Who would not marvel that in Machiavelli here natural ability was so powerful that with no knowledge of Latin, or at least very little, he was able to acquire an excellent literary style? With a genius that was facile and, when he exerted all his skill, really astonishing, he did with elegance everything he undertook, whether he wrote on serious or light subjects. 125 In history, where he is especially shrewd and impressive, he so favored his native city that he ignored the strife of factions and is thought to have proceeded with indulgence or severity as his secret inclination dictated. He certainly would deserve the highest praise except that, as we who are not ignorant of Tuscan history can clearly see, the honey of sweet eloquence which he poured on all his works was mixed with subtle poison and that, too, even when he was describing the best prince, when he was instructing a general in the arts of war, and finally when he was giving proofs of his profound wisdom by portraying the senator who should be eminent in debate and counsel.
But let us pass kindly judgment on his Tuscan wit, which was modeled after the old comedy of Aristophanes, especially in his Nicia,67 in which he drew a laugh even from the serious so delightfully that those very citizens who were cleverly and realistically put on the stage, though stung to the quick, endured all the ignominy with which they were branded with democratic tolerance; and after it was acted at Florence, because of its reputation for extraordinary charm, Pope Leo arranged a festival and had the play brought to Rome with all the original scenery and actors, that the Capital might share the pleasure.
It is generally known that, as he himself admitted to me, he got the flowers of Greek and Latin which he introduced in his writing from Marcello Vergilio, whom he served as secretary and assistant in his public office. Of his own accord, however, since he was naturally very clever and quick to learn and full of shrewd judgment, he had confined Italian prose, which had escaped from the archaism of its founder, Boccaccio, within new and truly Attic bonds, so that this style is considered more disciplined, though not more plain nor harder for the indolent reader.
Now the Medici, to appease his resentment because once after the expulsion of Soderini they had examined him under torture, engaged him at an annual salary to write his History; with the result, however, that, since with ill-concealed enmity he was always praising in speech and writing the Brutuses and Cassiuses, he was thought to have planned the conspiracy in which the poet, da Diacceto, and Alamanni, one of 126 the light horsemen of the praetorian guard, paid with their lives for the crime they had plotted. From then on he was always in want, being regarded as a scoffer and an atheist, and he died, jesting and mocking at his own life, from the effects of a drug which he had recklessly taken to fortify himself against disease, a little while before Florence, subdued by the Emperor's forces, was compelled to take back her old lords, the Medici.
As a professor of civil and especially of canon law Filippo Decio was almost equally celebrated and respected. A contemporary and fellow citizen of Giasone Maino, he was also his rival, but by writing and by teaching in all the universities of Italy he spread the fame of his genius much more widely. For he expounded with the greatest clearness and, as I have often had the opportunity to observe, he was far the keenest of all scholars in argument. He was induced to leave Pisa, where he had married, for Pavia by the offer of a large salary from the French governor just at the time when King Louis had summoned the Council of Pisa to overthrow the authority of Pope Julius. Several disloyal and rebellious cardinals were demanding a synod in order to please the king, but the Pope insisted on his right to announce the place. When Decio was consulted on this matter, he replied by reading a violent attack upon the sovereignty of the Pope in strong contrast to Giasone, who, when asked his opinion, could not be induced even by the offer of a large bribe to answer otherwise than with the utmost mildness. On account of this insult, when Matthias, Cardinal of Sion, entered Pavia with a victorious army after routing the French, Decio's house was the only one that he handed over to the soldiers to plunder.
After this great misfortune Decio fled to France and taught canon law in the city of Bourges for almost two years. Then, however, he returned to Italy and was employed by the people of Siena, where he died when more than eighty years old, leaving one daughter, who was married to a Sienese patrician. His body was taken to Pisa and laid in a marble tomb which he had erected himself at great expense in the front part of the 127 cathedral. The inscription on it is so foolish that, if I should append it here, men of taste would think it laughable and it would bring shame on the virtuous dead.
Surely mad Fortune, who is habitually inconstant and a foe to virtue, lately played her most grim and insolent jest and vented her most monstrous cruelty on England during the reign of Henry VIII, when she singled out for ruin Thomas More. The king, who a little while before had been an enthusiastic admirer of More's spotless virtue, had raised him to highest honors, only that presently, changed into a wild beast (it must have been by an attack of some fatal frenzy) he might fiercely hurl him headlong from them, because, being a man perfect in all points of religion and justice and most holy, he had refused to flatter the tyrant's impious lust. For when Henry was bent on divorcing his wife, taking a paramour, and outrageously disowning his daughter, More, his secretary, the victim of his own piety and integrity, was made to plead his cause in court and, by a decision that would have been impious had not terror of the king's anger and cruelty deprived all the jurors alike of their senses, he was condemned to die like a highwayman by a shameful death and his kinsmen were forbidden to give his mangled limbs due burial.
