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From A Literary Source-book of the Italian Renaissance, by Merrick Whitcomb, PH. D., University of Pennsylvania; 1900; pp. 62-69.



Born at Piadena, near Cremona, about 1421. In his youth served four years as a soldier. Later on studied at Mantua and attached himself to Cardinal Francesco Gonzago, who took him to Rome. Became a member of the Academy of Pomponius Laetus, organized for 63 the discovery and interpretation of Roman antiquities. 1475, placed in charge of the Vatican library by Sixtus IV. Died 1481. His chief literary work is entitled In vitas summorum pontificum ad Sixtum IV. pontificem maximum, praeclarum opus.


He was commendable for his Liberality toward all, especially Learned men, whom he advanced with Money, Court-preferments, and Benefices; whom he would sometimes put upon reading, publick Lectures, sometimes upon writing some new thing, and sometimes upon translating Greek authors into Latin, insomuch that the Greek and Latin Tongues, which had lain hid for six hundred years, at last regained their splendor to some considerable degree. He also sent those Learned Men all over Europe to find out such books as had been lost either by the negligence of Antiquity, or the brutal fury of the barbarous Nations. So that Poggius found out Quintilian, and Enoch Asculanus, Marcus Coelius Appicius, as also Pomponius Porphyrio, a famous Writer upon Horace. Besides, he erected most stately Buildings in the City, and the Vatican: in the city, a noble House for Popes, near S. Mary the Greater, and repaired S. Stephen’s Church, that stands in the Mount di S. Giovanni, but built S. Theodores, that stands upon the plain between the Palazzo Maggiore and the Campidoglio, from the ground. He likewise covered the roof of S. Mary the Round which stands in the middle of the City, an ancient Temple built by Agrippa, with Lead, and in the Vatican he not only beautified the Pope’s House after the manner which we see, but he began the Walls of the Vatican, very large and high, laying foundations for Towers, and a vast Superstructure, whereby to keep the Enemy from plundering the Pope’s House, or St. Peter’s Church, as formerly was often used. Furthermore, in the 64 upper end of S. Peter’s he began a great Gallery, to make the Church more glorious, and hold more People. He also repaired Ponte Molle: and built a fine House at Viterbo, near the Baths. Nor only so, but he lent many others money who were a-building in the City; and by his order the Streets were paved. He was very Charitable, especially to Persons of Quality if they happened to be reduced to Poverty; and gave poor Maids a competent Portion when they were married. He always received foreign Embassadors very honorably and freely. He was easily anger’d, to say the truth, being a cholerick Man, but he was easily pleased again; and that gave some ill-natur’d People the occasion to Carp at him, though he deserved extremely well of God and Man. Then he was so far from Covetousness, that he never sold any Place, nor ever was guilty of Simony. He was kind to them, who deserved well of himself and the Church of God, a lover of Justice, the Author and preserver of Peace, merciful to Offenders, a diligent observer of Ceremonies, and would omit nothing belonging to Divine Worship. The Vessels of Gold and Silver, Crosses set with Jewels, Priestly Robes adorn’d with Gold and Pearls, the arras Hangings interwoven with Gold and Silver, and a Papal Crown, are yet to be seen as Monuments of his Munificence. I do not mention the many holy Books that were transcribed by his Order and Embossed with Gold and Silver: but you may see the Pope’s Library, which was wonderfully augmented by his care, and at his charge. He was so kind to the Religious that he gave ’em a great deal of money and Ecclesiastical Benefices besides; and canonized S. Bernardine of Siena, a Frier Minor, because by his Preaching, Admonitions, Reproofs, he had almost extinguished the Factions of Italy, that is to say, the Guelphs and the Gibelline Faction, and shew’d Christians the way to live well and happily: whose Body is now to be seen, and daily visited with great veneration, at Aquila.



