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from the prejudices of royalty more disposed to accept the
invitation of the sovereign pontiff than .that of an ecclesi-
astical senate, embarked in the papal galleys, and arrived on
the eighth day of February, 1438, at Venice, where he
was received with the most flattering testimonies of respect.
On the fourth of March ensuing, he made his public entry
into Ferrara.* The ceremonials used upon this occasion
were wisely adapted to flatter the pride of the emperor, and
to dissipate the jealousy which he might be presumed to
entertain of the pretensions of the bishop of Rome.
When he arrived at the pontifical residence, Eugenius
advanced to meet him at the door of his apartment,
declined receiving from him any mark of distinctive homage,
and conducted him to a seat on his left hand. The same
discretion was manifested in settling the arrangements of
the council, where the Greek ecclesiastics were received
with all due honour and respect The proceedings of that
assembly were by no means rapid. After the first session,
it entered upon no public acts for the space of six months.
At the end of that time, the plague having made its
appearance at Ferrara, and the near approach of the
pontiff's inveterate enemy Piccinino, who had taken the
cities of Bologna, Imola, and Ravenna,^ exciting the
fears of its leading members, Eugenius transferred the

* Muratori Annali, torn. ix. p. J73.
t Ibid, p. 176, 177.


orthodox synod to Florence, at which city he arrived
on the 24th day of January, 1439. His departure
from Ferrara was so precipitate, that it might justly
be denominated a flight ; and in order to avoid the sol-
diers of Piccinino, he was compelled to take a circuitous
route by Modena, and through the passes of the Pistoian
mountains. He was soon followed by Palseologus and the
deputies of the Greek church, together with the other mem-
bers of the council.* Nothing of importance occurred in
the deliberations of that assembly till the sixth day of July."f*
On this memorable day, the great work of the union of the
Latin and Greek churches was in appearance completed, by
the assent of the Grecian deputies to a decree, whereby the
disputed points, the discussion of which had for so long a
space of time excited discord between the two grand divi-
sions of the Christian community, were decided by the
concurrence of the highest authorities. The points in ques-
tion were, 1st. Whether leavened or unleavened bread
should be used in the communion of the body of Christ.
2nd. Whether the souls who dwelt in purgatory were purified
by elemental fire. 3rd. Whether the bishop of Rome was
the supreme head of the church : and 4th. Whether the
Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father and the Son, or from
the Father only. On the three first of these questions the
Greeks assented without any pertinacity of opposition to
the dogmas of their Latin brethren. The fourth afforded
matter of acute and lengthened disputation, and the sub-

* Mehi Vita Ambrosii Traversarii, p. 430.
+ Labbei Concilia, torn. xiii. p. 1164.


jugation of the prejudices of the learned ecclesiastics of.
Constantinople called forth not only the polemic skill of
the most irrefragable doctors of the Latin church, but also
the political talents of the ablest negotiators of the Roman
court. Vanquished by intrigue rather than by argument,
persuaded rather than convinced, the attendants of Palseo-
logus, with the exception of two obstinate theologians,
at length concurred in the decree which announced to the
Christian world, that the vrordjilioque was legally inserted in
the Nicene creed, that there is a purgatory of fire, and that
the body of Christ is to be made of unleavened bread.*
This decree having been solemnly promulgated, the Greeks
quitted Florence on the 26th day of August, and returned
to Constantinople.

Whilst the council was sitting at Ferrara, the cause of
decency and morality was vindicated by the passing of a
solemn censure upon a collection of epigrams entitled Her-
maphroditus, which was ignominiously consigned to the
flames in the most public part of the city. The author of
this publication, which exceeds the grossest effusions of
heathenism in the rankness of obscenity, was Antonio Bec-
catelli, a native of Palermo, from which circumstance he is
commonly distinguished by the appellation of Panormita.
Beccatelli was born in the year 1394, of an ancient and
honourable family ,-f- When he had finished his studies in
the university of Pavia, he entered into the service of

* Labbei Concilia, torn. xiii. p. 116S 1168.
f Zeno Dissert. Vos. torn. i. p. 307.

