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Accept this eulogy, which, though brief, is deservedly the most glowing of all, Albertus of Suabia,13 appointed right reverend bishop of Ratisbon after you had so illumined the whole field of theology and philosophy by the wondrous light of exalted genius in your teachings and writings that you won the name of Magnus, a title never before conferred on a man of letters and only by rare felicity accorded to the living. In length of life you were indeed blest beyond other men, for you reached your eighty-second year; doubtless so that crowned with well earned honors you might live to see your own immortality and, having attained the climax of your most fruitful powers, be thought worthy of the tribute of a still more illustrious title. For the universities unanimously desired to bestow on you the name of Maximus and would have done so, had you not with Christian humility resisted the general entreaty. Yet what greater gift could the immortal gods have given you than that for many years of vigorous life you should enjoy on earth the fruits of a glory rare indeed and never before achieved till after death?


St. Thomas Aquinas looked thus when in his blithe and comely youth he was winning his first laurels as a student. For that somewhat gloomy discipline of most frugal fare, which is almost harder than any other, and his persistent labors far into the night had not yet weakened, as they did when he began to age, a body made delicate by its very refinement. For when quite a young man he renounced the distinguished rank of that ancient line to which today Alfonso d'Avalos, easily the most celebrated of the Emperor's generals, traces his descent through his mother, and finally rejecting all his inheritance, he never considered either his family's position or his own health, to the end that, after producing works to be the monuments of his divine genius, he might unsullied take wing to the heaven whence he had come.

Therefore, when he died among the Volscians by the river Amaseno, since many marvelous and supernatural works were 31 accredited to him, Pope John, did not hesitate in accordance with a decree of the senate to canonize him with solemn rites.14 He died before he reached old age, when the human glory which had come to him in supreme measure from his studies had already begun to pall; so that, I suppose, he might be led to lift up his eyes to heaven and more steadfast desire that other glory which he was earning by his perfect sanctity.


No one of those who have voluntarily submitted themselves to the discipline of the monastic life, burning for Christian sanctity with a passion purged of all madness, was ever keener or subtler in the profoundest studies than John the Scot,15 who, after publishing volumes of admirable commentaries, founded a new sect of his own and openly attacked the writings of Aquinas.

He was born in farthest Britain near the Caledonian forest, a fact which makes it seem less strange that Anacharsis, a philosopher of consummate wisdom, was born among the wild Scythians under a murky sky ill suited for nurturing genius. But this Scot seems to have mocked at Christian doctrines with insolent and sophistical language, since, in the doubt into which his exhaustive questionings had brought him, his faith in holy things had become confused amid the dense fog of his own fancies. He planted thus the seeds of unending dissension, since his tenets, bitterly attacked by the adherents of the opposite school, were in return fiercely defended by his followers. But he who appears by diverting the path to truth to have shaken the faith and been the ruin of a number of brilliant members of his order who were born to bear the best of fruit, was stricken by apoplexy and paid the penalty, if not for some open, at any rate for some concealed crime. For after a too hasty funeral he was laid in the tomb as dead and when, as life returned, nature too late shook off the attack of the disease, having in vain uttered a pitiful cry for aid and beaten his head for a long time against the stones of his sepulcher, he died at last from the blows.

There was another John the Scot16 about whom Crinito quotes17 from the Annals of the French, a story I am inclined to 32 believe: that he, like St. Cassian, fell stabbed by the styluses of his pupils, who had conspired against him, and that his death went unavenged.


Dante Alighieri is with good reason the first of the Italians to be seen here, for he deserves the foremost place among their portraits not only because of the chronological arrangement but because of the surpassing fertility of his august genius. Florence, a state in that age rent by factions, bore him and recognizing his lofty talents honored him with the supreme office of Prior, only to show herself presently, when the wheel of Fortune turned, a cruel and ungrateful country by proscribing the man who was her most distinguished citizen and the founder of the Tuscan tongue. Yet his exile was a greater and more glorious thing for him than the lordship of all Tuscany, since it sharpened and kindled the force of that hidden divine genius which was stirred to life under his bitter broodings. Born in exile indeed was his threefold Comedy, flooded with the light of Platonic learning, so that, though he renounced his birthplace, he was made a citizen of all Italy.