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Moreover, he so ordered his method of living that he could never be accused of idleness or sloth. He rose as soon as ’twas day for his health sake, and, having said his Prayers very devoutly, went about his worldly affairs. When he had done his morning’s work , and walked about the Gardens for his recreation, he went to Dinner; in which he used an indifferent sort of Diet; not curious and dainty. For he seldom bid ’em get him this or that particular Dish, but whatever they set before him, he ate of. He was very abstemious, and when he did drink wine, it was always diluted with Water, and pleasant rather than rough upon the Palate. After meals he either discoursed or disputed half an hour with his Chaplains, and then going into his Bed-Chamber, he took a nap; after which he went to Prayers again, and then wrote or read, as long as his business would permit. The same also he did after Supper; for he both read and dictated till midnight as he lay in his Bed, nor did he sleep above five or six hours. He was a short man, gray-haired before his time, and had a wrinkled face before he was old. In his aspect he bore severity tempered with good-nature, and in his Garb was neither finical, nor negligent, but so contrived it, as to be consistent with the pains which he usually took. He could patiently endure both hunger and thirst, because he was naturally very strong; and yet his long journeys, frequent labour, and Watchings had impair’d him. His usual Diseases were the Cough, the Stone, and Gout, wherewith he was often so tormented, that nobody could say he was alive but by his Voice. And even in his sickness he was very accessible, but sparing of Words; and unwilling to deny any Man’s Petition. He laid out all the Money he got together; and did neither love Gold nor contemn it; but would never be by, whilst it was told out, or laid up. He seemed not to cherish the Wits of his Age, because three grevious Wars which he had undertook had so continually exhausted the Pontifical Treasure that he was oftentimes much in Debt; and yet he preferred many learned 66 men to places both in the Court, and Church. He would willingly hear an Oration, or a Poem, and always submitted his own Writings to the judgment of the Learned. He hated Lyars and Sycophants, was soon angry and soon pleased again. He pardon’d those that reviled, or scoff’d at him, unless they injur’d the See Apostolick; the Dignity whereof he always had such a respect for, as upon that account often to fall out with great Kings and Princes. He was very kind to his Houshold Servants; for those that he found in an errour, through folly or ignorance, he admonished like a Father. He never reproved any one for speaking or thinking ill of him; because in a free city he desired every body should utter their minds. And when one told him, that he had an ill Report, he reply’d; go unto the Campo di Fiore, and you’ll hear a great many talk against me. If at any time he had a mind to change the Air of Rome for a better, he went especially in the Summer, to Tivoli, or his own Country, Siena. But he was mightily pleased with the retirement of an Abby in Siena, which is very delightful, and cool too by reason of its situation and the shady Groves that are about it. He frequented the baths at Macerata and Petriolana for his health’s sake. He used thin Cloths, and his Expences in Silver look’d more frugal than Prince-like. For his whole delight (when he had leisure) was in writing and reading: because he valued good Books more than precious Stones; for in them he said there was great plenty of Gems. He so far contemn’d a splendid Table, that he went often times to Fountains, Groves, and Country recesses for his own humour, where he entertain’d himself not like a Pope, but an honest humble Rustick. Nor were there wanting some who found fault with this his frequent change of places, especially his Courtiers; because no Pope had ever done so before him, unless in time of War, or of a Plague. But he always slighted their Cavils, and said, that for all his pleasure he never omitted any thing that befitted the dignity of a Pope, or tended to the good of the Court. In all places he Sealed, heard Causes, Censur’d, Answer’d, Asserted and Confuted; to give full satisfaction to all sorts of men. He could not eat 67 willing alone, and therefore invited either the Cardinal of Spoleto, of Trani or of Pavia, commonly to Dine or Sup with him. At Supper he used to discourse of Learning, and rubb’d up his old Notions of the Ancients; shewing how commendable each of ’em was in this or that particular.

