William Shepherd.

The life of Poggio Bracciolini online

. (page 17 of 31)
Online LibraryWilliam ShepherdThe life of Poggio Bracciolini → online text (page 17 of 31)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


emperor, John Palseologus, who employed him in affairs
of the greatest consequence. In the character of confi-
dential agent or envoy of that monarch, he visited the
courts of Amurath II. the Turkish sultan, and of Sigis-
mund, emperor of Germany. During his residence at
Constantinople he married Theodora, the daughter of a
noble Greek, the celebrated John Crysoloras. In the year
1427 he quitted Constantinople and returned to Venice.
As he had assiduously improved the opportunities which
he had lately enjoyed of cultivating the knowledge of
Grecian literature, he expected, on his return to his
adopted country, to be hailed as the champion of science,
and the restorer of learning.* But in this expectation

In a letter to Ambrogio Travcrsari, he gives the following catalogue of the



238



CHAP. VI.



he was disappointed. His name no longer possessed the
charm of novelty. The interest which was occasioned on
his first visit to Venice, by the circumstance of his filling
the professor's chair at so early an age, was naturally
weakened** by the lapse of nearly eight years ; and in all
probability the jealous aristocracy of the Venetian capital
resented his quitting the service of their state for the
honours and emoluments of the Byzantine court. These
causes concurred to render his reception at Venice by no
means flattering to his feelings. The mortification which
he experienced on this occasion was heightened by the



books which he had collected during his residence in Constantinople. " Qui
" mihi nostri in Italiam libri gesti sunt, honim nomina ad te scribo : alios
" autem nonnullos per primas ex Byzantio Venetorum naves opperior. Hi
" autem sunt Plotinus, Aelianus, Aristides, Dionysius Halicarnasseus, Strabo
" Ceographus, Hermogenes, Aristotelis Rhetorice, Dionysius Halicarnasseus de
" numeris et characteribus, Thucydides, Plutarchi Moralia, Proclus in Platonem,
" Philo Judaeus, Herodotus, Dio Chrysostomus, Appollonius Pergaeus, Ethica
" Aristotelis, Ejus magna Moralia et Eudemia, Occonomica, et Politica, quaedaui
" Theophrasti Opuscula, Homeri Ilias, Odyssea, Philostrati de vita Appollonii,
" Orationes Libanii, et aliqui sermones Luciani, Pindarus, Aratus, Euripidis
" tragediae septem, Theocritus, Hesiodus, Suidas ; Phalaridis, Hippocratis,
" Platonis, et multorum ex veteribus philosophis Epistolac ; Demosthenes,
" Aeschinis Orationes et Epistolae, pleraque Xenophontis Opera, una Lysiac
" Oratio, Orphei Argonautica et Hymni, Callimachus, Aristoteles de historiis
" animalium, Physica, et Metaphysica, et de Anima, de partibus Animalium,
*' et alia quaedam, Polybius, nonnulli sermoues Chrysostomi, Dionysiaca, et
" alii Poetae plurimi. Habes qui mihi sint, et his utere aeque ac tuis."

Ambrosii Traversarii Opera, torn. ii. p. 1010.

In the collection of this noble store of Grecian literature Filelfo must have
expended a considerable sum of money ; and this circumstance may honourably
account for the embarrassed state of his finances on his arrival in his native
country. ,



CHAP. vi. 239

deplorable state of his finances, which the expenses of his
increasing family had reduced to a very low ebb. From
these circumstances of embarrassment he was relieved by
the liberality of the citizens of Bologna, who invited him to
read lectures on eloquence and moral philosophy, in their
university; and engaged to requite his services by an
annual stipend of four hundred and fifty gold crowns.
Readily accepting this invitation, he repaired to Bologna
with all convenient speed. Soon after he had entered upon
his new office, that city, which had lately revolted from
Martin V., was doomed to. suffer the horrors of a siege, in
consequence of which literary pursuits were entirely sus-
pended. Thus circumstanced, Filelfo began to feel no small
degree of anxiety, not only concerning the means of his
future support, but also for the safety of himself and his
family. His uneasiness was, however, mitigated by the
receipt of very friendly letters from Niccolo Niccoli and
Pallas Strozza, urging him to quit Bologna, and exercise
his talents for public instruction in Florence.* After a
negociation of some length, he agreed to give lectures on
the Greek and Roman classics, for the consideration of an
annual salary of three hundred gold crowns, to be paid out
of the revenues of the state. But when he had concluded
this agreement, he experienced very considerable difficul-
ties in effecting his departure from Bologna, which was
closely invested by the pontifical army. These difficulties
being at length overcome, he hastened to Florence, where