Crowned therefore with undying glory and rapt in contemplation of that heavenly felicity for which the pious yearn and which he sang with so much eloquence and inspiration, before his hair began to whiten he died of disease at Ravenna, so completely in possession of his intellectual powers that he composed six verses to be carved on his tomb. Nor did the people of Ravenna fail to give this citizen of all Italy the honor of a public funeral; and, by erecting a marble monument, they openly rebuked the Tuscans for their harshness and in their splendid devotion won new glory for themselves.

Dante's Verses

The laws of monarchy, the gods above, hell and its lakes I saw and sang so long as the Fates willed. But since a part of me has gone to sojourn in a better camp and has sought its Maker in bliss among the stars, here I, Dante, am entombed, an exile from my native shores,the child whom Florence, a mother of scant love, bore.


But when his tomb was falling to pieces with age, Bernardo Bembo, father of Cardinal Pietro Bembo and podestà of the city of Ravenna, adorned it richly with a carved arch and added this epigram:

Here in the confines of a narrow tomb thou didst lie, Dante, scarce known to any under dust and mould; but now thou art laid beneath a marble arch and thou out-shines all in splendid state. Bembo it was who, fired by the Tuscan Muses, did this for thee, whom they most dearly loved.


Francesco Petrarca, the fellow citizen and disciple of Dante, received from him with ardent enthusiasm the riches of the Tuscan tongue which he had firmly established and made beautiful with ordered rhythms. And with such native skill he softened what was too harsh and moulded its numbers to varied measures of peculiar sweetness, that by persistent cultivation he brought that speech, just springing up and scarcely budding, to ripe fruitage and so to the very height of perfect elegance; and he won such glory that, in his own field of poetry and particularly in love poetry, for purity, brilliance, and sweetness he is held to be the first of famous poets and the last, since none but madmen have dared to vie with him.

But mocking Fortune grievously misled the judgment of this great poet, since he scorned as ephemeral those poems that were destined to breathe undying charm, thinking to attain a surer and loftier glory with his Latin Africa, which won him the distinction of being crowned with laurel on the Capitol.18

But let us acknowledge the great debt we owe to the man who toiled nobly and unceasingly to raise from their Gothic tombs letters that had lain for ages miserably buried, provided that we also revere him as the founder and prince of the Italian tongue through the peerless excellence of his divine genius.

He yielded to nature's law in old age at Arquà, a village in the Paduan territory, where his tomb may be seen, made famous by these verses which he composed himself:


This stone covers the chill bones of Francesco Petrarca. Virgin Mother, receive his soul; Virgin-born, have mercy upon it and grant that, weary of the earth, it may find rest in the citadel of heaven.


Boccaccio, born at Certaldo in that happy age which saw the rebirth of Latin letters, was the first to attempt and to perfect a literary prose in his native language. This had been neglected by Dante, who was caught up to the heights of his heroic Comedy by the divine madness of poetry, and Petrarch, charmed by Latin, had abandoned it as too lowly, so that it fell to his pupil and brother in affection as his legitimate share of their heritage, so to speak, of the new glory. There were some, however, who thought that Boccaccio had no gift for poetry nor Petrarch for prose, since Fortune allotted such great geniuses complementary talents, and therefore each with shrewd judgment strained every nerve to excel in that field to which he was more inclined and in which the stream of his style flowed clearer.

But by a fate similar to Petrarch's Boccaccio too was mistaken in his opinion of his own works, since the prodigious and unremitting labor with which he toiled to win for himself assured renown was spent almost in vain. For his books on The Genealogy of the Gods, The Fickleness of Fortune, and Springs, works painstaking and accurate rather than felicitous, are going out of date and hardly retain the breath of life, while those Tales of the Ten Days, composed with wonderful charm in imitation of the Milesian stories to amuse leisure hours, are being translated into all languages and, with no signs of dying, amid the applause of the nation continue to surpass all his other works in popularity.

He departed this life in his sixty-second year. His tomb, adorned with a marble statue and with the following verses carved upon it, may be seen in the cathedral of Certaldo.

Under this pile lie the ashes and the bones of Giovanni; his soul sits before God, crowned with the rewards of his labors. The author of his mortal life was Boccaccio; his birthplace Certaldo; his study was sweet poetry.



