Bruni on writing history.
Both of these views have substantial claims to validity. Who can in fact forget the brilliance of the first book of the Historiae, where Bruni destroys the legends surrounding the founding and early history of Florence, and then recasts the story on the basis of hard evidence? But the question has been asked whether such critical rigor can be said to characterize the remaining books (II-XII) which form the bulk of the Historiae. And the answer has come back largely in the negative. Bruni himself appears to have regarded his first book as a thematic excursus whose conjectural methods were dictated by the need to reconstruct an obscure and remote period of the city's history. Once he reached his true subject - the recent history of Florence - Bruni settled into the pattern laid down by the canonical writers of ancient history. His method became the familiar one of narratio, complete with set-piece speeches, full-scale battle descriptions, and all the paraphernalia of classical historiography.(2)
Bruni's recourse to such classical rhetorical devices did not in itself preclude the application of critical categories. Nor did the use of conjectural methods in Book I necessarily guarantee the rigid adherence to truth that Bruni's later admirers have sometimes attributed to him. Recent scholarship has done much to overcome old dichotomies and to establish new parameters for the study of the Historiae. One thinks in particular of the work of Riccardo Fubini. In a series of important contributions, Fubini has adopted a contextualizing approach that presents Bruni's critical stance as a function of his identification with Florentine oligarchical politics of the early Quattrocento. According to this view, Bruni's Historiae are best seen as a projection of the values championed by the city's emerging political elites. Bruni's critique of earlier versions of the Florentine past is thus not the product of a pure scholar seeking to reconstruct the past. It corresponds instead to a new ethos, one of whose chief characteristics was a detached, skeptical attitude towards consolidated traditions, both cultural and political.(3)
Another Italian scholar, Anna Maria Cabrini, has focused more specifically on Bruni's text, examining how it operates with regard to the sources. Cabrini establishes the extent to which Bruni's concern for the city's image shapes his use of available materials. Her study demonstrates conclusively that the Historiae cannot be read in the one-dimensional way proposed by early twentieth-century positivists. Bruni does not approach his sources in an objective quest for truth. Rather, he subordinates them to his own purposes, which include the glorification of Florence as a political power of the first rank.(4)
Cabrini's dissection of Bruni's Historiae is exemplary in suggesting how Renaissance historians relate to their sources. Her reading provides a wealth of insight into the Renaissance practice of writing history and the underlying principles that guided one of its chief representatives. This is particularly true of the section on Bruni's handling of the chronicle of Giovanni Villani, the main source of the Historiae from the end of Book I to the beginning of Book VII. Perhaps the word "source" is somewhat misleading. For what Cabrini really shows is that Bruni did not regard Villani either as a source to be subjected to critical examination, or as a point of departure for mere re-elaboration. Her work suggests rather that Bruni's ultimate intent was to bring about a declassement of Villani's chronicle by relegating it to the status of a mere collection of raw materials.(5) By so doing, Bruni was effectively creating a historiographical void for himself to fill. By refusing to recognize the Villani chronicle as either authoritative or normative, Bruni reduced it to the level of a storehouse of information that he could use freely to fashion his own radically new interpretation of the city's past. Cabrini shows how he does this by calling into play a range of manipulative techniques, including selection, modification, and omission.(6)
Cabrini's study of the relationship between Bruni and Villani helps clear the way toward a reassessment of some long standing problems. It suggests a new explanation, for example, as to why Bruni never cites Giovanni Villani by name. The reason does not necessarily lie, as has recently been supposed,(7) in a failure of critical vigilance. More probably, it stems from the first premiss of Bruni's whole enterprise, which was to deny authorial status to his predecessor.
The chief merit of Cabrini's study, however, is surely the striking way it illustrates the actual working methods of a leading Renaissance historian. One is left with a strong sense of the gap existing, in Quattrocento historical discourse, between theory and practice. The humanists were notoriously fond of culling definitions of historia from ancient authorities. Given the ready availability of such statements in prefaces, letters, and treatises de scribenda historia, they often have been taken as prescriptive. One thing Cabrini shows is the degree to which the use of such tags fails to account for actual practice. Bruni's frequently cited statement regarding the distinction between historia and laudatio needs to be reexamined in the light of her findings.(8) It may well have more to do with the mapping out of discursive strategies than with the establishment of modern standards of historical truth. These latter, in fact, no longer appear as relevant as they once did to the understanding of a work like Bruni's Historiae. What is now required is an approach capable of grasping the specificities of Renaissance historical writing.
The present article is intended as a modest contribution towards this goal. If the way forward lies - as the new Italian scholarship suggests - in the acquisition of a fuller understanding of Bruni's historiographical practices, then it is important to take into account the self-reflective side of such practices. It is with Bruni's reflections on history writing that we will be concerned in the following pages.
Two preliminary observations are perhaps in order. First, our concern is not with Bruni's articulation of classical topoi on history. While Bruni, unlike his mentor Salutati, left no major statement on historia, it is nevertheless clear that he too could, when required, make full use of classical doctrine on the subject. On at least one occasion he calls history magistra vitae.(9) From his various writings, one gathers that he regards history as a literary genre (genus scribendi) whose formal vehicle is narrative (narratio) and whose functions are both didactic and patriotic.(10) Such declarations, however, are so standardized that they are hardly likely to prove illuminating in relation to the area that constitutes the focal point of our enquiry. What we intend to study are those rare passages where Bruni indulges in reflections on the practicalities of history writing. This brings us to a second observation: such passages occur not in connection with the Historiae but in connection with several of Bruni's other historical works. It should not be forgotten that, in addition to the Historiae, Bruni authored a number of other works that he classified as historical in character. These included his biography of Cicero (Cicero novus, 1415), as well as his excursions into ancient history (Commentarii de primo bello punico, 1419; De bello italico adversus gothos, 1441).(11) In the past, these works were often a source of embarrassment to the proponents of Bruni as forerunner of modern scholarly methodology. This was presumably because in writing them Bruni had stayed closer than was acceptable, by modern standards, to his sources, respectively Plutarch, Polybius, and Procopius. Full recognition of such practices would clearly tend to undermine the whole project of reclaiming Bruni as a precursor. It thus became imperative to shunt these works off into a discreet corner of the Brunian corpus. Most often it was argued that they should be reclassified as translations, even though Bruni himself had been crystal clear in claiming them as his own? Only very recently have they come to be recognized and re-integrated into the category where they belong: among Bruni's historical works.(13)
It is perhaps not surprising that Bruni's most revealing formulations come in the margins of such works. Contemporaries too must have been somewhat puzzled by what they saw. Bruni was forced to justify himself, and in so doing made explicit the principles that implicitly underlay all of his historical works, including the Historiae. If the passages we are about to examine have been relatively neglected or misunderstood in the past, this is because an artificial demarcation line had been set up to segregate the works they refer to from the Historiae. Now that the Historiae have been relativized in the way suggested above, it is natural that this barrier should fall. The investigation to follow thus completes a process begun by other scholars by restoring totality to the picture of Bruni's overall historiographical production.