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When he was a youth indeed and not yet initiated into Divinity, he set out Poems that were rather light, and jocular, than serious and grave: and yet sometimes even in them he was elevated, nor did he want satyrical sharpness amidst his merry Conceits. There are Epigrams of his extant, that are full of Wit, and he is said to have written about three thousand Verses, which were lost most part of ’em at Basil. The remainder of his life he wrote Prose onely, his grand affairs rather inclining him to it; but he also loved a mixed stile, more fit for Philosophy. He set forth several books of Dialogues about the Power of the Council at Basil, about the Rise of the Nile, of Hunting, of Destiny, of God’s Prescience, and of the Heresie in Bohemia. He left an imperfect Dialogue which he began against the Turks in defence of Christianity. He digested his Epistles into their several occasions and seasons when they were written: and those that he wrote when he was a Layman, a Clergy, a Bishop, or Pope he put into distinct Tomes: wherein he excites Kings, Princes, and others to engage in the War for Religion. There is an Epistle of his extant which he wrote to the Turk, to persuade him from Mahometanism to the Christian Faith. He also wrote a Book about the Life of Courtiers; as likewise a Grammar for Ladislaus the young King of Hungary. He furthermore composed thirty two Orations, exhorting Kings, Princes, and Commonwealths to Peace, and in defence of Religion, to promote the quiet and Concord of the whole World. He perfected the History of Bohemia, but left that of Austria imperfect. And though he was upon a History of all the remarkable actions of his Time, yet he was never able, for his business, to finish it. He wrote twelve Books and began the thirteenth of things done by himself. His Stile was soft and easie, in which he 68 made several excellent and pertinent Sermons. For he could readily move the Affections with handsom and graceful Expressions. He very aptly describes situations of Places and Rivers, assuming various ways of Eloquence, as the occasion required. He was well acquainted with Antiquity; nor could any Town be mention’d, but he could tell its rise and situation: besides that he would give an account in what Age famous Men flourish’d. He would sometimes take notice of Mimicks for his pleasure: and left many Sayings behind him, of which I thought fit to add some to this account of his Life: to wit: That the Divine Nature was better understood by Believing than by Disputing. That all Sects though confirm’d by humane Authority yet wanted Reason. That the Christian ought to be received upon its own credit, though it had never been back’d with Miracles. That there were three Persons in the Godhead, not proved to be so by Reason, but by considering who said so. That those men who pretended to measure the Heavens and the Earth were rather bold than certain what they did was right. That to find out the motion of the Stars had more pleasure in it, than profit. That God’s Friends enjoy’d both this Life and that to come. That without Vertue there was no true Joy. That as a covetous man is never satisfied with Money, so a Learned Man should not be with knowledg; But that he who knew never so much might yet find somewhat to be studied. That common Men should value Learning as Silver, Noblemen as Gold, and Princes as Jewels. That good Physitians did not seek the money but the health of the party diseas’d. That a florid Speech did not move wise men but Fools. That those Laws are Sacred which restrain Licentiousness. That the Laws had Power over the Commonalty, but were feeble to the greater sort. That great Controversies were decided by the Sword and not by the Laws. A Citizen should look upon his Family as subject to the City, the City to his Country, his Country to the World, and the World to God. That the chief place with Kings was slippery. That as all Rivers run into the Sea, so do all Vices into Courts. That Flatterers draw Kings whither they please. That Kings 69 hearken to none more easily than to Sycophants. That the tongue of a Flatterer was a King’s greatest Plague. That a King who would trust nobody was good for nothing, and he that believed everybody was no better. That it is necessary he that governs many should himself be ruled by many. That he deserv’d not the name of a King who measured the Publick by his private advantage. That he who neglected holy Duties did not deserve the Church Revenue, nor a King his Taxes, that did not constant Justice. He said those that went to Law were the Birds; the Court, the Field; the Judg, the Net; and the Lawyers, the Fowlers. That men ought to be presented to Dignities and not Dignities to the Men. That some Men had Offices and did not deserve ’em, whilst others deserv’d ’em and had ’em not. That the burthen of a Pope was heavy, but he was happy who bore it stoutly. That an illiterate Bishop was like an Ass. That ill Physicians kill’d the body and ignorant Priests the Soul. That a wandring Monk was the Devil’s Bondslave. That Virtue had enriched the Clergy, but Vice made ’em poor. That there was great reason for the prohibiting of Priests to marry, but greater for allowing it again. That no treasure was preferable to a faithful friend. That Life was like a friend, and Envy like Death. That he cherishes an Enemy who pardons his Son too often. That a covetous Man never pleases any body but by his Death. That Men’s faults are conceal’d by Liberality, and discover’d by Avarice. That it was a slavish Vice to tell Lyes. That the Use of Wine had augmented the Cares and the Distempers of Mankind. That a Man ought to take as much Wine as would raise and not overwhelm his Soul. That Lust did sully and stain every age of Man, but quite extinguished old Age. That Gold itself and Jewels could not purchase Content. That it was pleasant to the Good, but terrible to the Bad, to Die. That a noble Death was to be preferr’d before a dishonorable Life in the Opinion of all Philosophers.


*  From the Lives of the Popes, from the time of our Saviour Jesus Christ, to the Reign of Sixtus IV. Written originally in Latin, By Baptista Platina, native of Cremona, and Translated into English * * * * * * * by Sir Paul Rycant, Kt. London, Printed for C. Wilkinson, and are to be Sold by A. Churchil at the Black Swan in Ave-Mary lane, 1688.

[For a eulogy by a humanist of the next generation on this site, see Paolo Giovio’s, An Italian Portrait Gallery, translated by Florence A. Gragg. — Elf.Ed.]

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