19 Chapter Fifteen The Language Question: Cultural Politics of the Medici Dynasty

Brendan Michael Small

Scholars have well established that the Tuscan dialect was an integral factor in the formation of the standardized national language of Italy.[1] By the early sixteenth century, theorists began assessing and regulating European vernaculars, and in 1525 Pietro Bembo (1470–1547) wrote his canonical treatise Prose della volgar lingua [Writings on the Vulgar Language]. Bembo’s work expressed what would become the dominant notion regarding Italian language, that the Italian vernacular represented a natural continuation of Latin.[2] Prior to Bembo, humanist scholars like Angelo Poliziano (1454–94) and Paolo Cortesi (1465–1510) had laid the groundwork for applying classical textual scholarship to texts written in regional dialects. According to Christopher S. Celenza, “all that remained—and this was the task to which Bembo set himself—was to regulate the vernacular, to create out of many local and temporal variants one language that was suitable for high literature.”[3] It was a complex and multifaceted process that scholars still debate today. However, within the debates surrounding la questione della lingua [the language question], scholars generally agree that the Tuscan dialect was more influential than other regional dialects.

There were other prominent dialects and models that may have been selected as the paradigmatic model for a standardized national language. Castiglione (1478­­­­–1529) championed the lingua cortegiana, the language used by the intellectuals and administrators in the main Italian courts. Machiavelli (1469­­­­–1527) favored a colloquial spoken language. Bembo, in Prose della volgar lingua advocated for a vernacular humanism. Powerful leaders like Lorenzo Il Magnifico (1449–92) and Cosimo I de’ Medici (1519–74) preferred the Florentine vernacular. They appropriated the language to promote Tuscan in a cultural project that linked the dialect to the political standing and intellectual prestige of the Florentine state.[4] I propose that it was the Medici dynasty’s program of cultural politics and propaganda that resulted in Tuscan being favored above all other dialects and models.


The Odyssey Translated in the Florentine Vernacular

In 1582 the Florentine printer Bartolomeo Sermartelli published L’Odissea D’Homero Tradotta in Volgare Fiorentino da M. Girolamo Baccelli [The Odyssey by Homer translated in the Florentine Vernacular by M. Girolamo Baccelli]. The eight-volume work was the first complete Odyssey ever printed in the Florentine vernacular.[5] The book includes a flowery dedication to the second Grand Duke of Tuscany, Francesco I de’ Medici (1541–87), and a woodcut title page that has an intricate printer’s device featuring the Medici coat of arms (Fig. 1). That the Grand Duke requested a Florentine translation of Homer bespeaks the broader cultural milieu of Italy in this period. Eugene Rice explains that, “among men who needed to read, write, and calculate in order to manage their businesses and conduct civic affairs, there was a large and ready market for printed books.”[6] Publishers tried to satisfy the unremitting enthusiasm of the bourgeoisie for edification and self-improvement by printing books in a more accessible language. The result was a steady stream of vernacular translations throughout the sixteenth century; this was a crucial development in printing, since those classical texts were now able to reach a much broader audience than was possible in the original Greek and Latin.[7] The Italian translations were more intelligible to the middle class than Latin or Greek, but they were not universal. The Italian language was dominated by regional dialects: Tuscan, Lombard, Neapolitan, Sicilian, etc. In 1582, after decades of debate and dialogue, spurred by Bembo’s treatise, a standardized national language still did not exist. Thus Baccelli translated the Odyssey into a distinct regional dialect, the volgare fiorentino.

Baccelli’s choice reflected the complexities in creating a standard Italian language during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. As sixteenth-century Italian humanists attempted to establish linguistic norms and codify the Italian language, the literary Tuscan, as used by the great writers of the Trecento, particularly Boccaccio and Petrarch, prevailed as the dominant influence on what would become a more homogenous literary language.[8] The Tuscan of the three crowns––Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio––presented a natural model for writers who wished to break free from the confines of their regional dialect. Before the thirteenth century, a uniform, standard language can scarcely be said to have existed on the Italian peninsula.[9] Nonliterary material, when not written in Latin, was buried in regional dialects. The same was true, to a slightly less degree, of consciously literary works. For example, the stylized Sicilian of the Scuola Siciliana, the Central Italian of the Ritmo Cassinese, the Lombard of Bonvesin da la Riva, etc., as contrasted with the Tuscan of Dante and his contemporaries.[10] The problem facing any writer of the thirteenth and fourteenth century who hoped to reach beyond a local audience was to find a mode of speech understandable to all. In the fifteenth century Latin was adopted as the lingua franca of the humanists, but the distinct regional dialects remained the dominant language of the bourgeoisie and less well- educated classes. The Medici family, in an effort to link the Florentine language with the golden ages of antiquity, helped ensure that the Tuscan dialect would have a prominent place in the discussions surrounding the formation of a universal Italian language. The Tuscan dialect championed by the Medici had already been infused with the language used by earlier Florentine writers. This created a literary language shaped by the vernacular language used by Tuscan authors, in addition to the Latin of the humanists, as evidenced in Baccelli’s translation of the Odyssey.