Bruni began his career in history as a translator of Plutarchan biography. One of his first formulations on history writing occurs in a youthful work, a translation of Plutarch's Life of Mark Antony (1404-05).(14) In the preface, addressed to his mentor Coluccio Salutati, Bruni offered a brief disquisition on what was becoming one of his favorite themes: the art of translation.(15) In particular, Bruni was concerned to answer charges made by the enemies of humanism regarding its lack of creative spark. Salutati's circle had in fact only recently been criticized for its tendency to turn out translations of the classics rather than original literary works.(16) Bruni's preface is chiefly concerned with defending translation from its detractors. Toward the end of the piece, however, he offers a remark that can well serve as our starting point. For it is by way of analogy with history writing that Bruni seeks to establish the respectability of translation: "But in history, where there is no [need for] invention, I fail to see any difference between describing actual deeds and writing down what someone else has said. Either way the labor involved is the same, or rather even greater in the latter case."(17)
The comparison between the work of the translator and that of the historian is all the more revealing in that it seems to be made in an offhand manner. It is not, as far as I can determine, suggested by any classical precedent. Bruni's train of thought appears to be sequenced as follows. The art of translation consists in transporting a text into a different language. This operation requires skills of a rhetorical kind that deserve to be respected and admired. In fact, the whole process may be compared to that which characterizes the craft of a recognized auctor: the historian. Does not the historian too often work like a translator, i.e., by rewriting the accounts of others?
Bruni's analogy arises from assumptions about history writing which require further clarification. He posits, in fact, two ways in which the historian can work: either as an eyewitness of the events to be related, or as a synthesizer and rewriter of things reported by others. Such a view is in line with classical doctrine, but it is interesting to note Bruni's attempt to place a premium on the second method. By taking up this position, Bruni was aligning himself against the classical prejudice in favor of direct reporting.(18) The basis for his analogy with translation lies ultimately in this re-situation of history writing within the ambit of textuality. The historian, like the translator, is basically a rewriter of others' narratives, which is why the historian can make no claim to the initial stage of the rhetorical process, inventio. The material upon which history is based is found ready to hand. By implication at least, the challenge of writing history engages only the next two stages of rhetoric: dispositio (arrangement) and elocutio (stylistic embellishment).
It is important to emphasize that what Bruni is proposing in the preface to the Life of Mark Antony is an analogy between history writing and translation. He is not collapsing the two activities into one. A clear picture of the difference between them emerges somewhat later in Bruni's career. It is, in fact, significant that one of Bruni's first forays into history writing grew directly out of his activity as a translator of Plutarch. It was while translating the latter's Life of Cicero in 1415 that Bruni became keenly aware of two major flaws in the original: firstly, Plutarch had omitted much that was pertinent; secondly, he bore a distinct bias against his subject, probably caused by his desire to play Demosthenes off as the superior figure in the parallel lives.(19) In the face of such shortcomings, Bruni decided not to translate Plutarch after all, but to write his own account of the life and deeds of Cicero, which he came to call Cicero novus.
In the preface to this work, Bruni offers some important reflections on the distinction between translation and full-fledged authorship. He describes how, having once set Plutarch aside, he began to collect and evaluate other sources. The result was something that, both in content and in scope, went far beyond the original. Bruni thus felt justified in concluding that he had written the Cicero novus "not as a translator, but according to my own will and judgment" ("non ut interpretes, sed pro nostro arbitrio voluntateque").(20)
These last words are significant and deserve further comment. Recently the Cicero novus has come to be seen as representing a major turning point in Bruni's career as a historian. It has been argued that the work constitutes a milestone in an overall evolution toward more critical attitudes.(21) The problem with this view is one that frequently crops up when Bruni is presented in these terms: namely that so often his critical impulse appears to be driven by a shift in interpretive priorities. In the Cicero novus there is every sign that what disturbed Bruni about Plutarch's treatment of Cicero was above all its failure to praise the man sufficiently. It should not be forgotten that in Bruni's eyes Cicero was not a neutral figure: he was rather to be portrayed as the hero of the active life of the citizen, possibly in response to Petrarch's carpings.(22) Bruni's primary objective in rewriting the life of Cicero was not to produce an accurate scholarly monograph; it was rather to build a portrait that would support his own interpretation of Cicero's career. Historical accuracy/inaccuracy came into play only insofar as it served to further this underlying agenda.(23)
The words quoted above - "non ut interpretes, sed pro nostro arbitrio voluntateque" - are crucial in that they indicate what was at stake for Bruni in the passage from translation to a work of his own authorship. And what was at stake was clearly his own interpretive autonomy. As long as he was translator, Bruni remained bound by the sort of devotion to the spirit of the original that he later theorized in his essay De recta interpretatione (1424).(24) But the status of author that he was now claiming with regard to the Life of Cicero entailed an entirely different mode. Its defining characteristic was power, expressed in the right to shape the text according to his own free will.
The Cicero novus is thus to be seen as marking a key moment in Bruni's career. The year of its composition, 1415, also saw Bruni engaged in what was to become the first book of the Historiae.(25) With regard to history writing at least, the time had come for Bruni to claim his authorial persona. His preface to the Cicero novus should be read as a statement about authorship and how it is to be framed in terms of historia. The whole matter is defined not in relation to source criticism, but in relation to the right to shape and present the material collected according to a newly acquired personal point of view. Efforts to read the Cicero novus as a piece of pure scholarship immediately encounter the familiar problems. With regard to his sources (chiefly Plutarch, along with the works of Cicero himself), Bruni follows a policy not of critical examination, but of selection, omission, and highlighting. Cicero's royal origins are affirmed almost in spite of the evidence.(26) Embarrassing episodes from his career are suppressed.(27) Flattering episodes are worked up on the basis of Cicero's own writings.(28) In short, what we see in action is not critical scholarship but a reordering of textual potentialities in order to further an overall design. The process is not dissimilar to that which has recently been seen to characterize the conjectural passages contained in the first book of the Historiae: critical skills are not absent, but they operate in conjunction with other, less trenchant textual strategies, all of which are marshalled in the service of interpretative aims.
