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News from Negroponte: politics, popular opinion, and information exchange in the first decade of the Italian press*.

Ai Negroponte mio, che in tanto afano
Te vedo in su la rocha esser percosso
Nel quattrocento di setanta all'ano. (1)


Negroponte fell to the Turks on 12 July 1470. (2) The fortified city commanded the island of Euboea in the Aegean Sea and was one of Venice's most important remaining possessions in the Eastern Mediterranean. Its loss was a serious blow to the republic. After the Turks captured Constantinople in 1453, Venice had fallen back heavily on Negroponte; the city was a major commercial entrepot as well as a vital military outpost, the site from which, for the past seven years, Venetian galleys had pursued an increasingly isolated war against the Turks. With the loss of this crucial forward base, Venice had no way to challenge the Turkish fleet in its own waters. The way lay open, or so it seemed to European observers, for an Ottoman assault on Italy itself. (3)

The political implications of Negroponte's fall were compelling: imperial Venice had its back to the wall. No less riveting were the dramatic details of how the event had unfolded. The story held a gruesome fascination. (4) When the Turks launched their assault in mid-June, 1470, the citizens of Negroponte mounted a spirited resistance, but their efforts were no match for the determination and craft of Sultan Mehmed II (1432-81). To confront the island fortress, the sultan had ordered a new fleet of galleys to be constructed--the largest in Ottoman history--and devised an ingenious system of pontoon bridges over the treacherous straits of the Euripos separating Euboea from the mainland. (5) With his men and artillery safely over the bridges, he set forty-two massive bronze guns to battering the city walls. His janissaries flung themselves in waves against the fortifications till the dead filled the moats to overflowing. But the city still held out. There were moments of high drama: a treacherous captain, Tommaso Schiavo, was caught trying to open the city gates to the besiegers. The cunning Negropontines cut the traitor down, then lured his unsuspecting Turkish accomplices into a deadly trap. But there was also tragic disappointment. On the morning of 11 July, the embattled citizens of Negroponte woke to see a Venetian fleet approaching at speed down the straits of the Euripos. In hope and delight the defenders raised the flag of St. Mark over the battlements to show the city was not lost. But the captain-general of the fleet, Niccolo Canal, was a tentative commander. Seeing the extent of the sultan's operations--the pontoon bridges, cannon arrays, and thousands of Turkish tents ringing the walls--Canal held his ships back. His troops stood helplessly on the decks the following day as the Turks stormed the walls and, on the sultan's orders, killed every adult male in Negroponte, took the women and children prisoner, massacred the families of the Venetian administrators, and (at least some reports said) strapped the governor Paolo Erizzo between two thick wooden boards and sawed him in half at the waist. Within a week, the remaining towns of Euboea had made a hasty surrender.

When news of the disaster at Negroponte reached Italy at the end of July, it set off a chain of political and popular reactions that would dominate the civic discourse of the peninsula for months to come. The loss of the colony precipitated a flurry of diplomatic correspondence and negotiations among the Italian states. Meanwhile, the Italian public responded to the news with a strident mix of panic, self-recrimination, and prurient interest in the gruesome details.

In many ways the aftermath recalled the atmosphere of 1453: the fall of Constantinople, too, had provoked both fear and fascination among the Italians. (6) And, along with political wrangling and popular outpourings of grief and dismay, both catastrophes gave rise to an enormous and enormously varied body of texts. These included hastily composed eyewitness reports; poetic laments for the cities and their dead; humanist orations bewailing the barbarity of the Turks; learned tracts debating their origins and character; theological ruminations on their possible apocalyptic significance; and popular sermons that laid the blame for Ottoman depredations squarely at the feet of a sinful Christendom. Such texts both reflected and perpetuated the fevered contemporary debate over the problem of the terrible Turk. But the fall of Negroponte--or rather, public reaction to it--differed from any previous event in Italian history in one crucial way: it coincided almost exactly with the spread of printing through the major cities of the peninsula.