The Literary Language of Baccelli’s Translation

In Book XXIII of Girolamo Baccelli’s 1582 translation of Homer, the use of the word cotal reveals the influence of Dante and Boccaccio. This is the moment in the story when the nurse Eurycleia tells Penelope the news of Odysseus’s return. Cotal [this, that] is an adjective written in contemporary Italian as questo. Here the translator’s choice to use cotal reflects how the sixteenth-century literary language was infused with a mixture of the Trecento Italian of Dante and Boccaccio. Baccelli writes, “Ella le gambe e i piè robusti e forti/ Haveva, onde fermossi presso al capo/Di lei, e le parlava in cotal forma.”[11] Cotal comes from the Latin eccu(m) talis. But by the fourteenth century the original Latin had been transformed from eccum talis into the vulgar Italian cotali, as evidenced in the fifth canto of the Inferno. Dante writes, “Cotali uscir de la schiera ov’é Dido.”[12] And in volume two of the Decameron Boccaccio also uses the word: “Calandrino gl’invitó a cena cotale alla trista.”[13] By consequence of Dante and Boccaccio’s universal renown, their writing style and word choices crept into all of the regional dialects, thus making cotal a natural word choice for Baccelli. However, Trecento Italian was not the only style to influence the vernacular.

When humanists like Niccoló Niccoli (1364–1437), Poggio Bracciolini (1380–1459), and Leonardo Bruni (1370–1444) set out to recover classical literature and bring ancient authors into the continuum of contemporary culture, they irrevocably altered the Italian language and played a fundamental role in establishing a standardized national language.[14] The humanists’ enthusiasm for the Latin of Cicero, Virgil, and the ancients had a powerful effect on the spelling, syntax, and vocabulary of the vernacular. According to Robert A. Hall, “there was a lag of nearly a century between the rise of humanism at the beginning of the Quattrocento and the re-assertion of the value of the vernacular towards the end of that century and the beginning of the Cinquecento.”[15] Thus, by the second half of the fifteenth century, most writers were using a language that was influenced by the Trecento Tuscan of Dante, Boccaccio, and Petrarch, by their own regional dialects, and by the Latin of classical literature.

Again, Book XXIII of Baccelli’s 1582 translation provides further evidence of those various influences. His translation reads, “Poscia ch’Vlisse quince si partio…”[16] The word Poscia [then, after] confirms that Latin, the Trecento authors, and the local dialect influenced Baccelli’s translation. Poscia is Florentine and comes from the Latin word postea, meaning then or after. The thirteenth-century Florentine troubadour Guido Cavalcanti, who greatly influenced successors like Dante, Boccaccio and Poliziano, originally popularized the use of Poscia.[17] Cavalcanti transformed the Latin postea to poscia to mimic the spoken Florentine dialect, as he believed the soft sound of the spoken word was agreeable for the language of literature as well.[18] In other parts of Italy poscia would typically be written as poi, or dopo. Baccelli’s choice to use poscia is a direct result of the desire to have literature reflect the way people spoke, and continues the tradition began by Cavalcanti.

