the cry of misery and careless of the ban of the 
Church. At a later period the subjects, by whom the use of weapons had 
long been forgotten, were passive witnesses of the fall of Manfred and 
of the seizure of the government by Charles of Anjou; the latter 
continued to use the system which he found already at work.

At the side of the centralizing Emperor appeared a usurper of the most 
peculiar kind; his vicar and son-in-law, Ezzelino da Romano. He stands 
as the representative of no system of government or administration, for 
all his activity was wasted in struggles for supremacy in the eastern 
part of Upper Italy; but as a political type he was a figure of no less 
importance for the future than his imperial protector Frederick. The 
conquests and usurpations which had hitherto taken place in the Middle 
Ages rested on real or pretended inheritance and other such claims, or 
else were effected against unbelievers and excommunicated persons. Here 
for the first time the attempt was openly made to found a throne by 
wholesale murder and endless barbarities, by the adoption in short, of 
any means with a view to nothing but the end pursued. None of his 
successors, not even Cesare Borgia, rivalled the colossal guilt of 
Ezzelino; but the example once set was not forgotten, and his fall led 
to no return of justice among the nations and served as no warning to 
future transgressors.

It was in vain at such a time that St. Thomas Aquinas, born subject of 
Frederick, set up the theory of a constitutional monarchy, in which the 
prince was to be supported by an upper house named by himself, and a 
representative body elected by the people. Such theories found no echo 
outside the lecture - room, and Frederick and Ezzelino were and remain 
for Italy the great political phenomena of the thirteenth century. 
Their personality, already half legendary, forms the most important 
subject of 'The Hundred Old Tales,' whose original composition falls 
certainly within this century. In them Ezzelino is spoken of with the 
awe which all mighty impressions leave behind them. His person became 
the centre of a whole literature from the chronicle of eye-witnesses to 
the half-mythical tragedy of later poets.

Despots of the Fourteenth Century

The tyrannies, great and small, of the fourteenth century afford 
constant proof that examples such as these were not thrown away. Their 
misdeeds cried forth loudly and have been circumstantially told by 
historians. As States depending for existence on themselves alone, and 
scientifically organized with a view to this object, they present to us 
a higher interest than that of mere narrative.

The deliberate adaptation of means to ends, of which no prince out of 
Italy had at that time a conception, joined to almost absolute power 
within the limits of the State, produced among the despots both men and 
modes of life of a peculiar character. The chief secret of government 
in the hands of the prudent ruler lay in leaving the incidence of 
taxation as far as possible where he found it, or as he had first 
arranged it. The chief sources of income were: a land tax, based on a 
valuation; definite taxes on articles of consumption and duties on 
exported and imported goods: together with the private fortune of the 
ruling house. The only possible increase was derived from the growth of 
business and of general prosperity. Loans, such as we find in the free 
cities, were here unknown; a well-planned confiscation was held a 
preferable means of raising money, provided only that it left public 
credit unshaken--an end attained, for example, by the truly Oriental 
practice of deposing and plundering the director of the finances.

Out of this income the expenses of the little court, of the bodyguard, 
of the mercenary troops, and of the public buildings were met, as well 
as of the buffoons and men of talent who belonged to the personal 
attendants of the prince. The illegitimacy of his rule isolated the 
tyrant and surrounded him with constant danger, the most honorable 
alliance which he could form was with intellectual merit, without 
regard to its origin. The liberality of the northern princes of the 
thirteenth century was confined to the knights, to the nobility which 
served and sang. It was otherwise with the Italian despot. With his 
thirst for fame and his passion for monumental works, it was talent, 
not birth, which he needed. In the company of the poet and the scholar 
he felt himself in a new position, almost, indeed, in possession of a 
new legitimacy.

No prince was more famous in this respect than the ruler of Verona, Can 
Grande della Scala, who numbered among the illustrious exiles whom he 
entertained at his court representatives of the whole of Italy. The men 
of letters were not ungrateful. Petrarch, whose visits at the courts of 
such men have been so severely censured, sketched an ideal picture of a 
prince of the fourteenth century. He demands great things from his 
patron, the lord of Padua, but in a manner which shows that he holds 
him capable of them. 'Thou must not be the master but the father of thy 
subjects, and must love them as thy children; yea, as members of thy 
body. Weapons, guards, and soldiers thou mayest employ against the 
enemy---with thy subjects goodwill is sufficient. By citizens, of 
course, I mean those who love the existing order; for those who daily 
desire change are rebels and traitors, and against such a stern justice 
may take its course.'

Here follows, worked out in detail, the purely modern fiction of the 
omnipotence of the State. The prince is to take everything into his 
charge, to maintain and restore churches and public buildings, to keep 
up the municipal police, to drain the marshes, to look after the supply 
of wine and corn; so to distribute the taxes that the people can 
recognize their necessity; he is to support the sick and the helpless, 
and to give his protection and society to distinguished scholars, on 
whom his fame in after ages will depend.

But whatever might be the brighter sides of the system, and the merits 
of individual rulers, yet the men of the fourteenth century were not 
without a more or less distinct consciousness of the brief and 
uncertain tenure of most of these despotisms. Inasmuch as political 
institutions like these are naturally secure in proportion to the size 
of the territory in which they exist, the larger principalities were 
constantly tempted to swallow up the smaller. Whole hecatombs of petty 
rulers were sacrificed at this time to the Visconti alone. As a result 
of this outward danger an inward ferment was in ceaseless activity; and 
the effect of the situation on the character of the ruler was generally 
of the most sinister kind. Absolute power, with its temptations to 
luxury and unbridled selfishness, and the perils to which he was 
exposed from enemies and conspirators, turned him almost inevitably 
into a tyrant in the worst sense of the word. Well for him if he could 
trust his nearest relations! But where all was illegitimate, there 
could be no regular law of inheritance, either with regard to the 
succession or to the division of the ruler's property; and consequently 
the heir, if incompetent or a minor, was liable in the interest of the 
family itself to be supplanted by an uncle or cousin of more resolute 
character. The acknowledgment or exclusion of the bastards was a 
fruitful source of contest and most of these families in consequence 
were plagued with a crowd of discontented and vindictive kinsmen. This 
circumstance gave rise to continual outbreaks of treason and to 
frightful scenes of domestic bloodshed. Sometimes the pretenders lived 
abroad in exile, like the Visconti, who practiced the fisherman's craft 
on the Lake of Garda, viewed the situation with patient indifference. 
When asked by a messenger of his rival when and how he thought of 
returning to Milan, he gave the reply, 'By the same means as those by 
which I was expelled, but not till his crimes have outweighed my own.' 
Sometimes, too, the despot was sacrificed by his relations, with the 
view of saving the family, to the public conscience which he had too 
grossly outraged. In a few cases the government was in the hands of the 
whole family, or at least the ruler was bound to take their advice; and 
here, too, the distribution of property and influence often led to 
bitter disputes.

The whole of this system excited the deep and persistent hatred of the 
Florentine writers of that epoch. Even the pomp and display with which 
the despot was perhaps less anxious to gratify his own vanity than to 
impress the popular imagination, awakened their keenest sarcasm. Woe to 
an adventurer if he fell into their hands, like the upstart Doge 
Agnello of Pisa (1364), who used to ride out with a golden scepter, and 
show himself at the window of his house, 'as relics are shown,' 
reclining on embroidered drapery and cushions, served like a pope or 
emperor, by kneeling attendants. More often, however, the old 
Florentines speak on this subject in a tone of lofty seriousness. Dante 
saw and characterized well the vulgarity and commonplace which marked 
the ambition of the new princes. 'What else mean their trumpets and 
their bells, their horns and their flutes, but "come, hangmen come, 
vultures!"' The castle of the tyrant, as pictured by the popular mind, 
is lofty and solitary, full of dungeons and listening-tubes, the home 
of cruelty and misery. Misfortune is foretold to all who enter the 
service of the despot, who even becomes at last himself an object of 
pity: he must needs be the enemy of all good and honest men: he can 
trust no one and can read in the faces of his subjects the expectation 
of his fall. 'As despotisms rise, grow, and are consolidated, so grows 
in their midst the hidden element which must produce their dissolution 
and ruin.' But the deepest ground of dislike has not been stated; 
Florence was then the scene of the richest development of human 
individuality, while for the despots no other individuality could be 
suffered to live and thrive but their own and that of their nearest 
dependents. The control of the individual was rigorously carried out, 
even down to the establishment of a system of passports.

The astrological superstitions and the religious unbelief of many of 
the tyrants gave, in the minds of their contemporaries, a peculiar 
color to this awful and God-forsaken existence. When the last Carrara 
could no longer defend the walls and gates of the plague-stricken 
Padua, hemmed in on all sides by the Venetians (1405), the soldiers of 
the guard heard him cry to the devil 'to come and kill him.'

          *          *          *

The most complete and instructive type of the tyranny of the fourteenth 
century is to be found unquestionably among the Visconti of Milan, from 
the death of the Archbishop Giovanni onwards (1354). The family 
likeness which shows itself between Bernabo and the worst of the Roman 
Emperors is unmistakable; the most important public object was the 
prince's boar-hunting; whoever interfered with it was put to death with 
torture, the terrified people were forced to maintain 5,000 boar 
hounds, with strict responsibility for their health and safety. The 
taxes were extorted by every conceivable sort of compulsion; seven 
daughters of the prince received a dowry of 100,000 gold florins 
apiece; and an enormous treasure was collected. On the death of his 
wife (1384) an order was issued 'to the subjects' to share his grief, 
as once they had shared his joy, and to wear mourning for a year. The 
_coup de main_ (1385) by which his nephew Giangaleazzo got him into his 
power--one of those brilliant plots which make the heart of even late 
historians beat more quickly was strikingly characteristic of the man .

In Giangaleazzo that passion for the colossal which was common to most 
of the despots shows itself on the largest scale. He undertook, at the 
cost of 300,000 golden florins, the construction of gigantic dikes, to 
divert in case of need the Mincio from Mantua and the Brenta from 
Padua, and thus to render these cities defenseless. It is not 
impossible, indeed, that he thought of draining away the lagoons of 
Venice. He founded that most wonderful of all convents, the Certosa of 
Pavia and the cathedral of Milan, 'which exceeds in size and splendor 
all the churches of Christendom.' The palace in Pavia, which his father 
Galeazzo began and which he himself finished, was probably by far the 
most magnificent of the princely dwellings of Europe. There he 
transferred his famous library, and the great collection of relics of 
the saints, in which he placed a peculiar faith. It would have been 
strange indeed if a prince of this character had not also cherished the 
highest ambitions in political matters. King Wenceslaus made him Duke 
(1395); he was hoping for nothing less than the Kingdom of Italy or the 
Imperial crown, when (1402) he fell ill and died. His whole territories 
are said to have paid him in a single year, besides the regular 
contribution of 1,200,000 gold florins, no less than 800,000 more in 
extraordinary subsidies. After his death the dominions which he had 
brought together by every sort of violence fell to pieces: and for a 
time even the original nucleus could with difficulty be maintained by 
his successors. What might have become of his sons Giovanni Maria (died 
1412) and Filippo Maria (died 1447), had they lived in a different 
country and under other traditions, cannot be said. But, as heirs of 
their house, they inherited that monstrous capital of cruelty and 
cowardice which had been accumulated from generation to generation.

Giovanni Maria, too, is famed for his dogs, which were no longer, 
however, used for hunting but for tearing human bodies. Tradition has 
preserved their names, like those of the bears of Emperor Valentinian 
I. In May, 1409, when war was going on, and the starving populace cried 
to him in the streets, _Pace! Pace!_ he let loose his mercenaries upon 
them, and 200 lives were sacrificed; under penalty of the gallows it 
was forbidden to utter the words pace and guerra, and the priests were 
ordered, instead of _dona nobis pacem_, to say _tranquillitatem_! At 
last a band of conspirators took advantage of the moment when Facino 
Cane, the chief Condotierre of the insane ruler, lay in at Pavia, and 
cut down Giovanni Maria in the church of San Gottardo at Milan; the 
dying Facino on the same day made his officers swear to stand by the 
heir Filippo Maria, whom he himself urged his wife to take for a second 
husband. His wife, Beatrice di Tenda, followed his advice. We shall 
have occasion to speak of Filippo Maria later on.

And in times like these Cola di Rienzi was dreaming of founding on the 
rickety enthusiasm of the corrupt population of Rome a new State which 
was to comprise all Italy. By the side of rulers such as those whom we 
have described, he seems no better than a poor deluded fool.

Despots of the Fifteenth Century

The despotisms of the fifteenth century show an altered character. Many 
of the less important tyrants, and some of the greater, like the Scala 
and the Carrara had disappeared, while the more powerful ones, 
aggrandized by conquest, had given to their systems each its 
characteristic development. Naples for example received a fresh and 
stronger impulse from the new Aragonese dynasty. A striking feature of 
this epoch is the attempt of the Condottieri to found independent 
dynasties of their own. Facts and the actual relations of things, apart 
from traditional estimates, are alone regarded; talent and audacity win 
the great prizes. The petty despots, to secure a trustworthy support, 
begin to enter the service of the larger States, and become themselves 
Condottieri, receiving in return for their services money and immunity 
for their misdeeds, if not an increase of territory. All, whether small 
or great, must exert themselves more, must act with greater caution and 
calculation, and must learn to refrain from too wholesale barbarities; 
only so much wrong is permitted by public opinion as is necessary for 
the end in view, and this the impartial bystander certainly finds no 
fault with. No trace is here visible of that half-religious loyalty by 
which the legitimate princes of the West were supported; personal 
popularity is the nearest approach we can find to it. Talent and 
calculation are the only means of advancement. A character like that of 
Charles the Bold, which wore itself out in the passionate pursuit of 
impracticable ends, was a riddle to the Italians. 'The Swiss were only 
peasants, and if they were all killed, that would be no satisfaction 
for the Burgundian nobles who might fall in the war. If the Duke got 
possession of all Switzerland without a struggle, his income would not 
be 5,000 ducats the greater.' The mediaeval features in the character 
of Charles, his chivalrous aspirations and ideals, had long become 
unintelligible to the Italians. The diplomatists of the South. when 
they saw him strike his officers and yet keep them in his service, when 
he maltreated his troops to punish them for a defeat, and then threw 
the blame on his counsellors in the presence of the same troops, gave 
him up for lost. Louis XI, on the other hand, whose policy surpasses 
that of the Italian princes in their own style, and who was an avowed 
admirer of Francesco Sforza, must be placed in all that regards culture 
and refinement far below these rulers.

Good and evil lie strangely mixed together in the Italian States of the 
fifteenth century. The personality of the ruler is so highly developed, 
often of such deep significance, and so characteristic of the 
conditions and needs of the time, that to form an adequate moral 
judgement on it is no easy task.

The foundation of the system was and remained illegitimate, and nothing 
could remove the curse which rested upon it. The imperial approval or 
investiture made no change in the matter, since the people attached 
little weight to the fact that the despot had bought a piece of 
parchment somewhere in foreign countries, or from some stranger passing 
through his territory. If the Emperor had been good for anything, so 
ran the logic of uncritical common sense, he would never have let the 
tyrant rise at all. Since the Roman expedition of Charles IV, the 
emperors had done nothing more in Italy than sanction a tyranny which 
had arisen without their help; they could give it no other practical 
authority than what might flow from an imperial charter. The whole 
conduct of Charles in Italy was a scandalous political comedy. Matteo 
Villani relates how the Visconti escorted him round their territory, 
and at last out of it; how he went about like a hawker selling his 
wares (privileges, etc.) for money; what a mean appearance he made in 
Rome, and how at the end, without even drawing the sword, he returned 
with replenished coffers across the Alps. Sigismund came, on the first 
occasion at least (1414), with the good intention of persuading John 
XXIII to take part in his council; it was on that journey, when Pope 
and Emperor were gazing from the lofty tower of Cremona on the panorama 
of Lombardy, that their host, the tyrant Gabrino Fondolo, was seized 
with the desire to throw them both over. On his second visit Sigismund 
came as a mere adventurer; for more than half a year he remained shut 
up in Siena, like a debtor in gaol, and only with difficulty, and at a 
later period, succeeded in being crowned in Rome. And what can be 
thought of Frederick III? His journeys to Italy have the air of 
holiday-trips or pleasure-tours made at the expense of those who wanted 
him to confirm their prerogatives, or whose vanity is flattered to 
entertain an emperor. The latter was the case with Alfonso of Naples, 
who paid 150,000 florins for the honour of an imperial visit. At 
Ferrara, on his second return from Rome (1469), Frederick spent a whole 
day without leaving his chamber, distributing no less than eighty 
titles; he created knights, counts, doctors. notaries--counts, indeed, 
of different degrees, as, for instance, counts palatine, counts with 
the right to create doctors up to the number of five, counts with the 
rights to legitimatize bastards, to appoint notaries, and so forth. The 
Chancellor, however, expected in return for the patents in question a 
gratuity which was thought excessive at Ferrara. The opinion of Borso, 
himself created Duke of Modena and Reggio in return for an annual 
payment of 4,000 gold florins, when his imperial patron was 
distributing titles and diplomas to all the little court, is not 
mentioned. The humanists, then the chief spokesmen of the age, were 
divided in opinion according to their personal interests, while the 
Emperor was greeted by some of them with the conventional acclamations 
of the poets of imperial Rome. Poggio confessed that he no longer knew 
what the coronation meant: in the old times only the victorious 
Imperator was crowned, and then he was crowned with laurel.

With Maximilian I begins not only the general intervention of foreign 
nations, but a new imperial policy with regard to Italy. The first step 
-- the investiture of Lodovico il Moro with the duchy of Milan and the 
exclusion of his unhappy nephew -- was not of a kind to bear good 
fruits. According to the modern theory of intervention when two parties 
are tearing a country to pieces, a third may step in and take its 
share, and on this principle the empire acted. But right and justice 
could be involved no longer. When Louis XI was expected in Genoa 
(1507), and the imperial eagle was removed from the hall of the ducal 
palace and replaced by painted lilies, the historian Senarega asked 
what, after all, was the meaning of the eagle which so many revolutions 
had spared, and what claims the empire had upon Genoa. No one knew more 
about the matter than the old phrase that Genoa was a _camera imperii_. 
In fact, nobody in Italy could give a clear answer to any such 
questions. At length when Charles V held Spain and the empire together, 
he was able by means of Spanish forces to make good imperial claims: 
but it is notorious that what he thereby gained turned to the profit, 
not of the empire, but of the Spanish monarchy.

          *          *          *

Closely connected with the political illegitimacy of the dynasties of 
the fifteenth century was the public indifference to legitimate birth, 
which to foreigners -- for example, to Commines -- appeared so 
remarkable. The two things went naturally together. In northern 
countries, as in Burgundy, the illegitimate offspring were provided for 
by a distinct class of appanages, such as bishoprics and the like: in 
Portugal an illegitimate line maintained itself on the throne only by 
constant effort; in Italy. on the contrary, there no longer existed a 
princely house where even in the direct line of descent, bastards were 
not patiently tolerated. The Aragonese monarchs of Naples belonged to 
the illegitimate line, Aragon itself falling to the lot of the brother 
of Alfonso I. The great Federigo of Urbino was, perhaps, no Montefeltro 
at all. When Pius II was on his way to the Congress of Mantua (1459), 
eight bastards of the house of Este rode to meet him at Ferrara, among 
them the reigning duke Borso himself and two illegitimate sons of his 
illegitimate brother and predecessor Lionello. The latter had also had 
a lawful wife, herself an illegitimate daughter of Alfonso I of Naples 
by an African woman. The bastards were often admitted to the succession 
where the lawful children were minors and the dangers of the situation 
were pressing; and a rule of seniority became recognized, which took no 
account of pure or impure birth. The fitness of the individual, his 
worth and capacity, were of more weight than all the laws and usages 
which prevailed elsewhere in the West. It was the age, indeed, in which 
the sons of the Popes were founding dynasties. In the sixteenth 
century, through the influence of foreign ideas and of the counter-
reformation which then began, the whole question was judged more 
strictly: Varchi discovers that the succession of the legitimate 
children 'is ordered by reason, and is the will of heaven from 
eternity.' Cardinal Ippolito de' Medici founded his claim to the 
lordship of Florence on the fact that he was perhaps the fruit of a 
lawful marriage, and at all events son of a gentlewoman, and not, like 
Duke Alessandro, of a servant girl. At this time began those morganatic 
marriages of affection which in the fifteenth century, on grounds 
either of policy or morality, would have had no meaning at all.

But the highest and the most admired form of illegitimacy in the 
fifteenth century was presented by the Condottiere, who whatever may 
have been his origin, raised himself to the position of an independent 
ruler. At bottom, the occupation of Lower Italy by the Normans in the 
eleventh century was of this character. Such attempts now began to keep 
the peninsula in a constant ferment.

It was possible for a Condottiere to obtain the lordship of a district 
even without usurpation, in the case when his employer, through want of 
money or troops, provided for him in this way; under any circumstances 
the Condottiere, even when he dismissed for the time the greater part 
of his forces, needed a safe place where he could establish his winter 
quarters, and lay up his stores and provisions. The first example of a 
captain thus portioned is John Hawkwood, who was invested by Gregory XI 
with the lordship of Bagnacavallo and Cotignola. When with Alberigo da 
Barbiano Italian armies and leaders appeared upon the scene, the 
chances of founding a principality, or of increasing one already 
acquired, became more frequent. The first great bacchanalian outbreak 
of military ambition took place in the duchy of Milan after the death 
of Giangaleazzo (1402). The policy of his two sons was chiefly aimed at 
the destruction of the new despotisms founded by the Condottieri; and 
from the greatest of them, Facino Cane, the house of Visconti 
inherited, together with his widow, a long list of cities, and 400,000 
golden florins, not to speak of the soldiers of her first husband whom 
Beatrice di Tenda brought with her. From henceforth that thoroughly 
immoral relation between the governments and their Condottieri, which 
is characteristic of the fifteenth century, became more and more 
common. An old story--one of those which are true and not true, 
everywhere and nowhere--describes it as follows: The citizens of a 
certain town (Siena seems to be meant) had once an officer in their 
service who had freed them from foreign aggression; daily they took 
counsel how to recompense him, and concluded that no reward in their 
power was great enough, not even if they made him lord of the city. At 
last one of them rose and said, 'Let us kill him and then worship him 
as our patron saint.' And so they did, following the example set the 
Roman senate with Romulus. In fact the Condottieri had reason to fear 
none so much as their employers: if they were successful, they became 
dangerous, and were put out of the way like Roberto Malatesta just 
after the victory he had won for Sixtus IV (1482); if they failed, the 
vengeance of the Venetians on Carmagnola showed to what risks they were 
exposed (1432). It is characteristic of the moral aspect of the 
situation that the Condottieri had often to give their wives and 
children as hostages, and notwithstanding this, neither felt nor 
inspired confidence. They must have been heroes of abnegation, natures 
like Belisarius himself, not to be cankered by hatred and bitterness; 
only the most perfect goodness could save them from the most monstrous 
iniquity. No wonder then if we find them full of contempt for all 
sacred things, cruel and treacher- ous to their fellows men who cared 
nothing whether or no they died under the ban of the Church. At the 
same time, and through the force of the same conditions, the genius and 
capacity of many among them attained the highest conceivable 
development, and won for them the admiring devotion of their followers; 
their armies are the first in modern history in which the personal 
credit of the leader is the one moving power. A brilliant example is 
shown in the life of Francesco Sforza; no prejudice of birth could 
prevent him from winning and turning to account when he needed it a 
boundless devotion from each individual with whom he had to deal; it 
happened more than once that his enemies laid down their arms at the 
sight of him, greeting him reverently with uncovered heads, each 
honoring in him 'the common father of the men-at-arms.' The race of the 
Sforza has this special interest that from the very beginning of its 
history we seem able to trace its endeavors after the crown. The 
foundation of its fortune lay in the remarkable fruitfulness of the 
family; Francesco's father, Jacopo, himself a celebrated man, had 
twenty brothers and sisters, all brought up roughly at Cotignola, near 
Faenza, amid the perils of one of the endless Romagnole 'vendette' 
between their own house and that of the Pasolini. The family dwelling 
was a mere arsenal and fortress; the mother and daughters were as 
warlike as their kinsmen. In his thirtieth year Jacopo ran away and 
fled to Panicale to the Papal Condottiere Boldrino -- the man who even 
in death continued to lead his troops, the word of order being given 
from the bannered tent in which the embalmed body lay, till at last a 
fit leader was found to succeed him. Jacopo, when he had at length made 
himself a name in the service of different Condottieri, sent for his 
relations, and obtained through them the same advantages that a prince 
derives from a numerous dynasty. It was these relations who kept the 
army together when he lay a captive in the Castel dell'Uovo at Naples; 
his sister took the royal envoys prisoners with her own hands, and 
saved him by this reprisal from death. It was an indication of the 
breadth and the range of his plans that in monetary affairs Jacopo was 
thoroughly trustworthy: even in his defeats he consequently found 
credit with the bankers. He habitually protected the peasants against 
the license of his troops, and reluctantly destroyed or injured a 
conquered city. He gave his well-known mistress, Lucia, the mother of 
Francesco, in marriage to another, in order to be free for a princely 
alliance. Even the marriages of his relations were arranged on a 
definite plan. He kept clear of the impious and profligate life of his 
contemporaries, and brought up his son Francesco to the three rules: 
'Let other men's wives alone; strike none of your followers, or, if you 
do, send the injured man far away; don't ride a hard-mouthed horse, or 
one that drops his shoe.' But his chief source of influence lay in the 
qualities, if not of a great general, at least of a great soldier. His 
frame was powerful, and developed by every kind of exercise; his 
peasant's face and frank manners won general popularity; his memory was 
marvelous, and after the lapse of years could recall the names of his 
followers, the number of their horses, and the amount of their pay. His 
education was purely Italian: he devoted his leisure to the study of 
history, and had Greek and Latin authors translated for his use. 
Francesco, his still more famous son, set his mind from the first on 
founding a powerful State, and through brilliant generalship and a 
faithlessness which hesitated at nothing, got possession of the great 
city of Milan (1450).

His example was contagious. Aeneas Sylvius wrote about this time: 'In 
our change-loving Italy, where nothing stands firm, and where no 
ancient dynasty exists, a servant can easily become a king.' One man in 
particular, who styles himself 'the man of fortune,' filled the 
imagination of the whole country: Giacomo Piccinino, the son of 
Niccolo;. It was a burning question of the day if he, too, would 
succeed in founding a princely house. The greater States had an obvious 
interest in hindering it, and even Francesco Sforza thought it would be 
all the better if the list of self-made sovereigns were not enlarged. 
But the troops and captains sent against him, at the time, for 
instance, when he was aiming at the lordship of Siena, recognized their 
interest in supporting him: 'If it were all over with him, we should 
have to go back and plough our fields.' Even while besieging him at 
Orbetello, they supplied him with provisions: and he got out of his 
straits with honour. But at last fate overtook him. All Italy was 
betting on the result, when (1465) after a visit to Sforza at Milan, he 
went to King Ferrante at Naples. In spite of the pledges given, and of 
his high connections, he was murdered in the Castel Nuovo. Even the 
Condottieri who had obtained their dominions by inheritance, never felt 
themselves safe. When Roberto Malatesta and Federigo of Urbino died on 
the same day (1482), the one at Rome, the other at Bologna, it was 
found that each had recommended his State to the care of the other. 
Against a class of men who themselves stuck at nothing, everything was 
held to be permissible. Francesco Sforza, when quite young, had married 
a rich Calabrian heiress, Polissella Ruffo, Countess of Montalto, who 
bore him a daughter; an aunt poisoned both mother and child, and seized 
the inheritance.

From the death of Piccinino onwards, the foundations of new States by 
the Condottieri became a scandal not to be tolerated. The four great 
Powers, Naples, Milan, the Papacy, and Venice, formed among themselves 
a political equilibrium which refused to allow of any disturbance. In 
the States of the Church, which swarmed with petty tyrants, who in part 
were, or had been, Condottieri, the nephews of the Popes, since the 
time of Sixtus IV, monopolized the right to all such undertakings. But 
at the first sign of a political crisis, the soldiers of fortune 
appeared again upon the scene. Under the wretched administration of 
Innocent VIII it was near happening that a certain Boccalino, who had 
formerly served in the Burgundian army, gave himself and the town of 
Osimo, of which he was master, up to the Turkish forces; fortunately, 
through the intervention of Lorenzo the Magnificent, he proved willing 
to be paid off, and took himself away. In the year 1495, when the wars 
of Charles VIII had turned Italy upside down, the Condottiere Vidovero, 
of Brescia, made trial of his strength; he had already seized the town 
of Cesena and murdered many of the nobles and the burghers; but the 
citadel held out, and he was forced to withdraw. He then, at the head 
of a band lent him by another scoundrel, Pandolfo Malatesta of Rimini, 
son of the Roberto already spoken of, and Venetian Condottiere, wrested 
the town of Castelnuovo from the Archbishop of Ravenna. The Venetians, 
fearing that worse would follow, and urged also by the Pope, ordered 
Pandolfo, 'with the kindest intentions,' to take an opportunity of 
arresting his good friend: the arrest was made, though 'with great 
regret,' whereupon the order came to bring the prisoner to the gallows. 
Pandolfo was considerate enough to strangle him in prison, and then 
show his corpse to the people. The last notable example of such 
usurpers is the famous Castellan of Musso, who during the confusion in 
the Milanese territory which followed the battle of Pavia (1525), 
improvised a sovereignty on the Lake of Como. 

The Smaller Despotisms

It may be said in general of the despotisms of the fifteenth century 
that the greatest crimes are most frequent in the smallest States. In 
these, where the family was numerous and all the members wished to live 
in a manner befitting their rank, disputes respecting the inheritance 
were unavoidable. Bernardo Varano of Camerino put (1434) two of his 
brothers to death, wishing to divide their property among his sons. 
Where the ruler of a single town was distinguished by a wise, moderate, 
and humane government, and by zeal for intellectual culture, he was 
generally a member of some great family, or politically [ dependent on 
it. This was the case, for example, with Alessandro Sforza, Prince of 
Pesaro, brother of the great Francesco, and stepfather of Federigo of 
Urbino (d. 1473). Prudent in administration, just and affable in his 
rule, he enjoyed, after ; years of warfare, a tranquil reign, collected 
a noble library, and passed his leisure in learned or religious 
conversation. A man of the same class was Giovanni II Bentivoglio of 
Bologna (1463-1508), whose policy was determined by that of the Este 
and the Sforza. What ferocity and bloodthirstiness is found, on the 
other hand, among the Varani of Camerino, the Malatesta of Rimini, the 
Manfreddi of Faenza, and above all among the Baglioni of Perugia. We 
find a striking picture of the events in the last-named family towards 
the close of the fifteenth century, in the admirable historical 
narratives of Graziani and Matarazzo. 

The Baglioni were one of those families whose rule never took the shape 
of an avowed despotism. It was rather a leadership exercised by means 
of their vast wealth and of their practical influence in the choice of 
public officers. Within the family one man was recognized as head; but 
deep and secret jealousy prevailed among the members of the different 
branches. Opposed to the Baglioni stood another aristocratic party, led 
by the family of the Oddi. In 1487 the city was turned into a camp, and 
the houses of the leading citizens swarmed with bravos; scenes of 
violence were of daily occurrence. At t he burial of a German student, 
who had been assassinated, two colleges took arms against one another; 
sometimes the bravos of the different houses even joined battle in the 
public square. The complaints of the merchants and artisans were vain; 
the Papal Governors and nipoti held their tongues, or took themselves 
off on the first opportunity. At last the Oddi were forced to abandon 
Perugia, and the city became a beleaguered fortress under the absolute 
despotism of the Baglioni, who used even the cathedral as barracks. 
Plots and surprises were met with cruel vengeance; in the year 1491 
after 130 conspirators, who had forced their way into the city, were 
killed and hung up at the Palazzo Communale, thirty-five altars were 
erected in the square, and for three days mass was performed and 
processions held, to take away the curse which rested on the spot. A 
nipote of Innocent VIII was in open day run through in the street. A 
nipote of Alexander VI, who was sent to smooth matters over, was 
dismissed with public contempt. All the while the two leaders of the 
ruling house, Guido and Ridolfo, were holding frequent interviews with 
Suor Colomba of Rieti, a Dominican nun of saintly reputation and 
miraculous powers, who under penalty of some great disaster ordered 
them to make peace naturally in vain. Nevertheless the chronicle takes 
the opportunity to point out the devotion and piety of the better men 
in Perugia during this reign of terror. When in 1494 Charles VIII 
approached, the Baglioni from Perugia and the exiles encamped in and 
near Assisi conducted the war with such ferocity that every house in 
the valley was levelled to the ground. The fields lay untilled. the 
peasants were turned into plundering and murdering savages, the fresh-
grown bushes were filled with stags and wolves, and the beasts grew fat 
on the bodies of the slain, on so-called 'Christian flesh.' When 
Alexander VI withdrew (1495) into Umbria before Charles VIII, then 
returning from Naples, it occurred to him, when at Perugia, that he 
might now rid himself of the Baglioni once for all; he proposed to 
Guido a festival or tournament, or something else of the same kind, 
which would bring the whole family together. Guido, however, was of 
opinion 'that the most impressive spectacle of all would be to see the 
whole military force of Perugia collected in a body,' whereupon the 
Pope abandoned his project. Soon after, the exiles made another attack 
in which nothing but the personal heroism of the Baglioni won them the 
victory. It was then that Simonetto Baglione, a lad of scarcely 
eighteen, fought in the square with a handful of followers against 
hundreds of the enemy: he fell at last with more than twenty wounds, 
but recovered himself when Astorre Baglione came to his help, and 
mounting on horseback in gilded amour with a falcon on his helmet, 
'like Mars in bearing and in deeds, plunged into the struggle.' 

At that time Raphael, a boy of twelve years of age, was at school under 
Pietro Perugino. The impressions of these days are perhaps immortalized 
in the small, early pictures of St. Michael and St. George: something 
of them, it may be, lives eternally in the large painting of St. 
Michael: and if Astorre Baglione has anywhere found his apotheosis, it 
is in the figure of the heavenly horseman in the Heliodorus.

The opponents of the Baglioni were partly destroyed, partly scattered 
in terror, and were henceforth incapable of another enterprise of the 
kind. After a time a partial reconciliation took place, and some of the 
exiles were allowed to return. But Perugia became none the safer or 
more tranquil: the inward discord of the ruling family broke out in 
frightful excesses. An opposition was formed against Guido and Ridolfo 
and their sons Gianpaolo, Simonetto, Astorre, Gismondo, Gentile, 
Marcantonio and others, by two great-nephews, Grifone and Carlo 
Barciglia; the latter of the two was also nephew of Varano Prince of 
Camerino, and brother-in-law of one of the former exiles, Gerolamo 
della Penna. In vain did Simonetto, warned by sinister presentiment, 
entreat his uncle on his knees to allow him to put Penna to death: 
Guido refused. The plot ripened suddenly on the occasion of the 
marriage of Astorre with Lavinia Colonna, at Midsummer, 1500. The 
festival began and lasted several days amid gloomy forebodings, whose 
deepening effect is admirably described by Matarazzo. Varano himself 
encouraged them with devilish ingenuity: he worked upon Grifone by the 
prospect of undivided authority, and by stories of an imaginary 
intrigue of his wife Zenobia with Gianpaolo. Finally each conspirator 
was provided with a victim. (The Baglioni lived all of them in separate 
houses, mostly on the site of the pre sent castle.) Each received 
fifteen of the bravos at hand; the remainder were set on the watch. In 
the night of July 15 the doors were forced, and Guido, Astorre, 
Simonetto, and Gismondo were murdered; the others succeeded in 

As the corpse of Astorre lay by that of Simonetto in the street, the 
spectators, 'and especially the foreign students,' compared him to an 
ancient Roman, so great and imposing did he seem. In the features of 
Simonetto could still be traced the audacity and defiance which death 
itself had not tamed. The victors went round among the friends of the 
family, and did their best to recommend themselves; they found all in 
tears and preparing to leave for the country. Meantime the escaped 
Baglioni collected forces without the city, and on the following day 
forced their way in, Gianpaolo at their head, and speedily found 
adherents among others whom Barciglia had been threatening with death. 
When Grifone fell into their hands near Sant' Ercolano, Gianpaolo 
handed him over for execution to his followers. Barciglia and Penna 
fled to Varano, the chief author of the tragedy, at Camerino; and in a 
moment, almost without loss, Gianpaolo became master of the city. 

Atalanta, the still young and beautiful mother of Grifone, who the day 
before had withdrawn to a country house with the latter's wife Zenobia 
and two children of Gianpaolo, and more than once had repulsed her son 
with a mother's curse, now returned with her daughter-in-law in search 
of the dying man. All stood aside as the two women approached, each man 
shrinking from being recognized as the slayer of Grifone, and dreading 
the malediction of the mother. But they were deceived: she herself 
besought her son to pardon him who had dealt the fatal blow, and he 
died with her blessing. The eyes of the crowd followed the two women 
reverently as they crossed the square with blood-stained garments. It 
was Atalanta for whom Raphael afterwards painted the world-famous 
'Deposition,' with which she laid her own maternal sorrows at the feet 
of a yet higher and holier suffering. 

The cathedral, in the immediate neighbourhood of which the greater part 
of this tragedy had been enacted, was washed with wine and consecrated 
afresh. The triumphal arch, erected for the wedding, still remained 
standing, painted with the deeds of Astorre and with the laudatory 
verses of the narrator of these events, the worthy Matarazzo. 

A legendary history, which is simply the reflection of these 
atrocities, arose out of the early days of the Baglioni. All the 
members of this family from the beginning were reported to have died an 
evil death twenty-seven on one occasion together; their houses were 
said to have been once before levelled to the ground, and the streets 
of Perugia paved with the bricks and more of the same kind. Under Paul 
III the destruction of their palaces really took place. 

For a time they seemed to have formed good resolutions, to have brought 
their own party into power, and to have protected the public officials 
against the arbitrary acts of the nobility. But the old curse broke out 
again like a smoldering fire. In 1520 Gianpaolo was enticed to Rome 
under Leo X, and there beheaded; one of his sons, Orazio, who ruled in 
Perugia for a short time only, and by the most violent means, as the 
partisan of the Duke of Urbino (himself threatened by the Pope), once 
before repeated in his own family the horrors of the past. His uncle 
and three cousins were murdered, whereupon the Duke sent him word that 
enough had been done. His brother, Malatesta Baglione, the Florentine 
general, has made himself immortal by the treason of 1530; and 
Malatesta's son Ridolfo, the last of the house, attained, by the murder 
of the legate and the public officers in the year 1534, a brief but 
sanguinary authority. We shall meet again with the names of the rulers 
of Rimini. Unscrupulousness, impiety, military skill, and high culture 
have been seldom combined in one individual as in Sigismondo Malatesta 
(d. 1467). But the accumulated crimes of such a family must at last 
outweigh all talent, however great, and drag the tyrant into the abyss. 
Pandolfo, Sigismondo's nephew, who has been mentioned already, 
succeeded in holding his ground, for the sole reason that the Venetians 
refused to abandon their Condottiere, whatever guilt he might be 
chargeable with; when his subjects (1497), after ample provocation, 
bombarded him in his castle at Rimini, and afterwards allowed him to 
escape, a Venetian commissioner brought him back, stained as he was 
with fratricide and every other abomination. Thirty years later the 
Malatesta were penniless exiles. In the year 1527, as in the time of 
Cesare Borgia, a sort of epidemic fell on the petty tyrants; few of 
them outlived this date, and none to t heir own good. At Mirandola, 
which was governed by insignificant princes of the house of Pico, lived 
in the year 1533 a poor scholar, Lilio Gregorio Giraldi, who had fled 
from the sack of Rome to the hospitable hearth of the aged Giovanni 
Francesco Pico, nephew of the famous Giovanni; the discussions as to 
the sepulchral monument which the prince was constructing f or himself 
gave rise to a treatise, the dedication of which bears the date of 
April of this year. The postscript is a sad one. In October of the same 
year the unhappy prince was attacked in the night and robbed of life 
and throne by his brother's son; and I myself escaped narrowly, and am 
now in the deepest misery.' 

A near-despotism, without morals or principles, such as Pandolfo 
Petrucci exercised from after 1490 in Siena, then torn by faction, is 
hardly worth a closer consideration. Insignificant and malicious, he 
governed with the help of a professor of juris prudence and of an 
astrologer, and frightened his people by an occasional murder. His 
pastime in the summer months was to roll blocks of stone from the top 
of Monte Amiata, without caring what or whom they hit. After 
succeeding, where the most prudent failed, in escaping from the devices 
of Cesare Borgia, he died at last forsaken and despised. His sons 
maintained a qualified supremacy for many years afterwards. 

The Greater Dynasties

In treating of the chief dynasties of Italy, it is convenient t discuss 
the Aragonese, on account of its special character, apart from the 
rest. The feudal system, which from the days of the Nor mans had 
survived in the form of a territorial supremacy of the Barons, gave a 
distinctive color to the political constitution of Naples; while 
elsewhere in Italy, excepting only in the southern part of the 
ecclesiastical dominion, and in a few other districts, a direct tenure 
of land prevailed, and no hereditary powers were permitted by the law. 
The great Alfonso, who reigned in Naples from 1435 onwards (d. 1458), 
was a man of another kind than his real or alleged descendants. 
Brilliant in his whole existence, fearless in mixing with his people, 
dignified and affable in intercourse, admired rather than blamed even 
for his old man's passion for Lucrezia d'Alagno, he had the one bad 
quality of extravagance, from which, however, the natural consequence 
followed. Unscrupulous financiers were long omnipotent at Court, till 
the bankrupt king robbed them of their spoils; a crusade was preached 
as a pretext for taxing the clergy; when a great earthquake happened in 
the Abruzzi, the survivors were compelled to make good the 
contributions of the dead. By such means Alfonso was able to entertain 
distinguished guests with unrivalled splendor; he found pleasure in 
ceaseless expense, even for the benefit of his enemies, and in 
rewarding literary work knew absolutely no measure. Poggio received 500 
pieces of gold for translating Xenophon's 'Cyropaedeia' into Latin. 

Ferrante, who succeeded him, passed as his illegitimate son by a 
Spanish lady, but was not improbably the son of a half-caste Moor of 
Valencia. Whether it was his blood or the plots formed against his life 
by the barons which embittered and darkened his nature, it is certain 
that he was equalled in ferocity by none among the princes of his time. 
Restlessly active, recognized as one of the most powerful political 
minds of the day, and free from the vices of the profligate, he 
concentrated all his powers, among which must be reckoned profound 
dissimulation and an irreconcilable spirit of vengeance, on the 
destruction of his opponents. He had been wounded in every point in 
which a ruler is open to offence; for the leaders of the barons, though 
related to him by marriage, were yet the allies of his foreign enemies. 
Extreme measures became part of his daily policy. The means for this 
struggle with his barons, and for his external wars, were exacted in 
the same Mohammedan fashion which Frederick II had introduced: the 
Government alone dealt in oil and corn; the whole commerce of the 
country was put by Ferrante into the hands of a wealthy merchant, 
Francesco Coppola, who had entire control of the anchorage on the 
coast, and shared the profits with the King. Deficits were made up by 
forced loans, by executions and confiscations, by open simony, and by 
contributions levied on the ecclesiastical corporations. Besides 
hunting, which he practiced regardless of all rights of property, his 
pleasures were of two kinds: he liked to have his opponents near him, 
either alive in well-guarded prisons, or dead and embalmed, dressed in 
the costume which they wore in their lifetime. He would chuckle in 
talking of the captives with his friends, and make no secret whatever 
of the museum of mummies. His victims were mostly men whom he had got 
into his power by treachery; some w ere even seized while guests at the 
royal table. His conduct to his prime minister, Antonello Petrucci, who 
had grown sick and grey in his service, and from whose increasing fear 
of death he extorted 'present after present,' was literally devilish. 
At length a suspicion of complicity with the last conspiracy of the 
barons gave the pretext for his arrest and execution. With him died 
Coppola. The way in which all this is narrated in Caracciolo and Porzio 
makes one's hair stand on end. 

The elder of the King's sons, Alfonso, Duke of Calabria, enjoyed in 
later years a kind of co-regency with his father. He was a savage, 
brutal profligate, who in point of frankness alone had the advantage of 
Ferrante, and who openly avowed his contempt for religion and its 
usages . The better and nobler features of the Italian despotisms are 
not to be found among the princes of this line; all that they possessed 
of the art and culture of their time served the purpose of luxury or 
display. Even the genuine Spaniards seem to have almost always 
degenerated in Italy; but the end of this cross-bred house (1494 and 
1503) gives clear proof of a want of blood. Ferrante died of mental 
care and trouble; Alfonso accused his brother Federigo, the only honest 
member of the family, of treason, and insulted him in the vilest 
manner. At length, though he had hitherto passed for one of the ablest 
generals in Italy, he lost his head and fled to Sicily, leaving his 
son, the younger Ferrante, a prey to the French and to domestic 
treason. A dynasty which had ruled as this had done must at least have 
sold its life dear, if its children were ever to hope for a 
restoration. But, as Comines one-sidedly, and yet on the whole rightly 
observes on this occasion, '_Jamais homme cruel ne fut hardi_': there 
was never a more cruel man. 

The despotism of the Dukes of Milan, whose government from the time of 
Giangaleazzo onwards was an absolute monarchy of the most thorough-
going sort, shows the genuine Italian character of the fifteenth 
century. The last of the Visconti Filippo Maria (1412-1447), is a 
character of peculiar interest, and of which fortunately an admirable 
description has been left us. What a man of uncommon gifts and high 
position can be made by the passion of fear, is here shown with what 
may be called a mathematical completeness. All the resources of the 
State were devoted to the one end of securing his personal safety, 
though happily his cruel egotism did not degenerate into a purposeless 
thirst for blood. He lived in the Citadel of Milan, surrounded by 
magnificent gardens, arbors, and lawns. For years he never set foot in 
the city, making his excursions only in the country, where lay several 
of his splendid castles; the flotilla which, drawn by the swiftest 
horses, conducted him to them along canals constructed for the purpose, 
was so arranged as to allow of the application of the most rigorous 
etiquette. Whoever entered the citadel was watched by a hundred eyes; 
it was forbidden even to stand at the window, lest signs should be 
given to those without. All who were admitted among the personal 
followers of the Prince were subjected to a series of the strictest 
examinations; then, once accepted, were charged with the highest 
diplomatic commissions, as well as with the humblest personal services 
both in this Court being alike honorable. And this was the man who 
conducted long and difficult wars, who dealt habitually with political 
affairs of the first importance, and every day sent his 
plenipotentiaries to all parts of Italy. His safety lay in the fact 
that none of his servants trusted the others, that his Condottieri were 
watched and misled by spies, and that the ambassadors and higher 
officials were baffled and kept apart by artificially nourished 
jealousies, and in particular by the device of coupling an honest man 
with a knave. His inward faith, too, rested upon opposed and 
contradictory systems; he believed in blind necessity, and in the 
influence of the stars, and offering prayers at one and the same time 
to helpers of every sort; he was a student of the ancient authors, as 
well as of French tales of chivalry. And yet the same man, who would 
never suffer death to be mentioned in his presence, and caused his 
dying favorites to be removed from the castle, that no shadow might 
fall on the abode of happiness, deliberately hastened his own death by 
closing up a wound, and, refusing to be bled, died at last with dignity 
and grace. 

His son-in-law and successor, the fortunate Condottiere Francesco 
Sforza (1450- 1466), was perhaps of all the Italians of the fifteenth 
century the man most after the heart of his age. Never was the triumph 
of genius and individual power more brilliantly displayed than in him; 
and those who would recognize his merit were at least forced to 
wonder at him as the spoilt child of fortune. The Milanese claimed it 
openly as an honour to be governed by so distinguished a master; when 
he entered the city the thronging populace bore him on horseback into 
the cathedral, without giving him the chance to dismount. Let us listen 
t o the balance-sheet of his life, in the estimate of Pope Pius II, a 
judge in such matters: 'In the year 1459, when the Duke came to the 
congress at Mantua, he was 60 (really 58) years old; on horseback he 
looked like a young man; of a lofty and imposing figure, with serious 
features, calm and affable in conversation, princely in his whole 
bearing, with a combination of bodily and intellectual gifts unrivalled 
in our time, unconquered on the field of battle - such was the man who 
raised himself from a humble position to the control of an empire. His 
wife was beautiful and virtuous, his children were like the angels of 
heaven; he was seldom ill, and all his chief wishes were fulfilled. And 
yet he was not without misfortune. His wife, out of jealousy, killed 
his mistress; his old comrades and friends, Troilo and Brunoro, 
abandoned him and went over to King Alfonso; another, Ciarpollone, he 
was forced to hang for treason; he had to suffer it that his brother 
Alessandro set the French upon him; one of his sons formed intrigues 
against him, and was imprisoned; the March of Ancona, which he h ad won 
in war, he lost again the same way. No man enjoys so unclouded a 
fortune that he has not somewhere to struggle with adversity. He is 
happy who has but few troubles.' With this negative definition of 
happiness the learned Pope dismisses the reader. Had he been able to 
see into the future, or been willing to stop and discuss the 
consequences of an uncontrolled despotism, one pervading fact would not 
have escaped his notice the absence of all guarantee for the future. 
Those children, beautiful as angels, carefully and thoroughly educated 
as they were, fell victims, when they grew up, to the corruption of a 
measureless egotism. Galeazzo Maria (1466-1476), solicitous only of 
outward effect, too k pride in the beauty of his hands, in the high 
salaries he paid, in the financial credit he enjoyed, in his treasure 
of two million pieces of gold, in the distinguished people who 
surrounded him, and in the army and birds of chase which he maintained. 
He was fond of the sound of his own voice, and spoke well, most 
fluently, perhaps, when he had the chance of insulting a Venetian 
ambassador. He was subject to caprices, such as having a room painted 
with figures in a single night; and, what was worse, to fits of 
senseless debauchery and of revolting cruelty to his nearest friends. 
To a handful of enthusiasts, he seemed a tyrant too bad to live; they 
murdered him, and thereby delivered the State into the power of his 
brothers, one of whom, Lodovico il Moro, threw his nephew into prison, 
and took the government into his own hands. From this usurpation 
followed the French intervention, and the disasters which befell the 
whole of Italy. 

Lodovico Sforza, called 'il Moro,' the Moor, is the most perfect type 
of the despot of that age, and, as a kind of natural product, almost 
disarms our moral judgement. Notwithstanding the profound immorality of 
the means he employed, he used them with perfect ingenuousness; no o ne 
would probably have been more astonished than himself to learn that for 
the choice of means as well as of ends a human being is 
morally.responsible; he would rather have reckoned it as a singular 
virtue that, so far as possible, he had abstained from too free a use 
of the punishment of death. He accepted as no more than his due the 
almost fabulous respect of the Italians for his political genius. In 
1486 he boasted that the Pope Alexander was his chaplain, the Emperor 
Maximilian his Condottiere, Venice his chamberlain, and the King of 
France his courier, who must come and go at his bidding. With marvelous 
presence of mind he weighed, even in his last extremity (1499), a 
possible means of escape, and at length he decided, to his honour, to 
trust to the goodness of human nature; he rejected the proposal of his 
brother, the Cardinal Ascanio, who wished to remain in the Citadel of 
Milan, on the ground of a former quarrel: 'Monsignore, take it not ill, 
but I trust you not, brother though you be'; and appointed to the 
command of the castle, 'that pledge of his return ,' a man to whom he 
had always done good, but who nevertheless betrayed him. At home the 
Moor was a good and useful ruler, and to the last he reckoned on his 
popularity both in Milan and in Como. In later years (after 1496) he 
had overstrained the resources of his State, and at Cremona had 
ordered, out of pure expediency, a respectable citizen, who had spoken 
again st the new taxes, to be quietly strangled. Since that time, in 
holding audiences, he kept his visitors away from his person by means 
of a bar, so that in conversing with him they were compelled to speak 
at the top of their voices. At his court, the most brilliant in Europe, 
since that of Burgundy had ceased to exist, immorality of the worst 
kind was prevalent; the daughter was sold by the father, the wife by 
the husband, the sister by the brother. The Prince himself was 
incessantly active, and, as son of his own deeds, claimed relationship 
with all who, like himself, stood on their personal merits with 
scholars, poets, artists, and musicians. The academy which he founded 6 
served rather for his own purposes than for the instruction of 
scholars; nor was it the fame of the distinguished men who surrounded 
him which he heeded, so much as their society and their services. It is 
certain that Bramante was scantily paid at first; Leonardo, on the 
other hand, was up to 1496 suitably remunerated and besides, what kept 
him at the court, if not his own free will The world lay open to him, 
as perhaps to no other mortal man of that day; and if proof were 
wanting of the loftier element in the nature of Lodovico il Moro, it is 
found in the long stay of the enigmatic master at his court. That 
afterwards Leonardo entered the service of Cesare Borgia and Francis I 
was probably due to the interest he felt in the unusual and striking 
character of the two men. 

After the fall of the Moor, his sons were badly brought up among 
strangers. The elder, Massimiliano, had no resemblance to him; the 
younger, Francesco, was at all events not without spirit. Milan, which 
in those years changed its rulers so often, and suffered so unspeakably 
in t he change, endeavored to secure itself against a reaction. In the 
year 1512 the French, retreating before the arms of Maximilian and the 
Spaniards, were induced to make a declaration that the Milanese had 
taken no part in their expulsion, and, without being guilty of 
rebellion, might yield themselves to a new conqueror. It is a f act of 
some political importance that in such moments of transition the 
unhappy city, like Naples at the flight of the Aragonese, was apt to 
fall a prey to gangs of (often highly aristocratic) scoundrels. 

The house of Gonzaga at Mantua and that of Montefeltro of Urbino were 
among the best ordered and richest in men of ability during the second 
half of the fifteenth century. The Gonzaga were a tolerably harmonious 
family; for a long period no murder had been known among them, and 
their dead could be shown to the world without fear.7 The Marquis 
Francesco Gonzaga and his wife, Isabella of Este, in spite of some few 
irregularities, were a united and respectable couple, and brought up 
their sons to be successful and remarkable men at a time when their 
small but most important State was exposed to incessant danger. That 
Francesco, either as statesman or as soldier, should adopt a policy of 
exceptional honesty, was what neither the Emperor, nor Venice, nor the 
King of France could have expected or desired; but certainly since the 
battle of the Taro (1495), so far as military honour was concerned, he 
felt and acted as an Italian patriot, and imparted the same spirit to 
his wife. Every deed of loyalty and heroism, such as the defence of 
Faenza against Cesare Borgia, she felt as a vindication of the honour 
of Italy. Our judgement of her does not need to rest on the praises of 
the artists and writers who made the fair princess a rich return for 
her patronage; her own letters show her to us as a woman of unshaken 
firmness, full of kindliness and humorous observation. Bembo, Bandello, 
Ariosto, and Bernardo Tasso sent their works to this court, small and 
powerless as it was, and empty as they found its treasury. A more 
polished and charming circle was not to be seen in Italy, since the 
dissolution (1508) of the old Court of Urbino; and in one respect, in 
freedom of movement, the society of Ferrara was inferior to that of 
Mantua. In artistic matters Isabella had an accurate knowledge, and the 
catalogue of her small but choice collection can be read by no lover of 
art without emotion. 

In the great Federigo (1444-1482), whether he were a genuine 
Montefeltro or not, Urbino possessed a brilliant representative of the 
princely order. As a Condottiere he shared the political morality of 
soldiers of fortune, a morality of which the fault does not rest with 
them alone; as ruler of his little territory he adopted the plan of 
spending at home the money he had earned abroad, and taxing his people 
as lightly as possible. Of him and his two successors, Guidobaldo and 
Francesco Maria, we read: 'They erected buildings, furthered the 
cultivation of the land, lived at home, and gave employment to a large 
number of people: their subjects loved them.' But not only the State, 
but the court too, was a work of art and organization, and this in 
every sense of the word. Federigo had 500 persons in his service; the 
arrangements of the court were as complete as in the capitals of the 
greatest monarchs, but nothing was built quarters sprang up at the 
bidding of the ruler: here, by the concentration of the official 
classes and the active promotion of trade, was formed for the first 
time a true capital; wealthy fugitives from all parts of Italy, 
Florentines especially, settled and built their palaces at Ferrara. But 
the indirect taxation, at all events, must have reached a point at 
which it could only just be borne. The Government, it is true, took 
measures of alleviation which were also adopted by other Italian 
despots, such as Galeazzo Maria Sforza: in time of famine, corn was 
brought from a distance and seems to have been distributed 
gratuitously; but in ordinary times it compensated itself by the 
monopoly, if not of corn, of many other of the necessaries of life 
fish, salt, meat, fruit and vegetables, which last were carefully 
planted on and ne ar the walls of the city. The most considerable 
source of income, however, was the annual sale of public offices, a 
usage which was common throughout Italy, and about the working of which 
at Ferrara we have more precise information. We read, for example, that 
at the new year 1502 the majority of the officials bought their places 
at 'prezzi salati' (pungent prices); public servants of the most 
various kinds, custom-house officers, bailiffs (massari), notaries, 
'podesta,' judges, and even governors of provincial towns are quoted by 
name. As one of the 'devourers of the people' who paid dearly for their 
places, and who were 'hated worse than the devil,' Tito Strozza let us 
hope not the famous Latin poet is mentioned. About the same time every 
year the dukes were accustomed to make a round of visits in Ferrara, 
the so-called 'andar per ventura,' in which they took presents from, at 
any rate, the more wealthy citizens. The gifts, however, did not 
consist of money, but of natural products. 

It was the pride of the duke for all Italy to know that at Ferrara the 
soldiers received their pay and the professors at the University their 
salary not a day later than it was due; that the soldiers never dared 
lay arbitrary hands on citizen or peasant; that the town was 
impregnable to assault; and that vast sums of coined money were stored 
up in the citadel. To keep two sets of accounts seemed unnecessary: the 
Minister of Finance was at the same time manager of the ducal 
household. The buildings erected by Borso (1430-1471), by Ercole I 
(till 1505), and by Alfonso I (till 1534), were very numerous, but of 
small size; they are characteristic of a princely house which, with all 
its love of splendor Borso never appeared but in embroidery and jewels 
indulged in no ill-considered expense. Alfonso may perhaps have 
foreseen the fate which was in store for his charming little villas, 
the Belvedere with its shady gardens, and Montana with its fountains 
and beautiful frescoes. 

It is undeniable that the dangers to which these princes were 
constantly exposed developed in them capacities of a remarkable kind. 
In so artificial a world only a man of consummate address could hope to 
succeed; each candidate for distinction was forced to make good his 
claims by personal merit and show himself worthy of the crown he 
sought. Their characters are not without dark sides; but in all of them 
lives something of those qualities which Italy then pursued as its 
ideal. What European monarch of the time labored for his own culture 
as, for instance, Alfonso I? His travels in France, England, and the 
Netherlands we re undertaken for the purpose of study: by means of them 
he gained an accurate knowledge of the industry and commerce of these 
countries. It is ridiculous to reproach him with the turner's work 
which he practiced in his leisure hours, connected as it was with his 
skill in the casting of cannon, and with the unprejudiced freedom with 
which he surrounded himself by masters of every art. The Italian 
princes were not, like their contemporaries in the North, dependent on 
the society of an aristocracy which held itself to be the only class 
worth consideration, and which infected the monarch with the same 
conceit. In Italy the prince was permitted and compelled to know and to 
use men of every grade in society; and the nobility, though by birth a 
caste, were forced in social intercourse to stand up on their personal 
qualifications alone. But this is a point which we shall discuss more 
fully in the sequel. The feeling of the Ferrarese towards the ruling 
house was a strange compound of silent dread, of the truly Italian 
sense of well-calculated interest, and of the loyalty of the modern 
subject: personal admiration was transferred into a new sentiment of 
duty. The city of Ferrara raised in 1451 a bronze equestrian statue to 
their Prince Niccolo, who had died ten years earlier; Borso (1454) did 
not scruple to place his own statue, also of bronze, but in a sitting 
posture, hard by in the market; in addition to which the city, at the 
beginning of his reign, decreed to him a 'marble triumphal pillar .' A 
citizen who, when abroad in Venice, had spoken ill of Borso in public, 
was informed against on his return home, and condemned to banishment 
and the confiscation of his goods; a loyal subject was with difficulty 
restrained from cutting him down before the tribunal itself, and with a 
rope round his neck the offender went to the duke and begged for a full 
pardon. The government was well provided with spies, and the duke 
inspected personally the daily list of travellers which the innkeepers 
were strictly ordered to present. Under Borso, who was anxious to leave 
no distinguished stranger unhonored, this regulation served a 
hospitable purpose; Ercole I used it simply as a measure of precaution. 
In Bologna, too, it was then the rule, under Giovanni II Bentivoglio, 
that every passing traveller who entered at one gate must obtain a 
ticket in order to go out at another. An unfailing means of popularity 
was the sudden dismissal of oppressive officials. When Borso arrested 
in person his chief and confidential counsellors, when Ercole I removed 
and disgraced a tax-gatherer who for years had been sucking the blood 
of the people, bonfires were lighted and the bells were pealed in their 
honour. With one of his servants, however, Ercole let things go too 
far. The director of the police, or by whatever name we should choose 
to call him (Capitano di Giustizia), was Gregorio Zampante of Lucca, a 
native being unsuited for an office of this kind. Even the sons and 
brothers of the duke trembled before this man; the fines he inflicted 
amounted to hundreds and thousands of ducats, and torture was applied 
even before the hearing of a case: bribes were accepted from wealthy 
criminals, and their pardon obtained from the duke by false 
representations. Gladly would the people have paid any sum to their 
ruler for sending away the 'enemy of God and man.' But Ercole had 
knighted him and made him godfather to his children; and year by year 
Zampante laid by 2,000 ducats. He dared only eat pigeons bred in his 
own house, and could not cross the street without a band of archers and 
bravos. It was time to get rid of him; in 1496 two students, and a 
converted Jew whom he had mortally offended, killed him in his house 
while taking his siesta, and then rode through the town on horses held 
in waiting, raising the cry, 'Come out! come out! we have slain 
Zampante!' The pursuers came too late, and found them already safe 
across the frontier. Of course it now rained satires some of them in 
the form of sonnets, others of odes. 

It was wholly in the spirit of this system that the sovereign imposed 
his own respect for useful servants on the court and on the people. 
When in 1469 Borso's privy councillor Lodovico Casella died, no court 
of law or place of business in the city, and no lecture-room at the 
University, was allowed to be open: all had to follow the body to San 
Domenico, since the duke intended to be present. And, in fact, 'the 
first of the house of Este who attended the corpse of a subject' 
walked, clad in black, after the coffin, weeping, while behind him came 
the relatives of Casella, each conducted by one of the gentlemen of the 
court: the body of the plain citizen was carried by nobles from the 
church into the cloister, where it was buried. Indeed this official 
sympathy with princely emotion first came up in the Italian States. At 
the root of the practice may be a beautiful, humane sentiment; the 
utterance of it, especially in the poets, is, as a rule, of equivocal 
sincerity. One of the youthful poems of Ariosto, on the Death of 
Leonora of Aragon, wife of Ercole I, contains besides the inevitable 
graveyard flowers, which are scattered in the elegies of all ages, some 
thoroughly modern features: This death had given Ferrara a blow which 
it would not get over for years: its benefactress was now its advocate 
in heaven, since earth was not worthy of her; truly the angel of Death 
did not come to her, as to us common mortals, with blood-stained 
scythe, but fair to behold (onesta), and with so kind a face that every 
fear was allayed.' But we meet, also, with sympathy of a different 
kind. Novelists, depending wholly on the favour of their patrons, tell 
us the love stories of the prince, even before his death, in a way 
which, to later times, would seem the height of indiscretion, but which 
then passed simply as an innocent compliment. Lyrical poets even went 
so far as to sing the illicit flames of their lawfully married lords, 
e.g. Angelo Poliziano, those of Lorenzo the Magnificent, and Gioviano 
Pontano, with a singular gusto, those of Alfonso of Calabria. The poem 
in question betrays unconsciously the odious disposition of the 
Aragonese ruler; in these things too, he must needs be the most 
fortunate, else woe be to those who are more successful! That the 
greatest artists, for example Leonardo, should paint the mistresses of 
their patrons was no more than a matter of course. 

But the house of Este was not satisfied with the praises of others; it 
undertook to celebrate itself. In the Palazzo Schifanoia Borso caused 
himself to be painted in a series of historical representations, and 
Ercole (from 1472 on) kept the anniversary of his accession to the 
throne by a procession which was compared to the feast of Corpus 
Christi; shops were closed as on Sunday; in the centre of the line 
walked all the members of the princely house (bastards included) clad 
in embroidered robes. That the crown was the fountain of honour and 
authority, that all personal distinction flowed from it alone, had been 
long expressed at this court by the Order of the Golden Spur, an order 
which had nothing in common with medieval chivalry. Ercole I added to 
the spur a sword, a goldlaced mantle, and a grant of money, in return 
for which there is no doubt that regular service was required. 

The patronage of art and letters for which this court has obtained a 
world-wide reputation, was exercised through the University, which was 
one of the most perfect in Italy, and by the gift of places in the 
personal or official service of the prince; it involved consequently no 
additional expense. Boiardo, as a wealthy country gentleman and high 
official, belonged to this class. At the time when Ariosto began to 
distinguish himself, there existed no court, in the true sense of the 
word, either at Milan or Florence, and soon there was none either at 
Urbino or at Naples. He had to content himself with a place among the 
musicians and jugglers of Cardinal Ippolito till Alfonso took him into 
his service. It was otherwise at a later time with Torquato Tasso, 
whose presence at court was jealously sought after. 

The Opponents of the Despots

In face of this centralized authority, all legal opposition within the 
borders of the State was futile. The elements needed for the 
restoration of a republic had been for ever destroyed, and the field 
prepared for violence and despotism. The nobles, destitute of political 
rights, even where they held feudal possessions, might call themselves 
Guelphs or Ghibellines at will, might dress up their bravos in padded 
hose and feathered caps or how else they pleased; thoughtful men like 
Machiavelli knew well enough that Milan and Naples were too 'corrupt' 
for a republic. Strange judgements fell on these two so-called parties, 
which now served only to give official sanction to personal and f 
family disputes.

An Italian prince, whom Agrippa of Nettesheim advised to put them down, 
replied that their quarrels brought him in more than 12,000 ducats a 
year in fines. And when in the year 1500, during the brief return of 
Lodovico il Moro to his States, the Guelphs of Tortona summoned a part 
of the neighbouring French army into the city, in order to make an end 
once for all of their opponents, the French certainly began by 
plundering and ruining the Ghibellines, but finished by doing the same 
to the Guelphs, till Tortona was utterly laid waste. In Romagna, the 
hotbed of every ferocious passion, these two names had long lost all 
political meaning. It was a sign of the political delusion of the 
people that they not seldom believed the Guelphs to be the natural 
allies of the French and the Ghibellines of the Spaniards. It is hard 
to see that those who tried to profit by this error got much by doing 
so. France, after all her interventions, had to abandon the peninsula 
at last, and what became of Spain, after she had destroyed Italy, is 
known to every reader. 

But to return to the despots of the Renaissance. A pure and simple 
mind, we might think, would perhaps have argued that, since all power 
is derived from God, these princes, if they were loyally and honestly 
supported by all their subjects, must in time themselves improve and 
los e all traces of their violent origin. But from characters and 
imaginations inflamed by passion and ambition, reasoning of this kind 
could not be expected. Like bad physicians, they thought to cure the 
disease by removing the symptoms, and fancied that if the tyrant were 
put to death, freedom would follow of itself. Or else, without 
reflecting even to this extent, they sought only to give a vent to the 
universal hatred, or to take vengeance for some family misfortune or 
personal affront. Since the governments were absolute, and free from 
all legal restraints, the opposition chose its weapons with equal 
freedom. Boccaccio declares openly: 'Shall I call the tyrant king or 
prince, and obey him loyally as my lord? No, for he is the enemy of the 
commonwealth. Against him I may use arms, conspiracies, spies, ambushes 
and fraud; to do so is a sacred and necessary work. There is no more 
acceptable sacrifice than the blood of a tyrant.' We need not occupy 
ourselves with individual cases; Machiavelli, in a famous chapter of 
his 'Discorsi,' treats of the conspiracies of ancient and modern times 
from the days of the Greek tyrants downwards, and classifies them with 
cold-blooded indifference according to their various plans and results. 
We need make but two observations, first on the murders committed in 
church, and next on the influence of classical antiquity. So well was 
the tyrant guarded that it was almost impossible to lay hands upon him 
elsewhere than at solemn religious services; and on no other occasion 
was the whole family to be found assembled together. It was thus that 
the Fabrianese murdered (1435) the members of their ruling house, the 
Chiavelli, during high mass, the signal being given by the words of the 
Creed, 'Et incarnatus est.' At Milan the Duke Giovan Maria Visconti 
(1412) was assassinated at the entrance of the church of San Gottardo 
Galeazzo Maria Sforza (1476) in the church of Santo Stefano, and 
Lodovico il Moro only escaped (1484) the daggers of the adherents of 
the widowed Duchess Bona, through entering the church of Sant' Ambrogio 
by another door than that by which he was expected. There was no 
intentional impiety in the act; the assassins of Galeazzo did not fail 
to pray before the murder to the patron saint of the church, and to 
listen devoutly to the first mass. It was, however, one cause of the 
partial failure of the conspiracy of the Pazzi against Lorenzo and 
Giuliano Medici (1478), that the brigand Montesecco, who had bargained 
to commit the murder at a banquet, declined to undertake it in the 
Cathedral of Florence. Certain of the clergy 'who were familiar with 
the sacred place, and consequently had no fear' were induced to act in 
his stead. 

As to the imitation of antiquity, the influence of which on moral, and 
more especially on political, questions we shall often refer to, the 
example was set by the rulers themselves, who, both in their conception 
of the State and in their personal conduct, took t he old Roman empire 
avowedly as their model. In like manner their opponents, when they set 
to work with a deliberate theory, took pattern by the ancient 
tyrannicides. It may be hard to prove that in the main point in forming 
the resolve itself they consciously followed a classical example; but 
the appeal to antiquity was no mere phrase. The most striking 
disclosures have been left us with respect to the murderers of Galeazzo 
Sforza, Lampugnani, Olgiati, and Visconti. Though all three had 
personal ends to serve, yet their enterprise may be partly ascribed to 
a more general reason. About this time Cola de' Montani, a humanist and 
professor of eloquence, had awakened among many of the young Milanese 
nobility a vague passion for glory and patriotic achievements, and had 
mentioned to Lampugnani and Olgiati his hope of delivering Milan. 
Suspicion was soon aroused against him: he was banished from the city, 
and his pupils were abandoned to the fanaticism he had excited. Some 
ten days before the deed they met together and took a solemn oath in 
the monastery of Sant' Ambrogio. 'Then,' says Olgiati, 'in a remote 
corner I raised my eyes before the picture of the patron saint, and 
implored his help for ourselves and for all h* people.' The heavenly 
protector of the city was called on to bless the undertaking, as was 
afterwards St. Stephen, in whose church it was fulfilled. Many of their 
comrades were now informed of the plot, nightly meetings were held in 
the house of Lampugnani, and the conspirators practiced for the murder 
with the sheaths of their daggers. The attempt was successful, but 
Lampugnani was killed on the spot by the attendants of the duke; the 
others were captured: Visconti was penitent, but Olgiati through all 
his tortures maintained that the deed was an acceptable offering to 
God, and exclaimed while the executioner was breaking his ribs, 
'Courage, Girolamo! thou wilt long be remembered; death is bitter, but 
glory is eternal.' 

But however idealistic the object and purpose of such conspiracies may 
appear, the manner in which they were conducted betrays the influence 
of that worst of all conspirators, Catiline, a man in whose thoughts 
freedom had no place whatever. The annals of Siena tell us expressly 
that the conspirators were students of Sallust, and the fact is 
indirectly confirmed by the confession of Olgiati. Elsewhere, too, we 
meet with the name of Catiline, and a more attractive pattern of the 
conspirator, apart from the end he followed, could hardly be 

Among the Florentines, whenever they got rid of, or tried to get rid 
of, the Medici, tyrannicide was a practice universally accepted and 
approved. After the flight of the Medici in 1494, the bronze group of 
Donatello Judith with the dead Holofernes was taken from their 
collection and placed before the Palazzo della Signoria, on the spot 
where the 'David' of Michelangelo now stands, with the inscription, 
'Exemplum salutis publicae cives posuere 1495. No example was more 
popular than that of the younger Brutus, who, in Dante, lies with 
Cassius and Judas Iscariot in the lowest pit of hell, because of his 
treason to the empire. Pietro Paolo Boscoli, whose plot against 
Giuliano, Giovanni, and Giulio Medici failed (1513), was an 
enthusiastic admirer of Brutus, and in order to follow his steps, only 
waited to find a Cassius. Such a partner he met with in Agostino 
Capponi. His last utterances in prison a striking evidence of the 
religious feeling of the time show with what an effort he rid his mind 
of these classical imaginations, in order to die like a Christian. A 
friend and the confessor both had to assure him that St. Thomas Aquinas 
condemned conspirators absolutely; but the confessor afterwards 
admitted to the same friend that St. Thomas drew a distinction and 
permitted conspiracies against a tyrant who bad forced himself on a 
people against their will. 

After Lorenzino Medici had murdered the Duke Alessandro (1537), and 
then escaped, an apology for the deed appeared,8 which is probably his 
own work, and certainly composed in his interest, and in which he 
praises tyrannicide as an act of the highest merit; on the supposition 
that Alessandro was a legitimate Medici, and, therefore, related to 
him, if only distantly, he boldly compares himself with Timoleon, who 
slew his brother for his country's sake. Others, on the same occasion, 
made use of the comparison with Brutus, and that Michelangelo himself, 
even late in life, was not unfriendly to ideas of this kind, may be 
inferred from his bust of Brutus in the Bargello. He left it 
unfinished, like nearly all his works, but certainly not because the 
murder of Caesar was repugnant to his feeling, as the couplet beneath 

A popular radicalism in the form in which it is opposed to the 
monarchies of later times, is not to be found in the despotic States of 
the Renaissance. Each individual protested inwardly against despotism 
but was disposed to make tolerable or profitable terms with it rather 
than to combine with others for its destruction. Things must have been 
as bad as at Camerino, Fabriano, or Rimini, before the citizens united 
to destroy or expel the ruling house. They knew in most cases only too 
well that this would but mean a change of masters. The star of the 
Republics was certainly on the decline. 

The Republics: Venice and Florence

The Italian municipalities had, in earlier days, given signal proof of 
that force which transforms the city into the State. It remained only 
that these cities should combine in a great confederation; and this 
idea was constantly recurring to Italian statesmen, whatever 
differences of form it might from time to time display. In fact, during 
the struggles of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, great and 
formidable leagues actually were formed by the cities; and Sismondi is 
of opinion that the time of the final armaments of the Lombard 
confederation against Barbarossa (from 1168 on) was the moment when a 
universal Italian league was possible. But the more powerful States had 
already developed characteristic features which made any such scheme 
impracticable. In their commercial dealings they shrank from no 
measures, however extreme, which might damage their competitors; they 
held their weaker neighbors in a condition of helpless dependence in 
short, they each fancied they could get on by themselves without the 
assistance of the r est, and thus paved the way for future usurpation. 
The usurper was forthcoming when long conflicts between the nobility 
and the people, and between the different factions of the nobility, had 
awakened the desire for a strong government, and when bands of 
mercenaries ready and willing to sell their aid to the highest bidder 
had superseded the general levy of the citizens which party leaders now 
found unsuited to their purposes. The tyrants destroyed the freedom of 
most of the cities; here and there they were expelled, but not 
thoroughly, or only for a short time; and they were always restored, 
since the inward conditions were favourable to them, and the opposing 
forces were exhausted. 

Among the cities which maintained their independence are two of deep 
significance for the history of the human race: Florence, the city of 
incessant movement, which has left us a record of the thoughts and 
aspirations of each and all who, for three centuries, took part in this 
movement, and Venice, the city of apparent stagnation and of political 
secrecy. No contrast can be imagined stronger than that which is 
offered us by these two, and neither can be compared to anything else 
which the world has hitherto produced. 

Venice recognized itself from the first as a strange and mysterious 
creation the fruit of a higher power than human ingenuity. The solemn 
foundation of the city was the subject of a legend: on March 25, 1413, 
at midday, emigrants from Padua laid the first stone at the Rialto, 
that they might have a sacred, inviolable asylum amid the devastations 
of the barbarians. Later writers attributed to the founders the 
presentiment of the future greatness of the city; M. Antonio Sabellico, 
t who has celebrated the event in the dignified flow of his hexameters, 
makes the priest who completes the act of consecration cry to heaven, 
'When we hereafter attempt great things, S grant us prosperity! Now we 
kneel before a poor altar; but if [ our vows are not made in vain, a 
hundred temples, O God, of 6 gold a nd marble shall arise to Thee.' The 
island city at the end [' of the fifteenth century was the jewel-casket 
of the world. It ; is so described by the same Sabellico, with its 
ancient cupolas, [ its leaning towers, its inlaid marble facades, its 
compressed k splendor, where the richest decoration did not hinder the 
y practical employment of every corner of space. He takes us to the 
crowded Piazza before San Giacometto at the Rialto, where the business 
of the world is transacted, not amid shouting and confusion, but with 
the subdued bum of many voices; where in the porticoes round the square 
and in those of the adjoining streets sit hundreds of money changers 
and goldsmiths, with endless rows of shops and warehouses above their 
heads. He describes the great Fondaco of the Germans beyond the bridge, 
where their goods and their dwellings lay, and before which their ships 
are drawn up side by side in the canal; higher up is a whole fleet 
laden with wine and oil, and parallel with i t, on the shore swarming 
with porters, are the vaults of the merchants; then from the Rialto to 
the square of St. Mark come the inns and the perfumers' cabinets. So he 
conducts the reader from one quarter of the city to another till he 
comes at last to the two hospitals, which were among those institutions 
of public utility nowhere so numerous as at Venice. Care for the 
people, in peace as well as in war, was characteristic of this 
government, and its attention to the wounded, even to those of the 
enemy, excited the admiration of other States. 

Public institutions of every kind found in Venice their pattern; the 
pensioning of retired servants was carried out systematically, and 
included a provision for widows and orphans. Wealth, political 
security, and acquaintance with other countries, had matured the 
understanding of such questions. These slender fair- haired men, with 
quiet cautious steps and deliberate speech, differed but slightly in 
costume and bearing from one another; ornaments, especially pearls, 
were reserved for the women and girls. At that time the general 
prosperity, notwithstanding the losses sustained from the Turks, was 
still dazzling; the stores of energy which the city possessed, and the 
prejudice in its favour diffused throughout Europe, enabled it at a 
much later time to survive the heavy blows inflicted upon it by the 
discovery of the sea route to the Indies, by the fall of the Mamelukes 
in Egypt, and by the war of the League of Cambrai. 

Sabellico, born in the neighbourhood of Tivoli, and accustomed to the 
frank loquacity of the scholars of his day, remarks elsewhere with some 
astonishment, that the young nobles who came of a morning to hear his 
lectures could not be prevailed upon to enter into political 
discussions: 'When I ask them what people think, say, and expect about 
this or that movement in Italy, they all answer with one voice that 
they know nothing about the matter.' Still, in spite of the strict 
imposition of the State, much was to be learned from the more corrupt 
members of the aristocracy by those who were willing to pay enough for 
it. In the last quarter of the fifteenth century there were traitors 
among the highest officials; the popes, the Italian princes, and even 
the second-rate Condottieri in the service of the government had 
informers in their pay, sometimes with regular salaries; things went so 
far that the Council of Ten found it prudent to conceal important 
political news from the Council of the Pregadi, and it was even 
supposed that Lodovico il Moro had control of a definite number of 
votes among the latter. Whether the hanging of single offenders and the 
high rewards such as a life-pension of sixty ducats paid to those who 
informed against them were of much avail, it is hard to decide; one of 
the chief causes of this evil, the poverty of many of the nobility, 
could not be removed in a day. In the year 1492 a proposal was urged by 
two of that order, that the State should spend 70,000 ducats for the 
relief of those poorer nobles who held no public office; the matter was 
near coming before the Great Council, in which it might have had a 
majority, when the Council of Ten interfered in time and banished the 
two proposers for life to Nicosia in Cyprus. About this time a Soranzo 
was hanged, though not in Venice itself, for sacrilege, and a Contarini 
put in chains for burglary; another of the same family came in 1499 
before the Signory, and complained that for many years he had been 
without an office, that he had only sixteen ducats a year and nine 
children, that his debts amounted to sixty ducats, that he knew no 
trade and had lately been turned into the streets. We can understand 
why some of the wealthier nobles built houses, sometimes whole rows of 
them, to provide free lodging for their needy comrades. Such works 
figure in wills among deeds of charity. 

But if the enemies of Venice ever founded serious hopes upon abuses of 
this kind, they were greatly in error. It might be thought that the 
commercial activity of the city, which put within reach of the humblest 
a rich reward for their labor, and the colonies on the eastern shores 
of the Mediterranean would have diverted from political affairs the 
dangerous elements of society. But had not the political history of 
Genoa, notwithstanding similar advantages, been of the stormiest? The 
cause of the stability of Venice lies rather in a combination of 
circumstances which were found in union nowhere else. Unassailable from 
its position, it had been able from the beginning to treat of foreign 
affairs with the fullest and calmest reflection, and ignore nearly 
altogether the parties which divided the rest of Italy, to escape the 
entanglement of permanent alliances, and to set the highest price on 
those which it thought fit to make. The keynote of the Venetian 
character was, consequently, a spirit of proud and contemptuous 
isolation, which, joined to the hatred felt for the city by the other 
States of Italy, gave rise to a strong sense of solidarity within The 
inhabitants meanwhile were united by the most powerful ties of interest 
in dealing both with the colonies and with the possessions on the 
mainland, forcing the population of the latter, that is, of all the 
towns up to Bergamo, to buy and sell in Venice alone. A power which 
rested on means so artificial could only be maintained by internal 
harmony and unity; and this conviction was so widely diffused among the 
citizens that conspirators found few elements to work upon. And the 
discontented, if there were such, were held so far apart by the 
division between the noble and the burgher that a mutual understanding 
was not easy. On the other hand, within the ranks of the nobility 
itself, travel, commercial enterprise, and tb^ incessant wars with the 
Turks saved the wealthy and dangerous from that fruitful source of 
conspiracies idleness. In these wars they were spared, often to a 
criminal extent, by the general in command, and the fall of the city 
was predicted by a Venetian Cato, if this fear of the nobles 'to give o 
ne another pain' should continue at the expense of justice. 
Nevertheless this free movement in the open air gave the Venetian 
aristocracy, as a whole, a healthy bias. 

And when envy and ambition called for satisfaction, an official victim 
was forthcoming and legal means and authorities were ready. The moral 
torture which for years the Doge Francesco Foscari (d. 1457) suffered 
before the eyes of all Venice is a frightful example of a vengeance 
possible only in an aristocracy. The Council of Ten, which had a hand 
in everything, which disposed without appeal of life and death, of S 
financial affairs and military appointments, which included the 
Inquisitors among its number, and which overthrew Foscari, as it had 
overthrown so many powerful men before this Council was yearly chosen 
afresh from the whole governing body, the Gran Consiglio, and was 
consequently the most direct expression of its will. It is not probable 
that serious intrigues occurred at these elections, as the short 
duration of the office and the accountability which followed rendered 
it an object of no great desire. But violent and mysterious as the 
proceedings of this and other authorities might be, the genuine 
Venetian courted rather than fled their sentence, not only because the 
Republic had long arms, and if it could not catch him might punish his 
family, but because in most cases it acted from rational motives and 
not from a thirst for blood. No State, indeed, has ever exercised a 
greater moral influence over its subjects, whether abroad or at home. 
If traitors were to be found among the Pregadi, there was ample 
compensation for this in the fact that every Venetian away from home 
was a born spy for his government. It was a matter of course that the 
Venetian cardinals at Rome sent home news of the transactions of the 
secret papal consistories. The Cardinal Domenico Grimani had the 
dispatches intercepted in the neighbourhood of Rome (1500) which 
Ascanio Sforza was sending to his brother Lodovico il Moro, and 
forwarded them to Venice; his father, then exposed to a serious 
accusation, claimed public credit for this service of his son before 
the Gran Consiglio, in other words, before all the world. 

The conduct of the Venetian government to the Condottieri in its pay 
has been spoken of already. The only further guarantee of their 
fidelity which could be obtained lay in their great number, by which 
treachery was made as difficult as its discovery was easy. In looking 
at the Venetian army list, one is only surprised that among forces of 
such miscellaneous composition any common action was possible. In the 
catalogue for the campaign of 1495 we find 15,526 horsemen, broken up 
into a number of small divisions. Gonzaga of Mantua alone had as many 
as I,200, and Gioffredo Borgia 740; then follow six officers with a 
contingent of 600 to 700, ten with 400, twelve with 400 to 200, 
fourteen or thereabouts with 200 to 100, nine with 80, six with 50 to 
60, and so forth. These forces were partly composed of old Venetian 
troops, partly of veterans led by Venetian city or country nobles; the 
majority of the leaders were, however, princes and rulers of cities or 
their relatives. To these forces must be added 24,000 infantry we are 
not told how they were raised or commanded with 3,300 additional 
troops, who probably belonged to the special services. In time of peace 
the cities of the mainland were wholly unprotected or occupied by 
insignificant garrisons. Venice relied, if not exactly on the loyalty, 
at least on the good sense of its subjects; in the war of the League of 
Cambrai (1509) it absolved them, as is well known, from their oath of 
allegiance, and let them compare the amenities of a foreign occupation 
with the mild government to which they had been accustomed. As there 
had been no treason in their desertion of St. Mark, and consequently no 
punishment was to be feared, they returned to their old masters with 
the utmost eagerness. This war, we may remark parenthetically, was the 
result of a century's outcry against the Venetian desire for 
aggrandizement. The Venetians, in fact, were not free from the mistake 
of those over-clever people who will credit their opponents with no 
irrational and inconsiderate conduct. Misled by this optimism, which 
is, perhaps, a peculiar weakness of aristocracies, they had utterly 
ignored not only the preparations of Mohammed II for the capture of 
Constantinople, but even the armaments of Charles VIII, till the 
unexpected blow fell at last. The League of Cambrai was an event of the 
same character, in so far as it was clearly opposed to the interests of 
the two chief members, Louis XII and Julius II. The hatred of all Italy 
against t}e victorious city seemed to be concentrated in the mind of 
the Pope, and to have blinded him to the evils of foreign intervention; 
and as to the policy of Cardinal d'Amboise and his king, Venice ought 
long before to have recognized it as a piece of malicious imbecility, 
and to have been thoroughly on its guard. The other members of the 
League took part in it from that envy which may be a salutary 
corrective to great wealth and power, but which in itself is a beggarly 
sentiment. Venice came out of the conflict with honour, but not without 
lasting damage.

A power whose foundations were so complicated, whose activity and 
interests filled so wide a stage, cannot be imagined without a 
systematic oversight of the whole, without a regular estimate of means 
and burdens, of profits and losses. Venice can fairly make good its 
claim to be the birthplace of statistical science, together, perhaps, 
with Florence, and followed by the more enlightened despotisms. The 
feudal state of the Middle Ages knew of nothing more than catalogues of 
seignorial rights and possessions (urbaria); it looked on production as 
a fixed quantity, which it approximately is, so long as we have to do 
with landed property only. The towns, on the other hand, throughout the 
West must from very early times have treated production, which with 
them depended on industry and commerce, as exceedingly variable; but 
even in the most flourishing times of the Hanseatic League, they never 
got beyond a simple commercial balance-sheet. Fleets, armies, political 
power and influence fall under the debit and credit of a trader's 
ledger. In the Italian States a clear political consciousness, the 
pattern of Mohammedan administration, and the long and active exercise 
of trade and commerce, combined to produce for the first time a true 
science of statistics. The absolute monarchy of Frederick II in Lower 
Italy was organized with the sole object of securing a concentrated 
power for the death struggle in which he was engaged. In Venice, on the 
contrary, the supreme objects were the enjoyment of life and power, the 
increase of inherited advantages, the creation of the most lucrative 
forms of industry. and the opening of new channels for commerce. 