318 CHAP. viii.

Filippo Maria, duke of Milan, who studied history under
his instructions, for which he liberally requited him, by the
payment of an annual stipend of eight hundred crowns of
gold.* Being wearied by the distractions occasioned by the
frequent wars which disturbed the peace of Lombardy,
Beccatelli quitted Milan some time between the years 1432
and 1436, with the intention of residing in his native city.
He did not, however, long continue in retirement ; for the
fame of his wit and learning having reached Alfonso, king
of Naples, that liberal prince invited him to his court,
bestowed upon him the honourable office of private secretary,
and treated him with the most distinguished regard. He
continued to occupy stations of the highest eminence under
Alfonso and his successors till the time of his death, which
event took place on the 6th of January, 1471. -f*

The Hermaphroditus of Beccatelli is dedicated to
Cosmo de' Medici. A copy of this work was communicated
to Poggio, who was so much scandalized by its obscenity,
that he wrote to Beccatelli a friendly letter, in which he
highly commended the elegance of his style, but exhorted
him to be in future more delicate in the choice of his sub-
jects. " I am bound," said he, " by the obligation of mutual
" affection, which is imposed upon us all, to admonish you

" to turn your attention to graver topics.


" The licence which is allowed to youth may be

* Zeno Dissert. Voss. torn. i. p. 308.
/, p. 316.


" pleaded in excuse of the indelicacy of your late publica-
" tion, and you can indeed allege in your defence the
" example of Virgil, and of other writers. But it is now
" incumbent upon you to have done with lasciviousness, and
" to apply yourself to severer studies, lest your moral char-
" acter should be estimated by the impurity of your writings.
" You know, that we who profess ourselves Christians can-
" not claim the same indulgences as those who were ignorant
" of their duty. But I am in all probability teaching one
" who is wiser then myself. I am persuaded, that on this
" subject you agree with me in opinion.'**

To this salutary admonition Beccatelli replied in a
long epistle, in which he endeavoured to extenuate his
fault, by quoting as precedents the occasional pruriences
of composition of a long list of ancient poets and philoso-
phers. He also attempted to vindicate himself by a few
sophistical arguments.-f- His reasoning was easily confuted
by Poggio, who in a second letter examined with laudable
acuteness his precedents and arguments, and fully demon-
strated their insufficiency to vindicate the licentiousness
of imagery which disgusted every modest reader, whose
eyes happened to glance upon the impure pages of the

* Pogffii Opera, p. 349, 350.

f- Poffffii Opera, p. 350, 351, 352.

J Ibid, p. 353, 354, 355. Two manuscript copies of this work are preserved
in the Laurentian, and a third in the Magliabecchian library at Florence. A
fourth is deposited in the Ambrogian collection at Milan. The disgusting
ribaldry of Beccatelli fully justifies the reproof which he received from Poggio.

320 CHAP. vin.

Whilst Eugenius was thus employed in subduing the
heresy of the east, he laboured under the high displeasure
of the synod of Basil. After a repetition of the various
processes which had been issued against him when he
first refused to acknowledge their authority, the rebellious
fathers proceeded on the twenty-fifth of June, 1439, to
depose him from his pontifical honours. In the act of
deposition which they passed against him, they impeached
him of contumacy and disobedience to the commands of
the church they declared that he was a violator of the
canons, a disturber of unity, guilty of simony and perjury.
They furthermore denounced him as an incorrigible
schismatic and heretic, and a destroyer of the rights and

It is a disgrace to literature, that his work should have been lately committed
to the press under the superintendence of a French editor.

The Hermaphroditus was openly condemned, not only by Poggio, but also
by Filelfo, Laurentius Valla, and by Mariano da Volterra, who inveighed against
it in a long poem. It was the subject of reprobation in the sermons of Bernadino
da Siena, and of Roberto da Lecce, who caused it to be burnt in the public
squares of Bologna and Milan. The zeal of Valla, (which, by the way, was
kindled as much by personal enmity as by a regard to morality) prompted him
to hope that the same fate awaited its author.

Besides the Hermaphroditus, Beccatelli published a variety of works, which
are thus enumerated by Apostolo Zeno. 1 . Alphonsi Regis Triumphus. 2.
De Rebus gestis Ferdinandi Regis. 3. In coronatione Friderici III. Impera-
toris Oratio Rom* habita 1452. 4. Ad Alphonsum Siciliae Regem Oratio.
6. Oratio ad Caetanos de pace. 7. Oratio ad Venetos de pace. 8. Epis-
tolarum Libri V. 9. Carmina. 10. Epistolse et Orationes. 11. Epis-
tolarum & Carminum liber. 12. In Rhodum Poema. 13. Tragedise.
14. Commentarius in Plautum. 15. Elegise. 16. De dictis et factis
Alphonsi Regis Libri IV. Vallas Invectiva secunda in Facium, sub ftncm,
Zeno Diss. Voss. lom.i. p. 315, 316.