But Henry, who by this one crime made himself the rival of Phalaris, could not prevent More's unwavering courage from enjoying immortal glory in his Utopia, which will keep alive forever the memory of that monstrous villainy. For in that country of a blessed people he described most perfectly a prosperous and peaceful state founded on ideal laws, while he expressed his scorn of the accursed morals of his own degenerate age, — thus pointing out in a work of most delightful fancy the straightest way to a good and happy life.
A few days before More was beheaded the same fury of a bloodthirsty king with like monstrous cruelty extinguished the 128 light of England, John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, who equalled the early and most holy fathers of the Christian Church in piety, sincerity, and steadfastness. This man, who was celebrated for his great reputation for religious learning and integrity, could not be forced even by threats of most barbarous punishment to obey the king, when, after his shameless divorce, he was planning an ill-omened marriage. For he thought that his sovereign, who not long before had been preeminent for a remarkable combination of all virtues and the rarest gifts of Nature and Fortune, had been attacked by a melancholia and lost his mind, because, angered at the sentence of the Pope by which he had been formally excommunicated, he had laid hands on the patrimony of the papal empire. Therefore this prelate of noble piety and unshakable principle would not accede to the impious desire of the rebellious king and for this he was imprisoned, in the hope that the resolution of a weak old man might be broken by the danger to his life and by long torture. When this became known, it brought Rochester such glory and heaped such odium on Henry that Paul III, who lived to honor virtue, conferred on the bishop the sacred purple and made him cardinal. Thereupon the proud and wicked king, stung by this condemnation of his odious conduct, had this most holy man, who had received with becoming modesty the news of his advancement, beheaded in the public square, that he might never wear the purple he had earned. They say that the head, which was fixed on a spear to be an object of mockery and terror to all men, was greeted with acclamation and adoration by the weeping populace.
He left as a monument to his genius a learned work, in which he had most convincingly refuted Luther's doctrine, and also other useful books, in which he upheld the authority of the sacred priesthood, besides five on the Reality of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist written in answer to Oecolampadius. But the one which ruined him was that in which he defended the marriage of Queen Katherine. We have, too, a pious and thoughtful commentary on the Seven Psalms of David. His other works, written in prison with great purity of style, the tyrant suppressed, because they utterly confuted the charges on which he had been condemned.
Leonico Tomeo, the son of an Epirote, was born at Venice, but he became an adopted citizen of Padua, where he was the first of the Latin philosophers to lecture on Aristotle in Greek, having learned that language in Florence under Demetrius. For he always insisted that philosophy must be quaffed from the purest springs, not from muddy rivulets, and he would have none of the teaching of the Sophists, which then held sway in the schools among the uncultivated and ignorant; for the teachers, having devised with barbarous subtlety empty forms of dialectic, were reviving the Quaestiones Physicae, not with a view to shedding on them the light of truth, but to give occasion for the vain chatter of argument, and the youth in the university, following the explanations of Arabs and barbarians, were being led from the straight and well-paved road to the jagged precipice of ignorance.
He wrote brilliant and learned commentaries on the Parva Naturalia of Aristotle and also several very polished treatises, among them On the Intellect, On Beer, On Dice, which pleased the youth from their variety and were useful to them. But in his book, De Varia Historia, which gives evidence of an enormous amount of interesting and abstruse reading, he surpassed all his contemporaries in charm of style.
His life was passed in studious leisure far from rivalry and ambition, and in the afternoons at his house, where he appeared more distinguished than on the platform, he would expound to his friends with the most gracious courtesy the true doctrines of the Peripatetics and the Academicians.
He lived to be a reverend, white-bearded old man of seventy-three. His means were modest and he was a model of the frugality becoming a private citizen. He never married. His life was happy because no one in our generation has been more blest with consciousness of virtue and learning or with elegance of person or with brilliance of intellect. For forty years he had a tame crane which used to amuse the old man by taking food from his hand. When this crane wasted away and died of old age, he interpreted its loss as a bad omen and predicted that without being attacked by any disease he should soon follow his beloved pet by speedily departing from life.130
The Paduans and the foreign students in the university arranged for his funeral, but his tomb was erected by Bembo, who made it famous by this couplet:
Agostino Nifo, who was born at Sessa, though his family came from Tropea in the Abruzzi, was very celebrated among professors of Aristotelian philosophy, as may be seen from the fact that, at a time when Pomponazzi and Achillini were at the height of their reputation, he commanded a very large salary in almost all the universities of Italy . His genius was productive, his character frank and generous, his speech, which had a rustic Campanian accent, was very fluent, and he delighted his hearers by interpolating anecdotes on the platform and in informal discussions. Though his whole appearance was countrified and quite uncouth, he often exhibited an urbane wit, to the complete astonishment of those who presently beheld his frown and the stern expression of his mouth when he ceased speaking.