The writers of the time speak of these things with the greatest 
freedom. We learn that the population of the city amounted in the year 
1422 to 190,000 souls; the Italians were, perhaps, the first to reckon, 
not according to hearths, or men able to bear arms, or people able to 
walk, and so forth, but according to 'animae,' and thus to get the most 
neutral basis for further calculation. About this time, when the 
Florentines wished to form an alliance with Venice against Filippo 
Maria Visconti, they were for the moment refused, in the belief, 
resting on accurate commercial returns, that a war between Venice and 
Milan, that is, between seller and buyer, was foolish. Even if the duke 
simply increased his army, the Milanese, through the heavier taxation 
they must pay, would become worse customers. 'Better let the 
Florentines be defeated, and then, used as they are to the life of a 
free city, they will settle with us and bring their silk and woollen 
industry with them, as the Lucchese did in their distress.' The speech 
of the dying Doge Mocenigo (1423) to a few of the senators whom he had 
sent for to his bedside is still more remarkable. It contains the chief 
elements of a statistical account of the whole resources of Venice. I 
cannot say whether or where a thorough elucidation of this perplexing 
document exists; by way of illustration, the following facts may be 
quoted. After repaying a war-loan of four million ducats, the public 
debt ('il monte') still amounted to six million ducats; the current 
trade (it seems) to ten millions, which yielded, the text informs us, a 
profit of four millions. The 3,000 'navigli,' the 300 'navi,' and the 
45 galleys were manned respectively by 17,000, 8,000 and 11,000 seamen 
(more than 200 for each galley). To these must be added 16,000 
shipwrights. The houses in Venice were valued at seven millions, and 
brought in a rent of half a million. These were 1,000 nobles whose 
incomes ranged from 70 to 4,000 ducats. In another passage the ordinary 
income of the State in that same year is put at 1,100,000 ducats; 
through the disturbance of trade caused by the wars it sank about the 
middle of the century to 800,000 ducats. 

If Venice, by this spirit of calculation, and by the practical turn 
which she gave it, was the first fully to represent one important side 
of modern political life, in that culture, on the other hand, which 
Italy then prized most highly she did not stand in the front rant. The 
literary impulse, in general, was here wanting, and especially that 
enthusiasm for classical antiquity which prevailed elsewhere. The 
aptitude of the Venetians, says Sabellico, for philosophy and eloquence 
was in itself not smaller than that for commerce and politics. George 
of Trebizond, who, in 1459, laid the Latin translation of Plato's Laws 
at the feet of the Doge, was appointed professor of philology with a 
yearly salary of 150 ducats, and finally dedicated his 'Rhetoric' to 
the Signoria. If, however, we look through the history of Venetian 
literature which Francesco Sansovino has appended to his well-known 
book, we shall find in the fourteenth century almost nothing but 
history, and special works on theology, jurisprudence, and medicine; 
and in the fifteenth century, till we come to Ermolao Barbaro and Aldo 
Manuzio, humanistic culture is, for a city of such importance, most 
scantily represented. The library which Cardinal Bessarion bequeathed 
to the State (1468) narrowly escaped dispersion and destruction. 
Learning could be had at the University of Padua, where, however, 
physicians and jurists the latter for their opinion on points of law 
received by far the highest pay. The share of Venice in the poetical 
creations of the country was long insignificant, till, at the beginning 
of the sixteenth century, her deficiencies were made good. Even the art 
of the Renaissance was imported into the city from without, and it was 
not before the end of the fifteenth century that she learned to move in 
this field with independent freedom and strength. But we find more 
striking instances still of intellectual backwardness. This Government, 
which had the clergy so thoroughly in its control, which reserved to 
itself the appointment to all important ecclesiastical offices, and 
which, one time after another, dared to defy the court of Rome, 
displayed an official piety of a most singular kind. The bodies of 
saints and other relics imported from Greece after the Turkish conquest 
were bought at the greatest sacrifices and received by the Doge in 
solemn procession.12 For the coat without a seam it was decided (1455) 
to offer 10,000 ducats, but it was not to be had. These measures were 
not the fruit of any popular excitement, but of the tranquil 
resolutions of the heads of the Government, and might have been omitted 
without attracting any comment, and at Florence, under similar 
circumstances, would certainly have been omitted. We shall say nothing 
of the piety of the masses, and of their firm belief in the indulgences 
of an Alexander VI. But the State itself, after absorbing the Church to 
a degree unknown elsewhere, had in truth a certain ecclesiastical 
element in its composition, and the Doge, the symbol of the State, 
appeared in twelve great processions ('andate') in a half-clerical 
character. They were almost all festivals in memory of political 
events, and competed in splendor with the great feasts of the Church; 
the most brilliant of all, the famous marriage with the sea, fell on 
Ascension Day. 

The most elevated political thought and the most varied forms of human 
development are found united in the history of Florence, which in this 
sense deserves the name of the first modern State in the world. Here 
the whole people are busied with what in the despotic cities is the 
affair of a single family. That wondrous Florentine spirit, at once 
keenly critical and artistically creative, was incessantly transforming 
the social and political condition of the State, and as incessantly 
describing and judging the change. Florence thus became the home of 
political doctrines and theories, of experiments and sudden changes, 
but also, like Venice, the home of statistical science, and alone and 
above all other States in the world, the home of historical 
representation in the modern sense of the phrase. The spectacle of 
ancient Rome and a familiarity with its leading writers were not 
without influence; Giovanni Villani confesses that he received the 
first impulse to his great work at the jubilee of the year 1300, and 
began it immediately on his return home. Yet how many among the 200,000 
pilgrims of that year may have been like him in gifts and tendencies 
and still did not write the history of their native cities? For not all 
of them could encourage themselves with the thought: 'Rome is sinking; 
my native city is rising, and ready to achieve great things, and 
therefore I wish to relate its past history, and hope to continue the 
story to the present time, and as long as any life shall last.' And 
besides the witness to its past, Florence obtained through its 
historians something further a greater fame than fell to the lot of any 
other city of Italy. 

Our present task is not to write the history of this remarkable State, 
but merely to give a few indications of the intellectual freedom and 
independence for which the Florentines were indebted to this history. 
In no other city of Italy were the struggles of political parties so 
bitter, of such early origin, and so permanent. The descriptions of 
them, which belong, it is true, to a somewhat later period, give clear 
evidence of the superiority of Florentine criticism. 

And what a politician is the great victim of these crises, Dante 
Alighieri, matured alike by home and by exile ! He uttered his scorn of 
the incessant changes and experiments in the constitution of his native 
city in ringing verses, which will remain proverbial so long as 
political events of the same kind recur;14 he addressed his home in 
words of defiance and yearning which must have stirred the hearts of 
his countrymen. But his thoughts ranged over Italy and the whole world; 
and if his passion for the Empire, as he conceived it, was no more than 
an illusion, it must yet be admitted that the youthful dreams of a 
newborn political speculation are in his case not without a poetical 
grandeur. He is proud to be the first who trod this path,16 certainly 
in the footsteps of Aristotle, but in his own way independently. His 
ideal emperor is a just and humane judge, dependent on God only, the 
heir of the universal sway of Rome to which belonged the sanction of 
nature, of right and of the will of God. The conquest of the world was, 
according to this view, rightful, resting on a divine judgement between 
Rome and the other nations of the earth, and God gave his approval to 
this empire, since under it He became Man, submitting at His birth to 
the census of the Emperor Augustus, and at His death to the judgement 
of Pontius Pilate. We may find it hard to appreciate these and other 
arguments of the same kind, but Dante's passion never fail s to carry 
us with him. In his letters he appears as one of the earliest 
publicists, and is perhaps the first layman to publish political tracts 
in this form. He began early. Soon after the death of Beatrice he 
addressed a pamphlet on the State of Florence 'to the Great ones of the 
Earth,' and the public utterances of his later years, dating from the 
time of his banishment, are all directed to emperors, princes, a nd 
cardinals. In these letters and in his book De Vulgari Eloquentia 
(About the Vernacular) the feeling, bought with such bitter pains, is 
constantly recurring that the exile may find elsewhere than in his 
native place an intellectual home in language and culture, which cannot 
be taken from him. On this point we shall have more to say in the 

To the two Villani, Giovanni as well as Matteo, we owe not so much deep 
political reflection as fresh and practical observations, together with 
the elements of Florentine statistics and important notices of other 
States. Here too trade and commerce had given the impulse to economic 
as well as political science. Nowhere else in the world was such 
accurate information to be had on financial affairs. The wealth of the 
Papal court at Avignon, which at the death of John XXII amounted to 
twenty-five millions of gold florins, would be incredible on any less 
trustworthy authority. Here only, at Florence, do we meet with colossal 
loans like that which the King of England contracted from the 
Florentine houses of Bardi and Peruzzi, who lost to his Majesty the sum 
of 1,365,000 gold florins (1338) their own money and that of their 
partners and nevertheless recovered from the shock. Most important 
facts are here recorded as to the condition of Florence at this time: 
the public income (over 300,000 gold florins) and expenditure the 
population of the city, here only roughly estimated, according to the 
consumption of bread, in 'bocche,' i.e. mouths, put at 50,000 and the 
population of the whole territory; the excess of 300 to 500 male 
children among the 5,800 to 8,000 annually baptized 18 the 
schoolchildren, of whom 8,000 to 10,000 learned reading, 1,000 to 1,200 
in six schools arithmetic; and besides these, 600 scholars who were 
taught Latin grammar and logic in four schools. Then follow the 
statistics of the churches and monasteries; of the hospitals, which 
held more than a thousand beds; of the wool trade, with most valuable 
details; of the mint, the provisioning of the city, the public 
officials, and so on. Incidentally we learn many curious facts; how, 
for instance, when the public funds ('monte') were first established, 
in the year 1353, the Franciscans spoke from the pulpit in favour of 
the measure, the Dominicans and Augustinians against it. The economic 
results of the black death were and could be observed and described 
nowhere else in all Europe as in this city.20 Only a Florentine could 
have left it on record how it was expected that the scanty population 
would have made everything cheap, and how instead of that labor and 
commodities doubled in price; how the common people at first would do 
no work at all, but simply give themselves up to enjoyment, how in the 
city itself servants and maids were not to be had except at extravagant 
wages; how the peasants would only hill the best lands, and left the 
rest uncultivated; and how the enormous legacies bequeathed to the poor 
at the time of the plague seemed afterwards useless, since the poor had 
either died or had ceased to be poor. Lastly, on the occasion of a 
great bequest, by which a childless philanthropist left six 'denarii' 
to every beggar in the city, the attempt is made to give a 
comprehensive statistical account of Florentine mendicancy. 

This statistical view of things was at a later time still more highly 
cultivated at Florence. The noteworthy point about it is that, as a 
rule, we can perceive its connection with the higher aspects of 
history, with art, and with culture in general. An inventory of the 
year 1422 mentions, within the compass of the same document, the 
seventy-two exchange offices which surrounded the 'Mercato Nuovo'; the 
amount of coined money in circulation (two million golden florins); the 
then new industry of gold spinning; the silk wares; Filippo 
Brunellesco, then busy in digging classical architecture from its 
grave; and Leonardo Aretino, secretary of the republic, at work at the 
revival of ancient literature and eloquence; lastly, it speaks of the 
general prosperity of the city, then free from political conflicts, and 
of the good fortune of Italy, which had rid itself of foreign 
mercenaries. The Venetian statistics quoted above which date from about 
the same year, certainly give evidence of larger property and profit 
and of a more extensive scene of action; Venice had long been mistress 
of the seas before Florence sent out its first galleys (1422) to 
Alexandria. But no reader can fail to recognize the higher spirit of 
the Florentine documents. These and similar lists recur at intervals of 
ten years, systematically arranged and tabulated, while elsewhere we 
find at best occasional notices. We can form an approximate estimate of 
the property and the business of the first Medici; they paid for 
charities, public buildings, and taxes from 1434 to 1471 no less than 
663,755 gold florins, of which more than 400,000 fell on Cosimo alone, 
and Lorenzo Magnifico was delighted that the money had been so well 
spent. In 1478 we have again a most important and in its way complete 
view of the commerce and trades of this city, some of which may be 
wholly or partly reckoned among the fine arts such as those which had 
to do with damasks and gold or silver embroidery, with woodcarving and 
'intarsia,' with the sculpture of arabesques in marble and sandstone, 
with portraits in wax, and with jewelry and work in gold. The inborn 
talent of the Florentines for the systematization of outward life is 
shown by their books on agriculture, business, and domestic economy, 
which are markedly superior to those of other European people in the 
fifteenth century. It has been rightly decided to publish selections of 
these works, although no little study will be needed to extract clear 
and definite results from them. At all events, we have no difficulty in 
recognizing the city, where dying parents begged the government in 
their wills to fine their sons 1,000 florins if they declined to 
practice a regular profession. 

For the first half of the sixteenth century probably no State in the 
world possesses a document like the magnificent description of Florence 
by Varchi. In descriptive statistics, as in so many things besides, yet 
another model is left to us, before the freedom a nd greatness of the 
city sank into the grave. 

This statistical estimate of outward life is, however, uniformly 
accompanied by the narrative of political events to which we have 
already referred. Florence not only existed under political forms more 
varied than those of the free States of Italy and of Europe generally, 
but it reflected upon them far more deeply. It is a faithful mirror of 
the relations of individuals and classes to a variable whole. The 
pictures of the great civic democracies in France and in Flanders, as 
they are delineated in Froissart, and the narratives of the German 
chroniclers of the fourteenth century, are in truth of high importance; 
but in comprehensiveness of thought and in the rational development of 
the story, none will bear comparison with the Florentines. The rule of 
the nobility, the tyrannies, the struggles of the middle class with the 
proletariat, limited and unlimited democracy, pseudo-democracy, the 
primacy o? a single house, the theocracy of Savonarola, and the mixed 
forms of government which prepared the way for the Medicean despotism 
all are so described that the inmost motives of the actors are laid 
bare to the light. At length Machiavelli in his Florentine history 
(down to 1492) represents his native city as a living organism and its 
development as a natural and individual process; he is the first of the 
moderns who has risen to such a conception. It lies without our 
province to determine whether and in what points Machiavelli may have 
done violence to history, as is notoriously the case in his life of 
Castruccio Castracani--a fancy picture of the typical despot. We might 
find something to say against every line of the 'Storie Fiorentine,' 
and yet the great and unique value of the whole would remain 
unaffected. And his contemporaries and successors, Jacopo Pitti, 
Guicciardini, Segni, Varchi, Vettori, what a circle of illustrious 
names! And what a story it is which these masters tell us! The great 
and memorable drama of the last decades of the Florentine republic is 
here unfolded. The voluminous record of the collapse of the highest and 
most original life which the world could then show may appear to one 
but as a collection of curiosities, may awaken in another a devilish 
delight at the shipwreck of so much nobility and grandeur, to a third 
may seem like a great historical assize; for all it will be an object 
of thought and study to the end of time. The evil which was for ever 
troubling the peace of the city was its rule over once powerful and now 
conquered rivals like Pisa-a rule of which the necessary consequence 
was a chronic state of violence. The only remedy, certainly an extreme 
one and which none but Savonarola could have persuaded Florence to 
accept, and that only with the help of favourable chances, would have 
been the well-timed dissolution of Tuscany into a federal union of free 
cities. At a later period this scheme, then no more than the dream of a 
past age, brought (1548) a patriotic citizen of Lucca to the scaffold.

From this evil and from the ill-starred Guelph sympathies of Florence 
for a foreign prince, which familiarized it with foreign intervention, 
came all the disasters which followed. But who does not admire the 
people which was wrought up by its venerated preacher to a mood of such 
sustained loftiness that for the first time in Italy it set the example 
of sparing a conquered foe while the whole history of its past taught 
nothing but vengeance and extermination? The glow which melted 
patriotism into one with moral regeneration may seem, when looked at 
from a distance, to have soon passed away; but its best results shine 
forth again in the memorable siege of 1529-30. They were 'fools,' as 
Guicciardini then wrote, who drew down this storm upon Florence, but he 
confesses himself that they achieved things which seemed incredible; 
and when he declares that sensible people would have got out of the way 
of the danger, he means no more than that Florence ought to have 
yielded itself silently and ingloriously into the hands of its enemies. 
It would no doubt have preserved its splendid suburbs and gardens, and 
the lives and prosperity of countless citizens; but it would have been 
the poorer by one of its greatest and most ennobling memories. 

In many of their chief merits the Florentines are the pattern and the 
earliest type of Italians and modern Europeans generally; they are so 
also in many of their defects. When Dante compares the city which was 
always mending its constitution with the sick man who is continually 
changing his posture to escape from pain, he touches with the 
comparison a permanent feature of the political life of Florence. The 
great modern fallacy that a constitution can be made, can be 
manufactured by a combination of existing forces and tendencies, was 
constantly cropping up in stormy times; even Machiavelli is not wholly 
free from it. Constitutional artists were never wanting who by an 
ingenious distribution and division of political power, by indirect 
elections of the most complicated kind, by the establishment of nominal 
offices, sought to found a lasting order of things, and to satisfy or 
to deceive the rich and the poor alike. They naively fetch their 
examples from classical antiquity, and borrow the party names 
'ottimati,' 'aristocrazia,' as a matter of course. The world since then 
has become used to these expressions and given them a conventional 
European sense, whereas all former party names were purely national, 
and oithor rhnrnotPrimPrl tho rnilqP nt iqqllP or cnrsnz from the 
caprice of accident. But how a name colors or discolors a political 

But of all who thought it possible to construct a State, the greatest 
beyond all comparison was Machiavelli. He treats existing forces as 
living and active, takes a large and accurate view of alternative 
possibilities, and seeks to mislead neither himself nor others. No man 
could be freer from vanity or ostentation; indeed, he does not write 
for the public, but either for princes and administrators or for 
personal friends. The danger for him does not lie in an affectation of 
genius or in a false order of ideas, but rather in a powerful 
imagination which he evidently controls with difficulty. The 
objectivity of his political Judgement is sometimes appalling in its 
sincerity; but it is the sign of a time of no ordinary need and peril, 
when it was a hard matter to believe in right, or to credit others with 
just dealing Virtuous indignation at his expense is thrown away on us, 
who have seen in what sense political morality is understood by the 
statesmen of our own century. Machiavelli was at all events able to 
forget himself in his cause. In truth, although his writing s, with the 
exception of very few words, are altogether destitute of enthusiasm, 
and although the Florentines themselves treated him at last as a 
criminal, he was a patriot in the fullest meaning of the word. But free 
as he was, like most of his contemporaries, in speech and morals, the 
welfare of the State was yet his first and last thought. 

His most complete program for the construction of a new political 
system at Florence is set forth in the memorial to Leo X, composed 
after the death of the younger Lorenzo Medici, Duke of Urbino (d. 
1519), to whom he had dedicated his 'Prince.' The State was by that 
time in extremities and utterly corrupt, and the remedies proposed are 
not always morally justifiable; but it is most interesting to see how 
he hopes to set up the republic in the form of a moderate democracy, as 
heiress to the Medici. A more ingenious scheme of concessions to the 
Pope, to the Pope's various adherents, and to the different Florentine 
interests, cannot be imagined; we might fancy ourselves looking into 
the works of a clock. Principles, observations, comparisons, political 
forecasts, and the like are to be found in numbers in the 'Discorsi,' 
among them flashes of wonderful insight. He recognizes, for example, 
the law of a continuous though not uniform development in republican 
institutions, and requires the constitution to be flexible and capable 
of change, as the only means of dispensing with bloodshed and 
banishments. For a like reason, in order to guard against private 
violence and foreign interference--'the death of all freedom'--he 
wishes to see introduced a judicial procedure ('accusa') against hated 
citizens, in place of which Florence had hitherto had nothing but the 
court of scandal. With a masterly hand the tardy and involuntary 
decisions are characterized which at critical moments play so important 
a part in republican States. Once, it is true, he is misled by his 
imagination and the pressure of events into unqualified praise of the 
people, which chooses its officers, he says, better than any prince, 
and which can be cured of its errors by 'good advice.' With regard to 
the Government of Tuscany, he has no doubt that it belongs to his 
native city, and maintains, in a special 'Discorso' that the reconquest 
of Pisa is a question of life or death; he deplores that Arezzo, after 
the rebellion of 1502, was not razed to the ground; he admits in 
general that Italian republics must be allowed to expand freely and add 
to their territory in order to enjoy peace at home, and not to be 
themselves attacked by others, but declares that Florence had un at the 
wrong end, and from the first made deadly Pisa, Lucca, and Siena, while 
Pistoia, 'treated like a brother,' had voluntarily submitted to her.

It would be unreasonable to draw a parallel between the few other 
republics which still existed in the fifteenth century and this unique 
city--the most important workshop of the Italian, and indeed of the 
modern European spirit. Siena suffered from the gravest organic 
maladies, and its relative prosperity in art and industry must not 
mislead us on this point. Aeneas Sylvius looks with longing from his 
native town over to the 'merry' German imperial cities, where life is 
embittered by no confiscations of land and goods, by no arbitrary 
officials, and by no political factions. Genoa scarcely comes within 
range of our task, as before the time of Andrea Doria it took almost no 
part in the Renaissance.

Indeed, the inhabitant of the Riviera was proverbial among Italians for 
his contempt of all higher culture. Party conflicts here assumed so 
fierce a char- acter, and disturbed so violently the whole course of 
life, that we can hardly understand how, after so many revolutions and 
invasions, the Genoese ever contrived to return to an endurable 
condition. Perhaps it was owing to the fact that all who took part in 
public affairs were at the same time almost without exception active 
men of business. The example of Genoa shows in a striking manner with 
what insecurity wealth and vast commerce, and with what internal 
disorder the possession of distant colonies, are compatible.

Foreign Policy

As the majority of the Italian States were in their internal 
constitution works of art, that is, the fruit of reflection and careful 
adaptation, so was their relation to one another and to foreign 
countries also a work of art. That nearly all of them were the result 
of recent usurpations, was a fact which exercised as fatal an influence 
in their foreign as in their internal policy. Not one of them 
recognized another without reserve; the same play of chance which had 
helped to found and consolidate one dynasty might upset another. Nor 
was it always a matter of choice with the despot whether to keep quiet 
or not. The necessity of movement and aggrandizement is common to all 
illegitimate powers. Thus Italy became the scene of a 'foreign policy' 
which gradually, as in other countries also, acquired the position of a 
recognized system of public law. The purely objective treatment of 
international affairs, as free from prejudice as from moral scruples, 
attained a perfection which sometimes is not without a certain beauty 
and grandeur of its own. But as a whole it gives us the impression of a 
bottomless abyss.

Intrigues, armaments, leagues, corruption and treason make up the 
outward history of Italy at this period. Venice in particular was long 
accused on all hands of seeking to conquer the whole peninsula, or 
gradually so to reduce its strength that one State after another must 
fall into her hands. But on a closer view it is evident that this 
complaint did not come from the people, but rather from the courts and 
official classes, which were commonly abhorred by their subjects, while 
the mild government of Venice had secured for it general confidence 
Even Florence, with its restive subject cities, found itself in a false 
position with regard to Venice, apart from all commercial jealousy and 
from the progress of Venice in Romagna. At last the League of Cambrai 
actually did strike a serious blow at the State which all Italy ought 
to have supported with united strength.

The other States, also, were animated by feelings no less unfriendly, 
and were at all times ready to use against one another any weapon which 
their evil conscience might suggest. Lodovico il Moro, the Aragonese 
kings of Naples, and Sixtus IV--to say nothing of the smaller powers--
kept Italy in a constant perilous agitation. It would have been well if 
the atrocious game had been confined to Italy; but it lay in the nature 
of the case that intervention sought from abroad--in particular the 
French and the Turks.

The sympathies of the people at large were throughout on the side of 
France. Florence had never ceased to confess with shocking _naivete 
_its old Guelph preference for the French. And when Charles VIII 
actually appeared on the south of the Alps, all Italy accepted him with 
an enthusiasm which to himself and his followers seemed unaccountable. 
In the imagination of the Italians, to take Savonarola for an example 
the ideal picture of a wise, just, and powerful savior and ruler was 
still living, with the difference that he was no longer the emperor 
invoked by Dante, but the Capetian king of France. With his departure 
the illusion was broken; but it was long before all understood how 
completely Charles VIII, Louis XII, and Francis I had mistaken their 
true relation to Italy, and by what inferior motives they were led. The 
princes, for their part, tried to make use of France in a wholly 
different way. When the Franco-English wars came to an end, when Louis 
XI began to cast about his diplomatic nets on all sides, and Charles of 
Burgundy to embark on his foolish adventures, the Italian Cabinets came 
to meet them at every point. It became clear that the intervention of 
France was only a question of time, even if the claims on Naples and 
Milan had never existed, and that the old interference with Genoa and 
Piedmont was only a type of what was to follow. The Venetians, in fact, 
expected it as early as 1462. The mortal terror of the Duke Galeazzo 
Maria of Milan during the Burgundian war, in which he was apparently 
the ally of Charles as well as of Louis, and consequently had reason to 
dread an attack from both, is strikingly shown in his correspondence. 
The plan of an equilibrium of the four chief Italian powers, as 
understood by Lorenzo the Magnificent, was but the assumption of a 
cheerful optimistic spirit, which had outgrown both the recklessness of 
an experimental policy and the superstitions of Florentine Guelphism, 
and persisted in hoping for the best. When Louis XI offered him aid in 
the war against Ferrante of Naples and Sixtus IV, he replied, 'I cannot 
set my own advantage above the safety of all Italy; would to God it 
never came into the mind of the French kings to try their strength in 
this country! Should they ever do so, Italy is lost.' For the other 
princes, the King of France was alternately a bugbear to themselves and 
their enemies, and they threatened to call him in whenever they saw no 
more convenient way out of their difficulties. The Popes, in their 
turn, fancied that they could make use of France without any danger to 
themselves, and even Innocent VIII imagined that he could withdraw to 
sulk in the North, and return as a conqueror to Italy at the head of a 
French army.

Thoughtful men, indeed, foresaw the foreign conquest long before the 
expedition of Charles VIII. And when Charles was back again on the 
other side of the Alps, it was plain to every eye that an era of 
intervention had begun. Misfortune now followed on misfortune; it was 
understood too late that France and Spain, the two chief invaders, had 
become great European powers, that they would be no longer satisfied 
with verbal homage, but would fight to the death for influence and 
territory in Italy. They had begun to resemble the centralized Italian 
States, and indeed to copy them, only on a gigantic scale. Schemes of 
annexation or exchange of territory were for a time indefinitely 
multiplied. The end, as is well known, was the complete victory of 
Spain, which, as sword and shield of the counter-reformation, long held 
Papacy among its other subjects. The melancholy reflections of the 
philosophers could only show them how those who had called in the 
barbarians all came to a bad end.

Alliances were at the same time formed with the Turks too, with as 
little scruple or disguise; they were reckoned no worse than any other 
political expedients. The belief in the unity of Western Christendom 
had at various times in the course of the Crusades been seriously 
shaken, and Frederick II had probably outgrown it. But the fresh 
advance of the Oriental nations, the need and the ruin of the Greek 
Empire, had revived the old feeling, though not in its former strength, 
throughout Western Europe. Italy, however, was a striking exception to 
this rule. Great as was the terror felt for the Turks, and the actual 
danger from them, there was yet scarcely a government of any 
consequence which did not conspire against other Italian States with 
Mohammed II and his successors. And when they did not do so, they still 
had the credit of it; nor was it worse than the sending of emissaries 
to poison the cisterns of Venice, which was the charge brought against 
the heirs of Alfonso, King of Naples. From a scoundrel like Sigismondo 
Malatesta nothing better could be expected than that he should call the 
Turks into Italy. But the Aragonese monarchs of Naples, from whom 
Mohammed--at the instigation, we read, of other Italian governments, 
especially of Venice--had once wrested Otranto (1480), afterwards 
hounded on the Sultan Bajazet II against the Venetians. The same charge 
was brought against Lodovico il Moro. 'The blood of the slain, and the 
misery of the prisoners in the hands of the Turks, cry to God for 
vengeance against him,' says the State historian. In Venice, where the 
government was informed of everything, it was known that Giovanni 
Sforza, ruler of Pesaro, the cousin of Lodovico, had entertained the 
Turkish ambassadors on their way to Milan. The two most respectable 
among the Popes of the fifteenth century, Nicholas V and Pius II, died 
in the deepest grief at the progress of the Turks, the latter indeed 
amid the preparations for a crusade which he was hoping to lead in 
person; their successors embezzled the contributions sent for this 
purpose from all parts of Christendom, and degraded the indulgences 
granted in return for them into a private commercial speculation. 
Innocent VIII consented to be gaoler to the fugitive Prince Djem, for a 
salary paid by the prisoner's brother Bajazet II, and Alexander VI 
supported the steps taken by Lodovico il Moro in Constantinople to 
further a Turkish assault upon Venice (1498), whereupon the latter 
threatened him with a Council. It is clear that the notorious alliance 
between Francis I and Soliman II was nothing new or unheard of.

Indeed, we find instances of whole populations to whom it seemed no 
particular crime to go over bodily to the Turks. Even if it were held 
out as a threat to oppressive governments, this is at least a proof 
that the idea had become familiar. As early as 1480 Battista Mantovano 
gives us clearly to understand that most of the inhabitants of the 
Adriatic coast foresaw something o f this kind, and that Ancona in 
particular desired it. When Romagna was suffering from the oppressive 
government of Leo X, a deputy from Ravenna said openly to the Legate, 
Cardinal Giulio Medici: 'Monsignore, the honorable Republic of Venice 
will not have us, for fear of a dispute with the Holy See; but if the 
Turk comes to Ragusa we will put ourselves into his hands.'

It was a poor but not wholly groundless consolation for the enslavement 
of Italy then begun by the Spaniards, that the country was at least 
secured from the relapse into barbarism which would have awaited it 
under the Turkish rule. By itself, divided as it was, it could hardly 
have escaped this fate.

If, with all these drawbacks, the Italian statesmanship of this period 
deserves our praise, it is only on the ground of its practical and 
unprejudiced treatment of those questions which were not affected by 
fear, passion, or malice. Here was no feudal system after the northern 
fashion, with its artificial scheme of rights; but the power which each 
possessed he held in practice as in theory. Here was no attendant 
nobility to foster in the mind of the prince the mediaeval sense of 
honour with all its strange consequences; but princes and counsellors 
were agreed in acting according to the exigencies of the particular 
case and to the end they had in view. Towards the men whose services 
were used and towards allies, come from what quarter they might, no 
pride of caste was felt which could possibly estrange a supporter; and 
the class of the Condottieri, in which birth was a matter of 
indifference, shows clearly enough in what sort of hands the real power 
lay; and lastly, the government, in the hands of an enlightened despot, 
had an incomparably more accurate acquaintance with its own country and 
with that of its neighbors than was possessed by northern 
contemporaries, and estimated the economical and moral capacities of 
friend and foe down to the smallest particular. The rulers were, 
notwithstanding grave errors, born masters of statistical science. With 
such men negotiation was possible; it might be presumed that they would 
be convinced and their opinion modified when practical reasons were 
laid before them. When the great Alfonso of Naples was (1434) a 
prisoner of Filippo Maria Visconti, he was able to satisfy his gaoler 
that the rule of the House of Anjou instead of his own at Naples would 
make the French masters of Italy; Filippo Maria set him free without 
ransom and made an alliance with him. A northern prince would scarcely 
have acted in the same way, certainly not one whose morality in other 
respects was like that of Visconti. What confidence was felt in the 
power of self-interest is shown by the celebrated visit (1478) which 
Lorenzo Magnifico, to the universal astonishment of the Florentines, 
paid the faithless Ferrante at Naples--a man who would certainly be 
tempted to keep him a prisoner, and was by no means too scrupulous to 
do so. For to arrest a powerful monarch, and then to let him go alive, 
after extorting his signature and otherwise insulting him, as Charles 
the Bold did to Louis XI at Peronne (1468), seemed madness to the 
Italians; so that Lorenzo was expected to come back covered with glory, 
or else not to come back at all. The art of political persuasion was at 
this time raised to a point--especially by the Venetian ambassadors of 
which northern nations first obtained a conception from the Italians, 
and of which the official addresses give a most imperfect idea. These 
are mere pieces of humanistic rhetoric. Nor, in spite of an otherwise 
ceremonious etiquette was there in case of need any lack of rough and 
frank speaking in diplomatic intercourse. A man like Machiavelli 
appears in his 'Legazioni' in an almost pathetic light. Furnished with 
scanty instructions, shabbily equipped, and treated as an agent of 
inferior rank, he never loses his gift of free and wide observation or 
his pleasure in picturesque description.

A special division of this work will treat of the study of man 
individually and nationally, which among the Italians went hand in hand 
with the study of the outward conditions of human life.

War as a Work of Art

It must here be briefly indicated by what steps the art of war assumed 
the character of a product of reflection. Throughout the countries of 
the West the education of the individual soldier in the Middle Ages was 
perfect within the limits of the then prevalent system of defence and 
attack: nor was there any want of ingenious inventors in the arts of 
besieging and of fortification. But the development both of strategy 
and of tactics was hindered by the character and duration of military 
service, and by the ambition of the nobles, who disputed questions of 
precedence in the face of the enemy, and through simple want of 
discipline caused the loss of great battles like Crecy and Maupertuis. 
Italy, on the contrary, was the first country to adopt the system of 
mercenary troops, which demanded a wholly different organization; and 
the early intro- duction of firearms did its part in making war a 
democratic pursuit, not only because the strongest castles were unable 
to withstand a bombardment, but because the skill of the engineer, of 
the gunfounder, and of the artillerist-- men belonging to another class 
than the nobility--was now of the first importance in a campaign. It 
was felt, with regret, that the value of the individual, which had been 
the soul of the small and admirably organized bands of mercenaries, 
would suffer from these novel means of destruction, which did their 
work at a distance; and there were Condottieri who opposed to the 
utmost the introduction at least of the musket, which had lately been 
invented in Germany. We read that Paolo Vitelli, while recognizing and 
himself adopting the cannon, put out the eyes and cut off the hands of 
the captured 'schioppettieri' (arquebusiers) because he held it 
unworthy that a gallant, and it might be noble, knight should be 
wounded and laid low by a common, despised foot soldier. On the whole, 
however, the new discoveries were accepted and turned to useful 
account, till the Italians became the teachers of all Europe, both in 
the build- ing of fortifications and in the means of attacking them. 
Princes like Federigo of Urbino and Alfonso of Ferrara acquired a 
mastery of the subject compared to which the knowledge even of 
Maximilian I appears superficial. In Italy, earlier than elsewhere, 
there existed a comprehensive science and art of military affairs; 
here, for the first time, that impartial delight is taken in able 
generalship for its own sake, which might, indeed, be expected from the 
frequent change of party and from the wholly unsentimental mode of 
action of the Condottieri. During the Milano-Venetian war of 1451 and 
1452, between Francesco Sforza and Jacopo Piccinino, the headquarters 
of the latter were attended by the scholar Gian Antonio Porcellio dei 
Pandoni, commissioned by Alfonso of Naples to write a report of the 
campaign. It is written, not in the purest, but in a fluent Latin, a 
little too much in the style of the humanistic bombast of the day, is 
modelled on Caesar's Commentaries, and interspersed with speeches, 
prodigies, and the like. Since for the past hundred years it had been 
seriously disputed whether Scipio Africanus or Hannibal was the 
greater, Piccinino through the whole book must needs be called Scipio 
and Sforza Hannibal. But something positive had to be reported too 
respecting the Milanese army; the sophist presented himself to Sforza, 
was led along the ranks, praised highly all that he saw, and promised 
to hand it down to posterity. Apart from him the Italian literature of 
the day is rich in descriptions of wars and strategic devices, written 
for the use of educated men in general as well as of specialists, while 
the contemporary narratives of northerners, such as the 'Burgundian 
War' by Diebold Schilling, still retain the shapelessness and matter-
of-fact dryness of a mere chronicle. The greatest _dilettante _who has 
ever treated in that character of military affairs, Machiavelli, was 
then busy writing his 'Arte della Guerra.' But the development of the 
individual soldier found its most complete expression in those public 
and solemn conflicts between one or more pairs of combatants which were 
practiced long before the famous 'Challenge of Barletta' (1503). The 
victor was assured of the praises of poets and scholars, which were 
denied to the northern warrior. The result of these combats was no 
longer regarded as a Divine judgement, but as a triumph of personal 
merit, and to the minds of the spectators seemed to be both the 
decision of an exciting competition and a satisfaction for the honour 
of the army or the nation.

It is obvious that this purely rational treatment of warlike affairs 
allowed, under certain circumstances, of the worst atrocities, even in 
the absence of a strong political hatred, as, for instance, when the 
plunder of a city had been promised to the troops. After the forty 
days' devastation of Piacenza, which Sforza was compelled to permit to 
his soldiers (1477), the town long stood empty, and at last had to be 
peopled by force. Yet outrages like these were nothing compared with 
the misery which was afterwards brought upon Italy by foreign troops, 
and most of all by the Spaniards, in whom perhaps a touch of oriental 
blood, perhaps familiarity with the spectacles of the Inquisition, had 
unloosed the devilish element of human nature. After seeing them at 
work at Prato, Rome, and elsewhere, it is not easy to take any interest 
of the higher sort in Ferdinand the Catholic and Charles V who knew 
what these hordes were, and yet unchained them. The mass of documents 
which are gradually brought to light from the cabinets of these rulers 
will always remain an important source of historical information; but 
from such men no fruitful political conception can be looked for.

The Papacy

The Papacy and the dominions of the Church are creations of so peculiar 
a kind that we have hitherto, in determining the general 
characteristics of Italian States, referred to them only occasionally. 
The deliberate choice and adaptation of political] expedients, which 
gives so great an interest to the other States is what we find least of 
all at Rome, since here the spiritual power could constantly conceal or 
supply the defects of the temporal. And what fiery trials did this 
State undergo in the fourteenth and the beginning of the fifteenth 
century, when the Papacy was led captive to Avignon! All, at first, was 
thrown into confusion; but the Pope had money, troops, and a great 
statesman and general, the Spaniard Albornoz, who again brought the 
ecclesiastical State into complete subjection. The danger of a final 
dissolution was still greater at the time of the schism, when neither 
the Roman nor the French Pope was rich enough to reconquer the newly-
lost State; but this was done under Martin V, after the unity of the 
Church was restored, and done again under Eugenius IV, when the same 
danger was renewed. But the ecclesiastical State was and remained a 
thorough anomaly among the powers of Italy; in and near Rome itself, 
the Papacy was defied by the great families of the Colonna, Orsini, 
Savelli and Anguillara; in Umbria, in the Marches, and in Romagna, 
those civic republics had almost ceased to exist, for whose devotion 
the Papacy had shown so little gratitude; their place had been taken by 
a crowd of princely dynasties, great or small, whose loyalty and 
obedience signified little. As self-dependent powers, standing on their 
own merits, they have an interest of their own; and from this point of 
view the most important of them have already been discussed.

Nevertheless, a few general remarks on the Papacy can hardly be 
dispensed with. New and strange perils and trials came upon it in the 
course of the fifteenth century, as the political spirit of the nation 
began to lay hold upon it on various sides, and to draw it within the 
sphere of its action. The least of these dangers came from the populace 
or from abroad; the most serious had their ground in the characters of 
the Popes themselves.

Let us, for this moment, leave out of consideration the countries 
beyond the Alps. At the time when the Papacy was exposed to mortal 
danger in Italy, it neither received nor could receive the slightest 
assistance either from France, then under Louis XI, or from England, 
distracted by the Wars of the Roses, or from the then disorganized 
Spanish monarchy, or from Germany, but lately betrayed at the Council 
of Basle. In Italy itself there was a certain number of instructed and 
even uninstructed people whose national vanity was flattered by the 
Italian character of the Papacy; the personal interests of very many 
depended on its having and retaining this character; and vast masses of 
the people still believed in the virtue of the Papal blessing and 
consecration; among them notorious transgressors like Vitelozzo 
Vitelli, who still prayed to be absolved by Alexander VI, when the 
Pope's son had him strangled. But all these grounds of sympathy put 
together would not have sufficed to save the Papacy from its enemies, 
had the latter been really in earnest, and had they known how to take 
advantage of the envy and hatred with which the institution was 

And at the very time when the prospect of help from without was so 
small, the most dangerous symptoms appeared within the Papacy itself. 
Living as it now did, and acting in the spirit of the secular Italian 
principalities, it was compelled to go through the same dark 
experiences as they; but its own exceptional nature gave a peculiar 
color to the shadows.

As far as the city of Rome itself is concerned, small account was taken 
of its internal agitations, so many were the Popes who had returned 
after being expelled by popular tumult, and so greatly did the presence 
of the Curia minister to the interests of the Roman people. But Rome 
not only displayed at times a specific anti-papal radicalism, but in 
the most serious plots which were then contrived, gave proof of the 
working of unseen hands from without. It was so in the case of the 
conspiracy of Stefano Porcari against Nicholas V (1453), the very Pope 
who had done most for the prosperity of the city. Porcari aimed at the 
complete overthrow of the papal authority, and had distinguished 
accomplices, who, though their names are not handed down to us, are 
certainly to be looked for among the Italian governments of the time. 
Under the pontificate of the same man, Lorenzo Valla concluded his 
famous declamation against the gift of Constantine with the wish for 
the speedy secularization of the States of the Church.

The Catilinarian gang with which Pius II had to (1460) avowed with 
equal frankness their resolution to overthrow the government of the 
priests, and its leader, Tiburzio, threw the blame on the soothsayers, 
who had fixed the accom- plishment of his wishes for this very year. 
Several of the chief men of Rome, the Prince of Taranto, and the 
Condottiere Jacopo Piccinino, were accomplices and supporters of 
Tiburzio. Indeed, when we think of the booty which was accumulated in 
the palaces of wealthy prelates--the conspirators had the Car- dinal of 
Aquileia especially in view--we are surprised that, in an almost 
unguarded city, such attempts were not more frequent and more 
successful. It was not without reason that Pius II preferred to reside 
anywhere rather than in Rome, and even Paul II was exposed to no small 
anxiety through a plot formed by some discharged abbreviators, who, 
under the command of Platina, besieged the Vatican for twenty days. The 
Papacy must sooner or later have fallen a victim to such enterprises, 
if it had not stamped out the aristocratic factions under whose 
protection these bands of robbers grew to a head.

This task was undertaken by the terrible Sixtus IV. He was the first 
Pope who had Rome and the neighbourhood thoroughly under his control, 
especially after his successful attack on the House of Colonna, and 
consequently, both in his Italian policy and in the internal affairs of 
the Church, he could venture to act with a defiant audacity, and to set 
at nought the complaints and threats to summon a council which arose 
from all parts of Europe. He supplied himself with the necessary funds 
by simony, which suddenly grew to unheard-of proportions, and which 
extended from the appointment of cardinals down to the granting of the 
smallest favours. Sixtus himself had not obtained the papal dignity 
without recourse to the same means.

A corruption so universal might sooner or later bring disastrous 
consequences on the Holy See, but they lay in the uncertain future. It 
was otherwise with nepotism, which threatened at one time to destroy 
the Papacy altogether. Of all the 'nipoti,' Cardinal Pietro Riario 
enjoyed at first the chief and almost exclusive favour of Sixtus. He 
soon drew upon him the eyes of all Italy, partly by the fabulous luxury 
of his life, partly through the reports which were current of his 
irreligion and his political plans. He bargained with Duke Galeazzo 
Maria of Milan (1473), that the latter should become King of Lombardy, 
and then aid him with money and troops to return to Rome and ascend the 
papal throne; Sixtus, it appears, would have voluntarily yielded to 
him. This plan, which, by making the Papacy hereditary, would have 
ended in the secularization of the papal State, failed through the 
sudden death of Pietro. The second 'nipote,' Girolamo Riario, remained 
a layman, and did not seek the Pontificate. From this time the 
'nipoti,' by their endeavors to found principalities for themselves, 
became a new source of confusion to Italy. It had already happened that 
the Popes tried to make good their feudal claims on Naples un favour of 
their relatives, but since the failure of Calixtus III. such a scheme 
was no longer practicable, and Girolamo Riario, after the attempt to 
conquer Florence (and who knows how many others places) had failed, was 
forced to content himself with founding a State within the limits of 
the papal dominions themselves. This was in so far justifiable as 
Romagna, with its princes and civic despots, threatened to shake off 
the papal supremacy altogether, and ran the risk of shortly falling a 
prey to Sforza or the Venetians, when Rome interfered to prevent it. 
But who, at times and in circumstances like these, could guarantee the 
continued obedience of 'nipoti' and their descendants, now turned into 
sovereign rulers, to Popes with whom they had no further concern? Even 
in his lifetime the Pope was not always sure of his own son or nephew, 
and the temptation was strong to expel the 'nipote' of a predecessor 
and replace him by one of his own. The reaction of the whole system on 
the Papacy itself was of the most serious character; all means of 
compulsion, whether temporal or spiritual, were used without scruple 
for the most questionable ends, and to these all the other objects of 
the Apostolic See were made subordinate. And when they were attained, 
at whatever cost of revolutions and proscriptions, a dynasty was 
founded which had no stronger interest than the destruction of the 

At the death of Sixtus, Girolamo was only able to maintain himself in 
his usurped principality of Forli and Imola by the utmost exertions of 
his own, and by the aid of the House of Sforza, to which his wife 
belonged. In the conclave (1484) which followed the death of Sixtus--
that in which Innocent VIII was elected--an incident occurred which 
seemed to furnish the Papacy with a new external guarantee. Two 
cardinals, who, at the same time, were princes of ruling houses, 
Giovanni d'Aragona, son of King Ferrante, and Ascanio Sforza, brother 
of Lodovico il Moro, sold their votes with shameless effrontery; so 
that, at any rate, the ruling houses of Naples and Milan became 
interested, by their participation in the booty, in the continuance of 
the papal system. Once again, in the following conclave, when all the 
cardinals but five sold themselves, Ascanio received enormous sums in 
bribes, not without cherishing the hope that at the next election he 
would himself be the favored candidate.

Lorenzo the Magnificent, on his part, was anxious that the House of 
Medici should not be sent away with empty hands. He married his 
daughter Maddalena to the son of the new Pope-- the first who publicly 
acknowledged his children-- Franceschetto Cibo, and expected not only 
favours of all kinds for his own son, Cardinal Giovanni, afterwards Leo 
X, but also the rapid promotion of his son-in-law. But with respect to 
the latter, he demanded impossibilities. Under Innocent VIII there was 
no opportunity for the audacious nepotism by which States had been 
founded, since Franceschetto himself was a poor creature who, like his 
father the Pope, sought power only for the lowest purpose of all--the 
acquisition and accumulation of money. The manner, however, in which 
father and son practiced this occupation must have led sooner or later 
to a final catastrophe--the dissolution of the State. If Sixtus had 
filled his treasury by the sale of spiritual dignities and favours, 
Innocent and his son, for their part, established an office for the 
sale of secular favours, in which pardons for murder and manslaughter 
were sold for large sums of money. Out of every fine 150 ducats were 
paid into the papal exchequer, and what was over to Franceschetto. 
Rome, during the latter part of this pontificate, swarmed with licensed 
and unlicensed assassins; the factions, which Sixtus had begun to put 
down, were again as active as ever; the Pope, well guarded in the 
Vatican, was satisfied with now and then laying a trap, in which a 
wealthy misdoer was occasionally caught. For Franceschetto the chief 
point was to know by what means, when the Pope died, he could escape 
with well-filled coffers. He betrayed himself at last, on the occasion 
of a false report (1490) of his father's death; he endeavored to carry 
off all the money in the papal treasury, and when this proved 
impossible, insisted that, at all events, the Turkish prince, Djem, 
should go with him, and serve as a living capital, to be advantageously 
disposed of, perhaps to Ferrante of Naples. It is hard to estimate the 
political possibilities of remote periods, but we cannot help asking 
ourselves the question if Rome could have survived two or three 
pontificates of this kind. Also with reference to the believing 
countries of Europe, it was imprudent to let matters go so far that not 
only travellers and pilgrims, but a whole embassy of Maximilian, King 
of the Romans, were stripped to their shirts in the neighbourhood of 
Rome, and that envoys had constantly to turn back without setting foot 
within the city.

Such a condition of things was incompatible with the conception of 
power and its pleasures which inspired the gifted Alexander VI (1492-
1503), and the first event that happened was the restoration, at least 
provisionally, of public order, and the punctual payment of every 

Strictly speaking, as we are now discussing phases of Italian 
civilization, this pontificate might be passed over, since the Borgias 
are no more Italian than the House of Naples. Alexander spoke Spanish 
in public with Cesare; Lucrezia, at her entrance to Ferrara, where she 
wore a Spanish costume, was sung to by Spanish buffoons; their 
confidential servants consisted of Spaniards, as did also the most ill-
famed company of the troops of Cesare in the war of 1500; and even his 
hangman, Don Micheletto, and his poisoner, Sebastiano Pinzon Cremonese, 
seem to have been of the same nation. Among his other achievements, 
Cesare, in true Spanish fashion, killed, according to the rules of the 
craft, six wild bulls in an enclosed court. But the Roman corruption, 
which seemed to culminate in this family, was already far advanced when 
they came to the city.

What they were and what they did has been often and fully described. 
Their immediate purpose, which, in fact, they attained, was the 
complete subjugation of the pontifical State. All the petty despots, 
who were mostly more or less refractory vassals of the Church, were 
expelled or destroyed; and in Rome itself the two great factions were 
annihilated, the so-called Guelph Orsini as well as the so-called 
Ghibelline Colonna. But the means employed were of so frightful a 
character that they must certainly have ended in the ruin of the 
Papacy, had not the contemporaneous death of both father and son by 
poison suddenly intervened to alter the whole aspect of the situation. 
The moral indignation of Christendom was certainly no great source of 
danger to Alexander; at home he was strong enough to extort terror and 
obedience; foreign rulers were won over to his side, and Louis XII even 
aided him to the utmost of his power. The mass of the people throughout 
Europe had hardly a conception of what was passing in Central Italy. 
The only moment which was really fraught with danger--when Charles VIII 
was in Italy--went by with unexpected fortune, and even then it was not 
the Papacy as such that was in peril, but Alexander, who risked being 
supplanted by a more respectable Pope. The great, permanent, and 
increasing danger for the Papacy lay in Alexander himself, and, above 
all, in his son Cesare Borgia.

In the nature of the father, ambition, avarice, and sensuality were 
combined with strong and brilliant qualities. All the pleasures of 
power and luxury he granted himself from the first day of his 
pontificate in the fullest measure. In the choice of means to this end 
he was wholly without scruple; it was known at once that he would more 
than compensate himself for the sacrifices which his election had 
involved, and that the seller would far exceed the simony of the buyer. 
It must be remembered that the vice-chancellorship and other offices 
which Alexander had formerly held had taught him to know better and 
turn to more practical account the various sources of revenue than any 
other member of the Curia. As early as 1494, a Carmelite, Adam of 
Genoa, who had preached at Rome against simony, was found murdered in 
his bed with twenty wounds. Hardly a single cardinal was appointed 
without the payment of enormous sums of money.

But when the Pope in course of time fell under the influence of his son 
Cesare Borgia, his violent measures assumed that character of devilish 
wickedness which necessarily reacts upon the ends pursued. What was 
done in the struggle with the Roman nobles and with the tyrants of 
Romagna exceeded in faithlessness and barbarity even that measure to 
which the Aragonese rulers of Naples had already accustomed the world; 
and the genius for deception was also greater. The manner in which 
Cesare isolated his father, murdering brother, brother-in-law, and 
other relations or courtiers, whenever their favour with the Pope or 
their position in any other respect became inconvenient to him, is 
literally appalling. Alexander was forced to acquiesce in the murder of 
his best-loved son, the Duke of Gandia, since he himself lived in 
hourly dread of Cesare.

What were the final aims of the latter? Even in the last months of his 
tyranny, when he had murdered the Condottieri at Sinigaglia, and was to 
all intents and purposes master of the ecclesiastical State (1503), 
those who stood near him gave the modest reply that the Duke merely 
wished to put down the factions and the despots, and all for the good 
of the Church only; that for himself he desired nothing more than the 
lordship of the Romagna, and that he had earned the gratitude of all 
the following Popes by ridding them of the Orsini and Colonna. But no 
one will accept this as his ultimate design. The Pope Alexander 
himself, in his discussions with the Venetian ambassador, went further 
than this, when committing his son to the protection of Venice: 'I will 
see to it,' he said, that one day the Papacy shall belong either to him 
or to you.' Cesare indeed added that no one could become Pope without 
the consent of Venice, and for this end the Venetian cardinals had only 
to keep well together. Whether he referred to himself or not we are 
unable to say; at all events, the declaration of his father is 
sufficient to prove his designs on the pontifical throne. We further 
obtain from Lucrezia Borgia a certain amount of indirect evidence, in 
so far as certain passages in the poems of Ercole Strozza may be the 
echo of expressions which she as Duchess of Ferrara may easily have 
permitted herself to use. Here, too, Cesare's hopes of the Papacy are 
chiefly spoken of; but now and then a supremacy over all Italy is 
hinted at, and finally we are given to understand that as temporal 
ruler Cesare's projects were of the greatest, and that for their sake 
he had formerly surrendered his cardinalate. In fact, there can be no 
doubt whatever that Cesare, whether chosen Pope or not after the death 
of Alexander, meant to keep possession of the pontifical State at any 
cost, and that this, after all the enormities he had committed, he 
could not as Pope have succeeded in doing permanently. He, if anybody, 
could have secularized the States of the Church, and he would have been 
forced to do so in order to keep them. Unless we are much deceived, 
this is the real reason of the secret sympathy with which Machiavelli 
treats the great criminal; from Cesare, or from nobody, could it be 
hoped that he 'would draw the steel from the wound,' in other words, 
annihilate the Papacy--the source of all foreign intervention and of 
all the divisions of Italy. The intriguers who thought to divine 
Cesare's aims, when holding out to him hopes of the Kingdom of Tuscany, 
seem to have been dismissed with contempt.

But all logical conclusions from his premises are idle, not because of 
the unaccountable genius, which in fact characterized him as little as 
it did Wallenstein, but because the means which he employed were not 
compatible with any large and consistent course of action. Perhaps, 
indeed, in the very excess of his wickedness some prospect of salvation 
for the Papacy may have existed even without the accident which put an 
end to his rule.

Even if we assume that the destruction of the petty despots in the 
pontifical State had gained for him nothing but sympathy, even if we 
take as proof of his great projects the army composed of the best 
soldiers and officers in Italy, with Leonardo da Vinci as chief 
engineer, which followed his fortunes in 1502, other facts nevertheless 
bear such a character of unreason that our judgement, like that of 
contemporary observers, is wholly at a loss to explain them. One fact 
of this kind is the devastation and maltreatment of the newly-won 
State, which Cesare still intended to keep and to rule over. Another is 
the condition of Rome and of the Curia in the last decades of the 
pontificate. Whether it were that father and son had drawn up a formal 
list of proscribed persons, or that the murders were resolved upon one 
by one, in either case the Borgias were bent on the secret destruction 
of all who stood in their way or whose inheritance they coveted. Of 
this, money and movable goods formed the smallest part; it was a much 
greater source of profit for the Pope that the incomes of the clerical 
dignitaries in question were suspended by their death, and that he 
received the revenues of their offices while vacant, and the price of 
these offices when they were filled by the successors of the murdered 
men. The Venetian ambassador Paolo Capello reported in the year 1500: 
'Every night four or five murdered men are discovered--bishops, 
prelates and others--so that all Rome is trembling for fear of being 
destroyed by the Duke (Cesare).' He himself used to wander about Rome 
in the night-time with his guards, and there is every reason to believe 
that he did so not only because, like Tiberius, he shrank from showing 
his now repulsive features by daylight, but also to gratify his insane 
thirst for blood, perhaps even on persons unknown to him.

As early as the year 1499 the despair was so great and so general that 
many of the Papal guards were waylaid and put to death- But those whom 
the Borgias could not assail with open violence fell victims to their 
poison. For the cases in which a certain amount of discretion seemed 
requisite, a white powder of an agreeable taste was made use of, which 
did not work on the spot, but slowly and gradually, and which could be 
mixed without notice in any dish or goblet. Prince Djem had taken some 
of it in a sweet draught, before Alexander surrendered him to Charles 
VIII (1495), and at the end of their career father and son poisoned 
themselves with the same powder by accidentally tasting a sweetmeat 
intended for a wealthy cardinal. The official epitomizer of the history 
of the Popes, Onofrio Panvinio, mentions three cardinals, Orsini, 
Ferrerio and Michiel, whom Alexander caused to be poisoned, and hints 
at a fourth, Giovanni Borgia, whom Cesare took into his own charge--
though probably wealthy prelates seldom died in Rome at that time 
without giving rise to suspicions of this sort. Even tranquil scholars 
who had withdrawn to some provincial town were not out of reach of the 
merciless poison. A secret horror seemed to hang about the Pope; storms 
and thunderbolts, crushing in walls and chambers, had in earlier times 
often visited and alarmed him; in the year I 500, when these phenomena 
were repeated, they were held to be 'cosa diabolica.' The report of 
these events seems at last, through the well-attended jubilee of 1500, 
to have been carried far and wide throughout the countries of Europe, 
and the infamous traffic in indulgences did what else was needed to 
draw all eyes upon Rome. Besides the returning pilgrims, strange white-
robed penitents came from Italy to the North, among them disguised 
fugitives from the Papal State, who are not likely to have been silent. 
Yet none can calculate how far the scandal and indignation of 
Christendom might have gone, before they became a source of pressing 
danger to Alexander. 'He would,' says Panvinio elsewhere, 'have put all 
the other rich cardinals and prelates out of the way, to get their 
property, had he not, in the midst of his great plans for his son, been 
struck down by death.' And what might not Cesare have achieved if, at 
the moment when his father died, he had not himself been laid upon a 
sickbed! What a conclave would that have been, in which, armed with all 
his weapons, he had extorted his election from a college whose numbers 
he had judiciously reduced by poison--and this at a time when there was 
no French army at hand! In pursuing such a hypothesis the imagination 
loses itself in an abyss.

Instead of this followed the conclave in which Pius III was elected, 
and, after his speedy death, that which chose Julius II --both 
elections the fruits of a general reaction.

Whatever may have been the private morals of Julius II, in all 
essential respects he was the savior of the Papacy. His familiarity 
with the course of events since the pontificate of his uncle Sixtus had 
given him a profound insight into the grounds and conditions of the 
Papal authority. On these he founded his own policy, and devoted to it 
the whole force and passion of his unshaken soul. He ascended the steps 
of St. Peter's chair without simony and amid general applause, and with 
him ceased, at all events, the undisguised traffic in the highest 
offices of the Church. Julius had favorites, and among them were some 
the reverse of worthy, but a special fortune put him above the 
temptation to nepotism. His brother, Giovanni della Rovere, was the 
husband of the heiress of Urbino, sister of the last Montefeltro, 
Guidobaldo, and from this marriage was born, in 1491, a son, Francesco 
Maria della Rovere, who was at the same time Papal 'nipote' and lawful 
heir to the duchy of Urbino. What Julius elsewhere acquired, either on 
the field of battle or by diplomatic means, he proudly bestowed on the 
Church, not on his family; the ecclesiastical territory, which he found 
in a state of dissolution, he bequeathed to his successor completely 
subdued, and increased by Parma and Piacenza. It was not his fault that 
Ferrara too was not added the Church. The 700,000 ducats which were 
stored up in the Castel Sant' Angelo were to be delivered by the 
governor to none but the future Pope. He made himself heir of the 
cardinals, and, indeed, of all the clergy who died in Rome, and this by 
the most despotic means; but he murdered or poisoned none of them. That 
he should himself lead his forces to battle was for him an unavoidable 
necessity, and certainly did him nothing but good at a time when a man 
in Italy was forced to be either hammer or anvil, and when per- 
sonality was a greater power than the most indisputable right. If 
despite all his high-sounding 'Away with the barbarians! ' he 
nevertheless contributed more than any man to the firm settlement of 
the Spaniards in Italy, he may have thought it a matter of indifference 
to the Papacy, or even, as things stood, a relative advantage. And to 
whom, sooner than to Spain, could the Church look for a sincere and 
lasting respect, in an age when the princes of Italy cherished none but 
sacrilegious projects against her? Be this as it may, the powerful, 
original nature, which could swallow no anger and conceal no genuine 
good-will, made on the whole the impression most desirable in his 
situation--that of the 'Pontefice terribile.' 26 He could even, with 
comparatively clear conscience, venture to summon a council to Rome, 
and so bid defiance to that outcry for a council which was raised by 
the opposition all over Europe. A ruler of this stamp needed some great 
outward symbol of his conceptions; Julius found it in the 
reconstruction of St. Peter's. The plan of it, as Bramante wished to 
have it, is perhaps the grandest expression of power in unity which can 
be imagined. In other arts besides architecture the face and the memory 
of the Pope live on in their most ideal form, and it is not without 
significance that even the Latin poetry of those days gives proof of a 
wholly different enthusiasm for Julius than that shown for his 
predecessors. The entry into Bologna, at the end of the 'Iter Julii 
Secundi' by the Cardinal Adriano da Corneto, has a splendor of its own, 
and Giovan Antonio Flaminio, in one of the finest elegies, appealed to 
the patriot in the Pope to grant his protection to Italy.

In a constitution of his Lateran Council, Julius had solemnly denounced 
the simony of the Papal elections. After his death in 1513, the money-
loving cardinals tried to evade the prohibition by proposing that the 
endowments and offices hitherto held by the chosen candidate should be 
equally divided among themselves, in which case they would have elected 
the best-endowed cardinal, the incompetent Raphael Riario. But a 
reaction, chiefly arising from the younger members of the Sacred 
College, who, above all things, desired a liberal Pope, rendered the 
miserable combination futile; Giovanni Medici was elected --the famous 
Leo X.

We shall often meet with him in treating of the noonday of the 
Renaissance; here we wish only to point out that under him the Papacy 
was again exposed to great inward and outward dangers. Among these we 
do not reckon the conspiracy of the Cardinals Petrucci, De Sauli, 
Riario, and Corneto (1517), which at most could have occasioned a 
change of and to which Leo found the true antidote in the un-heard-of 
creation of thirty-one new cardinals, a measure which additional 
advantage of rewarding, in some cases at least, real merit.

But some of the paths which Leo allowed himself to tread during the 
first two years of his office were perilous to the last degree. He 
seriously endeavored to secure, by negotiation, the kingdom of Naples 
for his brother Giuliano, and for his nephew Lorenzo a powerful North 
Italian State, to comprise Milan, Tuscany, Urbino and Ferrara. It is 
clear that the Pontifical State, thus hemmed in on all sides, would 
have become a mere Medicean appanage, and that, in fact, there would 
have been no further need to secularize it.

The plan found an insuperable obstacle in the political conditions of 
the time. Giuliano died early. To provide for Lorenzo, Leo undertook to 
expel the Duke Francesco Maria della Rovere from Urbino, but reaped 
from the war nothing but hatred and poverty, and was forced, when in 
1519 Lorenzo followed his uncle to the grave, to hand over the hard-won 
conquests to the Church. He did on compulsion and without credit what, 
if it had been done voluntarily, would have been to his lasting honour. 
What he attempted against Alfonso of Ferrara, and actually achieved 
against a few petty despots and Condottieri, was assuredly not of a 
kind to raise his reputation. And this was at a time when the monarchs 
of the West were yearly growing more and more accustomed to political 
gambling on a colossal scale, of which the stakes were this or that 
province of Italy. Who could guarantee that, since the last decades had 
seen so great an increase of their power at home, their ambition would 
stop short of the States of the Church? Leo himself witnessed the 
prelude of what was fulfilled in the year 1527; a few bands of Spanish 
infantry appeared of their own accord, it seems-- at the end of 1520, 
on the borders of the Pontifical territory, with a view to laying the 
Pope under contribution, but were driven back by the Papal forces. The 
public feeling, too, against the corruptions of the hierarchy had of 
late years been drawing rapidly to a head, and men with an eye for the 
future, like the younger Pico della Mirandola, called urgently for 
reform. Meantime Luther had already appeared upon the scene.

Under Adrian VI (1521-1523), the few and timid improvements, carried 
out in the face of the great German Reformation, came too late. He 
could do little more than proclaim his horror of the course which 
things had taken hitherto, of simony, nepotism, prodigality, 
brigandage, and profligacy. The danger from the side of the Lutherans 
was by no means the greatest; an acute observer from Venice, Girolamo 
Negro, uttered his fears that a speedy and terrible disaster would 
befall the city of Rome itself.

Under Clement VII the whole horizon of Rome was filled with vapors, 
like that leaden veil which the sirocco drew over the Campagna, and 
which made the last months of summer so deadly. The Pope was no less 
detested at home than abroad. Thoughtful people were filled with 
anxiety, hermits appeared upon the streets and squares of Rome, 
foretelling the fate of Italy and of the world, and calling the Pope by 
the name of Antichrist; the faction of the Colonna raised its head 
defiantly; the indomitable Cardinal Pompeo Colonna, whose mere 
existence was a permanent menace to the Papacy, ventured to surprise 
the city in 1526, hoping with the help of Charles V, to become Pope 
then and there, as soon as Clement was killed or captured. It was no 
piece of good fortune for Rome that the latter was able to escape to 
the Castel Sant' Angelo, and the fate for which he himself was reserved 
may well be called worse than death. By a series of those falsehoods 
which only the powerful can venture on, but which bring ruin upon the 
weak, Clement brought about the advance of the Germano-Spanish army 
under Bourbon and Frundsberg (1527). It is certain that the Cabinet of 
Charles V intended to inflict on him a severe castigation, and that it 
could not calculate beforehand how far the zeal of its unpaid hordes 
would carry them. It would have been vain to attempt to enlist men in 
Germany without paying any bounty, if it had not been well known that 
Rome was the object of the expedition. It may be that the written 
orders to Bourbon will be found some day or other, and it is not 
improbable that they will prove to be worded mildly. But historical 
criticism will not allow itself to be led astray. The Catholic King and 
Emperor owed it to his luck and nothing else that Pope and cardinals 
were not murdered by his troops. Had this happened, no sophistry in the 
world could clear him of his share in the guilt. The massacre of 
countless people of less consequence, the plunder of the rest, and all 
the horrors of torture and traffic in human life, show clearly enough 
what was possible in the 'Sacco di Roma.'

Charles seems to have wished to bring the Pope, who had fled a second 
time to the Castel Sant' Angelo, to Naples, after extorting from him 
vast sums of money, and Clement's flight to Orvieto must have happened 
without any connivance on the part of Spain. Whether the Emperor ever 
thought seriously of the secularization of the States of the Church, 
for which every body was quite prepared, and whether he was really 
dissuaded from it by the representations of Henry VIII of England, will 
probably never be made clear.

But if such projects really existed, they cannot have lasted long: from 
the devastated city arose a new spirit of reform both in Church and 
State. It made itself felt in a moment. Cardinal Sadoleto, one witness 
of many, thus writes: 'If through our suffering a satisfaction is made 
to the wrath and justice of God, if these fearful punishments again 
open the way to better laws and morals, then is our misfortune perhaps 
not of the greatest.... What belongs to God He will take care of; 
before us lies a life of reformation, which no violence can take from 
us. Let us so rule our deeds and thoughts as to seek in God only the 
true glory of the priesthood and our own true greatness and power.'

In point of fact, this critical year, 1527, so far bore fruit that the 
voices of serious men could again make themselves heard. Rome had 
suffered too much to return, even under a Paul III, to the gay 
corruption of Leo X.

The Papacy, too, when its sufferings became so great, began to excite a 
sympathy half religious and half political. The kings could not 
tolerate that one of their number should arrogate to himself the right 
of Papal gaoler, and concluded (August 18, 1527) the Treaty of Amiens, 
one of the objects of which was the deliverance of Clement. They thus, 
at all events, turned to their own account the unpopularity which the 
deeds of the Imperial troops had excited. At the same time the Emperor 
became seriously embarrassed, even in Spain, where the prelates and 
grandees never saw him without making the most urgent remonstrances. 
When a general deputation of the clergy and laity, all clothed in 
mourning, was projected, Charles, fearing that troubles might arise out 
of it, like those of the insurrection quelled a few years before, 
forbade the scheme. Not only did he not dare to prolong the 
maltreatment of the Pope, but he was absolutely compelled, even apart 
from all considerations of foreign politics, to be reconciled with the 
Papacy, which he had so grievously wounded. For the temper of the 
German people, which certainly pointed to a different course, seemed to 
him, like German affairs generally, to afford no foundation for a 
policy. It is possible, too, as a Venetian maintains, that the memory 
of the sack of Rome lay heavy on his conscience, and tended to hasten 
that expiation which was sealed by the permanent subjection of the 
Florentines to the Medicean family of which the Pope was a member. The 
'nipote' and new Duke, Alessandro Medici, was married to the natural 
daughter of the Emperor.

In the following years the plan of a Council enabled Charles to keep 
the Papacy in all essential points under his control, and at one and 
the same time to protect and to oppress it. The greatest danger of all-
-secularization--the danger which came from within, from the Popes 
themselves and their 'nipoti,' was adjourned for centuries by the 
German Reformation. Just as this alone had made the expedition against 
Rome (1527) possible and successful, so did it compel the Papacy to 
become once more the expression of a world-wide spiritual power, to 
raise itself from the soulless debasement in which it lay, and to place 
itself at the head of all the enemies of this reformation. The 
institution thus developed during the latter years of Clement VII, and 
under Paul III, Paul IV, and their successors, in the face of the 
defection of half Europe, was a new, regenerated hierarchy, which 
avoided all the great and dangerous scandals of former times, 
particularly nepotism, with its attempts at territorial aggrandizement, 
and which, in alliance with the Catholic princes, and impelled by a 
newborn spiritual force, found its chief work in the recovery of what 
had been lost. It only existed and is only intelligible in opposition 
to the seceders. In this sense it can be said with perfect truth that 
the moral salvation of the Papacy is due to its mortal enemies. And now 
its political position, too, though certainly under the permanent 
tutelage of Spain, became impregnable; almost without effort it 
inherited, on the extinction of its vassals, the legitimate line of 
Este and the house of Della Rovere, the duchies of Ferrara and Urbino. 
But without the Reformation--if, indeed, it is possible to think it 
away--the whole ecclesiastical State would long ago have passed into 
secular hands.


In conclusion, let us briefly consider the effect of these political 
circumstances on the spirit of the nation at large.

It is evident that the general political uncertainty in Italy, during 
the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, was of a kind to excite in the 
better spirits of the time a patriotic disgust and opposition. Dante 
and Petrarch, in their day, proclaimed loudly a common Italy, the 
object of the highest efforts of all her children. It may be objected 
that this was only the enthusiasm of a few highly instructed men, in 
which the mass of the people had no share; but it can hardly have been 
otherwise even in Germany, although in name at least that country was 
united, and recognized in the Emperor one supreme head. The first 
patriotic utterances of German literature, if we except some verses of 
the 'Minnesanger,' belong to the humanists of the time of Maximilian I 
and after, and read like an echo of Italian declamations. And yet, as a 
matter of fact, Germany had been long a nation in a truer sense than 
Italy ever was since the Roman days. France owes the consciousness of 
its national unity mainly to its conflicts with the English, and Spain 
has never permanently succeeded in absorbing Portugal, closely related 
as the two countries are. For Italy, the existence of the 
ecclesiastical State, and the conditions under which alone it could 
continue, were a permanent obstacle to national unity, an obstacle 
whose removal seemed hopeless. When, therefore, in the political 
intercourse of the fifteenth century, the common fatherland is 
sometimes emphatically named, it is done in most cases to annoy some 
other Italian State. But those deeply serious and sorrowful appeals to 
national sentiment were not heard again till later, when the time for 
unity had gone by, when the country was inundated with Frenchmen and 
Spaniards. The sense of local patriotism may be said in some measure to 
have taken the place of this feeling, though it was but a poor 
equivalent for it.

Part Two



In the character of these States, whether republics or despotisms, 
lies, not the only, but the chief reason for the early development of 
the Italian. To this it is due that he was the firstborn among the sons 
of modern Europe.

In the Middle Ages both sides of human consciousness--that which was 
turned within as that which was turned without-- lay dreaming or half 
awake beneath a common veil. The veil was woven of faith, illusion, and 
childish prepossession, through which the world and history were seen 
clad in strange hues. Man was conscious of himself only as a member of 
a race, people, party, family, or corporation--only through some 
general category. In Italy this veil first melted into air; an 
_objective _treatment and consideration of the State and of all the 
things of this world became possible. The subjective side at the same 
time asserted itself with corresponding emphasis; man became a 
spiritual _individual, _recognized himself as such. In the same way the 
Greek had once distinguished himself from the barbarian, and the Arab 
had felt himself an individual at a time when other Asiatics knew 
themselves only as members of a race. It will not be difficult to show 
that this result was due above all to the political circumstances of 

In far earlier times we can here and there detect a development of free 
personality which in Northern Europe either did not occur at all, or 
could not display itself in the same manner. The band of audacious 
wrongdoers in the tenth century described to us by Liudprand, some of 
the contemporaries of Gregory VII (for example, Benzo of Alba), and a 
few of the opponents of the first Hohenstaufen, show us characters of 
this kind. But at the close of the thirteenth century Italy began to 
swarm with individuality; the ban laid upon human personality was 
dissolved; and a thousand figures meet us each in its own special shape 
and dress. Dante's great poem would have been impossible in any other 
country of Europe, if only for the reason that they all still lay under 
the spell of race. For Italy the august poet, through the wealth of 
individuality which he set forth, was the most national herald of his 
time. But this unfolding of the treasures of human nature in literature 
and art--this many-sided representation and criticism--will be 
discussed in separate chapters; here we have to deal only with the 
psychological fact itself. This fact appears in the most decisive and 
unmistakable form. The Italians of the fourteenth century knew little 
of false modesty or of hypocrisy in any shape; not one of them was 
afraid of singularity, of being and seeming unlike his neighbors.

Despotism, as we have already seen, fostered in the highest degree the 
individuality not only of the tyrant or Condottiere himself, but also 
of the men whom he protected or used as his tools--the secretary, 
minister, poet, and companion. These people were forced to know all the 
inward resources of their own nature, passing or permanent; and their 
enjoyment of life was enhanced and concentrated by the desire to obtain 
the greatest satisfaction from a possibly very brief period of power 
and influence.

But even the subjects whom they ruled over were not free from the same 
impulse. Leaving out of account those who wasted their lives in secret 
opposition and conspiracies, we speak of the majority who were content 
with a strictly private station, like most of the urban population of 
the Byzantine empire and the Mohammedan States. No doubt it was often 
hard for the subjects of a Visconti to maintain the dignity of their 
persons and families, and multitudes must have lost in moral character 
through the servitude they lived under. But this was not the case with 
regard to individuality; for political impotence does not hinder the 
different tendencies and manifestations of private life from thriving 
in the fullest vigor and variety. Wealth and culture, so far as display 
and rivalry were not forbidden to them, a municipal freedom which did 
not cease to be considerable, and a Church which, unlike that of the 
Byzantine or of the Mohammedan world, was not identical with the State-
-all these conditions undoubtedly favored the growth of individual 
thought, for which the necessary leisure was furnished by the cessation 
of party conflicts. The private man, indifferent to politics, and 
busied partly with serious pursuits, partly with the interests of a 
_dilettante, _seems to have been first fully formed in these despotisms 
of the fourteenth century. Documentary evidence cannot, of course, be 
required on such a point. The novelists, from whom we might expect 
information, describe to us oddities in plenty, but only from one point 
of view and in so far as the needs of the story demand. Their scene, 
too, lies chiefly in the republican cities.

In the latter, circumstances were also, but in another way, favourable 
to the growth of individual character. The more frequently the 
governing party was changed, the more the individual was led to make 
the utmost of the exercise and enjoyment of power. The statesmen and 
popular leaders, especially in Florentine history, acquired so marked a 
personal character that we can scarcely find, even exceptionally, a 
parallel to them in contemporary history, hardly even in Jacob van 

The members of the defeated parties, on the other hand, often came into 
a position like that of the subjects of the despotic States, with the 
difference that the freedom or power already enjoyed, and in some cases 
the hope of recovering them, gave a higher energy to their 
individuality. Among these men of involuntary leisure we find, for 
instance, an Agnolo Pandolfini (d. 1446), whose work on domestic 
economy is the first complete programme of a developed private life. 
His estimate of the duties of the individual as against the dangers and 
thanklessness of public life is in its way a true monument of the age.

Banishment, too, has this effect above all, that it either wears the 
exile out or develops whatever is greatest in him. 'In all our more 
populous cities,' says Gioviano Pontano, 'we see a crowd of people who 
have left their homes of their own free will; but a man takes his 
virtues with him wherever he goes.' And, in fact, they were by no means 
only men who had been actually exiled, but thousands left their native 
place voluntarily, be cause they found its political or economic 
condition intolerable. The Florentine emigrants at Ferrara and the 
Lucchese in Venice formed whole colonies by themselves.

The cosmopolitanism which grew up in the most gifted circles is in 
itself a high stage of individualism. Dante, as we have already said, 
finds a new home in the language and culture of Italy, but goes beyond 
even this in the words, 'My country is the whole world.' And when his 
recall to Florence was offered him on unworthy conditions, he wrote 
back: 'Can I not everywhere behold the light of the sun and the stars; 
everywhere meditate on the noblest truths, without appearing 
ingloriously and shamefully before the city and the people? Even my 
bread will not fail me.' The artists exult no less defiantly in their 
freedom from the constraints of fixed residence. 'Only he who has 
learned everything,' says Ghiberti,'is nowhere a stranger; robbed of 
his fortune and without friends, he is yet the citizen of every 
country, and can fearlessly despise the changes of fortune.' In the 
same strain an exiled humanist writes: 'Wherever a learned man fixes 
his seat, there is home.'

An acute and practiced eye might be able to trace, step by step, the 
increase in the number of complete men during the fifteenth century. 
Whether they had before them as a conscious object the harmonious 
development of their spiritual and material existence, is hard to say; 
but several of them attained it, so far as is consistent with the 
imperfection of all that is earthly. It may be better to renounce the 
attempt at an estimate of the share which fortune, character, and 
talent had in the life of Lorenzo il Magnifico. But look at a 
personality like that of Ariosto, especially as shown in his satires. 
In what harmony are there expressed the pride of the man and the poet, 
the irony with which he treats his own enjoyments, the most delicate 
satire, and the deepest goodwill!

When this impulse to the highest individual development was combined 
with a powerful and varied nature, which had mastered all the elements 
of the culture of the age, then arose the 'all-sided man'--'l'uomo 
universale'--who belonged to Italy alone. Men there were of 
encyclopedic knowledge _, in many countries during the Middle Ages, for 
this knowledge was confined within narrow limits; and even in the 
twelfth century there were universal artists, but the problems of 
architecture were comparatively simple and uniform, and in sculpture 
and painting the matter was of more importance than the form. But in 
Italy at the time of the Renaissance, we find artists who in every 
branch created new and perfect works, and who also made the greatest 
impression as men. Others, outside the arts they practiced, were 
masters of a vast circle of spiritual interests.

Dante, who, even in his lifetime, was called by some a poet, by others 
a philosopher, by others a theologian, pours forth in all his writings 
a stream of personal force by which the reader, apart from the interest 
of the subject, feels himself carried away. What power of will must the 
steady, unbroken elaboration of the _Divine Comedy _have required! And 
if we look at the matter of the poem, we find that in the whole 
spiritual or physical world there is hardly an important subject which 
the poet has not fathomed, and on which his utterances --often only a 
few words--are not the most weighty of his time. For the visual arts he 
is of the first importance, and this for better reasons than the few 
references to contemporary artists--he soon became himself the source 
of inspiration.

The fifteenth century is, above all, that of the many-sided men. There 
is no biography which does not, besides the chief work of its hero, 
speak of other pursuits all passing beyond the limits of dilettantism. 
The Florentine merchant and statesman was often learned in both the 
classical languages; the most famous humanists read the Ethics and 
Politics of Aristotle to him and his sons; even the daughters of the 
house were highly educated. It is in these circles that private 
education was first treated seriously. The humanist, on his side, was 
compelled to the most varied attainments, since his philological 
learning was not limited, as it is now, to the theoretical knowledge of 
classical antiquity, but had to serve the practical needs of daily 
life. While studying Pliny, he made collections of natural history; the 
geography of the ancients was his guide in treating of modern 
geography, their history was his pattern in writing contemporary 
chronicles, even when composed in Italian; he Dot only translated the 
comedies of Plautus, but acted as manager when they were put on the 
stage; every effective form of ancient literature down to the dialogues 
of Lucian he did his best to imitate; and besides all this, he acted as 
magistrate, secretary and diplomatist--not always to his own advantage.

But among these many-sided men, some, who may truly be called all-
sided, tower above the rest. Before analyzing the general phases of 
life and culture of this period, we may here, on the threshold of the 
fifteenth century, consider for a moment the figure of one of these 
giants -- Leon Battista Alberti (b. 1404, d. 1472). His biography, 
which is only a fragment, speaks of him but little as an artist , and 
makes no mention at all of his great significance in the history of 
architecture. We shall now see what he was, apart from these special 
claims to distinction.

In all by which praise is won, Leon Battista was from his childhood the 
first. Of his various gymnastic feats and exercises we read with 
astonishment how, with his feet together, he could spring over a man's 
head; how in the cathedral, he threw a coin in the air till it was 
heard to ring against the distant roof; how the wildest horses trembled 
under him. In three things he desired to appear faultless to others, in 
walking, in riding, and in speaking. He learned music without a master, 
and yet his compositions were admired by professional judges. Under the 
pressure of poverty, he studied both civil and canonical law for many 
years, till exhaustion brought on a severe illness. In his twenty-
fourth year, finding his memory for words weakened, but his sense of 
facts unimpaired, he set to work at physics and mathematics. And all 
the while he acquired every sort of accomplishment and dexterity, 
cross-examining artists, scholars and artisans of all descriptions, 
down to the cobblers, about the secrets and peculiarities of their 
craft. Painting and modelling he practiced by the way, and especially 
excelled in admirable likenesses from memory. Great admiration was 
excited by his mysterious 'camera obscura,' in which he showed at one 
time the stars and the moon rising over rocky hills, at another wide 
landscapes with mountains and gulfs receding into dim perspective, and 
with fleets advancing on the waters in shade or sunshine. And that 
which others created he welcomed joyfully, and held every human 
achievement which followed the laws of beauty for something almost 
divine. To all this must be added his literary works, first of all 
those on art, which are landmarks and authorities of the first order 
for the Renaissance of Form, especially in architecture; then his Latin 
prose writings -- novels and other works -- of which some have been 
taken for productions of antiquity; his elegies, eclogues, and humorous 
dinner-speeches. He also wrote an Italian treatise on domestic life in 
four books; and even a funeral oration on his dog. His serious and 
witty sayings were thought worth collecting, and specimens of them, 
many columns long, are quoted in his biography. And all that he had and 
knew he imparted, as rich natures always do, without the least reserve, 
giving away his chief discoveries for nothing. But the deepest spring 
of his nature has yet to be spoken of -- the sympathetic intensity with 
which he entered into the whole life around him. At the sight of noble 
trees and waving cornfields he shed tears; handsome and dignified old 
men he honored as 'a delight of nature,' and could never look at them 
enough. Perfectly formed animals won his goodwill as being specially 
favored by nature; and more than once, when he was ill, the sight of a 
beautiful landscape cured him. No wonder that those who saw him in this 
close and mysterious communion with the world ascribed to him the gift 
of prophecy. He was said to have foretold a bloody catastrophe in the 
family of Este, the fate of Florence and that of the Popes many years 
beforehand, and to be able to read in the countenances and the hearts 
of men. It need not be added that an iron will pervaded and sustained 
his whole personality; like all the great men of the Renaissance, he 
said, 'Men can do all things if they will.'

And Leonardo da Vinci was to Alberti as the finisher to the beginner, 
as the master to the _dilettante_. Would only that Vasari's work were 
here supplemented by a description like that of Alberti! The colossal 
outlines of Leonardo's nature can never be more than dimly and 
distantly conceived.


To this inward development of the individual corresponds a new sort of 
outward distinction--the modern form of glory.

In the other countries of Europe the different classes of society lived 
apart, each with its own medieval caste sense of honour. The poetical 
fame of the Troubadours and Minnesanger was peculiar to the knightly 
order. But in Italy social equality had appeared before the time of the 
tyrannies or the democracies. We there find early traces of a general 
society, having, as will be shown more fully later on, a common ground 
in Latin and Italian literature; and such a ground was needed for this 
new element in life to grow in. To this must be added that the Roman 
authors, who were not zealously studied, are filled and saturated with 
the conception of fame, and that their subject itself--the universal 
empire of Rome-- stood as a permanent ideal before the minds of 
Italians. From henceforth all the aspirations and achievements of the 
people were governed by a moral postulate, which was still unknown 
elsewhere in Europe.

Here, again, as in all essential points, the first witness to be called 
is Dante. He strove for the poet's garland with all the power of his 
soul.33 As publicist and man of letters, he laid stress on the fact 
that what he did was new, and that he wished not only to be, but to be 
esteemed the first in his own walks.34 But in his prose writings he 
touches also on the inconveniences of fame; he knows how often personal 
acquaintance with famous men is disappointing, and explains how this is 
due partly to the childish fancy of men, partly to envy, and partly to 
the imperfections of the hero himself. And in his great poem he firmly 
maintains the emptiness of fame, although in a manner which betrays 
that his heart was not free from the longing for it. In Paradise the 
sphere of Mercury is the seat of such blessed ones as on earth strove 
after glory and thereby dimmed 'the beams of true love.' It is 
characteristic that the lost souls in hell beg of Dante to keep alive 
for them their memory and fame on earth, while those in Purgatory only 
entreat his prayers and those of others for their deliverance.37 And in 
a famous passage, the passion for fame--'lo gran disio dell'eccellenza' 
(the great desire of excelling)--is reproved for the reason that 
intellectual glory is not absolute, but relative to the times, and may 
be surpassed and eclipsed by greater successors.

The new race of poet-scholars which arose soon after Dante quickly made 
themselves masters of this fresh tendency. They did so in a double 
sense, being themselves the most acknowledged celebrities of Italy, and 
at the same time, as poets and historians, consciously disposing of the 
reputation of others. An outward symbol of this sort of fame was the 
coronation of the poets, of which we shall speak later on.

A contemporary of Dante, Albertinus Musattus or Mussatus, crowned poet 
at Padua by the bishop and rector, enjoyed a fame which fell little 
short of deification. Every Christmas Day the doctors and students of 
both colleges at the University came in solemn procession before his 
house with trumpets and, it seems, with burning tapers, to salute him 
and bring him presents. His reputation lasted till, in 1318, he fell 
into disgrace with the ruling tyrant of the House of Carrara.

This new incense, which once was offered only to saints and heroes, was 
given in clouds to Petrarch, who persuaded himself in his later years 
that it was but a foolish and troublesome thing. His letter 'To 
Posterity' is the confession of an old and famous man, who is forced to 
gratify the public curiosity. He admits that he wishes for fame in the 
times to come, but would rather be without it in his own day. In his 
dialogue on fortune and misfortune, the interlocutor, who maintains the 
futility of glory, has the best of the contest. But, at the same time, 
Petrarch is pleased that the autocrat of Byzantium knows him as well by 
his writings as Charles IV knows him. And in fact, even in his 
lifetime, his fame extended far beyond Italy. And the emotion which he 
felt was natural when his friends, on the occasion of a visit to his 
native Arezzo (1350), took him to the house where he was born, and told 
him how the city had provided that no change should be made in it. In 
former times the dwellings of certain great saints were preserved and 
revered in this way, like the cell of St. Thomas Aquinas in the 
Dominican convent at Naples, and the Portincula of St. Francis near 
Assisi; and one or two great jurists so enjoyed the half-mythical 
reputation which led to this honour. Towards the close of the 
fourteenth century the people at Bagnolo, near Florence, called an old 
building the 'Studio of Accursius' (died in 1260), but, nevertheless, 
suffered it to be destroyed. It is probable that the great incomes and 
the political influence which some jurists obtained as consulting 
lawyers made a lasting impression on the popular imagination.

To the cult of the birthplaces of famous men must be added that of 
their graves, and, in the case of Petrarch, of the spot where he died. 
In memory of him Arqua became a favorite resort of the Paduans, and was 
dotted with graceful little villas. At this time there were no 'classic 
spots' in Northern Europe, and pilgrimages were only made to pictures 
and relics. It was a point of honour for the different cities to 
possess the bones of their own and foreign celebrities; and it is most 
remarkable how seriously the Florentines, even in the fourteenth 
century-- long before the building of Santa Croce--labored to make 
their cathedral a Pantheon. Accorso, Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio, and 
the jurist Zanobi della Strada were to have had magnificent tombs there 
erected to them. Late in the fifteenth century, Lorenzo il Magnifico 
applied in person to the Spoletans, asking them to give up the corpse 
of the painter Fra Filippo Lippi for the cathedral, and received the 
answer that they had none too many ornaments to the city, especially in 
the shape of distinguished people, for which reason they begged him to 
spare them; and, in fact, he had to be content with erecting a 
cenotaph. And even Dante, in spite of all the applications to which 
Boccaccio urged the Florentines with bitter emphasis, remained sleeping 
tranquilly in San Francesco at Ravenna, 'among ancient tombs of 
emperors and vaults of saints, in more honorable company than thou, O 
Florence, couldst offer him.' It even happened that a man once took 
away unpunished the lights from the altar on which the crucifix stood, 
and set there by the grave, with the words, 'Take them; thou art more 
worthy of them than He, the Crucified One! ' (Franco Sacchetti, Novella 

And now the Italian cities began again to remember their ancient 
citizens and inhabitants. Naples, perhaps, had never forgotten its tomb 
of Virgil, since a kind of mythical halo had become attached to the 

The Paduans, even in the sixteenth century, firmly believed that they 
possessed not only the genuine bones of their founder, Antenor, but 
also those of the historian Livy. 'Sulmona,' says Boccaccio, 'bewails 
that Ovid lies buried far away in exile; and Parma rejoices that 
Cassius sleeps within its walls.' The Mantuans coined a medal in 1257 
with the bust of Virgil, and raised a statue to represent him. In a fit 
of aristocratic insolence, the guardian of the young Gonzaga, Carlo 
Malatesta, caused it to be pulled down in 1392, and was afterwards 
forced, when he found the fame of the old poet too strong for him, to 
set it up again. Even then, perhaps, the grotto, a couple of miles from 
the town, where Virgil was said to have meditated, was shown to 
strangers, like the 'Scuola di Virgilio' at Naples. Como claimed both 
the Plinys for its own, and at the end of the fifteenth century erected 
statues in their honour, sitting under graceful baldachins on the 
facade of the cathedral.