Although the vernacular texts of authors like Cavalcanti, Dante, and Boccaccio were influential, the literati of Italy exalted Latin texts above all other forms of literature for most of the 1400s. As Hall noted, it took nearly a century before attitudes began to shift to the view that vernacular literature could become a worthy alternative and successor to humanistic Latin literature. Eventually writers strove to learn and recreate the vernacular language to the highest point of its tradition.[19] Many humanists naturally looked to the literature of the three crowns, and Lorenzo de’ Medici eagerly supported efforts to elevate the language of Dante, Boccaccio, and Petrarch to the status of the great classical authors. “The Italian peninsula was subject to constant political instability in this period, and recourse to either religious or imperial ideologies became increasingly problematic.”[20] With such a precarious hold on power, rulers in Italy sought out new ways to legitimize their authority. Humanism provided the ruling class families like the Medici in Florence, the Este in Ferrara, cardinals and popes in Rome, and Alfonso of Aragon in Naples with a strategy that would enable them to present their dynasties as heir to the Roman political tradition.[21] These families gathered teams of humanists whose principle function was to represent the ideal image of their patrons in the newly acquired Latin and associate them with ancient virtue. Among those prominent families it was Lorenzo de’ Medici and his heirs who had the foresight to push the functionality of humanists further.


The Medici Dynasty and the Florentine Vernacular

Lorenzo de’ Medici masterfully employed culture and art as politics by unusual means.[22] His grandfather Cosimo Il Vecchio (1389–1464) had embarked on a cultural program that produced unparalleled wonders for the city of Florence, such as Brunelleschi’s dome, the Medici Palace, and Donatello’s David. Upon his death the city government of Florence conferred upon him the title Pater Patriae [Father of his Country]. Lorenzo was aware of how successful his grandfather’s cultural program had been and sought to expand on it. He wanted to have Florence recognized as a new Rome, and as its de facto leader Lorenzo would be the city’s Augustus. His grandfather’s title was not enough for Lorenzo; he wanted to be recognized as the apex of nobility, and in fifteenth-century Florence that meant being noble in the classical Roman sense.

It was not easy to champion the Tuscan dialect in the humanist climate of quattrocento Florence given the dominance and prestige of Latin among the literati of the city. However, in the 1460s and 1470s the vernacular played an increasingly important part in the cultural and ideological strategies for Florence under the Medici. Lorenzo’s efforts linking the contemporary Florentine culture and his family’s rule to the ancient Romans culminated in Cristoforo Landino’s (1424–98) commentary of 1481, wherein he celebrated Florence and its society through the vernacular of Dante. He presented the Comedy as emblematic of classical and contemporary values.[23] Landino was the tutor of Lorenzo de’ Medici and a member of the Platonic Academy in Florence, and he was not alone in his promotion of the vernacular in this period.

Another respected humanist, Angelo Poliziano, collaborated with Lorenzo to create a codex known as the Raccolta Aragonese. The original text of the Raccolta is not extant, but “later copies indicate that it was a compendium of vernacular poetry, which contained some 480 compositions across a span of 200 hundred years, from the Sicilians and [Guido] Guinizzelli to the poets of the Certame, and on to contemporary Tuscan poets, including Lorenzo himself.”[24] Poliziano was one of the finest classical scholars of his time, and his editorial contributions to the Raccolta reverberated throughout humanist circles. In the preface to the work he applied techniques of classical textual scholarship to vernacular works by presenting the first great Tuscan authors as worthy successors of the classical poets.[25] The implication was obvious: the poets, humanists, scholars, and artists in Lorenzo’s Florence were producing works to rival those of antiquity. Lorenzo was attempting to make the Tuscan dialect an equivalent to the revered Latin and Greek languages of the golden ages of antiquity. Under the Medici, Florence was realizing a cultural vibrancy not seen since the times of Ancient Rome, and Lorenzo was doing everything in his power to ensure that everyone was aware of it. Based on his patronage for works like Landino’s commentary, his support and involvement with the Platonic Academy, and his intimate connection with the Raccolta Aragonese, it appears that Lorenzo did not elevate the ancient world above his modern one. He tried to create a public cultural program to restore and redefine the antique in contemporary terms and for modern purposes, thus paving the way for a fruitful dialogue between classical and vernacular scholarship that included scholars like Bembo, Machiavelli, and Castiglione.