Bartolo, who was born at Sassoferrato in Umbria, applied the great keenness of a penetrating intellect to the profession of civil law and left evidence of his accurate learning in all the universities of Italy. They say that he was indefatigable in his intellectual labors and that to preserve his health he was accustomed to have served on his extremely frugal table measured amounts of food and drink. His memory often failed him and, that he might repair by assiduous preparation the inconveniences caused by forgetfulness, he renounced all pleasures so sternly that not even one little hour beyond what Nature required was taken from his studies.

But this same sternness he seems to have exercised to the point of injustice in torturing and putting to death the guilty, since he presided over capital trials with such severity that he once punished with a too hasty sentence a man accused of theft who had not made due confession and was, in fact, innocent. Having as a result of such harshness incurred unpopularity, which was stirred up against him by the talk of the people, and desiring in his mortification to avoid the sight of men, he buried himself in the peaceful seclusion of the country to pore over his books, and when at last he emerged boldly from his application to his studies, he surpassed all his contemporaries in the sureness of his learning and the marvelous fairness of his judgment.

For his attainments he was presented by the Emperor Charles IV with the national order of the kings of Bohemia, on which is represented a scarlet lion with a two-headed tail salient in a gold field. He made his greatest reputation, however, in the university at Perugia, where he settled and married. He was disappointed in his hope of a son, but he left as the heirs of his distinguished scholarship almost countless pupils, who were his sons in affection.

He was denied eloquence in Latin that he might not scale the highest peak of glory, and yet we may well be amazed that, though continually occupied in teaching, he was able to complete so many ponderous volumes, while, when he was carried off by Fate in his forty-sixth year, he left posterity 36 good reason to regret the unfinished works which he had begun with the greatest promise.

He was buried by the high altar in the church of San Francesco.


Baldo, who was born at Perugia of the noble family of the Ubaldi, surpassed his master Bartolo in subtlety of genius and breadth of learning. For before he took up civil law, he had received from his father, a celebrated physician, no mean training in the principles of dialectic and philosophy. Of precocious talent when a mere boy, he not only attained the ripe development of his powers but, by a very rare gift of Nature, lived to a good old age.

But his lofty genius, while capable of the most intricate reasoning, was deficient in sure and steady knowledge, so that, though his mastery of both civil and canon law made him preeminent in argument and exposition, yet after debate, when it came to a question of cool judgment, he was worsted by the solid learning of Bartolo.

When he was at the height of his fame, Gian Galeazzo Visconti, the equal in glory and power of the greatest kings, who was founding a university at Pavia, engaged him at a very large salary. There he lived to be seventy-six, his reputation never declining and his strength never failing in the service of the state.

He died shortly before the prince, victorious over foreign nations, met his untimely end. They say that when he was breathing his last, he put on the dress of St. Francis; and his tomb may be seen in the church of that saint with these rude verses carved upon it:

Baldo is buried here, laid out in the garb of St. Francis; the prince of scholars buried in the citadel of Perugia.


Leonardo of Arezzo19 was the first man in Italy to raise and restore the glory of Greek letters which had been trampled 37 under foot with monstrous tyranny by many generations of barbarians. For it is owing to his incomparable services that we now read the Ethics of Aristotle in a faithful translation. His Histories too, written in elegant Latin, are well known.

When he had made a reputation by such productive scholarship, Innocent VII appointed him Apostolic Secretary, since, in spite of his youth, he was equal to so onerous a post, and he discharged his duties with so much learning and integrity that he served four successive popes in the same capacity with increasing distinction.20

As he grew old, he grew rich, piling up wealth not only through the generosity of others but by his own austere frugality, so that Arlotto,21 who had a keen and biting wit, in his Fabule mockingly represented Leonardo's guardian spirit parched with thirst running away from his body.

When he was dead and so was spared the knowledge of his disgrace, he was found guilty of plagiarism, because he had published his History of the Goths without mentioning Procopius. His accuser was Cristoforo Persona, who had found another copy of Procopius and translated the History of the Goths, Persians, and Vandals, honorably giving credit to the Greek author.