History and the new topography were now careful to leave no local 
celebrity unnoticed. At the same period the northern chronicles only 
here and there, among the list of popes, emperors, earthquakes, and 
comets, put in the remark, that at such a time this or that famous man 
'flourished.' We shall elsewhere have to show how, mainly under the 
influence of this idea of fame, an admirable biographical literature 
was developed. We must here limit ourselves to the local patriotism of 
the topographers who recorded the claims of their native cities to 

In the Middle Ages, the cities were proud of their saints and of the 
bones and relics in their churches. With these the panegyrist of Padua 
in 1450, Michele Savonarola, begins his list; from them he passes to 
'the famous men who were no saints, but who, by their great intellect 
and force (virtus) deserve to be added _(adnecti) _to the saints'--just 
as in classical antiquity the distinguished man came close upon the 
hero. The further enumeration is most characteristic of the time. First 
comes Antenor, the brother of Priam, who founded Padua with a band of 
Trojan fugitives; King Dardanus, who defeated Attila in the Euganean 
hills, followed him in pursuit, and struck him dead at Rimini with a 
chessboard; the Emperor Henry IV, who built the cathedral; a King 
Marcus, whose head was preserved in Monselice; then a couple of 
cardinals and prelates as founders of colleges, churches, and so forth; 
the famous Augustinian theologian, Fra Alberto; a string of 
philosophers beginning with Paolo Veneto and the celebrated Pietro of 
Abano; the jurist Paolo Padovano; then Livy and the poets Petrarch, 
Mussato, Lovato. If there is any want of military celebrities in the 
list, the poet consoles himself for it by the abundance of learned men 
whom he has to show, and by the more durable character of intellectual 
glory, while the fame of the soldier is buried with his body, or, if it 
lasts, owes its permanence only to the scholar. It is nevertheless 
honorable to the city that foreign warriors lie buried here by their 
own wish, like Pietro de' Rossi of Parma, Filippo Arcelli of Piacenza, 
and especially Gattemelata of Narni (d. 1443), whose brazen equestrian 
statue, 'like a Caesar in triumph,' already stood by the church of the 
Santo. The author then names a crowd of jurists and physicians, nobles 
'who had not only, like so many others, received, but deserved, the 
honour of knighthood.' Then follows a list of famous mechanicians, 
painters, and musicians, and in conclusion the name of a fencing-master 
Michele Rosso, who, as the most distinguished man in his profession, 
was to be seen painted in many places.

By the side of these local temples of fame, which myth, legend, popular 
admiration, and literary tradition combined to create, the poet-
scholars built up a great Pantheon of worldwide celebrity. They made 
collections of famous men and famous women, often in direct imitation 
of Cornelius Nepos, the pseudo-Suetonius, Valerius Maximus, Plutarch 
_(Mulierum virtutes), _Jerome _(De viris illustribus), _and others: or 
they wrote of imaginary triumphal processions and Olympian assemblies, 
as was done by Petrarch in his 'Trionfo della Fama,' and Boccaccio in 
the 'Amorosa Visione,' with hundreds of names, of which three-fourths 
at least belong to antiquity and the rest to the Middle Ages. By and by 
this new and comparatively modern element was treated with greater 
emphasis; the historians began to insert descriptions of character, and 
collections arose of the biographies of distinguished contemporaries, 
like those of Filippo Villani, Vespasiano Fiorentino, Bartolommeo I 
Fazio, and lastly of Paolo Giovio.

The North of Europe, until Italian influence began to tell upon its 
writers-- for instance, on Trithemius, the first German who wrote the 
lives of famous men- -possessed only either legends of the saints, or 
descriptions of princes and churchmen partaking largely of the 
character of legends and showing no traces of the idea of fame, that 
is, of distinction won by a man's personal efforts. Poetical glory was 
still confined to certain classes of society, and the names of northern 
artists are only known to us at this period in so far as they were 
members of certain guilds or corporations.

The poet-scholar in Italy had, as we have already said, the fullest 
consciousness that he was the giver of fame and immortality, or, if he 
chose, of oblivion. Boccaccio complains of a fair one to whom he had 
done homage, and who remained hard-hearted in order that he might go on 
praising her and making her famous, and he gives her a hint that he 
will try the effect of a little blame. Sannazaro, in two magnificent 
sonnets, threatens Alfonso of Naples with eternal obscurity on account 
of his cowardly flight before Charles VIII. Angelo Poliziano seriously 
exhorts (1491) King John of Portugal to think betimes of his 
immortality in reference to the new discoveries in Africa, and to send 
him materials to Florence, there to be put into shape _(operosius 
excolenda), _otherwise it would befall him as it had befallen all the 
others whose deeds, unsupported by the help of the learned, 'lie hidden 
in the vast heap of human frailty.' The king, or his humanistic 
chancellor, agreed to this, and promised that at least the Portuguese 
chronicles of African affairs should be translated into Italian, and 
sent to Florence to be done into Latin. Whether the promise was kept is 
not known. These pretensions are by no means so groundless as they may 
appear at first sight; for the form in which events, even the greatest, 
are told to the living and to posterity is anything but a matter of 
indifference. The Italian humanists, with their mode of exposition and 
their Latin style, had long the complete control of the reading world 
of Europe, and till last century the Italian poets were more widely 
known and studied than those of any other nation. The baptismal name of 
the Florentine Amerigo Vespucci was given, on account of his book of 
travels, to a new quarter of the globe, and if Paolo Giovio, with all 
his superficiality and graceful caprice, promised himself immortality, 
his expectation has not altogether been disappointed.

Amid all these preparations outwardly to win and secure fame, the 
curtain is now and then drawn aside, and we see with frightful evidence 
a boundless ambition and thirst after greatness, regardless of all 
means and consequences. Thus, in the preface to Machiavelli's 
Florentine history, in which he blames his predecessors Leonardo, 
Aretino and Poggio for their too considerate reticence with regard to 
the political parties in the city: 'They erred greatly and showed that 
they understood little the ambition of men and the desire to perpetuate 
a name. How many who could distinguish themselves by nothing 
praiseworthy, strove to do so by infamous deeds! ' Those writers did 
not consider that actions which are great in themselves, as is the case 
with the actions of rulers and of States, always seem to bring more 
glory than blame, of whatever kind they are and whatever the result of 
them may be. In more than one remarkable and dreadful undertaking the 
motive assigned by serious writers is the burning desire to achieve 
something great and memorable. This motive is not a mere extreme case 
of ordinary vanity, but something demonic, involving a surrender of the 
will, the use of any means, however atrocious, and even an indifference 
to success itself. In this sense, for example, Machiavelli conceives 
the character of Stefano Porcari; of the murderers of Galeazzo Maria 
Sforza (1476), the documents tell us about the same; and the 
assassination of Duke Alessandro of Florence (1537) is ascribed by 
Varchi himself to the thirst for fame which tormented the murderer 
Lorenzino Medici. Still more stress is laid on this motive by Paolo 
Giovio. Lorenzino, according to him, pilloried by a pamphlet of Molza, 
broods over a deed whose novelty shall make his disgrace forgotten, and 
ends by murdering his kinsman and prince. These are characteristic 
features of this age of overstrained and despairing passions and 
forces, and remind us of the burning of the temple of Diana at Ephesus 
in the time of Philip of Macedon

Ridicule and Wit

The corrective, not only of this modern desire for fame, but of all 
highly developed individuality, is found in ridicule, especially when 
expressed in the victorious form of wit. We read in the Middle Ages how 
hostile armies, princes, and nobles, provoked one another with 
symbolical insult, and how the defeated party was loaded with 
symbolical outrage. Here and there, too, under the influence of 
classical literature, wit began to be used as a weapon in theological 
disputes, and the poetry of Provence produced a whole class of 
satirical compositions. Even the Minnesanger, as their political poems 
show, could adopt this tone when necessary. But wit could not be an 
independent element in life till its appropriate victim, the developed 
individual with personal pretensions, had appeared. Its weapons were 
then by no means limited to the tongue and the pen, but included tricks 
and practical jokes -- the so-called 'burle' and 'beffe'-- which form a 
chief subject of many collections of novels.

The 'Hundred Old Novels,' which must have been composed about the end 
of the thirteenth century, have as yet neither wit, the fruit of 
contrast, nor the 'burla,' for their subject; their aim is merely to 
give simple and elegant expression to wise sayings and pretty stories 
or fables. But if anything proves the great antiquity of the 
collection, it is precisely this absence of satire. For with the 
fourteenth century comes Dante, who, in the utterance of scorn, leaves 
all other poets in the world far behind, and who, if only on account of 
his great picture of the deceivers, must be called the chief master of 
colossal comedy. With Petrarch begin the collections of witty sayings 
after the pattern of Plutarch (Apophthegmata, etc.).

What stores of wit were concentrated in Florence during this century is 
most characteristically shown in the novels of Franco Sacchetti. These 
are, for the most part, not stories but answers, given under certain 
circumstances-- shocking pieces of _naivete,_with which silly folks, 
court jesters, rogues, and profligate women make their retort. The 
comedy of the tale lies in the startling contrast of this real or 
assumed naivete with conventional morality and the ordinary relations 
of the world--things are made to stand on their heads. All means of 
picturesque representation are made use of, including the introduction 
of certain North Italian dialects. Often the place of wit is taken by 
mere insolence, clumsy trickery, blasphemy, and obscenity; one or two 
jokes told of Condottieri are among the most brutal and malicious which 
are recorded. Many of the 'burle' are thoroughly comic, but many are 
only real or supposed evidence of personal superiority, of triumph over 
another. How much people were willing to put up with, how often the 
victim was satisfied with getting the laugh on his side by a 
retaliatory trick, cannot be said; there was much heartless and 
pointless malice mixed up with it all, and life in Florence was no 
doubt often made unpleasant enough from this cause. The inventors and 
retailers of jokes soon became inevitable figures, and among them there 
must have been some who were classical-- far superior to all the mere 
court-jesters, to whom competition, a changing public, and the quick 
apprehension of the audience, all advantages of life in Florence, were 
wanting. Some Florentine wits went starring among the despotic courts 
of Lombardy and Romagna, and found themselves much better rewarded than 
at home, where their talent was cheap and plentiful. The better type of 
these people is the amusing man (l'uomo piacevole), the worse is the 
buffoon and the vulgar parasite who presents himself at weddings and 
banquets with the argument, 'If I am not invited, the fault is not 
mine.' Now and then the latter combine to pluck a young spendthrift, 
but in general they are treated and despised as parasites, while wits 
of higher position bear themselves like princes, and consider their 
talent as something sovereign. Dolcibene, whom Charles IV had 
pronounced to be the 'king of Italian jesters,' said to him at Ferrara: 
'You will conquer the world, since you are my friend and the Pope's; 
you fight with the sword, the Pope with his bulls, and I with my 
tongue.' This is no mere jest, but the foreshadowing of Pietro Aretino.

The two most famous jesters about the middle of the fifteenth century 
were a priest near Florence, Arlotto (1483), for more refined wit 
('facezie'), and the court-fool of Ferrara, Gonnella, for buffoonery. 
We can hardly compare their stories with those of the Parson of 
Kalenberg and Till Eulenspiegel, since the latter arose in a different 
and half-mythical manner, as fruits of the imagination of a whole 
people, and touch rather on what is general and intelligible to all, 
while Arlotto and Gonnella were historical beings, colored and shaped 
by local influences. But if the comparison be allowed, and extended to 
the jests of the non-Italian nations, we shall find in general that the 
joke in the French _fabliaux, _as among the Germans, is chiefly 
directed to the attainment of some advantage or enjoyment; while the 
wit of Arlotto and the practical jokes of Gonnella are an end in 
themselves, and exist simply for the sake of the triumph of production. 
(Till Eulenspiegel again forms a class by himself, as the personified 
quiz, mostly pointless enough, of particular classes and professions.) 
The court-fool of the Este retaliated more than once by his keen satire 
and refined modes of vengeance.

The type of the 'uomo piacevole' and the 'buffone' long survived the 
freedom of Florence. Under Duke Cosimo flourished Barlacchia, and at 
the beginning of the seventeenth century Francesco Ruspoli and Curzio 
Marignolli. In Pope Leo X, the genuine Florentine love of jesters 
showed itself strikingly. This prince, whose taste for the most refined 
intellectual pleasures was insatiable, endured and desired at his table 
a number of witty buffoons and jack-puddings, among them two monks and 
a cripple; at public feasts he treated them with deliberate scorn as 
parasites, setting before them monkeys and crows in the place of savory 
meats. Leo, indeed, showed a peculiar fondness for the 'burla'; it 
belonged to his nature sometimes to treat his own favorite pursuits- -
music and poetry--ironically, parodying them with his factotum, 
Cardinal Bibbiena. Neither of them found it beneath him to fool an 
honest old secretary till he thought himself a master of the art of 
music. The Improvisatore, Baraballo of Gaeta, was brought so far by 
Leo's flattery that he applied in all seriousness for the poet's 
coronation on the Capitol. On the feast of St. Cosmas and St. Damian, 
the patrons of the House of Medici, he was first compelled, adorned 
with laurel and purple, to amuse the papal guests with his recitations, 
and at last, when all were ready to split with laughter, to mount a 
gold- harnessed elephant in the court of the Vatican, sent as a present 
to Rome by Emmanuel the Great of Portugal, while the Pope looked down 
from above through his eye-glass. The brute, however, was so terrified 
by the noise of the trumpets and kettledrums, and the cheers of the 
crowd, that there was no getting him over the bridge of Sant' Angelo.

The parody of what is solemn or sublime, which here meets us in the 
case of a procession, had already taken an important place in poetry. 
It was naturally compelled to choose victims of another kind than those 
of Aristophanes, who introduced the great tragedians into his plays. 
But the same maturity of culture which at a certain period produced 
parody among the Greeks, did the same in Italy. By the close of the 
fourteenth century, the love-lorn wailings of Petrarch's sonnets and 
others of the same kind were taken off by caricaturists; and the solemn 
air of this form of verse was parodied in lines of mystic twaddle. A 
constant invitation to parody was offered by the 'Divine Comedy,' and 
Lorenzo il Magnifico wrote the most admirable travesty in the style of 
the 'Inferno' (Simposio or I Beoni). Luigi Pulci obviously imitates the 
Improvisatori in his 'Morgante,' and both his poetry and Boiardo's are 
in part, at least, a half-conscious parody of the chivalrous poetry of 
the Middle Ages. Such a caricature was deliberately undertaken by the 
great parodist Teofilo Folengo (about 1520). Under the name of Limerno 
Pitocco, he composed the 'Orlandino,' in which chivalry appears only as 
a ludicrous setting for a crowd of modern figures and ideas. Under the 
name of Merlinus Coccaius he described the journeys and exploits of his 
fantastic vagabonds (also in the same spirit of parody) in half-Latin 
hexameters, with all the affected pomp of the learned Epos of the day 
('Opus Macaronicorum'). Since then caricature has been constantly, and 
often brilliantly, represented on the Italian Parnassus.

About the middle period of the Renaissance a theoretical analysis of 
wit was undertaken, and its practical application in good society was 
regulated more precisely. The theorist was Gioviano Pontano. In his 
work on speaking, especially in the third and fourth books, he tries by 
means of the comparison of numerous jokes or 'facetiae' to arrive at a 
general principle. How wit should be used among people of position is 
taught by Baldassare Castiglione in his 'Cortigiano.' Its chief 
function is naturally to enliven those present by the repetition of 
comic or graceful stories and sayings; personal jokes, on the contrary, 
are discouraged on the ground that they wound unhappy people, show too 
much honour to wrong-doers, and make enemies of the powerful and the 
spoiled children of fortune; and even in repetition, a wide reserve in 
the use of dramatic gestures is recommended to the gentleman. Then 
follows, not only for purposes of quotation, but as patterns for future 
jesters, a large collection of puns and witty sayings, methodically 
arranged according to their species, among them some that are 
admirable. The doctrine of Giovanni della Casa, some twenty years 
later, in his guide to good manners, is much stricter and more 
cautious; with a view to the consequences, he wishes to see the desire 
of triumph banished altogether from jokes and 'burle.' He is the herald 
of a reaction, which was certain sooner or later to appear.

Italy had, in fact, become a school for scandal, the like of which the 
world cannot show, not even in France at the time of Voltaire. In him 
and his comrades there was assuredly no lack of the spirit of negation; 
but where, in the eighteenth century, was to be found the crowd of 
suitable victims, that countless assembly of highly and 
characteristically developed human beings, celebrities of every kind, 
statesmen, churchmen, inventors, and discoverers, men of letters, poets 
and artists, all of whom then gave the fullest and freest play to their 
individuality. This host existed in the fifteenth and sixteenth 
centuries, and by its side the general culture of the time had educated 
a poisonous brood of impotent wits, of born critics and railers, whose 
envy called for hecatombs of victims; and to all this was added the 
envy of the famous men among themselves. In this the philologists 
notoriously led the way--Filelfo, Poggio, Lorenzo Valla, and others--
while the artists of the fifteenth century lived in peaceful and 
friendly competition with one another. The history of art may take note 
of the fact.

Florence, the great market of fame, was in this point, as we have said, 
in advance of other cities. 'Sharp eyes and bad tongues' is the 
description given of the inhabitants. An easygoing contempt of 
everything and everybody was probably the prevailing tone of society. 
Machiavelli, in the remarkable prologue to his 'Mandragola,' refers 
rightly or wrongly the visible decline of moral force to the general 
habit of evil-speaking, and threatens his detractors with the news that 
he can say sharp things as well as they. Next to Florence comes the 
Papal court, which had long been a rendezvous of the bitterest and 
wittiest tongues. Poggio's 'Facetiae' are dated from the Chamber of 
Lies _(bugiale) _of the apostolic notaries; and when we remember the 
number of disappointed place-hunters, of hopeless competitors and 
enemies of the favorites, of idle, profligate prelates there assembled, 
it is intelligible how Rome became the home of the savage pasquinade as 
well as of more philosophical satire. If we add to this the widespread 
hatred borne to the priests, and the well-known instinct of the mob to 
lay any horror to the charge of the great, there results an untold mass 
of infamy. Those who were able, protected themselves best by contempt 
both of the false and true accusations, and by brilliant and joyous 
display. More sensitive natures sank into utter despair when they found 
themselves deeply involved in guilt, and still more deeply in slander. 
In course of time calumny became universal, and the strictest virtue 
was most certain of all to challenge the attacks of malice. Of the 
great pulpit orator, Fra Egidio of Viterbo, whom Leo made a cardinal on 
account of his merits, and who showed himself a man of the people and a 
brave monk in the calamity of 1527, Giovio gives us to understand that 
he preserved his ascetic pallor by the smoke of wet straw and other 
means of the same kind. Giovio is a genuine Curial in these matters. He 
generally begins by telling his story, then adds that he does not 
believe it, and then hints at the end that perhaps after all there may 
be something in it. But the true scapegoat of Roman scorn was the pious 
and moral Adrian VI. A general agreement seemed to be made to take him 
only on the comic side. He fell out from the first with the formidable 
Francesco Berni, threatening to have thrown into the Tiber not, as 
people said, the statue of Pasquino, but the writers of the satires 
themselves. The vengeance for this was the famous 'Capitolo' against 
Pope Adriano, inspired not exactly by hatred, but by contempt for the 
comical Dutch barbarian; the more savage menaces were reserved for the 
cardinals who had elected him. The plague, which then was prevalent in 
Rome, was ascribed to him; Berni and others sketch the environment of 
the Pope with the same sparkling untruthfulness with which the modern 
_feuilletoniste _turns black into white, and everything into anything. 
The biography which Paolo Giovio was commissioned to write by the 
cardinal of Tortosa, and which was to have been a eulogy, is for anyone 
who can read between the lines an unexampled piece of satire. It sounds 
ridiculous at least for the Italians of that time--to hear how Adrian 
applied to the Chapter of Saragossa for the jawbone of St. Lambert; how 
the devout Spaniards decked him out till he looked 'like a right well-
dressed Pope'; how he came in a confused and tasteless procession from 
Ostia to Rome, took counsel about burning or drowning Pasquino, would 
suddenly break off the most important business when dinner was 
announced; and lastly, at the end of an unhappy reign, how be died of 
drinking too much beer--whereupon the house of his physician was hung 
with garlands by midnight revellers, and adorned with the inscription, 
'Liberatori Patriae S.P.Q.R.' It is true that Giovio had lost his money 
in the general confiscation of public funds, and had only received a 
benefice by way of compensation because he was 'no poet,' that is to 
say, no pagan. But it was decreed that Adrian should be the last great 
victim. After the disaster which befell Rome in 1527, slander visibly 
declined along with the unrestrained wickedness of private life.

* * *

But while it was still flourishing was developed, chiefly in Rome the 
greatest railer of modern times, Pietro Aretino. A glance at his life 
and character will save us the trouble of noticing many less 
distinguished members of his class.

We know him chiefly in the last thirty years of his life, (1527-56), 
which he passed in Venice, the only asylum possible for him. From hence 
he kept all that was famous in Italy in a kind of state of siege, and 
here were delivered the presents of the foreign princes who needed or 
dreaded his pen. Charles V and Francis I both pensioned him at the same 
time, each hoping that Aretino would do some mischief to the other. 
Aretino flattered both, but naturally attached himself more closely to 
Charles, because he remained master in Italy. After the Emperor's 
victory at Tunis in 1535, this tone of adulation passed into the most 
ludicrous worship, in observing which it must not be forgotten that 
Aretino constantly cherished the hope that Charles would help him to a 
cardinal's hat. It is probable that he enjoyed special protection as 
Spanish agent, as his speech or silence could have no small effect on 
the smaller Italian courts and on public opinion in Italy. He affected 
utterly to despise the Papal court because he knew it so well; the true 
reason was that Rome neither could nor would pay him any longer. 
Venice, which sheltered him, he was wise enough to leave unassailed. 
The rest of his relations with the great is mere beggary and vulgar 

Aretino affords the first great instance of the abuse of publicity to 
such ends. The polemical writings which a hundred years earlier Poggio 
and his opponents interchanged, are just as infamous in their tone and 
purpose, but they were not composed for the press, but for a sort of 
private circulation. Aretino made all his profit out of a complete 
publicity, and in a certain sense may be considered the father of 
modern journalism. His letters and miscellaneous articles were printed 
periodically, after they had already been circulated among a tolerably 
extensive public.

Compared with the sharp pens of the eighteenth century, Aretino had the 
advantage that he was not burdened with principles, neither with 
liberalism nor philanthropy nor any other virtue, nor even with 
science; his whole baggage consisted of the well-known motto, 'Veritas 
odium parit.' He never, conse- quently, found himself in the false 
position of Voltaire, who was forced to disown his 'Pucelle' and 
conceal all his life the authorship of other works. Aretino put his 
name to all he wrote, and openly gloried in his notorious 
'Ragionamenti.' His literary talent, his clear and sparkling style, his 
varied observation of men and things, would have made him a 
considerable writer under any circumstances, destitute as he was of the 
power of conceiving a genuine work of art, such as a true dramatic 
comedy; and to the coarsest as well as the most refined malice he added 
a grotesque wit so brilliant that in some cases it does not fall short 
of that of Rabelais.

In such circumstances, and with such objects and means, he set to work 
to attack or circumvent his prey. The tone in which he appealed to 
Clement VII not to complain or to think of vengeance, but to forgive, 
at the moment when the wailings of the devastated city were ascending 
to the Castel Sant' Angelo, where the Pope himself was a prisoner, is 
the mockery of a devil or a monkey. Sometimes, when he is forced to 
give up all hope of presents, his fury breaks out into a savage howl, 
as in the 'Capitolo' to the Prince of Salerno, who after paying him for 
some time refused to do so any longer. On the other hand, it seems that 
the terrible Pierluigi Farnese, Duke of Parma, never took any notice of 
him at all. As this gentleman had probably renounced altogether the 
pleasures of a good reputation, it was not easy to cause him any 
annoyance; Aretino tried to do so by comparing his personal appearance 
to that of a constable, a miller, and a baker. Aretino is most comical 
of all in the expression of whining mendicancy, as in the 'Capitolo' to 
Francis I; but the letters and poems made up of menaces and flattery 
cannot, notwithstanding all that is ludicrous in them, be read without 
the deepest disgust. A letter like that one of his written to 
Michelangelo in November, 1545, is alone of its kind; along with all 
the admiration he expresses for the 'Last Judgement' he charges him 
with irreligion, indecency, and theft from the heirs of Julius II, and 
adds in a conciliating postscript, 'I only want to show you that if you 
are "divino," I am not "d'acqua." ' Aretino laid great stress upon it--
whether from the insanity of conceit or by way of caricaturing famous 
men--that he himself should be called divine, as one of his flatterers 
had already begun to do; and he certainly attained so much personal 
celebrity that his house at Arezzo passed for one of the sights of the 
place. There were indeed whole months during which he never ventured to 
cross his threshold at Venice, lest he should fall in with some 
incensed Florentine like the younger Strozzi. Nor did he escape the 
cudgels and the daggers of his enemies, although they failed to have 
the effect which Berni prophesied him in a famous sonnet. Aretino died 
in his house, of apoplexy.

The differences he made in his modes of flattery are remarkable: in 
dealing with non-Italians he was grossly fulsome; people like Duke 
Cosimo of Florence he treated very differently. He praised the beauty 
of the then youthful prince, who in fact did share this quality with 
Augustus in no ordinary degree; he praised his moral conduct, with an 
oblique reference to the financial pursuits of Cosimo's mother, Maria 
Salviati, and concluded with a mendicant whine about the bad times and 
so forth. When Cosimo pensioned him, which he did liberally, 
considering his habitual parsimony--to the extent, at least, of 160 
ducats a year--he had doubtless an eye to Aretino's dangerous character 
as Spanish agent. Aretino could ridicule and revile Cosimo, and in the 
same breath threaten the Florentine agent that he would obtain from the 
Duke his immediate recall; and if the Medicean prince felt himself at 
last to be seen through by Charles V he would naturally not be anxious 
that Aretino's jokes and rhymes against him should circulate at the 
Imperial court. A curiously qualified piece of flattery was that 
addressed to the notorious Marquis of Marignano, who as Castellan of 
Musso had attempted to found an independent State. Thanking him for the 
gift of a hundred crowns, Aretino writes: 'All the qualities which a 
prince should have are present in you, and all men would think so, were 
it not that the acts of violence inevitable at the beginning of all 
undertakings cause you to appear a trifle rough _(aspro).'


It has often been noticed as something singular that Aretino only 
reviled the world, and not God also. The religious belief of a man who 
lived as he did is a matter of perfect indifference, as are also the 
edifying writings which he composed for reasons of his own. It is in 
fact hard to say why he should have been a blasphemer. He was no 
professor, or theoretical thinker or writer; and he could extort no 
money from God by threats or flattery, and was consequently never 
goaded into blasphemy by a refusal. A man like him does not take 
trouble for nothing.

It is a good sign for the present spirit of Italy that such a character 
and such a career have become a thousand times impossible. But 
historical criticism will always find in Aretino an important study.

Part Three

The Revival of Antiquity


Now that this point in our historical view of Italian civilization has 
been reached, it is time to speak of the influence of antiquity, the 
'new birth' of which has been one-sidedly chosen as the name to sum up 
the whole period. The conditions which have been hitherto described 
would have sufficed, apart from antiquity, to upturn and to mature the 
national mind; and most of the intellectual tendencies which yet remain 
to be noticed would be conceivable without it. But both what has gone 
before and what we have still to discuss are colored in a thousand ways 
by the influence of the ancient world; and though the essence of the 
phenomena might still have been the same without the classical revival, 
it is only with and through this revival that they are actually 
manifested to us. The Renaissance would not have been the process of 
world-wide significance which it is, if its elements could be so easily 
separated from one another. We must insist upon it, as one of the chief 
propositions of this book, that it was not the revival of antiquity 
alone, but its union with the genius of the Italian people, which 
achieved the conquest of the western world. The amount of independence 
which the national spirit maintained in this union varied according to 
circumstances. In the modern Latin literature of the period, it is very 
small, while in the visual arts, as well as in other spheres, it is 
remarkably great; and hence the alliance between two distant epochs in 
the civilization of the same people, because concluded on equal terms, 
proved justifiable and fruitful. The rest of Europe was free either to 
repel or else partly or wholly to accept the mighty impulse which came 
forth from Italy. Where the latter was the case we may as well be 
spared the complaints over the early decay of mediaeval faith and 
civilization. Had these been strong enough to hold their ground, they 
would be alive to this day. If those elegiac natures which long to see 
them return could pass but one hour in the midst of them, they would 
gasp to be back in modern air. That in a great historical process of 
this kind flowers of exquisite beauty may perish, without being made 
immortal in poetry or tradition, is undoubtedly true; nevertheless, we 
cannot wish the process undone. The general result of it consists in 
this--that by the side of the Church which had hitherto held the 
countries of the West together (though it was unable to do so much 
longer) there arose a new spiritual influence which, spreading itself 
abroad from Italy, became the breath of life for all the more 
instructed minds in Europe. The worst that can be said of the movement 
is, that it was antipopular, that through it Europe became for the 
first time sharply divided into the cultivated and uncultivated 
classes. The reproach will appear groundless when we reflect that even 
now the fact, though clearly recognized, cannot be altered. The 
separation, too, is by no means so cruel and absolute in Italy as 
elsewhere. The most artistic of her poets, Tasso, is in the hands of 
even the poorest.

The civilization of Greece and Rome, which, ever since the fourteenth 
century, obtained so powerful a hold on Italian life, as the source and 
basis of culture, as the object and ideal of existence, partly also as 
an avowed reaction against preceding tendencies--this civilization had 
long been exerting a partial influence on mediaeval Europe, even beyond 
the boundaries of Italy. The culture of which Charlemagne was a 
representative was, in face of the barbarism of the seventh and eighth 
centuries, essentially a Renaissance, and could appear under no other 
form. Just as in the Romanesque architecture of the North, beside the 
general outlines inherited from antiquity, remarkable direct imitations 
of the antique also occur, so too monastic scholarship had not only 
gradually absorbed an immense mass of materials from Roman writers, but 
the style of it, from the days of Einhard onwards, shows traces of 
conscious imitation.

But the resuscitation of antiquity took a different form in Italy from 
that which it assumed in the North. The wave of barbarism had scarcely 
gone by before the people, in whom the former life was but half 
effaced, showed a consciousness of its past and a wish to reproduce it. 
Elsewhere in Europe men deliberately and with reflection borrowed this 
or the other element of classical civilization; in Italy the sympathies 
both of the learned and of the people were naturally engaged on the 
side of antiquity as a whole, which stood to them as a symbol of past 
greatness. The Latin language, too, was easy to an Italian, and the 
numerous monuments and documents in which the country abounded 
facilitated a return to the past. With this tendency other elements--
the popular character which time had now greatly modified, the 
political institutions imported by the Lombards from Germany, chivalry 
and other northern forms of civilization, and the influence of religion 
and the Church--combined to produce the modern Italian spirit, which 
was destined to serve as the model and ideal for the whole western 

How antiquity influenced the visual arts, as soon as the flood of 
barbarism had subsided, is clearly shown in the Tuscan buildings of the 
twelfth and in the sculptures of the thirteenth centuries. In poetry, 
too, there will appear no want of similar analogies to those who hold 
that the greatest Latin poet of the twelfth century, the writer who 
struck the keynote of a whole class of Latin poems, was an Italian. We 
mean the author of the best pieces in the so-called 'Carmina Burana.' A 
frank enjoyment of life and its pleasures, as whose patrons the gods of 
heathendom are invoked, while Catos and Scipios hold the place of the 
saints and heroes of Christianity, flows in full current through the 
rhymed verses. Reading them through at a stretch, we can scarcely help 
coming to the conclusion that an Italian, probably a Lombard, is 
speaking; in fact, there are positive grounds for thinking so. To a 
certain degree these Latin poems of the 'Clerici vagantes' of the 
twelfth century, with all their remarkable frivolity, are, doubtless, a 
product in which the whole of Europe had a share; but the writer of the 
song 'De Phyllide et Flora' and the 'Aestuans Interius' can have been a 
northerner as little as the polished Epicurean observer to whom we owe 
'Dum Diana vitrea sero lampas oritur.' Here, in truth, is a 
reproduction of the whole ancient view of life, which is all the more 
striking from the medieval form of the verse in which it is set forth. 
There are many works of this and the following centuries, in which a 
careful imitation of the antique appears both in the hexameter and 
pentameter of the meter and in the classical, often myth- ological, 
character of the subject, and which yet have not anything like the same 
spirit of antiquity about them. In the hexametric chronicles and other 
works of Guglielmus Apuliensis and his successors (from about 1100), we 
find frequent trace of a diligent study of Virgil, Ovid, Lucan, 
Statius, and Claudian; but this classical form is, after all, a mere 
matter of archaeology, as is the classical subject in compilers like 
Vincent of Beauvais, or in the mythological and allegorical writer, 
Alanus ab Insulis. The Renaissance, however, is not a fragmentary 
imitation or compilation, but a new birth; and the signs of this are 
visible in the poems of the unknown 'Clericus' of the twelfth century.

But the great and general enthusiasm of the Italians for Classical 
antiquity did not display itself before the fourteenth century. For 
this a development of civic life was required, which took place only in 
Italy, and there not till then. It was needful that noble and burgher 
should first learn to dwell together on equal terms, and that a social 
world should arise which felt the want of culture, and had the leisure 
and the means to obtain it. But culture, as soon as it freed itself 
from the fantastic bonds of the Middle Ages, could not at once and 
without help find its way to the understanding of the physical and 
intellectual world. It needed a guide, and found one in the ancient 
civilization, with its wealth of truth and knowledge in every spiritual 
interest. Both the form and the substance of this civilization were 
adopted with admiring gratitude; it became the chief part of the 
culture of the age. The general condition of the country was favourable 
to this transformation. The medieval empire, since the fall of the 
Hohenstaufen, had either renounced, or was unable to make good, its 
claims on Italy. The Popes had migrated to Avignon. Most of the 
political powers actually existing owed their origin to violent and 
illegitimate means. The spirit of the people, now awakened to self-
consciousness, sought for some new and stable ideal on which to rest. 
And thus the vision of the world-wide empire of Italy and Rome so 
possessed the popular mind that Cola di Rienzi could actually attempt 
to put it in practice. The conception he formed of his task, 
particularly when tribune for the first time, could only end in some 
extravagant comedy; nevertheless, the memory of ancient Rome was no 
slight support to the national sentiment. Armed afresh with its 
culture, the Italian soon felt himself in truth citizen of the most 
advanced nation in the world.

It is now our task to sketch this spiritual movement, not indeed in all 
its fullness, but in its most salient features, and especially in its 
first beginnings.

The Ruins of Rome

Rome itself, the city of ruins, now became the object of a holly 
different sort of piety from that of the time when the 'Mirabilia Roma' 
and the collection of William of Malmesbury ere composed. The 
imaginations of the devout pilgrim, or of the seeker after marvels and 
treasures, are supplanted in contemporary records by the interests of 
the patriot and the historian. In this sense we must understand Dante's 
words, that the stones of the walls of Rome deserve reverence, and that 
the ground on which the city is built is more worthy than men say. The 
jubilees, incessant as they were, have scarcely left a single devout 
record in literature properly so called. The best thing that Giovanni 
Villani brought back from the jubilee of the year 1300 was the 
resolution to write his history which bad been awakened in him by the 
sight of the ruins of Rome. Petrarch gives evidence of a taste divided 
between classical and Christian antiquity. He tells us how often with 
Giovanni Colonna he ascended the mighty vaults of the Baths of 
Diocletian, and there in the transparent air, amid the wide silence 
with the broad panorama stretching far around them, they spoke, not of 
business or political affairs, but of the history which the ruins 
beneath their feet suggested, Petrarch appearing in these dialogues as 
the partisan of classical, Giovanni of Christian antiquity; then they 
would discourse of philosophy and of the inventors of the arts. How 
often since that time, down to the days of Gibbon and Niebuhr, have the 
same ruins stirred men's minds to the same reflections!

This double current of feeling is also recognizable in the 'Dittamondo' 
of Fazio degli Uberti, composed about the year 1360--a description of 
visionary travels, in which the author is accompanied by the old 
geographer Solinus, as Dante was by Virgil. They visit Bari in memory 
of St. Nicholas, and Monte Gargano of the archangel Michael, and in 
Rome the legends of Aracoeli and of Santa Maria in Trastevere are 
mentioned. Still, the pagan splendor of ancient Rome unmistakably 
exercises a greater charm upon them. A venerable matron in torn 
garments--Rome herself is meant--tells them of the glorious past, and 
gives them a minute description of the old triumphs; she then leads the 
strangers through the city, and points out to them the seven hills and 
many of the chief ruins--'che comprender potrai, quanto fui bella.'

Unfortunately this Rome of the schismatic and Avignonese popes was no 
longer, in respect of classical remains, what it had been some 
generations earlier. The destruction of 140 fortified houses of the 
Roman nobles by the senator Brancaleone in 1257 must have wholly 
altered the character of the most important buildings then standing: 
for the nobles had no doubt ensconced themselves in the loftiest and 
best-preserved of the ruins. Nevertheless, far more was left than we 
now find, and probably many of the remains had still their marble 
incrustation, their pillared entrances, and their other ornaments, 
where we now see nothing but the skeleton of brickwork. In this state 
of things, the first beginnings of a topographical study of the old 
city were made.

In Poggio's walks through Rome the study of the remains themselves is 
for the first time more intimately combined with that of the ancient 
authors and inscriptions--the latter he sought out from among all the 
vegetation in which they were imbedded--the writer's imagination is 
severely restrained, and the memories of Christian Rome carefully 
excluded. The only pity is that Poggio's work was not fuller and was 
not illustrated with sketches. Far more was left in his time than was 
found by Raphael eighty years later. He saw the tomb of Caecilia 
Metella and the columns in front of one of the temples on the slope of 
the Capitol, first in full preservation, and then afterwards half 
destroyed, owing to that unfortunate quality which marble possesses of 
being easily burnt into lime. A vast colonnade near the Minerva fell 
piecemeal a victim to the same fate. A witness in the year 1443 tells 
us that this manufacture of lime still went on: 'which is a shame, for 
the new buildings are pitiful, and the beauty of Rome is in its ruins.' 
The inhabitants of that day, in their peasant's cloaks and boots, 
looked to foreigners like cowherds; and in fact the cattle were 
pastured in the city up to the Banchi. The only social gatherings were 
the services at church, on which occasion it was possible also to get a 
sight of the beautiful women.

In the last years of Eugenius IV (d. 1447) Biondus of Forli wrote his 
'Roma Instaurata,' making use of Frontinus and of the old 'Libri 
Regionali,' as well as, it seems, of Anastasius. His object is not only 
the description of what existed, but still more the recovery of what 
was lost. In accordance with the dedication to the Pope, he consoles 
himself for the general ruin by the thought of the precious relics of 
the saints in which Rome was so rich.

With Nicholas V (1447-1455) that new monumental spirit which was 
distinctive of the age of the Renaissance appeared on the papal throne. 
The new passion for embellishing the city brought with it on the one 
hand a fresh danger for the ruins, on the other a respect for them, as 
forming one of Rome's claims to distinction. Pius II was wholly 
possessed by antiquarian enthusiasm, and if he speaks little of the 
antiquities of Rome, he closely studied those of all other parts of 
Italy, and was the first to know and describe accurately the remains 
which abounded in the districts for miles around the capital. It is 
true that, both as priest and cosmographer, he was interested alike in 
classical and Christian monuments and in the marvels of nature. Or was 
he doing violence to himself when he wrote that Nola was more highly 
honoured by the memory of St. Paulinus than by all its classical 
reminiscences and by the heroic struggle of Marcellus? Not, indeed, 
that his faith in relics was assumed; but his mind was evidently rather 
disposed to an inquiring interest in nature and antiquity, to a zeal 
for monumental works, to a keen and delicate observation of human life. 
In the last years of his Papacy, afflicted with the gout and yet in the 
most cheerful mood, he was borne in his litter over hill and dale to 
Tusculum, Alba, Tibur, Ostia, Falerii, and Otriculum, and whatever he 
saw he noted down. He followed the Roman roads and aqueducts, and tried 
to fix the boundaries of the old tribes which had dwelt round the city. 
On an excursion to Tivoli with the great Federigo of Urbino the time 
was happily spent in talk on the military system of the ancients, and 
particularly on the Trojan war. Even on his journey to the Congress of 
Mantua (1459) he searched, though unsuccessfully, for the labyrinth of 
Clusium mentioned by Pliny, and visited the so-called villa of Virgil 
on the Mincio. That such a Pope should demand a classical Latin style 
from his abbreviators, is no more than might be expected. It was he 
who, in the war with Naples, granted an amnesty to the men of Arpinum, 
as countrymen of Cicero and Marius, after whom many of them were named. 
It was to him alone, as both judge and patron, that Blondus could 
dedicate his 'Roma Triumphans,' the first great attempt at a complete 
exposition of Roman antiquity.

Nor was the enthusiasm for the classical past of Italy confined at this 
period to the capital. Boccaccio had already called the vast ruins of 
Baia 'old walls, yet new for modern spirits'; and since his time they 
were held to be the most interesting sight near Naples. Collections of 
antiquities of all sorts now became common. Ciriaco of Ancona (d. 1457) 
travelled not only through Italy, but through other countries of the 
old Orbis terrarum, and brought back countless inscriptions and 
sketches. When asked why he took all this trouble, he replied, 'To wake 
the dead.' The histories of the various cities of Italy had from the 
earliest times laid claim to some true or imagined connection with 
Rome, had alleged some settlement or colonization which started from 
the capital; and the obliging manufacturers of pedigrees seem 
constantly to have derived various families from the oldest and most 
famous blood of Rome. So highly was the distinction valued, that men 
clung to it even in the light of the dawning criticism of the fifteenth 
century. When Pius II was at Viterbo he said frankly to the Roman 
deputies who begged him to return, 'Rome is as much my home as Siena, 
for my House, the Piccolomini, came in early times from the capital to 
Siena, as is proved by the constant use of the names 'neas and Sylvius 
in my family.' He would probably have had no objection to be held a 
descendant of the Julii. Paul II, a Barbo of Venice, found his vanity 
flattered by deducing his House, notwithstanding an adverse pedigree, 
according to which it came from Germany, from the Roman Ahenobarbus, 
who had led a colony to Parma, and whose successors had been driven by 
party conflicts to migrate to Venice. That the Massimi claimed descent 
from Q. Fabius Maximus, and the Cornaro from the Cornelii, cannot 
surprise us. On the other hand, it is a strikingly exceptional fact for 
the sixteenth century that the novelist Bandello tried to connect his 
blood with a noble family of Ostrogoths.

To return to Rome. The inhabitants, 'who then called themselves 
Romans,' accepted greedily the homage which was offered them by the 
rest of Italy. Under Paul II, Sixtus IV and Alexander VI, magnificent 
processions formed part of the Carnival, representing the scene most 
attractive to the imagination of the time- -the triumph of the Roman 
Imperator. The sentiment of the people expressed itself naturally in 
this shape and others like it. In this mood of public feeling, a report 
arose on April 18, 1485, that the corpse of a young Roman lady of the 
classical period--wonderfully beautiful and in perfect preservation--
had been discovered. Some Lombard masons digging out an ancient tomb on 
an estate of the convent of Santa Maria Nuova, on the Appian Way, 
beyond the tomb of Caecilia Metella, were said to have found a marble 
sarcophagus with the inscription: 'Julia, daughter of Claudius.' On 
this basis the following story was built. The Lombards disappeared with 
the jewels and treasure which were found with the corpse in the 
sarcophagus. The body had been coated with an antiseptic essence, and 
was as fresh and flexible as that of a girl of fifteen the hour after 
death. It was said that she still kept the colors of life, with eyes 
and mouth half open. She was taken to the palace of the 'Conservatori' 
on the Capitol; and then a pilgrimage to see her began. Among the crowd 
were many who came to paint her; 'for she was more beautiful than can 
be said or written, and, were it said or written, it would not be 
believed by those who had not seen her.' By order of Innocent VIII she 
was secretly buried one night outside the Pincian Gate; the empty 
sarcophagus remained in the court of the 'Conservatori.' Probably a 
colored mask of wax or some other material was modelled in the 
classical style on the face of the corpse, with which the gilded hair 
of which we read would harmonize admirably. The touching point in the 
story is not the fact itself, but the firm belief that an ancient body, 
which was now thought to be at last really before men's eyes, must of 
necessity be far more beautiful than anything of modern date.

Meanwhile the material knowledge of old Rome was increased by 
excavations. Under Alexander VI the so-called 'Grotesques,' that is, 
the mural decorations of the ancients, were discovered, and the Apollo 
of the Belvedere was found at Porto d'Anzio. Under Julius II followed 
the memorable discoveries of the Laocoon, of the Venus of the Vatican, 
of the Torso of the Cleopatra. The palaces of the nobles and the 
cardinals began to be filled with ancient statues and fragments. 
Raphael undertook for Leo X that ideal restoration of the whole ancient 
city which his (or Castiglione's) celebrated letter (1518 or 1519) 
speaks of. After a bitter complaint over the devastations which had not 
even then ceased, and which had been particularly frequent under Julius 
II, he beseeches the Pope to protect the few relics which were left to 
testify to the power and greatness of that divine soul of antiquity 
whose memory was inspiration to all who were capable of higher things. 
He then goes on with penetrating judgement to lay the foundations of a 
comparative history of art, and concludes by giving the definition of 
an architectural survey which has been accepted since his time; he 
requires the ground plan, section and elevation separately of every 
building that remained. How archaeology devoted itself after his day to 
the study of the venerated city and grew into a special science, and 
how the Vitruvian Academy at all events proposed to itself great him, 
cannot here be related. Let us rather pause at the days of Leo X, under 
whom the enjoyment of antiquity combined with all other pleasures to 
give to Roman life a unique stamp and consecration. The Vatican 
resounded with song and music, and their echoes were heard through the 
city as a call to joy and gladness, though Leo did not succeed thereby 
in banishing care and pain from his own life, and his deliberate 
calculation to prolong his days by cheerfulness was frustrated by an 
early death. The Rome of Leo, as described by Paolo Giovio, forms a 
picture too splendid to turn away from, unmistakable as are also its 
darker aspects--the slavery of those who were struggling to rise; the 
secret misery of the prelates, who, notwithstanding heavy debts, were 
forced to live in a style befitting their rank; the system of literary 
patronage, which drove men to be parasites or adventurers; and, lastly, 
the scandalous maladministration of the finances of the State. Yet the 
same Ariosto who knew and ridiculed all this so well, gives in the 
sixth satire a longing picture of his expected intercourse with the 
accomplished poets who would conduct him through the city of ruins, of 
the learned counsel which he would there find for his own literary 
efforts, and of the treasures of the Vatican library. These, he says, 
and not the long-abandoned hope of Medicean protection, were the baits 
which really attracted him, if he were again asked to go as Ferrarese 
ambassador to Rome.

But the ruins within and outside Rome awakened not only archaeological 
zeal and patriotic enthusiasm, but an elegiac of sentimental 
melancholy. In Petrarch and Boccaccio we find touches of this feeling. 
Poggio Bracciolini often visited the temple of Venus and Roma, in the 
belief that it was that of Castor and Pollux, where the senate used so 
often to meet, and would lose himself in memories of the great orators 
Crassus, Hortensius, Cicero. The language of Pius II, especially in 
describing Tivoli, has a thoroughly sentimental ring, and soon 
afterwards (1467) appeared the first pictures of ruins, with a 
commentary by Polifilo. Ruins of mighty arches and colonnades, half hid 
in plane-trees, laurels, cypresses and brushwood, figure in his pages. 
In the sacred legends it became the custom, we can hardly say how, to 
lay the scene of the birth of Christ in the ruins of a magnificent 
palace. That artificial ruins became afterwards a necessity of 
landscape gardening is only a practical consequence of this feeling.

The Classics

But the literary bequests of antiquity, Greek as well as Latin, were of 
far more importance than the architectural, and indeed than all the 
artistic remains which it had left. They were held in the most absolute 
sense to be the springs of all knowledge. The literary conditions of 
that age of great discoveries have often been set forth; no more can 
here be attempted than to point out a few less-known features of the 

Great as was the influence of the old writers on the Italian mind in 
the fourteenth century and before, yet that influence was due rather to 
the wide diffusion of what bad long been known than to the discovery of 
much that was new. The most popular latin poets, historians, orators 
and letter-writers, to- gether with a number of Latin translations of 
single works of Aristotle, Plutarch, and a few other Greek authors, 
constituted the treasure from which a few favored individuals in the 
time of Petrarch and Boccaccio drew their inspiration. The former, as 
is well known, owned and kept with religious care a Greek Homer, which 
he was unable to read. A complete Latin translation of the Iliad and 
Odyssey, though a very bad one, vas made at Petrarch's suggestion, and 
with Boccaccio's help, by a Calabrian Greek, Leonzio Pilato. But with 
the fifteenth century began the long list of new discoveries, the 
systematic creation of libraries by means of copies, and the rapid 
multiplication of translations from the Greek.

Had it not been for the enthusiasm of a few collectors of that age, who 
shrank from no effort or privation in their researches, we should 
certainly possess only a small part of the literature, especially that 
of the Greeks, which is now in our hands. Pope Nicholas V, when only a 
simple monk, ran deeply into debt through buying manuscripts or having 
them copied. Even then he made no secret of his passion for the two 
great interests of the Renaissance, books and buildings. As Pope he 
kept his word. Copyists wrote and spies searched for him through half 
the world. Perotto received 500 ducats for the Latin translation of 
Polybius; Guarino, 1,000 gold florins for that of Strabo, and he would 
have been paid 500 more but for the death of the Pope. Filelfo was to 
have received 10,000 gold florins for a metrical translation of Homer, 
and was only prevented by the Pope's death from coming from Milan to 
Rome. Nicholas left a collection of 5,000 or, according to another way 
of calculating, of 6,000 volumes, for the use of the members of the 
Curia, which became the foundation of the library of the Vatican. It 
was to be preserved in the palace itself, as its noblest ornament, the 
library of Ptolemy Philadelphus at Alexandria. When the plague (1450) 
drove him and his court to Fabriano, whence then, as now, the best 
paper was procured, he took his translators and compilers with him, 
that he might run no risk of losing them.

The Florentine Niccolo Niccoli, a member of that accomplished circle of 
friends which surrounded the elder Cosimo de' Medici, spent his whole 
fortune in buying books. At last, when his money was all gone, the 
Medici put their purse at his disposal for any sum which his purpose 
might require. We owe to him the later books of Ammianus Marcellinus, 
the 'De Oratore' of Cicero, and other works; he persuaded Cosimo to buy 
the best manuscript of Pliny from a monastery at Lubeck. With noble 
confidence he lent his books to those who asked for them, allowed all 
comers to study them in his own house, and was ready to converse with 
the students on what they had read. His collection of 800 volumes, 
valued at 6,000 gold florins, passed after his death, through Cosimo's 
intervention, to the monastery of San Marco, on the condition that it 
should be accessible to the public.

Of the two great book-finders, Guarino and Poggio, the latter, on the 
occasion of the Council of Constance and acting partly as the agent of 
Niccoli, searched industriously among the abbeys of South Germany. He 
there discovered six orations of Cicero, and the first complete 
Quintilian, that of St. Gallen, now at Zurich; in thirty-two days he is 
said to have copied the whole of it in a beautiful handwriting. He was 
able to make important additions to Silius Italicus, Manilius, 
Lucretius, Valerius Flaccus, Asconius Pedianus, Columella, Celsus, 
Aulus Gellius, Statius, and others; and with the help of Leonardo 
Aretino he unearthed the last twelve comedies of Plautus, as well as 
the Verrine orations.

The famous Greek, Cardinal Bessarion, in whom patriotism was mingled 
with a zeal for letters, collected, at a great sacrifice, 600 
manuscripts of pagan and Christian authors. He then looked round for 
some receptacle where they could safely lie until his unhappy country, 
if she ever regained her freedom, could reclaim her lost literature. 
The Venetian government declared itself ready to erect a suitable 
building, and to this day the Biblioteca Marciana retains a part of 
these treasures.

The formation of the celebrated Medicean library has a history of its 
own, into which we cannot here enter. The chief collector for Lorenzo 
il Magnifico was Johannes Lascaris. It is well known that the 
collection, after the plundering in the year 1494, had to be recovered 
piecemeal by the Cardinal Giovanni Medici, afterwards Leo X.

The library of Urbino, now in the Vatican, was wholly the work of the 
great Federigo of Montefeltro. As a boy he had begun to collect; in 
after years he kept thirty or forty 'scrittori' employed in various 
places, and spent in the course of time no less than 30,000 ducats on 
the collection. It was systematically extended and completed, chiefly 
by the help of Vespasiano, and his account of it forms an ideal picture 
of a library of the Renaissance. At Urbino there were catalogues of the 
libraries of the Vatican, of St. Mark at Florence, of the Visconti at 
Pavia, and even of the library at Oxford. It was noted with pride that 
in richness and completeness none could rival Urbino. Theology and the 
Middle Ages were perhaps most fully represented. There was a complete 
Thomas Aquinas, a complete Albertus Magnus, a complete Bonaventura. The 
collection, however, was a many-sided one, and included every work on 
medicine which was then to be had. Among the 'moderns' the great 
writers of the fourteenth century--Dante and Boccaccio, with their 
complete works--occupied the first place. Then followed twenty-five 
select humanists, invariably with both their Latin and Italian writings 
and with all their translations. Among the Greek manuscripts the 
Fathers of the Church far outnumbered the rest; yet in the list of the 
classics we find all the works of Sophocles, all of Pindar, and all of 
Menander. The last codex must have quickly disappeared from Urbino, 
else the philologists would have soon edited it.

We have, further, a good deal of information as to the way in which 
manuscripts and libraries were multiplied. The purchase of an ancient 
manuscript, which contained a rare, or the only complete, or the only 
existing text of an old writer, was naturally a lucky accident of which 
we need take no further account. Among the professional copyists those 
who understood Greek took the highest place, and it was they especially 
who bore the honorable name of 'scrittori.' Their number was always 
limited, and the pay they received very large. The rest, simply called 
'copisti,' were partly mere clerks who made their living by such work, 
partly schoolmasters and needy men of learning, who desired an addition 
to their income. The copyists at Rome in the time of Nicholas V were 
mostly Germans or Frenchmen--'barbarians' as the Italian humanists 
called them, probably men who were in search of favours at the papal 
court, and who kept themselves alive meanwhile by this means. When 
Cosimo de' Medici was in a hurry to form a library for his favorite 
foundation, the Badia below Fiesole, he sent for Vespasiano, and 
received from him the advice to give up all thoughts of purchasing 
books, since those which were worth getting could not be had easily, 
but rather to make use of the copyists; whereupon Cosimo bargained to 
pay him so much a day, and Vespasiano, with forty-five writers under 
him, delivered 200 volumes in twenty-two months. The catalogue of the 
works to be copied was sent to Cosimo by Nicholas V, who wrote it with 
his own hand. Ecclesiastical literature and the books needed for the 
choral services naturally held the chief place in the list.

The handwriting was that beautiful modern Italian which was already in 
use in the preceding century, and which makes the sight of one of the 
books of that time a pleasure. Pope Nicholas V, Poggio, Gianozzo 
Manetti, Niccolo Niccoli, and other distinguished scholars, themselves 
wrote a beautiful hand, and desired and tolerated none other. The 
decorative adjuncts, even when miniatures formed no part of them, were 
full of taste, as may be seen especially in the Laurentian manuscripts, 
with the light and graceful scrolls which begin and end the lines. The 
material used to write on, when the work was ordered by great or 
wealthy people, was always parchment; the binding, both in the Vatican 
and at Urbino, was a uniform crimson velvet with silver clasps. Where 
there was so much care to show honour to the contents of a book by the 
beauty of its outward form, it is intelligible that the sudden 
appearance of printed books was greeted at first with anything but 
favour. Federigo of Urbino 'would have been ashamed to own a printed 

But the weary copyists--not those who lived by the trade, but the many 
who were forced to copy a book in order to have it--rejoiced at the 
German invention. It was soon applied in Italy to the multiplication 
first of the Latin and then of the Greek authors, and for a long period 
nowhere but in Italy, yet it spread with by no means the rapidity which 
might have been expected from the general enthusiasm for these works. 
After a while the modern relation between author and publisher began to 
develop itself, and under Alexander VI, when it was no longer easy to 
destroy a book, as Cosimo could make Filelfo promise to do, the 
prohibitive censorship made its appearance.

The growth of textual criticism which accompanied the advancing study 
of languages and antiquity belongs as little to the subject of this 
book as the history of scholarship in general. We are here occupied, 
not with the learning of the Italians in itself, but with the 
reproduction of antiquity in literature and life. One word more on the 
studies themselves may still be permissible.

Greek scholarship was chiefly confined to Florence and to the fifteenth 
and the beginning of the sixteenth centuries. The impulse which had 
proceeded from Petrarch and Boccaccio, superficial as was their own 
acquaintance with Greek, was powerful, but did not tell immediately on 
their contemporaries, except a few; on the other hand, the study of 
Greek literature died out about the year 1520 with the last of the 
colony of learned Greek exiles, and it was a singular piece of fortune 
that northerners like Erasmus, the Stephani, and Budaeus had meanwhile 
made themselves masters of the language. That colony had begun with 
Manuel Chrysoloras and his relation John, and with George of Trebizond. 
Then followed, about and after the time of the conquest of 
Constantinople, John Argyropulos, Theodore Gaza, Demetrios 
Chalcondylas, who brought up his sons Theophilos and Basilios to be 
excellent Hellenists, Andronikos Kallistos, Marcos Musuros and the 
family of Lascaris, not to mention others. But after the subjection of 
Greece by the Turks was completed, the succession of scholars was 
maintained only by the sons of the fugitives and perhaps here and there 
by some Candian or Cyprian refugee. That the decay of Hellenistic 
studies began about the time of the death of Leo X was due partly to a 
general change of intellectual attitude, and to a certain satiety of 
classical influences which now made itself felt; but its coincidence 
with the death of the Greek fugitives was not wholly a matter of 
accident. The study of Greek among the Italians appears, if we take the 
year 1500 as our standard, to have been pursued with extraordinary 
zeal. Many of those who then learned the language could still speak it 
half a century later, in their old age, like the Popes Paul III and 
Paul IV. But this sort of mastery of the study presupposes intercourse 
with native Greeks.

Besides Florence, Rome and Padua nearly always maintained paid teachers 
of Greek, and Verona, Ferrara, Venice, Perugia, Pavia and other cities 
occasional teachers. Hellenistic studies owed a priceless debt to the 
press of Aldo Manuzio at Venice, where the most important and 
voluminous writers were for the first time printed in the original. 
Aldo ventured his all in the enterprise; he was an editor and publisher 
whose like the world has rarely seen.

Along with this classical revival, Oriental studies now assumed 
considerable proportions. The controversial writings of the great 
Florentine statesman and scholar, Giannozzo Manetti (d. 1459) against 
the Jews afford an early instance of a complete mastery of their 
language and science. His son Agnolo was from his childhood instructed 
in Latin, Greek and Hebrew. The father, at the bidding of Nicholas V, 
translated the whole Bible afresh, as the philologists of the time 
insisted on giving up the 'Vulgata.'

Many other humanists devoted themselves before Reuchlin to the study of 
Hebrew, among them Pico della Mirandola, who was not satisfied with a 
knowledge of the Hebrew grammar and ScriptureS, but penetrated into the 
Jewish Cabbalah and even made himself as familiar with the literature 
of the Talmud as any Rabbi.

Among the Oriental languages, Arabic was studied as well as Hebrew. The 
science of medicine, no longer satisfied with the older Latin 
translations of the great Arab physicians, had constant recourse to the 
originals, to which an easy access was offered by the Venetian 
consulates in the East, where Italian doctors were regularly kept. 
Hieronimo Ramusio, a Venetian physician, translated a great part of 
Avicenna from the Arabic and died at Damascus in 1486. Andrea Mongaio 
of Belluno lived long at Damascus for the purpose of studying Avicenna, 
learnt Arabic, and emended the author's text. The Venetian government 
afterwards appointed him professor of this subject at Padua.

We must here linger for a moment over Pico della Mirandola, before 
passing on to the general effects of humanism. He was the only man who 
loudly and vigorously defended the truth and science of all ages 
against the one-sided worship of classical antiquity. He knew how to 
value not only Averroes and the Jewish investigators, but also the 
scholastic writers of the Middle Ages, according to the matter of their 
writings. In one of his writings he makes them say, 'We shall live for 
ever, not in the schools of word-catchers, but in the circle of the 
wise, where they talk not of the mother of Andromache or of the sons of 
Niobe, but of the deeper causes of things human and divine; he who 
looks closely will see that even the barbarians had intelligence 
_(mercurium), _not on the tongue but in the breast.' Himself writing a 
vigorous and not inelegant Latin, and a master of clear exposition, he 
despised the purism of pedants and the current over-estimate of 
borrowed forms, especially when joined, as they often are, with one-
sidedness, and involving indifference to the wider truth of the things 
themselves. Looking at Pico, we can guess at the lofty flight which 
Italian philosophy would have taken had not the counter-reformation 
annihilated the higher spiritual life of the people.

The Humanists

Who now were those who acted as mediators between their own age and a 
venerated antiquity, and made the latter a chief element in the culture 
of the former?

They were a crowd of the most miscellaneous sort, wearing one face 
today and another tomorrow; but they clearly felt themselves, and it 
was fully recognized by their time that they formed, a wholly new 
element in society. The 'clerici vagantes' of the twelfth century may 
perhaps be taken as their forerun- ners--the same unstable existence, 
the same free and more than free views of life, and the germs at all 
events of the same pagan tendencies in their poetry. But now, as 
competitor with the whole culture of the Middle Ages, which was 
essentially clerical and was fostered by the Church, there appeared a 
new civilization, founding itself on that which lay on the other side 
of the Middle Ages. Its active representatives became influential 
because they knew what the ancients knew, because they tried to write 
as the ancients wrote, because they began to think, and soon to feel, 
as the ancients thought and felt. The tradition to which they devoted 
themselves passed at a thousand points into genuine reproduction.

Some modern writers deplore the fact that the germs of a far more 
independent and essentially national culture, such as appeared in 
Florence about the year 1300, were afterwards so completely swamped by 
the humanists. There was then, we are told, nobody in Florence who 
could not read; even the donkeymen sang the verses of Dante; the best 
Italian manuscripts which we possess belonged originally to Florentine 
artisans; the publication of a popular encyclopedia, like the 'Tesoro' 
of Brunetto Latini, was then possible; and all this was founded on d 
strength and soundness of character due to the universal participation 
in public affairs, to commerce and travel, and to the systematic 
reprobation of idleness. The Florentines, it is urged, were at that 
time respected and influential throughout the whole world, and were 
called in that year, not without reason, by Pope Boniface VIII, 'the 
fifth element.' The rapid progress of humanism after the year 1400 
paralysed native impulses. Henceforth men looked only to antiquity for 
the solution of every problem, and consequently allowed literature to 
turn into mere quotation. Nay, the very fall of civil freedom is partly 
ascribed to all this, since the new learning rested on obedience to 
authority, sacrificed municipal rights to Roman law, and thereby both 
sought and found the favour of the despots.

These charges will occupy us now and then at a later stage of our 
inquiry, when we shall attempt to reduce them to their true value, and 
to weigh the losses against the gains of this movement. For the present 
we must confine ourselves to showing how the civilization even of the 
vigorous fourteenth century necessarily prepared the way for the 
complete victory of humanism, and how precisely the greatest 
representatives of the national Italian spirit were themselves the men 
who opened wide the gate for the measureless devotion to antiquity in 
the fifteenth century.

To begin with Dante. If a succession of men of equal genius had 
presided over Italian culture, whatever elements their natures might 
have absorbed from the antique, they still could not fail to retain a 
characteristic and strongly-marked national stamp. But neither Italy 
nor Western Europe produced another Dante, and he was and remained the 
man who first thrust antiquity into the foreground of national culture. 
In the 'Divine Comedy' he treats the ancient and the Christian worlds, 
not indeed as of equal authority, but as parallel to one another. Just 
as, at an earlier period of the Middle Ages, types and anti- types were 
sought in the history of the Old and New Testaments, so does Dante 
constantly bring together a Christian and a pagan illustration of the 
same fact. It must be remembered that the Christian cycle of history 
and legend was familiar, while the ancient was relatively unknown, was 
full of promise and of interest, and must necessarily have gained the 
upper hand in the competition for public sympathy when there was no 
longer a Dante to hold the balance between the two.

Petrarch, who lives in the memory of most people nowadays chiefly as a 
great Italian poet, owed his fame among his contemporaries far rather 
to the fact that he was a kind of living representative of antiquity, 
that he imitated all styles of Latin poetry, endeavored by his 
voluminous historical and philosophical writings not to supplant but to 
make known the works of the ancients, and wrote letters that, as 
treatises on matters of antiquarian interest, obtained a reputation 
which to us is unintelligible, but which was natural enough in an age 
without handbooks.

It was the same with Boccaccio. For two centuries, when but little was 
known of the 'Decameron' north of the Alps, he was famous all over 
Europe simply on account of his Latin compilations on mythology, 
geography and biography. One of these, 'De Genealogia Deorum,' contains 
in the fourteenth and fifteenth books a remarkable appendix, in which 
he discusses the position of the then youthful humanism with regard to 
the age. We must not be misled by his exclusive references to 'poesie,' 
as closer observation shows that he means thereby the whole mental 
activity of the poet-scholars. This it is whose enemies he so 
vigorously combats--the frivolous ignoramuses who have no soul for 
anything but debauchery; the sophistical theologian, to whom Helicon, 
the Castalian fountain, and the grove of Apollo were foolishness; the 
greedy lawyers, to whom poetry was a superfluity, since no money was to 
be made by it; finally the mendicant friars, described 
periphrastically, but clearly enough, who made free with their charges 
of paganism and immorality. Then follows the defence of poetry, the 
praise of it, and especially of the deeper and allegorical meanings 
which we must always attribute to it, and of that calculated obscurity 
which is intended to repel the dull minds of the ignorant.

And finally, with a clear reference to his own scholarly work, the 
writer justifies the new relation in which his age stood to paganism. 
The case was wholly different, he pleads, when the Early Church had to 
fight its way among the heathen. Now--praised be Jesus Christ !--true 
religion was strengthened, paganism destroyed, and the victorious 
Church in possession of the hostile camp. It was now possible to touch 
and study paganism almost _(fere) _without danger. This is the argument 
invariably used in later times to defend the Renaissance.

There was thus a new cause in the world and a new class of men to 
maintain it. It is idle to ask if this cause ought not to have stopped 
short in its career of victory, to have restrained itself deliberately, 
and conceded the first place to purely national elements of culture. No 
conviction was more firmly rooted in the popular mind than that 
antiquity was the highest title to glory which Italy possessed.

There was a symbolical ceremony peculiar to the first generation of 
poet-scholars which lasted on into the fifteenth and sixteenth 
centuries, though losing the higher sentiment which inspired it--the 
coronation of the poets with the laurel wreath. The origin of this 
custom in the Middle Ages is obscure, and the ritual of the ceremony 
never became fixed. It was a public demonstration, an outward and 
visible expression of literary enthusiasm, and naturally its form was 
variable. Dante, for instance, seems to have understood it in the sense 
of a halfreligious consecration; he desired to assume the wreath in the 
baptistery of San Giovanni, where, like thousands of other Florentine 
children, he had received baptism. He could, says his biographer, have 
anywhere received the crown in virtue of his fame, but desired it 
nowhere but in his native city, and therefore died uncrowned. From the 
same source we learn that the usage was till then uncommon, and was 
held to be inherited by the ancient Romans from the Greeks. The most 
recent source to which the practices could be referred is to be found 
in the Capitoline contests of musicians, poets, and other artists, 
founded by Domitian in imitation of the Greeks and celebrated every 
five years, which may possibly have survived for a time the fall of the 
Roman Empire; but as few other men would venture to crown themselves, 
as Dante desired to do, the question arises, to whom did this office 
belong? Albertino Mussato was crowned at Padua in 1310 by the bishop 
and the rector of the University. The University of Paris, the rector 
of which was then a Florentine (1341), and the municipal authorities of 
Rome, competed for the honour of crowning Petrarch. His self-elected 
examiner, King Robert of Anjou, would have liked to perform the 
ceremony at Naples, but Petrarch preferred to be crowned on the Capitol 
by the senator of Rome. This honour was long the highest object of 
ambition, and so it seemed to Jacobus Pizinga, an illustrious Sicilian 
magistrate. Then came the Italian journey of Charles IV, whom it amused 
to flatter the vanity of ambitious men, and impress the ignorant 
multitude by means of gorgeous ceremonies. Start- ing from the fiction 
that the coronation of poets was a prerogative of the old Roman 
emperors, and consequently was no less his own, he crowned (May 15, 
1355) the Florentine scholar, Zanobi della Strada, at Pisa, to the 
great disgust of Boccaccio, who declined to recognize this 'laurea 
Pisana' as legitimate. Indeed, it might be fairly asked with what right 
this stranger, half Slavonic by birth, came to sit in judgement on the 
merits of Italian poets. But from henceforth the emperors crowned poets 
wherever they went on their travels; and in the fifteenth century the 
popes and other princes assumed the same right, till at last no regard 
whatever was paid to place or circumstances. In Rome, under Sixtus IV, 
the academy of Pomponius L'tus gave the wreath on its own authority. 
The Florentines had the good taste not to crown their famous humanists 
till after death. Carlo Aretino and Leonardo Aretino were thus crowned; 
the eulogy of the first was pronounced by Matteo Palmieri, of the 
latter by Giannozzo Manetti, before the members of the council and the 
whole people, the orator standing at the head of the bier, on which the 
corpse lay clad in a silken robe. Carlo Aretino was further honoured by 
a tomb in Santa Croce, which is among the most beautiful in the whole 
course of the Renaissance. 

Universities and Schools

The influence of antiquity on culture, of which we have now to speak, 
presupposes that the new learning had gained possession of the 
universities. This was so, but by no means to the extent and with the 
results which might have been expected.

Few of the Italian universities show themselves in their full vigor 
till the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, when the increase of 
wealth rendered a more systematic care for education possible. At first 
there were generally three sorts of professorships--one for civil law, 
another for canonical law, the third for medicine; in course of time 
professorships of rhetoric, of philosophy, and of astronomy were added, 
the last commonly, though not always, identical with astrology. The 
salaries varied greatly in different cases. Sometimes a capital sum was 
paid down. With the spread of culture, competition became so active 
that the different universities tried to entice away distinguished 
teachers from one another, under which circumstances Bologna is said to 
have sometimes devoted the half of its public income (20,000 ducats) to 
the university. The appointments were as a rule made only for a certain 
time, sometimes for only half a year, so that the teachers were forced 
to lead a wandering life, like actors. Appointments for life were, 
however, not unknown. Sometimes the promise was exacted not to teach 
elsewhere what had already been taught at one place. There were also 
voluntary, unpaid professors.

Of the chairs which have been mentioned, that of rhetoric was 
especially sought by the humanist; yet it depended only on his 
familiarity with the matter of ancient learning whether or no be could 
aspire to those of law, medicine, philosophy, or astronomy. The inward 
conditions of the science of the day were as variable as the outward 
conditions of the teacher. Certain jurists and physicians received by 
far the largest salaries of all, the former chiefly as consulting 
lawyers for the suits and claims of the State which employed them. In 
Padua a lawyer of the fifteenth century received a salary of 1,000 
ducats, and it was proposed to appoint a celebrated physician with a 
yearly payment of 2,000 ducats, and the right of private practice, the 
same man having previously received 700 gold florins at Pisa. When the 
jurist Bartolommeo Socini, professor at Pisa, accepted a Venetian 
appointment at Padua, and was on the point of starting on his journey, 
he was arrested by the Florentine government and only released on 
payment of bail to the amount of 18,000 gold florins. The high 
estimation in which these branches of science were held makes it 
intelligible why distinguished philologists turned their attention to 
law and medicine, while on the other hand specialists were more and 
more compelled to acquire something of a wide literary culture. We 
shall presently have occasion to speak of the work of the humanists in 
other departments of practical life.

Nevertheless, the position of the philologists, as such, even where the 
salary was large, and did not exclude other sources of income, was on 
the whole uncertain and temporary, so that one and the same teacher 
could be connected with a great variety of institutions. It is evident 
that change was desired for its own sake, and something fresh expected 
from each newcomer, as was natural at a time when science was in the 
making, and consequently depended to no small degree on the personal 
influence of the teacher. Nor was it always the case that a lecturer on 
classical authors really belonged to the university of the town where 
he taught. Communication was so easy, and the supply of suitable 
accommodation, in monasteries and elsewhere, was so abundant, that a 
private appointment was often practicable. In the first decades of the 
fifteenth century, when the University of Florence was at its greatest 
brilliance, when the courtiers of Eugenius IV, and perhaps even of 
Martin V thronged the lecture-room, when Carlo Aretino and Filelfo were 
competing for the largest audience, there existed, not only an almost 
complete university among the Augustinians of Santo Spirito, not only 
an association of scholars among the Camaldolesi of the Angeli, but 
individuals of mark, either singly or in common, arranged to provide 
philosophical and philological teaching for themselves and others. 
Linguistic and antiquarian studies in Rome had next to no connection 
with the university (Sapienza), and depended almost exclusively either 
on the favour of individual popes and prelates, or on the appointments 
made in the Papal chancery. It was not till Leo X (1513) that the great 
reorganization of the Sapienza took place, which now had eighty-eight 
lecturers, among whom there were the most able men of Italy, reading 
and interpreting the class;cs. But this new brilliancy was of short 
duration. We have already spoken briefly of the Greek professorships in 

To form an accurate picture of the method of scientific instruction 
then pursued, we must turn away our eyes as far as possible from our 
present academic system. Personal intercourse between the teachers and 
the taught, public disputations, the constant use of Latin and often of 
Greek, the frequent changes of lecturers and the scarcity of books, 
gave the studies of that time a color which we cannot represent to 
ourselves without effort.

There were Latin schools in every town of the least importance, not by 
any means merely as preparatory to higher education, but because, next 
to reading, writing, and arithmetic, the knowledge of Latin was a 
necessity; and after Latin came logic. It is to be noted particularly 
that these schools did not depend on the Church, but on the 
municipality; some of them, too, were merely private enterprises.

This school system, directed by a few distinguished humanists, not only 
attained a remarkable perfection of organization, but became an 
instrument of higher education in the modern sense of the phrase. With 
the education of the children of two princely houses in North Italy 
institutions were connected which may be called unique of their kind.

At the court of Giovan Francesco Gonzaga at Mantua (1407-1444) appeared 
the illustrious Vittorino da Feltre, one of those men who devote their 
whole life to an object for which their natural gifts constitute a 
special vocation.

He directed the education of the sons and daughters of the princely 
house, and one of the latter became under his care a woman of learning. 
When his reputation extended far and wide over Italy, and members of 
great and wealthy families came from long distances, even from Germany, 
in search of his instructions, Gonzaga was not only willing that they 
should be received, but seems to have held it an honour for Mantua to 
be the chosen school of the aristocratic world. Here for the first time 
gymnastics and all noble bodily exercises were treated along with 
scientific instruction as indispensable to a liberal education. Besides 
these pupils came others, whose instruction Vittorino probably held to 
be his highest earthly aim, the gifted poor, whom he supported in his 
house and educated, 'per l'amore di Dio,' along with the highborn 
youths who here learned to live under the same roof with untitled 
genius. Gonzaga paid him a yearly salary of 300 gold florins, and 
contributed to the expenses caused by the poorer pupils. He knew that 
Vittorino never saved a penny for himself, and doubtless realized that 
the education of the poor was the unexpressed condition of his 
presence. The establishment was conducted on strictly religious lines, 
stricter indeed than many monasteries.

More stress was laid on pure scholarship by Guarino of Verona (1370-
1460), who in the year 1429 was called to Ferrara by Niccolo d'Este to 
educate his son Lionello, and who, when his pupil was nearly grown up 
in 1436, began to teach at the university of eloquence and of the 
ancient languages. While still acting as tutor to Lionello, he had many 
other pupils from various parts of the country, and in his own house a 
select class of poor scholars, whom he partly or wholly supported. His 
evening hours till far into the night were devoted to hearing lessons 
or to instructive conversation. His house, too, was the home of a 
strict religion and morality. It signified little to him or to 
Vittorino that most of the humanists of their day deserved small praise 
in the matter of morals or religion. It is inconceivable how Guarino, 
with all the daily work which fell upon him, still found time to write 
translations from the Greek and voluminous original works.

Not only in these two courts, but generally throughout Italy, the 
education of the princely families was in part and for certain years in 
the hands of the humanists, who thereby mounted a step higher in the 
aristocratic world. The writing of treatises on the education of 
princes, formerly the business of theologians, fell now within their 

From the time of Pier Paolo Vergerio the Italian princes were well 
taken care of in this respect, and the custom was transplanted into 
Germany by Aeneas Sylvius, who addressed detailed exhortations to two 
young German princes of the House of Habsburg on the subject of their 
further education, in which they are both urged, as might be expected, 
to cultivate and nurture humanism. Perhaps Aeneas was aware that in 
addressing these youths he was talking in the air, and therefore took 
measures to put his treatise into public circulation. But the relations 
of the humanists to the rulers will be discussed separately. We have 
here first to speak of those citizens, mostly Florentines, who made 
antiquarian interests one of the chief objects of their lives, and who 
were themselves either distinguished scholars, or else distinguished 
_dilettanti _who maintained the scholars. They were of peculiar 
significance during the period of transition at the beginning of the 
fifteenth century, since it was in them that humanism first showed 
itself practically as an indispensable element in daily life. It was 
not till after this time that the popes and princes began seriously to 
occupy themselves with it.

Niccolo Niccoli and Giannozzo Manetti have been already spoken of more 
than once. Niccoli is described to us by Vespasiano as a man who would 
tolerate nothing around him out of harmony with his own classical 
spirit. His handsome long-robed figure, his kindly speech, his house 
adorned with the noblest remains of antiquity, made a singular 
impression. He was scrupulously cleanly in everything, most of all at 
table, where ancient vases and crystal goblets stood before him on the 
whitest linen. The way in which he won over a pleasure-loving young 
Florentine to intellectual interests is too charming not to be here 
described. Piero de' Pazzi, son of a distinguished merchant, and 
himself destined to the same calling, fair to behold, and much given to 
the pleasures of the world, thought about anything rather than 
literature. One day, as he was passing the Palazzo del Podesta, Niccolo 
called the young man to him, and although they had never before 
exchanged a word, the youth obeyed the call of one so respected. 
Niccolo asked him who his father was. He answered, 'Messer Andrea de' 
Pazzi.' When he was further asked what his pursuit was, Piero replied, 
as young people are wont to do, 'I enjoy myself' ('attendo a darmi buon 
tempo'). Niccolo said to him, 'As son of such a father, and so fair to 
look upon, it is a shame that thou knowest nothing of the Latin 
language, which would be so great an ornament to thee. If thou learnest 
it not, thou wilt be good for nothing, and as soon as the flower of 
youth is over, wilt be a man of no consequence' (virtu). When Piero 
heard this, he straightway perceived that it was true, and said that he 
would gladly take pains to learn, if only he had a teacher. Whereupon 
Niccol• answered that he would see to that. And he found him a learned 
man for Latin and Greek, named Pontano, whom Piero treated as one of 
his own house, and to whom he paid 100 gold florins a year. Quitting 
all the pleasures in which he had hitherto lived, he studied day and 
night, and became a friend of all learned men and a nobleminded 
statesman. He learned by heart the whole 'neid and many speeches of 
Livy, chiefly on the way between Florence and his country house at 
Trebbio. Antiquity was represented in another and higher sense by 
Giannozzo Manetti (13931459). Precocious from his first years, he was 
hardly more than a child when he had finished his apprenticeship in 
commerce and became bookkeeper in a bank. But soon the life he led 
seemed to him empty and perishable, and he began to yearn after 
science, through which alone man can secure immortality. He then busied 
himself with books as few laymen had done before him, and became, as 
has been said, one of the most profound scholars of his time. When 
appointed by the government as its representative magistrate and tax-
collector at Pescia and Pistoia, he fulfilled his duties in accordance 
with the lofty ideal with which his religious feeling and humanistic 
studies combined to inspire him. He succeeded in collecting the most 
unpopular taxes which the Florentine State imposed, and declined 
payment for his services. As provincial governor he refused all 
presents, abhorred all bribes, checked gambling, kept the country well 
supplied with corn, was indefatigable in settling lawsuits amicably, 
and did wonders in calming inflamed passions by his goodness. The 
Pistoiese were never able to discover to which of the two political 
parties he leaned. As if to symbolize the common rights and interests 
of all, he spent his leisure hours in writing the history of the city, 
which was preserved, bound in a purple cover, as a sacred relic in the 
town hall. When he took his leave the city presented him with a banner 
bearing the municipal arms and a splendid silver helmet.

For further information as to the learned citizens of Florence at this 
period the reader must all the more be referred to Vespasiano, who knew 
them all personally, because the tone and atmosphere in which he 
writes, and the terms and conditions on which he mixed in their 
society, are of even more importance than the facts which he records. 
Even in a translation, and still more in the brief indications to which 
we are here compelled to limit ourselves, this chief merit of his book 
is lost. Without being a great writer, he was thoroughly familiar with 
the subject he wrote on, and had a deep sense of its intellectual 

If we seek to analyze the charm which the Medici of the fifteenth 
century, especially Cosimo the Elder (d. 1464) and Lorenzo the 
Magnificent (d. 1492 ) exercised over Florence and over all their 
contemporaries, we shall find that it lay less in their political 
capacity than in their leadership in the culture of the age. A man in 
Cosimo's position--a great merchant and party leader, who also had on 
his side all the thinkers, writers and investigators, a man who was the 
first of the Florentines by birth and the first of the Italians by 
culture such a man was to all intents and purposes already a prince. To 
Cosimo belongs the special glory of recognizing in the Platonic 
philosophy the fairest flower of the ancient world of thought, of 
inspiring his friends with the same belief, and thus of fostering 
within humanistic circles themselves another and a higher resuscitation 
of antiquity. The story is known to us minutely. It all hangs on the 
calling of the learned Johannes Argyropulos, and on the personal 
enthusiasm of Cosimo himself in his last years, which was such that the 
great Marsilio Ficino could style himself, as far as Platonism was 
concerned, the spiritual son of Cosimo. Under Pietro Medici, Ficino was 
already at the head of a school; to him Pietro's son and Cosimo's 
grandson, the illustrious Lorenzo, came over from the Peripatetics. 
Among his most distinguished fellow-scholars were Bartolommeo Valori, 
Donato Acciaiuoli, and Pierfilippo Pandolfini. The enthusiastic teacher 
declares in several passages of his writings that Lorenzo had sounded 
all the depths of the Platonic philosophy, and had uttered his 
conviction that without Plato it would be hard to be a good Christian 
or a good citizen. The famous band of scholars which surrounded Lorenzo 
was united together, and distinguished from all other circles of the 
kind, by this passion for a higher and idealistic philosophy. Only in 
such a world could a man like Pico della Mirandola feel happy. But 
perhaps the best thing of all that can be said about it is, that, with 
all this worship of antiquity, Italian poetry found here a sacred 
refuge, and that of all the rays of light which streamed from the 
circle of which Lorenzo was the centre, none was more powerful than 
this. As a statesman, let each man judge him as he pleases; a foreigner 
will hesitate to pronounce what in the fate of Florence was due to 
human guilt and what to circumstances, but no more unjust charge was 
ever made than that in the field of culture Lorenzo was the protector 
of mediocrity, that through his fault Leonardo da Vinci and the 
mathematician Fra Luca Pacioli lived abroad, and that Toscanella, 
Vespucci, and others remained at least unsupported. He was not, indeed, 
a man of universal mind; but of all the great men who have striven to 
favour and promote spiritual interests, few certainly have been so 
many-sided, and in none probably was the inward need to do so equally 

The age in which we live is loud enough in proclaiming the worth of 
culture, and especially of the culture of antiquity. But the 
enthusiastic devotion to it, the recognition that the need of it is the 
first and greatest of all needs, is nowhere to be found in such a 
degree as among the Florentines of the fifteenth and the early part of 
the sixteenth centuries. On this point we have indirect proof which 
precludes all doubt. It would not have been so common to give the 
daughters of the house a share in the same studies, had they not been 
held to be the noblest of earthly pursuits, exile would not have been 
turned into a happy retreat, as was done by Palla Strozzi; nor would 
men who indulged in every conceivable excess have retained the strength 
and the spirit to write critical treatises on the Natural History of 
Pliny like Filippo Strozzi. Our business here is not to deal out either 
praise or blame, but to understand the spirit of the age in all its 
vigorous individuality.

Besides Florence, there were many cities of Italy where individuals and 
social circles devoted all their energies to the support of humanism 
and the protection of the scholars who lived among them. The 
correspondence of that period is full of references to personal 
relations of this kind. The feeling of the instructed classes set 
strongly and almost exclusively in this direction.

But it is now time to speak of humanism at the Italian courts. The 
natural alliance between the despot and the scholar, each relying 
solely on his personal talent, has already been touched upon; that the 
latter should avowedly prefer the princely courts to the free cities, 
was only to be expected from the higher pay which he there received. At 
a time when the great Alfonso of Aragon seemed likely to become master 
of all Italy, Aeneas Sylvius wrote to another citizen of Siena: 'I had 
rather that Italy attained peace under his rule than under that of the 
free cities, for kingly generosity rewards excellence of every kind.' 
Too much stress has latterly been laid on the unworthy side of this 
relation, and the mercenary flattery to which it gave rise, just as 
formerly the eulogies of the humanists led to a too favourable 
judgement on their patrons. Taking all things together, it is greatly 
to the honour of the latter that they felt bound to place themselves at 
the head of the culture of their age and country, one-sided though this 
culture was. In some of the popes, the fearlessness of the consequences 
to which the new learning might lead strikes us as something truly, but 
unconsciously, imposing. Nicholas V was confident of the future of the 
Church, since thousands of learned men supported her. Pius II was far 
from making such splendid sacrifices for humanism as were made by 
Nicholas, and the poets who frequented his court were few in number; 
but he himself was much more the personal head of the republic of 
letters than his predecessor, and enjoyed his position without the 
least misgiving. Paul II was the first to dread and mistrust the 
culture of his secretaries, and his three successors, Sixtus, Innocent, 
and Alexander, accepted dedications and allowed themselves to be sung 
to the hearts' content of the poets-- there even existed a 'Borgiad,' 
probably in hexameter-- but were too busy elsewhere, and too occupied 
in seeking other foundations for their power, to trouble themselves 
much about the poet-scholars. Julius II found poets to eulogize him, 
because he himself was no mean subject for poetry, but he does not seem 
to have troubled himself much about them. He was followed by Leo X, 'as 
Romulus by Numa'--in other words, after the warlike turmoil of the 
previous pontificate, a new one was hoped for wholly given to the 
muses. Enjoyment of elegant Latin prose and melodious verse was part of 
the pro- gramme of Leo's life, and his patronage certainly had the 
result that his Latin poets have left us a living picture of that 
joyous and brilliant spirit of the Leonine days, with which the 
biography of Jovius is filled, in countless epigrams, elegies, odes, 
and orations. Probably in all European history there is no prince who, 
in proportion to the few striking events of his life, has received such 
manifold homage. The poets had access to him chiefly about noon, when 
the musicians had ceased playing; but one of the best among them tells 
us how they also pursued him when he walked in his garden or withdrew 
to the privacy of his chamber, and if they failed to catch him there, 
would try to win him with a mendicant ode or elegy, filled, as usual, 
with the whole population of Olympus. For Leo, prodigal of his money, 
and disliking to be surrounded by any but cheerful faces, displayed a 
generosity in his gifts which was fabulously exaggerated in the hard 
times that followed. His reorganization of the Sapienza has been 
already spoken of. In order not to underrate Leo's influence on hu- 
manism we must guard against being misled by the toy-work that was 
mixed up with it, and must not allow ourselves to be deceived by the 
apparent irony with which he himself sometimes treated these matters. 
Our judgement must rather dwell on the countless spiritual 
possibilities which are included in the word 'stimulus,' and which, 
though they cannot be measured as a whole, can still, on closer study, 
be actually followed out in particular cases. Whatever influence in 
Europe the Italian humanists have had since 1520 depends in some way or 
other on the impulse which was given by Leo. He was the Pope who in 
granting permission to print the newly found Tacitus, could say that 
the great writers were a rule of life and a consolation in misfortune; 
that helping learned men and obtaining excellent books had ever been 
one of his highest aims; and that he now thanked heaven that he could 
benefit the human race by furthering the publication of this book.