* Ambrosii Traversarii Epist. p. 1007.



240 CHAP. VI.

he was received with every demonstration of respect, and
commenced his labours with the utmost zeal.* The fol-
lowing sketch of his first lectures, which is preserved in
the works of Ambrogio Traversari, demonstrates that
in the execution of his engagement he exerted a most
laudable degree of industry. At the dawn of day he ex-
plained and commented upon Cicero's Tusculan questions,
the first decad of Livy, Cicero's treatise on Rhetoric, and
Homer's Iliad. After an interval of a few hours, he de-
livered extraordinary lectures on Terence, Cicero's Epis-
tles and Orations, Thucydides and Xenophon. In addi-
tion to this laborious course of instruction, he also daily
read a lecture on Morals.-f* Such was the arduous task
undertaken by Filelfo a task which demanded the exer-
tions of a literary Hercules. He was, however, animated
to the endurance of toil by the number and dignity of
his audience, which daily consisted of four hundred per-
sons, many of whom were not less eminent for their
literary acquirements, than for the rank which they held
in the state.J

On Filelfo's arrival in Florence, he found the inhabi-
tants of that city divided into factions, and was by no
means insensible of the difficulties which he had to en-
counter in endeavouring to avoid being involved in their

* Filelfo arrived in Florence in the month of May, 1429. Philelft Epist.
p. 9.

+ Amhrosii Traversarii Epist. p. 1016.

* Philelfi Epist. p. 9.



CHAP. VI. 241

disputes.* For the space of two years he seems to have
acted with becoming discretion, and to have pursued his
literary occupations without rendering himself subservient
to the views of either party. His prudence was rewarded
by an increase of his salary, which was augmented, towards
the latter end of the year 1432, to the sum of three
hundred and fifty gold crowns. j* Unfortunately however
for his peace of mind, he had not resided long at Florence,
before he began to suspect that Niccolo Niccoli and Carlo
Aretino, the latter of whom was one of the most accom-
plished of the Tuscan scholars, moved by envy of his
literary fame, regarded him with sentiments of determined
hostility. The irritable temper of Niccolo was indeed
provoked by the supercilious pride of the new Coryphaeus,
who, without the least reserve of diffidence, assumed the
high degree of eminence in the scale of importance to
which he deemed himself entitled, and looked down upon
the learned Florentines with undisguised disdain. Well
knowing the intimacy which subsisted between Niccolo
Niccoli and Cosmo de 1 Medici, Filelfo took it for granted,
that the latter would adopt the quarrels of his friend, and
consequently apprehended that he had much to dread from
the effects of his resentment. In this apprehension he
was confirmed by the manifest coolness with which he was
treated by Lorenzo, the brother of Cosmo ; and he
regarded the assurances which he received from the latter,
that his suspicions with respect to himself were groundless,



PhileIJi Epint. p. P.
t Ibid, p. 10.

