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Language and Learning in Renaissance Italy: Selected Articles.

This volume reprints fourteen articles by John Monfasani, with the author's additions, corrections, and indices of names and manuscripts. Grouped under three headings - Rhetoric, Lorenzo Valla, and Humanism and Religion - the essays span the years from 1983 to 1992, a decade during which Monfasani also published the anthology of texts relating to George of Trebizond (Collectanea Trapezuntiana, 1984) and a biography of Fernando of Cordova (1992). As the author notes in his preface, the articles gathered here arose from his research concerning George of Trebizond, and examine related topics such as treatises on rhetoric, George's nemesis Lorenzo Valla, and various germane documents from quattrocento Rome.

The first section begins with the essay "Rhetoric and Humanism," a clear and thorough survey of a field that currently enjoys extraordinary popularity in Renaissance studies. The subsequent essays, in turn, analyze particular questions of chronology and authenticity. In "Three Notes on Renaissance Rhetoric," Monfasani demonstrates inter alia that the epistographical tract De conficiendis epistolis attributed to Valla is spurious. "Episodes of Anti-Quintilianism in the Italian Renaissance" traces a controversy that arose between Valla and George of Trebizond and continued into the next generation of humanists.

The central section of the book comprises four essays on Lorenzo Valla, whose polemical style of argumentation appears to be revived in Monfasani's critiques. In these essays, Monfasani takes to task such scholars as Hanna-Barbara Gerl, Richard Waswo, and Lisa Jardine for misreading Valla with a twentieth-century bias. The most celebrated essay is the polemical review-letter, "Was Valla an Ordinary Language Philosopher?", which has also been reprinted in the series Renaissance Essays selected from the Journal of the History of Ideas. Monfasani's review of Gianni Zippel's edition of Valla's Repastinatio dialectice et philosophie, besides supplementing the editor's account of the work's genesis and revisions, offers some useful corrections concerning the Scholastic texts impugned by Valla (VI, 189-90).

The third section, "Humanism and Religion," consists of seven essays on various historical subjects. "A Description of the Sistine Chapel under Pope Sixtus IV" uses a passage in a Latin preface by Andreas Trapezuntius, son of George, to illuminate the early history of the famed Vatican chapel. There are two interesting essays on humanism and printing: a note on Simon Grynaeus's 1532 Basel edition of Ficino's Plato, and an account of a censorship proposal in quattrocento Rome. The detection of spurious texts - a central topic in Monfasani's own criticism - is the subject of two essays: one tracing the fortune of pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite in the quattrocento, and another on incunabular pseudepigrapha exposed by the Bergamasque humanist, Giovanni Calfurnio (d. 1503). "Bernardo Giustiniani and Alfonso de Palencia: Their Hands and Some New Humanist Texts and Translations" demonstrates the author's archival and paleographical expertise. The final essay, "The Fraticelli and Clerical Wealth in Quattrocento Rome," discusses refutations of tracts now lost (presumably destroyed by ecclesiastical authorities) in which heretical Franciscans argued against what they perceived as the laxity and luxury of prelates. (Among the opponents of the Fraticelli is Fernando of Cordova, the subject of Monfasani's 1992 monograph.) In the stifling context of orthodox repression, Monfasani's learned digression on Renaissance beggars (XIV, 189-90) offers a welcome breath of fresh air.

One is hard-pressed to fault Monfasani's scholarship. He backs up his detailed arguments concerning chronology and codicology with extensive bibliographical and archival citations. HIS knowledge of classical and humanist Latin and Greek is generally unimpeachable, and a stickler will search long to detect errata. When Niccolo Perotti complains that a text has been misunderstood for "sexcentis annis," the generic number should not perhaps be pressed for a specific allusion to Carolingian scribes (XI, 11). I rarely caught Monfasani nodding, although in his Fraticelli essay (XIV, 188) he assigns several mules to Cardinal Niccolo Albergati at the Council of Basel, and transcribes the senseless phrase "Nichil iam superem" with a bracketed query (n. 56), when he might easily have emended it to "nichil iam superest."

Such quibbles aside, students of quattrocento rhetoric and history will find an impressive wealth of insight and information in these essays, and will be grateful to the publisher for assembling them in a convenient, if expensive, volume.

DAVID MARSH Rutgers University
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Author:Marsh, David
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 1997
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