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La controversia di Poggio Bracciolini e Guarino Veronese su Cesare e Scipione. (Reviews).

Davide Canfora, La controversia di Poggio Bracciolini e Guarino Veronese su Cesare e Scipione

Florence: Leo S. Olschki, 2001. 173 pp. L. 35000. ISBN: 88-222-4987-9.

In 1435 the Ferrarese Scipione Mainenti asked Poggio for his opinion regarding the relative merits of his namesake, Scipio Africanus Maior, and Julius Caesar. Poggio responded with his treatise De praestantia Scipionis et Caesaris (April 1435), in which he boldly argued for the superiority of Scipio. Poggio's work raised hackles in Ferrara, where the cult of Caesar was particularly strong. Guarino immediately rose to the challenge and penned a defense of Caesar, published in June, 1435. His response touched a raw nerve, in that it cast serious doubt over Poggio's competence as a classical scholar. Stung to the core, Poggio replied with a Defensio de praestantia Caesaris et Scipionis, in which he restated and strengthened his earlier arguments. Here the debate ended. By the following year Poggio and Guarino were reconciled. 'What remained were the three texts, which circulated widely as a single corpus, and as such came to form one of early humanism's defining moments. At stake, of course, were not only the re putations of Scipio and Caesar, but also those of Poggio and Guarino in particular, and of humanistic scholarship in general. The clash between Poggio and Guarino became one of the testing grounds of the new movement: an "exemplary" duel, or dialogue, played out according to rules the controversy itself helped to redefine.

Davide Canfora's book is clearly a welcome addition to the growing modern library of the basic texts of early humanism. It provides reliable, up-to-date editions of the three key works generated by the controversy, together with the relevant supporting documentation. In regard to the first text, Poggio's De praestantia of April 1435, Canfora reproduces -- with some slight improvements -- Giuliana Crevatin's edition, first published in Poggio Bracciolini 1380-1980 (Florence, 1982), 281-342. In regard to the second text, Guarino's response, Canfora relies on the edition established by Remigio Sabbadini in L'epistolario di Guarino Veronese, vol. 2 (Venice, 1916), 220-54, also reproduced in Eugenio Garin's Prosatori latini del Quattrocento (Naples, 1952), 314-77. In regard to the third text, Poggio's Defensio, Canfora here presents a new edition, based on an extensive review of the manuscript tradition. Needless to say, this edition will henceforth take precedence over the only other one readily available to scho lars: that contained in Poggio's Opera (Basel, 1538), 365-90.

Canfora is first of all to be congratulated for collecting and publishing the three texts of the controversy together in a single volume, thereby restoring their original character as a unified work. Readers are now able to follow the debate as it unfolds, in three parts, or chapters. This is precisely how Poggio, and probably Guarino as well, intended the work to be read. More importantly still, it is how contemporaries read it, as Canfora shows by citing the manuscript circulation data (13).

In addition to the texts themselves, Canfora provides a lengthy and informative introduction, which situates the controversy within the broader context of the humanist movement. Sections on Petrarch, Salutati, and Bruni illuminate the terms of what was in fact an ongoing debate on figures like Scipio and Caesar, if not always by way of direct comparison. Useful too are Canfora's investigations into the sources, the significance of the positions assumed by both sides, and the resonance the discussion had in later humanism and indeed beyond. Most commendable of all is Canfora's refusal to lapse into a reductivist reading, which would force one to choose between political and rhetorical modes of interpretation. Canfora is adamant that the Poggio-Guarino debate ranges over a series of interconnected issues. Politics are of course never far away, given the Florentine aversion to one-man rule, vis-a-vis Ferrarese compliance. But the debate is also about the rules of scholarly engagement themselves, and thus about a rgumentation, rhetoric, and defining what ultimately constitutes sound classical scholarship. As the representative of the Florentine avant-garde, Poggio was anti-traditionalist in the extreme, issuing a direct challenge to Plutarch's Caesar, as translated by Guarino. Guarino's, on the other hand, was a call to order, in the form of total reliance on classical authority. Davide Canfora deserves our thanks for restoring the contours and contrasts of one of humanism's most fundamental and momentous debates.
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Author:Ianziti, Gary
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 22, 2002
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