Leonardo's last work, written after he was recalled to Tuscany, was the History of the Florentines, and not long after, old and loaded with wealth and honor, he died at Florence, richly deserving the following epitaph by Carlo Aretino and the sculptured tomb which is to be seen in the church of Santa Croce:

Now that Leonardo has departed this life, History mourns, Eloquence is dumb, and they say that the Greek and Latin Muses alike could not restrain their tears.


Poggio,22 who came from the Florentine town of Terranuova, so refined and polished his natural talent under our Roman sky by study of the classics that he was appointed Apostolic Secretary by Eugenius and Nicholas, an honor which he shared with most distinguished men (among them Leon38ardo Aretino, Maffeo Vegio, and Giovanni Aurispa), who had devoted to that office their loyalty and learning.

He was weighty in counsel and, when he liked, had a pretty wit, so that with a surprising and often sudden change of style he would now use equivocal expressions to raise a laugh, now by harsh and ill-natured jeers glance at a man's reputation. But when he had outrageously attacked Valla in a bitter pamphlet, he was soundly punished for his abuse by the insults hurled back at him by his victim, who, bursting with venom, had already silenced by his scurrilous writings Fazio and Panormita and Antonio da Ro. Poggio also was so unbridled in invective that when, during the revision of the papal documents in Pompey's theatre, a conspicuous place and occasion, he insulted George Trapezuntius, he got two sharp boxes on the ear.

Later he translated from the Greek Diodorus Siculus and composed, besides several speeches, a number of celebrated treatises: On the Misfortune of Princes; On the Fickleness of Fortune; On the Curse of Avarice. And so prolific was his genius that he wrote also Facetiae, or amusing anecdotes, which the sad should read to make them merry. But the service most useful and acceptable to posterity was his bringing to Italy the first copy of Cicero's De Finibus and De Legibus, which he had himself transcribed in Germany; and we must admit that we owe him Quintilian, too, whom he found in the shop of a dealer in salt fish.23

Finally, after extended travels, he returned in extreme old age from the papal court to Florence, where he did his country a service worthy of a consummate orator and an excellent citizen by writing in Latin the History of the Florentines, which may now be read in the Italian version of his son Jacopo. This son, after his father's death, was strangled for joining the conspiracy of the Pazzi and hanged with the other conspirators from a window of the Bargello.


Ambrogio, the Monk,24 of the order of the Camaldulese who live an austere and cloistered life on the shady slopes of the Apennines above Florence, surpassed all his contemporaries 39 in profound learning and brilliant intellect. Deeply versed in Greek and Latin scholarship, he won the friendship of Cosimo and then the admiration of Popes Eugenius and Nicholas and attained the highest office of his order, which is today called General of the Order, an office which he filled with such distinction that the Holy Fathers continually had in mind his elevation to the purple. For he had translated into remarkably pure Latin the inspired treatise of Dionysius the Areopagite on the Celestial Hierarchy and also Diogenes Laertius, though not with the same accuracy and elegance.

The library, which is to be seen at Santa Maria degli Angeli, he filled to overflowing with his works on sacred subjects, from which we may infer that is was by no means lack of strength or talent but solely of inclination that kept him from reaching the pinnacle of Latin eloquence. For, deeply absorbed in Christian contemplation as became a pious and consecrated man, he spent the leisure of his whole life on sacred letters.

This was a man such as we rarely find, religious without being gloomy, unfailingly sweet tempered and serene; so free from envy and contentiousness that, when he was trying to reconcile Valla and Poggio, he said that men who in their quarrels defiled the sacred glory of letters with their scurrilous pamphlets were neither scholars nor Christians.

He died well on in years and was buried in the convent of the Angeli, where a reverent poet affixed these verses to his tomb:

Thou tastest of Attic honey, thou breathest ever of nectar, thou who hast thy name25 by the grace of God: a name, except for thy sweet chanting of the mysteries of heaven, sweeter itself than any nectar and ambrosia.