He wrote very full commentaries on all Aristotle's works, but with a rude and undisciplined luxuriance of style suited to dull and barbarous ears, as was the fashion in his day; for men used deliberately to refrain from treating the highest subjects, especially philosophy, in a correct Latin style, as if it were injurious to them. It is generally considered that a more brilliant effort is his defense of Averroes against Algazellas, a work published in his prime when the full vigor of his genius was thought to have made his style more forceful; although it is evident that he himself, who was far from constant in his opinions and judgments and often changed his mind, had a greater affection for his commentaries on the Priora Analytica and the books on the Soul.
When frequent attacks of gout caused him finally to retire, he wrote treatises against the Astrologers, on Morals, on the Tyrant, on the King, and on Auguries, which should attract even the indifferent by their variety of subject and 131 would have deserved to live longer if they had been written in more inspired Latin.
When he was an old man of seventy, the father of several children and the husband of an aging wife, he was carried away to the point of madness by uncontrollable passion for a young girl, so that many were filled with shame and pity to see the gouty old philosopher dancing to the strains of the pipe, a piece of folly which, it is generally believed, hastened his end.
He died in his native city of diphtheria which developed from a cold caught when he was coming back late from Sinuessa--that very night so tragic for Tuscany when Alessandro dei Medici was foully murdered in his bed.
Galeozzo Florimonti, when he set up an urn to the memory of his teacher, had the following verses carved on it:
Ruelle, a native of Soissons, married and had children, but after the death of his wife he gave up the practice of medicine and, through the generosity of Bishop Poncher, was appointed canon of the church of Notre Dame in Paris. All the leisure of this office he devoted to the classics, as became one whose fortunes had prospered, and he reaped indeed no mean harvest of glory, since in reputation for learning he was second only to Budé and in the brilliant purity of his Latin style he was considered his superior, a judgment amply supported by his excellent Latin version of the Greek of Dioscorides.
We have, too, several volumes of close and accurate translation of works on veterinary science and a version of the De Urinis of the physician Actuarius. But he also wrote three original books on Plants which in many respects show judicious imitation of Theophrastus and Pliny. He made, besides, remarkably careful versions of five of the twenty books on 132 Agriculture that are current under the name of Constantine. The rest the Frenchman, Coroneus,68 is said to have translated, but the German scholar, Cornarius,69 so celebrated for his facile eloquence, has recently published a Latin version of the whole twenty.
Ruelle had a modest and gentle nature. He was of medium height with a very ruddy countenance and a snub nose. He died in his sixtieth year, shortly before King Francis crossed the snow covered Alps in the hope that his courageous support of his troops, who had been thrown into confusion by the attack of the Emperor's forces, and the repulse of their enemy might strengthen the allegiance of the Piedmontese towns and that he might then arrange a truce which should lead to the peace that had been despaired of.
This man was almost the first since Petrarch to revive the extinct glory of Tuscan song in which he surpassed his rivals, Serafino and Manuzio, and the melody of his rhythmic numbers was so pleasant to the ear that, when he had gone from court to court joining in their sportive dalliance (for his charming and delightful talents were in demand everywhere), lords and ladies alike sang to the lute lyrics of his that had been published or that they had managed to purloin. But before long his great reputation was thrown into the shade by the immortal poems of Bembo and Sincerus, who were born under a luckier star. Tibaldeo himself, dazzled by such radiance, realized the fate of his genius and therefore turned to Latin verses, to which his natural wit was well adapted. But when he was a very old man, amid the laughter of all Rome, he celebrated funeral rites for his Tuscan poems, and actually got back a good deal of his fading early glory by publishing quite unexpectedly epigrams sprinkled with much Latin salt and charm.
He died in his house on the Via Latina when he was eighty.
He was very strong and always held his tall figure erect, but he suffered such tortures from strangury that finally he became melancholy and embittered and often seemed mad, though his ravings were not without point; for when the Em133peror Charles on his triumphal return from Africa passed by his house, he shut tight the door and windows and would not look at him, because he considered him a most unjust sovereign who had failed to punish by decimating his troops the capture and sack of the capital which he was pledged to protect, a crime for which His Majesty might be taunted even though not directly responsible; as if it were not solace enough for such a disaster to have beheld Bourbon, D'Aubigny, Montcalm, and Orange, the four generals responsible for the outrage, struck by lightning at the hands of an avenging God.