The sack of Rome in the year 1527 scattered the scholars no less than 
the artists in every direction, and spread the fame of the great 
departed Maecenas to the farthest boundaries of Italy.

Among the secular princes of the fifteenth century, none displayed such 
enthusiasm for antiquity as Alfonso the Great of Aragon, King of 
Naples. It appears that his zeal was thoroughly unaffected, and that 
the monuments and writings of the ancient world made upon him, from the 
time of his arrival in Italy, an impression deep and powerful enough to 
reshape his life. With strange readiness he surrendered the stubborn 
Aragon to his brother, and devoted himself wholly to his new 
possessions. He had in his service, either successively or to- gether, 
George of Trebizond, the younger Chrysoloras, Lorenzo Valla, 
Bartolommeo Fazio and Antonio Panormita, of whom the two latter were 
his historians; Panormita daily instructed the King and his court in 
Livy, even during military expeditions. These men cost him yearly 
20,000 gold florins. He gave Panormita 1,000 for his work; Fazio 
received for the 'Historia Alfonsi,' besides a yearly income of 500 
ducats, a present of 1,500 more when it was finished, with the words, 
'It is not given to pay you, for your work would not be paid for if I 
gave you the fairest of my cities; but in time I hope to satisfy you.'

When he took Giannozzo Manetti as his secretary on the most brilliant 
conditions, he said to him, 'My last crust I will share with you.' When 
Giannozzo first came to bring the congratulations of the Florentine 
government on the marriage of Prince Ferrante, the impression he made 
was so great, that the King sat motionless on the throne, 'like a 
brazen statue, and did not even brush away a fly, which had settled on 
his nose at the beginning of the oration.' His favorite haunt seems to 
have been the library of the castle at Naples, where he would sit at a 
window overlooking the bay, and listen to learned debates on the 
Trinity. For he was profoundly religious, and had the Bible, as well as 
Livy and Seneca, read to him, till after fourteen perusals he knew it 
almost by heart. Who can fully understand the feeling with which he 
regarded the suppositions remains of Livy at Padua? When, by dint of 
great entreaties, he obtained an arm-bone of the skeleton from the 
Venetians, and received it with solemn pomp at Naples, how strangely 
Christian and pagan sentiment must have been blended in his heart! 
During a campaign in the Abruzzi, when the distant Sulmona, the 
birthplace of Ovid, was pointed out to him, he saluted the spot and 
returned thanks to its tutelary genius. It gladdened him to make good 
the prophecy of the great poet as to his future fame. Once indeed, at 
his famous entry into the conquered city of Naples (1443) he himself 
chose to appear before the world in ancient style. Not far from the 
market a breach forty ells wide was made in the wall, and through this 
he drove in a gilded chariot like a Roman Triumphator. The memory of 
the scene is preserved by a noble triumphal arch of marble in the 
Castello Nuovo. His Neapolitan successors inherited as little of this 
passion for antiquity as of his other good qualities.

Alfonso was far surpassed in learning by Federigo of Urbino, who had 
but few courtiers around him, squandered nothing, and in his 
appropriation of antiquity, as in all other things, went to work 
considerately. It was for him and for Nicholas V that most of the 
translations from the Greek, and a number of the best commentaries and 
other such works, were written. He spent much on the scholars whose 
services he used, but spent it to good purpose. There were no traces of 
a poets' court at Urbino, where the Duke himself was the most learned 
in the whole court. Classical antiquity, indeed, only formed a part of 
his culture. An accomplished ruler, captain, and gentleman, he had 
mastered the greater part of the science of the day, and this with a 
view to its practical application. As a theologian, he was able to 
compare Scotus with Aquinas, and was familiar with the writings of the 
old Fathers of the Eastern and Western Churches, the former in Latin 
translations. In philosophy, he seems to have left Plato altogether to 
his contemporary Cosimo, but he knew thoroughly not only the Ethics and 
Politics of Aristotle but the Physics and some other works. The rest of 
his reading lay chiefly among the ancient historians, all of whom he 
possessed; these, and not the poets, 'he was always reading and having 
read to him.'

The Sforza, too, were all of them men of more or less learning and 
patrons of literature; they have been already referred to in passing. 
Duke Francesco probably looked on humanistic culture as a matter of 
course in the education of his children, if only for political reasons. 
It was felt universally to be an advantage if a prince could mix with 
the most instructed men of his time on an equal footing. Lodovico il 
Moro, himself an excellent Latin scholar, showed an interest in 
intellectual matters which extended far beyond classical antiquity.

Even the petty rulers strove after similar distinctions, and we do them 
injustice by thinking that they only supported the scholars at their 
courts as a means of diffusing their own fame. A ruler like Borso of 
Ferrara, with all his vanity, seems by no means to have looked for 
immortality from the poets, eager as they were to propitiate him with a 
'Borseid' and the like. He had far too proud a sense of his own 
position as a ruler for that. But intercourse with learned men, 
interest in antiquarian matters, and the passion for elegant Latin 
correspondence were necessities for the princes of that age. What 
bitter complaints are those of Duke Alfonso, competent as he was in 
practical matters, that his weakliness in youth had forced him to seek 
recreation in manual pursuits only! or was this merely an excuse to 
keep the humanists at a distance? A nature like his was not 
intelligible even to contemporaries.

Even the most insignificant despots of Romagna found it hard to do 
without one or two men of letters about them. The tutor and secretary 
were often one and the same person, who sometimes, indeed, acted as a 
kind of court factotum. We are apt to treat the small scale of these 
courts as a reason for dismissing them with a too ready contempt, 
forgetting that the highest spiritual things are not precisely matters 
of measurement.

Life and manners at the court of Rimini must have been a singular 
spectacle under the bold pagan Condottiere Sigismondo Malatesta. He had 
a number of scholars around him, some of whom he provided for 
liberally, even giving them landed estates, while others earned at 
least a livelihood as officers in his army. In his citadel--'arx 
Sismundea'--they used to hold discussions, often of a very venomous 
kind, in the presence of the 'rex,' as they termed him. In their Latin 
poems they sing his praises and celebrate his amour with the fair 
Isotta, in whose honour and as whose monument the famous rebuilding of 
San Francesco at Rimini took place 'Divae Isottae Sacrum.' When the 
humanists themselves came to die, they were laid in or under the 
sarcophagi with which the niches of the outside walls of the church 
were adorned, with an inscription testifying that they were laid here 
at the time when Sigismundus, the son of Pandulfus, ruled. It is hard 
for us nowadays to believe that a monster like this prince felt 
learning and the friendship of cultivated people to be a necessity of 
life; and yet the man who excommunicated him, made war upon him, and 
burnt him in effigy, Pope Pius II, says: 'Sigismondo knew history and 
had a great store of philosophy; he seemed born to all that he 

Propagators of Antiquity

We have here first to speak of those citizens, mostly Florentines, who 
made antiquarian interests one of the chief objects of their lives, and 
who were themselves either distinguished scholars, or else 
distinguished _dilettanti_ who maintained the scholars. They were of 
peculiar significance during the period of transition at the beginning 
of the fifteenth century, since it was in them that humanism first 
showed itself practically as an indispensable element in daily life. It 
was not till after this time that the popes and princes began seriously 
to occupy themselves with it. 

Niccolò Niccoli and Giannozzo Manetti have been already spoken of more 
than once. Niccoli is described to us by Vespasiano as a man who would 
tolerate nothing around him out of harmony with his own classical 
spirit. His handsome long-robed figure, his kindly speech, his house 
adorned with the noblest remains of antiquity, made a singular 
impression. He was scrupulously cleanly in everything, most of all at 
table, where ancient vases and crystal goblets stood before him on the 
whitest linen. The way in which he won over a pleasure-loving young 
Florentine to intellectual interests is too charming not to be here 
described. Piero de' Pazzi, son of a distinguished merchant, and 
himself destined to the same calling, fair to behold, and much given to 
the pleasures of the world, thought about anything rather than 
literature. One day, as he was passing the Palazzo del Podestà, Niccolò 
called the young man to him, and although they had never before 
exchanged a word, the youth obeyed the call of one so respected. 
Niccolò asked him who his father was. He answered, 'Messer Andrea de' 
Pazzi'. When he was further asked what his pursuit was, Piero replied, 
as young people are wont to do, 'I enjoy myself' ('attendo a darmi buon 
tempo'). Niccolò said to him, 'As son of such a father, and so fair to 
look upon, it is a shame that thou knowest nothing of the Latin 
language, which would be so great an ornament to thee. If thou learnest 
it not, thou wilt be good for nothing, and as soon as the flower of 
youth is over, wilt be a man of no consequence' (_virtù_). When Piero 
heard this, he straightway perceived that it was true, and said that he 
would gladly take pains to learn, if only he had a teacher. Whereupon 
Niccolò answered that he would see to that. And he found him a learned 
man for Latin and Greek, named Pontano, whom Piero treated as one of 
his own house, and to whom he paid 100 gold florins a year. Quitting 
all the pleasures in which he had hitherto lived, he studied day and 
night, and became a friend of all learned men and a noble-minded 
statesman. He learned by heart the whole AEneid and many speeches of 
Livy, chiefly on the way between Florence and his country house at 
Trebbio. Antiquity was represented in another and higher sense by 
Giannozzo Maneeti (1393-1459). Precocious from his first years, he was 
hardly more than a child when he had finished his apprenticeship in 
commerce, and became book-keeper in a bank. But soon the life he led 
seemed to him empty and perishable, and he began to yearn after 
science, through which alone man can secure immortality. He then busied 
himself with books as few laymen had done before him, and became, as 
has been said, one of the most profound scholars of his time. When 
appointed by the government as its representative magistrate and tax-
collector at Pescia and Pistoia, he furfilled his duties in accordance 
with the lofty ideal with which his religious feeling and humanistic 
studies combined to inspire him. He succeeded in collecting the most 
unpopular taxes which the Florentine State imposed, and declined 
payment for his services. As provincial governor he refused all 
presents, abhorred all bribes, checked gambling, kept the country well 
supplied with corn, was indefatigable in settling law-suits amicably, 
and did wonders in calming inflamed passions by his goodness. The 
Pistoiese were never able to discover to which of the two political 
parties he leaned. As if to symbolize the common rights and interests 
of all, he spent his leisure hours in writing the history of the city, 
which was preserved, bound in a purple cover, as a sacred relic in the 
town hall. When he took his leave the city presented him with a banner 
bearing the municipal arms and a splendid silver helmet. 

For further information as to the learned citizens of Florence at this 
period the reader must all the more be referred to Vespasiano, who knew 
them all personally, because the tone and atmosphere in which he 
writes, and the terms and conditions on which he mixed in their 
society, are of even more importance than the facts which he records. 
Even in a translation, and still more in the brief indications to which 
we are here compelled to limit ourselves, this chief merit of his book 
is lost. Without being a great writer, he was thoroughly familiar with 
the subject he wrote on, and had a deep sense of its intellectual 

If we seek to analyse the charm which the Medici of the fifteenth 
century, especially Cosimo the Elder (d. 1464) and Lorenzo the 
Magnificent (d. 1492) exercised over Florence and over all their 
contemporaries, we shall find that it lay less in their political 
capacity than in their leadership in the culture of the age. A man in 
Cosimo's position -- a great merchant and party leader, who also had on 
his side all the thinkers, writers and investigators, a man who was the 
first of the Florentines by birth and the first of the Italians by 
culture -- such a man was to all intents and purposes already a prince. 
To Cosimo belongs the special glory of recognizing in the Platonic 
philosophy the fairest flower of the ancient world of thought, of 
inspiring his friends with the same belief, amd thus of fostering 
within humanistic circles themselves another and a higher resuscitation 
of antiquity. The story is known to us minutely. It all hangs on the 
calling of the learned Johannes Argyropulos, and on the personal 
enthusiasm of Cosimo himself in his last years, which was such, that 
the great Marsilio Ficino could style himself, as far as Platonism was 
concerned, the spiritual son of Cosimo. Under Pietro Medici, Ficino was 
already at the head of a school; to him Pietro's son and Cosimo's 
grandson, the illustrious Lorenzo, came over from the Peripatetics. 
Among his most distinguished fellow-scholars were Bartolommeo Valori, 
Donato Acciaiuoli, and Pierfilippo Pandolfini. The enthusiastic teacher 
declares in several passages of his writings that Lorenzo had sounded 
all the depths of the Platonic philosophy, and had uttered his 
conviction that without Plato it would be hard to be a good Christian 
or a good citizen. The famous band of scholars which surrounded Lorenzo 
was united together, and distinguished from all other circles of the 
kind, by this passion for a higher and idealistic philosophy. Only in 
such a world could a man like Pico della Mirandola feel happy. But 
perhaps the best thing of all that can be said about it is, that, with 
all this worship of antiquity, Italian poetry found here a sacred 
refuge, and that of all the rays of light which streamed from the 
circle of which Lorenzo was the centre, none was more powerful than 
this. As a statesman, let each man judge him as he pleases; a foreigner 
will hesitate to pronounce what was due to human guilt and what to 
circumstances in the fate of Florence, but no more unjust charge was 
ever made than that in the field of culture Lorenzo was the protector 
of mediocrity, that through his fault Leonardo da Vinci and the 
mathematician Fra Luca Pacioli lived abroad, and that Toscanella, 
Vespucci, and others at least remained unsupported. He was not, indeed, 
a man of universal mind; but of all the great men who have striven to 
favour and promote spiritual interests, few certainly have been so 
many-sided, and in none probably was the inward need to do so equally 

The age in which we live is loud enough in proclaiming the worth of 
culture, and especially of the culture of antiquity. But the 
enthusiastic devotion to it, the recognition that the need of it is the 
first and greatest of all needs, is nowhere to be found in such a 
degree as among the Florentines of the fifteenth and the early part of 
the sixteenth centuries. On this point we have indirect proof which 
precludes all doubt. It would not have been so common to give the 
daughters of the house a share in the same studies, had they not been 
held to be the noblest of earthly pursuits; exile would not have been 
turned into a happy retreat, as was done by Palla Strozzi; nor would 
men who indulged in every conceivable excess have retained the strength 
and the spirit to write critical treatises on the 'Natural History' of 
Pliny like Filippo Strozzi. Our business here is not to deal out either 
praise or blame, but to understand the spirit of the age in all its 
vigorous individuality. 

Besides Florence, there were many cities of Italy where individuals and 
social circles devoted all their energies to the support of humanism 
and the protection of the scholars who lived among them. The 
correspondence of that period is full of references to personal 
relations of this kind. The feeling of the instructed classes set 
strongly and almost exclusively in this direction. 

But it is now time to speak of humanism at the Italian courts. The 
natural alliance between the despot and the scholar, each relying 
solely on his personal talent, has already been touched upon; that the 
latter should avowedly prefer the princely courts to the free cities, 
was only to be expected from the higher pay which they there received. 
At a time when the great Alfonso of Aragon seemed likely to become 
master of all Italy, AEneas Sylvius wrote to another citizen of Siena: 
'I had rather that Italy attained peace under his rule than under that 
of the free cities, for kingly generosity rewards excellence of every 
kind'. Too much stress has latterly been laid on the unworthy side of 
this relation, and the mercenary flattery to which it gave rise, just 
as formerly the eulogies of the humanists led to a too favourable 
judgement on their patrons. Taking all things together, it is greatly 
to the honour of the latter that they felt bound to place themselves at 
the head of the culture of their age and country, one-sided though this 
culture was. In some of the popes, the fearlessness of the consequences 
to which the new learning might lead strikes us as something truly, but 
unconsciously, imposing. Nicholas V was confident of the future of the 
Church, since thousands of learned men supported her. Pius II was far 
from making such splendid sacrifices for humanism as were made by 
Nicholas, and the poets who frequented his court were few in number; 
but he himself was much more the personal head of the republic of 
letters than his predecessor, and enjoyed his position without the 
least misgiving. Paul II was the first to dread and mistrust the 
culture of his secretaries, and his three successors, Sixtus, Innocent, 
and Alexander, accepted dedications and allowed themselves to be sung 
to the hearts' content of the poets -- there even existed a 'Borgiad', 
probably in hexameters -- but were too busy elsewhere, and too occupied 
in seeking other foundations for their power, to trouble themselves 
much about the poet-scholars. Julius II found poets to eulogize him, 
because he himself was no mean subject for poetry, but he does not seem 
to have troubled himself much about them. He was followed by Leo X, 'as 
Romulus by Numa' -- in other words after the warlike turmoil of the 
first pontificate, a new one was hoped for wholly given to the muses. 
The enjoyment of elegant Latin prose and melodious verse was part of 
the programme of Leo's life, and his patronage certainly had the result 
that his Latin poets have left us a living picture of that joyous and 
brilliant spirit of the Leonine days, with which the biography of 
Jovius is filled, in countless epigrams, elegies, odes, and orations. 
Probably in all European history there is no prince who, in proportion 
to the few striking events of his life, has received such manifold 
homage. The poets had access to him chiefly about noon, when the 
musicians had ceased playing; but one of the best among them tells us 
how they also pursued him when he walked in his garden or withdrew to 
the privacy of his chamber, and if they failed to catch him there, 
would try to win him with a mendicant ode or elegy, filled, as usual, 
with the whole population of Olympus. For Leo, prodigal of his money, 
and disliking to be surrounded by any but cheerful faces, displayed a 
generosity in his gifts which was fabulously exaggerated in the hard 
times that followed. His reorganization of the Sapienza has been 
already spoken of. In order not to underrate Leo's influence on 
humanism we must guard against being misled by the toy-work that was 
mixed up with it, and must not allow ourselves to be deceived by the 
apparent irony with which he himself sometimes treated these matters. 
Our judgement must rather dwell on the countless spiritual 
possibilities which are included in the word 'stimulus', and which, 
though they cannot be measured as a whole, can still, on closer study, 
be actually followed out in particular cases. Whatever influence in 
Europe the Italian humanists have had since 1520 depends in some way or 
other on the impulse which was given by Leo. He was the Pope who in 
granting permission to print the newly found Tacitus, could say that 
the great writers were a rule of life and a consolation in misfortune; 
that helping learned men and obtaining excellent books had ever been 
one of his highest aims; and that he now thanked heaven that he could 
benefit the human race by furthering the publication of this book. 

The sack of Rome in the year 1527 scattered the scholars no less than 
the artists in every direction, and spread the fame of the great 
departed Maecenas to the farthest boundaries of Italy. 

Among the secular princes of the fifteenth century, none displayed such 
enthusiasm for antiquity as Alfonso the Great of Aragon, King of 
Naples. It appears that his zeal was thoroughly unaffected, and that 
the monuments and writings of the ancient world made upon him from the 
time of his arrival in Italy, an impression deep and powerful enough to 
reshape his life. With strange readiness he surrendered the stubborn 
Aragon to his brother, and devoted himself wholly to his new 
possessions. He had in his service, either successively or together, 
George of Trebizond, the younger Chrysoloras, Lorenzo Valla, 
Bartolommeo Facio and Antonio Panormita, of whom the two latter were 
his historians; Panormita daily instructed the King and his court in 
Livy, even during military expeditions. These men cost him yearly 
20,000 gold florins. He gave Panormita 1,000 for his work: Facio 
received for the 'Historia Alfonsi', besides a yearly income of 500 
ducats, a present of 1,500 more when it was finished, with the words, 
'It is not given to pay you, for your work would not be paid for if I 
gave you the fairest of my cities; but in time I hope to satisfy you'. 
When he took Giannozzo Manetti as his secretary on the most brilliant 
conditions, he said to him, 'My last crust I will share with you'. When 
Giannozzo first came to bring the congratulations of the Florentine 
government on the marriage of Prince Ferrante, the impression he made 
was so great, that the King sat motionless on the throne, 'like a 
brazen statue, and did not even brush away a fly, which had settled on 
his nose at the beginning of the oration'. His favourite haunt seems to 
have been the library of the castle at Naples, where he would sit at a 
window overlooking the bay, and listen to learned debates on the 
Trinity. For he was profoundly religious, and had the Bible, as well as 
Livy and Seneca, read to him, till after fourteen perusals he knew it 
almost by heart. Who can fully understand the feeling with which he 
regarded the supposititious remains of Livy at Padua? When, by dint of 
great entreaties, he obtained an arm-bone of the skeleton from the 
Venetians, and received it with solemn pomp at Naples, how strangely 
Christian and pagan sentiment must have been blended in his heart! 
During a campaign in the Abruzzi, when the distant Sulmona, the 
birthplace of Ovid, was pointed out to him, he saluted the spot and 
returned thanks to its tutelary genius. It gladdened him to make good 
the prophecy of the great poet as to his future fame. Once indeed, at 
his famous entry into the conquered city of Naples (1443) he himself 
chose to appear before the world in ancient style. Not far from the 
market a breach forty ells wide was made in the wall, and through this 
he drove in a gilded chariot like a Roman Triumphator. The memory of 
the scene is preserved by a noble triumphal arch of marble in the 
Castello Nuovo. His Neapolitan successors inherited as little of this 
passion for antiquity as of his other good qualities. 

Alfonso was far surpassed in learning by Federigo of Urbino, who had 
but few courtiers around him, squandered nothing, and in his 
appropriation of antiquity, as in all other things, went to work 
considerately. It was for him and for Nicholas V that most of the 
translations from the Greek, and a number of the best commentaries and 
other such works, were written. He spent much on the scholars whose 
services he used, but spent it to good purpose. There were no traces of 
the official poet at Urbino, where the Duke himself was the most 
learned in the whole court. Classical antiquity, indeed, only formed a 
part of his culture. An accomplished ruler, captain, and gentleman, he 
had mastered the greater part of the science of the day, and this with 
a view to its practical application. As a theologian, he was able to 
compare Scotus with Aquinas, and was familiar with the writings of the 
old fathers of the Eastern and Western Churches, the former in Latin 
translations. In philosophy, he seems to have left Plato altogether to 
his contemporary Cosimo, but he knew thoroughly not only the 'Ethics' 
and 'Politics' of Aristotle but the 'Physics' and some other works. The 
rest of his reading lay chiefly among the ancient historians, all of 
whom he possessed; these, and not the poets, 'he was always reading and 
having read to him'. 

The Sforza, too, were all of them men of more or less learning and 
patrons of literature; they have been already referred to in passing. 
Duke Francesco probably looked on humanistic culture as a matter of 
course in the education of his children, if only for political reasons. 
It was felt universally to be an advantage if the Prince could mix with 
the most instructed men of his time on an equal footing. Lodovico il 
Moro, himself an excellent Latin scholar, showed an interest in 
intellectual matters which extended far beyond classical antiquity. 

Even the petty despots strove after similar distinctions, and we do 
them injustice by thinking that they only supported the scholars at 
their courts as a means of diffusing their own fame. A ruler like Borso 
of Ferrara, with all his vanity, seems by no means to have looked for 
immortality from the poets, eager as they were to propitiate him with a 
'Borseid' and the like. He had far too proud a sense of his own 
position as a ruler for that. But intercourse with learned men, 
interest in antiquarian matters, and the passion for elegant Latin 
correspondence were necessities for the princes of that age. What 
bitter complaints are those of Duke Alfonso, competent as he was in 
practical matters, that his weakliness in youth had forced him to seek 
recreation in manual pursuits only! or was this merely an excuse to 
keep the humanists at a distance? A nature like his was not 
intelligible even to contemporaries. 

Even the most insignificant despots of Romagna found it hard to do 
without one or two men of letters about them. The tutor and secretary 
were often one and the same person, who sometimes, indeed, acted as a 
kind of court factotum. We are apt to treat the small scale of these 
courts as a reason for dismissing them with a too ready contempt, 
forgetting that the highest spiritual things are not precisely matters 
of measurement. 

Life and manners at the court of Rimini must have been a singular 
spectacle under the bold pagan Condottiere Sigismondo Malatesta. He had 
a number of scholars around him, some of whom he provided for 
liberally, even giving them landed estates, while others earned at 
least a livelihood as officers in his army. In his citadl -- 'arx 
Sismundea' -- they used to hold discussions, often of a very venomous 
kind, in the presence of the 'rex', as they termed him. In their Latin 
poems they sing his praises and celebrate his amour with the fair 
Isotta, in whose honour and as whose monument the famous rebuilding of 
San Francesco at Rimini took place -- 'Divae Isottae Sacrum'. When the 
humanists themselves came to die, they were laid in or under the 
sarcophagi with which the niches of the outside walls of the church 
were adorned, with an inscription testifying that they were laid here 
at the time when Sigismundus, the son of Pandulfus, ruled. It is hard 
for us nowadays to believe that a monster like this prince felt 
learning and the friendship of cultivated people to be a necessity of 
life; and yet the man who excommunicated hirn, made war upon him, and 
burnt him in effigy, Pope Pius II, says: 'Sigismondo knew history and 
had a great store of philosophy; he seemed born to all that he 

Propagators of Antiquity; Epistolography: Latin Orators

There were two purposes, however, for which the humanist was as 
indispensable to the republics as to princes or popes, namely, the 
official correspondence of the State, and the making of speeches on 
public and solemn occasions.

Not only was the secretary required to be a competent Latinist, but 
conversely, only a humanist was credited with the knowledge and ability 
necessary for the post of secretary. And thus the greatest men in the 
sphere of science during the fifteenth century mostly devoted a 
considerable part of their lives to serve the State in this capacity. 
No importance was attached to a man's home or origin. Of the four great 
Florentine secretaries who filled the office between 1427 and 1465, 
three belonged to the subject city of Arezzo, namely, Leonardo (Bruni), 
Carlo (Marzuppini), and Benedetto Accolti; Poggio was from Terra Nuova, 
also in Florentine territory. For a long period, indeed, many of the 
highest offices of State were on principle given to foreigners. 
Leonardo, Poggio, and Giannozzo Manetti were at one time or another 
private secretaries to the popes, and Carlo Aretino was to have been 
so. Biondo of Forli, and, in spite of everything, at last even Lorenzo 
Valla, filled the same office. From the time of Nicholas V and Pius II 
onwards, the Papal chancery continued more and more to attract the 
ablest men, and this was still the case even under the last popes of 
the fifteenth century, little as they cared for letters. In Platina's 
'History of the Popes,' the life of Paul II is a charming piece of 
vengeance taken by a humanist on the one Pope who did not know how to 
behave to his chancery--to that circle 'of poets and orators who 
bestowed on the Papal court as much glory as they received from it.' It 
is delightful to see the indignation of these haughty gentlemen, when 
some squabble about precedence happened, when, for instance, the 
'Advocati consistoriales' claimed equal or superior rank to theirs. The 
Apostle John, to whom the 'Secreta caelestia' were revealed; the 
secretary of Porsenna, whom Mucius Scaevola mistook for the king; 
Maecenas, who was private secretary to Augustus; the archbishops, who 
in Germany were called chancellors, are all appealed to in turn. 'The 
apostolic secretaries have the most weighty business of the world in 
their hands. For who but they decide on matters of the Catholic faith, 
who else combat heresy, re-establish peace, and mediate between great 
monarchs; who but they write the statistical accounts of Christendom? 
It is they who astonish kings, princes, and nations by what comes forth 
from the Pope. They write commands and instructions for the legates, 
and receive their orders only from the Pope, on whom they wait day and 
night.' But the highest summit of glory was only attained by the two 
famous secretaries and stylists of Leo X: Pietro Bembo and Jacopo 

All the chanceries did not turn out equally elegant documents. A 
leathern official style, in the impurest of Latin, was very common. In 
the Milanese documents preserved by Corio there is a remarkable 
contrast between this sort of composition and the few letters written 
by members of the princely house, which must have been written, too, in 
moments of critical importance. They are models of pure Latinity. To 
maintain a faultless style under all circumstances was a rule of good 
breeding, and a result of habit.

The letters of Cicero, Pliny, and others, were at this time diligently 
studied as models. As early as the fifteenth century a great mass of 
manuals and models for Latin correspondence had appeared (as off-shoots 
of the great grammatical and lexicographic works), a mass which is 
astounding to us even now when we look at them in the libraries. But 
just as the existence of these helps tempted many to undertake a task 
to which they had no vocation, so were the really capable men 
stimulated to a more faultless excellence, till at length the letters 
of Politian, and at the beginning of the sixteenth century those of 
Pietro Bembo, appeared, and took their place as unrivalled 
masterpieces, not only of Latin style in general, but also of the more 
special art of letter-writing.

Together with these there appeared in the sixteenth century the 
classical style of Italian correspondence, at the head of which stands 
Bembo again. Its form is wholly modern, and deliberately kept free from 
Latin influence, and yet its spirit is thoroughly penetrated and 
possessed by the ideas of antiquity.

But at a time and among a people where 'listening' was among the chief 
pleasures of life, and where every imagination was filled with the 
memory of the Roman senate and its great speakers, the orator occupied 
a far more brilliant place than the letter-writer. Eloquence had shaken 
off the influence of the Church, in which it had found a refuge during 
the Middle Ages, and now became an indispensable element and ornament 
of all elevated lives. Many of the social hours which are now filled 
with music were then given to Latin or Italian oratory, with results 
which every reader can imagine.

The social position of the speaker was a matter of perfect 
indifference; what was desired was simply the most cultivated 
humanistic talent. At the court of Borso of Ferrara, the Duke's 
physician, Girolamo da Castello, was chosen to deliver the 
congratulatory address on the visits of Frederick III and of Pius II. 
Married laymen ascended the pulpits of the churches at any scene of 
festivity or mourning) and even on the feastdays of the saints. It 
struck the non-Italian members of the Council of Basle as something 
strange that the Archbishop of Milan should summon Aeneas Sylvius, who 
was then unordained, to deliver a public discourse at the feast of 
Saint Ambrose; but they suffered it in spite of the murmurs of the 
theologians, and listened to the speaker with the greatest curiosity.

Let us glance for a moment at the most frequent and important occasions 
of public speaking.

It was not for nothing, in the first place, that the ambassadors from 
one State to another received the title of orators. Whatever else might 
be done in the way of secret negotiation, the envoy never failed to 
make a public appearance and deliver a public speech, under 
circumstances of the greatest possible pomp and ceremony. As a rule, 
however numerous the embassy might be, one individual spoke for all; 
but it happened to Pius II, a critic before whom all were glad to be 
heard, to be forced to sit and listen to a whole deputation, one after 
another. Learned princes who had the gift of speech were themselves 
fond of discoursing in Latin or Italian. The children of the House of 
Sforza were trained to this exercise. The boy Galeazzo Maria delivered 
in 1455 a fluent speech before the Great Council at Venice, and his 
sister Ippolita saluted Pope Pius II with a graceful address at the 
Congress of Mantua (1459). Pius himself through all his life did much 
by his oratory to prepare the way for his final elevation to the Papal 
chair. Great as he was both as scholar and diplomatist, he would 
probably never have become Pope without the fame and the charm of his 
eloquence. 'For nothing was more lofty than the dignity of his 
oratory.' Without doubt this was a reason why multitudes held him to be 
the fittest man for the office even before his election.

Princes were also commonly received on public occasions with speeches, 
which sometimes lasted for hours. This happened of course only when the 
prince was known as a lover of eloquence, or wished to pass for such, 
and when a competent speaker was present, whether university professor, 
official, ecclesiastic, physician, or court-scholar. Every other 
political opportunity was seized with the same eagerness, and according 
to the reputation of the speaker, the concourse of the lovers of 
culture was great or small. At the yearly change of public officers, 
and even at the consecration of new bishops, a humanist was sure to 
come forward, and sometimes addressed his audience in hexameters or 
Sapphic verses. Often a newly appointed official was himself forced to 
deliver a speech more or less relevant to his department, as, for 
instance, on justice; and lucky for him if he were well up in his part! 
At Florence even the Condottieri, whatever their origin or education 
might be, were compelled to accommodate themselves to the popular 
sentiment, and on receiving the insignia of their office, were 
harangued before the assembled people by the most learned secretary of 
state. It seems that beneath or close to the Loggia de' Lanzi--the 
porch where the government was wont to appear solemnly before the 
people a tribune or platform _(rostra, ringhiera) _was erected for such 

Anniversaries, especially those of the death of princes, were commonly 
celebrated by memorial speeches. Even the funeral oration strictly so 
called was generally entrusted to a humanist, who delivered it in 
church, clothed in a secular dress; nor was it only princes, but 
officials, or persons otherwise distinguished, to whom this honour was 
paid. This was also the case with the speeches delivered at weddings or 
betrothals, with the difference that they seem to have been made in the 
palace, instead of in church, like that of Filelfo at the betrothal of 
Anna Sforza to Alfonso of Este in the castle of Milan. It is still 
possible that the ceremony may have taken place in the chapel of the 
castle. Private families of distinction no doubt also employed such 
wedding orators as one of the luxuries of high life. At Ferrara, 
Guarino was requested on these occasions to send some one or other of 
his pupils. The clergy performed only the purely religious ceremonies 
at weddings and funerals.

The academical speeches, both those made at the installation of a new 
teacher and at the opening of a new course of lectures were delivered 
by the professor himself, and treated as occasions of great rhetorical 
display. The ordinary university lectures also usually had an 
oratorical character.

With regard to forensic eloquence, the quality of the audience 
determined the form of speech. In case of need it was enriched with all 
sorts of philosophical and antiquarian learning.

As a special class of speeches we may mention the address made in 
Italian on the battlefield, either before or after the combat. Federigo 
of Urbino was esteemed a classic in this style; he used to pass round 
among his squadrons as they stood drawn up in order of battle, 
inspiring them in turn with pride and enthusiasm. Many of the speeches 
in the military historians of the fifteenth century, as for instance in 
Porcellius, may be, in part at least, imaginary, but may be also in 
part faithful representations of words actually spoken. The addresses 
again which were delivered to the Florentine Militia, organized in 1506 
chiefly through the influence of Machiavelli, and which were spoken 
first at reviews, and afterwards at special annual festivals, were of 
another kind. They were simply general appeals to the patriotism of the 
hearers, and were addressed to the assembled troops in the church of 
each quarter of the city by a citizen in armor, sword in hand.

Finally, the oratory of the pulpit began in the fifteenth century to 
lose its distinctive peculiarities. Many of the clergy had entered into 
the circle of classical culture, and were ambitious of success in it. 
The street-preacher Bernardino da Siena, who even in his lifetime 
passed for a saint and who was worshipped by the populace, was not 
above taking lessons in rhetoric from the famous Guarino, although he 
had only to preach in Italian. Never indeed was more expected from 
preachers than at that time especially from the Lenten preachers; and 
there were not a few audiences which could not only tolerate, but which 
demanded a strong dose of philosophy from the pulpit. But we have here 
especially to speak of the distinguished occasional preachers in Latin. 
Many of their opportunities had been taken away from them, as has been 
observed, by learned laymen. Speeches on particular saints' days, at 
weddings and funerals, or at the installation of a bishop, and even the 
introductory speech at the first mass of a clerical friend, or the 
address at the festival of some religious order, were all left to 
laymen. But at all events at the Papal court in the fifteenth century, 
whatever the occasion might be, the preachers were generally monks. 
Under Sixtus IV, Giacomo da Volterra regularly enumerates these 
preachers, and criticizes them according to the rules of the art. Fedra 
Inghirami, famous as an orator under Julius II, had at least received 
holy orders and was canon at St. John Lateran; and besides him, elegant 
Latinists were now common enough among the prelates. In this matter, as 
in others, the exaggerated privileges of the profane humanists appear 
lessened in the sixteenth century on which point we shall presently 
speak more fully.

What now was the subject and general character of these speeches? The 
national gift of eloquence was not wanting to the Italians of the 
Middle Ages, and a so-called 'rhetoric' belonged from the first to the 
seven liberal arts; but so far as the revival of the ancient methods is 
concerned, this merit must be ascribed, according to Filippo Villani, 
to the Florentine Bruno Casini, who died of the plague in 1348. With 
the practical purpose of fitting his countrymen to speak with ease and 
effect in public, he treated, after the pattern of the ancients, 
invention, declamation, bearing, and gesticulation, each in its proper 
connection. Elsewhere too we read of an oratorical training directed 
solely to practical application. No accomplishment was more highly 
esteemed than the power of elegant improvisation in Latin. The growing 
study of Cicero's speeches and theoretical writings, of Quintilian and 
of the imperial panegyrists, the appearance of new and original 
treatises, the general progress of antiquarian learning, and the stores 
of ancient matter and thought which now could and must be drawn from, 
all combined to shape the character of the new eloquence.

This character nevertheless differed widely according to the 
individual. Many speeches breathe a spirit of true eloquence, 
especially those which keep to the matter treated of; of this kind is 
the mass of what is left to us of Pius II. The miraculous effects 
produced by Giannozzo Manetti point to an orator the like of whom has 
not been often seen. His great audiences as envoy before Nicholas V and 
before the Doge and Council of Venice were events not to be soon 
forgotten. Many orators, on the contrary, would seize the opportunity, 
not only to flatter the vanity of distinguished hearers, but to load 
their speeches with an enormous mass of antiquarian rubbish. How it was 
possible to endure this infliction for two and even three hours, can 
only be understood when we take into account the intense interest then 
felt in everything connected with antiquity, and the rarity and 
defectiveness of treatises on the subject at a time when printing was 
but little diffused. Such orations had at least the value which we have 
claimed for many of Petrarch's letters. But some speakers went too far. 
Most of Filelfo's speeches are an atrocious patchwork of classical and 
biblical quotations, tacked on to a string of commonplaces, among which 
the great people he wishes to flatter are arranged under the head of 
the cardinal virtues, or some such category, and it is only with the 
greatest trouble, in his case and in that of many others, that we can 
extricate the few historical no- tices of any value which they really 
contain. The speech, for instance, of a scholar and professor of 
Piacenza at the reception of the Duke Galeazzo Maria, in 1467, begins 
with Julius Caesar, then proceeds to mix up a mass of classical 
quotations with a number from an allegorical work by the speaker 
himself, and concludes with some exceedingly indiscreet advice to the 
ruler. Fortunately it was late at night, and the orator had to be 
satisfied with handing his written panegyric to the prince. Filelfo 
begins a speech at a betrothal with the words: 'Aristotle, the 
peripatetic.' Others start with P. Cornelius Scipio, and the like, as 
though neither they nor their hearers could wait a moment for a 
quotation. At the end of the fifteenth century public taste suddenly 
improved, chiefly through Florentine influence, and the practice of 
quotation was restricted within due limits. Many works of reference 
were now in existence, in which the first comer could find as much as 
he wanted of what had hitherto been the admiration of princes and 

As most of the speeches were written out beforehand in the study, the 
manuscripts served as a means of further publicity afterwards. The 
great extemporaneous speakers, on the other hand, were attended by 
shorthand writers. We must further remember that not all the orations 
which have come down to us were intended to be actually delivered. The 
panegyric, for example, of the elder Beroaldus on Lodovico il Moro was 
presented to him in manuscript. In fact, just as letters were written 
addressed to all conceivable persons and parts of the world as 
exercises, as formularies, or even to serve a controversial end, so 
there were speeches for imaginary occasions to be used as models for 
the reception of princes, bishops, and other dignitaries.

For oratory, as for the other arts, the death of Leo X (1521) and the 
sack of Rome (1527) mark the epoch of decadence. Giovio, but just 
escaped from the desolation of the eternal city, described, not 
impartially, but on the whole correctly, the causes of this decline: 
'The plays of Plautus and Terence, once a school of Latin style for the 
educated Romans, are banished to make room for Italian comedies. 
Graceful speakers no longer find the recognition and reward which they 
once did. The Consistorial advocates no longer prepare anything but the 
introductions to their speeches, and deliver the rest--a confused 
muddle--on the inspiration of the moment. Sermons and occasional 
speeches have sunk to the same level. If a funeral oration is wanted 
for a cardinal or other great personage, the executors do not apply to 
the best orators in the city, to whom they would have to pay a hundred 
pieces of gold, but they hire for a trifle the first impudent pedant 
whom they come across, and who only wants to be talked of, whether for 
good or ill. The dead, they say, is none the wiser if an ape stands in 
a black dress in the pulpit, and beginning with a hoarse, whimpering 
mumble, passes little by little into a loud howling. Even the sermons 
preached at great Papal ceremonies are no longer profitable, as they 
used to be. Monks of all orders have again got them into their hands, 
and preach as if they were speaking to the mob. Only a few years ago a 
sermon at mass before the Pope might easily lead the way to a 

The Treatise, and History in Latin

From the oratory and the epistolary writings of the humanists, we shall 
here pass on to their other creations, which were all, to a greater or 
less extent, reproductions of antiquity.

Among these must be placed the treatise, which often took the shape of 
a dialogue. In this case it was borrowed directly from Cicero. In order 
to do anything like justice to this class of literature--in order not 
to throw it aside at first sight as a bore two things must be taken 
into consideration. The century which escaped from the influence of the 
Middle Ages felt the need of something to mediate between itself and 
antiquity in many questions of morals and philosophy; and this need was 
met by the writer of treatises and dialogues. Much which appears to us 
as mere commonplace in their writings, was for them and their 
contemporaries a new and hard-won view of things upon which mankind had 
been silent since the days of antiquity. The language too, in this form 
of writing, whether Italian or Latin, moved more freely and flexibly 
than in historical narrative, in letters, or in oratory, and thus 
became in itself the source of a special pleasure. Several Italian 
compositions of this kind still hold their place as patterns of style. 
Many of these works have been, or will be mentioned on account of their 
contents; we here refer to them as a class. From the time of Petrarch's 
letters and treatises down to near the end of the fifteenth century, 
the heaping up of learned quotations, as in the case of the orators, is 
the main business of most of these writers. Subsequently the whole 
style, especially in Italian, was purified, until, in the 'Asolani' of 
Bembo, and the 'Vita Sobria' of Luigi Cornaro, a classical perfection 
was reached. Here too the decisive fact was this, that antiquarian 
matter of every kind had meantime begun to be deposited in encyclopedic 
works (now printed), and no longer stood in the way of the essayist.

It was inevitable too that the humanistic spirit should control the 
writing of history. A superficial comparison of the histories of this 
period with the earlier chronicles, especially with works so full of 
life, color, and brilliancy as those of the Villani, will lead us 
loudly to deplore the change. How insipid and conventional appear by 
their side the best of the humanists, and particularly their immediate 
and most famous successors among the historians of Florence, Leonardo 
Aretino and Poggio! The enjoyment of the reader is incessantly marred 
by the sense that, in the classical phrases of Fazio, Sabellico, 
Foglietta, Senarega, Platina in the chronicles of Mantua, Bembo in the 
annals of Venice, and even of Giovio in his histories, the best local 
and individual coloring and the full sincerity of interest in the truth 
of events have been lost. Our mistrust is increased when we hear that 
Livy, the pattern of this school of writers, was copied just where he 
is least worthy of imitation--on the ground, namely, 'that he turned a 
dry and walled tradition into grace and richness.' In the same place we 
meet with the suspicious declaration that it is the function of the 
historian-- just as if he were one with the poet--to excite, charm, or 
overwhelm the reader. We ask ourselves finally, whether the contempt 
for modern things, which these same humanists sometimes avowed openly, 
must not necessarily have had an unfortunate influence on their 
treatment of them. Unconsciously the reader finds himself looking with 
more interest and confidence on the unpretending Latin and Italian 
annalists, like those of Bologna and Ferrara, who remained true to the 
old style, and still more grateful does he feel to the best of the 
genuine chroniclers who wrote in Italian--to Marino Sanuto, Corio, and 
Infessura--who were followed at the beginning of the sixteenth century 
by that new and illustrious band of great national historians who wrote 
in their mother tongue.

Contemporary history, no doubt, was written far better in the language 
of the day than when forced into Latin. Whether Italian was also more 
suitable for the narrative of events long past, or for historical 
research, is a question which admits, for that period, of more answers 
than one. Latin was, at that time, the 'Lingua franca' of instructed 
people, not only in an international sense, as a means of intercourse 
between Englishmen, Frenchmen, and Italians, but also in an 
interprovincial sense. The Lombard, the Venetian, and the Neapolitan 
modes of writing, though long modelled on the Tuscan, and bearing but 
slight traces of the dialect were still not recognized by the 
Florentines. This was of less consequence in local contemporary 
histories, which were sure of readers at the place where they were 
written, than in the narratives of the past, for which a larger public 
was desired. In these the local interests of the people had to be 
sacrificed to the general interests of the learned. How far would the 
influence of a man like Biondo of Forli have reached if he had written 
his great monuments of learning in the dialect of the Romagna? They 
would have assuredly sunk into neglect, if only through the contempt of 
the Florentines, while written in Latin they exercised the profoundest 
influence on the whole European world of learning. And even the 
Florentines in the fifteenth century wrote Latin, not only because 
their minds were imbued with humanism, but in order to be more widely 

Finally, there exist certain Latin essays in contemporary history which 
stand on a level with the best Italian works of the kind. When the 
continuous narrative after the manner of Livy--that Procrustean bed of 
so many writers is abandoned, the change is marvelous. The same Platina 
and Giovio, whose great histories we only read because and so far as we 
must, suddenly come forward as masters in the biographical style. We 
have already spoken of Tristano Caracciolo, of the biographical works 
of Fazio and of the Venetian topography of Sabellico, and others will 
be mentioned in the sequel.

The Latin treatises on past history were naturally concerned, for the 
most part, with classical antiquity. What we are most surprised to find 
among these humanists are some considerable works on the history of the 
Middle Ages. The first of this kind was the chronicle of Matteo 
Palmieri (449-1449), beginning where Prosper Accedence ceases. On 
opening the 'Decades' of Biondo of Forli, we are surprised to find a 
universal history, 'ab inclinatione Romanorum imperii,' as in Gibbon, 
full of original studies on the authors of each century, and occupied, 
through the first 300 folio pages, with early mediaeval history down to 
the death of Frederick II. And this when in Northern countries nothing 
more was current than chronicles of the popes and emperors, and the 
'Fasciculus temporum.' We cannot here stay to show what writings Biondo 
made use of, and where he found his materials, though this justice will 
some day be done to him by the historians of literature. This book 
alone would entitle us to say that it was the study of antiquity which 
made the study of the Middle Ages possible, by first training the mind 
to habits of impartial historical criticism. To this must be added, 
that the Middle Ages were now over for Italy, and that the Italian mind 
could the better appreciate them, because it stood outside them. It 
cannot, nevertheless, be said that it at once judged them fairly, let 
alone with piety. In the arts a strong prejudice established itself 
against all that those centuries had created, and the humanists date 
the new era from the time of their own appearance. 'I begin,' says 
Boccaccio, 'to hope and believe that God has had mercy on the Italian 
name, since I see that His infinite goodness puts souls into the 
breasts of the Italians like those of the ancients souls which seek 
fame by other means than robbery and violence, but rather on the path 
of poetry, which makes men immortal.' But this narrow and unjust temper 
did not preclude investigation in the minds of the more gifted men, at 
a time, too, when elsewhere in Europe any such investigation would have 
been out of the question. A historical criticism of the Middle Ages was 
practicable, just because the rational treatment of all subjects by the 
humanists had trained the historical spirit. In the fifteenth century 
this spirit had so far penetrated the history even of the individual 
cities of Italy that the stupid fairy tales about the origin of 
Florence, Venice, and Milan vanished, while at the same time, and long 
after, the chronicles of the North were stuffed with this fantastic 
rubbish, destitute for the most part of all poetical value, and 
invented as late as the fourteenth century.

The close connection between local history and the sentiment of glory 
has already been touched on in reference to Florence. Venice would not 
be behindhand. Just as a great rhetorical triumph of the Florentines 
would cause a Venetian embassy to write home posthaste for an orator to 
be sent after them, so too the Venetians felt the need of a history 
which would bear comparison with those of Leonardo Aretino and Poggio. 
And it was to satisfy this feeling that, in the fifteenth century, the 
'Decades' of Sabellico appeared, and in the sixteenth the 'Historia 
rerum Venetarum' of Pietro Bembo, both written at the express charge of 
the republic, the latter a continuation of the former.

The great Florentine historians at the beginning of the sixteenth 
century were men of a wholly different kind from the Latinists Bembo 
and Giovio. They wrote Italian, not only because they could not vie 
with the Ciceronian elegance of the philologists, but because, like 
Machiavelli, they could only record in a living tongue the living 
results of their own immediate observations and we may add in the case 
of Machiavelli, of his observation of the past--and because, as in the 
case of Guicciardini, Varchi, and many others, what they most desired 
was, that their view of the course of events should have as wide and 
deep a practical effect as possible. Even when they only write for a 
few friends, like Francesco Vettori, they feel an inward need to utter 
their testimony on men and events, and to explain and justify their 
share in the latter.

And yet, with all that is characteristic in their language and style, 
they were powerfully affected by antiquity, and, without its influence, 
would be inconceivable. They were not humanists, but they had passed 
through the school of humanism and have in them more of the spirit of 
the ancient historians than most of the imitators of Livy. Like the 
ancients, they were citizens who wrote for citizens.

Antiquity as the Common Source

We cannot attempt to trace the influence of humanism in the special 
sciences. Each has its own history, in which the Italian investigators 
of this period, chiefly through their rediscovery of the results 
attained by antiquity, mark a new epoch, with which the modern period 
of the science in question begins with more or less distinctness. With 
regard to philosophy, too, we must refer the reader to the special 
historical works on the subject. The influence of the old philosophers 
on Italian culture will appear at times immense, at times 
inconsiderable; the former, when we consider how the doctrines of 
Aristotle, chiefly drawn from the Ethics and Politics--both widely 
diffused at an early period--became the common property of educated 
Italians, and how the whole method of abstract thought was governed by 
him; the latter, when we remember how slight was the dogmatic influence 
of the old philosophies, and even of the enthusiastic Florentine 
Platonists, on the spirit of the people at large. What looks like such 
an influence is generally no more than a consequence of the new culture 
in general, and of the special growth and development of the Italian 
mind. When we come to speak of religion, we shall have more to say on 
this head. But in by far the greater number of cases, we have to do, 
not with the general culture of the people with the utterances of 
individuals or of learned circles; and here, too, a distinction must be 
drawn between the true assimilation of ancient doctrines and 
fashionable make-believe. For with many, antiquity was only a fashion, 
even among very learned people.

Nevertheless, all that looks like affectation to our age, need not then 
have actually been so. The giving of Greek and Latin names to children, 
for example, is better and more respectable than the present practice 
of taking them, especially the female names, from novels. When the 
enthusiasm for the ancient world was greater than for the saints, it 
was simple and natural enough that noble families called their sons 
Agamemnon, Tydeus, and Achilles, and that a painter named his son 
Apelles and his daughter Minerva.58 Nor will it appear unreasonable 
that, instead of a family name, which people were often glad to get rid 
of, a well-sounding ancient name was chosen. A local name, shared by 
all residents in the place, and not yet transformed into a family name, 
was willingly given up, especially when its religious associations made 
it inconvenient. Filippo da San Gimignano called himself Callimachus. 
The man, mis- understood and insulted by his family, who made his 
fortune as a scholar in foreign cities, could afford, even if he were a 
Sanseverino, to change his name to Julius Pomponius Laetus. Even the 
simple translation of a name into Latin or Greek, as was almost 
uniformly the custom in Germany, may be excused to a generation which 
spoke and wrote Latin, and which needed names that could be not only 
declined, but used with facility in verse and prose. What was 
blameworthy and ridiculous was the change of half a name, baptismal or 
family, to give it a classical sound and a new sense. Thus Giovanni was 
turned into Jovianus or Janus, Pietro to Petreius or Pierius, Antonio 
to Aoniuss Sannazaro to Syncerus, Luca Grasso to Lucius Crassus. 
Ariosto, who speaks with such derision of all this, lived to see 
children called after his own heroes and heroines.

Nor must we judge too severely the latinization of many usages of 
social life, such as the titles of officials, of cere monies, and the 
like, in the writers of the period. As long as people were satisfied 
with a simple, fluent Latin style, as was the case with most writers 
from Petrarch to, Aeneas Sylvius, this practice was not so frequent and 
striking; it became inevitable when a faultless, Ciceronian Latin was 
demanded. Modern names and things no longer harmonized with the style, 
unless they were first artificially changed. Pedants found a pleasure 
in addressing municipal counsellors as 'Patres Conscripti,' nuns as 
'Virgines Vestales,' and entitling every saint 'Divus' or 'Deus'; but 
men of better taste, such as Paolo Giovio, only did so when and because 
they could not help it. But as Giovio does it naturally, and lays no 
special stress upon it, we are not offended if, in his melodious 
language, the cardinals appear as 'Senatores,' their dean as 'Princeps 
Senatus,' excommunication as 'Dirae,' and the carnival as 'Lupercalia.' 
The example of this author alone is enough to warn us against drawing a 
hasty inference from these peculiarities of style as to the writer's 
whole mode of thinking.

The history of Latin composition cannot here be traced in detail. For 
fully two centuries the humanists acted as if Latin were, and must 
remain, the only language worthy to be written. Poggio deplores that 
Dante wrote his great poem in Italian; and Dante, as is well known, 
actually made the attempt in Latin, and wrote the beginning of the 
'Inferno' first in hexameters. The whole future of Italian poetry hung 
on his not continuing in the same style, but even Petrarch relied more 
on his Latin poetry than on the Sonnets and 'Canzoni,' and Ariosto 
himself was desired by some to write his poem in Latin. A stronger 
coercion never existed in literature; but poetry shook it off for the 
most part, and it may be said, without the risk of too great optimism, 
that it was well for Italian poetry to have had both means of 
expressing itself. In both something great and characteristic was 
achieved, and in each we can see the reason why Latin or Italian was 
chosen. Perhaps the same may be said of prose. The position and 
influence of Italian culture throughout the world depended on the fact 
that certain subjects were treated in Latin--'urbi et orbi'--while 
Italian prose was written best of all by those to whom it cost an 
inward struggle not to write in Latin.

From the fourteenth century Cicero was recognized universally as the 
purest model of prose. This was by no means due solely to a 
dispassionate opinion in favour of his choice of language, of the 
structure of his sentences, and of his style of composition, but rather 
to the fact that the Italian spirit responded fully and instinctively 
to the amiability of the letter writer, to the brilliancy of the 
orator, and to the lucid exposition of the philosophical thinker. Even 
Petrarch recognized dearly the weakness of Cicero as a man and a 
statesman, though he respected him too much to rejoice over them. After 
Petrarch's time, the epistolary style was formed entirely on the 
pattern of Cicero; and the rest, with the exception of the narrative 
style, followed the same influence. Yet the true Ciceronianism, which 
rejected every phrase which could not be justified out of the great 
authority, did not appear till the end of the fifteenth century, when 
the grammatical writings of Lorenzo Valla had begun to tell on all 
Italy, and when the opinions of the Roman historians of literature had 
been sifted and compared. Then every shade of difference in the style 
of the ancients was studied with closer and doser attention till the 
consoling conclusion was at last reached that in Cicero alone was the 
perfect model to be found, or, if all forms of literature were to be 
embraced, in 'that immortal and almost heavenly age of Cicero.' Men 
like Pietro Bembo and Pierio Valeriano now turned all their energies to 
this one object. Even those who had long resisted the tendency, and had 
formed for themselves an archaic style from the earlier authors, 
yielded at last, and joined in the worship of Cicero. Longolius, at 
Bembo's advice, determined to read nothing but Cicero for five years 
long, and finally took an oath to use no word which did not occur in 
this author. It was this temper which broke out at last in the great 
war among the scholars, in which Erasmus and the elder Scaliger led the 

For all the admirers of Cicero were by no means so one-sided as to 
consider him the only source of language. In the fifteenth century, 
Politian and Ermolao Barbaro made a conscious and deliberate effort to 
form a style of their own, naturally on the basis of their 
'overflowing' learning, and our informant of this fact, Paolo Giovio, 
pursued the same end. He first attempted, not always successfully, but 
often with remarkable power and elegance, and at no small cost of 
effort, to reproduce in Latin a number of modern, particularly of 
aesthetic, ideas. His Latin characteristics of the great painters and 
sculptors of his time contain a mixture of the most intelligent and of 
the most blundering interpretation. Even Leo X, who placed his glory in 
the fact, 'ut lingua latina nostro pontificatu dicatur facta auctior,' 
was inclined to a liberal and not too exclusive Latinity, which, 
indeed, was in harmony with his pleasure-loving nature. He was 
satisfied if the Latin which he had to read and to hear was lively, 
elegant, and idiomatic. Then, too, Cicero offered no model for Latin 
conversation, so that here other gods had to be worshipped beside him. 
The want was supplied by representations of the comedies of Plautus and 
Terence, frequent both in and out of Rome, which for the actors were an 
incomparable exercise in Latin as the language of daily life. A few 
years later, in the pontificate of Paul II, the learned Cardinal of 
Teano (probably Niccolo Forteguerra of Pistoia) became famous for his 
critical labors in this branch of scholarship. He set to work upon the 
most defective plays of Plautus, which were destitute even of a list of 
the characters, and went carefully through the whole remains of this 
author, chiefly with an eye to the language. Possibly it was he who 
gave the first impulse for the public representations of these plays. 
Afterwards Pomponius Laetus took up the same subject, and acted as 
producer when Plautus was put on the stage in the houses of great 
churchmen. That these representations became less in common after 1520, 
is mentioned by Giovio, as we have seen, among the causes of the 
decline of eloquence.

We may mention, in conclusion, the analogy between Ciceronianism in 
literature and the revival of Vitruvius by the architects in the sphere 
of art. And here, too, the law holds good which prevails elsewhere in 
the history of the Renaissance, that each artistic movement is preceded 
by a corresponding movement in the general culture of the age. In this 
case, the interval is not more than about twenty years, if we reckon 
from Cardinal Adrian of Corneto (1505) to the first avowed Vitruvians.

Neo-Latin Poetry

The chief pride of the humanists is, however, their modern Latin 
poetry. It lies within the limits of our task to treat of it, at least 
in so far as it serves to characterize the humanistic movement.

How favourable public opinion was to that form of poetry, and how 
nearly it supplanted all others, has been already shown. We may be very 
sure that the most gifted and highly developed nation then existing in 
the world did not renounce the language such as the Italian out of mere 
folly and without knowing what they were doing. It must have been a 
weighty reason which led them to do so.

This cause was the devotion to antiquity. Like all ardent and genuine 
devotion it necessarily prompted men to imitation. At other times and 
among other nations we find many isolated attempts of the same kind. 
But only in Italy were the two chief conditions present which were 
needful for the continuance and development of neo-Latin poetry: a 
general interest in the subject among the instructed classes, and a 
partial re-awakening of the old Italian genius among the poets 
themselves--the wondrous echo of a far-off strain. The best of what is 
produced under these conditions is not imitation, but free production. 
If we decline to tolerate any borrowed forms in art, if we either set 
no value on antiquity at all, or attribute to it some magical and 
unapproachable virtue, or if we will pardon no slips in poets who were 
forced, for instance, to guess or to discover a multitude of syllabic 
quantities, then we had better let this class of literature alone. Its 
best works were not created in order to defy criticism, but to give 
pleasure to the poet and to thousands of his contemporaries.

The least success of all was attained by the epic narratives drawn from 
the history or legends of antiquity. The essential conditions of a 
living epic poetry were denied, not only to the Romans who now served 
as models, but even to the Greeks after Homer. They could not be looked 
for among the Latins of the Renaissance. And yet the 'Africa' of 
Petrarch probably found as many and as enthusiastic readers and hearers 
as any epos of modern times. Purpose and origin of the poem are not 
without interest. The fourteenth century recognized with sound 
historical sense that the time of the second Punic war had been the 
noonday of Roman greatness; and Petrarch could not resist writing of 
this time. Had Silius Italicus been then discovered, Petrarch would 
probably have chosen another subject; but as it was, the glorification 
of Scipio Africanus the Elder was so much in accordance with the spirit 
of the fourteenth century, that another poet, Zanobi di Strada, also 
proposed to himself the same task, and only from respect for Petrarch 
withdrew the poem with which he had already made great progress. If any 
justification were sought for the 'Africa,' it lies in the fact that in 
Petrarch's time and afterwards Scipio was as much an object of public 
interest as if he were then alive, and that he was regarded as greater 
than Alexander, Pompey, and Caesar. How many modern epics treat of a 
subject at once so popular, so historical in its basis, and so striking 
to the imagination? For us, it is true, the poem is unreadable. For 
other themes of the same kind the reader may be referred to the 
histories of literature.

A richer and more fruitful vein was discovered in expanding and 
completing the Greco-Roman mythology. In this too, Italian poetry began 
early to take a part, beginning with the 'Teseid' of Boccaccio, which 
passes for his best poetical work. Under Martin V, Maffeo Vegio wrote 
in Latin a thirteenth book to the, Aeneid; besides which we meet with 
many less considerable attempts, especially in the style of Claudian--a 
'Meleagris,' a 'Hesperis,' and so forth. Still more curious were the 
newly-invented myths, which peopled the fairest regions of Italy with a 
primeval race of gods, nymphs, genii, and even shepherds, the epic and 
bucolic styles here passing into one another. In the narrative or 
conversational eclogue after the time of Petrarch, pastoral life was 
treated in a purely conventional manner, as a vehicle of all possible 
feelings and fancies; and this point will be touched on again in the 
sequel.58 For the moment, we have only to do with the new myths. In 
them, more clearly than anywhere else, we see the double significance 
of the old gods to the men of the Renaissance. On the one hand, they 
replace abstract terms in poetry, and render allegorical figures 
superfluous; and, on the other, they serve as free and independent 
elements in art, as forms of beauty which can be turned to some account 
in any and every poem. The example was boldly set by Boccaccio, with 
his fanciful world of gods and shepherds who people the country round 
Florence in his 'Ninfale d'Ameto' and 'Ninfale Fiesolano.' Both these 
poems were written in Italian. But the masterpiece in this style was 
the 'Sarca' of Pietro Bembo, which tells how the river-god of that name 
wooed the nymph Garda; of the brilliant marriage feast in a cave of 
Monte Baldo; of the prophecies of Manto, daughter of Tiresias; of the 
birth of the child Mincius; of the founding of Mantua, and of the 
future glory of Virgil, son of Mincius and of Magia, nymph of Andes. 
This humanistic rococo is set forth by Bembo in verses of great beauty, 
concluding with .an address to Virgil, which any poet might envy him. 
Such works are often slighted as mere declamation. This is a matter of 
taste on which we are all free to form our own opinion.

Further, we find long epic poems in hexameters on biblical or 
ecclesiastical subjects. The authors were by no means always in search 
of preferment or of papal favour. With the best of them, and even with 
less gifted writers, like Battista Mantovano, the author of the 
'Parthenice,' there was probably an honest desire to serve religion by 
their Latin verses--a desire with which their half-pagan conception of 
Catholicism harmonized well enough. Gyraldus goes through a list of 
these poets, among whom Vida, with his 'Christiad' and Sannazaro, with 
his three books, 'De partu Virginis' hold the first place. Sannazaro 
(b. 1458, d. 1530) is impressive by the steady and powerful flow of his 
verse, in which Christian and pagan elements are mingled without 
scruple, by the plastic vigor of his description, and by the perfection 
of his workmanship. He could venture to introduce Virgil's fourth 
Eclogue into his song of the shepherds at the manger without fearing a 
comparison. In treating of the unseen world, he sometimes gives proofs 
of a boldness worthy of Dante, as when King David in the Limbo of the 
Patriarchs rises up to sing and prophesy, or when the Eternal, sitting 
on the throne clad in a mantle shining with pictures of all the 
elements, addresses the heavenly host. At other times he does not 
hesitate to weave the whole classical mythology into his subject, yet 
without spoiling the harmony of the whole, since the pagan deities are 
only accessory figures, and play no important part in the story. To 
appreciate the artistic genius of that age in all its bearings, we must 
not refuse to notice such works as these. The merit of Sannazaro will 
appear the greater, when we consider that the mixture of Christian and 
pagan elements is apt to disturb us much more in poetry than in the 
visual arts. The latter can still satisfy the eye by beauty of form and 
color, and in general are much more independent of the significance of 
the subject than poetry. With them, the imagination is interested 
chiefly in the form, with poetry, in the matter. Honest Battista 
Mantovano, in his calendar of the festivals, tried another expedient. 
Instead of making the gods and demigods serve the purposes of sacred 
history, he put them, as the Fathers of the Church did, in active 
opposition to it. When the angel Gabriel salutes the Virgin at 
Nazareth, Mercury flies after him from Carmel, and listens at the door. 
He then announces the result of his eavesdropping to the assembled 
gods, and stimulates them thereby to desperate resolutions. Elsewhere, 
it is true, in his writings, Thetis, Ceres, Aeolus, and other pagan 
deities pay willing homage to the glory of the Madonna.

The fame of Sannazaro, the number of his imitators, the enthusiastic 
homage which was paid to him by the greatest men, all show how dear and 
necessary he was to his age. On the threshold of the Reformation he 
solved for the Church the problem, whether it were possible for a poet 
to be a Christian as well as a classic; and both Leo and Clement were 
loud in their thanks for his achievements.

And, finally, contemporary history was now treated in hexameters or 
distichs, sometimes in a narrative and sometimes in a panegyrical 
style, but most commonly to the honour of some prince or princely 
family. We thus meet with a Sforziad, a Borseid, a Laurentiad, a 
Borgiad, a Trivulziad, and the like. The object sought after was 
certainly not attained; for those who became famous and are now 
immortal owe it to anything rather than to this sort of poems, for 
which the world has always had an ineradicable dislike, even when they 
happen to be written by good poets. A wholly different effect is 
produced by smaller, simpler and more unpretentious scenes from the 
lives of distinguished men, such as the beautiful poem on Leo X's 'Hunt 
at Palo,' or the 'Journey of Aulius II' by Adrian of Corneto. Brilliant 
descriptions of hunting-parties are found in Ercole Strozzi, in the 
above-mentioned Adrian, and in others; and it is a pity that the modern 
reader should allow himself to be irritated or repelled by the 
adulation with which they are doubtless filled. The masterly treatment 
and the considerable historical value of many of these most graceful 
poems guarantee to them a longer existence than many popular works of 
our own day are likely to attain.

In general, these poems are good in proportion to the sparing use of 
the sentimental and the general. Some of the smaller epic poems, even 
of recognized masters, unintentionally produce, by the ill-timed 
introduction of mythological elements, an impression that is 
indescribably ludicrous. Such, for instance, is the lament of Ercole 
Strozzi on Cesare Borgia. We there listen to the complaint of Roma, who 
had set all her hopes on the Spanish Popes, Calixtus III and Alexander 
VI, and who saw her promised deliverer in Cesare. His history is 
related down to the catastrophe of 1503. The poet then asks the Muse 
what were the counsels of the gods at that moment, and Erato tells how, 
upon Olympus, Pallas took the part of the Spaniards, Venus of the 
Italians, how both then embrace the knees of Jupiter, how thereupon he 
kisses them, soothes them, and explains to them that he can do nothing 
against the fate woven by the Parc, but that the divine promises will 
be fulfilled by the child of the House of Este-Borgia.60 After relating 
the fabulous origin of both families, he declares that he can confer 
immortality on Cesare as little as he could once, in spite of all 
entreaties, on Memnon or Achilles; and concludes with the consoling 
assurance that Cesare, before his own death, will destroy many people 
in war. Mars then hastens to Naples to stir up war and confusion, while 
Pallas goes to Nepi, and there appears to the dying Cesare under the 
form of Alexander VI. After giving him the good advice to submit to his 
fate and be satisfied with the glory of his name, the papal goddess 
vanishes 'like a bird.'

Yet we should needlessly deprive ourselves of an enjoyment which is 
sometimes very great, if we threw aside everything in which classical 
mythology plays a more or less appropriate part. Here, as in painting 
and sculpture, art has often ennobled what is in itself purely 
conventional. The beginnings of parody are also to be found by lovers 
of that class of literature, e.g. in the Macaroneid-- to which the 
comic Feast of the Gods, by Giovanni Bellini, forms an early parallel.

Many, too, of the narrative poems in hexameters are merely exercises, 
or adaptations of histories in prose, which latter the reader will 
prefer, where he can find them. At last, everything-- every quarrel and 
every ceremony--came to be put into verse, and this even by the German 
humanists of the Reformation. and yet it would be unfair to attribute 
this to mere want of occupation, or to an excessive facility in 
stringing verses together. In Italy, at all events, it was rather due 
to an abundant sense of style, as is further proved by the mass of 
contemporary reports, histories, and even pamphlets, in the 'terza 
rima.' Just as Niccolo da Uzzano published his scheme for a new 
constitution, Machiavelli his view of the history of his own time, a 
third, the life of Savonarola, and a fourth the siege of Piombino by 
Alfonso the Great, in this difficult meter, in order to produce a 
stronger effect, so did many others feel the need of hexameters, in 
order to win their special public. What was then tolerated and 
demanded, in this shape, is best shown by the didactic poetry of the 
time. Its popularity in the fifteenth century is something astounding. 
The most distinguished humanists were ready to celebrate in Latin 
hexameters the most commonplace, ridiculous, or disgusting themes, such 
as the making of gold, the game of chess, the management of silkworms, 
astrology, and venereal diseases _(morbus gallicus), _to say nothing of 
many long Italian poems of the same kind. Nowadays this class of poem 
is condemned unread, and how far, as a matter of fact, they are really 
worth the reading, we are unable to say. One thing is certain: epochs 
far above our own in the sense of beauty--the Renaissance and the 
Greco-Roman world--could not dispense with this form of poetry. It may 
be urged in reply, that it is not the lack of a sense of beauty, but 
the greater seriousness and the altered method of scientific treatment 
which renders the poetical form inappropriate, on which point it is 
unnecessary to enter.

One of these didactic works has been occasionally republished--the 
'Zodiac of Life,' by Marcellus Palingenius (Pier Angelo Manzolli), a 
secret adherent of Protestantism at Ferrara, written about 1528. With 
the loftiest .speculations on God, virtue, and immortality, the writer 
connects the discussion of many questions of practical life, and is, on 
this account, an authority of some weight in the history of morals. On 
the whole, however, his hi fruit of contrast, nor the 'burla,' for 
their subject; their aim is merely to give simple and elegant 
expression to wise sayings and pretty stories or fables. But if 
anything proves the great antiquity of the collection, it is precisely 
this absence of satire. For with the fourteenth century comes Dante, 
who, in the utterance of scorn, leaves all other poets in the world far 
behind, and who, if only on account of his great picture of the 
deceivers, must be called the chief master of colossal comedy. With 
Petrarch begin the collections of witty sayings after the pattern of 
Plutarch (Apophthegmata, etc.).

is no verbal imitation, in precisely the tone and style of the verses 
on Lesbia's sparrow. There are short poems of this sort, the date of 
which even a critic would be unable to fix, in the absence of positive 
evidence that they are works of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

On the other hand, we can find scarcely an ode in the Sapphic or Alcaic 
meter, which does not clearly betray its modern origin. This is shown 
mostly by a rhetorical verbosity, rare in antiquity before the time of 
Statius, and by a singular want of the lyrical concentration which is 
indispensable to this style of poetry. Single passages in an ode, 
sometimes two or three strophes together, may look like an ancient 
fragment; but a longer extract will seldom keep this character 
throughout. And where it does so, as, for instance, in the fine Ode to 
Venus, by Andrea Navagero, it is easy to detect a simple paraphrase of 
ancient masterpieces. Some of the ode-writers take the saints for their 
subject, and invoke them in verses tastefully modelled after the 
pattern of analogous odes of Horace and Catullus. This is the manner of 
Navagero, in the Ode to the Archangel Gabriel, and particularly of 
Sannazaro, who goes still further in his appropriation of pagan 
sentiment. He celebrates above all his patron saint, whose chapel was 
attached to his lovely villa on the shores of Posilippo, 'there where 
the waves of the sea drink up the stream from the rocks, and surge 
against the walls of the little sanctuary.' His delight is in the 
annual feast of St. Nazzaro, and the branches and garlands with which 
t_e chapel is hung on this day seem to him like sacrificial gifts. Full 
of sorrow, and far off in exile, at St. Nazaire, on the banks of the 
Loire, with the banished Federigo of Aragon, he brings wreaths of box 
and oak leaves to his patron saint on the same anniversary, thinking of 
former years, when all the youth of Posilippo used to come forth to 
greet him on flower-hung boats, and praying that he may return home.

Perhaps the most deceptive likeness to the classical style is borne by 
a class of poems in elegiacs or hexameters, whose subject ranges from 
elegy, strictly so called, to epigram. As the humanists dealt most 
freely of all with the text of the Roman elegiac poets, so they felt 
themselves most at home in imitating them. The elegy of Navagero 
addressed to the Night, like other poems of the same age and kind, is 
full of points which remind us of his model; but it has the finest 
antique ring about it. Indeed Navagero always begins by choosing a 
truly poetical subject, which he then treats, not with servile 
imitation, but with masterly freedom, in the style of the Anthology, of 
Ovid, of Catullus, or of the Virgilian eclogues. He makes a sparing use 
of mythology, only, for instance, to introduce a sketch of country 
life, in a prayer to Ceres and other rural divinities. An address to 
his country, on his return from an embassy to Spain, though left 
unfinished, might have been worthy of a place beside the 'Bella Italia, 
amate sponde' of Vincenzo Monti, if the rest had been equal to this 

'Salve cura Deum, mundi felicior ora, Formosae Veneris dulces salvete 
recessus; Ut vos post tantos animi mentisque labores Aspicio lustroque 
libens, ut munere vestro Sollicitas toto depello e pectore curas! '

The elegiac or hexametric form was that in which all higher sentiment 
found expression, both the noblest patriotic enthusiasm and the most 
elaborate eulogies on the ruling houses, as well as the tender 
melancholy of a Tibullus. Francesco Maria Molza, who rivals Statius and 
Martial in his flattery of Clement VII and the Farnesi, gives us in his 
elegy to his 'comrades,' written from a sick-bed, thoughts on death as 
beautiful and genuinely antique as can be found in any of the poets of 
antiquity, and this without borrowing anything worth speaking of from 
them. The spirit and range of Roman elegy were best understood and 
reproduced by Sannazaro, and no other writer of his time offers us so 
varied a choice of good poems in this style as he. We shall have 
occasion now and then to speak of some of these elegies in reference to 
the matter they treat of.

The Latin epigram finally became in those days an affair of serious 
importance, since a few clever lines, engraved on a monument or quoted 
with laughter in society, could lay the foundation of a scholar's 
celebrity. This tendency showed itself early in Italy. When it was 
known that Guido da Polenta wished to erect a monument at Dante's 
grave, epitaphs poured in from all directions, 'written by such as 
wished to show themselves, or to honour the dead poet, or to win the 
favour of Polenta.' On the tomb of the Archbishop Giovanni Visconti (d. 
1354), in the Cathedral at Milan, we read at the foot of thirty-six 
hexameters: 'Master Gabrius de Zamoreis of Parma, Doctor of Laws, wrote 
these verses.' In course of time, chiefly under the influence of 
Martial, and partly of Catullus, an ex- tensive literature of this sort 
was formed. It was held the greatest of all triumphs, if an epigram was 
mistaken for a genuine copy from some old marble, or if it was so good 
that all Italy learned it by heart, as happened in the case of some of 
Bembo's. When the Venetian government paid Sannazaro 600 ducats for a 
eulogy in three distichs, no one thought it an act of generous 
prodigality. The epigram was prized for what it was, in truth, to all 
the educated classes of that age--the concentrated essence of fame. 
Nor, on the other hand, was any man then so powerful as to be above the 
reach of a satirical epigram, and even the most powerful needed, for 
every inscription which they set before the public eye, the aid of 
careful and learned scholars, lest some blunder or other should qualify 
it for a place in the collections of ludicrous epitaphs. Epigraphy and 
literary epigrams began to link up; the former was based on a most 
diligent study of the ancient monuments.

The city of epigrams and inscriptions was, above all others, Rome. In 
this state without hereditary honours, each man had to look after his 
own immortality, and at the same time found the epigram an effective 
weapon against competitors. Pius II enumerates with satisfaction the 
distichs which his chief poet Campanus wrote on any event of his 
government which could be turned to poetical account. Under the 
following popes satirical epigrams came into fashion, and reached, in 
the opposition to Alexander VI and his family, the highest pitch of 
defiant invective. Sannazaro, it is true, wrote his verses in a place 
of comparative safety, but others in the immediate neighbourhood of the 
court ventured on the most reckless attacks. On one occasion when eight 
threatening distichs were found fastened to the doors of the library, 
Alexander strengthened his guard by 800 men; we can imagine what he 
would have done to the poet if he had caught him. Under Leo X, Latin 
epigrams were like daily bread. For complimenting or for reviling the 
Pope, for punishing enemies and victims, named or unnamed, for real or 
imaginary subjects of wit, malice, grief, or contemplation, no form was 
held more suitable. On the famous group of the Virgin with Saint Anne 
and the Child, which Andrea Sansovino carved for Sant' Agostino, no 
fewer than 120 persons wrote Latin verses, not so much, it is true, 
from devotion, as from regard for the patron who ordered the work. This 
man, Johann Goritz of Luxemburg, papal referendary of petitions, not 
only held a religious service on the feast of Saint Anne, but gave a 
great literary dinner in his garden on the slopes of the Capitol. It 
was then worth while to pass in, review, in a long poem 'De poetis 
urbanis,' the whole crowd of singers who sought their fortune at the 
court of Leo. This was done by Franciscus Arsillus--a man who needed 
the patronage neither of pope nor prince, and who dared to speak his 
mind, even against his colleagues. The epigram survived the pontificate 
of Paul III only in a few rare echoes, while epigraphy continued to 
flourish till the seventeenth century, when it perished finally of 

In Venice, also, this form of poetry had a history of its own, which we 
are able to trace with the help of the 'Venezia' of Francesco 
Sansovino. A standing task for the epigram-writers was offered by the 
mottoes (Brievi) on the pictures of the Doges in the great hall of the 
ducal palace--two or four hexameters, setting forth the most noteworthy 
facts in the government of each. In addition to this, the tombs of the 
Doges in the fourteenth century bore short inscriptions in prose, 
recording merely facts, and beside them turgid hexameters or leonine 
verses. In the fifteenth century more care was taken with the style; in 
the sixteenth century it is seen at its best; and then coon after came 
pointless antithesis, prosopopceia, false pathos, praise of abstract 
qualities-- in a word, affectation and bombast. A good many traces of 
satire can be detected, and veiled criticism of the living is implied 
in open praise of the dead. At a much later period we find a few 
instances of deliberate recurrence to the old, simple style.

Architectural works and decorative works in general were constructed 
with a view to receiving inscriptions, often in frequent repetition; 
while the Northern Gothic seldom, and with difficulty, offered a 
suitable place for them, and in sepulchral monuments, for example, left 
free only the most exposed parts -- namely the edges.

By what has been said hitherto we have, perhaps, failed to convince the 
reader of the characteristic value of this Latin poetry of the 
Italians. Our task was rather to indicate its position and necessity in 
the history of civilization. In its own day, a caricature of it 
appeared--the so-called macaronic poetry. The masterpiece of this 
style, the 'opus macaronicorum,' was written by Merlinus Coccaius 
(Teofilo Folengo of Mantua). Vi/e shall now and then have occasion to 
refer to the matter of this poem. As to the form--hexameter and other 
verses, made up of Latin words and Italian words with Latin endings --
its comic effect lies chiefly in the fact that these combinations sound 
like so many slips of the tongue, or like the effusions of an over-
hasty Latin 'improvisatore.' The German imitations do not give the 
smallest notion of this effect.

Fall of the Humanists in the Sixteenth Century

Why, it may be asked, were not these reproaches, whether true or false, 
heard sooner? As a matter of fact, they were heard at a very early 
period, but the effect they produced was insignificant, for the plain 
reason that men were far too dependent on the scholars for their 
knowledge of antiquity--that the scholars were personally the 
possessors and diffusers of ancient culture. But the spread of printed 
editions of the classics, and of large and well-arranged handbooks and 
dictionaries, went far to free the people from the necessity of 
personal intercourse with the humanists, and, as soon as they could be 
but partly dispensed with, the change in popular feeling became 
manifest. It was a change under which the good and bad suffered 

The first to make these charges were certainly the humanists 
themselves. Of all men who ever formed a class, they had the least 
sense of their common interests, and least respected what there was of 
this sense. All means were held lawful, if one of them saw a chance of 
supplanting another. From literary discussion they passed with 
astonishing suddenness to the fiercest and the most groundless 
vituperation. Not satisfied with refuting, they sought to annihilate an 
opponent. Something of this must be put to the account of their 
position and circumstances; we have seen how fiercely the age, whose 
loudest spokesmen they were, was borne to and fro by the passion for 
glory and the passion for satire. Their position, too, in practical 
life was one that they had continually to fight for. In such a temper 
they wrote and spoke and described one another. Pog- gio's works alone 
contain dirt enough to create a prejudice against the whole class--and 
these 'Opera Poggii' were just those most often printed, on the north 
as well as on the south side of the Alps. We must take care not to 
rejoice too soon, when we meet among these men a figure which seems 
immaculate; on further inquiry there is always a danger of meeting with 
some foul charge, which, even if it is incredible, still discolors the 
picture. The mass of indecent Latin poems in circulation, and such 
things as ribaldry on the subject of one's own family, as in Pontano's 
dialogue 'Antonius,' did the rest to discredit the class. The sixteenth 
century was not only familiar with all these ugly symptoms, but had 
also grown tired of the type of the humanist. These men had to pay both 
for the misdeeds they had done, and for the excess of honour which had 
hitherto fallen to their lot. Their evil fate willed it that the 
greatest poet of the nation, Ariosto, wrote of them in a tone of calm 
and sovereign contempt.

Of the reproaches which combined to excite so much hatred, many were 
only too well founded. Yet a clear and unmistakable tendency to 
strictness in matters of religion and morality was alive in many of the 
philologists, and it is a proof of small knowledge of the period, if 
the whole class is condemned. Yet many, and among them the loudest 
speakers, were guilty.

Three facts explain and perhaps diminish their guilt: the overflowing 
excess of fervour and fortune, when the luck was on their side; the 
uncertainty of the future, in which luxury or misery depended on the 
caprice of a patron or the malice of an enemy; and finally, the 
misleading influence of antiquity. This undermined their morality, 
without giving them its own instead; and in religious matters, since 
they could never think of accepting the positive belief in the old 
gods, it affected them only on the negative and sceptical side. Just 
because they conceived of antiquity dogmatically--that is, took it as 
the model or all thought and action--its influence was here pernicious. 
But that an age existed which idolized the ancient world and its 
products with an exclusive devotion was not the fault of individuals. 
It was the work of an historical providence, and if the culture of the 
ages which have followed, and of the ages to come, rests upon the fact 
that it was so, and that all the ends of life but this one were then 
deliberately put aside.

The career of the humanists was, as a rule, of such a kind hat only the 
strongest characters could pass through it unscathed. The first danger 
came, in some cases, from the parents, rho sought to turn a precocious 
child into a miracle of learning, with an eye to his future position in 
that class which then was supreme. Youthful prodigies, however, seldom 
rise above a certain level; or, if they do, are forced to achieve their 
further progress and development at the cost of the bitterest trials. 
For an ambitious youth, the fame and the brilliant position of the 
humanists were a perilous temptation; it seemed to him that he too 
'through inborn pride could no longer regard the low and common things 
of life.' He was thus led to plunge into a life of excitement and 
vicissitude, in which exhausting studies, tutorships, secretaryships, 
professorships, offices in princely households, mortal enmities and 
perils, luxury and beggary, boundless admiration and boundless 
contempt, followed confusedly one upon the other, and in which the most 
solid worth and learning were often pushed aside by superficial 
impudence. But the worst of all was, that the position of the humanist 
was almost incompatible with a fixed home, since it either made 
frequent changes of dwelling necessary for a livelihood, or so affected 
the mind of the individual that he could never be happy for long in one 
place. He grew tired of the people, and had no peace among the enmities 
which he excited, while the people themselves in their turn demanded 
something new. Much as this life reminds us of the Greek sophists of 
the Empire, as described to us by Philostratus, yet the position of the 
sophists was more favourable. They often had money, or could more 
easily do without it than the humanists, and as professional teachers 
of rhetoric, rather than men of learning, their life was freer and 
simpler. But the scholar of the Renaissance was forced to combine great 
learning with the power of resisting the influence of ever-changing 
pursuits and situations. Add to this the deadening effect of licentious 
excess, and--since do what he might, the worst was believed of him--a 
total indifference to the moral laws recognized by others. Such men can 
hardly be conceived to exist without an inordinate pride. They needed 
it, if only to keep their heads above water, and were confirmed in it 
by the admiration which alternated with hatred in the treatment they 
received from the world. They are the most striking examples and 
victims of an unbridled subjectivity.

The attacks and the satirical pictures began, as we have said, at an 
early period. For all strongly marked individuality, for every kind of 
distinction, a corrective was at hand in the national taste for 
ridicule. And in this case the men themselves offered abundant and 
terrible materials which satire had but to make use of. In the 
fifteenth century, Battista Mantovano, in discoursing of the seven 
monsters, includes the humanists, with any others, under the head 
'Superbia.' He describes how, fancying themselves children of Apollo, 
they walk along with affected solemnity and with sullen, malicious 
looks, now gazing t their own shadow, now brooding over the popular 
praise they hunted after, like cranes in search of food. But in the 
sixteenth century the indictment was presented in full. Besides 
Ariosto, their own historian Gyraldus gives evidence of this, whose 
treatise, written under Leo X, was probably revised about the year 
1540. Warning examples from ancient and modern times the moral disorder 
and the wretched existence of the scholars meet us in astonishing 
abundance, and along with these, accusations of the most serious nature 
are brought formally against them. Among these are anger, vanity, 
obstinacy, self-adoration, dissolute private life, immorality of all 
descriptions, heresy, theism; further, the habit of speaking without 
conviction, a sinister influence on government, pedantry of speech, 
thanklessness towards teachers, and abject flattery of the great, who 
st give the scholar a taste of their favours and then leave m to 
starve. The description is closed by a reference to the den age, when 
no such thing as science existed on the earth. these charges, that of 
heresy soon became the most dangers, and Gyraldus himself, when he 
afterwards republished a perfectly harmless youthful work, was 
compelled to take refuge neath the mantle of Duke Ercole II of Ferrara, 
since men had the upper hand who held that people had better spend 
their time on Christian themes than on mythological researches. 
justifies himself on the ground that the latter, on the contrary, were 
at such a time almost the only harmless branches of study, as they deal 
with subjects of a perfectly neutral character.