The first printers in Italy had begun work at the abbey of Subiaco, near Rome, in 1464 and by 1469 there were presses in Rome itself and in Venice. But late 1470 and 1471, the year-and-a-half immediately after Negroponte's fall, saw the start of the real boom in Italian printing, with printers spreading to a further eleven Italian cities, including Bologna, Naples, Milan, Ferrara, and Florence. (7) The number of editions produced escalated even more dramatically: from a mere forty-six editions surviving from the period 1465-69 to at least 245 extant from the year 1472 alone. (8) Most of this output (more than 500 editions in total by the end of 1472) consisted of classical and patristic texts, liturgical books, biblical commentaries, legal compendia, and smaller numbers of vernacular romances, devotional manuals, and didactic works. But at least thirty-three Italian editions from the period 1465-72 describe or discuss current events; of these, the overwhelming majority deal in some way with the Ottoman threat. More than a dozen Italian editions relate directly to the disaster at Negroponte, as do another two editions printed north of the Alps in these years. (9)

The fall of Negroponte was thus one of the first events in Renaissance history to be recorded in print more-or-less immediately after the fact. The cluster of publications that appeared in the wake of the city's fall suggests that, in Italy at least, the practice of using the press to disseminate news and commentary on recent events was adopted practically instantaneously, at the very moment the new technology was put to use. That Italian printers engaged with the "news" of their day in this way is an important aspect of the history of printing in Italy that has received very little scholarly attention--partly because many of these topical texts, ephemeral by nature, are now exceedingly rare; but also, it would appear, because even those bibliographers and printing historians who have known of these diverse Latin and Italian works have rarely considered them together as representatives of a particular class of text. (10) The project of classifying incunabula by subject is notoriously difficult; most attempts employ broad disciplinary or generic categories. One well-known study employs the headings Theology, Law, Philosophy and Science, Classics (including "Humanistic Imitations"), and an omnibus category for all vernacular texts, without considering the subject matter of individual works. (11) In these schemes, various genres of text--penitential sermons, humanist orations, vernacular ballads, devotional poetry, astrological prognostications, saints' lives, and the accounts of recent travelers, all of which can and do contain reports on current events and which may well have been read by contemporaries for precisely such information--are considered in isolation from one another. Rather than recognizing the rich variety of literary strategies fifteenth-century authors (and readers) employed to share, discuss, and come to terms with the news of their world, the classification techniques employed by traditional bibliographies have tended to obscure the impact of contemporary events on the early spread of print.

Recent scholarship has taken a more inclusive approach to the question of the "political text" and the various, sometimes unexpected, forms it could take in the early modern era. Cultural historians and literary scholars seeking to push the origins of Jurgen Habermas's hypothetical "public sphere" ever farther back into the early modern past have documented the wide variety of political information published during the English Civil War, the French Wars of Religion, and the pamphlet wars of the Reformation. (12) These studies have steadily expanded the period in which news and popular opinion are said to have circulated via the press. Indeed, it has become something of a truism to say that it was the Reformers themselves who first exploited the medium to broadcast news and propaganda to a European reading public thrown into spiritual and political crisis. But as important as the Reformation was for the development of the popular press, to call the pamphlet wars a watershed in the history of both printing and public political engagement necessarily distracts attention from the nature and extent of political discourse in Europe--especially in lands where the Reformation would not take root--in the decades leading up to 1517.

Historians of print culture have taken relatively little notice of the role the press played in disseminating information on current events in Italy, where a reading public eager for news seems already to have been well established by the year 1500. Some of the signal events of the 1490s, including Columbus's first voyage to the Americas, the French invasions of Italy, and the rise and fall of Savonarola in Florence, were recorded and discussed in printed texts. (13) Earlier celebrated cases documented by the Italian press include the Turkish attacks on Rhodes and Otranto in 1480, the Pazzi conspiracy against the Medici of 1478, and the sensational blood libel trial of the Jews of Trent in 1475. (14) The Negroponte texts demonstrate that this kind of topical publication in fact dates back to the very earliest years of Italian printing. Does this mean we may also speak of a public sphere in Italy as early as 1470? By now, the term may have been stretched too far to be of use. What is clear is that some current notions concerning the conditions necessary for such a sphere to develop--and, crucially, the role played by the press in that process--need to be revised.