Erasmus of Rotterdam, as island city of Holland, seems to deserve endless praise for his learning, surpassing as he did in fertility of genius the fame of almost all writers of our age. In early youth with the reverent purpose of a pious soul he became a monk, thinking that he despised all earthly things. But soon, utterly weary of that premature slavery and the vows that he had rashly taken, he leapt the bounds of the sacred order, that he might roam through all the universities of Europe with complete freedom to cultivate his intellectual powers. For he was striving earnestly toward the summit of supreme glory, which he knew could be reached through acquaintance with all literature, since by endless reading and a most unusual memory he had already penetrated to the secrets of every branch of knowledge.
By the publication of his Praise of Folly he increased his reputation enormously, planting everywhere the sharp stings of satire after the fashion of Lucilius and reducing the proceedings of all schools alike to sheer insanity. It is a work that delights by its spray of wit even the serious and the busy, but it ill became a consecrated man, since it seemed to mock even at divine things. In time, however, (for he was already beginning to pay for his lack of restraint in ill repute), he applied himself to more sacred letters and exercised his vigorous intellect with such energy that, between translating Greek works and writing commentaries, he published more books than any one else. Still, he would undoubtedly have seemed to all even more admirable if he had preferred to imi134tate seriously the founders of the Latin language rather than to indulge a passionate and impatient temperament. For he tried by novelty of diction and structure to win a glory all his own which should not be the result of any deliberate imitation of the ancients; as he shows in his Ciceronianus, which is full of unconcealed malice.
Such was the productivity of his nature, which was always conceiving anew while still with young, that, delighted with the varied and premature progeny of his prolific intellect, he was always in travail with some new work which must be born at once, with the printers standing by like eager midwives.
He died at Basle in Switzerland, more than seventy years old, when the Emperor Charles had invaded Provence at Aix and declared an oppressive war on Francis, King of France.
Rutilio of Cologna,70 a town in the district of Vicenza, since his learning and industry were freely at the service of Cardinal Niccolò Ridolfi, gave up the profession of law, which he had never practised publicly, and took holy orders. He published a book, which is to be commended for its style and thoroughness, on the eminent legal authorities of the best period of the Roman Empire, a painstaking and polished work in which he incidentally cleared the text of Cicero of many errors. He might have produced more important works had not death overtaken him in the midst of his labors at Venice.
His poet friends wrote the following verses for him, thinking that, because of his humble circumstances, he was not likely to have the honor of a splendid funeral.
No man of our age by incessant toil and the favor of the Muses amassed greater wealth of Greek and Latin learning than did Guillaume Budé, who was by far the most distinguished scholar not only of France but of all Europe. Born at Paris, the celebrated home of lofty science, he spent more than sixty years of his life in study, striving to win undying praise and holding riches and honor cheaper than his genius and the fame he hoped for. Therefore in his erudite work on the As and another on the Pandects and in his Commentaries, the fruit of endless reading, in which he compared the beauties of Greek and Latin style, he surpasses all his contemporaries in the authority of his learning and shared his glory with no one.
But he who had such riches arranged with marvelous system among the treasures of his memory is thought to have neglected to cultivate purity of style, as if preoccupied with his mere equipment. For this, which is the most important thing to attain in the whole business of study, no one has ever put off till old age without being disappointed.
His reputation was increased by a guileless heart and a spotless character, which enabled him to leave to the children he had successfully reared a somewhat larger fortune than he could have amassed by persistent industry or thirst for honor, since King Francis, who was famous for his ready generosity, aided so virtuous a man to live in leisure, and later, by appointing him maître des requêtes, enabled him to earn a handsome income.
But, though in other respects he was without reproach, he could not endure the darts of Erasmus's abuse, since he was quick tempered and full of Gallic choler, and Erasmus, fired with stubborn hate, hurled weapons dipped in Dutch poison.
In his seventy-third year he was attacked by fever contracted on a long, hot journey to the coast of Normandy. He died calm and resigned, leaving a will in which he strictly forbade any honors of a funeral or a tomb. Thus, though he was mourned by a numerous family, he was buried at night. He died not long after that triumphal progress, greeted with such cordial hospitality, when the Emperor on his way 136 from Spain through France to Belgium had inspired a war-weary people amid general rejoicing to hope for peace.71
Let us pay this tribute to the extraordinary and incomparable powers of memory which in Gerolamo Aleandro reached a height so far beyond the capacity of anyone else even among the ancients that, though his genius was humiliatingly barren, his portrait painted from life is to be seen here among those of the most productive scholars; for in his eager reading of all books no word or fact escaped him and he could repeat from memory every detail even after it had been buried in silence for many years. When his frequent and fluent use of Latin and Greek made these languages like his mother tongue to him, he thoroughly mastered Hebrew, to the astonishment of the Jews, who readily believed him to be of their own race.