The Sicilian Antonio Panormita,26 the son of a cavaliere of Bologna, whom his pupil Pontano calls "the father of elegance",27 prided himself on tracing his descent from "the Britons at earth's end" and from the illustrious Bolognese house of the Beccadelli, basing the latter claim especially on their coat of arms, which like his own displayed winged serpents 40 painted on a shield. But surely we may think that he won for himself a more exalted rank by his fame in the noblest studies. Distinguished as he was for character and learning, when he offered the services of his productive genius to Filippo, Duke of Milan, he was engaged on such generous terms that he not only gave private lessons to the prince, who was eager to learn history, but lectured in public on belles-lettres with an annual stipend of eight hundred gold florins. This is that famous Filippo who most gloriously plucked the topmost fruit of clemency coveted by all noble sovereigns, when he not only released King Alfonso, whom he had taken prisoner in a naval battle, but sent him back to his kingdom reinforced with troops and money.

But when Filippo became involved in oppressive wars, Panormita attached himself to Alfonso as his private secretary and was his constant companion not only in his literary pursuits but on all his campaigns by land and sea.

His works include Letters written in a somewhat over frank but wholly delightful style, an account of the triumph of the victorious king, and the "little golden book" on the sayings and doings of that excellent monarch, which Pope Pius is thought to have made still more celebrated by interpolating parallels.28 Finally, however, he engaged in a quarrel with Valla, whose natural harshness made him only too inclined to biting invective, with the result that they were, so to speak, pierced with each other's darts and were a shameful source of merriment to their enemies.

In his old age he married Arcella,29 whom he loved tenderly, and had children whose worthy descendants are now living at Naples. At length he fell sick and, despairing of his life, during his last illness he composed these verses for this tomb:

Seek, O Muses, another to bewail the Loves: seek another to sing the brave deeds of kings. For our Father, the great Creator and Redeemer of mankind, calls me away and permits me to draw near the abodes of bliss.


The Roman, Lorenzo Valla, roused to the study of glorious letters his fellow citizens, who from the time of the Goths to 41within the memory of our fathers had been sunk in profoundest lethargy. For, indignant that the age should so long be corrupted by the monstrous conspiracy of pettifoggers and sophists and that the liberal arts should be defiled by rude and barbarous speech, he published his books of Elegantiae, in which he presented the rules of Latin style derived from a careful examination of the ancient writers, that by them the youth might be kindled with enthusiasm to outdo one another in wiping the dust from moldering letters. The fame that he acquired by thus shedding light on his native tongue was increased by his knowledge of Greek, for Thucydides and Herodotus, the fathers of history, were brought from Greece to Latium by his ungrudging toil.

Valla was of a very outspoken and therefore sharp and quarrelsome nature, inasmuch as he was easily provoked to attack the works of others with biting satire and engaged in the bitterest literary disputes with the ignorant as if this were unavoidable. For there are extant, several books of Invectives and Recriminations full of learning and wit, in which, while he defended his own injured reputation, he may be said to have silenced Fazio the Ligurian, Panormita, Poggio, and Antonio da Ro.

When he had roundly abused all the schoolmasters of Rome, still overflowing with malice, since nothing in the papal court met with his approval, he betook himself to King Alfonso at Naples, where he wrote a history of the Spanish and Sicilian campaigns of the king's grandfather; but the style is such that it seems impossible that it was written by the man who laid down rules of elegance for others. He published also a work which, for a pious man and a priest, was scurrilous and wicked, on the False Donation of Constantine, in the effort to overthrow the authority of the papal empire which had been confirmed by the united testimony of Greek writers. Soon, however, with the same fickleness he had shown before, he abandoned King Alfonso, to the disapproval even of Filelfo, only to die before he was really old in his native city.

His mother, Catherina, erected "to her most dutiful son" a tomb of sculptured marble with his portrait and an epitaph by Franchino Cosentini which may be seen in the Lateran 42 (for he was canon of that church) at the right as you enter. He died August 1, 1457.

The Epitaph

Here lies Lorenzo Valla, the glory of the Roman tongue: for he first taught the art of cultured speech.


Flavio Biondo was born at Forl?, a famous city on the Aemilian Road, in an age as yet unacquainted with ancient culture. With great courage, extraordinary industry, and no small success he set himself to rescue from darkness the events of many years that lay perishing unregarded and wrote his Decades, in which he brought to light the period so full of horrors, and therefore unillumined by truth, of the decline of the Roman Empire. Likewise by the publication of a learned and laborious volume on the antiquities of the ruined city and her majesty as she finally rose again, he attained the prestige in letters which he coveted but used no influence to win, and as a result honorable wealth came to him from the favor of the popes.