A more productive angle from which to approach these texts is the much-debated question of the printing "revolution," its impact and extent: did the advent of print change society, or did society shape the development of print? (15) Critics of the revolutionary model have stressed the conservative nature of the early press: printers, interested above all in profit, looked to issue books that would sell. The steady stream of Bibles, textbooks, professional manuals, and devotional tracts produced in the incunabular period testifies to the essentially traditional character of the industry in its earliest years. And yet here, in 1470-72, we find a group of texts whose subject matter was, by definition, new, their content utterly untested. The sheer number of Negroponte editions produced in these years suggests that the press may have been put to revolutionary uses from the start.

The texts, however, complicate things. Not one of the various eyewitness letters from the scene of Negroponte's fall, nor any of the many domestic letters that first circulated the news within Italy, was printed during the period in question. Rather, the news from Negroponte underwent various literary treatments on its way into print. The story was dramatized in anonymous vernacular ballads and humanist Latin epics; its historical and moral significance was explored in political speeches, consolatory epistles, and devotional verse. Though the story the Negroponte texts told was new, the various forms used to convey this story were entirely conventional. It seems likely, in fact, that the news from Negroponte would not have been printed at all had there not already existed an audience ready to consume it in the manner (or manners) to which it was accustomed. The printers of these texts, far from inaugurating a media revolution, seem to have responded to the demands of an existing market for news and information.

This last point raises the central set of questions my article will address. First, how did news of a calamitous event "break" in late Quattrocento Italy? It was not printers who stepped in to transmit information on current events to the public; rather, the press provided commentary and analysis to a reading public already in possession of the basic facts. How had these readers come by that information? Contemporary letters, diaries, and chronicles allow us to track the progress of the story of Negroponte's fall over the period 1470-72. An enormous amount of information circulated via oral reports, private letters, ambassadorial dispatches, and official government pronouncements. Some of this news was unreliable--the exaggerated product of hysterical panic or wishful thinking--but many accounts proved trustworthy enough, suggesting the existence of both formal and informal networks for conveying political, military, and diplomatic news to urban populations that were eager to hear it. Political agitation played an important part in the process of dissemination. Venice, supported by the papacy, tended to use the story of Negroponte's fall to lobby for support for its war with Turkey, while the republic's commercial and political rivals--chiefly Florence, Naples, and Milan--tried to downplay the event or cast blame for the disaster on Venice itself. But the story did not just trickle down through Italian society from on high; popular interest in the topic was lively, reflecting both traditional dread of the infidel foe and (perhaps an even greater factor at this time) a keen interest in the way the Italian states were attempting to manage that threat and, by extension, their relations with one another.

Finally, although historical records suggest that a politically aware Italian public had been keeping abreast of current events, both in Italy and abroad, well before the introduction of print, it is not clear that the printers of the Negroponte texts tried very hard to cater to this general audience. While at least two different popular vernacular ballads describing the fall of Negroponte appeared in print in the aftermath of the event, the majority of the editions printed in the years 1470-72 takes the form of humanist Latin compositions. What kind of market existed for these particular political texts? Were they expected to turn a profit, or did some of them serve their creators' interests in other ways?

This article traces the story of Negroponte's fall, its reception in Italy, and subsequent circulation in print, in order to highlight two larger issues central to an understanding of the spread of printing in Italy: first, the several levels on which political information circulated through the peninsula on the eve of the arrival of print and, second, the important role (seemingly unparalleled in Europe) that humanist scholars played in introducing that rich political discourse to the press, and vice versa. While the news from Negroponte reveals much about the course the printing revolution would take in Quattrocento Italy, it suggests even more about its origins: why Italy in 1470 stood primed to embrace the press in the first place.