But if it is the duty of the historian to seek for evidence in which 
moral judgement is tempered by human sympathy, he 11 find no authority 
comparable in value to the work so often quoted of Pierio Valeriano, 
'On the Infelicity of the Scholar.' It was written under the gloomy 
impressions left by the sack of Rome, which seems to the writer, not 
only the direct cause of untold misery to the men of learning, but, as 
it were, the fulfilment of an evil destiny which had long pursued them. 
Pierio is here led by a simple and, on the whole, just feeling. He does 
not introduce a special power, which plagued the men of genius on 
account of their genius, but he states facts, in which an unlucky 
chance often wears the aspect of fatality. Not wishing to write a 
tragedy or to refer events to the conflict of higher powers, he is 
content to lay before us the scenes of everyday life. We are introduced 
to men who, in times of trouble, lose first their incomes and then 
their places; to others who, in trying to get two appointments, miss 
both; to unsociable misers who carry about their money sewn into their 
clothes, and die mad when they are robbed of it; to others, who accept 
well-paid offices, and then sicken with a melancholy longing for their 
lost freedom. We read how some died young of a plague or fever, and how 
the writings which had cost them so much toil were burnt with their bed 
and clothes; how others lived in terror of the murderous threats of 
their colleagues; how one was slain by a covetous servant, and another 
caught by highwaymen on a journey, and left to pine in a dungeon, 
because unable to pay his ransom. Many died of unspoken grief from the 
insults they received and the prizes of which they were defrauded. We 
are told how a Venetian died because of the death of his son, a 
youthful prodigy; and how mother and brothers followed, as if the lost 
child drew them all after him. Many, especially Florentines, ended 
their lives by suicide; others through the secret justice of a tyrant. 
Who, after all, is happy?--and by what means? By blunting all feeling 
for such misery? One of the speakers in the dialogue in which Pierio 
clothed his argument, can give an answer to these questions-- the 
illustrious Gasparo Contarini, at the mention of whose name we turn 
with the expectation to hear at least something of the truest and 
deepest which was then thought on such matters. As a type of the happy 
scholar, he mentions Fra Urbano Valeriano of Belluno, who was for years 
a teacher of Greek at Venice, who visited Greece and the East, and 
towards the close of his life travelled, now through this country, now 
through that, without ever mounting a horse; who never had a penny of 
his own, rejected all honours and distinctions, and after a gay old 
age, died in his eighty-fourth year, without, if we except a fall from 
a ladder, having ever known an hour of sickness. And what was the 
difference between such a man and the humanists? The latter had more 
free will, more subjectivity, than they could turn to purposes of 
happiness. The mendicant friar, who had lived from his boyhood in the 
monastery, and never eaten or slept except by rule, ceased to feel the 
com- pulsion under which he lived. Through the power of this habit he 
led, amid all outward hardships, a life of inward peace, by which he 
impressed his hearers far more than by his teaching. Looking at him, 
they could believe that it depends on ourselves whether we bear up 
against misfortune or surrender to it. 'Amid want and toil he was 
happy, because he willed to be so, because he had contracted no evil 
habits, was not capricious, inconstant, immoderate; but was always 
contented with little or nothing.' If we heard Contarini himself, 
religious motives would no doubt play a part in the argument--but the 
practical philosopher in sandals speaks plainly enough. An allied 
character, but placed in other circumstances, is that of Fabio Calvi of 
Ravenna, the commentator of Hippocrates. He lived to a great age in 
Rome, eating only pulse 'like the Pythagoreans,' and dwelt in a hovel 
little better than the tub of Diogenes. Of the pension which Pope Leo 
gave him, he spent enough to keep body and soul together, and gave the 
rest away. He was not a healthy man, like Fra Urbano, nor is it likely 
that, like him, he died with a smile on his lips. At the age of ninety, 
in the sack of Rome, he was dragged away by the Spaniards, who hoped 
for a ransom, and died of hunger in a hospital. But his name has passed 
into the kingdom of the immortals, for Raphael loved the old man like a 
father, and honoured him as a teacher, and came to him for advice in 
all things. Perhaps they discoursed chiefly of the projected 
restoration of ancient Rome, perhaps of still higher matters. Who can 
tell what a share Fabio may have had in the conception of the School of 
Athens, and in other great works of the master?

We would gladly close this part of our essay with the picture of some 
pleasing and winning character. Pomponius Laetus, of whom we shall 
briefly speak, is known to us principally through the letter of his 
pupil Sabellicus, in which an antique coloring is purposely given to 
his character. Yet many of its features are clearly recognizable. He 
was a bastard of the House of the Neapolitan Sanseverini, princes of 
Salerno, whom he nevertheless refused to recognize, writing, in reply 
to an invitation to live with them, the famous letter: 'Pomponius 
Laetus cognatis et propinquis suis salutem. Quod petitis fieri non 
potest. Valete.' t An insignificant little figure, with small, quick 
eyes, and quaint dress, he lived, during the last decades of the 
fifteenth century, as professor in the University of Rome, either in 
his cottage in a garden on the Esquiline hill, or in his vineyard on 
the Quirinal. In the one he bred his ducks and fowls; the other he 
cultivated according to the strictest precepts of Cato, Varro, and 
Columella. He spent his holidays in fishing or bird-catching in the 
Campagna, or in feasting by some shady spring or on the banks of the 
Tiber. Wealth and luxury he despised. Free himself from envy and 
uncharitable speech, he would not suffer them in others. It was only 
against the hierarchy that he gave his tongue free play, and passed, 
till his latter years, for a scorner of religion altogether. He was 
involved in the persecution of the humanists begun by Pope Paul II, and 
surrendered to this pontiff by the Venetians; but no means could be 
found to wring unworthy confessions from him. He was afterwards 
befriended and supported by popes and prelates, and when his house was 
plundered in the disturbances under Sixtus IV, more was collected for 
him than he had lost. No teacher was more conscientious. Before 
daybreak he was to be seen descending the Esquiline with his lantern, 
and on reaching his lecture-room found it always filled to overflowing. 
A stutter compelled him to speak with care, but his delivery was even 
and effective. His few works give evidence of careful writing. No 
scholar treated the text of ancient authors more soberly and 
accurately. The remains of antiquity which surrounded him in Rome 
touched him so deeply that he would stand before them as if entranced, 
or would suddenly burst into tears at the sight of them. As he was 
ready to lay aside his own studies in order to help others, he was much 
loved and had many friends; and at his death, even Alexander VI sent 
his courtiers to follow the corpse, which was carried by the most 
distinguished of his pupils. The funeral service in the Aracceli was 
attended by forty bishops and by all the foreign ambassadors.

It was Laetus who introduced and conducted the representations of 
ancient, chiefly Plautine, plays in Rome. Every year, he celebrated the 
anniversary of the foundation of the city by a festival, at which his 
friends and pupils recited speeches and poems. Such meetings were the 
origin of what acquired, and long retained, the name of the Roman 
Academy. It was simply a free union of individuals, and was connected 
with no fixed institution. Besides the occasions mentioned, it met at 
the invitation of a patron, or to celebrate the memory of a deceased 
member, as of Platina. At such times, a prelate belonging to the 
academy would first say mass; Pomponio would then ascend the pulpit and 
deliver a speech; someone else would then follow him and recite an 
elegy. The customary banquet, with declamations and recitations, 
concluded the festival, whether joyous or serious, and the 
academicians, notably Platina himself, early acquired the reputation of 
epicures. At other times, the guests performed farces in the old 
Atellan style. As a free association of very varied elements, the 
academy lasted in its original form down to the sack of Rome, and 
included among its hosts Angelus Coloccius, Johannes Corycius and 
others. Its precise value as an element in the intellectual life of the 
people is as hard to estimate as that of any other social union of the 
same kind; yet a man like Sadoleto reckoned it among the most precious 
memories of his youth. A large number of other academies appeared and 
passed away in many Italian cities, according to the number and 
significance of the humanists living in them, and to the patronage 
bestowed by the great and wealthy. Of these we may mention the Academy 
of Naples, of which Jovianus Pontanus was the centre, and which sent 
out a colony to Lecce, and that of Pordenone, which formed the court of 
the Condottiere Alviano. The circle of Lodovico il Moro, and its 
peculiar importance for that prince, has been already spoken of.

About the middle of the sixteenth century, these associations seem to 
have undergone a complete change. The humanists, driven in other 
spheres from their commanding position, and viewed askance by the men 
of the Counter-reformation, lost the control of the academies: and 
here, as elsewhere, Latin poetry was replaced by Italian. Before long 
every town of the least importance had its academy, with some strange, 
fantastic name, and its own endowment and subscriptions. Besides the 
recitation of verses, the new institutions inherited from their 
predecessors the regular banquets and the representation of plays, 
sometimes acted by the members themselves, sometimes under their 
direction by young amateurs, and sometimes by paid players. The fate of 
the Italian stage, and afterwards of the opera, was long in the hands 
of these associations.



Journeys of the Italians

Freed from the countless bonds which elsewhere in Europe checked 
progress, having reached a high degree of individual development and 
been schooled by the teachings of antiquity, the Italian mind now 
turned to the discovery of the outward universe, and to the 
representation of it in speech and form.

On the journeys of the Italians to distant parts of the world, we can 
here make but a few general observations. The Crusades had opened 
unknown distances to the European mind, and awakened in all the passion 
for travel and adventure. It may be hard to indicate precisely the 
point where this passion allied itself with, or became the servant of, 
the thirst for knowledge; but it was in Italy that this was first and 
most completely the case. Even in the Crusades the interest of the 
Italians was wider than that of other nations, since they already were 
a naval power and had commercial relations with the East. From time 
immemorial the Mediterranean Sea had given to the nations that dwelt on 
its shores mental impulses different from those which governed the 
peoples of the North; and never, from the very structure of their 
character, could the Italians be adventurers in the sense which the 
word bore among the Teutons. After they were once at home in all the 
eastern harbors of the Mediterranean, it was natural that the most 
enterprising among them should be led to join that vast inter- national 
movement of the Mohammedans which there found its outlet. A new half of 
the world lay, as it were, freshly discovered before them. Or, like 
Polo of Venice, they were caught in the current of the Mongolian 
peoples, and carried on to the steps of the throne of the Great Khan. 
At an early period, we find Italians sharing in the discoveries made in 
the Atlantic Ocean; it was the Genoese who, in the thirteenth century 
found the Canary Islands. In the same year, 1291, when Ptolemais, the 
last remnant of the Christian East, was lost, it was again the Genoese 
who made the first known attempt to find a sea-passage to the East 
Indies. Columbus himself is but the greatest of a long list of Italians 
who, in the service of the western nations, sailed into distant seas. 
The true discoverer, however, is not the man who first chances to 
stumble upon anything, but the man who finds what he has sought. Such a 
one alone stands in a link with the thoughts and interests of his 
predecessors, and this relationship will also determine the account he 
gives of his search. For which reason the Italians, although their 
claim to be the first comers on this or that shore may be disputed, 
will yet retain their title to be pre-eminently the nation of 
discoverers for the whole latter part of the Middle Ages. The fuller 
proof of this assertion belongs to the special history of discoveries. 
Yet ever and again we turn with admiration to the august figure of the 
great Genoese, by whom a new continent beyond the ocean was demanded, 
sought and found; and who was the first to be able to say: 'il mondo e 
poco'--the world is not so large as men have thought. At the time when 
Spain gave Alexander VI to the Italians, Italy gave Columbus to the 
Spaniards. Only a few weeks before the death of that pope Columbus 
wrote from Jamaica his noble letter (July 7, 1503) to the thankless 
Catholic kings, which the ages to come can never read without profound 
emotion. In a codicil to his will, dated Valladolid, May 4, I 506, he 
bequeathed to 'his beloved home, the Republic of Genoa, the prayer-book 
which Pope Alexander had given him, and which in prison, in conflict, 
and in every kind of adversity, had been to him the greatest of 
comforts.' It seems as if these words cast upon the abhorred name of 
Borgia one last gleam of grace and mercy.

The development of geographical and allied sciences among the Italians 
must, like the history of their voyages, be touched upon but very 
briefly. A superficial comparison of their achievements with those of 
other nations shows an early and striking superiority on their part. 
Where, in the middle of the fifteenth century, could be found, anywhere 
but in Italy, such a union of geographical, statistical, and historical 
knowledge as was found in Aeneas Sylvius? Not only in his great 
geographical work, but in his letters and commentaries, he describes 
with equal mastery landscapes, cities, manners, industries and 
products, political conditions and constitutions, wherever he can use 
his own observation or the evidence of eye-witnesses. What he takes 
from books is naturally of less moment. Even the short sketch of that 
valley in the Tyrolese Alps where Frederick III had given him a 
benefice, and still more his description of Scotland, leaves untouched 
none of the relations of human life, and displays a power and method of 
unbiased observation and comparison impossible in any but a countryman 
of Columbus, trained in the school of the ancients. Thousands saw and, 
in part, knew what he did, but they felt no impulse to draw a picture 
of it, and were unconscious that the world desired such pictures.

In geography, as in other matters, it is vain to attempt to distinguish 
how much is to be attributed to the study of the ancients, and how much 
to the special genius of the Italians. They saw and treated the things 
of this world from an objective point of view, even before they were 
familiar with ancient literature, partly because they were themselves a 
half-ancient people, and partly because their political circumstances 
predisposed them to it; but they would not so rapidly have attained to 
such perfection had not the old geographers shown them the way. The 
influence of the existing Italian geographies on the spirit and 
tendencies of the travellers and discoverers was also inestimable. Even 
the simple 'dilettante' of a science-- if in the present case we should 
assign to Aeneas Sylvius so low a rank--can diffuse just that sort of 
general interest in the subject which prepares for new pioneers the 
indispensable favourable predisposition in the public mind. True 
discoverers in any science know well what they owe to such meditation. 

The Natural Sciences in Italy

For the position of the Italians in the sphere of the natural sciences, 
we must refer the reader to the special treatises on the subject, of 
which the only one with which we are familiar is the superficial and 
depreciatory work of Libri. The dispute as to the priority of 
particular discoveries concerns us all the less, since we hold that, at 
any time, and among any civilized people, a man may appear who, 
starting with very scanty preparation, is driven by an irresistible 
impulse into the path of scientific investigation, and through his 
native gifts achieves the most astonishing success. Such men were 
Gerbert of Rheims and Roger Bacon. That they were masters of the whole 
knowledge of the age in their several departments was a natural 
consequence of the spirit in which they worked. When once the veil of 
illusion was torn asunder, when once the dread of nature and the 
slavery to books and tradition were overcome, countless problems lay 
before them for solution. It is another matter when a whole people 
takes a natural delight in the study and investigation of nature, at a 
time when other nations are indifferent, that is to say, when the 
discoverer is not threatened or wholly ignored, but can count on the 
friendly support of congenial spirits. That this was the case in Italy 
is unquestionable. The Italian students of nature trace with pride in 
the 'Divine Comedy' the hints and proofs of Dante's scientific in- 
terest in nature. On his claim to priority in this or that discovery or 
reference, we must leave the men of science to decide; but every layman 
must be struck by the wealth of his observations on the external world, 
shown merely in his picture and comparisons. He, more than any other 
modern poet, takes them from reality, whether in nature or human life, 
and uses them never as mere ornament, but in order to give the reader 
the fullest and most adequate sense of his meaning. It is in astronomy 
that he appears chiefly as a scientific specialist, though it must not 
be forgotten that many astronomical allusions in his great poem, which 
now appear to us learned, must then have been intelligible to the 
general reader. Dante, learning apart, appeals to a popular knowledge 
of the heavens, which the Italians of his day, from the mere fact that 
they were a nautical people, had in common with the ancients. This 
knowledge of the rising and setting of the constellations has been 
rendered superfluous to the modern world by calendars and clocks, and 
with it has gone whatever interest in astronomy the people may once 
have had. Nowadays, with our schools and handbooks, every child knows--
what Dante did not know--that the earth moves round the sun; but the 
interest once taken in the subject itself has given place, except in 
the case of astronomical specialists, to the most absolute 

The pseudo-science which dealt with the stars proves nothing against 
the inductive spirit of the Italians of that day. That spirit was but 
crossed, and at times overcome, by the passionate desire to penetrate 
the future. We shall recur to the subject of astrology when we come to 
speak of the moral and religious character of the people.

The Church treated this and other pseudo-sciences nearly always with 
toleration; and showed itself actually hostile even to genuine science 
only when a charge of heresy together with necromancy was also in 
question--which certainly was often the case. A point which it would be 
interesting to decide is this: whether and in what cases the Dominican 
(and also the Franciscan) Inquisitors in Italy were conscious of the 
falsehood of the charges, and yet condemned the accused, either to 
oblige some enemy of the prisoner or from hatred to natural science, 
and particularly to experiments. The latter doubtless occurred, but it 
is not easy to prove the fact. What helped to cause such persecutions 
in the North, namely, the opposition made to the innovators by the 
upholders of the received official, scholastic system of nature, was of 
little or no weight in Italy. Pietro of Abano, at the beginning of the 
fourteenth century, is well known to have fallen a victim to the envy 
of another physician, who accused him before the Inquisition of heresy 
and magic; and something of the same kind may have happened in the case 
of his Paduan contemporary, Giovannino Sanguinacci, who was known as an 
innovator in medical practice. He escaped, however, with banishment. 
Nor must it be forgotten that the inquisitorial power of the Dominicans 
was exercised less uniformly in Italy than in the North. Tyrants and 
free cities in the fourteenth century treated the clergy at times with 
such sovereign contempt that very different matters from natural 
science went unpunished. But when, with the fifteenth century, 
antiquity became the leading power in Italy, the breach it made in the 
old system was turned to account by every branch of secular science. 
Humanism, nevertheless, attracted to itself the best strength of the 
nation, and thereby, no doubt, did injury to the inductive 
investigation of nature. Here and there the Inquisition suddenly 
started into life, and punished or burned physicians as blasphemers or 
magicians. In such cases it is hard to discover what was the true 
motive underlying the condemnation. But even so, Italy, at the close of 
the fifteenth century, with Paolo Toscanelli, Luca Pacioli and Leonardo 
da Vinci, held incomparably the highest place among European nations in 
mathematics and the natural sciences, and the learned men of every 
country, even Regiomontanus and Copernicus, confessed themselves its 
pupils. This glory survived the Counter-reformation, and even today the 
Italians would occupy the first place in this respect if circumstances 
had not made it impossible for the greatest minds to devote themselves 
to tranquil research.

A significant proof of the widespread interest in natural history is 
found in the zeal which showed itself at an early period for the 
collection and comparative study of plants and animals. Italy claims to 
be the first creator of botanical gar dens, though possibly they may 
have served a chiefly practical end, and the claim to priority may be 
itself disputed. It is of far greater importance that princes and 
wealthy men, in laying out their pleasure-gardens, instinctively made a 
point of collecting the greatest possible number of different plants in 
all their species and varieties. Thus in the fifteenth century the 
noble grounds of the Medicean Villa Careggi appear from the 
descriptions we have of them to have been almost a botanical garden, 
with countless specimens of different trees and shrubs. Of the same 
kind was a villa of the Cardinal Trivulzio, at the beginning of the 
sixteenth century, in the Roman Campagna towards Tivoli, with hedges 
made up of various species of roses, with trees of every description--
the fruit-trees especially showing an astonishing variety--with twenty 
different sorts of vines and a large kitchen-garden. This is evidently 
something very different from the score or two of familiar medicinal 
plants which were to be found in the garden of any castle or monastery 
in Western Europe. Along with a careful cultivation of fruit for the 
purposes of the table, we find an interest in the plant for its own 
sake, on account of the pleasure it gives to the eye. We learn from the 
history of art at how late a period this passion for botanical 
collections was laid aside, and gave place to what was considered the 
picturesque style of landscape-gardening.

The collections, too, of foreign animals not only gratified curiosity, 
but served also the higher purposes of observation. The facility of 
transport from the southern and eastern harbors of the Mediterranean, 
and the mildness of the Italian climate, made it practicable to buy the 
largest animals of the south, or to accept them as presents from the 
Sultans. The cities and princes were especially anxious to keep live 
lions even where a lion was not, as in Florence, the emblem of the 
State. The lions' den was generally in or near the government palace, 
as in Perugia and Florence; in Rome, it lay on the slope of the 
Capitol. The beasts sometimes served as executioners of political 
judgements, and no doubt, apart from this, they kept alive a certain 
terror in the popular mind. Their condition was also held to be ominous 
of good or evil. Their fertility, especially, was considered a sign of 
public prosperity, and no less a man than Giovanni Villani thought it 
worth recording that he was present at the delivery of a lioness. The 
cubs were often given to allied States and princes, or to Condottieri 
as a reward of their valor. In addition to the lions, the Florentines 
began very early to keep leopards, for which a special keeper was 
appointed. Borso of Ferrara used to set his lion to fight with bulls, 
bears, and wild boars.

By the end of the fifteenth century, however, true menageries 
(serragli), now reckoned part of the suitable appointments of a court, 
were kept by many of the princes. 'It belongs to the position of the 
great,' says Matarazzo, 'to keep horses, dogs, mules, falcons, and 
other birds, court-jesters, singers, and foreign animals.' The 
menagerie at Naples, in the time of Ferrante, contained even a giraffe 
and a zebra, presented, it seems, by the ruler of Baghdad. Filippo 
Maria Visconti possessed not only horses which cost him each 500 or 
1,000 pieces of gold, and valuable English dogs, but a number of 
leopards brought from all parts of the East; the expense of his hunting 
birds, which were collected from the countries of Northern Europe, 
amounted to 3,000 pieces of gold a month. King Emanuel the Great of 
Portugal knew well what he was about when he presented Leo X with an 
elephant and a rhinoceros. It was under such circumstances that the 
foundations of a scientific zoology and botany were laid.

A practical fruit of these zoological studies was the establishment of 
studs, of which the Mantuan, under Francesco Gonzaga, was esteemed the 
first in Europe. All interest in, and knowledge of the different breeds 
of horses is as old, no doubt, as riding itself, and the crossing of 
the European with the Asiatic must have been common from the time of 
the Crusades. In Italy, a special inducement to perfect the breed was 
offered by the prizes at the horse-races held in every considerable 
town in the peninsula. In the Mantuan stables were found the in- 
fallible winners in these contests, as well as the best military 
chargers, and the horses best suited by their stately appearance for 
presents to great people. Gonzaga kept stallions and mares from Spain, 
Ireland, Africa, Thrace, and Cilicia, and for the sake of the last he 
cultivated the friendship of the Sultans. All possible experiments were 
here tried, in order to produce the most perfect animals.

Even human menageries were not wanting. The famous Cardinal Ippolito 
Medici, bastard of Giuliano, Duke of Nemours, kept at his strange court 
a troop of barbarians who talked no less than twenty different 
languages, and who were all of them perfect specimens of their races. 
Among them were incomparable _voltigeurs _of the best blood of the 
North African Moors, Tartar bowmen, Negro wrestlers, Indian divers, and 
Turks, who generally accompanied the Cardinal on his hunting 
expeditions. When he was overtaken by an early death (1535), this 
motley band carried the corpse on their shoulders from Itri to Rome, 
and mingled with the general mourning for the open-handed Cardinal 
their medley of tongues and violent gesticulations.

These scattered notices of the relations of the Italians to natural 
science, and their interest in the wealth and variety of the products 
of nature, are only fragments of a great subject. No one is more 
conscious than the author of the defects in his knowledge on this 
point. Of the multitude of special works in which the subject is 
adequately treated, even the names are but imperfectly known to him.

Discovery of the Beauty of Landscape

But outside the sphere of scientific investigation, there is another 
way to draw near to nature. The Italians are the first among modern 
peoples by whom the outward world was seen and felt as something 

The power to do so is always the result of a long and complicated 
development, and its origin is not easily detected, since a dim feeling 
of this kind may exist long before it shows itself in poetry and 
painting and thereby becomes conscious of itself. Among the ancients, 
for example, art and poetry had gone through the whole circle of human 
interests, before they turned to the representation of nature, and even 
then the latter filled always a limited and subordinate place. And yet, 
from the time of Homer downwards, the powerful impression made by 
nature upon man is shown by countless verses and chance expressions. 
The Germanic races, which founded their States on the ruins of the 
Roman Empire, were thoroughly and specially fitted to understand the 
spirit of natural scenery; and though Christianity compelled them for a 
while to see in the springs and mountains, in the lakes and woods, 
which they had till then revered, the working of evil demons, yet this 
transitional conception was soon outgrown. By the year 1200, at the 
height of the Middle Ages, a genuine, hearty enjoyment of the external 
world was again in existence, and found lively expres- sion in the 
minstrelsy of different nations, which gives evidence of the sympathy 
felt with all the simple phenomena of nature --spring with its flowers, 
the green fields and the woods. But these pictures are all foreground 
without perspective. Even the crusaders, who travelled so far and saw 
so much, are not recognizable as such in their poems. The epic poetry, 
which describes amour and costumes so fully, does not attempt more than 
a sketch of outward nature; and even the great Wolfram von Eschenbach 
scarcely anywhere gives us an adequate picture of the scene on which 
his heroes move. From these poems it would never be guessed that their 
noble authors in all countries inhabited or visited lofty castles, 
commanding distant prospects. Even in the Latin poems of the wandering 
clerks, we find no traces of a distant view--of landscape properly so 
called-- but what lies near is sometimes described with a glory and 
splendor which none of the knightly minstrels can surpass. What picture 
of the Grove of Love can equal that of the Italian poet -- for such we 
take him to be--of the twelfth century?

'Immortalis fieret Ibi manens homo; Arbor ibi quaelibet Suo gaudet 
pomo; Viae myrrha, cinnamo Fragrant, et amomo-- Conjectari poterat 
Dominus ex domo' etc.

To the Italian mind, at all events, nature had by this time lost its 
taint of sin, and had shaken off all trace of demoniacal powers. Saint 
Francis of Assisi, in his Hymn to the Sun, frankly praises the Lord for 
creating the heavenly bodies and the four elements.

But the unmistakable proofs of a deepening effect of nature on the 
human spirit begin with Dante. Not only does he awaken in us by a few 
vigorous lines the sense of the morning air and the trembling light on 
the distant ocean, or of the grandeur of the storm-beaten forest, but 
he makes the ascent of lofty peaks, with the only possible object of 
enjoying the view--the first man, perhaps, since the days of antiquity 
who did so. In Boccaccio we can do little more than infer how country 
scenery affected him; yet his pastoral romances show his imagination to 
have been filled with it. But the significance of nature for a 
receptive spirit is fully and clearly displayed by Petrarch--one of the 
first truly modern men. That clear soul--who first collected from the 
literature of all countries evidence of the origin and progress of the 
sense of natural beauty, and himself, in his 'Aspects of Nature,' 
achieved the noblest masterpiece of description--Alexander von Humboldt 
has not done full justice to Petrarch; and following in the steps of 
the great reaper, we may still hope to glean a few ears of interest and 

Petrarch was not only a distinguished geographer--the first map of 
Italy is said to have been drawn by his direction--and not only a 
reproducer of the sayings of the ancients, but felt himself the 
influence of natural beauty. The enjoyment of nature is, for him, the 
favorite accompaniment of intellectual pursuits; it was to combine the 
two that he lived in learned retirement at Vaucluse and elsewhere, that 
he from time to time fled from the world and from his age. We should do 
him wrong by inferring from his weak and undeveloped power of 
describing natural scenery that he did not feel it deeply. His picture, 
for instance, of the lovely Gulf of Spezia and Porto Venere, which he 
inserts at the end of the sixth book of the 'Africa,' for the reason 
that none of the ancients or moderns had sung of it, is no more than a 
simple enumeration, but Petrarch is also conscious of the beauty of 
rock scenery, and is perfectly able to distinguish the picturesqueness 
from the utility of nature. During his stay among the woods of Reggio, 
the sudden sight of an impressive landscape so affected him that he 
resumed a poem which he had long laid aside. But the deep- est 
impression of all was made upon him by the ascent of Mont Ventoux, near 
Avignon. An indefinable longing for a distant panorama grew stronger 
and stronger in him, till at length the accidental sight of a passage 
in Livy, where King Philip, the enemy of Rome, ascends the Haemus, 
decided him. He thought that what was not blamed in a greyheaded 
monarch, might well be _excused _in a young man of private station. The 
ascent of a mountain for its own sake was unheard of, and there could 
be no thought of the companionship of friends or acquaintances. 
Petrarch took with him only his younger brother and two country people 
from the last place where he halted. At the foot of the mountain an old 
herdsman besought him to turn back, saying that he himself had 
attempted to climb it fifty years before, and had brought home nothing 
but repentance, broken bones, and torn clothes, and that neither before 
nor after had anyone ventured to do the same. Nevertheless, they 
struggled forward and upward, till the clouds lay beneath their feet, 
and at last they reached the top. A description of the view from the 
summit would be looked for in vain, not because the poet was insensible 
to it, but, on the contrary, because the impression was too 
overwhelming. His whole past life, with all its follies, rose before 
his mind; he remembered that ten years ago that day he had quitted 
Bologna a young man, and turned a longing gaze towards his native 
country; he opened a book which then was his constant companion, the 
'Confessions' of St. Augustine, and his eye fell on the passage in the 
tenth chapter, 'and men go forth, and admire lofty mountains and broad 
seas, and roaring torrents, and the ocean, and the course of the stars, 
and forget their own selves while doing so.' His brother, to whom he 
read these words, could not understand why he closed the book and said 
no more.

Some decades later, about 1360, Fazio degli Uberti describes, in his 
rhyming geography, the wide panorama from the mountains of Auvergne, 
with the interest, it is true, of the geographer and antiquarian only, 
but still showing clearly that he himself had seen it. He must, 
however, have ascended far higher peaks, since he is familiar with 
facts which only occur at a height of 10,000 feet or more above the 
sea--mountain-sickness and its accompaniments--of which his imaginary 
comrade Solinus tries to cure him with a sponge dipped in an essence. 
The ascents of Parnassus and Olympus, of which he speaks, are perhaps 
only fictions.

In the fifteenth century, the great masters of the Flemish school, 
Hubert and Jan van Eyck, suddenly lifted the veil from nature. Their 
landscapes are not merely the fruit of an endeavor to reflect the real 
world in art, but have, even if expressed conventionally, a certain 
poetical meaning--in short, a soul. Their influence on the whole art of 
the West is undeniable, and extended to the landscape-painting of the 
Italians, but without preventing the characteristic interest of the 
Italian eye for nature from finding its own expression.

On this point, as in the scientific description of nature, Aeneas 
Sylvius is again one of the most weighty voices of his time. Even if we 
grant the justice of all that has been said against his character, we 
must nevertheless admit that in few other men was the picture of the 
age and its culture so fully reflected, and that few came nearer to the 
normal type of the men of the early Renaissance. It may be added 
parenthetically, that even in respect to his moral character he will 
not be fairly judged, if we listen solely to the complaints of the 
German Church, which his fickleness helped to balk of the Council it so 
ardently desired.

He here claims our attention as the first who not only enjoyed the 
magnificence of the Italian landscape, but described it with enthusiasm 
down to its minutest details. The ecclesiastical State and the south of 
Tuscany--his native home--he knew thoroughly, and after he became Pope 
he spent his leisure during the favourable season chiefly in excursions 
to the country. Then at last the gouty man was rich enough to have 
himself carried in a litter across the mountains and valleys; and when 
we compare his enjoyments with those of the Popes who succeeded him, 
Pius, whose chief delight was in nature, antiquity, and simple, but 
noble, architecture, appears almost a saint. In the elegant and flowing 
Latin of his 'Commentaries' he freely tells us of his happiness.

His eye seems as keen and practiced as that of any modern observer. He 
enjoys with rapture the panoramic splendor of the view from the summit 
of the Alban Hills--from the Monte Cavo--whence he could see the shores 
of St. Peter from Terracina and the promontory of Circe as far as Monte 
Argentaro, and the wide expanse of country round about, with the ruined 
cities of the past, and with the mountain-chains of Central Italy 
beyond; and then his eye would turn to the green woods in the hollows 
beneath and the mountain-lakes among them. He feels the beauty of the 
position of Todi, crowning the vineyards and olive-clad slopes, looking 
down upon distant woods and upon the valley of the Tiber, where towns 
and castles rise above the winding river. The lovely hills about Siena, 
with villas and monasteries on every height, are his own home, and his 
descrip- tions of them are touched with a peculiar feeling. Single 
picturesque glimpses charm him too, like the little promontory of Capo 
di Monte that stretches out into the Lake of Bolsena. 'Rocky steps,' we 
read, 'shaded by vines, descend to the water's edge, where the 
evergreen oaks stand between the cliffs, alive with the song of 
thrushes.' On the path round the Lake of Nemi, beneath the chestnuts 
and fruit-trees, he feels that here, if anywhere, a poet's soul must 
awake--here in the hiding-place of Diana! He often held consistories or 
received ambassadors under huge old chestnut-trees, or beneath the 
olives on the greensward by some gurgling spring. A view like that of a 
narrowing gorge, with a bridge arched boldly over it, awakens at once 
his artistic sense. Even the smallest details give him delight through 
something beautiful, or perfect, or characteristic in them--the blue 
fields of waving flax, the yellow gorse which covers the hills, even 
tangled thickets, or single trees, or springs, which seem to him like 
wonders of nature.

The height of his enthusiasm for natural beauty was reached during his 
stay on Monte Amiata, in the summer of 1462, when plague and heat made 
the lowlands uninhabitable. Half-way up the mountain, in the old 
Lombard monastery of San Salvatore, he and his court took up their 
quarters. There, between the chestnuts which clothe the steep 
declivity, the eye may wander over all Southern Tuscany, with the 
towers of Siena in the distance. The ascent of the highest peak he left 
to his companions, who were joined by the Venetian envoy; they found at 
the top two vast blocks of stone one upon the other--perhaps the 
sacrificial altar of a prehistoric people--and fancied that in the far 
distance they saw Corsica and Sardinia rising above the sea. In the 
cool air of the hills, among the old oaks and chestnuts, on the green 
meadows where there were no thorns to wound the feet, and no snakes or 
insects to hurt or to annoy, the Pope passed days of unclouded 
happiness. For the 'Segnatura,' which took place on certain days of the 
week, he selected on each occasion some new shady retreat 'novos in 
convallibus fontes et novas inveniens umbras, quae dubiam facerent 
electionem.' At such times the dogs would perhaps start a great stag 
from his lair, who, after defending himself a while with hoofs and 
antlers, would fly at last up the mountain. In the evening the Pope was 
accustomed to sit before the monastery on the spot from which the whole 
valley of the Paglia was visible, holding lively conversations with the 
cardinals. The courtiers, who ventured down from the heights on their 
hunting expeditions, found the heat below intolerable, and the scorched 
plains like a very hell, while the monastery, with its cool, shady 
woods, seemed like an abode of the blessed.

All this is genuine modern enjoyment, not a reflection of antiquity. As 
surely as the ancients themselves felt in the same manner, so surely, 
nevertheless, were the scanty expressions of the writers whom Pius knew 
insufficient to awaken in him such enthusiasm.

The second great age of Italian poetry, which now followed at the end 
of the fifteenth and the beginning of the sixteenth centuries, as well 
as the Latin poetry of the same period, is rich in proofs of the 
powerful effect of nature on the human mind. The first glance at the 
lyric poets of that time will suffice to convince us. Elaborate 
descriptions of natural scenery, it is true, are very rare, for the 
reason that, in this energetic age, poetry had something else to paint 
nature vigorously, but no effort to appeal by their reader, which they 
endeavor to reach solely by their narrative and characters. Letter-
writers and the authors of philosophical dialogues are, in fact, better 
evidence of the growing love of nature than the poets. The novelist 
Bandello, for example, observes rigorously the rules of his department 
of literature; he gives us in his novels themselves not a word more 
than is necessary on the natural scenery amid which the action of his 
tales takes place, but in the dedications which always precede them we 
meet with charming descriptions of nature as the setting for his 
dialogues and social pictures. Among letter-writers, Aretino 
unfortunately must be named as the first who has fully painted in words 
the splendid effect of light and shadow in an Italian sunset.

We sometimes find the feeling of the poets, also, itself with 
tenderness to graceful scenes of country Strozzi, about the year 1480, 
describes in a Latin elegy the dwelling of his mistress. We are shown 
an old ivy-clad house, half hidden in trees, and adorned with weather-
stained frescoes of the saints, and near it a chapel much damaged by 
the violence of the River Po, which flowed hard by; not far off, the 
priest ploughs his few barren roods with borrowed cattle. This is no 
reminiscence of the Roman elegists, but true modern sentiment; and the 
parallel to it--a sincere, unartificial description of country life in 
general--will be found at the end of this part of our work.

It may be objected that the German painters at the beginning of the 
sixteenth century succeeded in representing with perfect mastery these 
scenes of country life, as, for instance, Albrecht Durer, in his 
engraving of the Prodigal Son. But it is one thing if a painter, 
brought up in a school of realism, introduces such scenes, and quite 
another thing if a poet, accustomed to an ideal or mythological 
framework, is driven by inward impulse into realism. Besides which, 
priority in point of time is here, as in the descriptions of country 
life, on the side of the Italian poets.

Discovery of Man

To the discovery of the outward world the Renaissance added a still 
greater achievement, by first discerning and bringing to light the 
full, whole nature of man. This period, as we have seen, first gave the 
highest development to individuality, and then led the individual to 
the most zealous and thorough study of himself in all forms and under 
all conditions. Indeed, the development of personality is essentially 
involved in the recognition of it in oneself and in others. Between 
these two great processes our narrative has placed the influence of 
ancient literature because the mode of conceiving and representing both 
the individual and human nature in general was defined and colored by 
that influence. But the power of conception and representation lay in 
the age and in the people.

The facts which we shall quote in evidence of our thesis will be few in 
number. Here, if anywhere in the course of this discussion, the author 
is conscious that he is treading on the perilous ground of conjecture, 
and that what seems to him a clear, if delicate and gradual, transition 
in the intellectual movement of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, 
may not be equally plain to others. The gradual awakening of the soul 
of a people is a phenomenon which may produce a different impression on 
each spectator. Time will judge which impression is the most faithful.

Happily the study of the intellectual side of human nature began, not 
with the search after a theoretical psychology--for that, Aristotle 
still sufficed--but with the endeavor to observe and to describe. The 
indispensable ballast of theory was limited to the popular doctrine of 
the four temperaments, in its then habitual union with the belief in 
the influence of the planets. Such conceptions may remain ineradicable 
in the minds of individuals, without hindering the general progress of 
the age. It certainly makes on us a singular impression, when we meet 
them at a time when human nature in its deepest essence and in all its 
characteristic expressions was not only known by exact observation, but 
represented by an immortal poetry and art. It sounds almost ludicrous 
when an otherwise competent observer considers Clement VII to be of a 
melancholy temperament, but defers his judgement to that of the 
physicians, who declare the Pope of a sanguine-choleric nature; or when 
we read that the same Gaston de Foix, the victor of Ravenna, whom 
Giorgione painted and Bambaia carved, and whom all the historians 
describe, had the saturnine temperament. No doubt those who use these 
expressions mean something by them; but the terms in which they tell us 
their meaning are strangely out of date in the Italy of the sixteenth 

As examples of the free delineation of the human spirit, we shall first 
speak of the great poets of the fourteenth century.

If we were to collect the pearls from the courtly and knightly poetry 
of all the countries of the West during the two preceding centuries, we 
should have a mass of wonderful divinations and single pictures of the 
inward life, which at first sight would seem to rival the poetry of the 
Italians. Leaving lyrical poetry out of account, Godfrey of Strassburg 
gives us, in 'Tristram and Isolt,' a representation of human passion, 
some features of which are immortal. But these pearls lie scattered in 
the ocean of artificial convention, and they are altogether something 
very different from a complete objective picture of the inward man and 
his spiritual wealth.

Italy, too, in the thirteenth century had, through the 'Trovatori,' its 
share in the poetry of the courts and of chivalry. To them is mainly 
due the 'Canzone,' whose construction is as difficult and artificial as 
that of the songs of any northern minstrel. Their subject and mode of 
thought represents simply the conventional tone of the courts, be the 
poet a burgher or a scholar.

But two new paths at length showed themselves, along which Italian 
poetry could advance to another and a characteristic future. They are 
not the less important for being concerned only with the formal and 
external side of the art.

To the same Brunetto Latini--the teacher of Dante--who, in his 
'Canzoni,' adopts the customary manner of the 'Trovatori,' we owe the 
first-known 'versi sciolti,' or blank hendecasyllabic verses, and in 
his apparent absence of form, a true and genuine passion suddenly 
showed itself. The same voluntary renunciation of outward effect, 
through confidence in the power of the inward conception, can be 
observed some years later in fresco-painting, and later still in 
painting of all kinds, which began to cease to rely on color for its 
effect, using simply a lighter or darker shade. For an age which laid 
so much stress on artificial form in poetry, these verses of Brunetto 
mark the beginning of a new epoch.84

About the same time, or even in the first half of the thirteenth 
century, one of the many strictly balanced forms of mere, in which 
Europe was then so fruitful, became a normal and recognized form in 
Italy--the sonnet. The order of rhymes and even the number of lines 
varied for a whole century, till Petrarch fixed them permanently. In 
this form all higher lyrical and meditative subjects, and at a later 
time subjects of every possible description, were treated, and the 
madrigals, the sestine, and even the 'Canzoni' were reduced to a 
subordinate place. Later Italian writers complain, half jestingly, half 
resentfully, of this inevitable mould, this Procrustean bed, to which 
they were compelled to make their thoughts and feelings fit. Others 
were, and still are, quite satisfied with this particular form of 
verse, which they freely use to express any personal reminiscence or 
idle sing-song without necessity or serious purpose. For which reason 
there are many more bad or insignificant sonnets than good ones.

Nevertheless, the sonnet must be held to have been an unspeakable 
blessing for Italian poetry. The clearness and beauty of its structure, 
the invitation it gave to elevate the thought in the second and more 
rapidly moving half, and the ease with which it could be learned by 
heart, made it valued even by the greatest masters. In fact, they would 
not have kept it in use down to our own century had they not been 
penetrated with a sense of its singular worth. These masters could have 
given us the same thoughts in other and wholly different forms. But 
when once they had made the sonnet the normal type of lyrical poetry, 
many other writers of great, if not the highest, gifts, who otherwise 
would have lost themselves in a sea of diffusiveness, were forced to 
concentrate their feelings. The sonnet became for Italian literature a 
condenser of thoughts and emotions such as was possessed by the poetry 
of no other modern people.

Thus the world of Italian sentiment comes before us in a series of 
pictures, clear, concise, and most effective in their brevity. Had 
other nations possessed a form of expression of the same kind, we 
should perhaps have known more of their inward life; we might have had 
a number of pictures of inward and outward situations--reflexions of 
the national character and temper--and should not be dependent for such 
knowledge on the so-called lyrical poets of the fourteenth and 
fifteenth centuries, who can hardly ever be read with any serious 
enjoyment. In Italy we can trace an undoubted progress from the time 
when the sonnet came into existence. In the second half of the 
thirteenth century the 'Trovatori della transizione,' as they have been 
recently named, mark the passage from the Troubadours to the poets--
that is, to those who wrote under the influence of antiquity. The 
simplicity and strength of their feeling, the vigorous delineation of 
fact, the precise expression and rounding off of their sonnets and 
other poems, herald the coming of a Dante. Some political sonnets of 
the Guelphs and Ghibellines (1260-1270) have about them the ring of his 
passion, and others remind us of his sweetest lyrical notes.

Of his own theoretical view of the sonnet, we are unfortunately 
ignorant, since the last books of his work, 'De vulgari eloquentia,' in 
which he proposed to treat of ballads and sonnets, either remained 
unwritten or have been lost. But, as a matter of fact, he has left us 
in his Sonnets and 'Canzoni' a treasure of inward experience. And in 
what a framework he has set them! The prose of the 'Vita Nuova,' in 
which he gives an account of the origin of each poem, is as wonderful 
as the verses themselves, and forms with them a uniform whole, inspired 
with the deepest glow of passion. With unflinching frankness and 
sincerity he lays bare every shade of his joy and his sorrow, and molds 
it resolutely into the strictest forms of art. Reading attentively 
these Sonnets and 'Canzoni' and the marvelous fragments of the diary of 
his youth which lie between them, we fancy that throughout the Middle 
Ages the poets have been purposely fleeing from themselves, and that he 
was the first to seek his own soul. Before his time we meet with many 
an artistic verse; but he is the first artist in the full sense of the 
word--the first who consciously cast immortal matter into an immortal 
form. Subjective feeling has here a full objective truth and greatness, 
and most of it is so set forth that all ages and peoples can make it 
their own. Where he writes in a thoroughly objective spirit, and lets 
the force of his sentiment be guessed at only by some outward fact, as 
in the magnificent sonnets 'Tanto gentile,' etc., and 'Vede 
perfettamente,' etc., he seems to feel the need of excusing himself. 
The most beautiful of these poems really belongs to this class-- the 
'Deh peregrini che pensosi andate,' ('Oh, pilgrims, walking deep in 
thoughts,' from Vita Nuova.) Even apart from the 'Divine Comedy,' Dante 
would have marked by these youthful poems the boundary between 
medievalism and modern times. The human spirit had taken a mighty step 
towards the consciousness of its own secret life.

The revelations in this matter which are contained in the 'Divine 
Comedy' itself are simply immeasurable; and it would be necessary to go 
through the whole poem, one canto after another, in order to do justice 
to its value from this point of view. Happily we have no need to do 
this, as it has long been a daily food of all the countries of the 
West. Its plan, and the ideas on which it is based, belong to the 
Middle Ages, and appeal to our interest only historically; but it is 
nevertheless the beginning of all modern poetry, through the power and 
richness shown in the description of human nature in every shape and 
attitude. From this time forward poetry may have experienced unequal 
fortunes, and may show, for half a century together, a so-called 
relapse. But its nobler and more vital principle was saved for ever; 
and whenever in the fourteenth, fifteenth, and in the beginning of the 
sixteenth centuries, an original mind devotes himself to it, he 
represents a more advanced stage than any poet out of Italy, given--
what is certainly always easy to settle satisfactorily--an equality of 
natural gifts to start with.

Here, as in other things in Italy, culture--to which poetry belongs--
precedes the visual arts and, in fact, gives them their chief impulse. 
More than a century elapsed before the spiritual element in painting 
and sculpture attained a power of expression in any way analogous to 
that of the 'Divine Comedy.' How far the same rule holds good for the 
artistic development of other nations, and of what importance the whole 
question may be, does not concern us here. For Italian civilization it 
is of decisive weight.

The position to be assigned to Petrarch in this respect must be settled 
by the many readers of the poet. Those who come to him in the spirit of 
a cross-examiner, and busy themselves in detecting the contradictions 
between the poet and the man, his infidelities in love, and the other 
weak sides of his character, may perhaps, after sufficient effort, end 
by losing all taste for his poetry. In place, then, of artistic 
enjoyment, we may acquire a knowledge of the man in his 'totality.' 
What a pity that Petrarch's letters from Avignon contain so little 
gossip to take hold of, and that the letters of his acquaintances and 
of the friends of these acquaintances have either been lost or never 
existed! Instead of Heaven being thanked when we are not forced to 
inquire how and through what struggles a poet has rescued something 
immortal from his own poor life and lot, a biography has been stitched 
together for Petrarch out of these so-called 'remains,' which reads 
like an indictment. But the poet may take comfort. If the printing and 
editing of the correspondence of celebrated people goes on for another 
half-century as it has begun in England and Germany, illustrious 
company enough sitting with him on repentance.

Without shutting our eyes to much that is _. artificial in his poetry, 
where the writer is merely imitating himself and singing on in the old 
strain, we cannot fail to admire the marvelous abundance of pictures of 
the inmost soul -- descriptions of moments of joy and sorrow which must 
have been thoroughly his own, since no one before him gives us anything 
of the kind, and on which his significance rests for his country and 
for the world. His verse is not in all places equally transparent; by 
the side of his most beautiful thoughts stands at times some 
allegorical conceit or some sophistical trick of logic, altogether 
foreign to our present taste. But the balance is on the side of 

Boccaccio, too, in his imperfectly-known Sonnets, succeeds sometimes in 
giving a most powerful and effective picture of his feeling. The return 
to a spot consecrated by love (Son. 22), the melancholy of spring (Son. 
33), the sadness of the poet who feels himself growing old (Son. 65), 
are admirably treated by him. And in the 'Ameto' he has described the 
ennobling and transfiguring power of love in a manner which would 
hardly be expected from the author of the 'Decameron.' In the 
'Fiammetta' we have another great and minutely-painted picture of the 
human soul, full of the keenest observation, though executed with 
anything but uniform power, and in parts marred by the passion for 
high-sounding language and by an unlucky mixture of mythological 
allusions and learned quotations. The 'Fiammetta,' if we are not 
mistaken, is a sort of feminine counterpart to the 'Vita Nuova' of 
Dante, or at any rate owes its origin to it.

That the ancient poets, particularly the elegists, and Virgil, in the 
fourth book of the Aeneid, were not without influence on the Italians 
of this and the following generation is beyond a doubt; but the spring 
of sentiment within the latter was nevertheless powerful and original. 
If we compare them in this respect with their contemporaries in other 
countries, we shall find in them the earliest complete expression of 
modern European feeling. The question, be it remembered, is not to know 
whether eminent men of other nations did not feel as deeply and as 
nobly, but who first gave documentary proof of the widest knowledge of 
the movements of the human heart.

Why did the Italians of the Renaissance do nothing above the second 
rank in tragedy? That was the field on which to display human 
character, intellect, and passion, in the thousand forms of their 
growth, their struggles, and their decline. In other words: why did 
Italy produce no Shakespeare? For with the stage of other northern 
countries besides England the Italians of the sixteenth and seventeenth 
centuries had no reason to fear a comparison; and with the Spaniards 
they could not enter into competition, since Italy had long lost all 
traces of religious fanaticism, treated the chivalrous code of honour 
only as a form, and was both too proud and too intelligent to bow down 
before its tyrannical and illegitimate masters. We have therefore only 
to consider the English stage in the period of its brief splendor.

It is an obvious reply that all Europe produced but one Shakespeare, 
and that such a mind is the rarest of Heaven's gifts. It is further 
possible that the Italian stage was on the way to something great when 
the Counter-reformation broke in upon it, and, aided by the Spanish 
rule over Naples and Milan, and indirectly over almost the whole 
peninsula, withered the best flowers of the Italian spirit. It would be 
hard to conceive of Shakespeare himself under a Spanish viceroy, or in 
the neighbourhood of the Holy Inquisition at Rome, or in his own 
country a few decades later, at the time o English Revolution. The 
stage, which in its perfection is a product of every civilization, must 
wait for its own time and fortune.

We must not, however, quit this subject without mentioning certain 
circumstances which were of a character to hinder or retard a high 
development of the drama in Italy, till the time for it had gone by.

As the most weighty of these causes we must mention without doubt that 
the scenic tastes of the people were occupied elsewhere, and chiefly in 
the mysteries and religious processions. Throughout all Europe dramatic 
representations of sacred history and legend form the origin of the 
secular drama; but Italy, as will be shown more fully in the sequel, 
had spent on the mysteries such a wealth of decorative splendor as 
could not but be unfavorable to the dramatic element. Out of all the 
countless and costly representations, there sprang not even a branch of 
poetry like the 'Autos Sagramentales' of Calderon and other Spanish 
poets, much less any advantage or foundation for the secular drama.

And when the latter did at length appear, it at once gave itself up to 
magnificence of scenic effects, to which the mysteries had already 
accustomed the public taste to far too great an extent. We learn with 
astonishment how rich and splendid the scenes in Italy were, at a time 
when in the North the simplest indication of the place was thought 
sufficient. This alone might have had no such unfavorable effect on the 
drama, if the attention of the audience had not been drawn away from 
the poetical conception of the play partly by the splendor of the 
costumes, partly and chiefly by fantastic interludes (Intermezzi).

That in many places, particularly in Rome and Ferrara, Plautus and 
Terence, as well as pieces by the old tragedians, were given in Latin 
or in Italian, that the academies of which we have already spoken, made 
this one of their chief objects, and that the poets of the Renaissance 
followed these models too servilely, were all untoward conditions for 
the Italian stage at the period in question. Yet I hold them to be of 
secondary importance. Had not the Counter-reformation and the rule of 
foreigners intervened, these very disadvantages might have been turned 
into useful means of transition. At all events, by the year 1520 the 
victory of the mother-tongue in tragedy and comedy was, to the great 
disgust of the humanists, as good as won. On this side, then, no 
obstacle stood in the way of the most developed people in Europe, to 
hinder them from raising the drama, in its noblest forms, to be a true 
reflection of human life and destiny. It was the Inquisitors and 
Spaniards who cowed the Italian spirit, and rendered impossible the 
representation of the greatest and most sublime themes, most of all 
when they were associated with patriotic memories. At the same time, 
there is no doubt that the distracting 'Intermezzi' did serious harm to 
the drama. We must now consider them a little more closely.

When the marriage of Alfonso of Ferrara with Lucrezia Borgia was 
celebrated, Duke Ercole in person showed his illustrious guests the 110 
costumes which were to serve at the representation of five comedies of 
Plautus, in order that all might see that not one of them was used 
twice. But all this display of silk and camlet was nothing to the 
ballets and pantomimes which served as interludes between the acts of 
the Plautine dramas. That, in comparison, Plautus himself seemed 
mortally dull to a lively young lady like Isabella Gonzaga, and that 
while the play was going on everybody was longing for the interludes, 
is quite intelligible, when we think of the picturesque brilliancy with 
which they were put on the stage. There were to be seen combats of 
Roman warriors, who brandished their weapons to the sound of music, 
torch-dances executed by Moors, a dance of savages with horns of 
plenty, out of which streamed waves of fire-- all as the ballet of a 
pantomime in which a maiden was delivered from a dragon. Then came a 
dance of fools, got up as Punches, beating one another with pigs' 
bladders, with more of the same kind. At the Court of Ferrara they 
never gave a comedy without 'its' ballet (Moresca). In what style the 
'Amphitruo' of Plautus was there represented (1491) at the first 
marriage of Alfonso with Anna Sforza), is doubtful. Possibly it was 
given rather as a pantomime with music than as a drama. In any case, 
the accessories were more considerable than the play itself. There was 
a choral dance of ivy-clad youths, moving in intricate figures, done to 
the music of a ringing orchestra; then came Apollo, striking the lyre 
with the plectrum, and singing an ode to the praise of the House of 
Este; then followed, as an interlude within an interlude, a kind of 
rustic farce, after which the stage was again occupied by classical 
mythology--Venus, Bacchus and their followers--and by a pantomime 
representing the judgement of Paris.

Not till then was the second half of the fable of Amphitruo performed, 
with unmistakable references to the future birth of a Hercules of the 
House of Este. At a former representation of the same piece in the 
courtyard of the palace (1487), 'a paradise with stars and other 
wheels,' was constantly burning, by which is probably meant an 
illumination with fireworks, that, no doubt, absorbed most of the 
attention of the spectators. It was certainly better when such 
performances were given separately, as was the case at other courts. We 
shall have to speak of the entertainments given by the Cardinal Pietro 
Riario, by the Bentivogli at Bologna, and by others, when we come to 
treat of the festivals in general.

This scenic magnificence, now become universal, had a disastrous effect 
on Italian tragedy. 'In Venice formerly,' writes Francesco Sansovino, 
about 1570, 'besides comedies, tragedies by ancient and modern writers 
were put on the stage with great pomp. The fame of the scenic 
arrangements _(apparati) _brought spectators from far and near. 
Nowadays, performances are given by private individuals in their own 
houses, and the custom has long been fixed of passing the carnival in 
comedies and other cheerful entertainments.' In other words, scenic 
display had helped to kill tragedy.

The various starts or attempts of these modern tragedians, among which 
the 'Sofonisba' of Trissino (1515) was the most celebrated, belong in 
the history of literature. The same may be said of genteel comedy, 
modelled on Plautus and Terence. Even Ariosto could do nothing of the 
first order in this style. On the other hand, popular prose-comedy, as 
treated by Machiavelli, Bibbiena, and Aretino, might have had a future, 
if its matter had not condemned it to destruction. This was, on the one 
hand, licentious to the last degree, and on the other, aimed at certain 
classes in society, which, after the middle of the sixteenth century, 
ceased to afford a ground for public attacks. If in the 'Sofonisba' the 
portrayal of character gave place to brilliant declamation, the latter, 
with its half-sister, caricature, was used far too freely in comedy 

The writing of tragedies and comedies, and the practice of putting both 
ancient and modern plays on the stage, continued without intermission; 
but they served only as occasions for display. The national genius 
turned elsewhere for living interest. When the opera and the pastoral 
fable came up, these attempts were at length wholly abandoned.

One form of comedy only was and remained national--the unwritten, 
improvised 'Commedia dell' Arte.' It was of no great service in the 
delineation of character, since the masks used were few in number and 
familiar to everybody. But the talent of the nation had such an 
affinity for this style, that often in the middle of written comedies 
the actors would throw themselves on their own inspiration, so that a 
new mixed form of comedy came into existence in some places. The plays 
given in Venice by Burchiello, and afterwards by the company of 
Armonio, Val. Zuccato, Lod. Dolce, and others, were perhaps of this 
character. Of Burchiello we know expressly that he used to heighten the 
comic effect by mixing Greek and Slavonic words with the Venetian 
dialect. A complete 'Commedia dell' Arte,' or very nearly so, was 
represented by Angelo Beolco, known as 'Il Ruzzante' (1502-42), whose 
customary masks were Paduan peasants, with the names Menato, Vezzo, 
Billora, etc. He studied their dialect when spending the summer at the 
villa of his patron Luigi Cornaro (Aloysius Cornelius) at Codevico. 
Gradually all the famous local masks made their appearance, whose 
remains still delight the Italian populace in our day: Pantalone, the 
Doctor, Brighella, Pulcinella, Arlecchino, and the rest. Most of them 
are of great antiquity, and possibly are historically connected with 
the masks in the old Roman farces; but it was not till the sixteenth 
century that several of them were combined in one piece. At the present 
time this is less often the case; but every great city still keeps to 
its local mask--Naples to the Pulcinella, Florence to the Stentorello, 
Milan to its often so admirable Meneghino.

This is indeed scanty compensation for a people which possessed the 
power, perhaps to a greater degree than any other, to reflect and 
contemplate its own highest qualities in the mirror of the drama. But 
this power was destined to be marred for centuries by hostile forces, 
for whose predominance the Italians were only in part responsible. The 
universal talent for dramatic representation could not indeed be 
uprooted, and in music Italy long made good its claim to supremacy in 
Europe. Those who can find in this world of sound a compensation for 
the drama, to which all future was denied, have, at all events, no 
meagre source of consolation.

But perhaps we can find in epic poetry what the stage fails to offer 
us. Yet the chief reproach made against the heroic poetry of Italy is 
precisely on the score of the insignificance and imperfect 
representation of its characters.

Other merits are allowed to belong to it, among the rest, that for 
three centuries it has been actually read and constantly reprinted, 
while nearly the whole of the epic poetry of other nations has become a 
mere matter of literary or historical curiosity. Does this perhaps lie 
in the taste of the readers, who demand something different from what 
would satisfy a northern public? Certainly, without the power of 
entering to some degree into Italian sentiment, it is impossible to 
appreciate the characteristic excellence of these poems, and many 
distinguished men declare that they can make nothing of them. And in 
truth, if we criticize Pulci, Boiardo, Ariosto, and Berni solely with 
an eye to their thought and matter, we shall fail to do them justice. 
They are artists of a peculiar kind, who write for a people which is 
distinctly and eminently artistic.

The mediaeval legends had lived on after the gradual extinction of the 
poetry of chivalry, partly in the form of rhyming adaptations and 
collections, and partly of novels in prose. The latter was the case in 
Italy during the fourteenth century; but the newly-awakened memories of 
antiquity were rapidly growing up to a gigantic size, and soon cast 
into the shade all the fantastic creations of the Middle Ages. 
Boccaccio, for example, in his 'Visione Amorosa,' names among the 
heroes in his enchanted palace Tristram, Arthur, Galeotto, and others, 
but briefly, as if he were ashamed to speak of them; and following 
writers either do not name them at all, or name them only for purposes 
of ridicule. But the people kept them in its memory, and from the 
people they passed into the hands of the poets of the fifteenth 
century. These were now able to conceive and represent their subjects 
in a wholly new manner. But they did more. They introduced into it a 
multitude of fresh elements, and in fact recast it from beginning to 
end. It must not be expected of them that they should treat such 
subjects with the respect once felt for them. All other countries must 
envy them the advantage of having a popular interest of this kind to 
appeal to; but they could not without hypocrisy treat these myths with 
any respect.

Instead of this, they moved with victorious freedom in the new field 
which poetry had won. What they chiefly aimed at seems to have been 
that their poems, when recited, should produce the most harmonious and 
exhilarating effect. These works indeed gain immensely when they are 
repeated, not as a whole, but piecemeal, and with a slight touch of 
comedy in voice and gesture. A deeper and more detailed portrayal of 
character would do little to enhance this effect; though the reader may 
desire it, the hearer, who sees the rhapsodist standing before him, and 
who hears only one piece at a time, does not think about it at all. 
With respect to the figures, which the poet found ready made for him, 
his feeling was of a double kind; his humanistic culture protested 
against their mediaeval character, and their combats as counterparts of 
the battles and tournaments of the poet's own age exercised all his 
knowledge and artistic power, while at the same time they called forth 
all the highest qualities in the reciter. Even in Pulci, accordingly, 
we find no parody, strictly speaking, of chivalry, nearly humour of his 
paladins at times approaches it. By their side stands the ideal of 
pugnacity--the droll and jovial Morgante--who masters whole armies with 
his bellclapper, and who is himself thrown into relief by contrast with 
the grotesque and most interesting monster Margutte. Yet Pulci lays no 
special stress on these two rough and vigorous characters, and his 
story, long after they had disappeared from it, maintains its singular 
course. Boiardo treats his characters with the same mastery, using them 
for serious or comic purposes as he pleases; he has his fun even out of 
supernatural beings, whom he sometimes intentionally depicts as louts. 
But there is one artistic aim which he pursues as earnestly as Pulci, 
namely, the lively and exact description of all that goes forward. 
Pulci recited his poem, as one book after another was finished, before 
the society of Lorenzo il Magnifico, and in the same way Boiardo 
recited his at the court of Ercole of Ferrara. It may be easily 
imagined what sort of excellence such an audience demanded, and how 
little thanks a profound exposition of character would have earned for 
the poet. Under these circumstances the poems naturally formed no 
complete whole, and might just as well be half or twice as long as they 
now are. Their composition is not that of a great historical picture, 
but rather that of a frieze, or of some rich festoon entwined among 
groups of picturesque figures. And precisely as in the figures or 
tendrils of a frieze we do not look for minuteness of execution in the 
individual forms, or for distant perspectives and different planes, so 
we must as little expect anything of the kind from these poems.

The varied richness of invention which continually astonishes us, most 
of all in the case of Boiardo, turns to ridicule all our school 
definitions as to the essence of epic poetry. For that age, this form 
of literature was the most agreeable diversion from archaeological 
studies, and, indeed, the only possible means of re-establishing an 
independent class of narrative poetry. For the versification of ancient 
history could only lead to the false tracks which were trodden by 
Petrarch in his 'Africa,' written in Latin hexameters, and a hundred 
and fifty years later by Trissino in his 'Italy delivered from the 
Goths,' composed in 'versi sciolti'--a never-ending poem of faultless 
language and versification, which only makes us doubt whether this 
unlucky alliance has been more disastrous to history or to poetry.

And whither did the example of Dante beguile those who imitated him? 
The visionary 'Trionfi' of Petrarch were the last of the works written 
under this influence which satisfy our taste. The 'Amorosa Visione' of 
Boccaccio is at bottom no more than an enumeration of historical or 
fabulous characters, arranged under allegorical categories. Others 
preface what they have to tell with a baroque imitation of Dante's 
first canto, and provide themselves with some allegorical comparison, 
to take the place of Virgil. Uberti, for example, chose Solinus for his 
geographical poem--the 'Dittamondo'--and Giovanni Santi, Plutarch for 
his encomium on Federigo of Urbino. The only salvation of the time from 
these false tendencies lay in the new epic poetry which was represented 
by Pulci and Boiardo. The admiration and curiosity with which it was 
received, and the like of which will perhaps never fall again to the 
lot of epic poetry to the end of time, is a brilliant proof of how 
great was the need of it. It is idle to ask whether that epic ideal 
which our own day has formed from Homer and the 'Nibelungenlied' is or 
is not realized in these works; an ideal of their own age certainly 
was. By their endless descriptions of combats, which to us are the most 
fatiguing part of these poems, they satisfied, as we have already said, 
a practical interest of which it is hard for us to form a just 
conception--as hard, indeed, as of the esteem in which a lively and 
faithful reflection of the passing moment was then held.

Nor can a more inappropriate test be applied to Ariosto than the degree 
in which his 'Orlando Furioso' serves for the representation of 
character. Characters, indeed, there are, and drawn with an 
affectionate care; but the poem does not depend on these for its 
effect, and would lose, rather than gain, if more stress were laid upon 
them. But the demand for them is part of a wider and more general 
desire which Ariosto fails to satisfy as our day would wish it 
satisfied. From a poet of such fame and such mighty gifts we would 
gladly receive something better than the adventures of Orlando. From 
him we might have hoped for a work expressing the deepest conflicts of 
the human soul, the highest thoughts of his time on human and divine 
things--in a word, one of those supreme syntheses like the 'Divine 
Comedy' or 'Faust.' Instead of which he goes to work like the visual 
artists of his own day, not caring for originality in our sense of the 
word, simply reproducing a familiar circle of figures, and even, when 
it suits his purpose, making use of the details left him by his 
predecessors. The excellence which, in spite of all this, can 
nevertheless be attained, will be the more incomprehensible to people 
born without the artistic sense, the more learned and intelligent in 
other respects they are. The artistic aim of Ariosto is brilliant, 
living action, which he distributes equally through the whole of his 
great poem. For this end he needs to be excused, not only from all 
deeper expression of character, but also from maintaining any strict 
connection in his narrative. He must be allowed to take up lost and 
forgotten threads when and where he pleases; his heroes must come and 
go, not because their character, but because the story requires it. Yet 
in this apparently irrational and arbitrary style of composition he 
displays a harmonious beauty, never losing himself in description, but 
giving only such a sketch of scenes and persons as does not hinder the 
flowing movement of the narrative. Still less does he lose himself in 
conversation and monologue, but maintains the lofty privilege of the 
true epos, by transforming all into living narrative. His pathos does 
not lie in the words, not even in the famous twentythird and following 
cantos, where Roland's madness is described. That the love-stories in 
the heroic poem are without all lyrical tenderness, must be reckoned a 
merit, though from a moral point of view they cannot always be 
approved. Yet at times they are of such truth and reality, 
notwithstanding all ; and romance which surrounds them, that we might 
think them personal affairs of the poet himself. In the full 
consciousness of his own genius, he does not scruple to interweave t he 
events of his own day into the poem, and to celebrate the fame of the 
house of Este in visions and prophecies. The wonderful stream of his 
octaves bears it all forward in even and dignified movement.

With Teofilo Folengo, or, as he here calls himself, Limerno Pitocco, 
the parody of the whole system of chivalry attained the end it had so 
long desired. But here comedy, with its realism, demanded of necessity 
a stricter delineation of character. Exposed to all the rough usage of 
the half-savage street-lads in a Roman country town, Sutri, the little 
Orlando grows up before our eyes into the hero, the priest-hater, and 
the disputant. The conventional world which had been recognized since 
the time of Pulci and had served as a framework for the epos, here 
falls to pieces. The origin and position of the paladins is openly 
ridiculed, as in the tournament of donkeys in the second book, where 
the knights appear with the most ludicrous armament. The poet utters 
his ironical regrets over the inexplicable faithlessness which seems 
implanted in the house of Gano of Mainz, over the toilsome acquisition 
of the sword Durindana, and so forth. Tradition, in fact, serves him 
only as a substratum for episodes, ludicrous fancies, allusions to 
events of the time (among which some, like the close of cap. vi. are 
exceedingly fine), and indecent jokes. Mixed with all this, a certain 
derision of Ariosto is unmistakable, and it was fortunate for the 'Or- 
lando Furioso' that the 'Orlandino,' with its Lutheran heresies, was 
soon put out of the way by the Inquisition. The parody is evident when 
(cap. vi, 28) the house of Gonzaga is deduced from the paladin Guidone, 
since the Colonna claimed Orlando, the Orsini Rinaldo, and the house of 
Este--according to Ariosto-- Ruggiero as their ancestors. Perhaps 
Ferrante Gonzaga, the patron of the poet, was a party to this sarcasm 
on the house of Este. 

That in the 'Jerusalem Delivered' of Torquato Tasso the delineation of 
character is one of the chief tasks of the poet, proves only how far 
his mode of thought differed from that prevalent half a century before. 
His admirable work is a true monument of the Counter-reformation which 
had meanwhile been accomplished, and of the spirit and tendency of that 

Biography and in the in the Middle Ages and in the Renaissance

Outside the sphere of poetry also, the Italians were the first of all 
European nations who displayed any remarkable power and inclination 
accurately to describe man as shown in history, according to his inward 
and outward characteristics.

It is true that in the Middle Ages considerable attempts were made in 
the same direction; and the legends of the Church, as a kind of 
standing biographical task, must, to some extent, have kept alive the 
interest and the gift for such descriptions. In the annals of the 
monasteries and cathedrals, many of the churchmen, such as Meinwerk of 
Paderborn, Godehard of Hildesheim, and others, are brought vividly 
before our eyes; and descriptions exist of several of the German 
emperors, modelled after old authors--particularly Suetonius--which 
contain admirable features. Indeed these and other profane 'vitae' came 
in time to form a continuous counterpart to the sacred legends. Yet 
neither Einhard nor Wippo nor Radevicus can be named by the side of 
Joinville's picture of St. Louis, which certainly stands almost alone 
as the first complete spiritual portrait of a modern European nature. 
Characters like St. Louis are rare at all times, and his was favored by 
the rare good fortune that a sincere and naive observer caught the 
spirit of all the events and actions of his life, and represented it 
admirably. From what scanty sources are we left to guess at the inward 
nature of Frederick II or of Philip the Fair. Much of what, till the 
close of the Middle Ages, passed for biography, is properly speaking 
nothing but contemporary narrative, written without any sense of what 
is individual in the subject of the memoir.

Among the Italians, on the contrary, the search for the characteristic 
features of remarkable men was a prevailing tendency; and this it is 
which separates them from the other western peoples, among whom the 
same thing happens but seldom, and in exceptional cases. This keen eye 
for individuality belongs only to those who have emerged from the 
halfconscious life of the race and become themselves individuals.

Under the influence of the prevailing conception of fame an art of 
comparative biography arose which no longer found it necessary, like 
Anastasius, Agnellus, and their successors, or like the biographers of 
the Venetian doges, to adhere to a dynastic or ecclesiastical 
succession. It felt itself free to describe a man if and because he was 
remarkable. It took as models .Suetonius, Nepos (the 'viri illustres'), 
and Plutarch,-so far as he was known and translated; for sketches of 
literary history, the lives of the grammarians, rhetoricians, and 
poets, known to us as the 'Appendices' to Suetonius, seem to have 
served as patterns, as well as the widely-read life of Virgil by 

It has already been mentioned that biographical collections --lives of 
famous men and famous women--began to appear in the fourteenth century. 
Where they do not describe contemporaries, they are naturally dependent 
on earlier narratives. The first great original effort is the life of 
Dante by Boccaccio. Lightly and rhetorically written, and full, as it 
is, of arbitrary fancies, this work nevertheless gives us a lively 
sense of the extraordinary features in Dante's nature. Then follow, at 
the end of the fourteenth century, the 'vite' of illustrious 
Florentines, by Filippo Villani. They are men of every calling: poets, 
jurists, physicians, scholars, artists, statesmen, and soldiers, some 
of them then still living. Florence is here treated like a gifted 
family, in which all the members are noticed in whom the spirit of the 
house expresses itself vigorously. The descriptions are brief, but show 
a remarkable eye for what is characteristic, and are noteworthy for 
including the inward and outward physiognomy in the same sketch. From 
that time forward, the Tuscans never ceased to consider the description 
of man as lying within their special competence, and to them we owe the 
most valuable portraits of the Italians of the fifteenth and sixteenth 
centuries. Giovanni Cavalcanti, in the appendices to his Florentine 
history, written before the year 1450, collects instances of civil 
virtue and abnegation, of political discernment and of military valor, 
all shown by Florentines. Pius II gives in his 'Commentaries' valuable 
portraits of famous contemporaries; and not long ago a separate work of 
his earlier years, which seems preparatory to these portraits, but 
which has colors and features that are very singular, was reprinted. To 
Jacopo of Volterra we owe piquant sketches of members of the Curia in 
the time of Sixtus IV. Vespasiano Fiorentino has often been referred to 
already, and as a historical authority a high place must be assigned to 
him; but his gift as a painter of character is not to be compared with 
that of Machiavelli, Niccolo Valori, Guicciardini, Varchi, Francesco 
Vettori, and others, by whom European historical literature has 
probably been as much influenced in this direction as by the ancients. 
It must not be forgotten that some of these authors soon found their 
way into northern countries by means of Latin translations. And without 
Giorgio Vasari of Arezzo and his all-important work, we should perhaps 
to this day have no history of Northern art, or of the art of modern 
Europe, at all.

Among the biographers of North Italy in the fifteenth century, 
Bartolommeo Fazio of Spezia holds a high rank. Platina, born in the 
territory of Cremona, gives us, in his 'Life of Paul II,' examples of 
biographical caricatures. The description of the last Visconti, written 
by Piercandido Decembrio--an enlarged imitation of Suetonius--is of 
special importance. Sismondi regrets that so much trouble has been 
spent on so unworthy an object, but the author would hardly have been 
equal to deal with a greater man, while he was thoroughly competent to 
describe the mixed nature of Filippo Maria, and in and through it to 
represent with accuracy the conditions, the forms, and the consequences 
of this particular kind of despotism. The picture of the fifteenth 
century would be incomplete without this unique biography, which is 
characteristic down to its minutest details. Milan afterwards 
possessed, in the historian Corio, an excellent portrait-painter; and 
after him came Paolo Giovio of Como, whose larger biographies and 
shorter 'Elogia' have achieved a world-wide reputation, and become 
models for subsequent writers in all countries. It is easy to prove by 
a hundred passages how superficial and even dishonest he was; nor from 
a man like him can any high and serious purpose be expected. But the 
breath of the age moves in his pages, and his Leo, his Alfonso, his 
Pompeo Colonna, live and act before us with such perfect truth and 
reality, that we seem admitted to the deepest recesses of their nature.

Among Neapolitan writers, Tristano Caracciolo, so far as we are able to 
judge, holds indisputably the first place in this respect, although his 
purpose was not strictly biographical. In the figures which he brings 
before us, guilt and destiny are wondrously mingled. He is a kind of 
unconscious tragedian. That genuine tragedy which then found no place 
on the stage, 'swept by' in the palace, the street, and the public 
square. The 'Words and Deeds of Alfonso the Great,' written by Antonio 
Panormita during the lifetime of the king, are remarkable as one of the 
first of such collections of anecdotes and of wise and witty sayings.

The rest of Europe followed the example of Italy in this respect but 
slowly, although great political and religious movements had broken so 
many bonds, and had awakened so many thousands to new spiritual life. 
Italians, whether scholars or diplomatists, still remained, on the 
whole, the best source of information for the characters of the leading 
men all over Europe. It is well known how speedily and unanimously in 
recent times the reports of the Venetian embassies in the sixteenth and 
seventeenth centuries have been recognized as authorities of the first 
order for personal description. Even autobiography takes here and there 
in Italy a bold and vigorous flight, and puts before us, together with 
the most varied incidents of external life, striking revelations of the 
inner man. Among other nations, even in Germany at the time of the 
Reformation, it deals only with outward experiences, and leaves us to 
guess at the spirit within from the style of the narrative. It seems as 
though Dante's 'Vita Nuova,' with the inexorable truthfulness which 
runs through it, had shown his people the way.

The beginnings of autobiography are to be traced in the family 
histories of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, which are said to 
be not uncommon as manuscripts in the Florentine libraries--unaffected 
narratives written for the sake of the individual or of his family, 
like that of Buonaccorso Pitti.

A profound self-analysis is not to be looked for in the 'Commentaries' 
of Pius II. What we here learn of him as a man seems at first sight to 
be chiefly confined to the account which he gives of the various steps 
in his career. But further reflection will lead us to a different 
conclusion with regard to this remarkable book. There are men who are 
by nature mirrors of what surrounds them. It would be irrelevant to ask 
incessantly after their convictions, their spiritual struggles, their 
inmost victories and achievements. Aeneas Sylvius lived wholly in the 
interest which lay near, without troubling himself about the problems 
and contradictions of life. His Catholic orthodoxy gave him all the 
help of this kind which he needed. And at all events, after taking part 
in every intellectual movement which interested his age, and notably 
furthering some of them, he still at the close of his earthly course 
retained character enough to preach a crusade against the Turks, and to 
die of grief when it came to nothing.

Nor is the autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini, any more than that of 
Pius II, founded on introspection. And yet it describes the whole man--
not always willingly--with marvelous truth and completeness. It is no 
small matter that Benvenuto, whose most important works have perished 
half finished, and who, as an artist, is perfect only in his little 
decorative speciality, but in other respects, if judged by the works of 
him which remain, is surpassed by so many of his greater 
contemporaries--that Benvenuto as a man will interest mankind to the 
end of time. It does not spoil the impression when the reader often 
detects him bragging or lying; the stamp of a mighty, energetic, and 
thoroughly developed nature remains. By his side our modern 
autobiographers, though their tendency and moral character may stand 
much higher, appear incomplete beings. He is a man who can do all and 
dares do all, and who carries his measure in himself. Whether we like 
him or not, he lives, such as he was, as a significant type of the 
modern spirit.

Another man deserves a brief mention in connection with this subject--a 
man who, like Benvenuto, was not a model of veracity: Girolamo Cardano 
of Milan (b. 1500). His little book, 'De propria vita,' will outlive 
and eclipse his fame in philosophy and natural science, just as 
Benvenuto's Life, though its value is of another kind, has thrown his 
works into the shade. Cardano is a physician who feels his own pulse, 
and describes his own physical, moral, and intellectual nature, 
together with all the conditions under which it had developed, and 
this, to the best of his ability, honestly and sincerely. The work 
which he avowedly took as his model--the 'Confessions' of Marcus 
Aurelius--he was able, hampered as he was by no stoical maxims, to 
surpass in this particular. He desires to spare neither himself nor 
others, and begins the narrative of his career with the statement that 
his mother tried, and failed, to procure abortion. It is worth remark 
that he attributes to the stars which presided over his birth only the 
events of his life and his intellectual gifts, but not his moral 
qualities; he confesses (cap. 10) that the astrological prediction that 
he would not live to the age of forty or fifty years did him much harm 
in his youth. But there is no need to quote from so well-known md 
accessible a book; whoever opens it will not lay it down il] the last 
page. Cardano admits that he cheated at play, that e was vindictive, 
incapable of all compunction, purposely cruel in his speech. He 
confesses it without impudence and without feigned contrition, without 
even wishing to make himself an object of interest, but with the same 
simple and sincere love of fact which guided him in his scientific 
researches. And, what is to us the most repulsive of all, the old man, 
after the most shocking experiences and with his confidence in his 
fellowmen gone, finds himself after all tolerably happy and 
comfortable. He has still left him a grandson, immense learning, the 
fame of his works, money, rank and credit, powerful friends, the 
knowledge of many secrets, and, best of all, belief in God. After this, 
he counts the teeth in his head, and finds that he was fifteen.

Yet when Cardano wrote, Inquisitors and Spaniards were already busy in 
Italy, either hindering the production of such natures, or, where they 
existed, by some means or other putting them out of the way. There lies 
a gulf between this book and the memoirs of Alfieri.

Yet it would be unjust to close this list of autobiographers without 
listening to a word from one man who was both worthy and happy. This is 
the well-known philosopher of practical life, Luigi Cornaro, whose 
dwelling at Padua, classical as an architectural work, was at the same 
time the home of all the muses. In his famous treatise 'On the Sober 
Life,' he describes the strict regimen by which he succeeded, after a 
sickly youth, in reaching an advanced and healthy age, then of eighty-
three years. He goes on to answer those who despise life after the age 
of sixty-five as a living death, showing them that his own life had 
nothing deadly about it. 'Let them come and see, and wonder at my good 
health, how I mount on horseback without help, how I run upstairs and 
up hills, how cheerful, amusing, and contented I am, how free from care 
and disagreeable thoughts. Peace and joy never quit me.... My friends 
are wise, learned, and distinguished people of good position, and when 
they are not with me I read and write, and try thereby, as by all other 
means. to be useful to others. Each of these things I do at the proper 
time, and at my ease, in my dwelling, which is beautiful and lies in 
the best part of Padua, and is arranged both for summer and winter with 
all the resources of architecture, and provided with a garden by the 
running water. In the spring and autumn, I go for awhile to my hill in 
the most beautiful part of the Euganean mountains, where I have 
fountains and gardens, and a comfortable dwelling; and there I amuse 
myself with some easy and pleasant chase, which is suitable to my 
years. At other times I go to my villa on the plain; there all the 
paths lead to an open space, in the middle of which stands a pretty 
church; an arm of the Brenta flows through the plantations-- fruitful, 
well-cultivated fields, now fully peopled, which the marshes and the 
foul air once made fitter for snakes than for men. It was I who drained 
the country; then the air became good, and people settled there and 
multiplied, and the land became cultivated as it now is, so that T can 
truly say: "On this spot I gave to God an altar and a temple, and souls 
to worship Him." This is my consolation and my happiness whenever I 
come here. In the spring and autumn, I also visit the neighbouring 
towns, to see and converse with my friends, through whom I make the 
acquaintance of other distinguished men, architects, painters, 
sculptors, musicians, and cultivators of the soil. I see what new 
things they have done, I look again at what I know already, and learn 
much that is of use to me. I see palaces, gardens, antiquities, public 
grounds, churches, and fortifications. But what most of all delights me 
when I travel, is the beauty of the country and the places, lying now 
on the plain, now on the slopes of the hills, or on the banks of rivers 
and streams, surrounded by gardens and villas. And these enjoyments are 
not diminished through weakness of the eyes or the ears; all my senses 
(thank God!) are in the best condition, including the sense of taste; 
for I enjoy more the simple food which I now take in moderation, than 
all the delicacies which I ate in my years of disorder.' After 
mentioning the works he had undertaken on behalf of the republic for 
draining the marshes, and the projects which he had constantly 
advocated for preserving the lagoons, he thus concludes:

'These are the true recreations of an old age which God has permitted 
to be healthy, and which is free from those mental and bodily 
sufferings to which so many young people and so many sickly older 
people succumb. And if it be allowable to add the little to the great, 
to add jest to earnest, it may be mentioned as a result of my moderate 
life, that in my eightythird year I have written a most amusing comedy, 
full of blameless wit. Such works are generally the business of youth, 
as tragedy is the business of old age. If it is reckoned to the credit 
of the famous Greek that he wrote a tragedy in his seventythird year, 
must I not, with my ten years more, be more cheerful and healthy than 
he ever was? And that no consolation may be wanting in the overflowing 
cup of my old age, I see before my eyes a sort of bodily immortality in 
the persons of my descendants. When I come home I see before me, not 
one or two, but eleven grandchildren, between the ages of two and 
eighteen, all from the same father and mother, all healthy, and, so far 
as can already be judged, all gifted with the talent and disposition 
for learning and a good life. One of the younger I have as my playmate 
(buffoncello), since children from the third to the fifth year are born 
to tricks; the elder ones I treat as my companions, and, as they have 
admirable voices, I take delight in hearing them sing and play on 
different instruments. And I sing myself, and find my voice better, 
clearer, and louder than ever. These are the pleasures of my last 
years. My life, therefore, is alive, and not dead; nor would I exchange 
my age for the youth of such as live in the service of their passions.'

In the 'Exhortation' which Cornaro added at a much later time, in his 
ninety-fifth year, he reckons it among the elements of his happiness 
that his 'Treatise' had made many converts. He died at Padua in 1565, 
at the age of over a hundred years.

This national gift did not, however, confine itself to the criticism 
and description of individuals, but felt itself competent to deal with 
the qualities and characteristics of whole peoples. Throughout the 
Middle Ages the cities, families, and nations of all Europe were in the 
habit of making insulting and derisive attacks on one another, which, 
with much caricature, contained commonly a kernel of truth. But from 
the first the Italians surpassed all others in their quick apprehension 
of the mental differences among cities and populations. Their local 
patriotism, stronger probably than in any other medieval people, soon 
found expression in literature, and allied itself with the current 
conception of 'Fame.' Topography became the counterpart of biography; 
while all the more important cities began to celebrate their own 
praises in prose and verse, writers appeared who made the chief towns 
and districts the subject partly of a serious comparative description, 
partly of satire, and sometimes of notices in which jest and earnest 
are not easy to be distinguished. Next to some famous passages in the 
'Divine Comedy,' we have here the 'Dittamondo' of Uberti (about 1360). 
As a rule, only single remarkable facts and characteristics are here 
mentioned: the Feast of the Crows at Sant' Apollinare in Ravenna, the 
springs at Treviso, the great cellar near Vicenza, the high duties at 
Mantua, the forest of towers at Lucca. Yet mixed up with all this, we 
find laudatory and satirical criticisms of every kind. Arezzo figures 
with the crafty disposition of its citizens, Genoa with the 
artificially blackened eyes and teeth (?) of its women, Bologna with 
its prodigality, Bergamo with its coarse dialect and hard-headed 
people. In the fifteenth century the fashion was to belaud one's own 
city even at the expense of others. Michele Savonarola allows that, in 
comparison with his native Padua, only Rome and Venice are more 
splendid, and Florence perhaps more joyous--by which our knowledge is 
naturally not much extended. At the end of the century, Jovianus 
Pontanus, in his 'Antonius,' writes an imaginary journey through Italy, 
simply as a vehicle for malicious observations. But in the sixteenth 
century we meet with a series of exact and profound studies of national 
characteristics, such as no other people of that time could rival. 
Machiavelli sets forth in some of his valuable essays the character and 
the political condition of the Germans and French in such a way that 
the born northerner, familiar with the history of his own country, is 
grateful to the Florentine thinker for his flashes of insight. The 
Florentines begin to take pleasure in describing themselves; and 
basking in the well-earned sunshine of their intellectual glory, their 
pride seems to attain its height when they derive the artistic pre-
eminence of Tuscany among Italians, not from any special gifts of 
nature, but from hard, patient work. The homage of famous men from 
other parts of Italy, of which the sixteenth Capitolo of Ariosto is a 
splendid example, they accepted as a merited tribute to their 

Of an admirable description of the Italians, with their various 
pursuits and characteristics, though in a few words and with special 
stress laid on the Lucchese, to whom the work was dedicated, we can 
give only the title: _Forcianae Questiones, _by Ortensio Landi, Naples, 
1536. Leandro Alberti is not so fruitful as might be expected in his 
description of the character of the different cities. A 'Commentario' 
(by Ortensio Landi, Venice, 1553) contains among many absurdities some 
valuable information on the unfortunate conditions prevailing about the 
middle of the century.

To what extent this comparative study of national and local 
characteristics may, by means of Italian humanism, have influenced the 
rest of Europe, we cannot say with precision. To Italy, at all events, 
belongs the priority in this respect, as in the description of the 
world in general.

Description of the Outward Man

But the discoveries made with regard to man were not confined to the 
spiritual characteristics of individuals and nations; his outward 
appearance was in Italy the subject of an entirely different interest 
from that shown in it by northern peoples.

Of the position held by the great Italian physicians with respect to 
the progress of physiology, we cannot venture to speak; and the 
artistic study of the human figure belongs, not to a work like the 
present, but to the history of art. But something must here be said of 
that universal education of the eye, which rendered the judgement of 
the Italians as to bodily beauty or ugliness perfect and final.

On reading the Italian authors of that period attentively, we are 
astounded at the keenness and accuracy with which outward features are 
seized, and at the completeness with which personal appearance in 
general is described. Even today the Italians, and especially the 
Romans, have the art of sketching a man's picture in a couple of words. 
This rapid apprehension of what is characteristic is an essential 
condition for detecting and representing the beautiful. In poetry, it 
is true, circumstantial description may be a fault, not a merit, since 
a single feature, suggested by deep passion or insight, will often 
awaken in the reader a far more powerful impression of the figure 
described. Dante gives us nowhere a more splendid idea of his Beatrice 
than where he only describes the influence which goes forth from her 
upon all around. But here we have not to treat particularly of poetry, 
which follows its own laws and pursues its own ends, but rather of the 
general capacity to paint in words real or imaginary forms.

In this Boccaccio is a master--not in the 'Decameron,' where the 
character of the tales forbids lengthy description, but in the 
romances, where he is free to take his time. In his 'Ameto' he 
describes a blonde and a brunette much as an artist a hundred years 
later would have painted them--for here, too, culture long precedes 
art. In the account of the brunette--or, strictly speaking, of the less 
blonde of the two--there are touches which deserve to be called 
classical. In the words 'la spaziosa testa e distesa' lies the feeling 
for grander forms, which go beyond a graceful prettiness; the eyebrows 
with him no longer resemble two bows, as in the Byzantine ideal, but a 
single wavy line; the nose seems to have been meant to be aquiline; the 
broad, full breast, the arms of moderate length, the effect of the 
beautiful hand, as it lies on the purple mantle--all this foretells the 
sense of beauty of a coming time, and unconsciously approaches to that 
of classical antiquity. In other descriptions Boccaccio mentions a flat 
(not medievally rounded) brow, a long, earnest, brown eye, and round, 
not hollowed neck, as well as--in a very modern tone--the 'little feet' 
and the 'two roguish eyes' of a black-haired nymph.