2 I



242 CHAP. vi.

as a refinement of malice, intended to betray him into a
fatal security.* His dread of the machinations of his
enemies was also increased by a violent attack made upon
him in the streets of Florence, by one Filippo, a noted
assassin, by whom he was severely wounded in the face.*f*

Whilst Filelfo was brooding over his real or imagined
wrongs, a contest arose between the two factions which
divided the city of Florence, in consequence of a quarrel
which had occurred between the houses of Soderini and
Guzano.J On this occasion he publicly enlisted himself
on the side of the aristocracy, and under the pretext of
honest indignation against injustice, gratified his personal
resentment, by publishing a poetical philippic against the
factious disposition of the Florentine populace, into the
commencement of which he introduced a violent attack
upon the family of the Medici. Not contented with this
act of provocation, he afterwards turned the artillery of
his wrath directly against Cosmo, whom he insulted in a
satire against confidence in riches, in which he attempted

* Philelfi Epist. p. 11.

f- Philelfi Epist. p. !? In the account which Filelfo gave of this transac-
tion to ./Eneas Sylvius, he says, that he had never discovered by whom Filippo
was hired to commit so execrable a deed, but intimates very strong suspicious
of Cosmo de' Medici. Poggio, however, in his third invective against Filelfo,
asserts, that the assassin was the minister of the vengeance of one Jeronimo of
Imola, whom Filelfo had provoked by the intemperance of his tongue.

Poggii Opera, p. 381.

Ibid.

Francisci Philelfi Satyree ,- primes decadis hecatosticha secunda.



CHAP. VI. f 243

to disguise the reproaches of malevolence in the garb of
philosophic advice.

The well known liberality of Cosmo's disposition,
the laudable uses to which he appropriated a considerable
portion of his vast wealth, and the engaging familiarity
with which he was accustomed to converse with people of
merit in every class of life, constituted the most convincing
proof of the malignant falsehood of this libel ; and the
adherents of the house of Medici would have done well,
had they treated it with contempt. But thirsting for
revenge, they endeavoured to expel the offending satirist
from the city, by inducing the assembly of the people
considerably to diminish the salaries allowed to the public
instructors maintained by the state. To this defalcation of
their revenues, the other professors patiently submitted ;
but Filelfo appealed to the senate, and by the power of his
eloquence persuaded that body to restore their literary
servants to their former footing in point of emolument.
He had also the good fortune to procure the abrogation
of a second ordinance obtained by his enemies, whereby
the whole of the sums annually granted for the support
of public education were marked as objects of retrench-
ment.*

Irritated by these hostile measures, Filelfo declared
open war against Cosmo and his friends. He poured forth
a torrent of invective in a series of satires, in which the

Philelfi Epist. p. 12, 13.



244 ^ CHAP. VI.

severity of Juvenal, and his nauseous delineations of
atrocious vices, are much more successfully imitated than
the sublimity of his moral precepts, or the dignity of his
style. The bitterness of FilelftTs wrath was particularly
directed against Niccolo Niccoli, whom, sometimes under
the contemptuous appellation of Utis, and sometimes under
the fanciful designation of Lycolaus, he charged with envy
of the learned hatred of the virtuous extravagant anger
infidelity blasphemy and the most disgusting impu-
rities which have ever swelled the black catalogue of
human crimes.*

The arrest of Cosmo de' Medici filled the heart of
Filelfo with the greatest joy, as it not only freed him
from the dread of a formidable adversary, but also grati-
fied his pride, by fulfilling certain prophetic denunciations
with which he had concluded his satire against confidence
in wealth. In the exhilaration of triumph, he exulted

* Philelfi Saiyrce ; prinue decadis, hecatosticha quinta. Ejusdem
hecatosticha sexto. Secundte decadis, hecatosticha prima, S[C.

In a letter of remonstrance to Cosmo de' Medici, Filelfo inveighed bitterly
against Niccolo Niccoli, whom he asserted Cosmo had himself acknowledged
to be guilty of insolence to the learned, and particularly of contumelious con-
duct towards the eminent Manuel Crysoloras. " Ad ea tu sane leniter respon-
" disti, ac subridens, non oportere inquiens mirari me nee sege ferre Nicolai
" Nicoli detractionem ; eo eniin esse hominem ingeuio ut ncmiuem doctum
" virum relinquat intactum mordacitate bua, quique ne soli quidem ipsi par-
" ceret, upote gui et Munuelem Chrysoloram sapientem et summum ilium
" virum barbam pediculoaam adhuc semper nominet, et Ambrosium mouachum
" cui magis affcctus est quam proprise animir, attonitum per contuineliam vocct."