Though shocking, the fall of Negroponte was not entirely unexpected. It did not take the press to alert the Italian public to the looming disaster. Since the start of its war with the Turks in 1463, if not before, Venice had feared for the safety of the island city. (16) For the past seven years a steady stream of rumors from the east had underscored the republic's concern: the sultan was building a new fleet; (17) he had inspected progress at his shipyards on the Sea of Marmara; (18) massive guns were being cast in Thessaloniki. (19) By March of 1470 the Senate informed its ambassador in Rome that Turkish preparations were complete. (20) The identity of the target was widely known: "From every side one hears it said the Turk is set to move against Negroponte." (21) The Senate put the Arsenal on high alert, allocated funds for outfitting new ships and men, and dispatched troops from Venice to reinforce defenses on Euboea. (22) Two months later in June, word reached Venice that the Turkish fleet had emerged from the Hellespont, prompting another group of reinforcements to set sail at once for the East. (23)

Venice made no attempt to keep these dismal developments secret. (Indeed, secrecy can hardly have been possible, as reports filtered back to the city along more private channels.) (24) On 24 June the Senate ordered public prayers to be said in both Venice and the cities of the Terrafirma, where contributions were also levied to support the war effort. (25) By the end of the month observers in Volterra, Gubbio, and Rome understood that the prospects for Negroponte looked grim; (26) throughout July "letters, reports, and rumors" continued to fly. (27) Meanwhile Pope Paul II (r. 1464-71) ordered prayers to be said on behalf of the colony both in the Papal States and throughout Italy. (28) On 8 July he led a procession of cardinals and clergy in bare feet from the Vatican palace to St. Peter's Basilica, where prayers were said and relics displayed; (29) the next day, an even more splendid procession wound its way through the city streets to the Lateran, where more relics were displayed, a Turk was baptized, and laypersons and clergy alike were exhorted to pray for the safety of the imperiled city. (30) The pope also issued an indulgence to all who either went to fight, or paid another to fight, in defense of Negroponte. (31)

In this way the Italian public was primed to hear the story of the battle for the city. Sources also reveal how the news first broke and then spread. The first reports reached Venice nineteen days after the colony fell. On 31 July a shipwrecked sailor was delivered to the Collegio dei Savi in possession of a damp cache of letters which, once dried and cleaned, relayed a disturbing report from the rector of Lepanto: celebratory bonfires had been seen along the Turkish coast. Soon after, scouts confirmed that the sultan had made a triumphal entry into Negroponte. The news leaked out almost immediately: "The members of the Collegio set out for home across the piazza, where a number of people accosted them, wanting to know how things were going. They refused to reply and walked away dumbstruck and with faces cast down, so that the whole country was filled with alarm. Everyone wondered what terrible disaster could have occurred. And then murmurs were heard that Negroponte had been lost. The news spread throughout the country. It is impossible to describe how terrible were the groans and sighs that could be heard." (32)

"These letters have thrown everyone into panic," Malipiero concludes. "Now it seems that the greatness of Venice has been humbled and our pride destroyed." (33) Throughout the city, bells rang, preachers lamented, and penitential processions threaded their way along the canals. (34) The impact of the story was compounded when, first, eyewitness reports and, later, bedraggled survivors of the sack began to trickle into the city. (35) Each brought his or her own tale of woe. (36) "The whole city is so struck with horror that the inhabitants seem dead; they are saying it would have been less of a disaster to give up the whole of the Terrafirma," the Milanese ambassador wrote to his duke at the middle of the month. (37)

By this time the rest of Italy was well aware of the news. Within hours of reading the shipwrecked sailor's letters on 31 July, the Senate had relayed the grim tidings in letters to the pope, the Italian states, the King of Hungary, and Emperor Frederick III. (38) That same day at least one foreign observer in the city also sent home his own account of the sailor's doleful report. (39) The story traveled fast, reaching Ferrara the same day it left Venice, on 31 July, and arriving in Rome on the fourth, Milan on the fifth, and Naples on the ninth of August. (40)

Not all reports were true. On at least two occasions in Venice, crowds milling around St. Mark's Square were electrified by rumors of a reversal of Turkish fortunes: Negroponte had not fallen, after all, or the Venetian fleet had regrouped to strike a devastating blow against the sultan. Each time, the story sparked wild celebrations before a second round of reports proved it untrue. (41) The rest of Italy likewise wavered between wild hopes and despair. In Naples and Sicily ports were put on high alert against an imminent Turkish attack, but in Florence a report that the Turkish fleet had been defeated prompted widespread enthusiasm and relief. (42) Throughout Italy private correspondents traded details of the city's fall, perpetuating anxiety even as they complained about the unreliability of the available news. (43)