The influential humanist scholar Pietro Bembo wrote, “first let us set out to imitate the best; then imitate, endeavoring to reach him; finally, once we have reached him, let us direct all our efforts towards surpassing him.”[26] Bembo was referencing Cicero’s use of Latin, but he was also interested in creating a standard vernacular language, a sentiment shared by Poliziano in the preface to the Raccolta. Published in 1525, Bembo’s Prose della Volgar Lingua was one of the first historical Italian grammars. It championed the work of Petrarch and Boccaccio, but also advocated for a literary language that was distinct from the spoken one. Bembo was a Venetian, after all, and still valued regional dialects, especially his own native one. While Bembo was codifying Italian grammar, Niccolò Machiavelli presented radical new political philosophies in his Il Principe, published in 1532, and written in a colloquial style. In 1528, Baldassare Castiglione published his immensely popular Il Libro del Cortigiano, written in the lingua cortegiana. Due to advances in printing, these books were able to reach an exponentially greater number of people than had been possibly only a generation before. Instead of writing in the kind of sophisticated Latin that only the best-educated members of society could understand, the authors and print shops responsible for production turned to the regional dialects in order to significantly broaden their audience. In the dedication of Baccelli’s translation, he expresses to Don Francesco de’ Medici the importance of using the vernacular to harness the power of classical literature: “l’età nostra non l’accetterebbe se non ne ritornelli delle canzoni basse e volgari…E noi che men sottili siamo, e più sdegnati, le sdegnamo nelle graui scritture.”[27] The vernacular would help make classical literature more accessible to the masses, a proposition that would have seemed very risky only a century earlier.[28]

In the first decades of the 1500s there was still no unified national language in Italy (indeed there was no unified nation of Italy), but humanists like Bembo, Machiavelli, and Castiglione were laying the foundation for a standardized Italian. The analysis of Baccelli’s language in Book XXIII of the Odyssey demonstrated how the Tuscan and Trecento Italian of the three crowns influenced his translation. It seems logical that Baccelli would be inclined toward the Tuscan dialect, seeing as he was a Florentine citizen, publishing with a Florentine print shop, dedicated to the Grand Duke of Florence. It is less obvious why Tuscan became so prominent in the rest of Italian literature––the printing mecca of Venice had their own regional traditions, the courts of Papal Rome were filled with an international consortium of powerful and influential men, and the Sicilians had long and proud literary customs in their own right. Yet each center eventually looked to the Tuscan dialect as a model for writing.

Sixteenth-century papal Rome offers insight into why the Tuscan language continued to be so influential. After the death of Lorenzo, the Medici family continued to support the Tuscan dialect and advance its spread throughout Italy. Bembo and Machiavelli both worked under the patronage of Medici popes. Pope Leo X (1475–1521) supported Bembo’s endeavor to codify Italian grammar. And Bembo dedicated Prose della Volgar Lingua to Pope Clement VII (1478–1534), Leo’s cousin. Clement also supported Machiavelli’s controversial publication of Il Principe. The popes actively perpetuated the longstanding family tradition that used cultural policy to strengthen their own positions. The scholars and artists under the patronage of the Medici popes show how the vernacular had begun to take hold and spread throughout Italy, aided as it was by the explosion of printing and the continued guidance of Medici patrons. Despite Lorenzo’s impressive efforts, and the tremendous sway the Medici family held over scholars and humanists, the variation in the literary language of Bembo, Castiglione, and Machiavelli clearly demonstrates that even though the literary Tuscan was going to be integral in creating a unified vernacular language, it was by no means a singular model. All three of these men championed some sort of vernacular that had elements of the Tuscan dialect combined with components from different linguistic sources.