Made conspicuous by such intellectual gifts, he was elected Rector of the university of Paris, where he taught Greek by the unanimous vote of the students, and he then proceeded to Rome, where Pope Leo, who was a very shrewd judge of talent, advanced his fortunes and sent him as ambassador to Germany to put down the beginnings of Luther's heresy by argument. Later Clement made him Bishop of Brindisi, though by chance rather than of deliberate purpose, and Paul who was a scholar himself and honored true ability, made him cardinal.
He enjoyed the purple for five years and would no doubt have lived to old age, had he not, in over anxiety to preserve his health, become his own ignorant and unsuccessful physician and infected his vital organs by taking unsuitable drugs.
Having found pleasure all his life in extemporaneous discourse, he did not realize the flaw in his genius till too late, when he planned to write and found that the steam of his eloquence, as if sullied by a rush of mud from without, refused to flow clearer. He was thus bitterly disappointed in his ambition to form a better style, for he was planning to employ his vast memory in a vast work against the professors of various subjects.137
He died in Rome, outraged at his own fate, for he complained with his last troubled breath that he had been carried off a year before his climacteric. He was buried in the church of San Chrysogono across the Tiber and his will directed that among the inscriptions on his tomb there should be carved Greek verses composed by himself in which he predicted that new disasters threatened us. They run as follows;
When the school for Greek youths started by Lascaris on the Quirinal was becoming firmly established, Lampridio,72 a poet of Cremona, accepted a post as teacher there. His method proved most effective, for he set subjects to be treated in the words and idioms of both languages as matter for intellectual rivalry. But on the death of Leo and the consequent overthrow of classical studies at Rome, he went to Padua, where for some years, in his own house at a salary contributed by his pupils, he taught Greek and Latin to a picked group of youths with more profit than glory; for being of a proud and obstinate nature he could never be induced to mount a public platform for fear that he might have to risk his reputation with men more eloquent, or less learned. Finally Federigo Gonzaga called him to Mantua, to be his son's tutor and, while he was filling that post, when his pupil was only seven years old and he had hardly tasted the generosity of the duke, he was carried off by pleurisy before he reached old age.
He wrote learned and majestic odes in emulation of Pindar, but they pleased few readers, because, in following the course of that ancient and almost inimitable poet, which is like that of a swollen and winding river, his style became too extravagant and harsh for Latin ears. For it often happens, as Horace warns us, that subjects which we find delightful in themselves and excellently suited to the beauties of Greek style are not, even when treated in the same meter, by any means adapted to display the charm of the Latin language.
Gaspare Contareni, a patrician of Venice remarkable for his extraordinary memory, brilliant learning, and purity of mind and body, when he entered public life was the equal in sound judgment of the wisest senators and therefore he was speedily employed on the most important embassies, recommended not by his age but by his ability alone. For, while still a youth, he had, like a perfect Peripatetic (though in modesty he suppressed his own name), defended Aristotle against the false accusations of Pomponazzi, who had published a book in which he made, if not a crazy, at least an impious attempt to prove that according to Aristotle's opinion our souls die with our bodies.
Contareni then applied his talents to sacred letters with so much industry that he produced a book on the duties of the ideal bishop according to the standards of the Christian faith. In the midst of his political career he brought out a work on the Republic of Venice reflecting honor and glory alike on himself and his native city, that the ancient laws of the state as to conferring offices might not be forgotten.
Finally Pope Paul, who easily surpassed earlier popes in the ripe authority of his excellent judgment, raised him, quite unexpectedly to himself, to the senate and sent him as cardinal ambassador to Germany, that certain illstarred persons who had adopted the heresy of Luther might be cured by sound doctrine. But, when he came back to the capital after this mission in which his best efforts proved fruitless, he was made ambassador at Bologna and a few months later, while still holding that post, he died of a quick fever when not yet sixty years old.
His tomb of brick is to be seen in the church of San Proculo to the left with the following verses by Marcantonio Flaminio:
67 More commonly called Mandragola.
68 Jean Couronneau.
69 Johann Hagenbut.
70 Bernardino Rutilio, author of Veterum Iurisconsultorum Vitae.
71 On Jan.1, 1540 the Emperor entered Paris, where he was much fêted by Francis I.
72 Benedetto Lampridio.