possessions of the church.* On the fifth of November,
1439, they filled up the measure of their offences by
electing Amedeus, duke of Savoy, to the pontifical chair.*f*
Amedcus, wearied by the cares of government, had lately
resigned the ducal sceptre to his eldest son, and had with-
drawn to the hermitage of Ripaillc, a tranquil spot delight-
fully situated on the southern side of the lake of Geneva,
where he proposed to dedicate the remainder of his days to
devout meditation and prayer. When the intelligence of
his election to the pontificate was announced to him, he
lamented the severity of his destiny, which summoned him
again to mingle in the cares and temptations of a wicked
world : but either seduced by the charms of pontifical
authority, or regarding the voice of the representatives of
the Christian community as the voice of God, he repaired
to Basil, where the ceremony of his coronation was per-
formed with studied magnificence, on the twenty-fourth of
July, 14404

In the course of this contest between the councils of
Ferarra and of Basil, Eugenius derived considerable assist-
ance from the advice and support of Cardinal Julian, who,
being at length convinced by experience of the numerous

* Condi, torn. xxx. p. 271.
t Ibid, p. 298.

In the Fasciculus Rer. Expel, et fugiend. torn. i. p. 46 54, there
is a very entertaining account drawn up by /Eneas Sylvius of the organization
and proceedings of the conclave which elected Amedcus to the pontificate, and
of the splendid procession which took place at the coronation of this Anti-Pope,
who assumed the name of Felix.

2 T


evils arising from the precipitancy of the German synod, of
the probable occurrence of which he had been forewarned
by Poggio, had withdrawn from Basil, and by timely sub-
mission had easily made his peace with his offended mas-
ter.* The conversion of Julian was promoted by the
assiduous endeavours of Ambrogio Traversari. Before his
accession to the pontifical throne, Eugenius had honourably
distinguished this learned ecclesiastic by his friendship, and
he did not forget him in the hour of his exaltation. The
general of the order of Camaldoli, who was impeached of
various evil practices, having resigned his office, Ambrogio
was, by the influence of the pontiff, appointed to succeed
him on the 26th day of October, 1431."f- Inspired with
gratitude for this act of friendship, he readily undertook
the office of watching over the interests of his benefactor
at the council of Basil, which he was deputed to attend, as
the representative of the city of Florence.^ In combating
the enemies of the pontiff in that seditious, but enlightened
assembly, he manifested a high degree both of spirit and
ability. His residence at Basil was however but of short
duration. Before the expiration of three months after his
arrival in that city, he was despatched by Eugenius into
Germany, with instructions to use his utmost endeavours to
detach the emperor Sigismund from the interests of the
council. Having executed this important commission with
more fidelity than success, in the spring of the year 1436

* Mehi Vila Ambros. Trovers, p. ccccxxvii.

f Eloffi degli uomini illustri Toscani, torn. i. p. cccxlvi.

% Mehi Vita Ambrosii Traversarii, p. ccccv.


he returned to Florence, where he strove to forget the in-
trigues of courts and synods in the discharge of the duties
of his office, and in the resumption of his studies. In the
year 1438, he was again summoned from retirement, to
engage in the violence of theological disputation. The
pontiff having had sufficient experience of his skill in con-
ducting affairs of the greatest moment, delegated to him
the important office of opening the council of Ferarra.* In
the minute and delicate discussions of doctrinal points
which took place in this assembly he bore a distinguished
part. On this occasion he signalized his knowledge of the
Greek language, by frequently acting as interpreter between
the respective representatives of the eastern and western
churches ;-f- and it has been asserted, that his skill in in-
trigue was not less conducive than his acuteness in disputa-
tion to the settlement of the doctrine of the double pro-
cession.^ Ambrogio did not long survive the accomplish-
ment of this pious work. When the reconciliation of the
Greek and Latin churches had been effected, he once more
retired to the tranquillity of his monastery, where he died
on the 20th of November, 1439- His remains were first
deposited in the abbey of St. Salvadore in Camaldoli, and
were afterwards transferred to a religious retreat belonging
to his order, situated in the district of Casentino. The
writings of more than one of his contemporaries make men-
tion of a common report, that lilies grew upon his grave in

* Mehi Vila Ambrosii Travcrsarii, p. ccccxxvii.
f Ibid, p. ccccxxviii.