What we see then when we examine Bruni's discourse on history writing in this period is a cluster of attitudes which are distinctly unmodern. The sources are conceived as so many points of departure for elaboration in accordance with Bruni's own ideas. Critical verification is brought into play only when it can contribute to the thrust of argumentation. More often, the narrative proceeds by means of amplifications, cuts, and reworkings with regard to the sources. This textuality is the basis for the analogy with translation that Bruni will continue to evoke throughout his career.
It will be convenient at this point to consider a work that Bruni wrote in 1418-19: the Commentarii de primo bello punico. As the title indicates, this was essentially an account of the first Punic war. In his preface, Bruni explains the reasons that led him to tackle this particular subject. His choice had to do first of all with the importance of the theme, especially within the framework of national history. Bruni wrote out of a sense of reverence toward his ancient forbears ("commotus . . . ob maiorum nostrorum gloriam"), to enshrine and preserve the memory of deeds that constitute the basis of Italian glory ("in quibus huius soli decus et gloria continetur"). Concomitant to this first reason was a second: the fact that the books of Livy dealing with the first Punic war had been lost. Livy is here quite clearly taken as the paragon and main repository of Italian national history; if his second decade of writings had survived, there would be no need to undertake the task at hand ("cuius libri si exstarent, nihil opus erat novo labore"). Bruni thus saw himself as supplying a missing chapter in the saga of Italian history begun by Livy.(29)
The Commentarii de primo bello punico mark an important stage in Bruni's development as an historian. Let us not forget that by 1419 Bruni was approaching his fiftieth year of age. Up to this point his historiographical production had not been particularly prominent. A few years earlier he had written his biography of Cicero and his treatise on the origins of Florence, which was to become the first book of the monumental Historiae. He had not, as far as we know, subsequently made any further progress on this latter work. The Commentarii thus appear to have preceded the composition of the Historiae. They constitute in effect Bruni's first major effort in the field of history writing. As such, they obviously deserve attention. Yet such attention has not usually been forthcoming. The reason for this is easily stated. As Bruni himself freely admitted, the Commentarii are heavily based on the first two books (in fact 1.7 - II.34) of Polybius's Histories. So closely, indeed, does Bruni follow Polybius that several modern critics have opted to classify the work as a translation from the Greek. It is in fact as a translation from the Greek of Polybius that the work has been perhaps most effectively studied. And yet Bruni himself in his preface explicitly rejected this categorization, in terms that once again draw the by now familiar distinction between translation and original work: "I have not," he writes, "drawn from a single source, like a translator, but rather, having drawn from many, I have reported according to my own judgment" ("non ab uno sumerem, ut interpres, sed a multis sumpta meo arbitratu referrem").(30)
It is of course significant that in this, his first important attempt at history writing, Bruni again invokes the old parallel with translation. The close relationship between his work and that of Polybius might conceivably have induced one of his critics to label the Commentarii as yet another humanist translation masquerading as an original work. Bruni is clearly looking to ward off such an attack, yet his defense is not to be taken as mere pretext. He picks up and repeats both of the key ideas used in earlier contexts to discuss and define authorship: 1) the recourse to several sources as opposed to one; 2) the exercise of free will (arbitratus) in determining matters of organization and style. Subsequent scholarship has confirmed both of these claims. Besides Polybius, Bruni drew upon Strabo, Thucydides, Florus, and Plutarch.(31) He also used a considerable amount of creativity in rearranging and rephrasing Polybius's account. Heedful of this, subsequent scholars, beginning with Hans Baron, have had to rethink the classification of the Commentarii. The work has come to be called an adaptation, a paraphrase, and most recently "an essay in interpretation."(32)
Such hedging reveals the extent to which positivistic notions still act as determinants in the evaluation of Bruni's historiography. There is clearly a reluctance to accept Bruni's own view on history writing, which may be conveniently summed up here in two main points: 1) that history writing involves close textual re-writing of the sources, an operation akin to, if not identical with that of translation, 2) that what distinguishes history writing from translation is the number of sources used and the freedom with which they are used. Gauged by these criteria, the Commentarii would seem to qualify as a history. As one authority has recognized - but without pursuing the point to its logical conclusion - Bruni's way of treating Polybius in the Commentarii is not dissimilar to his way of treating Giovanni Villani in the Historiae.(33) The point is reinforced by the fact that work on both texts is taking place at roughly the same time. What we see happening in Bruni's study around the years 1418-21 is the implementation of parallel techniques of textual montage.
Bruni's rationalizations of these techniques clearly reflect his perceptions of classical precedent. The preface to the Commentarii also provides some solid dues as to how he construed classical historiographical practices. The fundamental passage is his discussion of the sources for the first Punic war. According to Briroi, who is surreptitiously following Polybius (I.14),(34) the original sources were two, both written from a partisan perspective: Fabius Pictor, representing the Roman side; and Philinus of Acragas, representing the Carthaginian side.(35) In the next stage of his discussion, Bruni deviates significantly from the position taken by Polybius. The latter, faced with the problem of biased sources, took the opportunity to condemn partisanship in history writing and to reaffirm his own belief that the historian must aim at impartiality. Bruni's personal reflections are not only more restrained, they actually overturn the whole message by taking partisanship for granted as an inevitable motivational force behind all history writing, including that of Polybius. Livy is thus applauded as Romanae pater historiae for having restated the Roman point of view on the basis of Fabius Pictor. Polybius is - quite perversely, as it has been remarked - made out to be a follower of Philinus.(36)
Bruni's lumping of Polybius among the partisan historians is not only perverse, it is also significant. For it tends to justify the main thrust of Bruni's own operation in the Commentarii: to rewrite Polybius from a Roman perspective. It has been rightly remarked that Bruni's interventions into the Polybian account are made not on critical grounds but in order "to make the Romans look better."(37) Where Polybius sought a balanced approach, Bruni sought to Romanize the narrative, bringing it into line with Livian principles.