By the time the Medici duchy had been established in 1532 under the control of Alessandro de’ Medici (1510–37), the influence of his family and the city of Florence in Italy had begun to wane. In fact, republican-backed supporters assassinated Duke Alessandro in 1537, and the years of turmoil in Florence between the death of Lorenzo and the assassination of Alessandro caused many talented artists, scholars, and even printmakers to flee the city. Venice was a great beneficiary of the exodus, and by the 1530s had become the Italian epicenter of printing. Venice even attracted long-established Florentine printers like the Giunti press, who temporarily abandoned their operations in Florence in favor of Venice.[29] The fact that Venice was the epicenter of printing in the 1530s did not deter the new Medici ruler in Florence from promoting the Tuscan language and culture.[30] After the assassination of Alessandro, Cosimo I de’ Medici ascended to power to become the first grand duke of Tuscany. Relying on the proven model inherited from his ancestors, he embarked on a cultural program to strengthen his authority and legitimize his duchy. Using his vast network of resources he managed to wipe out any vestiges of republican spirit, and he adeptly transformed the Republic of Florence into a Medicean state. Once the city was firmly under the control of Grand Duke Cosimo, printers, artists, and scholars returned to Florence and there was a great revival of the intellectual activity that had dramatically declined following the death of Lorenzo. Bernardo Giunta (1487–1551), the prominent printer, returned to the city for the last few years of his life.[31] Vasari published his canonical Vite the same year Giunta died. In 1540 Cosimo founded the Accademia Fiorentina [Florentine Academy], which was the heart of the intellectual community in Florence and became the main cultural organ of the Medicean state.[32] The Florentine academy under Cosimo was deeply invested in the study of vernacular. The scholars were continuing the distinctive tradition of careful collation of early vernacular sources, carrying on the legacy of Angelo Poliziano. According to Brian Richardson, “such studies were a potential source of great prestige to the Florentine state, and they were actively encouraged by the Medici family, in particular by Cosimo and, after his death in 1574, by his son Francesco.”[33] Making classical literature accessible to the masses would have been a scary proposition just a century earlier, but, by the time Cosimo rose to power, the threat posed by the classics no longer concerned him. This was a testament to how successfully the humanist movement had permeated Italian society and culture. When Sermartelli printed his edition of the Odyssey, he did it without any annotations or indexes. The editor and printer both assumed that their readership would be familiar enough with Homer and the story of the Odyssey that paratexts were not necessary, and wealthy patrons were confident that the rising middle class would be able to interpret the classics as their social betters intended. Baccelli’s dedication even praises Homer for illustrating how the passions of the princes can impact the life of the people. The dedication to the Grand Duke underscores how, in the Odyssey, the Prince is in control of his own destiny, and how Homer places virtue in the hands of men, not gods.

The Church, however, was cognizant that books might begin to corrupt their readers. Many kinds of texts were censored by the Inquisition during the sixteenth century. As the rulers of Florence, the Medici were in charge of overseeing censorship, and even the beloved Boccaccio was not safe. One particularly influential member of the Florentine academy, Leonardo Salviati (1540–89), edited the Decameron in a way that made it clear that those who went against Christian morality were to be shunned. The copy of the Decameron he produced transformed all of the churchmen into lay people; more than anything else, Salviati thought books should be linguistic references for modern writers. The Academy edited a panoply of books that were named in the Inquisition’s list of banned books, and, while editing for content, their editors would fix the grammar and spelling of the work according to the Academy’s own standards. Editors, especially Salviati, took it as axiomatic that writing had to follow pronunciation. He believed in the principle that “one should avoid spellings which [do] not correspond to the way Tuscans spoke…Tuscan pronunciation avoids effort and harshness.”[34] While editors expurgated texts to appease Rome, they simultaneously altered word division and used the apostrophe more and more in order to clarify the sense. Salviati saw works like the Decameron as linguistic texts, and believed they should be edited to attest to the glory of our vernacular.[35]

Salviati was highly influential within the academy. He no doubt had an effect on Girolamo Baccelli, who also grew up as a member of the Accademia Fiorentina. Baccelli’s attitude toward pronunciation has already been discussed in regard to his choice to use the word poscia. However, the complete couplet from book XXIII referenced earlier reads “Poscia ch’Vlisse quince si partio/Per veder Troia misera e’nfelice.”[36] E’nfelice is used to connote e in felice [and in happiness], demonstrating how the composition was improved to be, as Salviati asserts, “piú agevole para alla lingua e all’orecchie piú dilettevole assai.”[37] Baccelli’s translation is a result of his education within the Florentine academy, and, by extension, the century-long influence of the Medici family over the perception and use of the Tuscan dialect. The dedication of this text is to Don Francesco Medici, Cosimo’s brother and a distant relative of Il Magnifico (Fig. 2), and the Medici coat of arms appears boldly and elegantly on Sermartelli’s device from the title page (Fig. 3). A tortoise supports a sail on its back, on which a lily is plainly seen––the lily symbolizes the city of Florence, and the turtle and sail illustrate the motto, Festina lente [make haste slowly]. This ancient Latin proverb calls to mind the quote from Julius Caesar about military strategy, but it is also a testament to the brilliant cultural politics of the Medici family. Aldus Manutius, the renowned Venetian printer and publisher, was known for using the motto festina lente; the printer’s device was unsubtly suggesting that they too produced great texts in Florence. Traditionally, the tortoise has been recognized variously as a symbol of wisdom, prudence, vitality, longevity, and even immortality—presumably qualities to which printers and dynasties alike might aspire.[38]