Phile'Ji Epistolai, p. 12.



CHAP. VI. 245

;

over the fallen demagogue, to whom he gave the fictitious
name of Mundus, in a copy of verses, in the conclusion
of which he earnestly exhorted the Florentine nobility not
to endanger the safety of the state, by commuting the
punishment of death, which their prisoner merited, for the
lighter penalty of banishment.* Happily for Cosmo, as it
has been already related, the sanguinary counsels of his
personal enemies were rejected.

Thus when Poggio arrived in Florence, he found the
party of his kindest friends reduced to a state of irksome
humiliation his most powerful protector driven into exile ;
and his most intimate associates daily annoyed by the
rancorous effusions of a libeller, whose malignant imagina-
tion seemed to supply an inexhaustible store of topics of
abuse. In these circumstances, by the fidelity of his

* Philelfi Satyrte, quartet decadis, hecatoslicha prima.

This satire concludes with the following atrocious address to the judges of



Cosmo.



4> En Munduui servat conjectum in vincula career,
" Qui rebus momenta dabit non parva futuris.
" Nunc etiam atque etiam vobiscum volvite curas,
" Et lustrate animo qua; sint potiora saluti
" Urbis consilia : his castas accommodet aurcs
" Quisque suas. Vobis res coram publica scse
" Offeret in medium, rcferens stragesque necesque
" Venturas, ubi forte minus pro lege vel aequo
" Supplicium sumptum fuerit de soutc ncfando ;
" Aut etiam officium collatum muncrc civis.
' Nainquc relegatus, si culpac nomine mulctam
44 Peudeat, afficiet inaguis vos cladibus omncs."



246 CHAP. VI.

attachment to the persecuted partizans of the Medici, he
drew down upon his own head the lightning of Filelfo's
wrath ; and he soon found himself exhibited as a conspicu-
ous figure in the groups of outrageous caricaturas drawn
by the bold hand of the enraged satirist.* During the
exile of Cosmo, his dread of incurring the displeasure of
the ruling faction induced him to submit to obloquy in
silence ; and Filelfo enjoyed the mean triumph of those
who wantonly malign an adversary whose pen is restrained
by the strong hand of the civil power. But this triumph

* The passages in Filelfo's Satires, in which he has attacked the character of
Poggio, are very numerous. Those who wish to examine these passages may
consult the following references.

Decad. i. hecat. 5. Decad. ii. hecat. 1. 3. Decad. iii. hecat. 2. 10. Decad.
iv. hecat- 7. Decad. v. hecat. 8. 9. Decad. vi. hecat. 10. Decad. viii. hecat.
1, 3, 5. Such readers as are not possessed of a copy of Aurece Francisci Phi-
lelfii Poetce Oratorisque celeberrimi Satyrce centum, printed in octavo at Paris,
anno 1518, (a book of rare occurrence) will probably be contented with the
following specimen of what may be properly termed learned Billingsgate.

" Quae rapidis natura polis, quse causa sepulchri

" Humano generi, quae tanta licentia rerum,

" Spumantes inter pateras cereremque voracein

" Ostensurus erat Codrus ; cum grande pepedit,

" Rancidulum eructans post longa volumina verbum.

" Hunc mox Oenepotes miratus rara profatur.

" Rara inter Latias phoenix haec pervolat urbes :

" Hinc vomit et meiens grave cunctis reddit oletuin.

" Poggius arridet, simili dum peste tenetur.

" Nam quascunque dapes affert, ut verna Canopi

" Praelambens, rapidus vino sese obruit hospes.

" Laudibus hinc miris effert Codrumque, bonumque

" Oenepotam Nicolum: mox ne fortasse minoris

" Se quisquam reputet, quod foetet olentius addit."