Whether the fifteenth century has left any written account of its ideal 
of beauty, I am not able to say. The works of the painters and 
sculptors do not render such an account as unnecessary as might appear 
at first sight, since possibly, as opposed to their realism, a more 
ideal type might have been favored and preserved by the writers. In the 
sixteenth century Firenzuola came forward with his remarkable work on 
female beauty. We must clearly distinguish in it what he had learned 
from old authors or from artists, such as the fixing of proportions 
according to the length of the head, and certain abstract conceptions. 
What remains is his own genuine observation, illustrated with examples 
of women and girls from Prato. As his little work is a kind of lecture, 
delivered before the women of this city--that is to say, before very 
severe critics--he must have kept pretty closely to the truth. His 
principle is avowedly that of Zeuxis and of Lucian--to piece together 
an ideal beauty out of a number of beautiful parts. He defines the 
shades of color which occur in the hair and skin, and gives to the 
'biondo' the preference, as the most beautiful color for the hair, 
understanding by it a soft yellow, inclining to brown. He requires that 
the hair should be thick, long, and locky; the forehead serene, and 
twice as broad as high; the skin bright and clear (candida), but not of 
a dead white (bianchezza); the eyebrows dark, silky, most strongly 
marked in the middle, and shading off towards the ears and the nose; 
the white of the eye faintly touched with blue, the iris not actually 
black, though all the poets praise 'occhi neri' as a gift of Venus, 
despite that even goddesses were known for their eyes of heavenly blue, 
and that soft, joyous, brown eyes were admired by everybody. The eye 
itself should be large and full and brought well forward; the lids 
white, and marked with almost invisible tiny red veins; the lashes 
neither too long, nor too thick, nor too dark. The hollow round the eye 
should have the same color as the cheek. The ear, neither too large nor 
too small, firmly and neatly fitted on, should show a stronger color in 
the winding than in the even parts, with an edge of the transparent 
ruddiness of the pomegranate. The temples must be white and even, and 
for the most perfect beauty ought not to be too narrow. The red should 
grow deeper as the cheek gets rounder. The nose, which chiefly 
determines the value of the profile, must recede gently and uniformly 
in the direction of the eyes; where the cartilage ceases, there may be 
a slight elevation, but not so marked as to make the nose aquiline, 
which is not pleasing in women; the lower part must be less strongly 
colored than the ears, but not of a chilly whiteness, and the middle 
partition above the lips lightly tinted with red. The mouth, our author 
would have rather small, and neither projecting to a point, nor quite 
flat, with the lips not too thin, and fitting neatly together; an 
accidental opening, that is, when the woman is neither speaking nor 
laughing, should not display more than six upper teeth. As delicacies 
of detail, he mentions a dimple in the upper lip, a certain fullness of 
the under lip, and a tempting smile in the left corner of the mouth--
and so on. The teeth should not be too small, regular, well marked off 
from one another, and of the color of ivory; and the gums must not be 
too dark or even like red velvet. The chin is to be round, neither 
pointed nor curved outwards, and growing slightly red as it rises; its 
glory is the dimple. The neck should be white and round and rather long 
than short, with the hollow and the Adam's apple but faintly marked; 
and the skin at every movement must show pleasing lines. The shoulders 
he desires broad, and in the breadth of the bosom sees the first 
condition of its beauty. No bone may be visible upon it, its fall and 
swell must be gentle and gradual, its color 'candidissimo.' The leg 
should be long and not too hard in the lower parts, but still not 
without flesh on the shin, which must be provided with white, full 
calves. He likes the foot small, but not bony, the instep (it seems) 
high, and the color white as alabaster. The arms are to be white, and 
in the upper parts tinted with red; in their consistence fleshy and 
muscular, but still soft as those of Pallas, when she stood before the 
shepherd on Mount Ida--in a word, ripe, fresh, and firm. The hand 
should be white, especially towards the wrist, but large and plump, 
feeling soft as silk, the rosy palm marked with a few, but distinct and 
not intricate lines; the elevations in it should be not too great, the 
space between thumb and forefinger brightly colored and without 
wrinkles, the fingers long, delicate, and scarcely at all thinner 
towards the tips, with nails clear, even, not too long nor to square, 
and cut so as to show a white margin about the breadth of a knife's 

Aesthetic principles of a general character occupy a very subordinate 
place to these particulars. The ultimate principles of beauty, 
according to which the eye judges 'senza appello,' are for Firenzuola a 
secret, as he frankly confesses; and his definitions of 'Leggiadria,' 
'Grazia,' 'Aria,' 'Maesta,' 'Vaghezza,' 'Venusta,' are partly, as has 
been remarked, philological, and partly vain attempts to utter the 
unutterable. Laughter he prettily defines, probably following some old 
author, as a radiance of the soul. The literature of all countries can, 
at the close of the Middle Ages, show single attempts to lay down 
theoretic principles of beauty; but no other work can be compared to 
that of Firenzuola. Brantome, who came a good half-century later, is a 
bungling critic by his side, because governed by lasciviousness and not 
by a sense of beauty.

Description of Human Life

Among the new discoveries made with regard to man, we must reckon, in 
conclusion, the interest taken in descriptions of the daily course of 
human life.

The comical and satirical literature of the Middle Ages could not 
dispense with pictures of everyday events. But it is another thing, 
when the Italians of the Renaissance dwelt on this picture for its own 
sake--for its inherent interest-- and because it forms part of that 
great, universal life of the world whose magic breath they felt 
everywhere around them. Instead of and together with the satirical 
comedy, which wanders through houses, villages, and streets, seeking 
food for its derision in parson, peasant, and burgher, we now see in 
literature the beginnings of a true _genre, _long before it found any 
expression in painting. That _genre _and satire are often met with in 
union, does not prevent them from being wholly different things.

How much of earthly business must Dante have watched with attentive 
interest, before he was able to make us see with our own eyes all that 
happened in his spiritual world. The famous pictures of the busy 
movement in the arsenal at Venice, of the blind men laid side by side 
before the church door, and the like, are by no means the only 
instances of this kind: for the art, in which he is a master, of 
expressing the inmost soul by the outward gesture, cannot exist without 
a close and incessant study of human life. (Cf. Inferno xxi, 1-6, 
Purgatorio xiii, 61-66.) The poets who followed rarely came near him in 
this respect, and the novelists were forbidden by the first laws of 
their literary style to linger over details. Their prefaces and 
narratives might be as long as they pleased, but what we understand by 
_genre _was outside their province. The taste for this class of 
description was not fully awakened till the time of the revival of 

And here we are again met by the man who had a heart for everything--
Aeneas Sylvius. Not only natural beauty, not only that which has an 
antiquarian or a geographical interest, finds a place in his 
descriptions, but any living scene of daily life. Among the numerous 
passages in his memoirs in which scenes are described which hardly one 
of his contemporaries would have thought worth a line of notice, we 
will here only mention the boat-race on the Lake of Bolsena. We are not 
able to detect from what old letter-writer or story-teller the impulse 
was derived to which we owe such lifelike pictures. Indeed, the whole 
spiritual communion between antiquity and the Renaissance is full of 
delicacy and of mystery.

To this class belong those descriptive Latin poems of which we have 
already spoken--hunting-scenes, journeys, ceremonies, and so forth. In 
Italian we also find something of the same kind, as, for example, the 
descriptions of the famous Medicean tournament by Politian and Luca 
Pulci. The true epic poets, Luigi Pulci, Boiardo, and Ariosto, are 
carried on more rapidly by the stream of their narrative; yet in all of 
them we must recognize the lightness and precision of their descriptive 
touch as one of the chief elements of their greatness. Franco Sacchetti 
amuses himself with repeating the short speeches of a troop of pretty 
women caught in the woods by a shower of rain.

Other scenes of moving life are to be looked for in the military 
historians. In a lengthy poem, dating from an earlier period, we find a 
faithful picture of a combat of mercenary soldiers in the fourteenth 
century, chiefly in the shape of the orders, cries of battle, and 
dialogue with which it is accompanied.

But the most remarkable productions of this kind are the realistic 
descriptions of country life, which are found most abundantly in 
Lorenzo il Magnifico and the poets of his circle.

Since the time of Petrarch, an unreal and conventional style of bucolic 
poetry had been in vogue, which, whether written in Latin or Italian, 
was essentially a copy of Virgil. Parallel to this, we find the 
pastoral novel of Boccaccio and other works of the same kind down to 
the 'Arcadia' of Sannazaro, and later still, the pastoral comedy of 
Tasso and Guarini. They are works whose style, whether poetry or prose 
is admirably finished and perfect, but in which pastoral life is ideal 
dress for sentiments which belong to a wholly sphere of culture.

But by the side of all this there appeared in Italian poetry, towards 
the close of the fifteenth century, signs of a more realistic treatment 
of rustic life. This was not possible out of Italy; for here only did 
the peasant, whether laborer or proprietor, possess human dignity, 
personal freedom, and the right of settlement, hard as his lot might 
sometimes be in other respects. The difference between town and country 
is far from being so marked here as in northern countries. Many of the 
smaller towns are peopled almost exclusively by peasants who, on coming 
home at nightfall from their work, are transformed into townsfolk. The 
masons of Como wandered over nearly all Italy; the child Giotto was 
free to leave his sheep and join a guild at Florence; everywhere there 
was a human stream flowing from the country into the cities, and some 
mountain populations seemed born to supply this current. It is true 
that the pride and local conceit supplied poets and novelists with 
abundant motives for making game of the 'villano,' and what they left 
undone was taken charge of by the comic improvisers. But nowhere do we 
find a trace of that brutal and contemptuous class-hatred against the 
'vilains' which inspired the aristocratic poets of Provence, and often, 
too, the French chroniclers. On the contrary, Italian authors of every 
sort gladly recognize and accentuate what is great or remarkable in the 
life of the peasant. Gioviano Pontano mentions with admiration 
instances of the fortitude of the savage inhabitants of the Abruzzi; in 
the biographical collections and in the novelists we meet with the 
figure of the heroic peasant-maiden who hazards her life to defend her 
family and her honour.

Such conditions made the poetical treatment of country life possible. 
The first instance we shall mention is that of Battista Mantovano, 
whose eclogues, once much read and still worth reading, appeared among 
his earliest works about 1480. They are a mixture of real and 
conventional rusticity, but the former tends to prevail. They represent 
the mode of thought of a well-meaning village clergyman, not without a 
certain leaning to liberal ideas. As Carmelite monk, the writer may 
have had occasion to mix freely with the peasantry.

But it is with a power of a wholly different kind that Lorenzo il 
Magnifico transports himself into the peasant's world. His 'Nencia di 
Barberino' reads like a crowd of genuine extracts from the popular 
songs of the Florentine country, fused into a great stream of octaves. 
The objectivity of the writer is such that we are in doubt whether the 
speaker--the young peasant Vallera, who declares his love to Nencia--
awakens his sympathy or ridicule. The deliberate contrast to the 
conventional eclogue is unmistakable. Lorenzo surrenders himself 
purposely to the realism of simple, rough country life, and yet his 
work makes upon us the impression of true poetry.

The 'Beca da Dicomano' of Luigi Pulci is an admitted counterpart to the 
'Nencia' of Lorenzo. But the deeper purpose is wanting. The 'Beca' is 
written not so much from the inward need to give a picture of popular 
life, as from the desire to win the approbation of the educated 
Florentine world by a successful poem. Hence the greater and more 
deliberate coarseness of the scenes, and the indecent jokes. 
Nevertheless, the point of view of the rustic lover is admirably 

Third in this company of poets comes Angelo Poliziano, with his 
'Rusticus' in Latin hexameters. Keeping clear of all imitation of 
Virgil's Georgics, he describes the year of the Tuscan peasant, 
beginning with the late autumn, when the countryman gets ready his new 
plough and prepares the seed for the winter. The picture of the meadows 
in spring is full and beautiful, and the 'Summer' has fine passages; 
but the vintage-feast in autumn is one of the gems of modern Latin 
poetry. Politian wrote poems in Italian as well as Latin, from which we 
may infer that in Lorenzo's circle it was possible to give a realistic 
picture of the passionate life of the lower classes. His gipsy's love-
song is one of the earliest products of that wholly modern tendency to 
put oneself with poetic consciousness into the position of another 
class. This had probably been attempted for ages with a view to satire, 
and the opportunity for it was offered in Florence at every carnival by 
the songs of the maskers. But the sympathetic understanding of the 
feeling of another class was new; and with it the 'Nencia' and this 
'Canzone zingaresca' mark a new starting-point in the history of 

Here, too, we must briefly indicate how culture prepared the way for 
artistic development. From the time of the 'Nencia,' a period of eighty 
years elapses to the rustic genre-painting of Jacopo Bassano and his 

In the next part of this work we shall show how differences of birth 
had lost their significance in Italy. Much of this was doubtless owing 
to the fact that men and mankind were here first thoroughly and 
profoundly understood. This one single result of the Renaissance is 
enough to fill us with everlasting thankfulness. The logical notion of 
humanity was old enough--but here the notion became a fact.

The loftiest conceptions on this subject were uttered by Pico della 
Mirandola in his Speech on the Dignity of Man, which may justly be 
called one of the noblest of that great age. God, he tells us, made man 
at the close of the creation, to know the laws of the universe, to love 
its beauty, to admire its greatness. He bound him to no fixed place, to 
no prescribed form of work, and by no iron necessity, but gave him 
freedom to will and to love. 'I have set thee,' says the Creator to 
Adam, 'in the midst of the world, that thou mayst the more easily 
behold and see all that is therein. I created thee a being neither 
heavenly nor earthly, neither mortal nor immortal only, that thou 
mightest be free to shape and to overcome thyself. Thou mayst sink into 
a beast, and be born anew to the divine likeness. The brutes bring from 
their mother's body what they will carry with them as long as they 
live; the higher spirits are from the beginning, or soon after, what 
they will be for ever. To thee alone is given a growth and a 
development depending on thine own free will. Thou bearest in thee the 
germs of a universal life.'

Part Five


Equality of Classes

Every period of civilization which forms a complete and consistent 
whole manifests itself not only in political life, in religion, art, 
and science, but also sets its characteristic stamp on social life. 
Thus the Middle Ages had their courtly and aristocratic manners and 
etiquette, differing but little in the various countries of Europe, as 
well as their peculiar forms of middle-class life.

Italian customs at the time of the Renaissance offer in these respects 
the sharpest contrasts to medievalism. The foundation on which they 
rest is wholly different. Social intercourse in its highest and most 
perfect form now ignored all distinctions of caste, and was based 
simply on the existence of an educated class as we now understand the 
word. Birth and origin were without influence, unless combined with 
leisure and inherited wealth. Yet this assertion must not be taken in 
an absolute and unqualified sense, since medieval distinctions still 
sometimes made themselves felt to a greater or less degree, if only as 
a means of maintaining equality with the aristocratic pretensions of 
the less advanced countries of Europe. But the main current of the time 
went steadily towards the fusion of classes in the modern sense of the 

The fact was of vital importance that, from certainly the twelfth 
century onwards, the nobles and the burghers dwelt together within the 
walls of the cities. The interests and pleasures of both classes were 
thus identified, and the feudal lord learned to look at society from 
another point of view than that of his mountain castle. The Church, 
too, in Italy never suffered itself, as in northern countries, to be 
used as a means of providing for the younger sons of noble families. 
Bishoprics, abbacies, and canonries were often given from the most 
unworthy motives, but still not according to the pedigrees of the 
applicants; and if the bishops in Italy were more numerous, poorer, 
and, as a rule, destitute of all sovereign rights, they still lived in 
the cities where their cathedrals stood, and formed, together with 
their chapters, an important element in the cultivated society of the 
place. In the age of despots and absolute princes which followed, the 
nobility in most of the cities had the motives and the leisure to give 
themselves up to a private life free from the political danger and 
adorned with all that was elegant and enjoyable, but at the same time 
hardly distinguishable from that of the wealthy burgher. And after the 
time of Dante, when the new poetry and literature were in the hands of 
all Italy, when to this was added the revival of ancient culture and 
the new interest in man as such, when the successful Condottiere became 
a prince, and not only good birth, but legitimate birth, ceased to be 
indispensable for a throne, it might well seem that the age of equality 
had dawned, and the belief in nobility vanished for ever.

From a theoretical point of view, when the appeal was made to 
antiquity, the conception of nobility could be both justified and 
condemned from Aristotle alone. Dante, for example, derives from 
Aristotle's definition, 'Nobility rests on excellence and inherited 
wealth,' his own saying, 'Nobility rests on personal excellence or on 
that of forefathers.' But elsewhere he is not satisfied with this 
conclusion. He blames himself, because even in Paradise, while talking 
with his ancestor Cacciaguida, he made mention of his noble origin, 
which is but a mantle from which time is ever cutting something away, 
unless we ourselves add daily fresh worth to it. And in the 'Convito' 
he disconnects 'nobile' and 'nobilita' from every condition of birth, 
and identifies the idea with the capacity for moral and intellectual 
eminence, laying a special stress on high culture by calling 'nobilita' 
the sister of 'filosofia.'

And as time went on, the greater the influence of humanism on the 
Italian mind, the firmer and more widespread became the conviction that 
birth decides nothing as to the goodness or badness of a man. In the 
fifteenth century this was the prevailing opinion. Poggio, in his 
dialogue 'On nobility,' agrees with his interlocutors-- Niccolo 
Niccoli, and Lorenzo Medici, brother of the great Cosimo-- that there 
is no other nobility than that of personal merit. The keenest shafts of 
his ridicule are directed against much of what vulgar prejudice thinks 
indispensable to an aristocratic life. 'A man is !111 the farther 
removed from true nobility, the longer his forefathers have plied the 
trade of brigands. The taste for hawking and hunting saviours no more 
of nobility than the nests and lairs of the hunted creatures of 
spikenard. The cultivation of the soil, as practiced by the ancients, 
would be much nobler than this senseless wandering through the hills 
and woods, by which men make themselves like to the brutes than to the 
reasonable creatures. It may serve well enough as a recreation, but not 
as the business of a lifetime.' The life of the English and French 
chivalry in the country or in the woody fastnesses seems to him 
thoroughly ignoble, and worst of all the doings of the robber-knights 
of Germany. Lorenzo here begins to take the part of the nobility, but 
not-- which is characteristic--appealing to any natural sentiment in 
its favour, but because Aristotle in the fifth book of the Politics 
recognizes the nobility as existent, and defines it as resting on 
excellence and inherited wealth. To this Niccoli retorts that Aristotle 
gives this not as his own conviction, but as the popular impression; in 
his Ethics, where he speaks as he thinks, he calls him noble who 
strives after that which is truly good. Lorenzo urges upon him vainly 
that the Greek word for nobility (Eugeneia) means good birth; Niccoli 
thinks the Roman word 'nobilis' (i.e. remark- able) a better one, since 
it makes nobility depend on a man's deeds. Together with these 
discussions, we find a sketch of the conditions of the nobles in 
various parts of Italy. In Naples they will not work, and busy 
themselves neither with their own estates nor with trade and commerce, 
which they hold to be discreditable; they either loiter at home or ride 
about on horseback. The Roman nobility also despise trade, but farm 
their own property; the cultivation of the land even opens the way to a 
title; it is a respectable but boorish nobility. In Lombardy the nobles 
live upon the rent of their inherited estates; descent and the 
abstinence from any regular calling, constitute nobility. In Venice, 
the 'nobili,' the ruling caste, were all merchants. Similarly in Genoa 
the nobles and nonnobles were alike merchants and sailors, and only 
separated by their birth: some few of the former, it is true, still 
lurked as brigands in their mountain castles. In Florence a part of the 
old nobility had devoted themselves to trade; another, and cer- tainly 
by far the smaller part, enjoyed the satisfaction of their titles, and 
spent their time, either in nothing at all, or else in hunting and 

The decisive fact was, that nearly everywhere in Italy, even those who 
might be disposed to pride themselves on their birth could not make 
good the claims against the power of culture and of wealth, and that 
their privileges in politics and at court were not sufficient to 
encourage any strong feeling of caste. Venice offers only an apparent 
exception to this rule, for there the 'nobili' led the same life as 
their fellow-citizens, and were distinguished by few honorary 
privileges. The case was certainly different at Naples, which the 
strict isolation and the ostentatious vanity of its nobility excluded, 
above all other causes, from the spiritual movement of the Renaissance. 
The traditions of medieval Lombardy and Normandy, and the French 
aristocratic influences which followed, all tended in this direction; 
and the Aragonese government, which was established by the middle of 
the fifteenth century, completed the work, and accomplished in Naples 
what followed a hundred years later in the rest of Italy--a social 
transformation in obedience to Spanish ideas, of which the chief 
features were the contempt for work and the passion for titles. The 
effect of this new influence was evident, even in the smaller towns, 
before the year 1500. We hear complaints from La Cava that the place 
had been proverbially rich, as long as it was filled with masons and 
weavers; whilst now, since instead of looms and trowels nothing but 
spurs, stirrups and gilded belts was to be seen, since everybody was 
trying to become Doctor of Laws or of Medicine, Notary, Officer or 
Knight, the most intolerable poverty prevailed. In Florence an 
analogous change appears to have taken place by the time of Cosimo, the 
first Grand Duke; he is thanked for adopting the young people, who now 
despise trade and commerce, as knights of his order of St. Stephen. 
This goes straight in the teeth of the good old Florentine custom, by 
which fathers left property to their children on the condition that 
they should have some occupation. But a mania for titles of a curious 
and ludicrous sort sometimes crossed and thwarted, especially among the 
Florentines, the levelling influence of art and culture. This was the 
passion hood, which became one of the most striking follies at a time 
when the dignity itself had lost every significance.

'A few years ago,' writes Franco Sacchetti, towards the end of the 
fourteenth century, 'everybody saw how all the workpeople down to the 
bakers, how all the wool-carders, usurers money-changers and 
blackguards of all description, became knights. Why should an official 
need knighthood when he goes to preside over some little provincial 
town? What has this title to do with any ordinary bread-winning 
pursuit? How art thou sunken, unhappy dignity! Of all the long list of 
knightly duties, what single one do these knights of ours discharge? I 
wished to speak of these things that the reader might see that 
knighthood is dead. And as we have gone so far as to confer the honour 
upon dead men, why not upon figures of wood and stone, and why not upon 
an ox?' The stories which Sacchetti tells by way of illustration speak 
plainly enough. There we read how Bernabo Visconti knighted the victor 
in a drunken brawl, and then did the same derisively to the vanquished; 
how Ger- man knights with their decorated helmets and devices were 
ridiculed--and more of the same kind. At a later period Poggio makes 
merry over the many knights of his day without a horse and without 
military training. Those who wished to assert the privilege of the 
order, and ride out with lance and colors, found in Florence that they 
might have to face the government as well as the jokers.

On considering the matter more closely, we shall find that this belated 
chivalry, independent of all nobility of birth, though partly the fruit 
of an insane passion for titles, had nevertheless another and a better 
side. Tournaments had not yet ceased to be practiced, and no one could 
take part in them who was not a knight. But the combat in the lists, 
and especially the difficult and perilous tilting with the lance, 
offered a favourable opportunity for the display of strength, skill, 
and courage, which no one, whatever might be his origin, would 
willingly neglect in an age which laid such stress on personal merit.

It was in vain that from the time of Petrarch downwards the tournament 
was denounced as a dangerous folly. No one was converted by the 
pathetic appeal of the poet: 'In what book do we read that Scipio and 
Caesar were skilled at the joust?' The practice became more and more 
popular in Florence. Every honest citizen came to consider his 
tournament-- now, no doubt, less dangerous than formerly--as a 
fashionable sport. Franco Sacchetti has left us a ludicrous picture of 
one of these holiday cavaliers--a notary seventy years old. He rides 
out on horseback to Peretola, where the tournament was cheap, on a jade 
hired from a dyer. A thistle is stuck by some wag under the tail of the 
steed, who takes fright, runs away, and carries the helmeted rider, 
bruised and shaken, back into the city. The inevitable conclusion of 
the story is a severe curtain-lecture from the wife, who is not a 
little enraged at these break-neck follies of her husband.

It may be mentioned in conclusion that a passionate interest in this 
sport was displayed by the Medici, as if they wished to show-- private 
citizens as they were, without noble blood in their veins-- that the 
society which surrounded them was in no respect inferior to a Court. 
Even under Cosimo (1459), and afterwards under the elder Pietro, 
brilliant tournaments were held at Florence. The younger Pietro 
neglected the duties of government for these amusements and would never 
suffer himself to be painted except clad in armor. The same practice 
prevailed at the Court of Alexander VI, and when the Cardinal Ascanio 
Sforza asked the Turkish Prince Djem how he liked the spectacle, the 
barbarian replied with much discretion that such combats in his country 
only took place among slaves, since then, in the case of accident, 
nobody was the worse for it. The Oriental was unconsciously in accord 
with the old Romans in condemning the manners of the Middle Ages.

Apart, however, from this particular prop of knighthood, we find here 
and there in Italy, for example at Ferrara, orders of courtiers whose 
members had a right to the title of _Cavaliere.


But, great as were individual ambitions, and the vanities of nobles and 
knights, it remains a fact that the Italian nobility took its place in 
the centre of social life, and not at the extremity. We find it 
habitually mixing with other classes on a footing of perfect equality, 
and seeking its natural allies in culture and intelligence. It is true 
that for the courtier a cer- tain rank of nobility was required, but 
this exigence is expressly declared to be caused by a prejudice rooted 
in the public mind-- 'per l'opinion universale'--and never was held to 
imply the belief that the personal worth of one who was not of noble 
blood was in any degree lessened thereby, nor did it follow from this 
rule that the prince was limited to the nobility for his society. It 
meant simply that the perfect man--the true courtier--should not be 
wanting in any conceivable advantage, and therefore not in this. If in 
all the relations of life he was specially bound to maintain a 
dignified and reserved demeanor, the reason was not found in the blood 
which flowed in h-s veins, but in the perfection of manner which was 
demanded from him. We are here in the presence of a modern 
distinctiori, based on culture and on wealth, but on the latter solely 
because it enables men to devote their life to the former, and 
effectually to promote its interests and advancement.

Costumes and Fashions

But in proportion as distinctions of birth ceased to confer any special 
privilege, was the individual himself compelled to make the most of his 
personal qualities, and society to find its worth and charm in itself. 
The demeanor of individuals, and all the higher forms of social 
intercourse, became ends pursued a deliberate and artistic purpose.

Even the outward appearance of men and women and the habits of daily 
life were more perfect, more beautiful, and more polished than among 
the other nations of Europe. The dwellings of the upper classes fall 
rather within the province of the history of art; but we may note how 
far the castle and the city mansion in Italy surpassed in comfort, 
order, and harmony the dwellings of the northern noble. The style of 
dress varied sc continually that it is impossible to make any complete 
comparison with the fashions of other countries, all the more because 
since the close of the fifteenth century imitations of the latter were 
frequent. The costumes of the time, as given us by the Italian 
painters, are the most convenient, and the most pleasing to the eye 
which were then to be found in Europe; but we cannot be sure if they 
represent the prevalent fashion, or if they are faithfully reproduced 
by the artist. It is nevertheless beyond a doubt that nowhere was so 
much importance attached to dress as in Italy. The nation was, and is, 
vain; and even serious men among it looked on a handsome and becoming 
costume as an element in the perfection of the individual. At Florence, 
indeed, there was a brief period when dress was a purely personal 
matter, and every man set the fashion for himself, and till far into 
the sixteenth century there were exceptional people who still had the 
courage to do so; and the majority at all events showed themselves 
capable of varying the fashion according to their individual tastes. It 
is a symptom of decline when Giovanni della Casa warns his readers not 
to be singular or to depart from existing fashions Our own age, which, 
in men's dress at any rate, treats uniformity as the supreme law, gives 
up by so doing far more than it is aware of. But it saves itself much 
time, and this, according to our notions of business, outweighs all 
other disadvantages.

In Venice and Florence at the time of the Renaissance there were rules 
and regulations prescribing the dress of the men and restraining the 
luxury of the women. Where the fashions were more free, as in Naples, 
the moralists confess with regret that no difference can be observed 
between noble and burgher. They further deplore the rapid changes of 
fashion, and--if we rightly understand their words--the senseless 
idolatry of whatever comes from France, though in many cases the 
fashions which were received back from the French were originally 
Italian. It does not further concern us how far these frequent changes, 
and the adoption of French and Spanish ways, contributed to the 
national passion for external display; but we find in them additional 
evidence of the rapid movement of life in Italy in the decades before 
and after the year 1500.

We may note in particular the efforts of the women to alter their 
appearance by all the means which the toilette could afford. In no 
country of Europe since the fall of the Roman Empire was so much 
trouble taken to modify the face, the color of the skin and the growth 
of the hair, as in Italy at this time. All tended to the formation of a 
conventional type, at the cost of the most striking and transparent 
deceptions. Leaving out of account costume in general, which in the 
fourteenth century was in the highest degree varied in color and loaded 
with ornament, and at a later period assumed a character of more 
harmonious richness, we here limit ourselves more particularly to the 
toilette in the narrower sense.

No sort of ornament was more in use than false hair, often made of 
white or yellow silk.81 The law denounced and forbade it in vain, till 
some preacher of repentance touched the worldly minds of the wearers. 
Then was seen, in the middle of the public square, a lofty pyre 
(talamo), on which, besides lutes, diceboxes, masks, magical charms, 
song-books, and other vanities, lay masses of false hair, which the 
purging fires soon turned into a heap of ashes. The ideal color sought 
for both natural and artificial hair was blond. And as the sun was 
supposed to have the power of making the hair this color, many ladies 
would pass their whole time in the open air on sunshiny days. Dyes and 
other mixtures were also used freely for the same purpose. Besides all 
these, we meet with an endless list of beautifying waters, plasters, 
and paints for every single part of the face--even for the teeth and 
eyelids--of which in our day we can form no conception. The ridicule of 
the poets, the invectives of the preachers, and the experience of the 
baneful effects of these cosmetics on the skin, were powerless to 
hinder women from giving their faces an unnatural form and color. It is 
possible that the frequent and splendid representations of Mysteries,82 
at which hundreds of people appeared painted and masked, helped to 
further this practice in daily life. It is certain that it was 
widespread, and that the countrywomen vied in this respect with their 
sisters in the towns. It was vain to preach that such decorations were 
the mark of the courtesan; the most honorable matrons, who all the year 
round never touched paint, used it nevertheless on holidays when they 
showed themselves in public. But whether we look on this bad habit as a 
remnant of barbarism, to which the painting of savages is a parallel, 
or as a consequence of the desire for perfect youthful beauty in 
feature and in color, as the art and complexity of the toilette would 
lead us to think--in either case there was no lack of good advice on 
the part of the men. The use of perfumes, too, went beyond all 
reasonable limits. They were applied to everything with which human 
beings came into contact. At festivals even the mules were treated with 
scents and ointments, and Pietro Aretino thanks Cosimo I for a perfumed 
roll of money.

The Italians of that day lived in the belief that they were more 
cleanly than other nations. There are in fact general reasons which 
speak rather for than against this claim. Cleanliness is indispensable 
to our modern notion of social perfection, which was developed in Italy 
earlier than elsewhere. That the Italians were one of the richest of 
existing peoples, is another presumption in their favour. Proof, either 
for or against these pretensions, can of course never be forthcoming, 
and if the question were one of priority in establishing rules of 
cleanliness, the chivalrous poetry of the Middle Ages is perhaps in 
advance of anything that Italy can produce. It is nevertheless certain 
that the singular neatness and cleanliness of some distinguished 
representatives of the Renaissance, especially in their behavior at 
meals, was noticed expressly,83 and that 'German' was the synonym in 
Italy for all that is filthy. The dirty habits which Massimiliano 
Sforza picked up in the course of his German education, and the notice 
they attracted on his return to Italy, are recorded by Giovio. It is at 
the same time very curious that, at least in the fifteenth century, the 
inns and hotels were left chiefly in the hands of Germans, who 
probably, however, made their profit mostly out of the pilgrims 
journeying to Rome. Yet the statements on this point may refer mainly 
to the country districts, since it is notorious that in the great 
cities Italian hotels held the first place. The want of decent inns in 
the country may also be explained by the general insecurity of life and 

To the first half of the sixteenth century belongs the manual of 
politeness which Giovanni della Casa, a Florentine by birth, published 
under the title 'Il Galateo.' Not only cleanliness in the strict sense 
of the word, but the dropping of all the habits which we consider 
unbecoming, is here prescribed with the same unfailing tact with which 
the moralist discerns the highest ethical truths. In the literature of 
other countries the same lessons are taught, though less 
systematically, by the indirect influence of repulsive descriptions.

In other respects also, the 'Galateo' is a graceful and in- telligent 
guide to good manners--a school of tact and delicacy. Even now it may 
be read with no small profit by people of all classes, and the 
politeness of European nations is not likely to outgrow its precepts. 
So far as tact is an affair of the heart, it has been inborn in some 
men from the dawn of civilization, and acquired through force of will 
by others; but the Italians were the first to recognize it as a 
universal social duty and a mark of culture and education. And Italy 
itself had altered much in the course of two centuries. We feel at 
their close that the time for practical jokes between friends and 
acquaintances --for 'burle' and 'beffe'--was over in good society, that 
the people had emerged from the walls of the cities and had learned a 
cosmopolitan politeness and consideration. We shall speak later on of 
the intercourse of society in the narrower sense.

Outward life, indeed, in the fifteenth and the early part of the 
sixteenth centuries, was polished and ennobled as among ¦ no other 
people in the world. A countless number of those small things and great 
things which combine to make up what we: mean by comfort, we know to 
have first appeared in Italy. In | the well-paved streets of the 
Italian cities, driving was universal, while elsewhere in Europe 
walking or riding was the custom, and at all events no one drove for 
amusement. We read in the novelists of soft, elastic beads, of costly 
carpets and bedroom furniture, of which we hear nothing in other 
countries. We often hear especially of the abundance and beauty of the 
linen. Much of all this is drawn within the sphere of art. We note with 
admiration the thousand ways in which art ennobles luxury, not only 
adorning the massive sideboard or the light brackets with noble vases, 
clothing the walls with the movable splendor of tapestry, and covering 
the toilet-table with numberless graceful trifles, but absorbing whole 
branches of mechanical work--especially carpentering--into its 
province. All Western Europe, as soon as its wealth enabled it to do 
so, set to work in the same way at the close of the Middle Ages. But 
its efforts produced either childish and fantastic toy-work, or were 
bound by the chains of a narrow and purely Gothic art, while the 
Renaissance moved freely, entering into the spirit of every task it 
undertook and working for a far larger circle of patrons and admirers 
than the northern artists. The rapid victory of Italian decorative art 
over northern in the course sixteenth century is due partly to this 
fact, though the result of wider and more general causes.

Language and Society

The higher forms of social intercourse, which here meet us as a work of 
art--as a conscious product and one of the highest products of national 
life have no more important foundation and condition than language. In 
the most flourishing period of the Middle Ages, the nobility of Western 
Europe had sought to establish a 'courtly' speech for social 
intercourse as well as for poetry. In Italy, too, where the dialects 
differed so greatly from one another, we find in the thirteenth century 
a so-called 'Curiale,' which was common to the courts and to the poets. 
It is of decisive importance for Italy that the attempt was there 
seriously and deliberately made to turn this into the language of 
literature and society. The introduction to the 'Cento Novelle 
Antiche,' which were put into their present shape before l 300, avows 
this object openly. Language is here considered apart from its uses in 
poetry; its highest function is clear, simple, intelligent utterance in 
short speeches, epigrams, and answers. This faculty was admired in 
Italy, as nowhere else but among the Greeks and Arabs: 'how many in the 
course long life have scarcely produced a single "bel parlare." '

But the matter was rendered more difficult by the diversity of the 
aspects under which it was considered. The writings of Dante transport 
us into the midst of the struggle. His work 'On the Italian Language' 
is not only of the utmost importance for the subject itself, but is 
also the first complete treatise on any modern language. His method and 
results belong to the history of linguistic science, in which they will 
always hold a high place. We must here content ourselves with the 
remark that long before the appearance of this book the subject must 
have been one of daily and pressing importance, various dialects of 
Italy had long been the object of study and dispute, and that the birth 
of the one ideal was not accomplished without many throes.

Nothing certainly contributed so much to this end as the great poem of 
Dante. The Tuscan dialect became the basis of the new national speech. 
If this assertion may seem to some to go too far, as foreigners we may 
be excused, in a matter on which much difference of opinion prevails, 
for following the general belief.

Literature and poetry probably lost more than they gained by the 
contentious purism which was long prevalent in Italy, and which marred 
the freshness and vigor of many an able writer. Others, again, who felt 
themselves masters of this magnificent language, were tempted to rely 
upon its harmony and flow, apart from the thought which it expressed. A 
very insignificant melody, played upon such an instrument, can produce 
a very great effect. But however this may be, it is certain that 
socially the language had great value. It was, as it were, that the ; 
of eager language the crown of a noble and dignified behavior, and 
compelled the gentleman, both in his ordinary bearing and in 
exceptional moments to observe external propriety. No doubt this 
classical garment, like the language of Attic society, served to drape 
much that was foul and malicious; but it was also the adequate 
expression of all that is noblest and most refined. But politically and 
nationally it was of supreme importance, serving as an ideal home for 
the educated classes in all the States of the divided peninsula. Nor 
was it the special property of the nobles or of any one class, but the 
poorest and humblest might learn it if they would. Even now-- and 
perhaps more than ever --in those parts of Italy where, as a rule, the 
most unintelligible dialect prevails, the stranger is often astonished 
at hearing pure and well-spoken Italian from the mouths of peasants or 
artisans, and looks in vain for anything analogous in France or in 
Germany, where even the educated classes retain traces of a provincial 
speech. There is certainly a larger number of people able to read in 
Italy than we should be led to expect from the condition of many parts 
of the country--as for in- stance, the States of the Church--in other 
respects; but what is more important is the general and undisputed 
respect for pure language and pronunciation as something precious and 
sacred. One part of the country after another came to adopt the 
classical dialect officially. Venice, Milan, and Naples did so at the 
noontime of Italian literature, and partly through its influences. It 
was not till the present century that Piedmont became of its own free 
will a genuine Italian province by sharing in this chief treasure of 
the people--pure speech. The dialects were from the beginning of the 
sixteenth century purposely left to deal with a certain class of 
subjects, serious as well as comic, and the style which was thus 
developed proved the equal to all its tasks. Among other nations a 
conscious separation of this kind did not occur till a much later 

The opinion of educated people as to the social value of language is 
fully set forth in the 'Cortigiano.' There were then persons, at the 
beginning of the sixteenth century, who purposely kept to the 
antiquated expressions of Dante and the other Tuscan writers of his 
time, simply because they were old. Our author forbids the use of them 
altogether in speech, and is unwilling to permit them even in writing, 
which he considers a form of speech. Upon this follows the admission 
that the best style of speech is that which most resembles good 
writing. We can clearly recognize the author's feeling that people who 
have anything of importance to say must shape their own speech, and 
that language is something flexible and changing because it is 
something living. It is allowable to make use of any expression, 
however ornate, as long as it is used by the people; nor are non-Tuscan 
words, or even French and Spanish words forbidden, if custom has once 
applied them to definite purposes. Thus care and intelligence will 
produce a language, which, if not the pure old Tuscan, is still 
Italian, rich in flowers and fruit like a well-kept garden. It belongs 
to the completeness of the 'Cortigiano' that his wit, his polished 
manners, and his poetry, must be clothed in this perfect dress.

When style and language had once become the property of a living 
society, all the efforts of purists and archaists failed to secure 
their end. Tuscany itself was rich in writers and the first order, who 
ignored and ridiculed these endeavors. Ridicule in abundance awaited 
the foreign scholar who explained to the Tuscans how little they 
understood their language. The life and influence of a writer like 
Machiavelli was enough to sweep away all these cobwebs. His vigorous 
thoughts, his clear and simple mode of expression wore a form which had 
any merit but that of the 'Trecentisti.' And on the other hand there 
were too many North Italians, Romans, and Neapolitans, who were 
thankful if the demand for purity of style in literature and 
conversation was not pressed too far. They repudiated, indeed, the 
forms and idioms of their dialect; and Bandello, with what a foreigner 
might suspect to be false modesty, is never tired of declaring: 'I have 
no style; I do not write like a Florentine, but like a barbarian; I am 
not ambitious of giving new graces to my language; I am a Lombard, and 
from the Ligurian border into the bargain.' But the claims of the 
purists were most successfully met by the express renunciation of the 
higher qualities of style, and the adoption of a vigorous, popular 
language in their stead. Few could hope to rival Pietro Bembo who, 
though born in Venice, nevertheless wrote the purest Tuscan, which to 
him was a foreign language, or the Neapolitan Sannazaro, who did the 
same. But the essential point was that language, whether spoken or 
written, was held to be an object of respect. As long as this feeling 
was prevalent, the fanaticism of the purists--their linguistic 
congresses and the rest of it--did little harm. Their bad influence was 
not felt till much later, when the original power of Italian literature 
relaxed and yielded to other and far worse influences. At last it 
became possible for the Accademia della Crusca to treat Italian like a 
dead language. But this association proved so helpless that it could 
not even hinder the invasion of Gallicism in the eighteenth century.

This language--loved, tended, and trained to every use--now served as 
the basis of social intercourse. In northern countries, the nobles and 
the princes passed their leisure either in solitude, or in hunting, 
fighting, drinking, and the like; the burghers in games and bodily 
exercises, with a mixture of literary or festive amusements. In Italy 
there existed a neutral ground, where people of every origin, if they 
had the needful talent and culture, spent their time in conversation 
change of jest and earnest. As eating small part of such 
entertainments, it not difficult to keep at a distance those who sought 
society for these objects. If we are to take the writers of dialogues 
literally, the loftiest problems of human existence were not excluded 
from the conversation of thinking men, and the production of noble 
thoughts was not, as was commonly the case in the North, the work of 
solitude, but of society. But we must here limit ourselves to the less 
serious side of social intercourse--to the side which existed only for 
the sake of amusement.

Social Etiquette 

This society, at all events at the beginning of the sixteenth century, 
was a matter of art; and had, and rested on, tacit or avowed rules of 
good sense and propriety, which are the exact reverse of all mere 
etiquette. In less polished circles, where society took the form of a 
permanent corporation, we meet with a system of formal rules and a 
prescribed mode of entrance, as was the case with those wild sets of 
Florentine artists of whom Vasari tells us that they were capable of 
giving representations of the best comedies of the day. In the easier 
intercourse of society it was not unusual to select some distinguished 
lady as president, whose word was law for the evening.

Everybody knows the introduction to Boccaccio's 'Decameron,' and looks 
on the presidency of Pampinea as a graceful fiction. That it was so in 
this particular case is a matter of course; but the fiction was 
nevertheless based on a practice which often occurred in reality. 
Firenzuola, who nearly two centuries later (1523) pref- aces his 
collection of tales in a similar manner, with express reference to 
Boccaccio, comes assuredly nearer to the truth when he puts into the 
mouth of the queen of the society a formal speech on the mode of 
spending the hours during the stay which the company proposed to make 
in the country. The day was to begin with a stroll among the hills 
passed in philosophical talk; then followed breakfast, with music and 
singing, after which came the recitation, in some cool, shady spot, of 
a new poem, the subject of which had been given the night before; in 
the evening the whole party walked to a spring of water where they all 
sat down and each one told a tale; last of all came supper and lively 
conversation 'of such a kind that the women might listen to it without 
shame and the men might not seem to be speaking under the influence of 
wine.' Ban- dello, in the introductions and dedications to single 
novels, does not give us, it is true, such inaugural discourses as 
this, since the circles before which the stories are told are 
represented as already formed; but he gives us to understand in other 
ways how rich, how manifold, and how charming the conditions of society 
must have been. Some readers may be of opinion that no good was to be 
got from a world which was willing to be amused by such immoral 
literature. It would be juster to wonder at the secure foundations of a 
society which, notwithstanding these tales, still observed the rules of 
order and decency, and which knew how to vary such pastimes with 
serious and solid discussion. The need of noble forms of social 
intercourse was felt to be stronger than all others. To convince 
ourselves of it, we are not obliged to take as our standard the 
idealized society which Castiglione depicts as discussing the loftiest 
sentiments and aims of human life at the court of Guidobaldo of Urbino, 
and Pietro Bembo at the castle of Asolo The society described by 
Bandello, with all the frivolities which may be laid to its charge, 
enables us to form the best notion of the easy and polished dignity, of 
the urbane kindliness, of the intellectual freedom, of the wit and the 
graceful dilettantism, which distinguished these circles. A significant 
proof of the value of such circles lies in the fact that the women who 
were the centers of them could become famous and illustrious without in 
any way compromising their reputation. Among the patronesses of 
Bandello, for example, Isabella Gonzaga (born an Este) was talked of 
unfavorably not through any fault of her own, but on account of the 
too-free-lived young ladies who filled her court. Giulia Gonzaga 
Colonna, Ippolita Sforza married to a Bentivoglio, Bianca Rangona, 
Cecilia Gallerana, Camilla Scarampa, and others, were either altogether 
irreproachable, or their social fame threw into the shade whatever they 
may have done amiss. The most famous woman of Italy, Vittoria Colonna 
(b. 1490, d. 1547), the friend of Castiglioni and Michelangelo, enjoyed 
the reputation of a saint. It is hard to give such a picture of the 
unconstrained intercourse of these circles in the city, at the baths, 
or in the country, as will furnish literal proof of the superiority of 
Italy in this respect over the rest of Europe. But let us read 
Bandello, and then ask ourselves if anything of the same kind would 
have been possible, say, in France, before this kind of society was 
there introduced by people like himself. No doubt the supreme 
achievements of the human mind were then produced independently of the 
help of the drawing-room. Yet it would be unjust to rate the influence 
of the latter on art and poetry too low, if only for the reason that 
society helped to shape that which existed in no other country--a 
widespread interest in artistic production and an intelligent and 
critical public opinion. And apart from this, society of the kind we 
have described was in itself a natural flower of that life and culture 
which was then purely Italian, and which since then has extended to the 
rest of Europe.

In Florence society was powerfully affected by literature and politics. 
Lorenzo the Magnificent was supreme over his circle, not, as we might 
be led to believe, through the princely position which he occupied, but 
rather through the wonderful tact he displayed in giving perfect 
freedom of action to the many and varied natures which surrounded him. 
We see how gently he dealt with his great tutor Politian, and how the 
sovereignty of the poet and scholar was reconciled, though not without 
difficulty, with the inevitable reserve prescribed by the approaching 
change in the position of the house of Medici and by consideration for 
the sensitiveness of the wife. In return for the treatment he received, 
Politian became the herald and the living symbol of Medicean glory. 
Lorenzo, after the fashion of a true Medici, delighted in giving an 
outward and artistic expression to his social amusements. In his 
brilliant improvisation--the Hawking Party--he gives us a humorous 
description of his comrades, and in the Symposium a burlesque of them, 
but in both cases in such a manner that we clearly feel his capacity 
for more serious companionship. Of this intercourse his correspondence 
and the records of his literary and philosophical conversation give 
ample proof. Some of the social unions which were afterwards formed in 
Florence were in part political clubs, though not without a certain 
poetical and philosophical character. Of this kind was the so-called 
Platonic Academy which met after Lorenzo's death in the gardens of the 

At the courts of the princes, society naturally depended on the 
character of the ruler. After the beginning of the sixteenth century 
they became few in number, and these few soon lost their importance. 
Rome, however, possessed in the unique court of Leo X a society to 
which the history of the world offers no parallel.

Education of the 'Cortigiano'

It was for this society--or rather for his own sake--that the 
'Cortigiano,' as described to us by Castiglione, educated himself. He 
was the ideal man of society, and was regarded by the civili- zation of 
that age as its choicest flower; and the court existed for him rather 
than he for the court. Indeed, such a man would have been out of place 
at any court, since he himself possessed all the gifts and the bearing 
of an accomplished ruler, and because his calm supremacy in all things, 
both outward and spiritual, implied a too independent nature. The inner 
impulse which inspired him was directed, though our author does not 
acknowledge the fact, not to the service of the prince, but to his own 
perfection. One instance will make this clear. In time of war the 
courtier refuses even useful and perilous tasks, if they are not 
beautiful and dignified in themselves, such as, for instance, the 
capture of a herd of cattle; what urges him to take part in war is not 
duty but 'l'onore.' The moral relation to the prince, as described in 
the fourth book, is singularly free and independent. The theory of 
well-bred love-making, set forth in the third book, is full of delicate 
psychological observation, which perhaps would be more in place in a 
treatise on human nature generally; and the magnificent praise of ideal 
love, which occurs at the end of the fourth book, and which rises to a 
lyrical elevation of feeling, has no connection whatever with the 
special object of the work. Yet here, as in the 'Asolani' of Bembo, the 
culture of the time shows itself in the delicacy with which this 
sentiment is represented and analyzed. It is true that these writers 
are not in all cases to be taken literally; but that the discourses 
they give us were actually frequent in good society, cannot be doubted, 
and that it was an affectation, but genuine passion, which appeared in 
this dress, we shall see further on.

Among outward accomplishments, the so-called knightly exercises were 
expected in thorough perfection from the courtier, and besides these 
much that could only exist at courts highly organized and based on 
personal emulation, such as were not to be found out of Italy. Other 
points obviously rest on an abstract notion of individual perfection. 
The courtier must be at home in all noble sports, among them running, 
leaping, swimming and wrestling; he must, above all things, be a good 
dancer and, as a matter of course, an accomplished rider. He must be 
master of several languages, at all events of Latin and Italian; he 
must be familiar with literature and have some knowledge of the fine 
arts. In music a certain practical skill was expected of him, which he 
was bound, nevertheless, to keep as secret as possible. All this is not 
to be taken too seriously, except what relates to the use of arms. The 
mutual interaction of these gifts and accomplishments results in the 
perfect man, in whom no one quality usurps the place of the rest.

So much is certain, that in the sixteenth century the Italians had all 
Europe for their pupils both theoretically and practically in every 
noble bodily exercise and in the habits and manners of good society. 
Their instructions and their illustrated books on riding, fencing, and 
dancing served as the model to other countries. Gymnastics as an art, 
apart both from military training and from mere amusement, was probably 
first taught by Vittorino da Feltre and after his time became essential 
to a complete education. The important fact is that they were taught 
systematically, though what exercises were most in favour, and whether 
they resembled those now in use, we are unable to say. But we may 
infer, not only from the general character of the people, but from 
positive evidence which has been left for us, that not only strength 
and skill, but grace of movement was one of the main objects of 
physical training. It is enough to remind the reader of the great 
Federigo of Urbino directing the evening games of the young people 
committed to his care.

The games and contests of the popular classes did not differ 
essentially from those which prevailed elsewhere in Europe. In the 
maritime cities boat-racing was among the number, and the Venetian 
regattas were famous at an early period. The classical game of Italy 
was and is the ball; and this was probably played at the time of the 
Renaissance with more zeal and brilliancy than elsewhere. But on this 
point no distinct evidence is forthcoming.


A few words on music will not be out of place in this part of our work. 
Musical composition down to the year 1500 was chiefly in the hands of 
the Flemish school, whose originality and artistic dexterity were 
greatly admired. Side by side with this, there nevertheless existed an 
Italian school, which probably stood nearer to our present taste. Half 
a century later came Palestrina, whose genius still works powerfully 
among us. We learn among other facts that he was a great innovator; but 
whether he or others took the decisive part in shaping the musical 
language of the modern world lies beyond the judgement of the 
unprofessional critic. Leaving on one side the history of musical 
composition, we shall confine ourselves to the position which music 
held in the social life of the day.

A fact most characteristic of the Renaissance and of Italy is the 
specialization of the orchestra, the search for new instruments and 
modes of sound, and, in close connection with this tendency, the 
formation of a class of 'virtuosi,' who devoted their whole attention 
to particular instruments or particular branches of music.

Of the more complex instruments, which were perfected and widely 
diffused at a very early period, we find not only the organ, but a 
corresponding string instrument, the 'gravicembalo' or 'clavicembalo.' 
Fragments of these dating from the beginning of the fourteenth century 
have come down to our own days, adorned with paintings from the hands 
of the greatest masters. Among other instruments the first place was 
held by the violin, which even then conferred great celebrity on the 
successful player. At the court of Leo X, who, when cardinal, had 
filled his house with singers and musicians, and who enjoyed the 
reputation of a critic and performer, the Jew Giovan Maria del Corneto 
and Jacopo Sansecondo were among the most famous. The former received 
from Leo the title of count and a small town; the latter has been taken 
to be the Apollo in the Parnassus of Raphael. In the course of the 
sixteenth century, celebrities in every branch of music appeared in 
abundance, and Lomazzo (1584) names the three most distinguished 
masters of the art of singing, of the organ, the lute, the lyre, the 
'viola da gamba,' the harp, the cithern, the horn, and the trumpet, and 
wishes that their portraits might be painted on the instruments 
themselves.97 Such many-sided comparative criticism would have been 
impossible anywhere but in Italy, although the same instruments were to 
be found in other countries.

The number and variety of these instruments is shown by the fact that 
collections of them were now made from curiosity. In Venice, which was 
one of the most musical cities of Italy, there were several such 
collections, and when a sufficient number of performers happened to be 
on the spot, a concert was at once improvised. In one of these museums 
there was a large number of instruments, made after ancient pictures 
and descriptions, but we are not told if anybody could play them, or 
how they sounded. It must not be forgotten that such instruments were 
often beautifully decorated, and could be arranged in a manner pleasing 
to the eye. We thus meet with them in collections of other rarities and 
works of art.

The players, apart from the professional performers, were either single 
amateurs, or whole orchestras of them, organized into a corporate 
Academy. Many artists in other branches were at home in music, and 
often masters of the art. People of position were averse to wind 
instruments, for the same reason which made them distasteful to 
Alcibiades and Pallas Athene. In good society singing, either alone or 
accompanied with the violin, was usual; but quartettes of string 
instruments were also common, and the 'clavicembalo' was liked on 
account of its varied effects. In singing, the solo only was permitted, 
'for a single voice is heard, enjoyed, and judged far better.' In other 
words, as singing, notwithstanding all conventional modesty, is an 
exhibition of the individual man of society, it is better that each 
should be seen and heard separately. The tender feelings produced in 
the fair listeners are taken for granted, and elderly people are 
therefore recommended to abstain from such forms of art, even though 
they excel in them. It was held important that the effect of the song 
should be enhanced by the impression made on the sight. We hear 
nothing, however, of the treatment in these circles of musical 
composition as an independent branch of art. On the other hand it 
happened sometimes that the subject of the song was some terrible event 
which had befallen the singer himself.

This dilettantism, which pervaded the middle as well as the upper 
classes, was in Italy both more widespread and more genuinely artistic 
than in any other country of Europe. Wherever we meet with a 
description of social intercourse, there music and singing are always 
and expressly mentioned. Hundreds of portraits show us men and women, 
often several together, playing or holding some musical instrument, and 
the angelic concerts represented in the ecclesiastical pictures prove 
how familiar the painters were with the living effects of music. We 
read of the lute-player Antonio Rota, at Padua (d. 1549), who became a 
rich man by his lessons, and published a handbook to the practice of 
the lute.

At a time when there was no opera to concentrate and monopolize musical 
talent, this general cultivation of the art must have been something 
wonderfully varied, intelligent, and original. It is another question 
how much we should find to satisfy us in these forms of music, could 
they now be reproduced for us.

Equality of Men and Women

To understand the higher forms of social intercourse at this period, we 
must keep before our minds the fact that women stood on a footing of 
perfect equality with men. We must not suffer ourselves to be misled by 
the sophistical and often malicious talk about the assumed inferiority 
of the female sex, which we meet with now and then in the dialogues of 
this time, nor by such satires as the third of Ariosto, who treats 
woman as a dangerous grown-up child, whom a man must learn how to 
manage, in spite of the great gulf between them. There is, indeed, a 
certain amount of truth in what he says. Just because the educated 
woman was on a level with the man, that communion of mind and heart 
which comes from the sense of mutual dependance and completion, could 
not be developed in marriage at this time, as it has been developed 
later in the cultivated society of the North.

The education given to women in the upper classes was essentially the 
same as that given to men. The Italian, at the time of the Renaissance, 
felt no scruple in putting sons and daughters alike under the same 
course of literary and even philological instruction. Indeed, looking 
at this ancient culture as the chief treasure of life, he was glad that 
his girls should have a share in it. We have seen what perfection was 
attained by the daughters of princely houses in writing and speaking 
Latin. Many others must at least have been able to read it, in order to 
follow the conversation of the day, which turned largely on classical 
subjects. An active interest was taken by many in Italian poetry, in 
which, whether prepared or improvised, a large number of Italian women, 
from the time of the Venetian Cassandra Fedele onwards (about the close 
of the fifteenth century), made themselves famous. One, indeed, 
Vittoria Colonna, may be called immortal. If any proof were needed of 
the assertion made above, it would be found in the manly tone of this 
poetry. Even the love-sonnets and religious poems are so precise and 
definite in their character, and so far removed from the tender 
twilight of sentiment, and from all the dilettantism which we commonly 
find in the poetry of women, that we should not hesitate to attribute 
them to male authors, if we had not clear external evidence to prove 
the contrary.

For, with education, the individuality of women in the upper classes 
was developed in the same way as that of men. Till the time of the 
Reformation, the personality of women out of Italy, even of the highest 
rank, comes forward but little. Exceptions like Isabella of Bavaria, 
Margaret of Anjou, and Isabella of Castile, are the forced result of 
very unusual circumstances. In Italy, throughout the whole of the 
fifteenth century, the wives of the rulers, and still more those of the 
Condottieri, have nearly all a distinct, recognizable personality, and 
take their share of notoriety and glory. To these came gradually to be 
added a crowd of famous women of the most varied kind; among them those 
whose distinction consisted in the fact that their beauty, disposition, 
education, virtue, and piety, combined to render them harmonious human 
beings. There was no question of 'woman's rights' or female 
emancipation, simply because the thing itself was a matter of course. 
The educated woman, no less than the man, strove naturally after a 
characteristic and complete individuality. The same intellectual and 
emotional development which perfected the man, was demanded for the 
perfection of the woman. Active literary world, nevertheless, was not 
expected from her, and if she were a poet, some powerful utterance of 
feeling, rather than the confidences of the novel or the diary, was 
looked for. These women had no thought of the public; their function 
was to influence distinguished men, and to moderate male impulse and 

The highest praise which could then be given to the great Italian women 
was that they had the mind and the courage of men. We have only to 
observe the thoroughly manly bearing of most of the women in the heroic 
poems, especially those of Boiardo and Ariosto, to convince ourselves 
that we have before us the ideal of the time. The title 'virago,' which 
is an equivocal compliment in the present day, then implied nothing but 
praise. It was borne in all its glory by Caterina Sforza, wife and 
afterwards widow of Girolamo Riario, whose hereditary possession, 
Forli, she gallantly defended first against his murderers, and then 
against Cesare Borgia. Though finally vanquished, she retained the 
admiration of her countrymen and the title 'prima donna d'Italia.' This 
heroic vein can be detected in many of the women of the Renaissance, 
though none found the same opportunity of showing their heroism to the 
world. In Isabella Gonzaga this type is clearly recognizable.

Women of this stamp could listen to novels like those of Bandello, 
without social intercourse suffering from it. The ruling genius of 
society was not, as now, womanhood, or the respect for certain 
presuppositions, mysteries, and susceptibilities, but the consciousness 
of energy, of beauty, and of a social state full of danger and 
opportunity. And for this reason we find, side by side with the most 
measured and polished social forms, something our age would call 
immodesty, forgetting that by which it was corrected and counter-
balanced-- the powerful characters of the women who were exposed to it.

That in all the dialogues and treatises together we can find no 
absolute evidence on these points is only natural, however freely the 
nature of love and the position and capacities of women were discussed.

What seems to have been wanting in this society were the young girls 
who, even when not brought up in the monasteries, were still carefully 
kept away from it. It is not easy to say whether their absence was the 
cause of the greater freedom of conversation, or whether they were 
removed on account of it.

Even the intercourse with courtesans seems to have assumed a more 
elevated character, reminding us of the position of the Hetairae in 
classical Athens. The famous Roman courtesan Imperia was a woman of 
intelligence and culture, had learned from a certain Domenico Campana 
the art of making sonnets, and was not without musical accomplishments. 
The beautiful Isabella de Luna, of Spanish extraction, who was reckoned 
amusing company, seems to have been an odd compound of a kind heart 
with a shockingly foul tongue, which latter sometimes brought her into 
trouble. At Milan, Bandello knew the majestic Caterina di San Celso, 
who played and sang and recited superbly. It is clear from all we read 
on the subject that the distinguished people who visited these women, 
and from time to time lived with them, demanded from them a 
considerable degree of intelligence and instruction, and that the 
famous courtesans were treated with no slight respect and 
consideration. Even when relations with them were broken off, their 
good opinion was still desired, which shows that departed passion had 
left permanent traces behind. But on the whole this intellectual 
intercourse is not worth mentioning by the side of that sanctioned by 
the recognized forms of social life, and the traces which it has left 
in poetry and literature are for the most part of a scandalous nature. 
We may well be astonished that among the 6,800 persons of this class, 
who were to be found in Rome in 1490--that is, before the appearance of 
syphilis--scarcely a single woman seems to have been remarkable for any 
higher gifts. Those whom we have mentioned all belong to the period 
which immediately followed. The mode of life, the morals and the 
philosophy of the public women, who with all their sensuality and greed 
were not always incapable of deeper passions, as well as the hypocrisy 
and devilish malice shown by some in their later years, are best set 
forth by Giraldi, in the novels which form the introduction to the 
'Hecatommithi.' Pietro Aretino, in his 'Ragionamenti,' gives us rather 
a picture of his own depraved character than of this unhappy class of 
women as they really were.

The mistresses of the princes, as has been pointed out, were sung by 
poets and painted by artists, and thus have become personally familiar 
to their contemporaries and to posterity. But we hardly know more than 
the name of Alice Perries; and of Clara Dettin, the mistress of 
Frederick the Victorious, and of Agnes Sorel we have only a half-
legendary story. With the concubines of the Renaissance monarchs--
Francis I and Henry II--the case is different.

Domestic Life

After treating of the intercourse of society, let us glance for a 
moment at the domestic life of this period. We are commonly disposed to 
look on the family life of the Italians at this time as hopelessly 
ruined by the national immorality, and this side of the question will 
be more fully discussed in the sequel. For the moment we must content 
ourselves with pointing out that conjugal infidelity has by no means so 
disastrous an influence on family life in Italy as in the North, so 
long at least as certain limits are not overstepped.

The domestic life of the Middle Ages was a product of popular morals, 
or if we prefer to put it otherwise, a result of the inborn tendencies 
of national life, modified by the varied circumstances which affected 
them. Chivalry at the time of its splendor left domestic economy 
untouched. The knight wandered from court to court, and from one 
battlefield to another. His homage was given systematically to some 
other woman than his own wife, and things went how they might at home 
in the castle. The spirit of the Renaissance first brought order into 
domestic life, treating it as a work of deliberate contrivance. 
Intelligent economical views, and a rational style of domestic 
architecture served to promote this end. But the chief cause of the 
change was the thoughtful study of all questions relating to social 
intercourse, to education, to domestic service and organization.

The most precious document on this subject is the treatise on the 
management of the home by Agnolo Pandolfini (actually written by L. B. 
Alberti, d. 1472). He represents a father speaking to his grown-up 
sons, and initiating them into his method of administration. We are 
introduced into a large and wealthy household, which, if governed with 
moderation and reasonable economy, promises happiness and prosperity 
for generations to come. A considerable landed estate, whose produce 
furnishes the table of the house, and serves as the basis of the family 
fortune, is combined with some industrial pursuit, such as the weaving 
of wool or silk. The dwelling is solid and the food good. All that has 
to do with the plan and arrangement of the house is great, durable and 
costly, but the daily life within it is as simple as possible. All 
other expenses, from the largest in which the family honour is at 
stake, down to the pocket-money of the younger sons, stand to one 
another in a rational, not a conventional relation. Nothing is 
considered of so much importance as education, which the head of the 
house gives not only to the children, but to the whole household. He 
first develops his wife from a shy girl, brought up in careful 
seclusion, to the true woman of the house, capable of commanding and 
guiding the servants. The sons are brought up without any undue 
severity, carefully watched and counselled, and controlled 'rather by 
authority than by force.' And finally the servants are chosen and 
treated on such principles that they gladly and faithfully hold by the 

One feature of that book must be referred to, which is by no means 
peculiar to it, but which it treats with special warmth-- the love of 
the educated Italian for country life. In northern countries the nobles 
lived in the country in their castles, and the monks of the higher 
orders in their well-guarded monasteries, while the wealthiest burghers 
dwelt from one year's end to another in the cities. But in Italy, so 
far as the neighbourhood of certain towns at all events was concerned, 
the security of life and property was so great, and the passion for a 
country residence was so strong, that men were willing to risk a loss 
in time of war. Thus arose the villa, the country-house of the well-to-
do citizen. This precious inheritance of the old Roman world was thus 
revived, as soon as the wealth and culture of the people were 
sufficiently advanced.

Pandolfini finds at his villa a peace and happiness, for an account of 
which the reader must hear him speak himself. The economical side of 
the matter is that one and the same property must, if possible, contain 
everything- corn, wine, oil, pastureland and woods, and that in such 
cases the property was paid for well, since nothing needed then to be 
got from the market. But the higher enjoyment derived from the villa is 
shown by some words of the introduction: 'Round about Florence lie many 
villas in a transparent atmosphere, amid cheerful scenery, and with a 
splendid view; there is little fog and no injurious winds; all is good, 
and the water pure and healthy. Of the numerous buildings many are like 
palaces, many like castles costly and beautiful to behold.' He is 
speaking of those unrivalled villas, of which the greater number were 
sacrificed, though vainly, by the Florentines themselves in the defence 
of their city in 1529.

In these villas, as in those on the Brenta, on the Lombard hills, at 
Posilippo and on the Vomero, social life assumes a freer and more rural 
character than in the palaces within the city. We meet with charming 
descriptions of the intercourse of the guests, the hunting-parties, and 
all the open-air pursuits and amusements. But the noblest achievements 
of poetry and thought are sometimes also dated from these scenes of 
rural peace.


It is by no arbitrary choice that in discussing the social life of this 
period, we are led to treat of the processions and shows which formed 
part of the popular festivals. The artistic power of which the Italians 
of the Renaissance gave proof on such occasions, was attained only by 
means of that free intercourse of all classes which formed the basis of 
Italian society. In Northern Europe the monasteries, the courts, and 
the burghers had their special feasts and shows as in Italy; but in the 
one case the form and substance of these displays differed according to 
the class which took part in them, in the other an art amid culture 
common to the whole nation stamped them with both a higher and a more 
popular character. The decorative architecture, which served to aid in 
these festivals, deserves a chapter to itself in the history of art, 
although our imagination can only form a picture of it from the 
descriptions which have been left to us. We are here more especially 
concerned with the festival as a higher phase in the life of the 
people, in which its religious, moral, and poetical ideas took visible 
shape. The Italian festivals in their best form mark the point of 
transition from real life into the world of art.

The two chief forms of festal display were originally here, as 
elsewhere in the West, the Mystery, or the dramatization of sacred 
history and legend, and the Procession, the motive and character of 
which was also purely ecclesiastical.

The performances of the Mysteries in Italy were from the first more 
frequent and splendid than elsewhere, and were most favorably affected 
by the progress of poetry and of the other arts. In the course of time 
not only did the farce and the secular drama branch off from the 
Mystery, as in other countries of Europe, but the pantomime also, with 
its accompaniments of singing and dancing, the effect of which depended 
on the richness and beauty of the spectacle.

The Procession, in the broad, level, and well-paved streets of the 
Italian cities, was soon developed into the 'Trionfo,' or train of 
masked figures on foot and in chariots, the ecclesiastical character of 
which gradually gave way to the secular. The pro- cessions at the 
Carnival and at the feast of Corpus Christi were alike in the pomp and 
brilliancy with which they were conducted, and set the pattern 
afterwards followed by the royal or princely progresses. Other nations 
were willing to spend vast sums of money on these shows, but in Italy 
alone do we find an artistic method of treatment which arranged the 
processions as a harmonious and significative whole.

What is left of these festivals is but a poor remnant of what once 
existed. Both religious and secular displays of this kind have 
abandoned the dramatic element--the costumes--partly from dread of 
ridicule, and partly because the cultivated classes, which formerly 
gave their whole energies to these things, have for several reasons 
lost their interest in them. Even at the Carnival, the great 
processions of masks are out of fashion. What still remains, such as 
the costumes adopted in imitation of certain religious confraternities, 
or even the brilliant festival of Santa Rosalia at Palermo, shows 
clearly how far the higher culture of the country has withdrawn from 
such interests.

The festivals did not reach their full development till after the 
decision victory of the modern spirit in the fifteenth century, unless 
perhaps Florence was here, as in other things, in advance of the rest 
of Italy. In Florence, the several quarters of the city were, in early 
times, organized with a view to such exhibitions, which demanded no 
small expenditure of artistic effort. Of this kind was the 
representation of Hell, with a scaffold and boats in the Arno, on the 
1st of May, 1304, when the Ponte alla Carraia broke down under the 
weight of the spectators. That at a later time the Florentines used to 
travel through Italy as directors of festivals (festaiuoli), shows that 
the art was early perfected at home.

In setting forth the chief points of superiority in the Italian 
festivals over those of other countries, the first that we shall have 
to remark is the developed sense of individual character- istics, in 
other words, the capacity to invent a given mask, and to act the part 
with dramatic propriety. Painters and sculptors not merely did their 
part towards the decoration of the place where the festival was held, 
but helped in getting up the characters themselves, and prescribed the 
dress, the paints, and the other ornaments to be used. The second fact 
to be pointed out is the universal familiarity of the people with the 
poetical basis of the show. The Mysteries, indeed, were equally well 
understood all over Europe, since the biblical story and the legends of 
the saints were the common property of Christendom; but in all other 
respects the advantage was on the side of Italy. For the recitations, 
whether of religious or secular heroes, she possessed a lyrical poetry 
so rich and harmonious that none could resist its charm. The majority, 
too, of the spectators--at least in the cities--understood the meaning 
of mythological figures, and could guess without much difficulty at the 
allegorical and historical, which were drawn from sources familiar to 
the mass of Italians.

This point needs to be more fully discussed. The Middle Ages were 
essentially the ages of allegory. Theology and philosophy treated their 
categories as independent beings, and poetry and art had but little to 
add, in order to give them personality. Here all the countries of the 
West were on the same level.

Their world of ideas was rich enough in types and figures, but when 
these were put into concrete shape, the costume and attributes were 
likely to be unintelligible and unsuited to the popular taste. This, 
even in Italy, was often the case, and not only so during the whole 
period of the Renaissance, but down to a still later time. To produce 
the confusion, it was enough if a predicate of the allegorical figures 
was wrongly translated by an attribute. Even Dante is not wholly free 
from such errors, and, indeed, he prides himself on the obscurity of 
his allegories in general. Petrarch, in his 'Trionfi,' attempts to give 
clear, if short, descriptions of at all events the figures of Love, of 
Chastity, of Death, and of Fame. Others again load their allegories 
with inappropriate attributes. In the Satires of Vinciguerra, for 
example, Envy is depicted with rough, iron teeth, Gluttony as biting 
its own lips, and with a shock of tangled hair, the latter probably to 
show its indifference to all that is not meat and drink. We cannot here 
discuss the bad influence of these misunderstandings on the plastic 
arts. They, like poetry, might think themselves fortunate if allegory 
could be expressed by a mythological figure--by a figure which 
antiquity saved from absurdity--if Mars might stand for war, and Diana 
for the love of the chase.

Nevertheless art and poetry had better allegories than these to offer, 
and we may assume with regard to such figures of this kind as appeared 
in the Italian festivals, that the public required them to be clearly 
and vividly characteristic, since its previous training had fitted it 
to be a competent critic. Elsewhere, particularly at the Burgundian 
court, the most inexpressive figures, and even mere symbols, were 
allowed to pass, since to understand, or to seem to understand them, 
was a part of aristocratic breeding. On the occasion of the famous 
'Oath of the Pheasant' in the year 1454, the beautiful young 
horsewoman, who appears as 'Queen of Pleasure,' is the only pleasing 
allegory. The huge epergnes, with automatic or even living figures 
within them, are either mere curiosities or are intended to convey some 
clumsy moral lesson. A naked female statue guarding a live lion was 
supposed to represent Constantinople and its future savior, the Duke of 
Burgundy. The rest, with the exception of a Pantomime-- Jason in 
Colchis--seems either too recondite to be understood or to have no 
sense at all. Oliver de la Marche, to whom we owe the description of 
the scene (Memoires, ch. 29), appeared costumed as 'The Church,' in a 
tower on the back of an elephant, and sang a long elegy on the victory 
of the unbelievers.

But although the allegorical element in the poetry, the art, and the 
festivals of Italy is superior both in good taste and in unity of 
conception to what we find in other countries, yet it is not in these 
qualities that it is most characteristic and unique. The decisive point 
of superiority lay rather in the fact that, besides the 
personifications of abstract qualities, historical rep- resentatives of 
them were introduced in great number--that both poetry and plastic art 
were accustomed to represent famous men and women. The 'Divine Comedy,' 
the 'Trionfi' of Petrarch, the 'Amorosa Visione' of Boccaccio--all of 
them works constructed on this principle--and the great diffusion of 
culture which took place under the influence of antiquity, had made the 
nation familiar with this historical element. These figures now 
appeared at festivals, either individualized, as definite masks, or in 
groups, as characteristic attendants on some leading allegorical 
figure. The art of grouping and composition was thus learnt in Italy at 
a time when the most splendid exhibitions in other countries were made 
up of unintelligible symbolism or unmeaning puerilities.

Let us begin with that kind of festival which is perhaps the oldest of 
all--the Mysteries. They resembled in their main features those 
performed in the rest of Europe. In the public squares, in the churches 
and in the cloisters, extensive scaffolds were constructed, the upper 
story of which served as a Paradise to open and shut at will, and the 
ground-floor often as 8 Hell, while between the two lay the stage 
properly so called, representing the scene of all the earthly events of 
the drama In Italy, as elsewhere, the biblical or legendary play often 
began with an introductory dialogue between Apostles, Prophets, Sibyls, 
Virtues, and Fathers of the Church, and sometimes ended with a dance. 
As a matter of course the half-comic 'Intermezzi' of secondary 
characters were not wanting in Italy, yet this feature was hardly so 
broadly marked as in northern countries. The artificial means by which 
figures were made to rise and float in the air--one of the chief 
delights of these representations--were probably much better understood 
in Italy than elsewhere; and at Florence in the fourteenth century the 
hitches in these performances were a stock subject of ridicule. Soon 
afterwards Brunellesco invented for the Feast of the Annunciation in 
the Piazza San Felice a marvelous ap- paratus consisting of a heavenly 
globe surrounded by two circles of angels, out of which Gabriel flew 
down in a machine shaped like an almond. Cecca, too, devised mechanisms 
for such displays. The spiritual corporations or the quarters of the 
city which undertook the charge and in part the performance of these 
plays spared, at all events in the larger towns, no trouble and expense 
to render them as perfect and artistic as possible. The same was no 
doubt the case at the great court festivals, when Mysteries were acted 
as well as pantomimes and secular dramas. The court of Pietro Riario 
and that of Ferrara were assuredly not wanting in all that human 
invention could produce. When we picture to ourselves the theatrical 
talent and the splendid costumes of the actors, the scenes constructed 
in the style of the architecture of the period, and hung with garlands 
and tapestry, and in the background the noble buildings of an Italian 
piazza, or the slender columns of some great courtyard or cloister, the 
effect is one of great brilliance. But just as the secular drama 
suffered from this passion for display, so the higher poetical 
development of the Mystery was arrested by the same cause. In the texts 
which are left we find for the most part the poorest dramatic 
groundwork, relieved now and then by a fine lyrical or rhetorical 
passage, but no trace of the grand symbolic enthusiasm which 
distinguishes the 'Autos Sacramentales' of Calderon.

In the smaller towns, where the scenic display was less, the effect of 
these spiritual plays on the character of the spectators may have been 
greater. We read that one of the great preachers of repentance of whom 
more will be said later on, Roberto da Lecce, closed his Lenten sermons 
during the plague of 1448, at Perugia, with a representation of the 
Passion. The piece followed the New Testament closely. The actors were 
few, but the whole people wept aloud. It is true that on such occasions 
emotional stimulants were resorted to which were borrowed from the 
crudest realism. We are reminded of the pictures of Matteo da Siena, or 
of the groups of clay-figures by Guido Mazzoni, when we read that the 
actor who took the part of Christ appeared covered with welts and 
apparently sweating blood, and even bleeding from a wound in the side.

The special occasions on which these mysteries were performed, apart 
from the great festivals of the Church, from princely weddings, and the 
like, were of various kinds. When, for example, St. Bernardino of Siena 
was canonized by the Pope (1450), a sort of dramatic imitation of the 
ceremony (rappresentazione) took place, probably on the great square of 
his native city, and for two days there was feasting with meat and 
drink for all comers. We are told that a learned monk celebrated his 
promotion to the degree of Doctor of Theology by giving a 
representation of the legend about the patron saint of the city. 
Charles VIII had scarcely entered Italy before he was welcomed at Turin 
by the widowed Duchess Bianca of Savoy with a sort of half-religious 
pantomime, in which a pastoral scene first symbolized the Law of 
Nature, and then a procession of patriarchs the Law of Grace. 
Afterwards followed the story of Lancelot of the lake, and that 'of 
Athens.' And no sooner had the King reached Chieri than he was received 
with another pantomime, in which a woman in childbed was shown 
surrounded by distinguished visitors.

If any church festival was held by universal consent to call for 
exceptional efforts, it was the feast of Corpus Christi, which in Spain 
gave rise to a special class of poetry. We possess a splendid 
description of the manner in which that feast was celebrated at Viterbo 
by Pius II in 1462. The procession itself, which advanced from a vast 
and gorgeous tent in front of San Francesco along the main street to 
the Cathedral, was the least part of the ceremony. The cardinals and 
wealthy prelates had divided the whole distance into parts, over which 
they severally presided, and which they decorated with curtains, 
tapestry, and garlands. Each of them had also erected a stage of his 
own, on which, as the procession passed by, short historical and 
allegorical scenes were represented. It is not clear from the account 
whether all the characters were living beings or some merely draped 
figures; the expense was certainly very great. There was a suffering 
Christ amid singing cherubs, the Last Supper with a figure of St. 
Thomas Aquinas, the combat between the Archangel Michael and the 
devils, fountains of wine and orchestras of angels, the grave of Christ 
with all the scene of the Resurrection, and finally, on the square 
before the Cathedral, the tomb of the Virgin. It opened after High Ma s 
and Benediction, and the Mother of God ascended singing to Paradise, 
where she was crowned by her Son, and led into the presence of the 
Eternal Father.

Among these representations in the public street, that given by the 
Cardinal Vice-Chancellor Roderigo Borgia, afterwards Pope Alexander VI, 
was remarkable for its splendor and obscure symbolism. It offers an 
early instance of the fondness for salvos of artillery which was 
characteristic of the house of Borgia.

The account is briefer which Pius II gives us of the procession held 
the same year in Rome on the arrival of the skull of St. Andrew from 
Greece. There, too, Roderigo Borgia distinguished himself by his 
magnificence; but this festival has a more secular character than the 
other, as, besides the customary choirs of angels, other masks were 
exhibited, as well as 'strong men,' who seem to have performed various 
feats of muscular prowess.

Such representations as were wholly or chiefly secular in their 
character were arranged, especially at the more important princely 
courts, mainly with a view to splendid and striking scenic effects. The 
subjects were mythological or allegorical, and the interpretation 
commonly lay on the surface. Extravagances, indeed, were not wanting--
gigantic animals from which a crowd of masked figures suddenly emerged, 
as at Siena in the year 1465, when at a public reception a ballet of 
twelve persons came out of a golden wolf; living table ornaments, not 
always, however, showing the tasteless exaggeration of the Burgundian 
Court and the like. Most of them showed some artistic or poetical 
feeling. The mixture of pantomime and drama at the Court of Ferrara has 
been already referred to in the treating of poetry. The entertainments 
given in 1473 by the Cardinal Pietro Riario at Rome when Leonora of 
Aragon, the destined bride of Prince Hercules of Ferrara, was passing 
through the city, were famous far beyond the limits of Italy. The plays 
acted were mysteries on some ecclesiastical subject, the pantomimes, on 
the contrary, were mythological. There were represented Orpheus with 
the beasts, Perseus and Andromeda, Ceres drawn by dragons, Bacchus and 
Ariadne by panthers, and finally the education of Achilles. Then 
followed a ballet of the famous lovers of ancient times, with a troop 
of nymphs, which was interrupted by an attack of predatory centaurs, 
who in their turn were vanquished and put to flight by Hercules. The 
fact, in itself a trifle, may be mentioned as characteristic of the 
taste of the time, that the human beings who at all festivals appeared 
as statues in niches or on pillars and triumphal arches, and then 
showed themselves to be alive by singing or speaking, wore their 
natural complexion and a natural costume, and thus the sense of 
incongruity was removed; while in the house of Riario there was 
exhibited a living child, gilt from head to foot, who showered water 
round him from a spring.

Brilliant pantomimes of the same kind were given at Bologna, at the 
marriage of Annibale Bentivoglio with Lucrezia of Este. Instead of the 
orchestra, choral songs were sung, while the fairest of Diana's nymphs 
flew over to the Juno Pronuba, and while Venus walked with a lion--
which in this case was a disguised man--among a troop of savages. The 
decorations were a faithful representation of a forest. At Venice, in 
1491, the princesses of the house of Este were met and welcomed by the 
Bucentaur, and entertained by boat-races and a splendid pantomime, 
called 'Meleager,' in the court of the ducal palace. At Milan Leonardo 
da Vinci directed the festivals of the Duke and of some leading 
citizens. One of his machines, which must have rivalled that of 
Brunellesco, represented the heavenly bodies with all their movements 
on a colossal scale. Whenever a planet approached Isabella, the bride 
of the young Duke, the divinity whose name it bore stepped forth from 
the globe, and sang some verses written by the court-poet Bellincioni 
(1490). At another festival (1493) the model of the equestrian statue 
of Francesco Sforza appeared with other objects under a triumphal arch 
on the square before the castle. We read in Vasari of the ingenious 
automata which Leonardo invented to welcome the French kings as masters 
of Milan. Even in the smaller cities great efforts were sometimes made 
on these occasions. When Duke Borso came in 1453 to Reggio, to receive 
the homage of the city, he was met at the gate by a great machine, on 
which St. Prospero, the patron saint of the town, appeared to float, 
shaded by a baldachin held by angels, while below him was a revolving 
disc with eight singing cherubs, two of whom received from the saint 
the scepter and keys of the city, which they then delivered to the 
Duke, while saints and angels held forth in his praise. A chariot drawn 
by concealed horses now advanced, bearing an empty throne, behind which 
stood a figure of Justice attended by a genius. At the corners of the 
chariot sat four grey-headed lawgivers, encircled by angels with 
banners; by its side rode standard-bearers in complete armor. It need 
hardly be added that the goddess and the genius did not suffer the Duke 
to pass by without an address. A second car, drawn by a unicorn, bore a 
Caritas with a burning torch; between the two came the classical 
spectacle of a car in the form of a ship, moved by men concealed within 
it. The whole procession now advanced before the Duke. In front of the 
church of St. Pietro, a halt was again made. The saint, attended by two 
angels, descended in an aureole from the facade, placed a wreath of 
laurel on the head of the Duke, and then floated back to his former 
position. The clergy provided another allegory of a purely religious 
kind. Idolatry and Faith stood on two lofty pillars, and after Faith, 
represented by a beautiful girl, had uttered her welcome, the other 
column fell to pieces with the lay figure upon it. Further on, Borso 
was met by a Caesar with seven beautiful women, who were presented to 
him as the Virtues which he was exhorted to pursue. At last the 
Cathedral was reached, but after the service the Duke again took his 
seat on a lofty golden throne, and a second time received the homage of 
some of the masks already mentioned. To conclude all, three angels flew 
down from an adjacent building, and, amid songs of joy, delivered to 
him palm branches, as symbols of peace.

Let us now give a glance at those festivals the chief feature of which 
was the procession itself.

There is no doubt that from an early period of the Middle Ages the 
religious processions gave rise to the use of masks. Little angels 
accompanied the sacrament or the sacred pictures and relics on their 
way through the streets; or characters in the Passion--such as Christ 
with the cross, the thieves and the soldiers, or the faithful women--
were represented for public edification. But the great feasts of the 
Church were from an early time accompanied by a civic procession, and 
the _naivete _of the Middle Ages found nothing unfitting in the many 
secular elements which it contained. We may mention especially the 
naval car _(carrus navalis), _which had been inherited from pagan 
times, and which, as an instance already quoted shows, was admissible 
at festivals of very various kinds, and is associated with one of them 
in particular-- the Carnival. Such ships, decorated with all possible 
splendor, delighted the eyes of spectators long after the original 
meaning of them was forgotten. When Isabella of England met her 
bridegroom, the Emperor Frederick II, at Cologne, she was met by a 
number of such chariots, drawn by invisible horses, and filled with a 
crowd of priests who welcomed her with music and singing.

But the religious processions were not only mingled with secular 
accessories of all kinds, but were often replaced by processions of 
clerical masks. Their origin is perhaps to be found in the parties of 
actors who wound their way through the streets of the city to the place 
where they were about to act the mystery; but it is possible that at an 
early per;od the clerical procession may have constituted itself as a 
distinct species. Dante described the 'Trionfo' of Beatrice, with the 
twenty-four Elders of the Apocalypse, with the four mystical Beasts, 
with the three Christian and four Cardinal Virtues, and with Saint 
Luke, Saint Paul, and other Apostles, in a way which almost forces us 
to conclude that such processions actually occurred before his time. We 
are chiefly led to this conclusion by the chariot in which Beatrice 
drives, and which in the miraculous forest of the vision would have 
been unnecessary or rather out of place. It is possible, on the other 
hand, that Dante looked on the chariot as a symbol of victory and 
triumph, and that his poem rather served to give rise to these 
processions, the form of which was borrowed from the triumph of the 
Roman Emperors. However this may be, poetry and theology continued to 
make free use of the symbol. Savonarola in his 'Triumph of the Cross' 
represents Christ on a Chariot of Victory, above his head the shining 
sphere of the Trinity, in his left hand the Cross, in his right the Old 
and New Testaments; below him the Virgin Mary; on both sides the 
Martyrs and Doctors of the Church with open books; behind him all the 
multitude of the saved; and in the distance the countless host of his 
enemies--emperors, princes, philosophers, heretics--all vanquished, 
their idols broken, and their books burned. A great picture of Titian, 
which is known only as a woodcut, has a good deal in common with this 
description. The ninth and tenth of Sabellico's thirteen Elegies on the 
Mother of God contain a minute account of her triumph, richly adorned 
with allegories, and especially interesting from that matter-of-fact 
air which also characterizes the realistic painting of the fifteenth 

Nevertheless, the secular 'Trionfi' were far more frequent than the 
religious. They were modelled on the procession of the Roman Imperator, 
as it was known from the old reliefs and the writings of ancient 
authors. The historical conceptions then prevalent in Italy, with which 
these shows were closely connected, have already been discussed.

We now and then read of the actual triumphal entrance of a victorious 
general, which was organized as far as possible on the ancient pattern, 
even against the will of the hero himself. Francesco Sforza had the 
courage (1450) to refuse the triumphal chariot which had been prepared 
for his return to Milan, on the ground that such things were monarchial 
superstitions. Alfonso the Great, on his entrance into Naples (1443), 
declined the wreath of laurel, which Napoleon did not disdain to wear 
at his coronation in Notre-Dame. For the rest, Alfonso's procession, 
which passed by a breach in the wall through the city to the cathedral, 
was a strange mixture of antique, allegorical, and purely comic 
elements. The car, drawn by four white horses, on which he sat 
enthroned, was lofty and covered with gilding; twenty patricians 
carried the poles of the canopy of cloth of gold which shaded his head. 
The part of the procession which the Florentines then present in Naples 
had undertaken was composed of elegant young cavaliers, skillfully 
brandishing their lances, of a chariot with the figure of Fortune, and 
of seven Virtues on horseback. The goddess herself, in accordance with 
the inexorable logic of allegory to which even the painters at that 
time conformed, wore hair only on the front part of her head, while the 
back part was bald, and the genius who sat on the lower steps of the 
car, and who symbolized the fugitive character of fortune, had his feet 
immersed in a basin of water Then followed, equipped by the same 
Florentines, a troop of horsemen in the costumes of various nations, 
dressed as foreign princes and nobles, and then, crowned with laurel 
and standing above a revolving globe, a Julius Caesar, who explained to 
the king in Italian verse the meaning of the allegories, and then took 
his place in the procession. Sixty Florentines, all in purple and 
scarlet, closed this splendid display of what their home could achieve. 
Then a band of Catalans advanced on foot, with lay figures of horses 
fastened on to them before and behind, and engaged in a mock combat 
with a body of Turks, as though in derision of the Florentine 
sentimentalism. Last of all came a gigantic tower, the door guarded by 
an angel with a drawn sword; on it stood four Virtues, who each 
addressed the king with a song. The rest of the show had nothing 
specially characteristic about it.