This edition, in a way, can be seen as the culmination of the cultural policies started more than a century prior to its publication. The Medici tactics were tremendously successful, in that they culminated with the book’s being dedicated to Grand Duke Francesco de’ Medici. The cultural policies used as politics by other means had ultimately proven effective, and the descendants of the man who was awarded the title Pater Patriae by the republican government of Florence now ruled the city as absolute monarchs. Standardization of the Italian language were shaped by the cultural program of the Medici family. In fact, 1582, the year the first edition of the L’Odissea D’Homero Tradotta in Volgare Fiorentino da M. Girolamo Baccelli was published, coincides with the founding of the Accademia della Cruscia [Academy of the Bran]. The Accademia della Cruscia was a Florentine linguistics institution that went on to play a critical role in the formation of a unified national language. The fact that the institution was founded in Florence under the control of the Medici family ensured the scholars and philologists overseeing the task of standardizing the national language would promote the Tuscan dialect. Ultimately a group of academics working at the Accedemia della Cruscia would be charged with answering la questione della lingua, and they affirmed the prominence of the Tuscan dialect. Without the continued support of generations of Medici rulers, and their concerted effort to champion the Florentine language and culture, the Tuscan dialect would not have figured so prominently into the formation of the standardized national language of Italy.


Appendix: Images

Figure 1. Sermartelli, Bartolomeo, Title Page of L’Odissea D’Homero Tradotta in Volgare Fiorentino da M. Girolamo Baccelli, 1582, Wood-engraving, University of Chicago Special Collection Research Center. Click to enlarge.
Figure 1. Sermartelli, Bartolomeo, Title Page of L’Odissea D’Homero Tradotta in Volgare Fiorentino da M. Girolamo Baccelli, 1582, Wood-engraving, University of Chicago Special Collection Research Center. Click to enlarge.


Figure 2. Sermartelli, Bartolomeo, Dedication to the second grand duke of Tuscany, Francesco de’ Medici, 1582, University of Chicago Special Collection Research Center. Click to enlarge.
Figure 2. Sermartelli, Bartolomeo, Dedication to the second grand duke of Tuscany, Francesco de’ Medici, 1582, University of Chicago Special Collection Research Center. Click to enlarge.


Figure 3. Sermartelli, Bartolomeo. Sermartelli printers device, wood-engraving, 1582, University of Chicago Special Collection Research Center. Click to enlarge.
Figure 3. Sermartelli, Bartolomeo. Sermartelli printers device, wood-engraving, 1582, University of Chicago Special Collection Research Center. Click to enlarge.


Keywords: Alfonso V of Aragon, Dante, Divina Commedia, Girolamo Baccelli, Pietro Bembo, Giovanni Boccaccio, Decameron, Poggio Bracciolini, Filippo Brunelleschi, Leonardo Bruni, Julius Caesar, canon, Baldassare Castiglione, Guido Cavalcanti, Christopher S. Celenza, censorship, University of Chicago, Christianity, Cicero, Clement VII, Paolo Cortesi, Bonvesin Da la Riva, Donatello, House of Este, Florentine (dialect), Filippo & Bernardo Giunta, Greek, Guido Guinizzelli, Robert A Hall, imitation, interpretation, Italian, Italy, Florence, Naples, Rome, Venice, Cristoforo Landino, Latin, Leo X, Lombard (dialect), Niccoló Machiavelli, Aldus Manutius, Medici, Alessandro de’Medici, Cosimo de’Medici, Francesco de’Medici, Lorenzo de’Medici, Neapolitan (dialect), Niccoló Niccoli, orthography (spelling), annotation, commentary, dedicatory epistles, index, prefatory material, patron, patronage, Petrarch, philology, Angelo Poliziano, pronunciation, questione della lingua, Brian Richardson, Leonardo Salviati, Bartolomeo Sermartelli, Sicilian, Sicilian (dialect), Aragon-Spain, Tuscan (dialect), Giorgio Vasari, vernacular, Virgil, woodcuts


Baccelli, Baccio, trans. L’Odissea D’Homero, Tradotta in Volgare Fiorentino da M. Girolamo Baccelli. Florence: appresso il Sermartelli, 1582.