Everyone agreed that the godless Turk was a fearsome adversary, author of terrible atrocities at Negroponte. But it was felt that ultimate responsibility for the disaster lay at home, in Christian Europe. Some blamed Venice for mismanaging its foreign policy--for breaking a crucial alliance with Hungary and interfering in civic disputes in Florence--and thus alienating potential sources of support for its war against the Turks. (44) Others faulted the pope: his recent, high-handed attempts to annex Rimini from the Malatesta had offended both Florence and Milan, undermined attempts to coordinate a new crusade, and perhaps even given the sultan the confidence to attack. (45) Still others blamed Venice's main commercial rivals, Florence and Genoa, for contributing funds and logistical support to the Turkish fleet. (46) A few pessimists blamed everyone: Venice, Rome, the states of Italy, and the princes of Northern Europe were all guilty of selfish infighting and gross indifference to the infidel threat; now all would face the consequences of their neglect. (47)

This last theme was one that Venetian state propaganda sought to underscore. Throughout the spring and summer of 1470 Venice had done much to publicize the plight of its colony and to agitate for aid among its Italian rivals. In July the Senate with the support of Paul II persuaded the reluctant governments of Naples, Milan, and Florence to renew the mutual defense pact agreed at Lodi in April 1454, in the aftermath of the fall of Constantinople. (48) But it was the news of Negroponte's collapse that finally galvanized European attention. In late August Doge Cristoforo Moro sent open letters to the Italian states describing the horrors of the sack, demanding immediate help against the Turks, and warning that the consequences of further inaction would be dire. (49) "All Italy and all Christendom are in the same boat," Moro wrote to the Duke of Milan, "we all face the same peril; no coastline, no province, no part of Italy, no matter how remote and hidden it may seem, can be considered safer than the rest." (50) At the same time, Paul II issued a series of open letters exhorting the princes of Christendom to settle their differences and mount a new crusade against the Turks. (51) Meanwhile, Cardinal Bessarion (d. 1472) circulated privately, among his circle of prominent and influential friends, a collection of letters and orations on the same topic. For a brief moment, a spirit of cooperation took hold among the Italian states. (52) When in mid-September Paul II invited ambassadors to Rome to discuss possible responses to the disaster at Negroponte, most Italian governments complied. (53) Negotiations continued through autumn, as rumors of an impending Turkish attack swirled through city streets and squares. Political and popular interest in the issue converged in December when the Italian states publicly announced that the League of Lodi had been renewed: "On the eighth a papal brief from Paul II arrived in Bologna announcing that in Rome on 22 December 1470 the governments of Italy had formed a league against the Turks. Accordingly, the governors ordered the city bells to be rung, bonfires lit, and three days of processions to celebrate." (54)

The fall of Negroponte, the apparently imminent Turkish threat which it had unleashed, and the dangerously tattered network of Christian alliances which it had exposed, all remained topics of intense debate both in Italy and north of the Alps throughout 1471 and well into 1472. Discussions tended to revive whenever changes in government suggested new political alignments or a revival in official enthusiasm for the crusade. There were several such moments in the early part of the decade: the death of Paul II and the election of the much more militant Sixtus IV (r. 1471-84) in the summer of 1471; the election in December of that same year of Doge Niccolo Tron, whose son had died in the fighting at Negroponte; and--a direct result of diplomatic consultation between the two new regimes in late 1471--the dispatch of special papal emissaries (legates de latere) to drum up support for the crusade in the kingdoms of Northern Europe in the spring of 1472. These events kept the story alive in the public imagination; so, too, did the spread of the printing press.