CHAP. vi. 247

was of short duration. The first year of Cosmo's banish-
ment was not expired, before he was recalled by the com-
manding voice of the people. On his approach to the
city his enemies fled ; and amongst the rest, Filelfo, con-
scious of the provocations by which he had stimulated his
resentment, hastily quitted Florence, and withdrew to
Siena.*

Poggio expressed his joy on the return of his friend
in a long epistle, in the commencement of which he inti-
mated, that he had chosen that mode of address in prefer-
ence to a personal congratulation,, in order that his com-
mendation of his patron might be diffused amongst such
of the learned as felt an interest in the perusal of his
compositions. He then proceeded to dilate at considerable
length upon the unanimity with which the Florentine
people passed the decree of the recall of Cosmo, which,
he justly observed, was a most distinguished proof of his
merits. " This is," said he, " in my opinion, the great-
" est subject of congratulation in your case that all ranks
" concurred in bearing testimony to your dignity and virtue.
" So earnest was the desire of your return, that the incon-
" veniences resulting to yourself from your exile, must be
" far overbalanced by the unprecedented honour and affec-
" tion with which your fellow citizens have received you on
" your return to your native country." He concluded this
epistle by exhorting his friend to persevere in those virtuous
principles which had been his support in the day of adver-

PhUelfi Epist. p. 12.



248 CHAP. VI.

sity, and which had caused him to be restored to the exalted
rank in the state from which he had been for a short period
displaced by the intrigues of faction.*

. j
Poggio had long meditated a signal retaliation of the

insults which he had experienced from Filelfo ; and no .f
sooner did the Medici regain their ascendancy in the repub-^
lie, than he proceeded to administer to the acrimonious\ H
Tolentine the merciless severity of a literary castigation. *
Wisely stepping forward as the indignant friend of the
injured Niccolo Niccoli, rather than as the avenger of his
own wrongs, he published an invective against Filelfo, in
which he almost exhausted the Latin language in the accu-
mulation of epithets of abuse. Noticing the obscenity of
the satire which, as he says, Filelfo " had vomited forth
" against his friend, from the feculent stores of his putrid
" mouth," he reproved him for the use of terms and
phrases which even a strumpet of any degree of reputation
would be ashamed to utter. The propensity of the satirist
to the adoption of such language, he ascribed to the early
taste which he had acquired for impurity, in consequence of
the occupation of his mother, whom he represented as
living at Rimini, engaged in the most sordid offices.-f-
Tracing the history of his antagonist from his earliest days,

Poggii Opera, p. 339342.

f- " Verum nequaquam mirum videri debet, eum cujus mater Arimini
" dudum in purgandis ventribus et intestinis sorde diluendis qusestum fecerit,
" maternse artis foetorem redolere. Hwsit naribus filii sagacis materni exercitii
" attrectata putredo, et continui stercoris fcetens halitus."

Poggii Opera, p. 165.



CHAP. VI. 249



he alleged, that he was banished from Padua, in con-
sequence of his indulgence of the most depraved propensi-
ties ; and that, when he had been hospitably entertained at
Constantinople by John Crysoloras, he repaid the kindness
of his host by debauching his daughter. By the perpetra-
tion of this crime, if credit may be given to the assertions
of Poggio, Filelfo obtained the hand of a lady, to whom,
if her conduct had been in any degree answerable to the )
nobility of her descent, he would never have had the \ ^> r
audacity to aspire.* Finally, the enraged secretary accused '
his adversary of bartering the honour of his wife for the
most vicious gratifications, and concluded his invective by
proposing to ornament his brows not with a wreath of
laurel, but with a crown more befitting the filthiness of
his conversation. +

This scurrility, as it might have been naturally ex-
pected, served only to inflame the hostile passions which



* The term* in which Poggio mentions this transaction are superlatively
abusive, and whimsically gross. " Itaque Crysoloras moerore confectus, com-
" pulsus precibu,s, malo coactus, (ilium tibi nuptui dedit a te corruptam, qu
" si extitisset Integra, ne pilum quidem tibi abrasum ab illius natibus ostendisset. ,
" An tu ilium unquam duxisses uxorem si virginitatem per te servare potuisset ?
" Tibi pater illam dedisset profugo, ignobili, iinpuro ? Primariis sun civitatis
" viris servabatur virgo, non tibi insulsse pecudi et asello bipedali quern ill
" domi alebat tanquam canem aliquem solent scnio et state confectum."