Boccaccio, Giovanni. Il Comento Di Giovanni Boccacci Sopra La Commedia Con Le Annotazioni Di A.M. Salvini: Preceduto Dalla Vita Di Dante Allighieri Scritta Dal Medesimo. Edited by Gaetano Milanesi. Florence: Le Monnier, Felice, 1863.

Campanelli, Maurizio. “Languages.” In The Cambridge Companion to the Italian Renaissance, edited by Michael Wyatt, 139–63. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014.

Celenza, Christopher S. The Lost Italian Renaissance: Humanists, Historians, and Latin’s Legacy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004.

Cusani, Emma. Il Grande Viaggio Nei Mondi Danteschi: Iniziazione Ai Misteri Maggiori. Rome: Mediterranee, 1993.

Hall, Robert A. “The Significance of the Italian ‘Questione Della Lingua.’” Studies in Philology 39, no. 1 (1942): 1–10.

Hankins, James. “Humanism in the Vernacular: The Case of Leonardo Bruni.” In Humanism and Creativity in the Renaissance: Essays in Honor of Ronald G. Witt, edited by Christopher S. Celenza and Kennteh Gouwens, 11–29. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 2006.

Manni, Paola. Il Trecento Toscano: La Lingua di Dante, Petrarca E Boccaccio. Bologna: Il Mulino, 2003.

Rice, Eugene F. The Foundations of Early Modern Europe, 1460–1559. New York: Norton, 1970.

Richardson, Brian. Print Culture in Renaissance Italy: The Editor and the Vernacular Text, 1470–1600. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Salviati, Leonardo. Degli Avvertimenti della lingua sopra il Decamerone. Venice: Priuiegio, 1584.

Scinto, Janet E. “The Cover Design.” The Library Quaterly: Information, Community, Policy 78, no. 3 (2008): 315–17.

Summerfield, Giovanna, and Federica Santini. The Politics of Poetics Poetry and Social Activism in Early-Modern through Contemporary Italy. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2013.

Tanturli, Giuliano. “La Firenze laurenziana davanti alla propria storia letteraria.” In Lorenzo il Magnifico e il suo tempo, edited by Gian Carlo Garfagnini, 27–34. Florence: Olschki, 1992.

Wyatt, Michael, ed. The Cambridge Companion to the Italian Renaissance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014.

Young, Philip H. The Printed Homer: A 3,000 Year Publishing and Translation History of the Iliad and the Odyssey. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2003.