Bruni's view of classical historians is thus framed in two ways. He sees them as re-writers of their sources. And he also sees them as glorifiers of their own countries. It is not quite accurate to suggest that he sees the ancients as blindly following their sources. On the contrary, he appears to regard it as every true historian's duty to re-shape the sources in such a way as to further the prestige of the fatherland. In this sense Livy is held to be the archetypal historian.
The Commentarii mark the end of what we might call the formative period of Bruni's development as a historian. By 1418-19 his ideas on historia are set according to the principles we have seen evolving over a number of years. The application of these ideas to the composition of the Historiae - a major project that will stretch out over the next two decades and more (1419-1444) - is not accompanied by the same sort of constant reflection on the practice of history writing that we have been able to follow up to now. Yet Cabrini's study, quoted at the outset of this essay, shows that virtually the same principles are at work. In composing the Historiae, Bruni reworked the sources in such a way as to procure the greater glory of Florence, and this underlying purpose was explicitly recognized by contemporaries,(38) as well as by the Signoria in its diploma of 1439 granting Bruni and his descendants exemption from taxes in return for his services as historian.(39)
It was only at the end of his life, when he had completed and consigned to the Signoria the last portions of the Historiae to see the light during his lifetime, that Bruni returned to his reflections on history writing. Once again, he did so in relation to works that subsequent scholarship has been reluctant to integrate into his canon. These are the Commentarium rerum graecarum (1439), based on portions of Xenophon's Hellenica; and the De bello italico adversus gothos libri IV (1441), based on the last four books of the History of Procopius of Caesarea. In both of these cases Bruni claimed authorship in terms that repeat and refine some of his earlier ideas. Yet the tone of his formulations has changed. It has become strident, even radical, possibly in response to criticism from new quarters. This in itself is something that has generally escaped notice, and that deserves more attention: the extent to which Bruni found himself embroiled in new controversy in his last years.
Of particular interest in this respect is the De bello italico. In some ways this work can be compared to the earlier Commentarii de primo bello punico. Once again, the objective is to supply a missing chapter of ancient, "Italian" history. But this time the spirit of the enterprise is different. Gone is the triumphalism that had characterized the earlier work, with its emphasis on the rise of Rome and the first victory over Carthage. Instead, the focus has shifted to the end of the classical world. Bruni's theme is the invasion of Italy by the Goths, and the war fought by the generals of the Eastern Emperor Justinian to free Italy from barbarian rule: a sad subject, certainly, but necessary to the understanding of those times ("dolorosam profecto materiam, sed pro cognitione illorum temporum necessariam"). In this sense, the De bello italico is a reflection of Bruni's later years, with their increasing pessimism regarding the course of human affairs.(40)
What is of particular interest to us, however, are the techniques Bruni brought into play in writing this final work of history. He claimed to have obtained his information on this obscure period ex Graecorum commentariis. But in actual fact, and by his own later admission, he seems to have confined himself to the use of a single source - Procopius - a choice that required some further explanation on his part. Had not Bruni himself earlier established the use of several sources as one of the cardinal points that distinguished history writing from translation?
A sign of Bruni's desire to clarify the matter can be found in his letter of 31 August 1441 to Ciriaco d'Ancona. Here Bruni returns once again to the question of history writing versus translation. His words deserve to be looked at carefully. Referring to the De bello italico he makes the following statement: "This is, however, not a translation, but a work composed by myself, in the same way that Livy drew upon Valerius Antias or Polybius and then arranged the material according to his own judgment" ("Est autem haec non translatio, sed opus a me compositum, quemadmodum Livius a Valerio Antiate, vel a Polybio Megapolitano sumpsit, et arbitratu suo disposuit").(41)
We see here a recourse to familiar concepts, and particularly to the all-important point that the historian, unlike the translator, exercises his own judgment (arbitratus) with regard to the rearrangement of the material contained in the original. On the other hand, Bruni appears to place less emphasis in this passage on the earlier point regarding the use of multiple sources. Even if the historian were to follow one source and one source only, Bruni seems to be hinting, the claim to authorship might still be sustained on the basis of the arbitratus.
A primary feature of the passage is the way Bruni enlists the example of Livy to his cause. It seems likely that Bruni's study of Polybius had revealed to him the extent of Livy's debt to the Greek author.(42) Bruni shows he is fully aware of Livy's well-known tendency to follow alternate single sources, rather than to compare and combine.(43) The vel is thus significant: Livy draws upon Valerius Antias or upon Polybius. He is a rewriter of previous texts, following now one now another, always rearranging and recasting the material in accordance with his own needs. The Livian precedent thus seemed to sanction Bruni's own policy with regard to the use of Procopius in the De bello italico.
But the matter did not end here, and Bruni was called upon to clarify further his ideas in the following year, 1442. In a letter to Giovanni Tortelli, Bruni offers what is surely his most mature formulation on the problem. Referring to the De bello italico he claims once again to have written
not as a translator, but as parent and author; in the same way as, if I were to write about the present war, my information about affairs would come from oral testimony, but the order, arrangement, and words would be my own, and would be conceived and put into place according to my own judgment; in the very same way then, in drawing upon my source here for information about affairs, I have steered dear of following him in many matters, treating him like a source who has but one thing to offer: that he was present during the war; everything else of his is to be rejected.(44)
This passage substantially confirms our interpretation of the preceding one. Bruni has now definitely abandoned his earlier tendency to distinguish history writing and translation on the grounds of the number of sources used. He makes no attempt to conceal the fact that the De bello italico is based on a single source.(45) By the end of his career, Bruni's confidence in the authorial arbitratus was such that he could make it bear the full weight of his argument for authorship.
Other features of this passage are striking. Procopius is downgraded to the level of mere eyewitness to the events related. He is presented not by name, but as the anonymous compiler of a body of materials upon which Bruni, as auctor, has based his historia. Bruni's whole concept of history writing presupposes the availability of such a body of materials.(46) His remark about the "present war" in fact implicitly amplifies his comments into something approaching a statement about history writing in general. The true historian, according to Bruni, works from a distance. His contact is not with the events themselves, but with the accounts of events. These constitute an informational base that is considered to be formless: a catch-all which cannot qualify as historia, but that nevertheless contains the necessary ingredients. The role of the auctor is to treat these materials freely, to elevate them into historia by calling into play rhetorical strategies involving the categories listed in the passage cited: ordo, dispositio, verba.