At the entrance of Louis XII into Milan in the year 1507 we find, 
besides the inevitable chariot with Virtues, a living group 
representing Jupiter, Mars, and a figure of Italy caught in a net. 
After which came a car laden with trophies, and so forth.

And when there were in reality no triumphs to celebrate, the poets 
found a compensation for themselves and their patrons. Petrarch and 
Boccaccio had described the representation of every sort of fame as 
attendants each of an allegorical figure; the celebrities of past ages 
were now made attendants of the prince. The poetess Cleofe Gabrielli of 
Gubbio paid this honour to Borso of Ferrara. She gave him seven queens-
-the seven liberal arts--as his handmaids, with whom he mounted a 
chariot; further, a crowd of heroes, distinguished by names written on 
their foreheads; then followed all the famous poets; and after them the 
gods driving in their chariots. There is, in fact, at this time simply 
no end to the mythological and allegorical charioteering, and the most 
important work of art of Borso's time--the frescoes in the Palazzo 
Schifanoia--shows us a whole frieze filled with these motives. Raphael, 
when he had to paint the Camera della Segnatura, found this mode of 
artistic thought completely vulgarized and worn out. The new and final 
consecration which he gave to it will remain a wonder to all ages.

The triumphal processions, strictly speaking, of victorious generals, 
formed the exception. But all the festive processions, whether they 
celebrated any special event or were mainly held for their own sakes, 
assumed more or less the character and nearly always the name of a 
'Trionfo.' It is a wonder that funerals were not also treated in the 
same way.

It was the practice, both at the Carnival and on other occasions, to 
represent the triumphs of ancient Roman commanders, such as that of 
Paulus Aemilius under Lorenzo the Magnificent at Florence, and that of 
Camillus on the visit of Leo X. Both were conducted by the painter 
Francesco Granacci. In Rome, the first complete exhibition of this kind 
was the triumph of Augustus after the victory over Cleopatra, under 
Paul II, where, besides the comic and mythological masks, which, as a 
matter of fact, were not wanting in the ancient triumphs, all the other 
requisites were to be found--kings in chains, tablets with decrees of 
the senate and people, a senate clothed in the ancient costume, 
praetors, aediles, and quaestors, four chariots filled with singing 
masks, and, doubtless, cars laden with trophies. Other processions 
rather aimed at setting forth, in a general way, the universal empire 
of ancient Rome; and in answer to the very real danger which threatened 
Europe from the side of the Turks, a cavalcade of camels bearing masks 
representing Ottoman prisoners, appeared before the people. Later, at 
the Carnival of the year 1500, Cesare Borgia, with a bold allusion to 
himself, celebrated the triumph of Julius Caesar, with a procession of 
eleven magnificent chariots, doubtless to the scandal of the pilgrims 
who had come fm the Jubilee. Two 'Trionfi,' famous for their taste and 
beauty, were given by rival companies in Florence, on the election of 
Leo X to the Papacy. One of them represented the three Ages of Man, the 
other the Ages of the World, ingeniously set forth in five scenes of 
Roman history, and in two allegories of the golden age of Saturn and of 
its final return. The imagination displayed in the adornment of the 
chariots, when the great Florentine artists undertook the work, made 
the scene so impressive that such representations became in time a 
permanent element in the popular life. Hitherto the subject cities had 
been satisfied merely to present their symbolical gifts--costly stuffs 
and wax-candles-- on the day when they annually did homage. The guild 
of merchants now built ten chariots, to which others were afterwards to 
be added, not so much to carry as to symbolize the tribute, and Andrea 
del Sarto, who painted some of them, no doubt did his work to 
perfection. These cars, whether used to hold tribute or trophies, now 
formed part of all such celebrations, even when there was not much 
money to be laid out. The Sienese announced, in 1477, the alliance 
between Ferrante and Sixtus IV, with which they themselves were 
associated, by driving a chariot round the city, with 'one clad as the 
goddess of peace standing on a hauberk and other arms.'

At the Venetian festivals the processions, not on land but on water, 
were marvelous in their fantastic splendor. The sailing of the 
Bucentaur to meet the Princesses of Ferrara in the year 1491 seems to 
have been something belonging to fairyland. Countless vessels with 
garlands and hangings, filled with the richly dressed youth of the 
city, moved in front; genii with attributes symbolizing the various 
gods, floated on machines hung in the air; below stood others grouped 
as tritons and nymphs; the air was filled with music, sweet odors, and 
the fluttering of embroidered banners. The Bucentaur was followed by 
such a crowd of boats of every sort that for a mile all round _(octo 
stadia) _the water could not be seen. With regard to the rest of the 
festivities, besides the pantomime mentioned above, we may notice as 
something new a boat-race of fifty powerful girls. In the sixteenth 
century the nobility were divided into corporations with a view to 
these festivals, whose most noteworthy feature was some extraordinary 
machine placed on a ship. So, for instance, in the year 1541, at the 
festival of the 'Sempiterni,' a round 'universe' floated along the 
Grand Canal, and a splendid ball was given inside it. The Carnival, 
too, in this city was famous for its dances, processions, and 
exhibitions of every kind. The Square of St. Mark was found to give 
space enough not only for tournaments, but for 'Trionfi,' similar to 
those common on the mainland. At a festival held on the conclusion of 
peace, the pious brotherhoods ('scuole') took each its part in the 
procession. There, among golden chandeliers with red candles, among 
crowds of musicians and winged boys with golden bowls and horns of 
plenty, was seen a car on which Noah and David sat together enthroned; 
then came Abigail, leading a camel laden with treasures, and a second 
car with a group of political figures- -Italy sitting be tween Venice 
and Liguria--and on a raised step three female symbolical figures with 
the arms of the allied princes. This was followed by a great globe with 
the constellations, as it seems, round it. The princes themselves, or 
rather their bodily representatives, appeared on other chariots with 
their servants and their coats of arms, if we have rightly interpreted 
our author.

The Carnival, properly so called, apart from these great triumphal 
marches, had nowhere, perhaps, in the fifteenth century so varied a 
character as in Rome. There were races of every kind--of horses, asses, 
buffaloes, old men, young men, Jews, and so on. Paul II entertained the 
people in crowds before the Palazzo di Venezia, in which he lived. The 
games in the Piazza Navona, which had probably never altogether ceased 
since the classical times, were remarkable for their warlike splendor. 
We read of a sham fight of cavalry, and a review of all the citizens in 
arms. The greatest freedom existed with regard to the use of masks, 
which were sometimes allowed for several months together. Sixtus IV 
ventured, in the most populous part of the city--at the Campofiore and 
near the Banchi --to make his way through crowds of masks, though he 
declined to receive them as visitors in the Vatican. Under Innocent 
VIII, a discreditable usage, which had already appeared among the 
Cardinals, attained its height. In the Carnival of 1491, they sent one 
another chariots full of splendid masks, of singers, and of buffoons, 
chanting scandalous verses. They were accompanied by men on horseback. 
Apart from the Carnival, the Romans seem to have been the first to 
discover the effect of a great procession by torchlight. When Pius II 
came back from the Congress of Mantua in 1459, the people waited on him 
with a squadron of horsemen bearing torches, who rode in shining 
circles before his palace. Sixtus IV, however, thought it better to 
decline a nocturnal visit of the people, who proposed to wait on him 
with torches and olive-branches.

But the Florentine Carnival surpassed the Roman in a certain class of 
processions, which have left their mark even in literature. Among a 
crowd of masks on foot and on horseback appeared some huge, fantastic 
chariots, and upon each an allegorical figure or group of figures with 
the proper accompaniments, such as Jealousy with four spectacled faces 
on one head; the four temperaments with the planets belonging to them; 
the three Fates; Prudence enthroned above Hope and Fear, which lay 
bound before her; the four Elements, Ages, Winds, Seasons, and so on; 
as well as the famous chariot of Death with the coffins, which 
presently opened. Sometimes we meet with a splendid scene from 
classical mythology--Bacchus and Ariadne, Paris and Helen, and others. 
Or else a chorus of figures forming some single class or category, as 
the beggars, the hunters and nymphs, the lost souls who in their 
lifetime were hardhearted women, the hermits, the astrologers, the 
vagabonds, the devils, the sellers of various kinds of wares, and even 
on one occasion 'il popolo,' the people as such, who all reviled one 
another in their songs. The songs, which still remain and have been 
collected, give the explanation of the masquerade sometimes pathetic, 
sometimes in a humorous, and sometimes in an excessively indecent tone. 
Some of the worst in this respect are attributed to Lorenzo the 
Magnificent, probably because the real author did not venture to 
declare himself. However this may be, we must certainly ascribe to him 
the beautiful song which accompanied the masque of Bacchus and Ariadne, 
whose refrain still echoes to us from the fifteenth century, like a 
regretful presentiment of the brief splendor of the Renaissance itself:

'Quanto è bella giovinezza,
Che si fugge tuttavia!
Chi vuol esser lieto, sia:
Di doman non c'è certezza.'

Part Six


Morality and Judgement

The relation of the various peoples of the earth to the supreme 
interests of life, to God, virtue, and immortality, may be investigated 
up to a certain point, but can never be compared to one another with 
absolute strictness and certainty. The more plainly in these matters 
our evidence seems to speak, the more carefully must we refrain from 
unqualified assumptions and rash generalizations.

This remark is especially true with regard to our judgement on 
questions of morality. It may be possible to indicate many contrasts 
and shades of difference among different nations, but to strike the 
balance of the whole is not given to human insight. The ultimate truth 
with respect to the character, the conscience, and the guilt of a 
people remains for ever a secret; if only for the reason that its 
defects have another side, where they reappear as peculiarities or even 
as virtues. We must leave those who find pleasure in passing sweeping 
censures on whole nations, to do so as they like. The people of Europe 
can maltreat, but happily not judge one another. A great nation, 
interwoven by its civilization, its achievements, and its fortunes with 
the whole life of the modern world, can afford to ignore both its 
advocates and its accusers. It lives on with or without the approval of 

Accordingly, what here follows is no judgement, but rather a string of 
marginal notes, suggested by a study of the Italian Renaissance 
extending over some years. The value to be attached to them is all the 
more qualified as they mostly touch on the life of the upper classes, 
with respect to which we are far better informed in Italy than in any 
other country in Europe at that period. But though both fame and infamy 
sound louder here than elsewhere, we are not helped thereby in forming 
an adequate moral estimate of the people.

What eye can pierce the depths in which the character and fate of 
nations are determined?--in which that which is inborn and that which 
has been experienced combine to form a new whole and a fresh nature?--
in which even those intellectual capacities which at first sight we 
should take to be most original are in fact evolved late and slowly? 
Who can tell if the Italian before the thirteenth century possessed 
that flexible activity and certainty in his whole being--that play of 
power in shaping whatever subject he dealt with in word or in form, 
which was peculiar to him later? And if no answer can be found to these 
questions, how can we possibly judge of the infinite and infinitely 
intricate channels through which character and intellect are 
incessantly pouring their influence one upon the other. A tribunal 
there is for each one of us, whose voice is our conscience; but let us 
have done with these generalities about nations. For the people that 
seems to be most sick the cure may be at hand; and one that appears to 
be healthy may bear within it the ripening germs of death, which the 
hour of danger will bring forth from their hiding-place.

Morality and Immorality

At the beginning of the sixteenth century, when the civilization of the 
Renaissance had reached its highest pitch, and at the same time the 
political ruin of the nation seemed inevitable, there were not wanting 
serious thinkers who saw a connexion between this ruin and the 
prevalent immorality. It was not one .of those methodistical moralists 
who in every age think themselves called to declaim against the 
wickedness of the time, but it was Machiavelli, who, in one of his 
best-considered works, said openly: 'We Italians are irreligious and 
corrupt above others.' Another man would perhaps have said, 'We are 
individually highly developed; we have outgrown the limits of morality 
and religion which were natural to us in our undeveloped state, and we 
despise outward law, because our rulers are illegitimate, and their 
judges and officers wicked men.' Machiavelli adds, 'because the Church 
and her representatives set us the worst example.'

Shall we add also, 'because the influence exercised by antiquity was in 
this respect unfavorable'? The statement can only be received with many 
qualifications. It may possibly be true of the humanists, especially as 
regards the profligacy of their lives. Of the rest it may perhaps be 
said with some approach to accuracy that, after they became familiar 
with antiquity, they substituted for holiness--the Christian ideal of 
life--the cult of historical greatness. We can understand, therefore, 
how easily they would be tempted to consider those faults and vices to 
be matters of indifference, in spite of which their heroes were great. 
They were probably scarcely conscious of this themselves, for if we are 
summoned to quote any statement of doctrine on this subject, we are 
again forced to appeal to humanists like Paolo Giovio, who excuses the 
perjury of Giangaleazzo Visconti, through which he was enabled to found 
an empire, by the example of Julius Caesar. The great Florentine 
historians and statesmen never stoop to these slavish quotations, and 
what seems antique in their deeds and their judgements is so because 
the nature of their political life necessarily fostered in them a mode 
of thought which has some analogy with that of antiquity.

Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that Italy at the beginning of the 
sixteenth century found itself in the midst of a grave moral crisis, 
out of which the best men saw hardly any escape.

Let us begin by saying a few words about that moral force which was 
then the strongest bulwark against evil. The highly gifted man of that 
day thought to find it in the sentiment of honour. This is that 
enigmatic mixture of conscience and egotism which often survives in the 
modern man after he has lost, whether by his own fault or not, faith, 
love, and hope. This sense of honour is compatible with much 
selfishness and great vices, and may be the victim of astonishing 
illusions; yet, nevertheless, all the noble elements that are left in 
the wreck of a character may gather around it, and from this fountain 
may draw new strength. It has become, in a far wider sense than is 
commonly believed, a decisive test of conduct in the minds of the 
cultivated Europeans of our own day, and many of those who yet hold 
faithfully by religion and morality are unconsciously guided by this 
feeling in the gravest decisions of their lives.

It lies without the limits of our task to show how the men of antiquity 
also experienced this feeling in a peculiar form, and how, afterwards, 
in the Middle Ages, a special sense of honour became the mark of a 
particular class. Nor can we here dispute with those who hold that 
conscience, rather than honour, is the motive power. It would indeed be 
better and nobler if it were so; but since it must be granted that even 
our worthier resolutions result from 'a conscience more or less dimmed 
by selfishness,' it is better to call the mixture by its right name. It 
is certainly not always easy, in treating of the Italian of this 
period, to distinguish this sense of honour from the passion for fame, 
into which, indeed, it easily passes. Yet the two sentiments are 
essentially different.

There is no lack of witnesses on this subject. One who speaks plainly 
may here be quoted as a representative of the rest. We read in the 
recently published 'Aphorisms' of Guicciardini: 'who esteems honour 
highly succeeds in all that he undertakes, since he fears neither 
trouble, danger, nor expense; I have found it so in my own case, and 
may say it and write it; vain and dead are the deeds of men which have 
not this as their motive.' It is necessary to add that, from what is 
known of the life of the writer, he can here be only speaking of honour 
and not of fame. Rabelais has put the matter more clearly than perhaps 
any Italian. We quote him, indeed, unwillingly in these pages. What the 
great, baroque Frenchman gives us is a picture of what the Renaissance 
would be without form and without beauty. But his description of an 
ideal state of things in the Thelemite monastery is decisive as 
historical evidence. In speaking of his gentlemen and ladies of the 
Order of Free Will, he tells us as follows:

'En leur reigle n'estoit que ceste clause: Fay ce que vouldras. Parce 
que gens liberes, bien nayz, bien instruictz, conversans en compaignies 
honnestes, ont par nature ung instinct et aguillon qui tousjours les 
poulse ... faictz tueux, et retire de vice: lequel ilz nommoyent 

This is that same faith in the goodness of human nature which inspired 
the men of the second half of the eighteenth century, and helped to 
prepare the way for the French Revolution. Among the Italians, too, 
each man appeals to this noble instinct within him, and though with 
regard to the people as a whole--chiefly in consequence of the national 
disasters-- judgements of a more pessimistic sort became prevalent, the 
importance of this sense of honour must still be rated highly. If the 
boundless development of individuality, stronger than the will of the 
individual, be the work of a historical providence, not less so is the 
opposing force which then manifested itself in Italy. How often, and 
against what passionate attacks of selfishness it won the day, we 
cannot tell, and therefore no human judgement can estimate with 
certainty the absolute moral value of the nation.

A force which we must constantly take into account in judging of the 
morality of the more highly developed Italian of this period, is that 
of the imagination. It gives to his virtues and vices a peculiar color, 
and under its influence his unbridled egotism shows itself in its most 
terrible shape.

The force of his imagination explains, for example, the fact that he 
was the first gambler on a large scale in modern times. Pictures of 
future wealth and enjoyment rose in such lifelike colors before his 
eyes, that he was ready to hazard everything to reach them. The 
Mohammedan nations would doubtless have anticipated him in this 
respect, had not the Koran, from the beginning, set up the prohibition 
against gambling as a chief safeguard of public morals, and directed 
the imagination of its followers to the search after buried treasures. 
In Italy, the passion for play reached an intensity which often 
threatened or altogether broke up the existence of the gambler. 
Florence had already, at the end of the fourteenth century, its 
Casanova --a certain Buonaccorso Pitti, who, in the course of his 
incessant journeys as merchant, political agent, diplomatist and 
professional gambler, won and lost sums so enormous that none but 
princes like the Dukes of Brabant, Bavaria, and Savoy, were able to 
compete with him. That great lottery-bank, which was called the Court 
of Rome, accustomed people to a need of excitement, which found its 
satisfaction in games of hazard during the intervals between one 
intrigue and another. We read, for example, how Franceschetto Cibo, in 
two games with the Cardinal Raffaello Riario, lost no less than 14,000 
ducats, and afterwards complained to the Pope that his opponent has 
cheated him. Italy has since that time been the home of the lottery.

It was to the imagination of the Italians that the peculiar character 
of their vengeance was due. The sense of justice was, indeed, one and 
the same throughout Europe, and any violation of it, so long as no 
punishment was inflicted, must have been felt in the same manner. But 
other nations, though they found it no easier to forgive, nevertheless 
forgot more easily, while the Italian imagination kept the picture of 
the wrong alive with frightful vividness. The fact that, according to 
the popular morality, the avenging of blood is a duty--a duty often 
performed in a way to make us shudder--gives to this passion a peculiar 
and still firmer basis. The government and the tribunals recognize its 
existence and justification, and only attempt to keep it within certain 
limits. Even among the peasantry, we read of Thyestean banquets and 
mutual assassination on the widest scale. Let us look at an instance.

In the district of Acquapendente three boys were watching cattle, and 
one of them said: 'Let us find out the way how people are hanged.' 
While one was sitting on the shoulders of the other, and the third, 
after fastening the rope round the neck of the first, was tying it to 
an oak, a wolf came, and the two who were free ran away and left the 
other hanging. Afterwards they found him dead, and buried him. On the 
Sunday his father came to bring him bread, and one of the two confessed 
what had happened, and showed him the grave. The old man then killed 
him with a knife, cut him up, brought away the liver, and entertained 
the boy's father with it at home. After dinner, he told him whose liver 
it was. Hereupon began a series of reciprocal murders between the two 
families, and within a month thirty-six persons were killed, women as 
well as men.

And such 'vendette,' handed down from father to son, and extending to 
friends and distant relations, were not limited to the lower classes, 
but reached to the highest. The chronicles and novels of the period are 
full of such instances, especially of vengeance taken for the violation 
of women. The classic land for these feuds was Romagna, where the 
'vendetta' was interwoven with intrigues and party divisions of every 
conceivable sort. The popular legends present an awful picture of the 
savagery into which this brave and energetic people had relapsed. We 
are told, for instance, of a nobleman at Ravenna who had got all his 
enemies together in a tower, and might have burned them; instead of 
which he let them out, embraced them, and entertained them sumptuously; 
whereupon shame drove them mad, and they conspired against him. Pious 
and saintly monks exhorted unceasingly to reconciliation, but they can 
scarcely have done more than restrain to a certain extent the feuds 
already established; their influence hardly prevents the growth of new 
ones. The novelists sometimes describe to this effect of religion--how 
sentiments of generosity and forgiveness were suddenly awakened, and 
then again paralysed by the force of what had once been done and could 
never be un. done. The Pope himself was not always lucky as a 
peacemaker. Pope Paul II desired that the quarrel between Antonio 
Caffarello and the family of Alberino should cease, and ordered 
Giovanni Alberino and Antonio Caffarello to come before him bade them 
kiss one another, and threatened them with a fine of 2,000 ducats if 
they renewed this strife, and two days after Antonio was stabbed by the 
same Giacomo Alberino, son of Giovanni, who had wounded him once 
before; and the Pope was full of anger, and confiscated the goods of 
Alberino, and destroyed his houses, and banished father and son from 
Rome. The oaths and ceremonies by which reconciled enemies attempted to 
guard themselves against a relapse, are sometimes utterly horrible. 
When the parties of the 'Nove' and the 'Popolari' met and kissed one 
another by twos in the cathedral at Siena on New Year's Eve, 1494, an 
oath was read by which all salvation in time and eternity was denied to 
the future violator of the treaty--'an oath more astonishing and 
dreadful than had ever yet been heard.' The last consolations of 
religion in the hour of death were to turn to the damnation of the man 
who should break it. It is clear, however, that such a ceremony rather 
represents the despairing mood of the mediators than offers any real 
guarantee of peace, inasmuch as the truest reconciliation is just that 
one which has least need of it.

This personal need of vengeance felt by the cultivated and highly 
placed Italian, resting on the solid basis of an analogous popular 
custom, naturally displays itself under a thousand different aspects, 
and receives the unqualified approval of public opinion, as reflected 
in the works of the novelists. All are at one on the point that, in the 
case of those injuries and insults for which Italian justice offered no 
redress, and all the more in the case of those against which no human 
law can ever adequately provide, each man is free to take the law into 
his own hands. Only there must be art in the vengeance, and the 
satisfaction must be compounded of the material injury and moral 
humiliation of the offender. A mere brutal, clumsy triumph of force was 
held by public opinion to be no satisfaction. The whole man with his 
sense of fame and of scorn, not only his fist, must be victorious.

The Italian of that time shrank, it is true, from no dissimulation in 
order to attain his ends, but was wholly free from hypocrisy in matters 
of principle. In these he attempted to deceive neither himself nor 
others. Accordingly, revenge was declared with perfect frankness to be 
a necessity of human nature. Cool-headed people declared that it was 
then most worthy of praise when it was disengaged from passion, and 
worked simply from motives of expedience, 'in order that other men may 
learn to leave us unharmed.' Yet such instances must have formed only a 
small minority in comparison with those in which passion sought an 
outlet. This sort of revenge differs clearly from the avenging of 
blood, which has already been spoken of; while the latter keeps more or 
less within the limits of retaliation--the 'ius talionis'-- the former 
necessarily goes much further, not only requiring the sanction of the 
sense of justice, but craving admiration, and even striving to get the 
laugh on its own side.

Here lies the reason why men were willing to wait so long for their 
revenge. A 'bella vendetta' demanded as a rule a combination of 
circumstances for which it was necessary to wait patiently. The gradual 
ripening of such opportunities is described by the novelists with 
heartfelt delight.

There is no need to discuss the morality of actions in which plaintiff 
and judge are one and the same person. If this Italian thirst for 
vengeance is to be palliated at all, it must be by proving the 
existence of a corresponding national virtue, namely gratitude. The 
same force of imagination which retains and magnifies wrong once 
suffered, might be expected also to keep alive the memory of kindness 
received. It is not possible, however, to prove this with regard to the 
nation as a whole, though traces of it may be seen in the Italian 
character of today. The gratitude shown by the inferior classes for 
kind treatment, and the good memory of the upper for politeness in 
social life, are instances of this.

This connexion between the imagination and the moral qualities of the 
Italian repeats itself continually. If, nevertheless, we find more cold 
calculation in cases where the Northerner rather follows his impulses, 
the reason is that individual development in Italy was not only more 
marked and earlier in point of time, but also far more frequent. Where 
this is the case in other countries, the results are also analogous. We 
find, for example, that the early emancipation of the young from 
domestic and paternal authority is common to North America with Italy. 
Later on, in the more generous natures, a tie of freer affection grows 
up between parents and children.

It is, in fact, a matter of extreme difficulty to judge fairly of other 
nations in the sphere of character and feeling. In these respects a 
people may be developed highly, and yet in a manner so strange that a 
foreigner is utterly unable to understand it. Perhaps all the nations 
of the West are in this point equally favored.

But where the imagination has exercised the most powerful and despotic 
influence on morals is in the illicit intercourse of the two sexes. It 
is well known that prostitution was freely practiced in the Middle 
Ages, before the appearance of syphilis. A discussion, however, on 
these questions does not belong to our present work. What seems 
characteristic of Italy at this time, is that here marriage and its 
rights were more often and more deliberately trampled underfoot than 
anywhere else. The girls of the higher classes were carefully secluded, 
and of them we do not speak. All passion was directed to the married 

Under these circumstances it is remarkable that, so far as we know, 
there was no diminution in the number of marriages, and that family 
life by no means underwent that disorganization which a similar state 
of things would have produced in the North. Men wished to live as they 
pleased, but by no means to renounce the family, even when they were 
not sure that it was all their own. Nor did the race sink, either 
physically or mentally, on this account; for that apparent intellectual 
decline which showed itself towards the middle of the sixteenth century 
may be certainly accounted for by political and ecclesiastical causes, 
even if we are not to assume that the circle of achievements possible 
to the Renaissance had been completed. Notwithstanding their 
profligacy, the Italians continued to be, physically and mentally, one 
of the healthiest and best-born populations in Europe, and have 
retained this position, with improved morals, down to our own time.

When we come to look more closely at the ethics of love at the time of 
the Renaissance, we are struck by a remarkable Contrast. The novelists 
and comic poets give us to understand that love consists only in 
sensual enjoyment, and that to win this, all means, tragic or comic, 
are not only permitted, but are interesting in proportion to their 
audacity and unscrupulousness. But if we turn to the best of the lyric 
poets and writers of dialogues, we find in them a deep and spiritual 
passion of the noblest kind, whose last and highest expression is a 
revival of the ancient belief in an original unity of souls in the 
Divine Being. And both modes of feeling were then genuine, and could 
co-exist in the same individual. It is not exactly a matter of glory, 
but it is a fact, that, in the cultivated man of modern times, this 
sentiment can be not merely unconsciously present in both its highest 
and lowest stages, but may also manifest itself openly, and even 
artistically. The modern man, like the man of antiquity, is in this 
respect too a microcosm, which the medieval man was not and could not 

To begin with the morality of the novelists. They treat chiefly, as we 
have said, of married women, and consequently of adultery.

The opinion mentioned above of the equality of the two sexes is of 
great importance in relation to this subject. The highly developed and 
cultivated woman disposes of herself with a freedom unknown in Northern 
countries; and her unfaithfulness does not break up her life in the 
same terrible manner, so long as no outward consequences follow from 
it. The husband's claim on her fidelity has not that firm foundation 
which it acquires in the North through the poetry and passion of 
courtship and betrothal. After the briefest acquaintance with her 
future husband, the young wife quits the convent or the paternal roof 
to enter upon a world in which her character begins rapidly to develop. 
The rights of the husband are for this reason conditional, and even the 
man who regards them in the light of a 'ius quaesitum' thinks only of 
the outward conditions of the contract, not of the affections. The 
beautiful young wife of an old man sends back the presents and letters 
of a youthful lover, in the firm resolve to keep her honour (onesta). 
'But she rejoiced in the love of the youth for his great excellence; 
and she perceived that a noble woman may love a man of merit without 
loss to her honour.' But the way is short from such a distinction to a 
complete surrender.

The latter seems indeed as good as justified when there is 
unfaithfulness on the part of the husband. The woman, conscious of her 
own dignity, feels this not only as a pain, but also as a humiliation 
and deceit, and sets to work, often with the calmest consciousness of 
what she is about, to devise the vengeance which the husband deserves. 
Her tact must decide as to the measure of punishment which is suited to 
the particular case. The deepest wound, for example, may prepare the 
way for a reconciliation and a peaceful life in the future, if only it 
remain secret. The novelists, who themselves undergo such experiences 
or invent them according to the spirit of the age, are full of 
admiration when the vengeance is skillfully adapted to the particular 
case, in fact, when it is a work of art. As a matter of course, the 
husband never at bottom recognizes this right of retaliation, and only 
submits to it from fear or prudence. Where these motives are absent, 
where his wife's unfaithfulness exposes him or may expose him to the 
derision of outsiders, the affair becomes tragical, and not seldom ends 
in murder or other vengeance of a violent sort. It is characteristic of 
the real motive from which these deeds arise, that not only the 
husbands, but the brothers and the father of the woman feel themselves 
not only justified in taking vengeance, but bound to take it. Jealousy, 
therefore, has nothing to do with the matter, moral reprobation but 
little; the real reason is the wish to spoil the triumph of others. 
'Nowadays,' says Bandello, 'we see a woman poison her husband to 
gratify her lusts, thinking that a widow may do whatever she desires. 
Another, fearing the discovery of an illicit amour, has her husband 
murdered by her lover. And though fathers, brothers, and husbands arise 
to extirpate the shame with poison, with the sword, and by every other 
means, women still continue to follow their passions, careless of their 
honour and their lives.' Another time, in milder strain, he exclaims: 
'Would that we were not daily forced to hear that one man has murdered 
his wife because he suspected her of infidelity; that another has 
killed his daughter, on account of a secret marriage; that a third has 
caused his sister to be murdered, because she would not marry as he 
wished! It is great cruelty that we claim the right to do whatever we 
list, and will not suffer women to do the same. If they do anything 
which does not please us, there we are at once with cords and daggers 
and poison. What folly it is of men to suppose their own and their 
house's honour depend on the appetite of a woman. The tragedy in which 
such affairs commonly ended was so well known that the novelist looked 
on the threatened gallant as a dead man, even while he went about alive 
and merry. The physician and lute-player Antonio Bologna had made a 
secret marriage with the widowed Duchess of Amalfi, of the house of 
Aragon. Soon afterwards her brother succeeded in securing both her and 
her children, and murdered them in a castle. Antonio, ignorant of their 
fate, and still cherishing the hope of seeing them again, was staying 
at Milan, closely watched by hired assassins, and one day in the 
society of Ippolita Sforza sang to the lute the story of his 
misfortunes. A friend of the house, Delio, 'told the story up to this 
point to Scipione Atellano, and added that he would make it the subject 
of a novel, as he was sure that Antonio would be murdered.' The manner 
in which this took place, almost under the eyes of both Delio and 
Atellano, is movingly described by Bandello.

Nevertheless, the novelists habitually show a sympathy for all the 
ingenious, comic, and cunning features which may happen to attend 
adultery. They describe with delight how the lover manages to hide 
himself in the house, all the means and devices by which he 
communicates with his mistress, the boxes with cushions and sweetmeats 
in which he can be hidden and carried out of danger. The deceived 
husband is described sometimes as a fool to be laughed at, sometimes as 
a bloodthirsty avenger of his honour; there is no third situation 
except when the woman is painted as wicked and cruel, and the husband 
or lover is the innocent victim. It may be remarked, however, that 
narratives of the latter kind are not strictly speaking novels, but 
rather warning examples taken from real life.

When in the course of the sixteenth century Italian life fell more and 
more under Spanish influence, the violence of the means to which 
jealousy had recourse perhaps increased. But this new phase must be 
distinguished from the punishment of infidelity which existed before, 
and which was founded in the spirit of the Italian Renaissance itself. 
As the influence of Spain declined, these excesses of jealousy declined 
also, till towards the close of the seventeenth century they had wholly 
disappeared, and their place was taken by that indifference which 
regarded the 'Cicisbeo' as an indispensable figure in every household, 
and took no offence at one or two contemporary lovers ('Patiti').

But who can undertake to compare the vast sum of wickedness which all 
these facts imply, with what happened in other countries? Was the 
marriage-tie, for instance, really more sacred in France during the 
fifteenth century than in Italy? The 'fabliaux' and farces would lead 
us to doubt it, and rather incline us to think that unfaithfulness was 
equally common, though its tragic consequences were less frequent, 
because the individual was less developed and his claims were less 
consciously felt than in Italy. More evidence, however, in favour of 
the Germanic peoples lies in the fact of the social freedom enjoyed 
among them by girls and women, which impressed Italian travellers so 
pleasantly in England and in the Netherlands. And yet we must not 
attach too much importance to this fact. Unfaithfulness was doubtless 
very frequent, and in certain cases led to a sanguinary vengeance. We 
have only to remember how the northern princes of that time dealt with 
their wives on the first suspicion of infidelity.

But it was not merely the sensual desire, not merely the vulgar 
appetite of the ordinary man, which trespassed upon forbidden ground 
among the Italians of that day, but also the passion of the best and 
noblest; and this, not only because the unmarried girl did not appear 
in society, but also because the man, in proportion to the completeness 
of his own nature, felt himself most strongly attracted by the woman 
whom marriage had developed. These are the men who struck the loftiest 
notes of lyrical poetry, and who have attempted in their treatises and 
dialogues to give us an idealized image of the devouring passion--
'l'amor divino.' When they complain of the cruelty of the winged god, 
they are not only thinking of the coyness or hard-heartedness of the 
beloved one, but also of the unlawfulness of the passion itself. They 
seek to raise themselves above this painful consciousness by that 
spiritualization of love which found a support in the Platonic doctrine 
of the soul, and of which Pietro Bembo is the most famous 
representative. His thoughts on this subject are set forth by himself 
in the third book of the 'Asolani,' and indirectly by Castiglione, who 
puts in his mouth the splendid speech with which the fourth book of the 
'Cortigiano' concludes. Neither of these writers was a stoic in his 
conduct, but at that time it meant something to be at once a famous and 
a good man, and this praise must be accorded to both of them; their 
contemporaries took what these men said to be a true expression of 
their feeling, and we have not the right to despise it as affectation. 
Those who take the trouble to study the speech in the 'Cortigiano' will 
see how poor an idea of it can be given by an extract. There were then 
living in Italy several distinguished women, who owed their celebrity 
chiefly to relations of this kind, such as Giulia Gonzaga, Veronica da 
Correggio, and, above all, Vittoria Colonna. The land of profligates 
and scoffers respected these women and this sort of love--and what more 
can be said in their favour? We cannot tell how far vanity had to do 
with the matter, how far Vittoria was flattered to hear around her the 
sublimated utterances of hopeless love from the most famous men in 
Italy. If the thing was here and there a fashion, it was still no 
trifling praise for Vittoria that she, as least, never went out of 
fashion, and in her latest years produced the most profound 
impressions. It was long before other countries had anything similar to 

In the imagination then, which governed this people more than any 
other, lies one general reason why the course of every passion was 
violent, and why the means used for the gratification of passion were 
often criminal. There is a violence which cannot control itself because 
it is born of weakness; but in Italy we find what is the corruption of 
powerful natures. Sometimes this corruption assumes a colossal shape, 
and crime seems to acquire almost a personal existence of its own.

The restraints of which men were conscious were but few. Each 
individual, even among the lowest of the people, felt himself inwardly 
emancipated from the control of the State and its police, whose title 
to respect was illegitimate, and itself founded on violence; and no man 
believed any longer in the justice of the law. When a murder was 
committed, the sympathies of the people, before the circumstances of 
the case were known, ranged themselves instinctively on the side of the 
murderer. A proud, manly bearing before and at the execution excited 
such admiration that the narrator often forgets to tell us for what 
offence the criminal was put to death. But when we add to this inward 
contempt of law and to the countless grudges and enmities which called 
for satisfaction, the impunity which crime enjoyed during times of 
political disturbance, we can only wonder that the State and society 
were not utterly dissolved. Crises of this kind occurred at Naples, 
during the transition from the Aragonese to the French and Spanish 
rule, and at Milan, on the repeated expulsions and returns of the 
Sforzas; at such times those men who have never in their hearts 
recognized the bonds of law and society, come forward and give free 
play to their instincts of murder and rapine. Let us take, by way of 
example, a picture drawn from a humbler sphere.

When the Duchy of Milan was suffering from the disorders which followed 
the death of Galeazzo Maria Sforza, about the year 1480, all safety 
came to an end in the provincial cities. This was the case in Parma, 
where the Milanese Governor, terrified by threats of murder, consented 
to throw open the gaols and let loose the most abandoned criminals. 
Burglary, the demolition of houses, public assassination and murders, 
were events of everyday occurrence. At first the authors of these deeds 
prowled about singly, and masked; soon large gangs of armed men went to 
work every night without disguise. Threatening letters, satires, and 
scandalous jests circulated freely; and a sonnet in ridicule of the 
Government seems to have roused its indignation far more than the 
frightful condition of the city. In many churches the sacred vessels 
with the host were stolen, and this fact is characteristic of the 
temper which prompted these outrages. It is impossible to say what 
would happen now in any country of the world, if the government and 
police ceased to act, and yet hindered by their presence the 
establishment of a provisional authority; but what then occurred in 
Italy wears a character of its own, through the great share which the 
personal hatred and revenge had in it. The impression, indeed, which 
Italy at this period makes on us is, that even in quiet times great 
crimes were commoner than in other countries. We may, it is true, be 
misled by the fact that we have far fuller details on such matters here 
than elsewhere, and that the same force of imagination, which gives a 
special character to crimes actually committed, causes much to be 
invented which never really happened. The amount of violence was 
perhaps as great elsewhere. It is hard to say for certain, whether in 
the year 1500 men were any safer, whether human life was any better 
protected, in powerful, wealthy Germany, with its robber knights, 
extortionate beggars, and daring highwaymen. But one thing is certain, 
that premeditated crimes, committed professionally and for hire by 
third parties, occurred in Italy with great and appalling frequency.

So far as regards brigandage, Italy, especially in the more fortunate 
provinces, such as Tuscany, was certainly not more, and probably less, 
troubled than the countries of the North. But the figures which do meet 
us are characteristic of the country. It would be hard, for instance, 
to find elsewhere the case of a priest, gradually driven by passion 
from one excess to another, till at last he came to head a band of 
robbers. That age offers us this example among others. On August 12, 
1495, the priest Don Niccolo de' Pelagati of Figarolo was shut up in an 
iron cage outside the tower of San Giuliano at Ferrara. He had twice 
celebrated his first mass; the first time he had the same day committed 
murder, but afterwards received absolution at Rome; he then killed four 
people and married two wives, with whom he travelled about. He 
afterwards took part in many assassinations, violated women, carried 
others away by force, plundered far and wide, and infested the 
territory of Ferrara with a band of followers in uniform, extorting 
food and shelter by every sort of violence. When we think of what all 
this implies, the mass of guilt on the head of this one man is 
something tremendous. The clergy and monks had many privileges and 
little supervision, and among them were doubtless plenty of murderers 
and other malefactors--but hardly a second Pelagati. It is another 
matter, though by no means creditable, when ruined characters sheltered 
themselves in the cowl in order to escape the arm of the law, like the 
corsair whom Masuccio knew in a convent at Naples. What the real truth 
was with regard to Pope John XXIII in this respect, is not known with 

The age of the famous brigand chief did not begin till later, in the 
seventeenth century, when the political strife of Guelph and 
Ghibelline, of Frenchman and Spaniard, no longer agitated the country. 
The robber then took the place of the partisan.

In certain districts of Italy, where civilization had made little 
progress, the country people were disposed to murder any stranger who 
fell into their hands. This was especially the case in the more remote 
parts of the Kingdom of Naples, where the barbarism dated probably from 
the days of the Roman 'latifundia,' and when the stranger and the enemy 
('hospes' and 'hostis') were in all good faith held to be one and the 
same. These people were far from being irreligious. A herdsman once 
appeared in great trouble at the confessional, avowing that, while 
making cheese during Lent, a few drops of milk had found their way into 
his mouth. The confessor, skilled in the customs of the country, 
discovered in the course of his examination that the penitent and his 
friends were in the practice of robbing and murdering travellers, but 
that, through the force of habit, this usage gave rise to no twinges of 
conscience within them. We have already mentioned to what a degree of 
barbarism the peasants elsewhere could sink in times of political 

A worse symptom than brigandage of the morality of that time was the 
frequency of paid assassination. In that respect Naples was admitted to 
stand at the head of all the cities of Italy. 'Nothing,' says Pontano, 
'is cheaper here than human life.' But other districts could also show 
a terrible list of these crimes. It is hard, of course, to classify 
them according to the motives by which they were prompted, since 
political expediency, personal hatred, party hostility, fear, and 
revenge, all play into one another. It is no small honour to the 
Florentines, the most highly developed people of Italy, that offenses 
of this kind occurred more rarely among them than anywhere else, 
perhaps because there was a justice at hand for legitimate grievances 
which was recognized by all, or because the higher culture of the 
individual gave him different views as to the right of men to interfere 
with the decrees of fate. In Florence, if anywhere, men were able to 
feel the incalculable consequences of a deed of blood, and to 
understand how uncertain the author of a so-called profitable crime is 
of any true and lasting gain. After the fall of Florentine liberty, 
assassination, especially by hired agents, seems to have rapidly 
increased, and continued till the government of Grand Duke Cosimo I de' 
Medici had attained such strength that the police were at last able to 
repress it.

Elsewhere in Italy paid crimes were probably more or less frequent in 
proportion to the number of powerful and solvent buyers. Impossible as 
it is to make any statistical estimate of their amount, yet if only a 
fraction of the deaths which public report attributed to violence were 
really murders, the crime must have been terribly frequent. The worst 
example of all was set by princes and governments, who without the 
faintest scruple reckoned murder as one of the instruments of their 
power. And this, without being in the same category with Cesare Borgia. 
The Sforzas, the Aragonese monarchs, and, later on, the agents of 
Charles V resorted to it whenever it suited their purpose. The 
imagination of the people at last became so accustomed to facts of this 
kind that the death of any powerful man was seldom or never attributed 
to natural causes. There were certainly absurd notions current with 
regard to the effect of various poisons. There may be some truth in the 
story of that terrible white powder used by the Borgias, which did its 
work at the end of a definite period, and it is possible that it was 
really a 'venenum atterminatum' which the Prince of Salerno handed to 
the Cardinal of Aragon, with the words: 'In a few days you will die, 
because your father, King Ferrante, wished to trample upon us all.' But 
the poisoned letter which Caterina Riario sent to Pope Alexander VI 
would hardly have caused his death even if he had read it; and when 
Alfonso the Great was warned by his physicians not to read in the Livy 
which Cosimo de' Medici had presented to him, he told them with justice 
not to talk like fools. Nor can that poison with which the secretary of 
Piccinino wished to anoint the sedan-chair of Pius II have affected any 
other organ than the imagination. The proportion which mineral and 
vegetable poisons bore to one another, cannot be ascertained precisely. 
The poison with which the painter Rosso Fiorentino destroyed himself 
(1541) was evidently a powerful acid, which it would have been 
impossible to administer to another person without his knowledge. The 
secret use of weapons, especially of the dagger, in the service of 
powerful individuals, was habitual in Milan, Naples, and other cities. 
Indeed, among the crowds of armed retainers who were necessary for the 
personal safety of the great, and who lived in idleness, it was natural 
that outbreaks of this mania for blood should from time to time occur. 
Many a deed of horror would never have been committed, had not the 
master known that he needed but to give a sign to one or other of his 

Among the means used for the secret destruction of others-- so far, 
that is, as the intention goes--we find magic, practiced, however, 
sparingly. Where 'maleficii,' 'malie,' and so forth, are mentioned, 
they appear rather as a means of heaping up additional terror on the 
head of some hated enemy. At the courts of France and England in the 
fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, magic, practiced with a view to the 
death of an opponent, plays a far more important part than in Italy. In 
this country, finally, where individuality of every sort attained its 
highest development, we find instances of that ideal and absolute 
wickedness which delights in crimes for their own sake, and not as 
means to an end, or at any rate as means to ends for which our 
psychology has no measure.

Among these appalling figures we may first notice certain of the 
'Condottieri,' such as Braccio da Montone, Tiberto Brandolino, and that 
Werner von Urslingen whose silver hauberk bore the inscription: 'The 
enemy of God, of pity and of mercy.' This class of men offers us some 
of the earliest instances of criminals deliberately repudiating every 
moral restraint. Yet we shall be more reserved in our judgement of them 
when we remember that the worst part of their guilt--in the estimate of 
those who record it-- lay in their defiance of spiritual threats and 
penalties, and that to this fact is due that air of horror with which 
they are represented as surrounded. In the case of Braccio, the hatred 
of the Church went so far that he was infuriated at the sight of monks 
at their psalms, and had them thrown down from the top of a tower; but 
at the same time 'he was loyal to his soldiers and a great general.' As 
a rule, the crimes of the 'Condottieri' were committed for the sake of 
some definite advantage, and must be attributed to a position in which 
men could not fail to be demoralized. Even their apparently gratuitous 
cruelty had commonly a purpose, if it were only to strike terror. The 
barbarities of the House of Aragon, as we have seen, were mainly due to 
fear and to the desire for vengeance. The thirst for blood on its own 
account, the devilish delight in destruction, is most clearly 
exemplified in the case of the Spaniard Cesare Borgia, whose cruelties 
were certainly out of all proportion to the end which he had in view. 
In Sigismondo Malatesta, tyrant of Rimini, the same disinterested love 
of evil may also be detected. It is not only the Court of Rome, but the 
verdict of history, which convicts him of murder, rape, adultery, 
incest, sacrilege, perjury and treason, committed not once but often. 
The most shocking crime of all--the unnatural attempt on his own son 
Roberto, who frustrated it with his drawn dagger--may have been the 
result not merely of moral corruption, but perhaps of some magical or 
astrological superstition. The same conjecture has been made to account 
for the rape of the Bishop of Fano by Pierluigi Farnese of Parma, son 
of Paul III.

If we now attempt to sum up the principal features in the Italian 
character of that time, as we know it from a study of the life of the 
upper classes, we shall obtain something like the following result. The 
fundamental vice of this character was at the same time a condition of 
its greatness, namely, excessive individualism. The individual first 
inwardly casts off the authority of a State which, as a fact, is in 
most cases tyrannical and illegitimate, and what he thinks and does is, 
rightly or wrongly, now called treason. The sight of victorious egotism 
in others drives him to defend his own right by his own arm. And, while 
thinking to restore his inward equilibrium, he falls, through the 
vengeance which he executes, into the hands of the powers of darkness. 
His love, too, turns mostly for satisfaction to another individuality 
equally developed, namely, to his neighbor's wife. In face of all 
objective facts, of laws and restraints of whatever kind, he retains 
the feeling of his own sovereignty, and in each single instance forms 
his decision independently, according as honour or interest, passion or 
calculation, revenge or renunciation, gain the upper hand in his own 

If therefore egotism in its wider as well as narrower sense is the root 
and fountain of all evil, the more highly developed Italian was for 
this reason more inclined to wickedness than the members of other 
nations of that time.

But this individual development did not through any fault of his own, 
but rather through necessity. It did not come upon him alone, but also, 
and chiefly, by means of Italian culture, upon the other nations of 
Europe, and has constituted since then the higher atmosphere which they 
breathe. In itself it is neither good nor bad, but necessary; within it 
has grown up a modern standard of good and evil-- a sense of moral 
responsibility--which is essentially different from that which was 
familiar to the Middle Ages.

But the Italian of the Renaissance had to bear the first mighty surging 
of a new age. Through his gifts and his passions, he has become the 
most characteristic representative of all the heights and all the 
depths of his time. By the side of profound corruption appeared human 
personalities of the noblest harmony, and an artistic splendor which 
shed upon the life of man a lustre which neither antiquity nor 
medievalism could or would bestow upon it.


Religion in Daily Life

The morality of a people stands in the closest connection with its 
consciousness of God, that is to say, with its firmer or weaker faith 
in the divine government of the world, whether this faith looks on the 
world as destined to happiness or to misery and speedy destruction. The 
infidelity then prevalent in Italy is notorious, and whoever takes the 
trouble to look about for proofs, will find them by the hundred. Our 
present task, here as elsewhere, is to separate and discriminate; 
refraining from an absolute and final verdict.

The belief in God at earlier times had its source and chief support in 
Christianity and the outward symbol of Christianity, the Church. When 
the Church became corrupt, men ought to have drawn a distinction, and 
kept their religion in spite of all. But this is more easily said than 
done. It is not every people which is calm enough, or dull enough, to 
tolerate a lasting contradiction between a principle and its outward 
expression. But history does not record a heavier responsibility than 
that which rests upon the decaying Church. She set up as absolute 
truth, and by the most violent means, a doctrine which she had 
distorted to serve her own aggrandizement. Safe in the sense of her 
inviolability, she abandoned herself to the most scandalous profligacy, 
and, in order to maintain herself in this state, she levelled mortal 
blows against the conscience and the intellect of nations, and drove 
multitudes of the noblest spirits, whom she had inwardly estranged, 
into the arms of unbelief and despair.

Here we are met by the question: Why did not Italy, intellectually so 
great, react more energetically against the hierarchy; why did she not 
accomplish a reformation like that which occurred in Germany, and 
accomplish it at an earlier date?

A plausible answer has been Italian mind, we are told, never of the 
hierarchy, while the origin given to this question. The went further 
than the denial and the vigor of the German Reformation was due to its 
positive religious doctrines, most of all to the doctrines of 
justification by faith and of the inefficacy of good works.

It is certain that these doctrines only worked upon Italy through 
Germany, and this not till the power of Spain was sufficiently great to 
root them out without difficulty, partly by itself and partly by means 
of the Papacy, and its instruments.105 Nevertheless, in the earlier 
religious movements of Italy, from the Mystics of the thirteenth 
century down to Savonarola, there was a large amount of positive 
religious doctrine which, like the very definite Christianity of the 
Huguenots, failed to achieve success only because circumstances were 
against it. Mighty events like the Reformation elude, as respects their 
details, their outbreak and their development, the deductions of the 
philosophers, however clearly the necessity of them as a whole may be 
demonstrated. The movements of the human spirit, its sudden flashes, 
its expansions and its pauses, must for ever remain a mystery to our 
eyes, since we can but know this or that of the forces at work in it, 
never all of them together.

The feeling of the upper and middle classes in Italy with regard to the 
Church at the time when the Renaissance culminated, was compounded of 
deep and contemptuous aversion, of acquiescence in the outward 
ecclesiastical customs which entered into daily life, and of a sense of 
dependence on sacraments and ceremonies. The great personal influence 
of religious preachers may be added as a fact characteristic of Italy.

That hostility to the hierarchy, which displays itself more especially 
from the time of Dante onwards in Italian literature and history, has 
been fully treated by several writers. We have already said something 
of the attitude of public opinion with regard to the Papacy. Those who 
wish for the strongest evidence which the best authorities offer us, 
can find it in the famous passages of Machiavelli's 'Discorsi,' and in 
the unmutilated edition of Guicciardini. Outside the Roman Curia, some 
respect seems to have been felt for the best men among the bishops, and 
for many of the parochial clergy. On the other hand, the mere holders 
of benefices, the canons and the monks were held in almost universal 
suspicion, and were often the objects of the most scandalous 
aspersions, extending to the whole of their order.

It has been said that the monks were made the scapegoats for the whole 
clergy, for the reason that none but they could be ridiculed without 
danger. But this is certainly incorrect. They are introduced so 
frequently in the novels and comedies, because these forms of 
literature need fixed and well-known types where the imagination of the 
reader can easily fill up an outline. Besides which, the novelists do 
not as a fact spare the secular clergy. In the third place, we have 
abundant proof in the rest of Italian literature that men could speak 
boldly enough about the Papacy and the Court of Rome. In works of 
imagination we cannot expect to find criticism of this kind. Fourthly, 
the monks, when attacked, were sometimes able to take a terrible 

It is nevertheless true that the monks were the most unpopular class of 
all, and that they were reckoned a living proof of the worthlessness of 
conventual life, of the whole ecclesiastical organization, of the 
system of dogma, and of religion altogether, according as men pleased, 
rightly or wrongly, to draw their conclusions. We may also assume that 
Italy retained a clearer recollection of the origin of the two great 
mendicant orders than other countries, and had not forgotten that they 
were the chief agents in the reaction against what is called the heresy 
of the thirteenth century, that is to say, against an unruly and 
vigorous movement of the modern Italian spirit. And that spiritual 
police which was permanently entrusted to the Dominicans certainly 
never excited any other feeling than secret hatred and contempt.

After reading the 'Decameron' and the novels of Franco Sacchetti, we 
might imagine that the vocabulary of abuse directed at the monks and 
nuns was exhausted. But towards the time of the Reformation this abuse 
became still fiercer. To say nothing of Aretino, who in the 
'Ragionamenti' uses conventual life merely as a pretext for giving free 
play to his own poisonous nature, we may quote one author as typical of 
the rest--Masuccio, in the first ten of his fifty novels. They are 
written in a tone of the deepest indignation, and with the purpose to 
make this indignation general; and are dedicated to men in the highest 
position, such as King Ferrante and Prince Alfonso of Naples. The 
stories are many of them old, and some of them familiar to readers of 
Boccaccio. But others reject, with a frightful realism, the actual 
state of things at Naples. The way in which the priests befool and 
plunder the people by means of spurious miracles, added to their own 
scandalous lives, is enough to drive any thoughtful observer to 
despair. We read of the Minorite friars who travelled to collect alms: 
'They cheat, steal, and fornicate, and when they are at the end of 
their resources, they set up as saints and work miracles, one 
displaying the cloak of St. Vincent, another the handwriting of St. 
Bernardino, a third the bridle of Capistrano's donkey.' Others 'bring 
with them confederates who pretend to be blind or afflicted with some 
mortal disease, and after touching the hem of the monk's cowl, or the 
relics which he carries, are healed before the eyes of the multitude. 
All then shout "Misericordia," the bells are rung, and the miracle is 
recorded in a solemn protocol.' Or else the monk in the pulpit is 
denounced as a liar by another who stands below among the audience; the 
accuser is immediately possessed by the devil, and then healed by the 
preacher. The whole thing was a prearranged comedy, in which, however, 
the principal with his assistant made so much money that he was able to 
buy a bishopric from a Cardinal, on which the two confederates lived 
comfortably to the end of their days. Masuccio makes no great 
distinction between Franciscans and Dominicans, finding the one worth 
as much as the other. 'And yet the foolish people lets itself be drawn 
into their hatreds and divisions, and quarrels about them in public 
places, and calls itself "franceschino" or "domenichino." ' The nuns 
are the exclusive property of the monks. Those of the former who have 
anything to do with the laity, are prosecuted and put in prison, while 
others are wedded in due form to the monks, with the accompaniments of 
mass, a marriage-contract, and a liberal indulgence in food and wine. 
'I myself,' says the author, 'have been there not once, but several 
times, and seen it all with my own eyes. The nuns afterwards bring 
forth pretty little monks or else use means to hinder that result. And 
if anyone charges me with falsehood, let him search the nunneries well, 
and he will find there as many little bores as in Bethlehem at Herod's 
time.' These things, and the like, are among the secrets of monastic 
life. The monks are by no means too strict with one another in the 
confessional, and impose a Paternoster in cases where they would refuse 
all absolution to a layman as if he were a heretic. 'Therefore may the 
earth open and swallow up the wretches alive, with those who protect 
them.' In another place Masuccio, speaking of the fact that the 
influence of the monks depends chiefly on the dread of another world, 
utters the following remarkable wish: 'The best punishment for them 
would be for God to abolish Purgatory; they would then receive no more 
alms, and would be forced to go back to their spades.'

If men were free to write, in the time of Ferrante, and to him, in this 
strain, the reason is perhaps to be found in the fact that the king 
himself had been incensed by a false miracle which had been palmed off 
on him. An attempt had been made to urge him to a persecution of the 
Jews, like that carried out in Spain and imitated by the Popes, by 
producing a tablet with an inscription bearing the name of St. 
Cataldus, said to have been buried at Taranto, and afterwards dug up 
again. When he discovered the fraud, the monks defied him. He had also 
managed to detect and expose a pretended instance of fasting, as his 
father, Alfonso, had done before him. The Court, certainly, was no 
accomplice in maintaining these blind superstitions.

We have been quoting from an author who wrote in earnest, and who by no 
means stands alone in his judgement. All the Italian literature of that 
time is full of ridicule and invective aimed at the begging friars. It 
can hardly be doubted that the Renaissance would soon have destroyed 
these two Orders, had it not been for the German Reformation and the 
Counter-Reformation which intervened. Their saints and popular 
preachers could hardly have saved them. It would only have been 
necessary to come to an understanding at a favourable moment with a 
Pope like Leo X, who despised the Mendicant Orders. If the spirit of 
the age found them ridiculous or repulsive? they could no longer be 
anything but an embarrassment to the Church. And who can say what fate 
was in store for the Papacy itself, if the Reformation had not saved 

The influence which the Father Inquisitor of a Dominican monastery was 
able habitually to exercise in the city where it was situated, was in 
the latter part of the fifteenth century just considerable enough to 
hamper and irritate cultivated people, but not strong enough to extort 
any lasting fear or obedience. It was no longer possible to punish men 
for their thoughts, as it once was, and those whose tongues wagged most 
impudently against the clergy could easily keep clear of heretical 
doctrine. Except when some powerful party had an end to serve, as in 
the case of Savonarola, or when there was a question of the use of 
magical arts, as was often the case in the cities of North Italy, we 
seldom read at this time of men being burnt at the stake. The 
Inquisitors were in some instances satisfied with the most superficial 
retraction, in others it even happened that the victim was saved out of 
their hands on the way to the place of execution. In Bologna (1452) the 
priest Niccolo da Verona had been publicly degraded on a wooden 
scaffold in front of San Domenico as a wizard and profaner of the 
sacraments, and was about to be led away to the stake, when he was set 
free by a gang of armed men, sent by Achille Malvezzi, a noted friend 
of heretics and violator of nuns. The legate, Cardinal Bessarion, was 
only able to catch and hang one of the party; Malvezzi lived on in 

It deserves to be noticed that the higher monastic orders-- e.g. 
Benedictines, with their many branches--were, notwithstanding their 
great wealth and easy lives, far less disliked than the mendicant 
friars. For ten novels which treat of 'frati' hardly one can be found 
in which a 'monaco' is the subject and the victim. It was no small 
advantage to these orders that they were founded earlier, and not as an 
instrument of police, and that they did not interfere with private 
life. They contained men of learning, wit, and piety, but the average 
has been described by a member of it, Firenzuola, who says: 'These 
well-fed gentlemen with the capacious cowls do not pass their time in 
barefooted journeys and in sermons, but sit in elegant slippers with 
their hands crossed over their paunches, in charming cells wainscoted 
with cyprus-wood. And when they are obliged to quit the house, they 
ride comfortably, as if for their amusement, on mules and sleek, quiet 
horses. They do not overstrain their minds with the study of many 
books, for fear lest knowledge might put the pride of Lucifer in the 
place of monkish simplicity.'

Those who are familiar with the literature of the time, will see that 
we have only brought forward what is absolutely necessary for the 
understanding of the subject. That the reputation attaching to the 
monks and the secular clergy must have shattered the faith of 
multitudes in all that is sacred is, of course, obvious.

And some of the judgements which we read are terrible; we will quote 
one of them in conclusion, which has been published only lately and is 
but little known. The historian Guicciardini who was for many years in 
the service of the Medicean Popes, says (1529) in his 'Aphorisms': 'No 
man is more disgusted than I am with the ambition, the avarice and the 
profligacy of the priests, not only because each of these vices is 
hateful in itself, but because each and all of them are most unbecoming 
in those who declare themselves to be men in special relations with 
God, and also because they are vices so opposed to one another, that 
they can only co-exist in very singular natures. Nevertheless, my 
position at the Court of several Popes forced me to desire their 
greatness for the sake of my own interest. But, had it not been for 
this, I should have loved Martin Luther as myself, not in order to free 
myself from the laws which Christianity, as generally understood and 
explained, lays upon us, but in order to see this swarm of scoundrels 
(questa caterva di scelerati) put back into their proper place, so that 
they may be forced to live either without vices or without power.'

The same Guicciardini is of opinion that we are in the dark as to all 
that is supernatural, that philosophers and theologians have nothing 
but nonsense to tell us about it, that miracles occur in every religion 
and prove the truth of none in particular, and that all of them may be 
explained as unknown phenomena of nature. The faith which moves 
mountains, then common among the followers of Savonarola, is mentioned 
by Guicciardini as a curious fact, but without any bitter remark.

Notwithstanding this hostile public opinion, the clergy and the monks 
had the great advantage that the people were used to them, and that 
their existence was interwoven with the everyday existence of all. This 
is the advantage which every old and powerful institution possesses. 
Everybody had some cowled or frocked relative, some prospect of 
assistance or future gain from the treasure of the Church; and in the 
centre of Italy stood the Court of Rome, where men sometimes became 
rich in a moment. Yet it must never be forgotten that all this did not 
hinder people from writing and speaking freely. The authors of the most 
scandalous satires were themselves mostly monks or beneficed priests. 
Poggio, who wrote the_Facetiae, was a clergyman; Francesco Berni, the 
satirist, held a canonry; Teofilo Folengo, the author of the_Orlandino, 
was a Benedictine, certainly by no means a faithful one; Matteo 
Bandello, who held up his own order to ridicule, was a Dominican, and 
nephew of a general of this order. Were they encouraged to write by the 
sense that they ran no risks. Or did they feel an inward need to clear 
themselves personally from the infamy which attached to their order? Or 
were they moved by that selfish pessimism which takes for its maxim, 
'it will last our time'. Perhaps all of these motives were more or less 
at work. In the case of Folengo, the unmistakable influence of 
Lutheranism must be added.

The sense of dependence on rites and sacraments, which we have already 
touched upon in speaking of the Papacy, is not surprising among that 
part of the people which still believed in the Church. Among those who 
were more emancipated, it testifies to the strength of youthful 
impressions, and to the magical force of traditional symbols. The 
universal desire of dying men for priestly absolution shows that the 
last remnant of the dread of hell had not, even in the case of one like 
Vitellozzo, been altogether extinguished. It would hardly be possible 
to find a more instructive instance than this. The doctrine taught by 
the Church of the 'character indelibilis' of the priesthood, 
independently of the personality of the priest, had so far borne fruit 
that it was possible to loathe the individual and still desire his 
spiritual gifts. It is true, nevertheless, that there were defiant 
natures like Galeotto of Mirandola, who died unabsolved in 1499) after 
living for sixteen years under the ban of the Church. All this time the 
city lay under an interdict on his account, so that no mass was 
celebrated and no Christian burial took place.

A splendid contrast to all this is offered by the power exercised over 
the nation by its great Preachers of Repentance. Other countries of 
Europe were from time to time moved by the words of saintly monks, but 
only superficially, in comparison with the periodical upheaval of the 
Italian conscience. The only man, in fact, who produced a similar 
effect in Germany during the fifteenth century, was an Italian, born in 
the Abruzzi, named Giovanni Capistrano. Those natures which bear within 
them this religious vocation and this commanding earnestness, wore then 
in Northern countries an intuitive and mystical aspect. In the South 
they were practical and expansive, and shared in the national gift of 
oratorical skill. The North produced an 'Imitation of Christ,' which 
worked silently, at first only within the walls of the monastery, but 
worked for the ages; the South produced men who made on their fellows 
an immediate and mighty but passing impression.

This impression consisted chiefly in the awakening of the conscience. 
The sermons were moral exhortations free from abstract notions and full 
of practical application, rendered more impressive by the saintly and 
ascetic character of the preacher, and by the miracles which, even 
against his will, the inflamed imagination of the people attributed to 
him. The most powerful argument used was not the threat of Hell and 
Purgatory, but rather the living results of the 'maledizione,' the 
temporal ruin wrought on the individual by the curse which clings to 
wrong-doing. The grieving of Christ and the Saints has its consequences 
in this life. And only thus could men, sunk in passion and guilt, be 
brought to repentance and amendment--which was the chief object of 
these sermons.

Among these preachers were Bernardino da Siena, Alberto da Sarzana, 
Jacopo della Marca, Giovanni Capistrano, Roberto da Lecce and others j 
and finally, Girolamo Savonarola. No prejudice of the day was stronger 
than that against the mendicant friar, and this they overcame. They 
were criticized and ridiculed by a scornful humanism; but when they 
raised their voices, no one gave heed to the humanists. The thing was 
no novelty, and the scoffing Florentines had already in the fourteenth 
century learned to caricature it whenever it appeared in the pulpit. 
But no sooner did Savonarola come forward than he carried the people so 
triumphantly with him, that soon all their beloved art and culture 
melted away ill the furnace which he lighted. Even the grossest 
profanation done to the cause by hypocritical monks, who got up an 
effect in the audience by means of confederates, could not bring the 
thing itself into discredit. Men kept on laughing at the ordinary 
monkish sermons, with their spurious miracles and manufactured relics; 
but did not cease to honour the great and genuine preachers. These are 
a true speciality of the fifteenth century.

The Order--generally that of St. Francis, and more particularly the so-
called Observantines--sent them out according as they were wanted. This 
was commonly the case when there was some important public or private 
feud in a city, or some alarming outbreak of violence, immorality, or 
disease. When once the reputation of a preacher was made, the cities 
were all anxious to hear him even without any special occasion. He went 
wherever his superiors sent him. A special form of this work was the 
preaching of a Crusade against the Turks; but here we have to speak 
more particularly of the exhortations to repentance.

The order of these, when they were treated methodically, seems to have 
followed the customary list of the deadly sins. The more pressing, 
however, the occasion is, the more directly does the preacher make for 
his main point. He begins perhaps in one of the great churches of the 
Order, or in the cathedral. Soon the largest piazza is too small for 
the crowds which throng from every side to hear him, and he himself can 
hardly move without risking his life. The sermon is commonly followed 
by a great procession; but the first magistrates of the city, who take 
him in their midst, can hardly save him from the multitude of women who 
throng to kiss his hands and feet, and cut off fragments from his cowl.

The most immediate consequences which follow from the preacher's 
denunciations of usury, luxury, and scandalous fashions, are the 
opening of the gaols--which meant no more than the discharge of the 
poorest debtors--and the burning of various instruments of luxury and 
amusement, whether innocent or not. Among these are dice, cards, games 
of all kinds, written incantations, masks, musical instruments, song-
books, false hair, and so forth. All these would then be gracefully 
arranged on a scaffold ('talamo'), a figure of the devil fastened to 
the top, and then the whole set on fire.

Then came the turn of the more hardened consciences. Men who had long 
never been near the confessional, now acknowledged their sins. Ill-
gotten gains were restored, and insults which might have borne fruit in 
blood retracted. Orators like Bernardino of Siena entered diligently 
into all the details of the daily life of men, and the moral laws which 
are involved in it. Few theologians nowadays would feel tempted to give 
a morning sermon 'on contracts, restitutions, the public debt (monte), 
and the portioning of daughters,' like that which he once delivered in 
the Cathedral at Florence. Imprudent speakers easily fell into the 
mistake of attacking particular classes, professions, or offices, with 
such energy that the enraged hearers proceeded to violence against 
those whom the preacher had denounced. A sermon which Bernardino once 
preached in Rome (1424) had another consequence besides a bonfire of 
vanities on the Capitol: 'After this,' we read, 'the witch Finicella 
was burnt, because by her diabolical arts she had killed many children 
and bewitched many other persons; and all Rome went to see the sight.'

But the most important aim of the preacher was, as has been already 
said, to reconcile enemies and persuade them to give up thoughts of 
vengeance. Probably this end was seldom attained till towards the close 
of a course of sermons, when the tide of penitence flooded the city, 
and when the air resounded with the cry of the whole people: 
'Misericordia! ' Then followed those solemn embracings and treaties of 
peace, which even previous bloodshed on both sides could not hinder. 
Banished men were recalled to the city to take part in these sacred 
transactions. It appears that these 'Paci' were on the whole faithfully 
observed, even after the mood which prompted them was over; and then 
the memory of the monk was blessed from generation to generation. But 
there were sometimes terrible crises like those in the families Della 
Valle and Croce in Rome (1482) where even the great Roberto da Lecce 
raised his voice in vain. Shortly before Holy Week he had preached to 
immense crowds in the square before the Minerva. But on the night 
before Maundy Thursday a terrible combat took place in front of the 
Palazzo della Valle, near the Ghetto. In the morning Pope Sixtus gave 
orders for its destruction, and then performed the customary ceremonies 
of the day. On Good Friday Roberto preached again with a crucifix in 
his hand; but he and his hearers could do nothing but weep.

Violent natures, which had fallen into contradictions with themselves, 
often resolved to enter a convent, under the impression made by these 
men. Among such were not only brigands and criminals of every sort, but 
soldiers without employment. This resolve was stimulated by their 
admiration of the holy man, and by the desire to copy at least his 
outward position.

The concluding sermon is a general benediction, summed up in the words: 
'la pace sia con voi!' Throngs of hearers accompany the preacher to the 
next city, and there listen for a second time to the whole course of 

The enormous influence exercised by these preachers made it important, 
both for the clergy and for the government, at least not to have them 
as opponents; one means to this end was to permit only monks or priests 
who had received at all events the lesser consecration, to enter the 
pulpit, so that the Order or Corporation to which they belonged was, to 
some extent, responsible for them. But it was not easy to make the rule 
absolute, since the Church and pulpit had long been used as a means of 
publicity in many ways, judicial, educational, and others, and since 
even sermons were sometimes delivered by humanists and other laymen. 
There existed, too, in Italy, a dubious class of persons who were 
neither monks nor priests, and who yet had renounced the world--that is 
to say, the numerous class of hermits who appeared from time to time in 
the pulpit on their own authority, and often carried the people with 
them. A case of this kind occurred at Milan in 1516 after the second 
French conquest, certainly at a time when public order was much 
disturbed. A Tuscan hermit, Hieronymus of Siena, possibly an adherent 
of Savonarola, maintained his place for months together in the pulpit 
of the Cathedral, denounced the hierarchy with great violence, caused a 
new chandelier and a new altar to be set up in the church, worked 
miracles, and only abandoned the field after a long and desperate 
struggle. During the decades in which the fate of Italy was decided, 
the spirit of prophecy was unusually active, and nowhere where it 
displayed itself was it confined to any one particular class. We know 
with what a tone of true prophetic defiance the hermits came forward 
before the sack of Rome. In default of any eloquence of their own, 
these men made use of messengers with symbols of one kind or another, 
like the ascetic near Siena (1496) who sent a 'little hermit,' that is 
a pupil, into the terrified city with a skull upon a pole to which was 
attached a paper with a threatening text from the Bible.

Nor did the monks themselves scruple to attack princes, governments, 
the clergy, or even their own order. A direct exhortation to overthrow 
a despotic house, like that uttered by Jacopo Bussolaro at Pavia in the 
fourteenth century, hardly occurs again in the following period: but 
there is no want of courageous reproofs, addressed even to the Pope in 
his own chapel, and of naive political advice given in the presence of 
rulers who by no means held themselves in need of it. In the Piazza del 
Castello at Milan, a blind preacher from the Incoronata--consequently 
an Augustinian--ventured in 1494 to exhort Lodovico il Moro from the 
pulpit: 'My lord, beware of showing the French the way, else you will 
repent it.' There were further prophetic monks who, without exactly 
preaching political sermons, drew such appalling pictures of the future 
that the hearers almost lost their senses. After the election of Leo X, 
in the year 1513 a whole association of these men, twelve Franciscan 
monks in all, journeyed through the various districts of Italy, of 
which one or other was assigned to each preacher. The one who appeared 
in Florence, fra Francesco da Montepulcian, struck terror into the 
whole people. The alarm was not diminished by the exaggerated reports 
of his prophecies which reached those who were too far off to hear him. 
After one of his sermons he suddenly died 'of pain in the chest.' The 
people thronged in such numbers to kiss the feet of the corpse that it 
had to be secretly buried in the night. But the newly awakened spirit 
of prophecy, which seized upon even women and peasants, could not be 
controlled without great difficulty. 'In order to restore to the people 
their cheerful humour, the Medici--Giuliano, Leo's brother, and 
Lorenzo--gave on St. John's Day, 1514, those splendid festivals, 
tournaments, processions, and hunting-parties, which were attended by 
many distinguished persons from Rome, and among them, though disguised, 
no less than six cardinals.'

But the greatest of the prophets and apostles had already been burnt in 
Florence in the year 1498--Fra Girolamo Savonarola of Ferrara. We must 
content ourselves with saying a few words respecting him.

The instrument by means of which he transformed and ruled the city of 
Florence (1494-8) was his eloquence. Of this the meagre reports that 
are left to us, which were taken down mostly on the spot, give us 
evidently a very imperfect notion. It was not that he possessed any 
striking outward advantages, for voice, accent, and rhetorical skill 
constituted precisely his weakest side; and those who required the 
preacher to be a stylist, went to his rival Fra Mariano da Genazzano. 
The eloquence of Savonarola was the expression of a lofty and 
commanding personality, the like of which was not seen again till the 
time of Luther. He himself held his own influence to be the result of a 
divine illumination, and could therefore, without presumption, assign a 
very high place to the office of the preacher, who, in the great 
hierarchy of spirits, occupies, according to him, the next place below 
the angels.

This man, whose nature seemed made of fire, worked another and greater 
miracle than any of his oratorical triumphs. His own Dominican 
monastery of San Marco, and then all the Dominican monasteries of 
Tuscany, became like-minded with himself, and undertook voluntarily the 
work of inward reform. When we reflect what the monasteries then were, 
and what measureless difficulty attends the least change where monks 
are concerned, we are doubly astonished at so complete a revolution. 
While the reform was still in progress large numbers of Savonarola's 
followers entered the Order, and thereby greatly facilitated his plans. 
Sons of the first houses in Florence entered San Marco as novices.

This reform of the Order in a particular province was the first step to 
a national Church, in which, had the reformer himself lived longer, it 
must infallibly have ended. Savonarola, indeed, desired the 
regeneration of the whole Church) and near the end of his career sent 
pressing exhortations to the great potentates urging them to call 
together a Council. But in Tuscany his Order and party were the only 
organs of his spirit--the salt of the earth--while the neighbouring 
provinces remained in their old condition. Fancy and asceticism tended 
more and more to produce in him a state of mind to which Florence 
appeared as the scene of the kingdom of God upon earth.

The prophecies, whose partial fulfilment conferred on Savonarola a 
supernatural credit, were the means by which the ever active Italian 
imagination seized control of the soundest and most cautious natures. 
At first the Franciscans of the Osservanza, trusting in the reputation 
which had been bequeathed to them by St. Bernardino of Siena, fancied 
that they could compete with the great Dominican. They put one of their 
own men into the Cathedral pulpit, and outbid the Jeremiads of 
Savonarola by still more terrible warnings, till Piero de' Medici, who 
then still ruled over Florence, forced them both to be silent. Soon 
after, when Charles XII came to Italy and the Medici were expelled, as 
Savonarola had clearly foretold, he alone was believed in.

It must be frankly confessed that he never judged his own premonitions 
and visions critically, as he did those of others. In the funeral 
oration on Pico della Mirandola, he deals somewhat harshly with his 
dead friend. Since Pico, notwithstanding an inner voice which came from 
God, would not enter the Order, he had himself prayed to God to chasten 
him for his disobedience. He certainly had not desired his death, and 
alms and prayers had obtained the favour that Pico's soul was safe in 
Purgatory. With regard to a comforting vision which Pico had upon his 
sickbed, in which the Virgin appeared and promised him that he should 
not die, Savonarola confessed that he had long regarded it as a deceit 
of the I)evil, till it was revealed to him that the Madonna meant the 
second and eternal death. If these things and the like are proofs of 
presumption, it must be admitted that this great soul at all events 
paid a bitter penalty for his fault. In his last days Savonarola seems 
to have recognized the vanity of his visions and prophecies. And yet 
enough inward peace was left to him to enable him to meet death like a 
Christian. His partisans held to his doctrine and predictions for 
thirty years longer.

He only undertook the reorganization of the State for the reason that 
otherwise his enemies would have got the government into their own 
hands. It is unfair to judge him by the semi-democratic constitution of 
the beginning of the year 1495, which was neither better nor worse than 
other Florentine constitutions.

He was at bottom the most unsuitable man who could be found for such a 
work. His idea was a theocracy, in which all men were to bow in blessed 
humility before the Unseen, and all conflicts of passion wert not even 
to be able to arise. His whole mind is written in that inscription on 
the Palazzo della Signoria, the substance of which was his maxim as 
early as 1495, and which was solemnly renewed by his partisans in 1527: 
'Jesus Christus Rex populi Florentini S.P.Q. decreto creatus.' He stood 
in no more relation to mundane affairs and their actual conditions than 
any other inhabitant of a monastery. Man, according to him, has only to 
attend to those things which make directly for his salvation.

This temper comes out clearly in his opinions on ancient literature: 
'The only good thing which we owe to Plato and Aristotle, is that they 
brought forward many arguments which we can use against the heretics. 
Yet they and other philosophers are now in Hell. An old woman knows 
more about the Faith than Plato. It would be good for religion if many 
books that seem useful were destroyed. When there were not so many 
books and not so many arguments ("ragioni naturali") and disputes, 
religion grew more quickly than it has done since.' He wished to limit 
the classical instruction of the schools to Homer, Virgil and Cicero, 
and to supply the rest from Jerome and Augustine. Not only Ovid and 
Catullus, but Terence and Tibullus, were to be banished. This may be no 
more than the expressions of a nervous morality, but elsewhere in a 
special work he admits that science as a whole is harmful. He holds 
that only a few people should have to do with it, in order that the 
tradition of human knowledge may not perish, and particularly that 
there may be no want of intellectual athletes to confute the sophisms 
of the heretics. For all others, grammar, morals, and religious 
teaching ('litterae sacrae') suffice. Culture and education would thus 
return wholly into the charge of the monks, and as, in his opinion, the 
'most learned and the most pious' are to rule over the States and 
empires, these rulers would also be monks. Whether he really foresaw 
this conclusion, we need not inquire.

A more childish method of reasoning cannot be imagined. The simple 
reflection that the newborn antiquity and the boundless enlargement of 
human thought and knowledge which was due to it, might give splendid 
confirmation to a religion able to adapt itself thereto, seems never 
even to have occurred to the good man. He wanted to forbid what he 
could not deal with by any other means. In fact, he was anything but 
liberal, and was ready, for example, to send the astrologers to the 
same stake at which he afterwards himself died.

How mighty must have been the soul which dwelt side by side with this 
narrow intellect! And what a flame must have glowed within him before 
he could constrain the Florentines, possessed as they were by the 
passion for knowledge and culture, to surrender themselves to a man who 
could thus reason!

How much of their heart and their worldliness they were ready to 
sacrifice for his sake is shown by those famous bonfires by the side of 
which all the 'talami' of Bernardino da Siena and others were certainly 
of small account.

All this could not, however, be effected without the agency of a 
tyrannical police. He did not shrink from the most vexatious 
interferences with the much-prized freedom of Italian private life, 
using the espionage of servants on their masters as a means of carrying 
out his moral reforms. That transformation of public and private life 
which the Iron Calvin was but just able to effect at Geneva with the 
aid of a permanent state of siege necessarily proved impossible at 
Florence, and the attempt only served to drive the enemies of 
Savonarola into a more implacable hostility. Among his most unpopular 
measures may be mentioned those organized parties of boys, who forced 
their way into the houses and laid violent hands on any objects which 
seemed suitable for the bonfire. As it happened that they were 
sometimes sent away with a beating, they were afterwards attended, in 
order to keep up the figment of a pious 'rising generation,' by a 
bodyguard of grown-up persons.

On the last day of the Carnival in the year 1497, and on the same day 
the year after, the great 'Auto da Fe' took place on the Piazza della 
Signoria. In the center of it rose a high pyramid of several tiers, 
like the 'rogus' on which the Roman Emperors were commonly burned. On 
the lowest tier were arranged false beards, masks, and carnival 
disguises; above came volumes of the Latin and Italian poets, among 
others Boccaccio, the 'Morgante' of Pulci, and Petrarch, partly in the 
form of valuable printed parchments and illuminated manuscripts; then 
women's ornaments and toilet articles, scents, mirrors, veils and false 
hair; higher up, lutes, harps, chessboards, playing-cards; and finally, 
on the two uppermost tiers, paintings only, especially of female 
beauties, partly fancy pictures, bearing the classical names of 
Lucretia, Cleopatra, or Faustina, partly portraits of the beautiful 
Bencina, Lena Morella, Bina and Maria de' Lenzi. On the first occasion 
a Venetian merchant who happened to be present offered the Signoria 
22,000 gold florins for the objects on the pyramid; but the only answer 
he received was that his portrait, too, was painted, and burned along 
with the rest. When the pile was lighted, the Signoria appeared on the 
balcony, and the air echoed with song, the sound of trumpets, and the 
pealing of bells. The people then adjourned to the Piazza di San Marco, 
where they danced round in three concentric circles. The innermost was 
composed of monks of the monastery, alternating with boys, dressed as 
angels; then came young laymen and ecclesiastics; and on the outside, 
old men, citizens, and priests, the latter crowned with wreaths of 

All the ridicule of his victorious enemies, who in truth bad no lack of 
justification or of talent for ridicule, was unable to discredit the 
memory of Savonarola. The more tragic the fortunes of Italy became, the 
brighter grew the halo which in the recollection of the survivors 
surrounded the figure of the great monk and prophet. Though his 
predictions may not have been confirmed in detail, the great and 
general calamity which he foretold was fulfilled with appalling truth.

Great, however, as the influence of all these preachers may have been, 
and brilliantly as Savonarola justified the claim of the monks to this 
office, nevertheless the order as a while could not escape the contempt 
and condemnation of the people. Italy^ showed that she could give her 
enthusiasm only to individuals.

Strength of the Old Faith

If, apart from all that concerns the priests and the monks, we 
attempt to measure the strength of the old faith, it will be found 
great or small according to the light in which it is considered. We 
have spoken already of the need felt for the Sacraments as something 
indispensable. Let us now glance for a moment at the position of faith 
and worship in daily life. Both were determined partly by the habits of 
the people and partly by the policy and example of the rulers.

All that has to do with penitence and the attainment of salvation by 
means of good works was in much the one stage of development or 
corruption as in the North of Europe, both among the peasantry and 
among the poorer inhabitants of the cities. The instructed classes were 
sometimes influenced by the same motives. Those sides of popular 
Catholicism which had their origin in the old pagan ways of invoking, 
rewarding, and propitiating the gods have fixed themselves ineradicably 
in the consciousness of the people. The eighth eclogue of Battista 
Mantovano, which has already been quoted elsewhere, contains the prayer 
of a peasant to the Madonna, in which she is called upon as the special 
patroness of all rustic and agricultural interests. And what 
conceptions they were which the people formed of their protectress in 
heaven. What was in the mind of the Florentine woman who gave 'ex voto' 
a keg of wax to the Annunziata, because her lover, a monk, had 
gradually emptied a barrel of wine without her absent husband finding 
it out. Then, too, as still in our own days, different departments of 
human life were presided over by their respective patrons.

The attempt has often been made to explain a number of the commonest 
rites of the Catholic Church as remnants of pagan ceremonies, and no 
one doubts that many local and popular usages, which are associated 
with religious festivals, are forgotten fragments of the old pre-
Christian faiths of Europe. In Italy, on the contrary, we find 
instances in which the affiliation of the new faith to the old seems 
consciously recognized. So, for example, the custom of setting out food 
for the dead four days before the feast of the Chair of St. Peter, that 
is to say, on February 18, the date of the ancient Feralia. Many other 
practices of this kind may then have prevailed and have since then been 
extirpated. Perhaps the paradox is only apparent if we say that the 
popular faith in Italy had a solid foundation just in proportion as it 
was pagan.

The extent to which this form of belief prevailed in the upper classes 
can to a certain point be shown in detail. It had, as we have said in 
speaking of the influence of the clergy, the power of custom and early 
impressions on its side. The love for ecclesiastical pomp and display 
helped to confirm it, and now and then there came one of those 
epidemics of revivalism, which few even among the scoffers and the 
sceptics were able to withstand.

But in questions of this kind it is perilous to grasp too hastily at 
absolute results. We might fancy, for example, that the feeling of 
educated men towards the relics of the saints would be a key by which 
some chambers of their religious consciousness might be opened. And in 
fact, some difference of degree may be demonstrable, though by no means 
as clearly as might be wished. The Government of Venice in the 
fifteenth century seems to have fully shared in the reverence felt 
throughout the rest of Europe for the remains of the bodies of the 
saints. Even strangers who lived in Venice found it well to adapt 
themselves to this superstition. If we can judge of scholarly Padua 
from the testimony of its topographer Michele Savonarola, things must 
have been much the same there. With a mixture of pride and pious awe, 
Michele tells us how in times of great danger the saints were heard to 
sigh at night along the streets of the city, how the hair and nails on 
the corpse of a holy nun in Santa Chiara kept continually growing, and 
how the same corpse. when any disaster was impending, used to make a 
noise and lift up the arms. When he sets to work to describe the chapel 
of St. Anthony in the Santo, the writer loses himself in ejaculations 
and fantastic dreams. In Milan the people at least showed a fanatical 
devotion to relics; and when once, in the year 1517, the monks of San 
Simpliciano were careless enough to expose six holy corpses during 
certain alterations of the high altar, which event was followed by 
heavy floods of rain, the people attributed the visitation to this 
sacrilege, and gave the monks a sound beating whenever they met them in 
the street. In other parts of Italy, and even in the case of the Popes 
themselves, the sincerity of this feeling is much more dubious, though 
here, too, a positive conclusion is hardly attainable. It is well known 
amid what general enthusiasm Pius II solemnly deposited the head of the 
Apostle Andrew, which had been brought from Greece, and then from San

Maura, in the Church of St. Peter (1462); but we gather from his own 
narrative that he only did it from a kind of shame, as so many princes 
were competing for the relic. It was not till afterwards that the idea 
struck him of making Rome the common refuge for all the remains of the 
saints which had been driven from their own churches. Under Sixtus IV, 
the population of the city was still more zealous in this cause than 
the Pope himself, and the magistracy (1483) complained bitterly that 
Sixtus had sent to Louis XI, the dying King of France, some specimens 
of the Lateran relics. A courageous voice was raised about thin time at 
Bologna, advising the sale of the skull of St. Dominic to the King of 
Spain, and the application of the money to some useful public object. 
But those who had the least reverence of all for the relics were the 
Florentines. Between the decision to honour their saint, St. Zanobi, 
with a new sarcophagus and the final execution of the project by 
Ghiberti, ten years elapsed (1432-42) and then it only happened by 
chance, because the master had executed a smaller order of the same 
kind with great skill (1428).

Perhaps through being tricked by a cunning Neapolitan abbess (1352), 
who sent them a spurious arm of the patroness of the Cathedral, Santa 
Reparata, made of wood and plaster, they began to get tired of relics. 
Or perhaps it would be truer to say that their aesthetic sense turned 
them away in disgust from dismembered corpses and mouldy clothes. Or 
perhaps their feeling was rather due to that sense of glory which 
thought Dante and Petrarch worthier of a splendid grave than all the 
twelve apostles put together. It is probable that throughout Italy, 
apart from Venice and from Rome, the condition of which latter city was 
exceptional, the worship of relics had long been giving way to the 
adoration of the Madonna, at all events to a greater extent than 
elsewhere in Europe; and in this fact lies indirect evidence of an 
early development of the aesthetic sense.

It may be questioned whether in the North, where the vastest cathedrals 
are clearly all dedicated to Our Lady, and where an extensive branch of 
Latin and indigenous poetry sang the praises of the Mother of God, a 
greater devotion to her was impossible. In Italy, however, the number 
of miraculous pictures of the Virgin was far greater, and the part they 
played in the daily life of the people much more important. Every town 
of any size contained a quantity of them, from the ancient, or 
ostensibly ancient, paintings by St. Luke, down to the works of 
contemporaries, who not seldom lived to see the miracles wrought by 
their own handiwork. The work of art was in these cases by no means as 
harmless as Battista Mantovano thinks; sometimes it suddenly acquired a 
magical virtue. The popular craving for the miraculous, especially 
strong in women, may have been fully satisfied by these pictures, and 
for this reason the relics been less regarded. It cannot be said with 
certainty how far the respect for genuine relics suffered from the 
ridicule which the novelist aimed at the spurious. The attitude of the 
educated classes in Italy towards Mariolatry, or the worship of the 
Virgin, is more clearly recognizable than towards the worship of 
images. One cannot but be struck with the fact that in Italian 
literature Dante's 'Paradise' is the last poem in honour of the Virgin, 
while among the people hymns in her praise have been constantly 
produced down to our own day. The names of Sannazaro and Sabellico and 
other writers of Latin poems prove little on the other side, since the 
object with which they wrote was chiefly literary. The poems written in 
Italian in the fifteenth and at the beginning of the sixteenth 
centuries, in which we meet with genuine religious feeling, such as the 
hymns of Lorenzo the Magnificent, and the sonnets of Vittoria Colonna 
and of Michelangelo might have been just as well composed by 
Protestants. Besides the lyrical expression of faith in God, we chiefly 
notice in them the sense of sin, the consciousness of deliverance 
through the death of Christ, the longing for a better world. The 
intercessiOn of the Mother of God is only mentioned by the way. The 
same phenomenon is repeated in the classical literature of the French 
at the time of Louis XIV. Not till the time of the Counter-Reformation 
did Mariolatry reappear in the higher Italian poetry. Meanwhile the 
visual arts had certainly done their utmost to glorify the Madonna. It 
may be added that the worship of the saints among the educated classes 
often took an essentially pagan form.