He preferred to have children rather than to take orders and he had a son, Gaspare, who seems to have been raised to noble rank by his marriage with a Roman lady named Margania. But his descendants, though their fortunes prospered, were by no means equal in ability to the founder of the family.

He died in his seventieth year and was buried on the Capitol outside the threshold of the church of the Blessed Virgin, which we suppose was once the temple of Jupiter Tonans, because it is approached by a hundred steps, as, according to Tacitus,30 that temple was in antiquity.


Candido Decembrio of the city of Vigevano which lies between the Po and the Ticino was, according to Lorenzo Valla,31 the most accurate of scholars. He taught Latin and Greek at Milan, where he enjoyed a great reputation for learning and eloquence. We have his Latin version of Appian 43 of Alexandria, translated from the Greek at the request of King Alfonso, who had invited to his court on liberal terms all the best scholars of the age, that they might bring forth the hidden treasures of Greece to enrich the Latin language. But in this work, because of the defects of his Greek manuscript, he could not, for all his pains, live up to the brilliance his name implies. He was, however, much happier in his other writings. In his Life of Filippo Visconti, which is now in circulation, he successfully imitated Suetonius, describing his subject in such a way that he is thought to have wielded his pen with somewhat less restraint than becomes an unprejudiced writer, since hidden defects which hurt nothing but the Duke's own pride and therefore ought certainly to have had a veil drawn over them he laid bare with unseemly eagerness and malice, — and this too in the case of a prince whose fame for matchless and almost godlike clemency put many kings to shame with its glorious light.32

He died in his eightieth year at Milan, having been fittingly honored with a considerable fortune by Francesco Sforza, and was thought worthy of a marble tomb adorned with a likeness of himself lecturing to his youthful audience. This is in the vestibule of the church of Sant' Ambrogio at the left as you enter. On it is inscribed the following rude poem written with equal disregard of taste and dignity in rhyming verses.

If virtue knows how to climb the starry skies, Candido is among the stars worshiping God in his temple. Pope and King, people and Duke of Milan he served as secretary and won praise everywhere. A soldier of brilliant eloquence, versed in the Greek Muses, he made his pleasant studies an honor to Latium. Weary with the cares of this world he has ascended to the bright heavens but leaves his body in the chill tomb.


In an age when brilliant geniuses were vying with one another for a reputation for learning, Donato Acciaioli, a member of an ancient Florentine family, won distinction by his study of both languages, as is clear from the learned and 44 polished commentary by which he is thought to have shed a flood of light on the Ethics of Aristotle. In this he completely exploded the fallacies of the sophists and, by following the doctrines of the Greek Eustratius, certainly planted his feet on firmer ground. He also translated into Latin far more elegantly than any one else several of Plutarch's Lives of Famous Men, though he is somewhat better known for the Latin work in which he celebrated Charlemagne as the second founder of his native Florence.

But a man weighty in counsel and therefore busied with affairs of state could not steal enough leisure for literary pursuits and because of his frail health he could not live to a great age. He died at Milan when he was on his way to France as ambassador to appeal for aid to relieve his city, which was being harassed by the papal forces. For Sixtus, after the punishment of the Pazzi conspiracy, had relaxed none of his hostility but continued to assail with all his might Lorenzo dei Medici, whose lordship was more secure than ever as a result of that outrage.

Donato's bones were brought back to Florence and laid in the ancient tomb of his family, which is in the church of the Carthusians and may be identified by the following epitaph by Poliziano:

Donato is my name, Florence my birthplace, my house the Acciaioli, my glory eloquence. While on an embassy to the king of France I died within the walls of the duke who bears the serpent as his arms. So I spent my life for my country and she brought me home and laid me among the ashes of my fathers.


The people of Tolentino point out to strangers in their palazzo publico the portrait of their fellow townsman, Francesco Filelfo, crowned with laurel and wearing the belt of knighthood; and they treasure also the royal document which testifies to the conferring of such honor.

Filelfo, fired with ardent enthusiasm for Greek letters, went to Parnassus to drink of Hippocrene and among the ruins of Athens trod in the footsteps of the immortal philosophers.