Many of these same concepts are repeated in Bruni's last letter on the De bello italico, addressed to his friend Francesco Barbaro and dated 23 August 1443. Once again Bruni is at pains to justify his claim to authorship on the basis of his freedom in deciding on matters of arrangement and style.(47) Once again too the claim to authorship is accompanied by the downgrading of Procopius as a writer. This time, however, Procopius is actually mentioned by name, and Bruni is much more specific about what he sees as his shortcomings. Procopius is branded as inept, as an enemy of eloquence, and Bruni singles out for special blame his ludicrous attempt to imitate the set-piece speeches of Thucydides? What we see happening here - perhaps more clearly than ever before - is Bruni's attempt to create a historiographical space for himself by denying authorial status to his predecessor. Bruni repeats that if Procopius has one saving grace it is his quality as an eyewitness, a quality which Bruni sees as a guarantee of total reliablity.(49)
Bruni's line of reflection thus reached its extreme limit. But not everyone found his ideas convincing. His attempt to justify writing a history of the Gothic war based exclusively on Procopius drew special criticism. As the names of some of the addressees of the letters quoted above indicate, much of the criticism seems to have emanated from the papal curia, from men with strong antiquarian interests. One of the darlings of this group was Biondo Flavio, a papal secretary who had begun his career as a humanist in the 1430s by contesting Bruni's theses on the Latin language. By the early 1440s, Biondo had set himself up as Bruni's main rival in the field of history writing. He was hard at work on what were to become the Historiarum ab inclinatione romani imperii decades (hereafter Decades), a vast panorama of Italian history from the fall of Rome down to the present.(50) Books IV-VII of the first of the Decades, completed by June 1443, treated the history of the Gothic war in a manner which ran quite deliberately counter to Bruni's. Biondo in fact began his own account by questioning the reliability of Procopius ("partim multum adiuvabit, partim non levia alicubi afferet impedimenta"). In other words, Procopius was a useful guide to the period, but he could not be trusted fully. It was necessary to carry the enquiry further if the history of the Gothic wars was to be told in a more truthful manner.(51) Biondo's own account thus took Procopius as its chief source, but opened the investigation to include others as well. These included Jordanes, Cassiodorus, Gregory the Great, and even nonverbal remains such as the mural mosaics of Justinian and his court in Ravenna.(52)
Biondo's use of a wider range of sources allowed him to subject the account of Procopius to intense critical scrutiny. It enabled him to exercise a constant vigilance by checking the information provided by Procopius against that of other historians. At times the results thus obtained were of exceptional value, and have been largely confirmed by subsequent research.(53) At other times, the over-zealous application of Quellenforschung led Biondo into hypercritical positions that were ultimately unsustainable.(54) On the whole, one might say that Biondo underestimated the importance of Procopius as a guide to the Gothic war. On the other hand, by basing his own version of these events on the widest possible collection of available sources, Biondo was in effect defending what he regarded as an essential component of historiographical practice.
The irony of course is that in this case he was defending critical standards against their putative founder. Biondo began his account of the Gothic war by considering the value of Bruni's then recent De bello italico. His examination led him quickly to the conclusion that "it contained nothing more than Procopius" ("nihil plus habet quam Procopius").(55) This statement has sometimes been taken anachronistically as an accusation of plagiarism.(56) In fact, this is unlikely, given Biondo's own tendency to follow his sources in a close, almost word-for-word manner.(57) What Biondo objected to in the De bello italico was rather Bruni's reliance on a single source, and thus his apparent retreat from his earlier insistence on the historian's duty to consult and compare multiple sources.
As if to confirm his intention to challenge Bruni, on 13 June 1443 Biondo sent the first eight books of his Decades to the newly-installed King of Naples, Alfonso of Aragon, that is, to the same personage to whom Bruni had - eight months earlier - sent a portion of his De bello italico.(58) Moreover Biondo's account at many points attacked Bruni through the screen of Procopius. One example will suffice. Bruni had, on the basis of Procopius, narrated the destruction of Milan in 539 at the hands of the Goths.(59) Biondo attempted, through his usual comprehensive review of the sources, to cast doubt over whether this destruction had ever really taken place. He concluded his critical excursion on this question with a barb aimed at those who preferred a lazy ignorance to the hard work of investigation that the search for historical truth entailed.(60) The contrast with the methods espoused by Bruni in the De bello italico could hardly be more pointed.
Such statements cannot of course be taken at face value. They reflect Biondo's attempts to establish his own credentials as a historian at the expense of his most famous predecessor. In the last analysis, his methods owed a great deal to Bruni's example, particularly to the conjectural techniques applied by Bruni to the early history of Florence in the Historiae. Yet it is hard to avoid the impression of a cleavage between these two major figures in Renaissance history writing. One distinguishing element is undoubtedly generational, and has to do with Bruni's evolution in the directions outlined above. But there are also differences of milieu, temperament, and background. One is left with the sense that for Bruni, the conjectural mode was a sort of pis aller, to be adopted in those cases where a convenient narrative source was not available. When adopted, it did not really provide access to historia in the full sense of the word. The high road to the latter passed through textual operations of an exquisitely literary kind, and implied the mise en oeuvre of principles we have seen Bruni theorizing throughout his career. These principles did not necessarily exclude the critical faculty, but they had as their main aim the elaboration of a thematically relevant narrative from a pre-existing body of materials. As he pointedly reminded Biondo in a letter of 1438, Bruni regarded history writing as a matter of narratio, pure and simple.(61) Biondo, on the other hand, came to consider the conjectural model of historical reconstruction as normative. This did not prevent him from sometimes following individual sources closely. But it did lead him to couch his text not in the form of narrative but in that of a critical meta-discourse on the full range of available sources.(62)
Biondo's critique helps throw into high relief the particularities of Bruni's ideas on history writing. Bruni did not share a "classical" idea of history with other like-minded "humanists." He developed his own views through a process that included negotiating his personal understandings of classical precedent. It is in accordance with these views that his achievements in the field of history writing deserve to be measured, rather than by applying standards of much later derivation. These latter indeed, while often assumed to be universally valid, are undoubtedly as historically conditioned as those elaborated during the early Renaissance by Bruni, and whose articulation has constituted the main object of this enquiry.
QUEENSLAND UNIVERSITY OF TECHNOLOGY
1 The first view can be traced back to Santini, whose results were succinctly restated by Ullman. A more recent exponent is Fryde, 1983; but see also the introduction and apparatus of The Humanism, 13, 176-77. The second view emanates from Gray and then Gilbert, and is specifically applied to Bruni's Historiae by Wilcox, esp. 104-05; and Struever, 115-43.