We might thus critically examine the various sides of Italian 
Catholicism at this period, and so establish with a certain degree of 
probability the attitude of the instructed classes towards popular 
faith. Yet an absolute and positive result cannot be reached. We meet 
with contrasts hard to explain. While architects, painters, and 
sculptors were working with restless activity in and for the churches, 
we hear at the beginning of the sixteenth century the bitterest 
complaints of the neglect of public worship and of these churches 

It is well known how Luther was scandalized by the irreverence with 
which the priests in Rome said Mass. And at the same time the feasts of 
the Church were celebrated with a taste and magnificence of which 
Northern countries had no conception. It looks as if this most 
imaginative of nations was easily tempted to neglect everyday things, 
and as easily captivated by anything extraordinary.

It is to this excess of imagination that we must attribute the epidemic 
of religious revivals upon which we shall again say a few words. They 
must be clearly distinguished from the excitement called forth by the 
great preachers. They were rather due to general public calamities, or 
to the dread of such.

In the Middle Ages all Europe was from time to time flooded by these 
great tides, which carried away whole peoples in their waves. The 
Crusades and the Flagellant revival are instances. Italy took part in 
both of these movements. The first great companies of flagellants 
appeared, immediately after the fall of Ezzelino and his house, in the 
neighbourhood of the same Perugia which has been already spoken of as 
the headquarters of the revivalist preachers. Then followed the 
flagellants of 1310 and 1334, and then the great pilgrimage without 
encouraging in the year 1349, which Corio has recorded. It is not 
impossible that the Jubilees were founded partly in order to regulate 
and render harmless this sinister passion for vagabondage which seized 
on the whole populations at times of religious excitement. The great 
sanctuaries of Italy, such as Loreto and others, had meantime become 
famous, and no doubt diverted a certain part of this enthusiasm.

But terrible crises had still at a much later time the power to 
reawaken the glow of mediaeval penitence, and the conscience - stricken 
people, often still further appalled by signs and wonders, sought to 
move the pity of Heaven by wailings and scourgings. So it was at 
Bologna when the plague came in 1457, and so in 1496 at a time of 
internal discord at Siena) to mention two only out of countless 
instances. No more moving scene can be imagined than that which we read 
of at Milan in 1529) when famine, plague, and war conspired with 
Spanish extortion to reduce the city to the lowest depths of despair. 
It chanced that the monk who had the ear of the people, Fra Tomasso 
Nieto, was himself a Spaniard. The Host was borne along in a novel 
fashion, amid barefooted crowds of old and young. It was placed on a 
decorated bier, which rested on the shoulders of four priests in linen 
garments--an imitation of the Ark of the Covenant which the children of 
Israel once carried round the walls of Jericho. Thus did the afflicted 
people of Milan remind their ancient God of His old covenant with man; 
and when the procession again entered the cathedral, and it seemed as 
if the vast building must fall in with the agonized cry of 
'Misericordia!', many who stood there may have believed that the 
Almighty would indeed subvert the laws of nature and of history, and 
send a miraculous deliverance.

There was one government in Italy, that of Duke Ercole I of Ferrara, 
which assumed the direction of public feeling, and compelled the 
popular revivals to move in regular channels. At the time when 
Savonarola was powerful in Florence, and the movement which he began 
spread far and wide among the population of Central Italy, the people 
of Ferrara voluntarily entered on a general fast (at the beginning of 
1496). A Lazarist announced from the pulpit the approach of a season of 
war and famine such as the world had never seen; but the Madonna had 
assured some pious people that these evils might be avoided by fasting. 
Upon this, the court itself had no choice but to fast, but it took the 
conduct of the public devotions into its own hands. On Easter Day, the 
3rd of April, a proclamation on morals and religion was published, 
forbidding blasphemy, prohibiting games, sodomy, concubinage, the 
letting of houses to prostitutes or panders, and the opening of all 
shops on feast days, excepting those of the bakers and greengrocers. 
The Jews and Moors, who had taken refuge from the Spaniards at Ferrara, 
were now again compelled to wear the yellow O upon the breast. 
Contraveners were threatened, not only with the punishments already 
provided by law, but also 'with such severer penalties as the Duke 
might think good to inflict.' After this, the Duke and the court went 
several days in succession to hear sermons in church, and on the 10th 
of April all the Jews in Ferrara were compelled to do the same. On the 
3rd of May, the director of police, Zampante, sent the crier to 
announce that whoever had given money to the police-officers in order 
not to be denounced as a blasphemer, might, if he came forward, have it 
back with a further indemnification. These wicked officers, he said, 
had extorted as much as two or three ducats from innocent persons by 
threatening to lodge an information against them. They had then 
mutually informed against one another, and so had all found their way 
into prison. But as the money had been paid precisely in order not to 
have to do with Zampante, it is probable that his proclamation induced 
few people to come forward. In the year 1500, after the fall of 
Lodovico il Moro, when a similar outbreak of popular feeling took 
place, Ercole ordered a series of nine processions, in which there were 
4,000 children dressed in white, bearing the standard of Jesus. He 
himself rode on horseback, as he could not walk without difficulty. An 
edict was afterwards published of the same kind as that of 1496. It is 
well known how many churches and monasteries were built by this ruler. 
He even sent for a live saint, the Suor Colomba, shortly before he 
married his son Alfonso to Lucrezia Borgia (1502). A special messenger 
fetched the saint with fifteen other nuns from Viterbo, and the Duke 
himself conducted her on her arrival at Ferrara into a convent prepared 
for her reception. We shall probably do him no injustice if we 
attribute all these measures very largely to political calculation. To 
the conception of government formed by the House of Este, this 
employment of religion for the ends of statecraft belongs by a kind of 
logical necessity.

Religion and the Spirit of the Renaissance

But in order to reach a definite conclusion with regard to the 
religious sense of the men of this period, we must adopt a different 
method. From their intellectual attitude in general, we can infer their 
relation both to the divine idea and to the existing religion of their 

These modern men, the representatives of the culture of Italy, were 
born with the same religious instincts as other mediaeval Europeans. 
But their powerful individuality made them in religion, as in other 
matters, altogether subjective, and the intense charm which the 
discovery of the inner and outer universe exercised upon them rendered 
them markedly worldly. In the rest of Europe religion remained, till a 
much later period. something given from without, and in practical life 
egotism and sensuality alternated with devotion and repentance. The 
latter had no spiritual competitors) as in Italy, or only to a far 
smaller extent.

Further, the close and frequent relations of Italy with Byzantium and 
the Mohammedan peoples had produced a dispassionate tolerance which 
weakened the ethnographical conception of a privileged Christendom. And 
when classical antiquity with its men and institutions became an ideal 
of life) as well as the greatest of historical memories, ancient 
speculation and skepticism obtained in many cases a complete mastery 
over the minds of Italians. Since, again, the Italians were the first 
modern people of Europe who gave themselves boldly to speculations on 
freedom and necessity, and since they did so under violent and lawless 
political circumstances, in which evil seemed often to win a splendid 
and lasting victory, their belief in God began to waver, and their view 
of the government of the world became fatalistic. And when their 
passionate natures refused to rest in the sense of uncertainty, they 
made a shift to help themselves out with ancient, Oriental, or medieval 
superstition. They took to astrology and magic.

Finally, these intellectual giants, these representatives of the 
Renaissance, show, in respect to religion, a quality which is common in 
youthful natures. Distinguishing keenly between good and evil, they yet 
are conscious of no sin. Every disturbance of their inward harmony they 
feel themselves able to make good out of the plastic resources of their 
own nature, and therefore they feel no repentance. The need of 
salvation thus becomes felt more and more dimly, while the ambitions 
and the intellectual activity of the present either shut out altogether 
every thought of a world to come, or else caused it to assume a poetic 
instead of a dogmatic form.

When we look on all this as pervaded and often perverted by the all-
powerful Italian imagination, we obtain a picture of that time which is 
certainly more in accordance with truth than are vague declarations 
against modern paganism. And closer investigation often reveals to us 
that underneath this outward shell much genuine religion could still 

The fuller discussion of these points must be limited to a few of the 
more essential explanations.

That religion should again become an affair of the individual and of 
his own personal feeling was inevitable when the Church became corrupt 
in doctrine and tyrannous in practice, and is a proof that the European 
mind was still alive. It is true that this showed itself in many 
different ways. While the mystical and ascetical sects of the North 
lost no time in creating new outward forms for their new modes of 
thought and feeling, each individual in Italy went his own way, and 
thousands wandered on the sea of life without any religious guidance 
whatever. All the more must we admire those who attained and held fast 
to a personal religion. They were not to blame for being unable to have 
any part or lot in the old Church, as she then was; nor would it be 
reasonable to expect that they should all of them go through that 
mighty spiritual labor which was appointed to the German reformers. The 
form and aim of this personal faith, as it showed itself in the better 
minds, will bc set forth at the close of our work.

The worldliness, through which the Renaissance seems to offer so 
striking a contrast to the Middle Ages, owed its first origin to the 
flood of new thoughts, purposes, and views, which transformed the 
mediaeval conception of nature and man. The spirit is not in itself 
more hostile to religion than that 'culture' which now holds its place, 
but which can give us only a feeble notion of the universal ferment 
which the discovery of a new world of greatness then called forth. This 
worldliness was not frivolous, but earnest, and was ennobled by art and 
poetry. It is a lofty necessity of the modern spirit that this 
attitude, once gained, can never again be lost, that an irresistible 
impulse forces us to the investigation of men and things, and that we 
must hold this inquiry to be our proper end and work. How soon and by 
what paths this search will lead us back to God, and in what ways the 
religious temper of the individual will be affected by it, are 
questions which cannot be met by any general answer. The Middle Ages, 
which spared themselves the trouble of induction and free inquiry, can 
have no right to impose upon us their dogmatical verdict in a matter of 
such vast importance.

To the study of man, among many other causes, was due the tolerance and 
indifference with which the Mohammedan religion was regarded. The 
knowledge and admiration of the remarkable civilization which Islam, 
particularly before the Mongol inundation, had attained, was peculiar 
to Italy from the time of the Crusades. This sympathy was fostered by 
the half-Mohammedan government of some Italian princes, by dislike and 
even contempt for the existing Church, and by constant commercial 
intercourse with the harbors of the Eastern and Southern Mediterranean. 
It can be shown that in the thirteenth century the Italians recognized 
a Mohammedan ideal of nobleness, dignity, and pride, which they loved 
to connect with the person of a Sultan. A Mameluke Sultan is commonly 
meant; if any name is mentioned, it is the name of Saladin. Even the 
Osmanli Turks, whose destructive tendencies were no secret, gave the 
Italians only half a fright, and a peaceable accord with them was 
looked upon as no impossibility.

The truest and most characteristic expression of this religious 
indifference is the famous story of the Three Rings, which Lessing has 
put into the mouth of his Nathan, after it had been already told 
centuries earlier, though with some reserve, in the 'Hundred Old 
Novels' (nov. 12 or 73), and more boldly in Boccaccio (Decamerone, i, 
nov. 3). In what language and in what corner of the Mediterranean it 
was first told can never be known; most likely the original was much 
more plain-spoken than the two Italian adaptations. The religious 
postulate on which it rests, namely Deism, will be discussed later on 
in its wider significance for this period. The same idea is repeated, 
though in a clumsy caricature, in the famous proverb of the 'three who 
have deceived the world, that is, Moses, Christ, and Mohammed.' If the 
Emperor Frederick II, in whom this saying is said to have originated, 
really thought so, he probably expressed himself with more wit.

Ideas of the same kind were also current in Islam. At the height of the 
Renaissance, towards the close of the fifteenth century, Luigi Pulci 
offers us an example of the same mode of thought in the 'Morgante 
Maggiore.' The imaginary world of which his story treats is divided, as 
in all heroic poems of romance, into a Christian and a Mohammedan camp. 
In accordance with the medieval temper, the victory of the Christian 
and the final reconciliation among the combatants was attended by the 
baptism of the defeated Islamites, and the Improvisatori, who preceded 
Pulci in the treatment of these subjects, must have made free use of 
this stock incident. It was Pulci's object to parody his predecessors, 
particularly the worst among them, and this he does by the invocations 
of God, Christ, and the Madonna, with which each canto begins; and 
still more clearly by the sudden conversions and baptisms, the utter 
senselessness of which must have struck every reader or hearer. This 
ridicule leads him further to the confession of his faith in the 
relative goodness of all religions, which faith, notwithstanding his 
profession of orthodoxy, rests on an essentially theistic basis. In 
another point, too, he departs widely from mediaeval conceptions. The 
alternatives in past centuries were: Christian, or else Pagan and 
Mohammedan; orthodox believer or heretic. Pulci draws a picture of the 
Giant Margutte who, disregarding each and every religion, jovially 
confesses to every form of vice and sensuality, and only reserves to 
himself the merit of having never broken faith. Perhaps the poet 
intended to make something of this--in his way--honest monster, 
possibly to have led him into virtuous paths by Morgante, but he soon 
got tired of his own creation, and in the next canto brought him to a 
comic end. Margutte has been brought forward as a proof of Pulci's 
frivolity; but he is needed to complete the picture of the poetry of 
the fifteenth century. It was natural that it should somewhere present 
in grotesque proportions the figure of an untamed egotism, insensible 
to all established rule, and yet with a remnant of honorable feeling 
left. In other poems sentiments are put into the mouths of giants, 
fiends, infidels, and Mohammedans which no Christian knight would 
venture to utter.

Antiquity exercised an influence of another kind than that of Islam, 
and this not through its religion, which was but too much like the 
Catholicism of this period, but through its philosophy. Ancient 
literature, now respected as something incomparable, is full of the 
victory of philosophy over religious tradition. An endless number of 
systems and fragments of systems were suddenly presented to the Italian 
mind, not as curiosities or even as heresies, but almost with the 
authority of dogmas, which had now to be reconciled rather than 
discriminated. In nearly all these various opinions and doctrines a 
certain kind of belief in God was implied; but taken altogether they 
formed a marked contrast to the Christian faith in a Divine government 
of the world. And there was one central question, which mediaeval 
theology had striven in vain to solve, and which now urgently demanded 
an answer from the wisdom of the ancients, namely, the relation of 
Providence to the freedom or necessity of the human will. To write the 
history of this question even superficially from the fourteenth century 
onwards, would require a whole volume. A few hints must here suffice.

If we take Dante and his contemporaries as evidence, we shall find that 
ancient philosophy first came into contact with Italian life in the 
form which offered the most marked contrast to Christianity, that is to 
say, Epicureanism. The writings of Epicurus were no longer preserved, 
and even at the close of the classical age a more or less one-sided 
conception had been formed of his philosophy. Nevertheless, that phase 
of Epicureanism which can be studied in Lucretius, and especially in 
Cicero, is quite sufficient to make men familiar with a godless 
universe. To what extent his teaching was actually understood, and 
whether the name of the problematic Greek sage was not rather a 
catchword for the multitude, it is hard to say. It is probable that the 
Dominican Inquisition used it against men who could not be reached by a 
more definite accusation. In the case of sceptics born before the time 
was ripe, whom it was yet hard to convict of positive heretical 
utterances, a moderate degree of luxurious living may have sufficed to 
provoke the charge. The word is used in this conventional sense by 
Giovanni Villani, when he explains the Florentine fires of 1115 and 
1117 as a Divine judgement on heresies, among others, 'on the luxurious 
and gluttonous sect of Epicureans.' The same writer says of Manfred, 
'His life was Epicurean, since he believed neither in God, nor in the 
Saints, but only in bodily pleasure.'

Dante speaks still more clearly in the ninth and tenth cantos of the 
'Inferno.' That terrible fiery field covered with half-opened tombs, 
from which issued cries of hopeless agony, was peopled by the two great 
classes of those whom the Church had vanquished or expelled in the 
thirteenth century. The one were heretics who opposed the Church by 
deliberately spreading false doctrine; the other were Epicureans, and 
their sin against the Church lay in their general disposition, which 
was summed up in the belief that the soul dies with the body. The 
Church was well aware that this one doctrine, if it gained ground, must 
be more ruinous to her authority than all the teachings of the 
Manichaeans and Paterines, since it took away all reason for her 
interference in the affairs of men after death. That the means which 
she used in her struggles were precisely what had driven the most 
gifted natures to unbelief and despair was what she naturally would not 
herself admit.

Dante's loathing of Epicurus, or of what he took to be his doctrine, 
was certainly sincere. The poet of the life to come could not but 
detest the denier of immortality; and a world neither made nor ruled by 
God, no less than the vulgar objects of earthly life which the system 
appeared to countenance, could not but be intensely repugnant to a 
nature like his. But if we look closer, we find that certain doctrines 
of the ancients made even on him an impression which forced the 
biblical doctrine of the Divine government into the background unless, 
indeed, it was his own reflection, the influence of opinions then 
prevalent, or loathing for the injustice that seemed to rule this 
world, which made him give up the belief in a special Providence His 
God leaves all the details of the world's government to a deputy, 
Fortune, whose sole work it is to change and change again all earthly 
things, and who can disregard the wailings of men in unalterable 
beatitude. Nevertheless, Dante does not for a moment fail to insist on 
the moral responsibility of man; he believes in free will. The belief 
in the freedom of the will, in the popular sense of the words, has 
always prevailed in Western countries. At all times men have been held 
responsible for their actions, as though this freedom were a matter of 
course. The case is otherwise with the religious and philosophical 
doctrine, which labors under the difficulty of harmonizing the nature 
of the will with the laws of the universe at large. We have here to do 
with a question of more or less, which every moral estimate must take 
into account. Dante is not wholly free from those astrological 
superstitions which illumined the horizon of his time with deceptive 
light, but they do not hinder him from rising to a worthy conception of 
human nature. 'The stars,' he makes his Marco Lambert say 
('Purgatorio,' xvi, 73), 'the stars give the first impulse to your 
actions, but a light is given you to know good and evil, and free will, 
which, if it endure the strain in its first battlings with the heavens, 
at length gains the whole victory, if it be well nurtured.'

Others might seek the necessity which annulled human freedom in another 
power than the stars, but the question was henceforth an open and 
inevitable one. So far as it was a question for the schools or the 
pursuit of isolated thinkers, its treatment belongs to the historian of 
philosophy. But inasmuch as it entered into the consciousness of a 
wider public, it is necessary for us to say a few words respecting it.

The fourteenth century was chiefly stimulated by the writings of 
Cicero, who, though in fact an eclectic, yet, by his habit of setting 
forth the opinions of different schools, without coming to a decision 
between them, exercised the influence of a skeptic. Next in importance 
came Seneca, and the few works of Aristotle which had been translated 
into Latin. The immediate fruit of these studies was the capacity to 
reflect on great subjects, if not in direct opposition to the authority 
of the Church, at all events independently of it.

In the course of the fifteenth century the works of antiquity were 
discovered and diffused with extraordinary rapidity. All the writings 
of the Greek philosophers which we ourselves possess were now, at least 
in the form of Latin translations, in everybody's hands. It is a 
curious fact that some of the most zealous apostles of this new culture 
were men of the strictest piety, or even ascetics. Fra Ambrogio 
Camaldolese, as a spiritual dignitary chiefly occupied with 
ecclesiastical affairs, and as a literary man with the translation of 
the Greek Fathers of the Church, could not repress the humanistic 
impulse, and at the request of Cosimo de' Medici, undertook to 
translate Diogenes Laertius into Latin. His contemporaries, Niccolo 
Niccoli, Giannozzo Manetti, Donato Acciaiuoli, and Pope Nicholas V, 
united to a many-sided humanism profound biblical scholarship and deep 
piety. In Vittorino da Feltre the same temper has been already noticed. 
The same Maffeo Vegio, who added a thirteenth book to the Aeneid, had 
an enthusiasm for the memory of St. Augustine and his mother, Monica, 
which cannot have been without a deeper influence upon him. The result 
of all these tendencies was that the Platonic Academy at Florence 
deliberately chose for its object the reconciliation of the spirit of 
antiquity with that of Christianity. It was a remarkable oasis in the 
humanism of the period.

This humanism was in fact pagan, and became more and more so as its 
sphere widened in the fifteenth century. Its representatives, whom we 
have already described as the advance guard of an unbridled 
individualism, display as a rule such a character that even their 
religion, which is sometimes professed very definitely, becomes a 
matter of indifference to us. They easily got the name of atheists, if 
they showed themselves indifferent to religion and spoke freely against 
the Church; but not one of them ever professed, or dared to profess, a 
formal, philosophical atheism. If they sought for any leading 
principle, it must have been a kind of superficial rationalism--a 
careless inference from the many and contradictory opinions of 
antiquity with which they busied themselves, and from the discredit 
into which the Church and her doctrines had fallen This was the sort of 
reasoning which was near bringing Galeotto Martio to the stake, had not 
his former pupil, Pope Sixtus IV, perhaps at the request of Lorenzo de' 
Medici, saved him from the hands of the Inquisition. Galeotto had 
ventured to write that the man who lived uprightly, and acted according 
to the natural law born within him, would go to heaven, whatever nation 
he belonged to.

Let us take, by way of example, the religious attitude of one of the 
smaller men in the great army. Codrus Urceus was first the tutor of the 
last Ordelaffo, Prince of Forli, and afterwards for many years 
professor at Bologna. Against the Church and the monks his language is 
as abusive as that of the rest. His tone in general is reckless to the 
last degree, and he constantly introduces himself in all his local 
history and gossip. But he knows how to speak to the edification of the 
true God-Man, Jesus Christ, and to commend himself by letter to the 
prayers of a saintly priest. On one occasion, after enumerating the 
follies of the pagan religions, he thus goes on: 'Our theologians, too, 
quarrel about "the guinea-pig's tail," about the Immaculate Conception, 
Antichrist, Sacraments, Predestination, and other things, which were 
better let alone than talked of publicly.' Once, when he was not at 
home, his room and manuscripts were burnt. When he heard the news he 
stood opposite a figure of the Madonna in the street, and cried to it: 
'Listen to what I tell you; I am not mad, I am saying what I mean. If I 
ever call upon you in the hour of my death, you need not hear me or 
take me among your own, for I will go and spend eternity with the 
devil.' After which speech he found it desirable to spend six months in 
retirement at the home of a woodcutter. With all this, he was so 
superstitious that prodigies and omens gave him incessant frights, 
leaving him no belief to spare for the immortality of the soul. When 
his hearers questioned him on the matter, he answered that no one knew 
what became of a man, of his soul or his spirit, after death, and the 
talk about another life was only fit to frighten old women. But when he 
came to die, he commended in his will his soul or his spirit to 
Almighty God, exhorted his weeping pupils to fear the Lord, and 
especially to believe in immortality and future retribution, and 
received the Sacrament with much fervor. We have no guarantee that more 
famous men in the same calling, however significant their opinions may 
be, were in practical life any more consistent. It is probable that 
most of them wavered inwardly between incredulity and a remnant of the 
faith in which they were brought up, and outwardly held for prudential 
reasons to the Church.

Through the connexion of rationalism with the newly born science of 
historical investigation, some timid attempts at biblical criticism may 
here and there have been made. A saying of Pius II has been recorded, 
which seems intended to prepare the way for such criticism: 'Even if 
Christianity were not confirmed by miracles, it ought still to be 
accepted on account of its morality.' The legends of the Church, in so 
far as they contained arbitrary versions of the biblical miracles, were 
freely ridiculed, and this reacted on the religious sense of the 
people. Where Judaizing heretics are mentioned, we must understand 
chiefly those who denied the Divinity of Christ, which was probably the 
offence for which Giorgio da Novara was burnt at Bologna about the year 
1500. But again at Bologna in the year 1497 the Dominican Inquisitor 
was forced to let the physician Gabriele da Salo, who had powerful 
patrons, escape with a simple expression of penitence, although he was 
in the habit of maintaining that Jesus was not God, but son of Joseph 
and Mary, and conceived in the usual way; that by his cunning he had 
deceived the world to its ruin; that he may have died on the cross on 
account of crimes which he had committed; that his religion would soon 
come to an end; that his body was not really contained in the 
sacrament, and that he performed his miracles, not through any divine 
power, but through the influence of the heavenly bodies. This latter 
statement is most characteristic of the time: Faith is gone, but magic 
still holds its ground.

With respect to the moral government of the world, the humanists seldom 
get beyond a cold and resigned consideration of the prevalent violence 
and misrule. In this mood the main works 'On Fate,' or whatever name 
they bear, are written. They tell of the turning of the wheel of 
Fortune, and of the instability of earthly, especially political, 
things. Providence is only brought in because the writers would still 
be ashamed of undisguised fatalism, of the avowal of their ignorance, 
or of useless complaints. Gioviano Pontano ingeniously illustrates the 
nature of that mysterious something which men call Fortune by a hundred 
incidents, most of which belonged to his own experience. The subject is 
treated more humorously by Aeneas Sylvius, in the form of a vision seen 
in a dream. The aim of Poggio, on the other hand, in a work written in 
his old age, is to represent the world as a vale of tears, and to fix 
the happiness of various classes as low as possible. This tone became 
in future the prevalent one. Distinguished men drew up a debit and 
credit of the happiness and unhappiness of their lives, and generally 
found that the latter outweighed the former. The fate of Italy and the 
Italians, so far as it could be told in the year 1510, has been 
described with dignity and almost elegiac pathos by Tristan Caracciolo. 
Applying this general tone of feeling to the humanists themselves, 
Pierio Valeriano afterwards composed his famous treatise. Some of these 
themes, such as the fortunes of Leo X, were most suggestive. All the 
good that can be said of him politically has been briefly and admirably 
summed up by Francesco Vettori; the picture of Leo's pleasures is given 
by Paolo Giovio and in the anonymous biography; and the shadows which 
attended his prosperity are drawn with inexorable truth by the same 
Pierio Valeriano.

We cannot, on the other hand, read without a kind of awe how men 
sometimes boasted of their fortune in public inscriptions. Giovanni II 
Bentivoglio, ruler of Bologna, ventured to carve in stone on the newly 
built tower by his palace that his merit and his fortune had given him 
richly of all that could be desired--and this a few years before his 
expulsion. The ancients, when they spoke in this tone, had nevertheless 
a sense of the envy of the gods. In Italy it was probably the 
Condottieri who first ventured to boast so loudly of their fortune. But 
the way in which resuscitated antiquity affected religion most 
powerfully, was not through any doctrines or philosophical system, but 
through a general tendency which it fostered. The men, and in some 
respects the institutions, of antiquity were preferred to those of the 
Middle Ages, and in the eager attempt to imitate and reproduce them, 
religion was left to take care of itself. All was absorbed in the 
admiration for historical greatness. To this the philologians added 
many special follies of their own, by which they became the mark for 
general attention. How far Paul II was justified in calling his 
Abbreviators and their friends to account for their paganism, is 
certainly a matter of great doubt, as his biographer and chief victim, 
Platina, has shown a masterly skill in explaining his vindictiveness on 
other grounds, and especially in making him play a ludicrous figure. 
The charges of infidelity, paganism, denial of immortality, and so 
forth, were not made against the accused till the charge of high 
treason had broken down. Paul, indeed, if we are correctly informed 
about him, was by no means the man to judge of intellectual things. It 
was he who exhorted the Romans to teach their children nothing beyond 
reading and writing. His priestly narrowness of views reminds us of 
Savonarola, with the difference that Paul might fairly have been told 
that he and his like were in great part to blame if culture made men 
hostile to religion. It cannot, nevertheless, be doubted that he felt a 
real anxiety about the pagan tendencies which surrounded him. And what, 
in truth, may not the humanists have allowed themselves at the court of 
the profligate pagan, Sigismondo Malatesta, How far these men, 
destitute for the most part of fixed principle, ventured to go, 
depended assuredly on the sort of influences they were exposed to. Nor 
could they treat of Christianity without paganizing it. It is curious, 
for instance, to notice how far Gioviano Pontano carried this 
confusion. He speaks of a saint not only as 'divus,' but as 'deus'; the 
angels he holds to be identical with the genii of antiquity; and his 
notion of immortality reminds us of the old kingdom of the shades. This 
spirit occasionally appears in the most extravagant shapes. In 1526, 
when Siena was attacked by the exiled party, the worthy Canon Tizio, 
who tells us the story himself, rose from his bed on the 22nd of July, 
called to mind what is written in the third book of Macrobius, 
celebrated Mass, and then pronounced against the enemy the curse with 
which his author had supplied him, only altering 'Tellus mater teque 
Jupiter obtestor' into 'Tellus teque Christe Deus obtestor.' After he 
had done this for three days, the enemy retreated. On the one side, 
these things strike us as an affair of mere style and fashion j on the 
other, as a symptom of religious decadence.

Influence of Ancient Superstition

But in another way, and that dogmatically, antiquity exercised perilous 
influence. It imparted to the Renaissance its own forms of 
superstition. Some fragments of this had survived in Italy all through 
the Middle Ages, and the resuscitation of the whole was thereby made so 
much the more easy. The part played by the imagination in the process 
need not be dwelt upon. This only could have silenced the critical 
intellect of the Italians.

The belief in a Divine government of the world was in many minds 
destroyed by the spectacle of so much injustice and misery. Others, 
like Dante, surrendered at all events this life to the caprices of 
chance, and if they nevertheless retained a sturdy faith, it was 
because they held that the higher destiny of man would be accomplished 
in the life to come. But when the belief in immortality began to waver, 
then Fatalism got the upper hand, or sometimes the latter came first 
and had the former as its consequence.

The gap thus opened was in the first place filled by the astrology of 
antiquity, or even of the Arabs. From the relation of the planets among 
themselves and to the signs of the zodiac. future events and the course 
of whole lives were inferred, and the most weighty decisions were taken 
in consequence. In many cases the line of action thus adopted at the 
suggestion of the stars may not have been more immoral than that which 
would otherwise have been followed. But too often the decision must 
have been made at the cost of honour and conscience. It is profoundly 
instructive to observe how powerless culture and enlightenment were 
against this delusion; since the latter had its support in the ardent 
imagination of the people, in the passionate wish to penetrate and 
determine the future. Antiquity, too, was on the side of astrology.

At the beginning of the thirteenth century this superstition suddenly 
appeared in the foreground of Italian life. The Emperor Frederick II 
always travelled with his astrologer Theodorus; and Ezzelino da Romano 
with a large, well-paid court of such people, among them the famous 
Guido Bonatto and the long-bearded Saracen, Paul of Baghdad. In all 
important undertakings they fixed for him the day and the hour, and the 
gigantic atrocities of which he was guilty may have been in part 
practical inferences from their prophecies. Soon all scruples about 
consulting the stars ceased. Not only princes, but free cities, had 
their regular astrologers, and at the universities, from the fourteenth 
to the sixteenth century, professors of this pseudo-science were 
appointed, and lectured side by side with the astronomers. The Popes 
commonly made no secret of their stargazing, though Pius II, who also 
despised magic, omens, and the interpretation of dreams, is an 
honorable exception. Even Leo X seems to have thought the flourishing 
condition of astrology a credit to his pontificate, and Paul III never 
held a Consistory till the stargazers had fixed the hour.

It may fairly be assumed that the better natures did not allow their 
actions to be determined by the stars beyond a certain point, and that 
there was a limit where conscience and religion made them pause. In 
fact, not only did pious and excellent people share the delusion, but 
they actually came forward to profess it publicly. One of these was 
Maestro Pagolo of Florence, in whom we can detect the same desire to 
bring astrology to moral account which meets us in the late Roman 
Firmicus Maternus. His life was that of a saintly ascetic. He ate 
almost nothing, despised all temporal goods, and only collected books. 
A skilled physician, he only practiced among his friends, and made it a 
condition of his treatment that they should confess their sins. He 
frequented the small but famous circle which assembled in the Monastery 
of the Angeli around Fra Ambrogio Camaldolese. He also saw much of 
Cosimo the Elder, especially in his last years; for Cosimo accepted and 
used astrology, though probably only for objects of lesser importance. 
As a rule, however, Pagolo only interpreted the stars to his most 
confidential friends. But even without this severity of morals, the 
astrologers might be highly respected and show themselves everywhere. 
There were also far more of them in Italy than in other European 
countries, where they only appeared at the great courts, and there not 
always. All the great householders in Italy, when the fashion was once 
established, kept an astrologer, who, it must be added, was not always 
sure of his dinner. Through the literature of this science, which was 
widely diffused even before the invention of printing, a dilettantism 
also grew up which as far as possible followed in the steps of the 
masters. The worst class of astrologers were those who used the stars 
either as an aid or a cloak to magical arts.

Yet apart from the latter, astrology is a miserable feature in the life 
of that time. What a figure do all these highly gifted, many-sided, 
original characters play, when the blind passion for knowing and 
determining the future dethrones their powerful will and resolution! 
Now and then, when the stars send them too cruel a message, they manage 
to brace themselves up, act for themselves, and say boldly: 'Vir 
sapiens dominabitus lustris', the wise man is master of the stars--and 
then again relapse into the old delusion.

In all the better families the horoscope of the children was drawn as a 
matter of course, and it sometimes happened that for half a lifetime 
men were haunted by the idle expectation of events which never 
occurred! The stars were questioned whenever a great man had to come to 
any important decision, and even consulted as to the hour at which any 
undertaking was to be begun. The journeys of princes, the reception of 
foreign ambassadors, the laying of the foundation-stones of public 
buildings, depended on the answer. A striking instance of the latter 
occurs in the life of the aforenamed Guido Bonatto, who by his personal 
activity and by his great systematic work on the subject deserves to be 
called the restorer of astrology in the thirteenth century. In order to 
put an end to the struggle of the Guelphs and Ghibellines at Forli, he 
persuaded the inhabitants to rebuild the city walls and to begin the 
works under a constellation indicated by himself. If then two men, one 
from each party, at the same moment put a stone into the foundation, 
there would henceforth and for ever be no more party divisions in 
Forli. A Guelph and a Ghibelline were selected for this office; the 
solemn moment arrived, each held the stone in his hands, the workmen 
stood ready with their implements. Bonatto gave the signal, and the 
Ghibelline threw down his stone on to the foundation. But the Guelph 
hesitated, and at last refused to do anything at all, on the ground 
that Bonatto himself had the reputation of a Ghibelline and might be 
devising some mysterious mischief against the Guelphs. Upon which the 
astrologer addressed him: 'God damn thee and the Guelph party with your 
distrustful malice! This constellation will not appear above our city 
for 500 years to come.' In fact God soon afterwards did destroy the 
Guelphs of Forli, but now, writes the chronicler about 1480, the two 
parties are thoroughly reconciled, and their very names are heard no 

Nothing that depended upon the stars was more important than decisions 
in time of war. The same Bonatto procured for the great Ghibelline 
leader Guido da Montefeltro a series of victories, by telling him the 
propitious hour for marching. When Montefeltro was no longer 
accompanied by him he lost the courage to maintain his despotism, and 
entered a Minorite monastery, where he lived as a monk for many years 
till his death. In the war with Pisa in 1362, the Florentines 
commissioned their astrologer to fix the hour for the march, and almost 
came too late through suddenly receiving orders to take a circuitous 
route through the city. On former occasions they had marched out by the 
Via di Borgo Santi Apostoli, and the campaign had been unsuccessful. It 
was clear that there was some bad omen connected with the exit through 
this street against Pisa, and consequently the army was now led out by 
the Porta Rossa. But as the tents stretched out there to dry had not 
been taken away, the flags--another bad omen--had to be lowered. The 
influence of astrology in war was confirmed by the fact that nearly all 
the Condottieri believed in it. Jacopo Caldora was cheerful in the most 
serious illness, knowing that he was fated to fall in battle, which in 
fact happened. Bartolommeo Alviano was convinced that his wounds in the 
head were as much a gift of the stars as his military command. Niccolo 
Orsini-Pitigliano asked the physicist and astrologer Alessandro 
Benedetto to fix a favourable hour for the conclusion of his bargain 
with Venice. When the Florentines on June 1, 1498, solemnly invested 
their new Condottiere Paolo Vitelli with his office, the Marshal's 
staff which they handed him was, at his own wish, decorated with 
pictures of the constellations.

Sometimes it is not easy to make out whether }n important political 
events the stars were questioned beforehand, or whether the astrologers 
were simply impelled afterwards by curiosity to find out the 
constellation which decided the result. When Giangaleazzo Visconti by a 
master-stroke of policy took prisoner his uncle Bernabo, with the 
latter's family (1385), we are told by a contemporary that Jupiter, 
Saturn and Mars stood in the house of the Twins, but we cannot say if 
the deed was resolved on in consequence. It is also probable that the 
advice of the astrologers was often determined by political calculation 
not less than by the course of the planets.

All Europe, through the latter part of the Middle Ages, had allowed 
itself to be terrified by predictions of plagues, wars, floods, and 
earthquakes, and in this respect Italy was by no means behind other 
countries. The unlucky year 1494, which for ever opened the gates of 
Italy to the stranger, was undeniably ushered in by many prophecies of 
misfortune--only we cannot say whether such prophecies were not ready 
for each and every year.

This mode of thought was extended with thorough consistency into 
regions where we should hardly expect to meet with it. If the whole 
outward and spiritual life of the individual is determined by the facts 
of his birth, the same law also governs groups of individuals and 
historical products --that is to say, nations and religions; and as the 
constellation of these things changes, so do the things themselves. The 
idea that each religion has its day, first came into Italian culture in 
connection with these astrological beliefs. The conjunction of Jupiter 
with Saturn brought forth, we are told, the faith of Israel; that of 
Jupiter and Mars, the Chaldean; with the Sun, the Egyptian; with Venus, 
the Mohammedan; with Mercury, the Christian; and the conjunction of 
Jupiter with the Moon will one day bring forth the religion of 
Antichrist. Cecco d'Ascoli had already blasphemously calculated the 
nativity of Christ, and deduced from it his death upon the Cross. For 
this he was burnt at the stake in 1327, at Florence. Doctrines of this 
sort ended by simply darkening men's whole perceptions of spiritual 

So much more worthy then of recognition is the warfare which the clear 
Italian spirit waged against this army of delusions. Notwithstanding 
the great monumental glorification of astrology, as in the frescoes in 
the Salone at Padua, and those in Borso's summer palace (Schifanoia) at 
Ferrara, notwithstanding the shameless praises of even such a man as 
the elder Beroaldus, there was no want of thoughtful and independent 
minds to protest against it. Here, too, the way had been prepared by 
antiquity, but it was their own common sense and observation which 
taught them what to say. Petrarch's attitude towards the astrologers, 
whom he knew by personal intercourse, is one of bitter contempt; and no 
one saw through their system of lies more clearly than he. The novels, 
from the time when they first began to appear from the time of the 
'Cento novelle antiche,' are almost always hostile to the astrologers. 
The Florentine chroniclers bravely keep themselves free from the 
delusions which, as part of historical tradition, they are compelled to 
record. Giovanni Villani says more than once, 'No constellation can 
subjugate either the free will of man, or the counsels of God.' Matteo 
Villani declares astrology to be a vice which the Florentines had 
inherited, along with other superstitions, from their pagan ancestors, 
the Romans. The question, however, did not remain one for mere literary 
discussion, but the parties for and against disputed publicly. After 
the terrible floods of 1333, and again in 1345, astrologers and 
theologians discussed with great minuteness the influence of the stars, 
the will of God, and the justice of his punishments. These struggles 
never ceased throughout the whole time of the Renaissance, and we may 
conclude that the protestors were ill earnest, since it was easier for 
them to recommend themselves to the great by defending, than by 
opposing astrology.

In the circle of Lorenzo the Magnificent, among his most distinguished 
Platonists, opinions were divided on this question. Marsilio Ficino 
defended astrology, and drew the horoscope of the children of the 
house, promising the little Giovanni, afterwards Leo X, that he would 
one day be Pope. Pico della Mirandola, on the other hand, made an epoch 
in the subject by his famous refutation. He detects in this belief the 
root of all impiety and immorality. If the astrologer, he maintains, 
believes in anything at all, he must worship not God, but the planets, 
from which all good and evil are derived. All other superstitions find 
a ready instrument in astrology, which serves as handmaid to geomancy, 
chiromancy, and magic of every kind. As to morality, he maintains that 
nothing can more foster evil than the opinion that heaven itself is the 
cause of it, in which case the faith in eternal happiness and 
punishment must also disappear. Pico even took the trouble to check off 
the astrologers inductively, and found that in the course of a month 
three-fourths of their weather prophecies turned out false. But his 
main achievement was to set forth, in the Fourth Book, a positive 
Christian doctrine of the freedom of the will and the government of the 
universe, which seems to have made a greater impression on the educated 
classes throughout Italy than all the revivalist preachers put 
together. The latter, in fact, often failed to reach these classes.

The first result of his book was that the astrologers ceased to publish 
their doctrines, and those who had already printed them were more or 
less ashamed of what they had done. Gioviano Pontano, for example, in 
his book on Fate, had recognized the science, and in a great work of 
his had expounded the whole theory of it in the style of the old 
Firmicus, ascribing to the stars the growth of every bodily and 
spiritual quality. He now in his dialogue 'Aegidius' surrendered, if 
not astrology, at least certain astrologers) and sounded the praises of 
free will, by which man is enabled to know God. Astrology remained more 
or less in fashion, but seems not to have governed human life in the 
way it formerly had done. The art of painting, which in the fifteenth 
century had done its best to foster the delusion now expressed the 
altered tone of thought. Raphael, in the cupola of the Capella Chigi, 
represents the gods of the different planets and the starry firmament, 
watched, however, and guided by beautiful angel-figures, and receiving 
from above the blessing of the eternal Father. There was also another 
cause which now began to tell against astrology in Italy. The Spaniards 
took no interest in it, not even the generals, and those who wished to 
gain their favour declared open war against the half-heretical, half-
Mohammedan science. It is true that Guicciardini writes in the year 
1529: 'How happy are the astrologers, who are believed if they tell one 
truth to a hundred lies, while other people lose all credit if they 
tell one lie to a hundred truths.' But the contempt for astrology did 
not necessarily lead to a return to the belief in Providence. It could 
as easily lead to an indefinite fatalism.

In this respect, as in others, Italy was unable to make its own way 
healthily through the ferment of the Renaissance, because the foreign 
invasion and the Counter-Reformation came upon it in the middle. 
Without such interfering causes its own strength would have enabled it 
thoroughly to get rid of these fantastic illusions. Those who hold that 
the onslaught of the strangers and the Catholic reactions were 
necessities for which the Italian people was itself solely responsible, 
will look on the spiritual bankruptcy which they produced as a just 
retribution. But it is a pity that the rest of Europe had indirectly to 
pay so large a part of the penalty.

The belief in omens seems a much more innocent matter than astrology. 
The Middle Ages had everywhere inherited them in abundance from the 
various pagan religions; and Italy did not differ in this respect from 
other countries. What is characteristic of Italy is the support lent by 
humanism to the popular superstition. The pagan inheritance was here 
backed up by a pagan literary development.

The popular superstition of the Italians rested largely on premonitions 
and inferences drawn from ominous occurrences. with which a good deal 
of magic, mostly of an innocent sort, was connected. There was, 
however. no lack of learned humanists who boldly ridiculed these 
delusions, and to whose attacks we partly owe the knowledge of them. 
Gioviano Pontano, the author of the great astrological work already 
mentioned above, enumerates with pity in his 'Charon' a long string of 
Neapolitan superstitions--the grief of the women when a fowl or goose 
caught the pip; the deep anxiety of the nobility if a hunting falcon 
did not come home, or if a horse sprained its foot; the magical 
formulae of the Apulian peasants, recited on three Saturday evenings, 
when mad dogs were at large. The animal kingdom, as in antiquity, was 
regarded as specially significant in this respect, and the behavior of 
the lions, leopards, and other beasts kept by the State gave the people 
all the more food for reflection, because they had come to be 
considered as living symbols of the State. During the siege of 
Florence, in 1597 an eagle which had been shot at fled into the city, 
and the Signoria gave the bearer four ducats because the omen was good. 
Certain times and places were favourable or unfavorable, or even 
decisive one way or the other, for certain actions. The Florentines, so 
Varchi tells us, held Saturday to be the fateful day on which all 
important events, good as well as bad, commonly happened. Their 
prejudice against marching out to war through a particular street has 
been already mentioned. At Perugia one of the gates, the 'Porta 
Eburnea,' was thought lucky, and the Baglioni always went out to fight 
through it. Meteors and the appearance of the heavens were as 
significant in Italy as elsewhere in the Middle Ages, and the popular 
imagination saw warring armies in an unusual formation of clouds, and 
heard the clash of their collision high in the air. The superstition 
became a more serious matter when it attached itself to sacred things, 
when figures of the Virgin wept or moved the eyes, or when public 
calamities were associated with some alleged act of impiety, for which 
the people demanded expiation. In 1478, when Piacenza was visited 
with a violent and prolonged rainfall, it was said that there would be 
no dry weather till a certain usurer, who had been lately buried in San 
Francesco, had ceased to rest in consecrated earth. As the bishop was 
not obliging enough to have the corpse dug up the young fellows of the 
town took it by force, dragged it down the streets amid frightful 
confusion, and at last threw it into the Po. Even Politian accepted 
this point of view in speaking of Giacomo Pazzi, one of the chiefs of 
the conspiracy of 1478, In Florence, which is called after his family. 
When he was put to death, he devoted his soul to Satan with fearful 
words; here, too, rain followed and threatened to ruin the harvest; 
here, too, a party of men, mostly peasants, dug up the body in the 
church, and immediately the clouds departed and the sun shone--'so 
gracious was fortune to the opinion of the people,' adds the great 
scholar. The corpse was first cast into unhallowed ground, the next day 
dug up, and after a horrible procession through the city thrown into 
the Arno.

These facts and the like bear a popular character, and might have 
occurred in the tenth, just as well as in the sixteenth century. But 
now comes the literary influence of antiquity. We know positively that 
the humanists were peculiarly accessible to prodigies and auguries, and 
instances of this have been already quoted. If further evidence were 
needed, it would be found in Poggio. The same radical thinker who 
denied the rights of noble birth and the inequality of men, not only 
believed in all the mediaeval stories of ghosts and devils, but also in 
prodigies after the ancient pattern, like those said to have occurred 
on the last visit of Pope Eugenius IV to Florence. 'Near Como there 
were seen one evening four thousand dogs, who took the road to Germany; 
these were followed by a great herd of cattle, and these by an army on 
foot and horseback, some with no heads and some with almost invisible 
heads, and then a gigantic horseman with another herd of cattle behind 
him.' Poggio also believes in a battle of magpies and jackdaws. He even 
relates, perhaps without being aware of it, a well-preserved piece of 
ancient mythology. On the Dalmatian coast a Triton had appeared, 
bearded and horned, a genuine sea-satyr, ending in fins and a tail; he 
carried away women and children from the shore, till five stout-hearted 
washerwomen killed him with sticks and stones. A wooden model of the 
monster, which was exhibited at Ferrara, makes the whole story credible 
to Poggio. Though there were no more oracles, and it was no longer 
possible to take counsel of the gods, yet it became again the fashion 
to open Virgil at hazard, and take the passage hit upon as an omen 
('Sorted Virgilianae'). Nor can the belief in daemons current in the 
later period of antiquity have been without influence on the 
Renaissance. The work of Iamblichus or Abarnmon on the Mysteries of the 
Egyptians, which may have contributed to this result, was printed in a 
Latin translation at the end of the fifteenth century. The Platonic 
Academy at Florence was not free from these and other neoplatonic 
delusions of the Roman decadence. A 'few words must here be given to 
the belief in demons and to the magic which was connected with this 

The popular faith in what is called the spirit-world was nearly the 
same in Italy as elsewhere in Europe. In Italy as elsewhere there were 
ghosts, that is, reappearances of deceased persons; and if the view 
taken of them differed in any respect from that which prevailed in the 
North, the difference betrayed itself only in the ancient name 'ombra.' 
Even nowadays if such a shade presents itself, a couple of Masses are 
said for its repose. That the spirits of bad men appear in a dreadful 
shape, is a matter of course, but along with this we find the notion 
that the ghosts of the departed are universally malicious. The dead, 
says the priest in a novel of Bandello, kill the little children. It 
seems as if a certain shade was here thought of as separate from the 
soul, since the latter suffers in Purgatory, and when it appears, does 
nothing but wail and pray. At other times what appears is not the ghost 
of a man, but of an event - -of a past condition of things. So the 
neighbors explained the diabolical appearances in the old palace of the 
Visconti near San Giovanni in Conca, at Milan, since here it was that 
Bernab Visconti had caused countless victims of his tyranny to be 
tortured and strangled, and no wonder if there were strange things to 
be seen. One evening a swarm of poor people with candles in their hands 
appeared to a dishonest guardian of the poor at Perugia, and danced 
round about him; a great figure spoke in threatening tones on their 
behalf, it was St. Alo, the patron saint of the poorhouse. These modes 
of belief were so much a matter of course that the poets could make use 
of them as something which every reader would understand. The 
appearance of the slain Lodovico Pico under the walls of the besieged 
Mirandola is finely represented by Castiglione. It is true that poetry 
made the freest use of these conceptions when the poet himself had 
outgrown them.

Italy, too, shared the belief in demons with the other nations of the 
Middle Ages. Men were convinced that God sometimes allowed bad spirits 
of every class to exercise a destructive influence on parts of the 
world and of human life. The only reservation made was that the man to 
whom the Evil One came as tempter, could use his free will to resist. 
In Italy the demonic influence, especially as shown in natural events, 
easily assumed a character of poetical greatness. In the night before 
the great inundation of the Val d'Arno in 1333, a pious hermit above 
Vallombrosa heard a diabolical tumult in his cell, crossed himself, 
stepped to the door, and saw a crowd of black and terrible knights 
gallop by in amour. When conjured to stand, one of them said: 'We go to 
drown the city of Florence on account of its sins, if God will let us.' 
With this, the nearly contemporary vision at Venice (1340) may be 
compared, out of which a great master of the Venetian school, probably 
Giorgione, made the marvelous picture of a galley full of daemons, 
which speeds with the swiftness of a bird over the stormy lagoon to 
destroy the sinful island-city, till the three saintS, who have stepped 
unobserved into a poor boatman's skiff, exorcised the fiends and sent 
them and their vessel to the bottom of the waters. 

To this belief the illusion was now added that by means of magical arts 
it was possible to enter into relations with the evil ones, and use 
their help to further the purposes of greed, ambition, and sensuality. 
Many persons were probably accused of doing so before the time when it 
was actually attempted by many; but when the so-called magicians and 
witches began to be burned, the deliberate practice of the black art 
became more frequent. With the smoke of the fires in which the 
suspected victims were sacrificed, were spread the narcotic fumes by 
which numbers of ruined characters were drugged into magic; and with 
them many calculating impostors became associated.

The primitive and popular form in which the superstition had probably 
lived on uninterruptedly from the time of the Romans, was the art of 
the witch_(strege)._The witch, so long as she limited herself to mere 
divination, might be innocent enough. were it not that the transition 
from prophecy to active help could easily, though often imperceptibly, 
be a fatal downward step. She was credited in such a case not only with 
the power of exciting love or hatred between man and woman, but also 
with purely destructive and malignant arts, and was especially charged 
with the sickness of little children, even when the malady obviously 
came from the neglect and stupidity of the parents. It is still 
questionable how far she was supposed to act by mere magical ceremonies 
and formula, or by a conscious alliance with the fiends, apart from the 
poisons and drugs which she administered with a full knowledge of their 

The more innocent form of the superstition, in which the mendicant 
friar could venture to appear as the competitor of the witch, is shown 
in the case of the witch of Gaeta whom we read of in Pontano. His 
traveller Suppatius reaches her dwelling while she is giving audience 
to a girl and a servingmaid, who come to her with a black hen, nine 
eggs laid on a Friday, a duck, and some white thread, for it is the 
third day since the new moon. They are then sent away, and bidden to 
come again at twilight. It is to be hoped that nothing worse than 
divination is intended. The mistress of the servant-maid is pregnant by 
a monk; the girl's lover has proved untrue and has gone into a 
monastery. The witch complains: 'Since my husband's death I support 
myself in this way, and should make a good thing of it, since the 
Gaetan women have plenty of faith, were it not that the monks balk me 
of my gains by explaining dreams, appeasing the anger of the saints for 
money, promising husbands to the girls, men-children to the pregnant 
women, offspring to the barren, and besides all this visiting the women 
at night when their husbands are away fishing, in accordance with the 
assignations made in daytime at church.' Suppatius warns her against 
the envy of the monastery, but she has no fear, since the guardian of 
it is an old acquaintance of hers.

But the superstition further gave rise to a worse sort of witches, 
namely those who deprived men of their health and life. In these cases 
the mischief, when not sufficiently accounted for by the evil eye and 
the like, was naturally attributed to the aid of powerful spirits. The 
punishment, as we have seen in the case of Finicella, was the stake; 
and yet a compromise with fanaticism was sometimes practicable. 
According to the laws of Perugia, for example, a witch could settle the 
affair by paying down 400 pounds. The matter was not then treated with 
the seriousness and consistency of later times. In the territories of 
the Church? at Norcia (Nursia), the home of St. Benedict in the upper 
Apennines, there was a perfect nest of witches and sorcerers, and no 
secret was made of it. It is spoken of in one of the most remarkable 
letters of Aeneas Sylvius, belonging to his earlier period. He writes 
to his brother: 'The bearer of this came to me to ask if I knew of a 
Mount of Venus in Italy, for in such a place magical arts were taught, 
and his master, a Saxon and a great astronomer, was anxious to learn 
them. I told him that I knew of a Porto Venere not far from Carrara, on 
the rocky coast of Liguria, where I spent three nights on the way to 
Basle; I also found that there was a mountain called Eryx, in Sicily, 
which was dedicated to Venus, but I did not know whether magic was 
taught here. But it came into my mind while talking, that in Umbria, in 
the old Duchy (Spoleto)? near the town of Nursia, there is a cave 
beneath a steep rock, in which water flows. There, as I remember to 
have heard, are witches (striges), demons, and nightly shades, and he 
that has the courage can see and speak to ghosts (spiritus), and learn 
magical arts. I have not seen it, nor taken any trouble about it, for 
that which is learned with sin is better not learned at all.' He 
nevertheless names his informant, and begs his brother to take the 
bearer of the letter to him, should he be still alive. Aeneas goes far 
enough here in his politeness to a man of position, but personally he 
was not only freer from superstition than his contemporaries, but he 
also stood a test on the subject which not every educated man of our 
own day could endure. At the time of the Council of Basle, when he lay 
sick of the fever for seventy-five days at Milan, he could never be 
persuaded to listen to the magic doctors, though a man was brought to 
his bedside who a short time before had marvelously cured 2,000 
soldiers of fever in the camp of Piccinino. While still an invalid, 
Aeneas rode over the mountains to Basle, and got well on the journey.

We learn something more about the neighborhood of Norcia through the 
necromancer who tried to get Benvenuto Cellini into his power. A new 
book of magic was to be consecrated, and the best place for the 
ceremony was among the mountains in that district. The master of the 
magician had once, it is true, done the same thing near the abbey of 
Farfa, but had there found difficulties which did not present 
themselves at Norcia; further, the peasants in the latter neighborhood 
were trustworthy people who had had practice in the matter, and who 
could afford considerable help in case of need. The expedition did not 
take place, else Benvenuto would probably have been able to tell us 
something of the impostor's assistants. The whole neighborhood was then 
proverbial. Aretino says somewhere of an enchanted well, 'there dwell 
the sisters of the sibyl of Norcia and the aunt of the Fata Gloriana.' 
And about the same time Trissino could still celebrate the place in his 
great epic with all the resources of poetry and allegory as the home of 
authentic prophecy.

After the notorious Bull of Innocent VIII (1484), witchcraft and the 
persecution of witches grew into a great and revolting system. The 
chief representatives of this system of persecution were German 
Dominicans; and Germany and, curiously enough, those parts of Italy 
nearest Germany were the countries most afflicted by this plague. The 
bulls and injunctions of the Popes themselves refer, for example, to 
the Dominican Province of Lombardy, to Cremona, to the dioceses of 
Brescia and Bergamo. We learn from Sprenger's famous theoretico-
practical guide, the 'Malleus Maleficarum,' that forty-one witches were 
burnt at Como in the first year after the publication of the bull; 
crowds of Italian women took refuge in the territory of the Archduke 
Sigismund, where they believed themselves to be still safe. Witchcraft 
ended by taking firm root in a few unlucky Alpine valleys, especially 
in the Val Camonica; the system of persecution had succeeded in 
permanently infecting with the delusion those populations which were in 
any way predisposed for it. This essentially German form of witchcraft 
is what we should think of when reading the stories and novels of Milan 
or Bologna. That it did not make further progress in Italy is probably 
due to the fact that here a highly developed 'stregheria' was already 
in existence, resting on a different set of ideas. The Italian witch 
practiced a trade, and needed for it money and, above all, sense. We 
find nothing about her of the hysterical dreams of the Northern witch, 
of marvelous journeys through the air, of Incubus and Succubus; the 
business of the 'strega' was to provide for other people's pleasures. 
If she was credited with the power of assuming different shapes, or of 
transporting herself suddenly to distant places, she was so far content 
to accept this reputation, as her influence was thereby increased; on 
the other hand, it was perilous for her when the fear of her malice and 
vengeance, and especially of her power for enchanting children, cattle, 
and crops, became general. Inquisitors and magistrates were then most 
thoroughly in accord with popular wishes if they burnt her.

By far the most important field for the activity of the 'strega' lay, 
as has been said, in love-affairs, and included the stirring up of love 
and of hatred, the producing of abortion, the pretended murder of the 
unfaithful man or woman by magical arts, and even the manufacture of 
poisons. Owing to the unwillingness of many persons to have to do with 
these women, class of occasional practitioners arose who secretly 
learned from them some one or other of their arts, and then used this 
knowledge on their own account. The Roman prostitutes, for example, 
tried to enhance their personal attractions by charms of another 
description in the style of the Horatian Canidia. Aretino may not only 
have known, but have also told the truth about them in this particular. 
He gives a list of the loathsome messes which were to be found in their 
boxes--hair, skulls, ribs, teeth, dead men's eyes, human skin, the 
navels of little children, the soles of shoes and pieces of clothing 
from tombs. They even went themselves to the graveyard and fetched bits 
of rotten flesh, which they slyly gave their lovers to eat--with more 
that is still worse. Pieces of the hair and nails of the lover were 
boiled in oil stolen from the ever-burning lamps in the church. The 
most innocuous of their charms was to make a heart of glowing ashes, 
and then to pierce it while singing:
'Prima che'l fuoco spenghi, 
Fa ch'a mia porta venghi; 
Tal ti punga mio amore 
Quale io fo questo cuore.'

There were other charms practiced by moonshine, with drawings on the 
ground, and figures of wax or bronze, which doubtless represented the 
lover, and were treated according to circumstances.

These things were so customary that a woman who, without youth and 
beauty, nevertheless exercised a powerful charm on men, naturally 
became suspected of witchcraft. The mother of Sanga, secretary to 
Clement VII, poisoned her son's mistress, who was a woman of this kind. 
Unfortunately the son died too, as well as a party of friends who had 
eaten of the poisoned salad.

Next comes, not as helper, but as competitor to the witch, the magician 
or enchanter--'incantatore'--who was still more familiar with the most 
perilous business of the craft. Sometimes he was as much or more of an 
astrologer than of a magician; he probably often gave himself out as an 
astrologer in order not to be prosecuted as a magician, and a certain 
astrology was essential in order to find out the favourable hour for a 
magical process. But since many spirits are good or indifferent, the 
magician could sometimes maintain a very tolerable reputation, and 
Sixtus IV, in the year 1474, had to proceed expressly against some 
Bolognese Carmelites, who asserted in the pulpit that there was no harm 
in seeking information from the demons. Very many people believed in 
the possibility of the thing itself; an indirect proof of this lies in 
the fact that the most pious men believed that by prayer they could 
obtain visions of good spirits. Savonarola's mind was filled with these 
things; the Florentine Platonists speak of a mystic union with God; and 
Marcellus Palingenius gives us to understand clearly enough that he had 
to do with consecrated spirits. The same writer is convinced of the 
existence of a whole hierarchy of bad demons, who have their seat from 
the moon downwards, and are ever on the watch to do some mischief to 
nature and human life. He even tells of his own personal acquaintance 
with some of them, and as the scope of the present work does not allow 
of a systematic exposition of the then prevalent belief in spirits, the 
narrative of Palingenius may be given as one instance out of many.

At San Silvestro, on Soracte, he had been receiving instruction from a 
pious hermit on the nothingness of earthly things and the worthlessness 
of human life; and when the night drew near he set out on his way back 
to home. On the road, in the full light of the moon, he was joined by 
three men, one of whom called him by name, and asked him whence he 
came. Palingenius made answer: 'From the wise man on the mountain.' 'O 
fool,' replied the stranger, 'dost thou in truth believe that anyone on 
earth is wise? Only higher beings (Divi) have wisdom, and such are we 
three, although we wear the shapes of men. I am named Saracil, and 
these two Sathiel and Jana. Our kingdom lies near the moon, where dwell 
that multitude of intermediate beings who have sway over earth and 
sea.' Palingenius then asked, not without an inward tremor, what they 
were going to do at Rome. The answer was: 'One of our comrades, Ammon, 
is kept in servitude by the magic arts of a youth from Narni, one of 
the attendants of Cardinal Orsini; for mark it, O men, there is proof 
of your own immortality therein, that you can control one of us: I 
myself shut up in crystal, was once forced to serve a German, till a 
bearded monk set me free. This is the service which we wish to render 
at Rome to our friend, and he shall also take the opportunity of 
sending one or two distinguished Romans to the nether world.' At these 
words a light breeze arose, and Sathiel said: 'Listen, our messenger is 
coming back from Rome, and this wind announces him.' And then another 
being appeared, whom they greeted joyfully and then asked about Rome. 
His utterances are strongly anti-papal: Clement VII was again allied 
with the Spaniards and hoped to root out Luther's doctrines, not with 
arguments, but by the Spanish sword. This is wholly in the interest of 
the demons, whom the impending bloodshed would enable to carry away the 
souls of thousands into hell. At the close of this conversation, in 
which Rome with all its guilt is represented as wholly given over to 
the Evil One, the apparitions vanish, and leave the poet sorrowfully to 
pursue his way alone. 

Those who would form a conception of the extent of the belief in those 
relations to the demons which could be openly avowed in spite of the 
penalties attaching to witchcraft, may be referred to the much-read 
work of Agrippa of Nettesheim 'On secret Philosophy.' He seems 
originally to have written it before he was in Italy, but in the 
dedication to Trithemius he mentions Italian authorities among others, 
if only by way of disparagement. In the case of equivocal persons like 
Agrippa, or of the knaves and fools into whom the majority of the rest 
may be divided, there is little that is interesting in the system they 
profess, with its formula, fumigations, ointments, and the rest of it. 
But this system was filled with quotations from the superstitions of 
antiquity, the influence of which on the life and the passions of 
Italians is at times most remarkable and fruitful. We might think that 
a great mind must be thoroughly ruined, before it surrendered itself to 
such influences; but the violence of hope and desire led even vigorous 
and original men of all classes to have recourse to the magician, and 
the belief that the thing was feasible at all weakened to some extent 
the faith, even of those who kept at a distance, in the moral order of 
the world. At the cost of a little money and danger it seemed possible 
to defy with impunity the universal reason and morality of mankind, and 
to spare oneself the intermediate steps which otherwise lie between a 
man and his lawful or unlawful ends.

Let us here glance for a moment at an older and now decaying form of 
superstition. From the darkest period of the Middle Ages, or even from 
the days of antiquity, many cities of Italy had kept the remembrance of 
the connection of their fate with certain buildings, statues, or other 
material objects. The ancients had left records of consecrating priests 
or Telestae, who were present at the solemn foundation of cities, and 
magically guaranteed their prosperity by erecting certain monuments or 
by burying certain objects (Telesmata). Traditions of this sort were 
more likely than anything else to live on in the form of popular, 
unwritten legend; but in the course of centuries the priest naturally 
became transformed into the magician, since the religious side of his 
function was no longer understood. In some of the Virgilian miracles at 
Naples, the ancient remembrance of one of these Telestae is clearly 
preserved, his name being in course of time supplanted by that of 
Virgil. The enclosing of the mysterious picture of the city in a vessel 
is neither more nor less than a genuine ancient Telesma; and Virgil, as 
founder of Naples, is but the officiating priest who took part in the 
ceremony, presented in another dress. The popular imagination went on 
working at these themes, till Virgil became also responsible for the 
brazen horse, for the heads at the Nolan gate, for the brazen fly over 
another gate, and even for the Grotto of Posilippo--all of them things 
which in one respect or other served to put a magical constraint upon 
fate, and the first two of which seemed to determine the whole fortune 
of the city. Medieval Rome also preserved confused recollections of the 
same kind. At the church of Sant' Ambrogio at Milan, there was an 
ancient marble Hercules; so long, it was said, as this stood in its 
place, so long would the Empire last. That of the Germans is probably 
meant, as the coronation of their emperors at Milan took place in this 
church. The Florentines were convinced that the temple of Mars, 
afterwards transformed into the Baptistery, would stand to the end of 
time, according to the constellation under which it had been built; 
they had, as Christians, removed from it the marble equestrian statue; 
but since the destruction of the latter would have brought some great 
calamity on the city--also according to a constellation--they set it 
upon a tower by the Arno. When Totila conquered Florence, the statue 
fell into the river, and was not fished out again till Charlemagne 
refounded the city. It was then placed on a pillar at the entrance to 
the Ponte Vecchio, and on this spot Buondelmonti was slain in 1215. The 
origin of the great feud between Guelph and Ghibelline was thus 
associated with the dreaded idol. During the inundation of 1333 the 
statue vanished for ever.

But the same Telesma reappears elsewhere. Guido Bonatto, already 
mentioned, was not satisfied, at the refounding of the walls of Forli, 
with requiring certain symbolic acts of reconciliation from the two 
parties. By burying a bronze or stone equestrian statue, which he had 
produced by astrological or magical arts, he believed that he had 
defended the city from ruin, and even from capture and plunder. When 
Cardinal Albornoz was governor of Romagna some sixty years later, the 
statue was accidentally dug up and then shown to the people, probably 
by the order of the Cardinal, that it might be known by what means the 
cruel Montefeltro had defended himself against the Roman Church. And 
again, half a century later, when an attempt to surprise Forli had 
failed, men began to talk afresh of the virtue of the statue, which had 
perhaps been saved and reburied. It was the last time that they could 
do so; for a year later Forli was really taken. The foundation of 
buildings all through the fifteenth century was associated not only 
with astrology but also with magic. The large number of gold and silver 
medals which Paul II buried in the foundation of his buildings was 
noticed, and Platina was by no means displeased to recognize an old 
pagan Telesma in the fact. Neither Paul nor his biographer were in any 
way conscious of the mediaeval religious significance of such an 

But this official magic, which in many cases only rests on hearsay, was 
comparatively unimportant by the side of the secret arts practiced for 
personal ends.

The form which these most often took in daily life is shown by Ariosto 
in his comedy of the necromancers. His hero is one of the many Jewish 
exiles from Spain, although he also gives himself out for a Greek, an 
Egyptian, and an African, and is constantly changing his name and 
costume. He pretends that his incantations can darken the day and 
lighten the darkness, that he can move the earth, make himself 
invisible, and change men into beasts; but these vaunts are only an 
advertisement. His true object is to make his account out of unhappy 
and troubled marriages, and the traces which he leaves behind him in 
his course are like the slime of a snail, or often like the ruin 
wrought by a hailstorm. To attain his ends he can persuade people that 
the box in which a lover is hidden is full of ghosts, or that he can 
make a corpse talk. It is at all events a good sign that poets and 
novelists could reckon on popular applause in holding up this class of 
men to ridicule. Bandello not only treats this sorcery of a Lombard 
monk as a miserable, and in its consequences terrible, piece of 
knavery, but he also describes with unaffected indignation the 
disasters which never cease to pursue the credulous fool. 'A man hopes 
with "Solomon's Key' and other magical books to find the treasures 
hidden in the bosom of the earth, to force his lady to do his will, to 
find out the secret of princes, and to transport himself in the 
twinkling of an eye from Milan to Rome. The more often he is deceived, 
the more steadfastly he believes.... Do you remember the time, Signor 
Carlo, when a friend of ours, in order to win a favour of his beloved, 
filled his room with skulls and bones like a churchyard?' The most 
loathsome tasks were prescribed--to draw three teeth from a corpse or a 
nail from its finger, and the like; and while the hocus-pocus of the 
incantation was going on, the unhappy participants sometimes died of 

Benvenuto Cellini did not die during the well-known incantation (1532) 
in the Colosseum at Rome, although both he and his companions witnessed 
no ordinary horrors; the Sicilian priest, who probably expected to find 
him a useful coadjutor in the future, paid him the compliment as they 
went home of saying that he had never met a man of so sturdy a courage. 
Every reader will make his own reflections on the proceedings 
themselves. The narcotic fumes and the fact that the imaginations of 
the spectators were predisposed for all possible terrors, are the chief 
points to be noticed, and explain why the lad who formed one of the 
party, and on whom they made most impression, saw much more than the 
others. but it may be inferred that Benvenuto himself was the one whom 
it was wished to impress, since the dangerous beginning of the incantation can have had no other aim than to arouse curiosity. For 
Benvenuto had to think before the fair Angelica occurred to him; and 
the magician told him afterwards that love-making was folly compared 
with the finding of treasures. Further, it must not be forgotten that 
it flattered his vanity to be able to say, 'The demons have kept their 
word, and Angelica came into my hands, as they promised, just a month 
later' (I, cap. 68). Even on the supposition that Benvenuto gradually 
lied himself into believing the whole story, it would still be 
permanently valuable as evidence of the mode of thought then prevalent.

As a rule, however, the Italian artists, even 'the odd, capricious, 
and eccentric' among them, had little to do with magic. One of them, in 
his anatomical studies, may have cut himself a jacket out of the skin 
of a corpse, but at the advice of his confessor he put it again into 
the grave. Indeed the frequent study of anatomy probably did more than 
anything else to destroy the belief in the magical influence of various 
parts of the body, while at the same time the incessant observation and 
representation of the human form made the artist familiar with a magic 
of a wholly different sort.

In general, notwithstanding the instances which have been quoted, magic 
seems to have been markedly on the decline at the beginning of the 
sixteenth century--that is to say, at a time when it first began to 
flourish vigorously out of Italy; and thus the tours of Italian 
sorcerers and astrologers in the North seem not to have begun till 
their credit at home was thoroughly impaired. In the fourteenth century 
it was thought necessary carefully to watch the lake on Mount Pilatus, 
near Scariotto, to hinder the magicians from there consecrating their 
books. In the fifteenth century we find, for example, that the offer 
was made to produce a storm of rain, in order to frighten away a 
besieged army; and even then the commander of the besieged town, 
Niccolo Vitelli in Citta di Castello had the good sense to dismiss the 
sorcerers as godless persons. In the sixteenth century no more 
instances of this official kind appear, although in private life the 
magicians were still active. To this time belongs the classic figure of 
German sorcery, Dr. Johann Faust; the Italian ideal, on the other hand, 
Guido Bonatto, dates back to the thirteenth century.

It must nevertheless be added that the decrease of the belief in magic 
was not necessarily accompanied by an increase of the belief in a moral 
order, but that in many cases, like the decaying faith in astrology, 
the delusion left behind it nothing but a stupid fatalism.

One or two minor forms of this superstition, pyromancy, chiromancy and 
others, which obtained some credit as the belief in sorcery and 
astrology was declining, may be here passed over, and even the pseudo-
science of physiognomy has by no means the interest which the name 
might lead us to expect. For it did not appear as the sister and ally 
of art and psychology, but as a new form of fatalistic superstition, 
and, what it may have been among the Arabs, as the rival of astrology. 
The author of a physiognomical treatise, Bartolommeo Cocle, who styled 
himself a 'metoposcopist,' and whose science, according to Giovio, 
seemed like one of the most respectable of the free arts, was not 
content with the prophecies which he made to the many people who daily 
consulted him, but wrote also a most serious 'catalogue of such whom 
great dangers to life were awaiting.' Giovio, although grown old in the 
free thought of Rome 'in hac luce romana'--is of opinion that the 
predictions contained therein had only too much truth in them We learn 
from the same source how the people aimed at in these and similar 
prophecies took vengeance on a seer. Giovanni Bentivoglio caused Lucas 
Gauricus to be five times swung to and fro against the wall, on a rope 
hanging from a lofty, winding staircase, because Lucas had foretold to 
him the loss of his authority. Ermes Bentivoglio sent an assassin after 
Cocle, because the unlucky metopOscopist had unwillingly prophesied to 
him that he would die an exile in battle. The murderer seems to have 
derided the dying man in his last moments, saying that Cocle himself 
had foretold him he would shortly commit an infamous murder. The 
reviver of chiromancy, Antioco Tiberto of Cesena, came by an equally 
miserable end at the hands of Pandolfo Malatesta of Rimini, to whom he 
had prophesied the worst that a tyrant can imagine, namely, death in 
exile and in the most grievous poverty. Tiberto was a man of 
intelligence, who was supposed to give his answers less according to 
any methodical chiromancy than by means of his shrewd knowledge of 
mankind; and his high culture won for him the respect of those scholars 
who thought little of his divination.

Alchemy, in conclusion, which is not mentioned in antiquity till quite 
late under Diocletian, played only a very subordinate part at the best 
period of the Renaissance. Italy went through the disease earlier, when 
Petrarch in the fourteenth century confessed, in his polemic against 
it, that gold-making was a general practice. Since then that particular 
kind of faith, devotion, and isolation which the practice of alchemy 
required became more and more rare in Italy, just when Italian and 
other adepts began to make their full profit out of the great lords in 
the North. Under Leo X the few Italians who busied themselves with it 
were called 'ingenia curiosa,' and Aurelio Augurelli, who dedicated to 
Leo X, the great despiser of gold, his didactic poem on the making of 
the metal, is said to have received in return a beautiful but empty 
purse. The mystic science which besides gold sought for the omnipotent 
philosopher's stone, is a late northern growth, which had its rise in 
the theories of Paracelsus and others.

General Spirit of Doubt

With these superstitions, as with ancient modes of thought generally, 
the decline in the belief of immortality stands in the closest 
connection. This questiOn has the widest and deepest relations with the 
whole development of the modern spirit.

One great source of doubt in immortality was the inward wish to be 
under no obligations to the hated Church. We have seen that the Church 
branded those who thus felt as Epicureans. In the hour of death many 
doubtless called for the sacraments, but multitudes during their whole 
lives, and especially during their most vigorous years, lived and acted 
on the negative supposition. That unbelief on this particular point 
must often have led to a general skepticism, is evident of itself, and 
is attested by abundant historical proof. These are the men of whom 
Ariosto says: 'Their faith goes no higher than the roof.' In Italy, and 
especially in Florence, it was possible to live as an open and 
notorious unbeliever, if a man only refrained from direct acts of 
hostility against the Church. The confessor, for instance, who was sent 
to prepare a political offender for death, began by inquiring whether 
the prisoner was a believer, 'for there was a false report that he had 
no belief at all.'

The unhappy transgressor here referred to--the same Pierpaolo Boscoli 
who has been already mentioned--who in 1513 took part in an attempt 
against the newly restored family of the Medici, is a faithful mirror 
of the religious confusion then prevalent. Beginning as a partisan of 
Savonarola, he became afterwards possessed with an enthusiasm for the 
ancient ideals of liberty, and for paganism in general; but when he was 
in prison his early friends regained the control of his mind, and 
secured for him what they considered a pious ending. The tender witness 
and narrator of his last hours is one of the artistic family of the 
Della Robbia, the learned philologist Luca. 'Ah,' sighs Boscoli, 'get 
Brutus out of my head for me, that I may go my way as a Christian.' 'If 
you will,' answers Luca, 'the thing is not difficult; for you know that 
these deeds of the Romans are not handed down to us as they were, but 
idealized (con arte accresciute).' The penitent now forces his 
understanding to believe, and bewails his inability to believe 
voluntarily. If he could only live for a month with pious monks he 
would truly become spiritually minded. It comes out that these 
partisans of Savonarola knew their Bible very imperfectly; Boscoli can 
only say the Paternoster and Ave Maria, and earnestly begs Luca to 
exhort his friends to study the sacred writings, for only what a man 
has learned in life does he possess in death. Luca then reads and 
explains to him the story of the Passion according to the Gospel of St. 
John; the poor listener, strange to say, can perceive clearly the 
Godhead of Christ, but is perplexed at His manhood; he wishes to get as 
firm a hold of it 'as if Christ came to meet him out of a wood.' His 
friend thereupon exhorts him to be humble, since this was only a doubt 
sent him by the Devil. Soon after it occurs to the penitent that he has 
not fulfilled a vow made in his youth to go on pilgrimage to the 
Impruneta; his friend promises to do it in his stead. Meantime the 
confessor--a monk, as was desired, from Savonarola's monastery--
arrives, and after giving him the explanation quoted above of the 
opinion of St. Thomas Aquinas on tyrannicide, exhorts him to bear death 
manfully. Boscoli makes answer: 'Father, waste no time on this; the 
philosophers have taught it me already; help me to bear death out of 
love to Christ.' What follows, the communion, the leave-taking and the 
execution--is very touchingly described; one point deserves special 
mention. When Boscoli laid his head on the block, he begged the 
executioner to delay the stroke for a moment: 'During the whole time 
since the announcement of the sentence he had been striving after a 
close union with God, without attaining it as he wished, and now in 
this supreme moment he thought that by a strong effort he could give 
himself wholly to God.' It is clearly some half-understood expression 
of Savonarola which was troubling him.

If we had more confessions of this character the spiritual picture of 
the time would be richer by many important features which no poem or 
treatise has preserved for us. We should see more clearly how strong 
the inborn religious instinct was, how subjective and how variable the 
relation of the individual to religion, and what powerful enemies and 
competitors religion had. That men whose inward condition is of this 
nature, are not the men to found a new church, is evident; but the 
history of the Western spirit would be imperfect without a view of that 
fermenting period among the Italians, while other nations, who have had 
no share in the evolution of thought, may be passed over without loss. 
But we must return to the question of immortality.
If unbelief in this respect made such progress among the more highly 
cultivated natures, the reason lay partly in the fact that the great 
earthly task of discovering the world and representing it in word and 
form, absorbed most of the higher spiritual faculties. We have already 
spoken of the inevitable worldliness of the Renaissance. But this 
investigation and this art were necessarily accompanied by a general 
spirit of doubt and inquiry. If this spirit shows itself but little in 
literature, if we find, for example, only isolated instances of the 
beginnings of biblical criticism, we are not therefore to infer that it 
had no existence. The sound of it was only overpowered by the need of 
representation and creation in all departments-- that is, by the 
artistic instinct; and it was further checked, whenever it tried to 
express itself theoretically, by the already existing despotism of the 
Church. This spirit of doubt must, for reasons too obvious to need 
discussion, have inevitably and chiefly busied itself with the question 
of the state of man after death.

And here came in the influence of antiquity, and worked in a twofold 
fashion on the argument. In the first place men set themselves to 
master the psychology of the ancients, and tortured the letter of 
Aristotle for a decisive answer. In one of the Lucianic dialogues of 
the time, Charon tells Mercury how he questioned Aristotle on his 
belief in immortality, when the philosopher crossed in the Stygian 
boat; but the prudent sage, although dead in the body and nevertheless 
living on, declined to compromise himself by a definite answer--and 
centuries later how was it likely to fare with the interpretation of 
his writings? All the more eagerly did men dispute about his opinion 
and that of others on the true nature of the soul, its origin, its 
pre-existence, its unity in all men, its absolute eternitY, even its 
transformations; and there were men who treated of these things in the 
pulpit. The dispute was warmly carried on even in the fifteenth 
century; some proved that Aristotle taught the doctrine of an immortal 
soul; others complained of the hardness of men's hearts, who would not 
believe that there was a soul at all, till they saw it sitting down on 
a chair before them; Filelfo, in his funeral oration on Francesco 
Sforza, brings forward a long list of opinions of ancient and even of 
Arab philosophers in favour of immortality, and closes the mixture, 
which covers a folio page and a half of print, with the words, 'Besides 
all this we have the Old and New Testaments, which are above all 
truth.' Then came the Florentine Platonists with their master's 
doctrine of the soul, supplemented at times, as in the case of Pico, by 
Christian teaching. But the opposite opinion prevailed in the 
instructed world. At the beginning of the sixteenth century the 
stumbling-block which it put in the way of the Church was so serious 
that Leo X set forth a Constitution at the Lateran Council in 1513, in 
defence of the immortality and individuality of the soul, the latter 
against those who asserted that there was but one soul in all men. A 
few years later appeared the work of Pomponazzo, in which the 
impossibility of a philosophical proof of immortality is maintained; 
and the contest was now waged incessantly with replies and 'apologies,' 
till it was silenced by the Catholic reaction. The pre-existence of the 
soul in God, conceived more or less in accordance with Plato's theory 
of ideas, long remained a common belief, and proved of service even to 
the poets. The consequences which followed from it as to the mode of 
the soul's continued existence after death were not more closely 

There was a second way in which the influence of antiquity made itself 
felt, chiefly by means of that remarkable fragment of the sixth book of 
Cicero's 'Republic,' known by the name of Scipio's Dream. Without the 
commentary of Macrobius it would probably have perished like the rest 
of the second part of the work; it was now diffused in countless 
manuscript copies, and, after the discovery of typography, in a printed 
form and edited afresh by various commentatOrs. It is the description 
of a transfigured hereafter for great men, pervaded by the harmony of 
the spheres. This pagan heaven, for which many other testimonies were 
gradually extracted from the writings of the ancients, came step by 
step to supplant the Christian heaven in proportion as the ideal of 
fame and historical greatness threw into the shade the ideal of the 
Christian life, without, nevertheless, the public feeling being thereby 
offended as it was by the doctrine of personal annihilation after 
death. Even Petrarch founds his hope chiefly on this Dream of Scipio, 
on the declarations found in other Ciceronian works, and on Plato's 
'Phaedo,' without making any mention of the Bible. 'Why,' he asks 
elsewhere, 'should not I as a Catholic share a hope which was 
demonstrably cherished by the heathen?' Soon afterwards Coluccio 
Salutati wrote his 'Labors of Hercules' (still existing in manuscript), 
in which it is proved at the end that the valorous man, who has well 
endured the great labors of earthly life, is justly entitled to a 
dwelling among the stars. If Dante still firmly maintained that the 
great pagans, whom he would have gladly welcomed in Paradise, 
nevertheless must not come beyond the Limbo at the entrance to Hell, 
the poetry of a later time accepted joyfully the new liberal ideas of a 
future life. Cosimo the Elder, according to Bernardo Pulci's poem on 
his death, was received in heaven by Cicero, who had also been called 
the 'father of his country,' by the Fabii, by Curius, Fabricius and 
many others; with them he would adorn the choir where only blameless 
spirits sing.

But in the old writers there was another and less pleasing picture of 
the world to come--the shadowy realms of Homer and of those poets who 
had not sweetened and humanized the conception. This made an impression 
on certain temperaments. Gioviano Pontano somewhere attributes to 
Sannazaro the story of a vision which he beheld one morning early while 
half awake. He seemed to see a departed friend, Ferrandus Januarius, 
with whom he had often discoursed on the immortality of the soul, and 
whom he now asked whether it was true that the pains of Hell were 
really dreadful and eternal. The shadow gave an answer like that of 
Achilles when Odysseus questioned him. 'So much I tell and aver to 
thee, that we who are parted from earthly life have the strongest 
desire to return to it again.' He then saluted his friend and 

It cannot but be recognized that such views of the state of man after 
death partly presuppose and partly promote the dissolution of the most 
essential dogmas of Christianity. The notion of sin and of salvation 
must have almost entirely evaporated. We must not be misled by the 
effects of the great preachers of repentance or by the epidemic 
revivals which have been described above. For even granting that the 
individually developed classes had shared in them like the rest, the 
cause of their participation was rather the need of emotional 
excitement, the rebound of passionate natures, the horror felt at great 
national calamities, the cry to heaven for help. The awakening of the 
conscience had by no means necessarily the sense of sin and the felt 
need of salvation as its consequence and even a very severe outward 
penance did not perforce involve any repentance in the Christian 
meaning of the word. When the powerful natures of the Renaissance tell 
us that their principle is to repent of nothing, they may have in their 
minds only matters that are morally indifferent, faults of unreason or 
imprudence; but in the nature of the case this contempt for repentance 
must extend to the sphere of morals, because its origin, namely the 
consciousness of individual force, is common to both sides of human 
nature. The passive and contemplative form of Christianity, with its 
constant reference to a higher world beyond the grave, could no longer 
control these men. Machiavelli ventured still further, and maintained 
that it could not be serviceable to the State and to the maintenance of 
public freedom.

The form assumed by the strong religious instinct which, 
notwithstanding all, survived in many natures, was Theism or Deism, as 
we may please to call it. The latter name may be applied to that mode 
of thought which simply wiped away the Christian element out of 
religion, without either seeking or finding any other substitute for 
the feelings to rest upon. Theism may be considered that definite 
heightened devotion to the one Supreme Being which the Middle Ages were 
not acquainted with. This mode of faith does not exclude Christianity, 
and can either ally itself with the Christian doctrines of sin, 
redemption, and immortality, or else exist and flour;sh without them.

Sometimes this belief presents itself with childish_naivete and even 
with a half-pagan air, God appearing as the almighty fulfiller of human 
wishes. Agnolo Pandolfini tells us how, after his wedding, he shut 
himself in with his wife, and knelt down before the family altar with 
the picture of the Madonna, and prayed, not to her, but to God, that He 
would vouchsafe to them the right use of their property, a long life in 
joy and unity with one another, and many male descendants: 'For myself 
I prayed for wealth, honour, and friends; for her blamelessness, 
honesty, and that she might be a good housekeeper.' When the language 
used has a strong antique flavor, it is not always easy to keep apart 
the pagan style and the theistic belief.

This temper sometimes manifests itself in times of misfortune with a 
striking sincerity. Some addresses to God are left us from the latter 
period of Firenzuola, when for years he lay ill of fever, in which, 
though he expressly declares himself a believing Christian, he shows 
that his religious consciousness is essentially theistic. Hie 
sufferings seem to him neither as the punishment of sin, nor as 
preparation for a higher world; they are an affair between him and God 
only, who has put the strong love of life between man and his despair. 
'I curse, but only curse Nature, since Thy greatness forbids me to 
utter Thy name.... Give me death, Lord, I beseech Thee, give it me 

In these utterances and the like, it would be vain to look for a 
conscious and consistent Theism; the speakers partly believed 
themselves to be still Christians, and for various other reasons 
respected the existing doctrines of the Church. But at the time of the 
Reformation, when men were driven to come to a distinct conclusion on 
such points, this mode of thought was accepted with a fuller 
consciousness; a number of the Italian Protestants came forward as 
Anti-Trinitarians and Socinians, and even as exiles in distant 
countries made the memorable attempt to found a church on these 
principles. From the foregoing exposition it will be clear that, apart 
from humanistic rationalism, other spirits were at work in this field.

One chief centre of theistic modes of thought lay in the Platonic 
Academy at Florence, and especially in Lorenzo il Magnifico himself. 
The theoretical works and even the letters of these men show us only 
half their nature. It is true that Lorenzo, from his youth till he 
died, expressed himself dogmatically as a Christian, and that Pico was 
drawn by Savonarola's influence to accept the point of view of a 
monkish ascetic. But in the hymns of Lorenzo, which we are tempted to 
regard as the highest product of the spirit of this school, an 
unreserved Theism is set forth a Theism which strives to treat the 
world as a great moral and physical Cosmos.

While the men of the Middle Ages look on the world as a vale of tears, 
which Pope and Emperor are set to guard against the coming of 
Antichrist; while the fatalists of the Renaissance oscillate between 
seasons of overflowing energy and seasons of superstition or of stupid 
resignation) here, in this circle of chosen spirits, the doctrine is 
upheld that the visible world was created by God in love, that it is 
the copy of a pattern pre-existing in Him, and that He will ever remain 
its eternal mover and restorer. The soul of man can by recognizing God 
draw Him into its narrow boundaries, but also by love of Him expand 
itself into the Infinite--and this is blessedness on earth.

Echoes of medieval mysticism here flow into one current with Platonic 
doctrines and with a characteristically modern spirit. One of the most 
precious fruits of the knowledge of the world and of man here comes to 
maturity, on whose account alone the Italian Renaissance must be called 
the leader of modern ages.

End of Project Gutenberg Etext Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy


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