From there he proceeded to Constantinople, where he married the daughter of Emanuel Chrysoloras. His wife was also his Greek teacher and by daily practice she instilled the honey of Attic speech into her inept but docile spouse.

When he returned to Italy and delivered speeches everywhere in Greek as well as in Latin, he was received with admiration by the Italian princes. For he came as an ambassador to beg for aid in the name of Palaeologus, Emperor of Constantinople, who was with difficulty holding out against the attacks of the Turks. He found favor especially with Pope Eugenius and King Alfonso and also with Francesco Sforza, who above all men of that age deserved the laurel for justice and military prowess and was celebrated by Filelfo in an epic poem.

Being by nature a passionate, versatile, and ambitious student, since he could not endure that anyone should be compared with him in literary reputation, he published more books in all departments of literature than anyone else. In every city where he lectured he inspired cultivated youths to form academies and he would have left his Latin rivals no hope of surpassing him in Latin style nor the Greeks themselves any hope of surpassing him in Greek, had not such a torrent of eloquence, unconfined as it was by any banks of tempered judgment, overflowed too widely and, often changing its course, become turbid and wayward, so that it parted and spread out into a swamp losing the dignity of a clear stream. Among the Greek works that he translated into Latin the Cyropedia of Xenophon, several of Plutarch's Lives, and Hippocrates find fewer admirers among the Greeks than readers among the Italians.

He lived to the advanced age of nearly ninety and died at Bologna, having so dissipated his property that the furniture of his bedroom and kitchen had to be sold to pay his funeral expenses and his son Mario, himself a distinguished scholar, inherited from his father ability rather than any considerable estate. The family, however, retained possession of the trophy for a triumph of learning which Filelfo won in a famous jest, when with insistent arrogance he had, according to their compact, shaved off the beard of the Greekling Timotheus, whom he had worsted in an argument about the 46 length of a syllable, an incident which Mirteo has wittily recorded in the following verses:

Was it not enough for you, Filelfo, that you had won fame and glory in the Latin tongue, but must you also, after roaming through the Greek cities too, carry off a fresh triumph from Timotheus, as became the husband of a Greek bride? For he made a wager with you about a certain word, agreeing, if he lost, to let his beard be shaved; and, if he won, he was to get the money you had staked. You won and, declaring that you could not buy a beard for the amount of the wager, you whipped out a razor and said you preferred to have his. Now indeed, Filelfo, you may be called the pride not of the Italian but of the Greek palaestra.


Sentinum, an Umbrian town today called Sassoferrato, which was already famous on account of the jurist Bartolo, gained a second distinction from Niccolò Perotti. Though he had no money, he had no lack of physical strength, acquired by a frugality and rigor that would have become a peasant and equal to continual study far into the night. When a young man, he taught a school for the children of the nobility and had so many pupils that before long he published a book on the elements of the Latin language, a useful manual arranged on systematic principles and therefore easy for children to learn by heart.

Next he went to Rome, where he studied Greek with indefatigable energy and, finding a generous Maecenas in Bessarion, he made such progress in correctness and felicity of style that he was able to translate into Latin the great historian Polybius. There were, however, some among his rivals who thought this was an ancient version that he had stolen, because Thucydides, Diodorus, Plutarch, and Appian, whom they translated in a noble contest of genius, were far excelled by Polybius, who alone seemed truly a Roman.

He also wrote a commentary on Martial, which he called, borrowing an old Greek idea, the Cornucopia. This was very useful and therefore might have been immortal; but from 47 conscientious scruples he stopped its publication, thinking that fame won from a trivial and none too virtuous work was not consistent with his dignity. For, having acquired means and been made Bishop of Manfredonia, he was at this time outdoing himself as governor of Perugia and Umbria.

He died in old age at Sassoferrato in the villa made delightful by its gardens and fountains which he called from its peaceful calm Fugicura or Sans Souci.