2 See Bruni's introductory remarks to Book Two of the Historiae, 27: "Pervagatiorem nobis historiam superioris libri necessitas fecit. . . . Itaque brevi discursu longa pervagati tempora, quaecumque ad notitiam dicendorum necessaria fuerunt quasi argumentum pretextentes, uno in libro collegimus. . . . Iam vero non cursu, sed incessu erit utendum." According to Baron, 1955, 611-12, a gap of nearly four years separates the composition of Book I (1415) from that of Book II (second half of 1419). I borrow the concept of a 'conjectural method" from Ginzburg, 96-125. For its applicability to the Renaissance, see Momigliano, 1950. Cf. the "Proemio" of Vespasiano da Bisticci, 1:31-32, on the early history of Florence:" . . . e a tutte queste cose bisogna andare per congetture, per non c'essere suti iscritori l'abino mandato a memoria de le letere. E per questo bisogno a meser Lionardo, avendo a scrivere la istoria fiorentina, durare una grandissima fatica, none trovando notitia ignuna, se none d'anni circa cento cinquanta; del resto bisogno soperire con l'autorita di queste cose nominate di sopra" (italics mine). Bruni's Historiae, II-XII cover the years 1250-1402.
3 Fubini, 1980, 1990, and 1991. On the importance of Fubini's work see also Hankins, 1995, 321-23.
4 Cabrini, 248.
5 ibid., 275-76: "Pare evidente che l'intento di Bruni sia quello di scrivere ex-novo la storia fiorentina narrata nella Cronica, declassando quest'ultima - che continuava ad avere nella tradizione cittadina una indubbia autorevolezza - a raccolta di materiali per la sua nouva costruzione."
6 Ibid., 281.
7 Black, 146.
8 Bruni, 1741, 2:112 (letter VIII, 4 of 1440 to Francesco Picolpassi): "Aliud est enim historia, aliud laudatio. Historia quidem veritatem sequi debet, laudatio vero multa supra veritatem extollit. . ." Baron, 1966, 217-18, sees this passage as marking a distinction between "the subjective nature of the selection and presentation of facts" at work in panegyric, and the "objectivity" that characterizes historiography. See also Baron, 1968, 151-71. In both places (508 and 153 respectively) Baron states that the distinction is "undoubtedly" based on Polybius X.21.8 - a point contested by Momigliano, 1977, 87.
9 Bruni, 1741, 2:94 (letter VII, 6 of 1436 to King John II of Castile on the studies proper to a king): "Historia quoque magistra vitae quantum afferre regenti fructum potest? Regum enim potentissimorum, et principum, magnorum populorum origines factaque cognoscere, turn ad voluptatem animi, turn ad disciplinam agendi multum admodum confert." For the expression historia magistra vitae, see Cicero, De oratore II, 36. For Salutati's formulation, see his letter of 1392 to Juan Fernandez de Heredia, 2:289-302, together with the recent commentary by Vasoli, 9-12.
10 See, for example, Bruni, 1928, 13 (De studiis et litteris liber, ad Dominam Baptistam de Malatestis): "Est enim decorum cure propriae gentis originem et progressus tum liberorum populorum regumque maximorum et bello et pace res gestas cognoscere. Dirigit enim prudentiam et consilium praeteritorum notitia, exitusque similium coeptorum nos pro re nata aut hortantur ant deterrent . . . . Neque enim subtilitas ulla in illis eruenda esr aut quaestio enodanda; in narratione enim rerum facillimarum omnis consistit versaturque historia."
11 A partial edition of the Cicero novus is to be found in Bruni, 1928, 113-20. Cochrane, 505, lists the editio princeps of the Commentarii de primo bello punico in Polybius, 1498. In fact this is the first Latin edition. The date of composition is that established by Baron, 1955, 611; see also Baron, 1981, 835-36. The De bello italico was first published in Foligno, 1470. I shall be using this edition. Bibliography regarding these works will be cited in the course of this discussion. A complete list of Bruni's historical works would also include the Vita Aristotelis (1429), the Commentarium rerum graecarum (1439), and the De temporibus suis (1441). For reasons of presentation these will not be discussed here. On the last title, see Ianziti, 1990. On the Vita Aristotelis, see now Fryde, 1988.
12 Santini, 21-26. See especially his conclusion on 26: "manca dell'accurata investigazione delle fonti, dell'acume critico nella giusta interpretazione de' fatti e nella ricerca delle cause di essi, doti essenziali di un lavoro storico; e percio si puo giustamente accostare alle vere traduzioni." Similarly, Ullman, 324, calls the works in question "hardly more than translations from the Greek," and thus focuses his treatment on what he regards as Bruni's "only real historical work, the History of Florence."
13 The Coramentarii de primo bello punico were already considered to be a translation in the edition of 1498 cited in the preceding note. It is as such that they are discussed by Santini, 22-23, Reynolds, 108-18, and Wilcox, 106-07. Baron, 1955, 355, calls them "a history of Rome's struggle with Carthage, essentially an adaptation of Polybius." See too Momigliano, 1977, 83: "Bruni did not intend his work as a simple translation . . . . He intended to write history." On the next page, however, Momigliano admits that Bruni produced "as his own histories, what we would treat as translations or paraphrases of ancient texts." Similar hedging characterizes Fryde, 1983: on 34 he appears to consider the Commentarii as 'a history of the First Punic War," but on 40 he lumps the work with other "adaptations or summaries." Shifting categories (translation, adaptation, history) can also be traced in the critical literature on the Cicero novus and the De bello italico. All three works are classified as histories in The Humanism, 175-96, but subject to the usual qualifications.
14 The most recent discussion of the dating of this work is that of Hankins, 1990, 2: 367-78.
15 This preface may be usefully compared to the letter to Niccolo Niccoli, Bruni, 1741, 1:15-17 (I, 8; also in Garin, 361-63). The most recent discussion on the dating of the letter is that of Hankins, 1990, 2: 370-71, who proposes 5 September 1404.