* Apostolo Zcno Dits. Vos. lorn. i. p. 81,

324 CHAP. vin.

the depth of winter, and that when these miraculous flowers
were with pious wonder gathered by his surviving brethren,
their place was immediately supplied by the production of
successive harvests.* Though the testimony of these wit-
nesses may, in an age of scepticism, be deemed insufficient
to establish the belief of this marvellous tale, the circulation
of such a report evinces the celebrity of Ambrogio's fame,
and the opinion which was generally entertained of the
extraordinary sanctity of his life.

Ambrogio Traversari is justly regarded as one of the
literary luminaries of his age. His knowledge was various
and profound. He was well versed in the Hebrew scrip-
tures. It has been before observed, that the conferences
which took place between the deputies of the Latin and
Greek churches in the council of Ferrara, gave him an
opportunity of displaying the uncommon proficiency which
he had made in the Grecian language. Rendering his
literary acquirements subservient to the duties of his pro-
fession, he dedicated a considerable portion of his time to
the translation of the Greek fathers. Diogenes Laertius
is the only profane author whose works he illustrated by a

* Mehi Vita Ambrosii Traversarii, p. ccccxxxii. The author of the life
of Ambrogio, in the Elogi degli uomini illustri Toscani, mentions this report
in the following terms. " Non manca chi creda, che Iddio a intercessione di
" Ambrogio facesse ancor dei prodigi. E certamente, 1'esser dopo la di lui
" morte, nati spontaneamcnte gigli ed altri fieri sopra il suo cadavcrc, che
" colti dai Religiosi instantaneamcnte rifiorivano per tutto il luogo occupato
" dalla venerabile di lui spoglia, senibra cosa piu che naturalc. Epure di cio
" fanno fede persone che hanno potuto vcdere ocularmentc un tal prodigio al
" sacro Eremo di Camaldoli." p. cccxlviii, cccxlix.

CHAP. vin. 305

Latin version. His style is flowing, but so unpolished,
that he seems to have fallen into the erroneous opinion,
that an attention to the elegancies of composition is un-
becoming those who are dedicated to sacred offices. His
manners appear to have been, simple, and his dispositions
benevolent. With his learned contemporaries he main-
tained an extensive correspondence. A large collection of
his letters was published by P. Martene in the third volume
of his Ancient Monuments. This collection was afterwards
re-published, with several additions, by P. Canetti ; and
lastly, the Abate Mehus, in two splendid folio volumes,
printed at Florence in the year 1759, has favoured the
public with a very correct impression of Ambrogio's epistles
and orations, to which he has prefixed a most elaborate
history of his life, and of the revival of literature in Flo-
rence. These epistles, and the Hodocporicon, or journal
kept by Traversari of the observations which he made in
the course of several journeys which he took to various parts
of Italy, after his elevation to the generalship of his order,
afford much curious information concerning the manners and
customs of the times in which he lived.

With Poggio, Ambrogio maintained the most familiar
intimacy. The friendship of these industrious revivers of
literature originated in the community of their studies, and
was confirmed by mutual acts of good will. But the jealousy
with which Poggio regarded the whole body of monks led
him to suspect, that Ambrogio, after his advancement to the
generalship of his order, divested himself of that simplicity
and singleness of heart which may be reasonably expected


from those who make a profession of extraordinary sanctity,
and that he disguised the selfishness of ambition in the garb
of pretended humility.* This suspicion, however, he ad-
vanced with becoming doubt ; and perhaps justice to Ambro-
gio might trace its origin to that superior gravity which he
might think it incumbent upon himself to assume, when he
was called to fill offices of high dignity, and which might
sometimes restrain that familiarity with which he was ac-
customed to converse with Poggio and his other friends,
when he dwelt, in cloistered seclusion, a simple monk of

Whilst Ambrogio was employed at Ferrara in the
correction of creeds, and the conversion of heretics, Pog-
gio was occupied by domestic cares in the retirement of his
Tuscan villa. In the year 1438 his wife presented him
with a son, to whom he gave the name of Pietro Paulo.
Amongst the number of his friends who congratulated him
on this event was Cincio, one of the apostolic secretaries,
a descendant of the noble Roman family of Rustica.-f-
Monsieur I/Enfant has published the letter which Cincio
wrote on this occasion, wherein he intimates to Poggio
his firm persuasion, that this child, being the offspring of
a man of consummate learning, and of a mother descended
from an honourable family, will be naturally inclined to
every thing excellent and praise-worthy. In the prospect