  1. See Paola Manni, Il Trecento Toscano: La Lingua di Dante, Petrarca E Boccaccio (Bologna: Il Mulino, 2003); see also, Encyclopedia of Italian Literary Studies, ed. Gaetana Marrone and Paolo Puppa (2007), s.v. “Linguistics.”
  2. Christopher S. Celenza, The Lost Italian Renaissance: Humanists, Historians, and Latin's Legacy (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004), 144.
  3. Ibid., 145.
  4. Giovanna Summerfield and Federica Santini, The Politics of Poetics Poetry and Social Activism in Early-Modern through Contemporary Italy (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2013), 14.
  5. Dizionario Biografico – Treccani, s.v. “BACCELLI, Girolamo.”
  6. Eugene F. Rice, The Foundations of Early Modern Europe, 1460–1559 (New York: Norton, 1970), 6.
  7. Philip H. Young, The Printed Homer: A 3,000 Year Publishing and Translation History of the Iliad and the Odyssey (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2003), 96.
  8. See Manni, Il Trecento Toscano, 115–71.
  9. Robert A. Hall, “The Significance of the Italian ‘Questione Della Lingua,’” Studies in Philology 39, no. 1 (1942): 1­–10.
  10. Ibid., 3.
  11. “She had strong and nimble legs, and so she went up to her and bent over her head to speak to her in this way.” Baccio Baccelli, trans., L'Odissea D'Homero, Tradotta in Volgare Fiorentino Da M. Girolamo Baccelli (Florence: Appresso Il Sermartelli, 1582), 623. All translations are mine unless otherwise noted.
  12. “Thus issued, from that troop where Dido ranks.” Emma Cusani, Il Grande Viaggio Nei Mondi Danteschi: Iniziazione Ai Misteri Maggiori (Rome: Mediterranee, 1993), 140.
  13. “Calandrino apathetically invited them to dinner.” Giovanni Boccaccio, Il Comento Di Giovanni Boccacci Sopra La Commedia Con Le Annotazioni Di A.M. Salvini: Preceduto Dalla Vita Di Dante Allighieri Scritta Dal Medesimo, ed. Gaetano Milanesi (Firenze: Le Monnier, Felice, 1863), 475.
  14. The earliest generations of humanists laid claim to Dante’s cultural prestige while simultaneously repurposing his literature and ideology into new forms and contexts. The treatment of Dante, Boccaccio and Petrarch by this generation of humanists has led scholars to examine how they transposed the ideologies of classical literature and these prominent authors on to a civic template in order to create an ideal model of active and politically committed Florentine citizenship. “Civic humanism” is a complex and multifaceted reading of humanist activity, however an in depth digression would be extraneous to the aims of this essay. But it worth noting that even the earliest proponents of humanism, such as Bruni, published texts in the vernacular. See James Hankins, “Humanism in the Vernacular: The Case of Leonardo Bruni,” in Humanism and Creativity in the Renaissance, ed. Christopher S. Celenza and Kennteh Gouwens (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 2006),11–29
  15. Hall, “Significance of the Italian ‘Questione Della Lingua,’” 5.
  16. “After which Ulysses departs from here…”Baccelli, L'Odissea D'Homero, 624.
  17. Encyclopedia Britannica Online, s.v. “Guido Cavalcanti, Biography - Italian Poet.”
  18. Ibid.
  19. Brian Richardson, Print Culture in Renaissance Italy: The Editor and the Vernacular Text, 1470–1600 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), xi
  20. Maurizio Campanelli, “Languages,” in The Cambridge Companion to the Italian Renaissance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 140.
  21. Ibid., 140–42
  22. “Culture and art as politics by other means” refers to the all-important role culture and art played in propagating the Medici dynasty. Without a dominant military force or a legitimate noble title, the Medici family employed art and culture in order to maintain control of Florence. The Medici had poured tremendous economic resourced into massive building projects and works of art for the city of Florence. The famous axiom “war is politics by other means,” did not apply to the Medici, as they did not have a standing national army. They did however have money, and with that money they enacted a cultural program as a rational instrument to attain their social and political ends.
  23. Summerfield and Santini, Politics of Poetics Poetry and Social Activism, 14.
  24. See Giuliano Tanturli, “La Firenze laurenziana davanti alla propria storia letteraria,” in Lorenzo il Magnifico e il suo tempo, ed. Gian Carlo Garfagnini, (Florence: Olschki, 1992), 27–34.
  25. Summerfield and Santini, Politics of Poetics Poetry and Social Activism, 14–15.
  26. This specific comment was in regard to Cicero and the Latin language, but it is germane to his view on the vernacular as well, and language in general. For details, see Campanelli, “Languages,” 152.
  27. “Our age would only accept the recurring lowbrow and vulgar pieces of rhyme of the poems… And we who are less refined [than the ancients], and are more scorned, spurn the great literary works.” Dedication to Baccelli, L'Odissea D'Homero.
  28. The church was especially skeptical of giving the lower classes access to classical literature. They were afraid the texts would easily corrupt individuals who were not educated enough to understand the nuances of ancient texts and reconcile what the ancient pagan authors wrote with the Church’s Christian doctrine.
  29. Richardson, Print Culture in Renaissance Italy, 213–24.
  30. It was not the influx of talent alone that secured Venetian dominance in printing. As a port city with established trading partners, Venice had distinct advantages over other Italian cities when it came to book distribution.
  31. Richardson, Print Culture in Renaissance Italy, 214.
  32. Mediateca Di Palazzo Medici Riccardi, s.v. “The Medici.”
  33. Richardson, Print Culture in Renaissance Italy, 155.
  34. Richardson, Print Culture in Renaissance Italy, 170.
  35. Leonardo Salviati, Degli Avvertimenti Della Lingua Sopra Il Decamerone (Venice: Priuiegio, 1584) 144.
  36. “After which Ulysses happily departs to see the miserable Troy.” L'Odissea D'Homero, 624.
  37. “it seems easier to the tongue and far more pleasing to the ear.” Leonardo Salviati, Degli Avvertimenti Della Lingua Sopra Il Decamerone (Venice: Priuiegio, 1584), 209.
  38. Janet E. Scinto, “The Cover Design,” The Library Quaterly: Information, Community, Policy 78, no. 3 (2008), 315–17.


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