16 See Cino Rinuccini, Invettiva contro a certi calunniatori di Dante e di Messer Francesco Petrarca e di Messer Giovanni Boccaci, in Lanza, 261-67. According to Lanza, 144, the Invettiva can be dated between 1398 and early 1401. The classic discussion is that of Baron, 1966, 277-90, but see also Lanza, 141-56, and now Fubini, 1992. An important echo of the ongoing dispute over translation is to be found in the "Prefazione" of Domenico da Prato, in Lanza, 243, where the humanists are accused in the following terms: "Io non ho alcuna opera per ancora ne istoriografica, ne filosofica, ne poetica veduta delle loro apparire. Alcuno di quelli rispondera disdegnosamente: - Tu non hal adunque letto le traduzioni che delle opere greche di Aristotele e di Plutarco ho fatte in latino? - Al quale infino da ora rispondo averne lette e vedute alcune, e lui commendo che sappi greco e latino, ma non per inventore delle opere fatte per altri, e di queste restargli piccolissima fama, non ostante che per le rubriche in esso siano vanamente intitulate, impero che la fama e delli inventori delle opere e non delli traduttori . . . "(italics mine). The passage, datable to the 1420s, is an important clue to some of the themes to be treated in our paper.
17 Praefatio in Vita M. Antonii ex Plutarcho traducta, ad Coluccium Salutatum, Bruni, 1928, 104: "In historia veto, in qua nulla est inventio, non video equidem, quid intersit, an ut facta, an ut ab alio dicta scribas. In utroque enim par labor est, aut etiam maior in secundo." The rendering of this passage in Wilcox, 106, is unsatisfactory.
18 On this latter point, see Momigliano, 1966, 130-36, and 214-16.
19 Cicero novus, Praefatio, in Bruni, 1928, 113: Nut progredior et ad convertendi diligentiam singula quaeque magis considero, ne ipse quidem Plutarchus desiderium mei animi penitus adimplevit, quippe multis praetermissis, quae ad illustrationem summi viri vel maxime pertinebant, cetera sic narrat, ut magis ad comparationem suam, in qua Demosthenem praeferre nititur, quam ad sincerum narrandi iudicium accommodari videantur."
20 Ibid.: "Nos igirut, et Plutarcho et eius interpretatione omissis, ex iis, quae vel apud norcros vel apud Graecos de Cicerone scripta legeramus, ab alio exorsi principio vitam et mores et res gestas eius maturiore digestione et pleniore notitia non ut interpretes, sed pro nostro arbitrio voluntateque descripsimus." These last words appear to transform a Ciceronian statement on translation (De optimo genere oratorum, 14: "nec converti ut interpres, sed ut orator") into a statement on authorship. For the connections between arbitrium, auctor, and auctoritas in humanist circles of the early Quattrocento, see Fubini, 1992, 1090-92.
21 Fryde, 1983, 33-53.
22 The Humanism, 178.
23 On this point in general, see Grafton, 118.
24 Bruni, 1928, 86: "Ut enim ii, qui ad exemplum picturae picturam aliam pingunt, figuram et starum et ingressum et totius corporis formam inde assumunt nec, quid ipsi facerent, sed, quid alter ille fecerit, meditantur: sic in traductionibus interpres quidem optimus sese in primum scribendi auctorem tota mente et animo et voluntate convertet et quodammodo transformabit eiusque orationis figuram, statum, ingressum coloremque et liniamenta cuncta exprimere meditabitur."
25 Bruni, 1741, 1:110 (letter IV, 4 of 2 January 1416 to Poggio Bracciolini): "Exegi librum unum, eumque pergrandem, in quo longo discursu multa, quae ad historiae nostrae cognitionem pertinent, explicavi."
26 Fryde, 1983, 44, who also cites Bruni, 1741, 1:115-17, letter IV, 7 of Nov.-Dec. 1416 to Giovanni Corvini, in which Bruni attempts to defend his thesis.
27 Ibid., 49: Bruni suppresses Plutarch, Life of Cicero, 42, 1-3.
28 Ibid., 47.
29 The full preface is in Bruni, 1928, 122-23. See also Momigliano, 1977, 82-86.
30 Bruni, 1928, 123.
31 Reynolds, 112-13.
32 The latter expression is used in The Humanism, 180, apparently on the basis of Bruni's letter of 1422-24 to Giovanni Torrelli. See Bruni, 1741, 1:134-35 (IV, 20), where a clear distinction is drawn between "commentarii" and "historia." But the word "commentarii" in Bruni's title is probably to be interpreted on the basis of Polybius's own view of his first two books as a "sketch" (I.3.10; I.13; II 37.2-3), i.e., as a more succinct account, which will function as an introduction to the "historia" proper. On this latter point, see Walbank, 1:216. Bruni seems to be alluding to an alternate formal pattern, rather than to something lying outside "historia." On the whole question: Ianziti, 1992, 1034-39.
33 Wilcox, 106.
34 Bruni's account cuts straight from the end of Polybius I.11 to the beginning of 1.16. Bruni's version thus eliminates Polybius's discussion (I.12-15) of his sources. However, Bruni's preface reworks some of the material in Polybius I.14.
35 Bruni, 1928, 123: "Quorum uter patriae affectus suae ac studio partium inductus, etsi non circa rei gestae seriem, circa belli tamen causas iustitiamque excessisse modum putatur."
36 Ibid.: "Philinum deinde Polybius Megalopolitanus, annalium conditor, secutus est; Fabinto autem e nostris plures, sed praecipuae claritatis Livius Patavinus, Romanae pater historiae." See Momigliano, 1977, 85.
37 The Humanism, 180, following Reynolds, 111.
38 Cavalcanti, 126; Vespasiano, 1:476.
39 Santini, 139: "Quantam perpetuitatem fame et glorie populis ac civitatibus afferat historiarum perita deseriptio ac litterarum splendor et lumen considerantes. . . ." Bruni had just published Books VII-IX of the Historiae.
40 I quote from the preface, Bruni, 1928, 147-49. For Bruni's last years, see The Humanism, 38.
41 Bruni, 1741, 2:150, letter IX, 5. For Ciriaco d'Ancona, see Weiss, 91, 109, 137-42.
42 He does not discuss it, however, in his letter to Prospero Colonna concerning Livy and Polybius as historians of ancient Rome: Bruni, 1741, 2:150-52 (IX, 6), on which see Momigliano, 1977, 85. On Livy's debt to Polybius, see Walsh, 135. Of interest is the preface of Niccolo Perotti to his translation of Polybius (1453): Reynolds, 115.