* See Peggie's dialogue on Hypocrisy in the Fasciculus Rer. Expel, et
fugiend. torn. ii. p. 583.

f Jtccanali Osservazioni, p. IP.


of his being educated at Florence, also, he finds a presage
of his future attainments in knowledge and in virtue.
Anxious for the welfare of an infant born under such happy
auspices, he admonishes his friend, that should any con-
sideration induce him to prohibit Vaggia from performing
the first duty of a mother, it would be incumbent upon
him to be fastidiously careful in the choice of a nurse.
" Let her be," says he, " a woman of a robust constitution,
" of good complexion, as well as of a good disposition,
(f and also of ingenuous manners ; for nurses have a won-
" derful influence in forming the habits of children. 1 " He
then exhorts Poggio assiduously to watch over the progress
of his son's understanding, and to inculcate upon him
lessons of the strictest temperance. After having enlarged
upon these topics, he concludes in the following terms :
" Lastly, I must inform you, that your presence is very
" earnestly desired in the Roman court. Come, then, and
" we will celebrate the birth of your son in a friendly
*' festival. You shall be the master of the feast, and you
" shall have the honour of entertaining as your guests a
" number of Latin and Greek philosophers. We will
" converse upon a variety of topics, particularly upon the
" nature of pleasure. The exquisiteness of the dishes,
" and the excellence of the wine, will ensure the alluring
" goddess abundance of advocates. Even I, who have
" just been vilifying her, as not to be tolerated in human
" society, may possibly on this occasion once more enter
into her good graces."* In reply to this friendly


Poffgiana, lorn. ii. p. 322 32tf.

328 CHAP. vnr.

epistle, Poggio assured Cincio that in the choice of a
nurse for his infant son, he had paid due regard to the
qualities enumerated by him, and that he would spare no
pains in his education ; but at the same time, in opposition
to the opinion of his correspondent, he maintained by
many arguments, and by examples of great weight, that
education is of little avail in the formation of character,
independently of a naturally good disposition of mind.*

During the time when the domestic concerns of Poggio
caused him to be absent from the pontifical court, the list
of his correspondents was enlarged by the name of a
sovereign prince, who occupied the foremost rank amongst
the potentates of Italy, namely Filippo Maria, duke of
Milan. This restless chieftain had in the year I486
renewed hostilities against the Florentines, in contempt of
the pacification which had been concluded at Ferrara, only
three years before that period. This war was not, however,
of long duration. The Florentines, being dissatisfied with
the conduct of the Venetians, their allies, concluded a
separate peace with the duke on very advantageous terms,
in the year 1438.

The alliance between the Florentines and the Vene-
tians had always been a most formidable obstacle to the
ambitious projects of Filippo, and he had nothing more at
heart than to create a jealousy between those two repub-
lics. It was probably with a view of engaging the party of

Ton. Tr. vol. ii. p. 22.


the Medici in his interest, that soon after the conclusion
of the above-mentioned peace, he addressed to Poggio a
long epistle, in which he artfully attempted to gratify his
well known enthusiastic love of his native country, by a
studied eulogium on the Florentine state, and also endea-
voured to conciliate his favour, by assuring him that he had
always entertained the highest respect for his personal quali-
ties and his literary attainments. It appears from the com-
mencement of Filippo's letter, that some persons having
stigmatized the Florentines as a short-sighted people, Pog-
gio had remarked that the duke of Milan was well qualified
to prove the contrary.* The duke, affecting not to be sen-
sible of the sarcasm couched in this observation, professed
to be greatly flattered by the high opinion which Poggio
appeared to entertain of his talents ; and commending the
zeal which he manifested in defending the reputation of his
country, declared, that so far from finding the Florentines
short-sighted, he had always witnessed their skill, their pru-
dence, and their sagacity. The valour of the Tuscans, he
observed, his ancestors had experienced to their cost. Nor
was he himself insensible of the power of their arms, or of
the wisdom of their councils. In the late war they had so

The short-sightedness of the Florentines seems to have been a subject of
proverbial sarcasm to their neighbours. " Bartolomeo Soccini, of Siena," says
Mr. Roscoe, in his life of Lorenzo de' Medici, " having observed, in allusion to
" the defect in Lorenzo's sight, that the air of Florence was injurious to the

Online LibraryWilliam ShepherdThe life of Poggio Bracciolini → online text (page 22 of 31)