Poffffii Opera, p. 167.

f- " Sperasti, monstrum infandum hos tuos insnlsissimos versus, in quibus
" etaim male latine loqueris, allaturos tibi laurcolam. qua fnnatirum caput
" redimircs. At stercorea corona oruabuntur fetentes crines priapsei vatis."

Ibid, p. 16!).



250 CHAP. VI.

had so long rankled in the breast of Filelfo, and to direct
his fury against his new assailant. The exiled professor,
accordingly, once more dipping his pen in gall, traduced
the morals, and vilified the talents of Poggio, in a bitter
satire of one hundred verses in length ; of the virulence
of which the reader may form some idea from the following
translation of its commencement.

Poggio ! ere long thy babbling tongue shall feel
The keen impression of the trenchant steel ;
That tongue, the herald of malicious lies,
That sheds its venom on the good and wise.
What mighty master in detraction's school,
Thus into knavery has matured a fool ?
Has Niccolo that scandal of the times,
Taught thee to dare the last extreme of crimes ?
Yes ! taught by Niccolo, thou spreadst thy rage
(Ter the wide area of thy feeble page.
Fain wouldst thou pour the torrent of thine ire
From lips that glow with all a Tully's fire ;
But, thy weak nerves by stale debauch unstrung,
Thy half-formed accents tremble on thy tongue.
Of filth enamoured, like a hideous swine,
Daily thou wallowest in a sea of wine.
Earth, air, and ocean, join their ample store,
To cram thy maw, that ceaseless craves for more ;
And, worse than beast ! to raise thy deaden'd gust,
In nature's spite thou satest thy monstrous lust.
Black list of crimes ! but not enough to fill
Poggio, thy ample register of ill.



CHAP. VI. 251

Like some black viper, whose pestiferous breath
Spreads through the ambient air the seeds of death,
Obscure and still thou wind'st thy crooked way,
And unsuspecting virtue falls thy prey.*

The publication of this poem again roused the vin-
dictive spirit of Poggio, who retorted the acrimony of
his adversary in a second invective, in which he accused
him of the basest ingratitude to those who had treated him
with the most distinguished kindness. Amongst these he
particularly enumerated Niccolo Niccoli, Ambrogio Tra-



Lingua tibi media, Poggi, plus parte sccetur
Qua nunquam lacerare probes et carpere ccssas.
Improbe, quis talem tibi taut us tiadidit artcm
Auctor ? An e Btulto fatuoque et mentis egente
Te tuus insanum Lycolaus rcddidit Utis,
Addictum vitio dirumque per omne volutum
Flagitium et facinus ? Tantum maledicere semper
Edoctus, cunctos decoret quos aurea virtus
Insequcris calamo, nequeas quos fulmine lingtuc,
Quam nimius crassam potus vcl crapula fecit,
Immanisque Venus. Tibi quae tarn dira voluptas,
Undantis pelago dum vini nocte dieque
Ebrius obrueris ; dum tanquain immensa vorago
Quidquid pontus habet, quidquid vel terra vel ae'r
Vescendum peperit, latus tibi venter et ingens
Excepit ; dum foeda Venus patiturquc facitque
Omne genus probri : tactus te levius esto
Titillans, vesane, juvat redditque furcntem
Et dulci qui tactus agit pmrigiue linguam :
Ut te communem pnestes sapientibus hostem
Omnibus, et nulli parcas velut eft'era qiiedam
Vipera tabifero ten-am rflplumque veneno
Inficiens.-f-

-j- Phitelphi Satyra. Decad. ii. Hecat. 3.



252 CHAP. VI.

versari, Carlo and Leonardo Aretino, Francesco Barbaro,
Guarino Veronese, and several others, all of whom, he
asserted, being disgusted by the petulance and scandalous
immorality of Filelfo, had found themselves compelled
to withdraw from him their countenance and support.
Warmed by his subject, Poggio concluded this philippic



Online LibraryWilliam ShepherdThe life of Poggio Bracciolini → online text (page 17 of 31)