43 Walsh, 141.
44 Bruni, 1741, 2:156 (IX, 9): 'De historia vero quod petis, scias me post discessum tuum IV libros de bello italico adversus Gothos scripsisse. Scripsi veto non ut interpres, sed ut genitor, et auctor; quemadmodum enim, si de praesenti bello scriberem, noticia quidem rerum gestarum ex auditu foret, ordo vero, ac dispositio, et verba mea essent, ac meo arbitratu excogitata et posita; eodem item modo ipse noticiam rerum gestarum de illo sumens, in ceteris omnibus ab eo recessi, utpote qui hoc unum habeat boni, quod bello interfuit. Cetera illius sunt spernenda." Cameron, 39, does indeed confirm that "Procopius patterned his whole conception of the Wars on the model of secular military history based on autopsy."
45 On Procopius as the sole source of the De bello italico, see Haury, 132, who states that the work "nichts weiter enthalt, als was von Prokop erzahlt ist." Santini, 25, on the other hand, claims that Bruni had recourse to other sources, but fails to provide any proof of this assertion. The whole matter deserves further study. However, the point I am making here is one concerning Bruni's own perceptions. On this score there is no doubt that in the passages tired, Bruni argues his case for authorship as if Procopius had been his only source.
46 Bruni's De temporibus suis does not constitute a violation of these norms, since Bruni is careful in the course of that work to specify that it does not meet the criteria for full-scale historia. On this point, see Ianziti, 1990, 8-9, 22; and passim.
47 Griggio, 50: "Ab hoc ego scriptore sumpsi non ut interpres, sed ira ut notitiam rerum ab illo susceptam meo arbitratu disponerem meisque verbis non illius referrem."
48 Ibid.: "sed admodum ineptus et eloquentie hostis ut apparet maxime in contionibus suis, quamquam Thucydidem imitari vult. Sed tantum abest ab illius maiestate quantum Thersites forma atque virtute distat ab Achille."
49 Ibid.: "Solum id habet boni quod bello interfuit et ob id vera refert."
50 Fubini, 1968, 542-43.
51 Biondo, 43: "multa in hac belli italici historia . . . mendose scripta vel absurde addita comperimus, in quibus explicandis ita versari est animus, ut non disputationem introduxisse, magisquam historiam ad veritatem dirigere videamur."
52 For a fuller listing, see Buchholz, 33-47, 111-12. Biondo's remarks on the mosaics in San Vitale, 44, deserve to be noted: "Quo in loco aliqua fuerunt ad ornatum addita, quae et scriptorum supplent defectum, et certa ostendunt multa, quae scripta credere nolebamus."
53 Using Agnellus, 322, Biondo, 89, was able to date the arrival of Narses in Ravenna (552) at the end of July. As Biondo points out, the dating has important ramifications in terms of explaining the march of Narses and his armies from Aquileia through territory considered impassable on account of its swamps and rivers: cf. Procopius VIII, xxvi, 24-25. Comparetti, in his edition of Procopius, 3:321, also follows Agnellus; see also Stein, 2:601, and Wolfram, 359, who still follow Agnellus, but with a revision of the date to early June.
54 A good example is Biondo's attempt to deny the first trip of Narses to Italy, 538-539 A.D.: cf. Procopius VI, xiii, 16-18; Bruni, 1470, 27; Biondo, 64. The point naturally leads Biondo further to deny that discord between Narses and Belisarius was the primary cause of the loss of Milan in March 539: cf. Procopius VI, xxi, 38; Bruni, 1470, 30; Biondo 64-65. Subsequent research has overwhelmingly vindicated Procopius (and thus Bruni) on these events: see Stein, 2:360; Wolfram, 346.
55 Biondo, 43: "Exinde Leonardus Aretinus scriptor aerate nostra clarissimus, eandem belli italici adversus Gothos historiam decem et octo annos complexam scripsit, quae ad principium finemque nihil plus habet quam Procopius. . . ." On the same page Biondo, whose Greek was poor, explains how he was able to check Bruni's work by procuring for himself a rough translation.
56 Haury, 137. Griggio, 45, is more circumspect on this question.
57 As both Buchholz, 33-38, and Haury, 156, indicate, Biondo's verbatim copying from sources includes generous extracts from Bruni's De bello italico.
58 Scritti, 148. Bruni's letter to Alfonso, 17 October 1442, is to be found in Bruni, 1741, 2:165-66 (IX, 13). See also Luiso, 156-57.
59 Bruni, 1470, 30; cfr. Procopius VI, xxi, 38-39. Modern accounts agree substantially with this version of events; see, for example, Bognetti, 38-39.
60 Biondo, 64-45: "Cogimur hoc in loco longiore, quam superius polliciti sumus sermone errores refutare, quos supra tanquam ex Procopio traditos omisimus. . . . Harum rerum veritas apud quos sit, iliorum iudicio linquimus, qui parum ornate a veteribus scripta non fastidiunt, quosque potius laborando investigandoque, sicut nos fecimus, veritatem cognoscere, quam torpescendo ignorare delectabit." The words I have italicized seem to echo Bruni's letter to Poggio of 2 January 1416 (IV, 4), in Bruni, 1741, 1:111, regarding Book I of the Historiae: "Sed tantus est labor in quaerendis investigandisque rebus, ut jam plane me poeniteat incoepisse" (italics mine). It is certainly ironic that Bruni, who had denied the traditional account of the destruction of Florence at the hands of the Goths (Historiae, 24), should find himself attacked on this point.
61 Bruni, 1741, 2:181 (X,10) regarding his translation of the Politics of Aristotle: "Non enim haec est narratio, aut historia, in qua nichil sit praeter significationem rei gestae. . . ." For the date, see Luiso, 138. Biondo had published four books of his Decades dealing with contemporary Italian affairs in the spring of 1437: Fubini, 1968, 543. A letter of Lapo da Castiglionchio to Biondo, 1 April 1437, drew a comparison with Bruni which was unfavorable to the latter: "is patriae tantummodo res gestas complexus est, tu autem reliquas ex universa Italia memoratu dignas . . . prosecutus es." See the full text of the letter in Miglio, 189-201 (191-92 for the passage quoted here).
62 Fubini, 1968, 546, rightly notes: "Abbastanza raramente il racconto si distende in squarci narrativi. . . ."
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|Title Annotation:||history writer Leonardo Bruni|
|Date:||Jun 22, 1998|
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