Good men, especially those in holy orders, owe a great debt to Platina,33 since by his noble labors the unvarnished truth about the doings of the papacy was brought into the light so eagerly desired by a dark age that it was destined never to wane. This truth, naked and unadorned, without any allurements of style, compels belief and reflects dignity on his other more ornate works. For his sententious dialogues on The True Good, True Nobility, and The Excellent Citizen and his elegantly phrased precepts for virtuous pleasure would not live long did they not, pressing close to his enduring History, achieve success from this fortunate companionship and enjoy with it, though in less degree, the breath of immortality.

Platina, when very poor and unknown with no rank except that which his talents gave him, came from Cremona to Rome during the papacy of Callixtus. There he made the acquaintance of Pius and Bessarion, who showed sound judgment in appointing him to minor priestly offices. Under Pope Paul he was unjustly and maliciously denounced and subjected to cruel torture. Finally Sixtus put him in charge of the library which he had founded in the Vatican, because he was considered by far the best candidate for that position, and he was still holding that honorable post when he died in old age.

He left his house on the Quirinal and the laurel grove that used to furnish the wreaths for crowning poets to Pomponio Leto. His funeral train proceeded to the church of Santa Maria Maggiore on the Esquiline, while poets sang his praises in tearful verse. On his tomb, however, he instructed his favorite pupil, Demetrio,34 to have this epitaph inscribed. 48 though the verses which follow it were also affixed there by his mourning friends:

Whoever thou art, if reverent, vex not Platina and his kindred. They lie in narrow quarters and desire to be alone.

To record the talents, characters, lives, and deaths of the popes was the function of penetrating history. But you go on to treat of the dainties of a sumptuous kitchen. This, Platina, is to cater for the popes themselves.35

Actius Sincerus.

He who wrought into his noble work the sacred history of the popes, the deeds of the good, the lives of princes, and taught how virtuous pleasure may win praise and youth escape the torment of fierce passion, and other things too many to rehearse, O hurrying traveler, but all betokening a star-bright mind, this Platina still lives and though he has yielded to Orcus, stern Fate has no power over the seer. — Prospero Spiriteo.


13 Albertus Magnus, Doctor Universalis, was beatified in 1622.

14 Thomas Aquinas, Doctor Angelicus, was canonized by John XXII in 1523 and named a Doctor of the Church by Pius V in 1567.

15 Duns Scotus, Doctor Subtilis.

16 John Scotus Erigena.

17 De Honesta Disciplina, 24.11, quoting R. Gaguin, De Francorum Regibus Annales, Book IV. The same story is found in William of Malmesbury, Chronicle of the Kings of England, II.4

18 Easter Sunday, April 8, 1431.

19 Leonardo Bruni.

20 Innocent VII, Gregory XII, Alexander V, John XXIII.

21 Arlotto Mainardo (1395-1483). Facezie Piacevole, Fabule e Motti del Piovano Arlotto, Prete Fiorentino, 29.

22 Poggio Bracciolini.

23 In 1416 Poggio discovered a complete MS. of Quintilian in the monastery of St. Gall, CF. his Epistles 1.5 and Bruni, Ep. 4.5

24 Ambrogio Traversari.

25 I. e. Monachus. There is a pun on nomen and numen, Ambrosius and ambrosia. The last couplet reads: Quod nisi dulce canis referens mysteria divum, Dulcius hoc certe est nectare et ambrosia. I am very doubtful of the meaning.

26 Antonio Beccadelli, called Panormita from his birthplace, Palermo the ancient Panormus.

27 Amores 1.27: Antoni, decus elegantiarum.
               atque idem pater omnium leporum

28 In Libros Antonii Panormitae Poetae, De Dictis et Factis Alphonsi Regis Memorabilibus, Commentarius, Lib IV.

29 Laura Arcelli.

30 Tacitus, Hist. 3.71: qua Tarpeia rupes centum gradibus aditur. The church of Aracoeli.

31Neminen scio in iudicando magis religiosum vel in docgtrina magis aut uberem aut expolitum (Valla to Decembrio in his Epistula contra Bartolum).

32 E. g. Chapters 50, 51, 55, 56, 66, 67.

33 Bartolommeo dei Sacchi, called Platina from his birthplace Piedina.

34 Pietro Demetrio of Lucca, assistant librarian of the Vatican under Platina.

35 This refers to the book, De Tuenda Valetudine, Natura Rerum, et Popinae Scientia, sometimes attributed to Platina.

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