Two poetic lamenti for Negroponte--vernacular ballads describing the siege and sack of the city--were printed a total of five times in the decade after the city's fall. (55) These poems represent a literary tradition far older than the invention of printing. (56) For decades such ballads had been recited or sung to live audiences in Italian city squares, sometimes by the poet himself, sometimes by a professional crier (cantastorie, canterino, cantambanco), sometimes by a peddler (cerretano, ciurmatore) who might also sell paper copies of the text alongside his usual stock of devotional images, patent medicines, and charms. (57) Both texts employ the dramatic inflections of this oral poetic tradition to recount the story of Negroponte's fall. They are packed with dramatic descriptions of the sultan's wily consultations, his formidable fleet and bloodthirsty troops, the smoke and thunder of his guns, the bravery and despair of the defenders (sometimes expressed in direct speech), the treachery of Tommaso Schiavo, and the bloody aftermath of the sack. The information is interspersed with frequent authorial asides: appeals to the audience (to listen closely, or have pity, or "decide if I speak the truth"); (58) passionate apostrophes to God, the Virgin, or the poet's muse; inflammatory rhetorical questions; and dark commentary on the sinful negligence of a European Christendom that had allowed the catastrophe to happen in the first place. The poems participate in an established tradition of vernacular, poetic commentary on current events that would persist well into the sixteenth century, largely unchanged by the introduction of print. (59) Their existence is not remarkable. (60) What is worth noting is the speed with which they were published. Between 1470 and 1472, at least three, and possibly as many as five, editions of these two texts were issued by newly established printers, some of them the first ever to work in their respective cities.

The Piante de Negroponte, written in terza rima by an anonymous Venetian, was printed in Venice by Adam of Ambergau sometime between the first half of 1471, when the German printer started work in the city, and the end of 1472, when he stopped. (61) The Lamento di Negroponte, written in ottava rima and also anonymous--though attributed in some editions to "un fiorentino" (62)--enjoyed a much wider distribution than the Piante and survives in three different redactions. The shortest, in forty-seven stanzas, was printed by the Milanese prototypographer Pamfilo Castaldi sometime between his arrival in Milan in August 1471 and the close of his shop in May 1472. Castaldi was a Venetian citizen and had almost certainly learned the art of printing in Venice; he was assisted by Antonio Zaroto, later a printer in his own right, who had worked in Venice as a scribe. (63) The text of the Lamento may well have got to Milan in the first place through one of these Venetian connections. The poem was quickly reprinted (with an additional stanza) by the second printer to set up in the city, Filippo de Lavagna, shortly after he started work in March 1472. (64) By this time the poem had also traveled south, undergoing revision and expansion along the way. A redaction in 103 stanzas was printed at Naples by Sixtus Riessinger, the German printer who worked briefly and in mysterious obscurity in Rome in the late 1460s before moving his operations south in the fall of 1470. (65) A fourth edition, printed in Florence at an uncertain date, is discussed in more detail below.

The vernacular poetic accounts of Negroponte's fall would have appealed strongly to printers just starting up operations in a new city--in the case of Milan and Naples, cities where no printer had yet plied his trade. The short, small-format texts could be manufactured quickly, with a minimal outlay of capital, and offered at low cost to a reading public that was familiar with the form and, at this particular moment, intensely interested in the content. The printers may have turned to existing distribution networks of stationers and mobile cerretani in order to tap into the market for this kind of text. (66) The local manuscript trade may even have supplied the texts, which appeared in different versions from city to city.

The fourth edition of the poem, in yet another redaction (of ninety-five stanzas), is set in the type of Johannes Petri; (67) one of the first printers to work in Florence, his office operated from early 1471 to 1473. Given the topical nature of the poem, it is tempting to assign the edition to Petri and to this early period of Florentine publishing. But Petri went out of business in 1473 and in May 1477 sold the matrices for his type to the Dominican nuns of the convent of San Jacopo di Ripoli. (68) The one surviving copy of this edition, now in Siena, is bound with a number of other Ripoli press tracts, including the popular devotional tract Fior di Virtu, and a verse lament for Giuliano de' Medici, the brother of Lorenzo, assassinated in the Pazzi conspiracy of 1478. (69)

The Ripoli press is renowned for its Diario (account book), in which the procurator Fra Domenico da Pistoia recorded his dealings with a colorful cast of local peddlers, charlatans, and canterini who hawked his printed pamphlets through the streets of Florence on consignment or commission. (70) The Ripoli Diario offers an unparalleled glimpse into the trade in vernacular verse in Quattrocento Italy. If this last Lamento for Negroponte is a product of the Ripoli press, then a great deal may be assumed about the character of its readership: most likely, the same class of urban, literate townspeople, both professionals and those of more middling occupations, who bought from Ripoli's collection of modestly priced devotional tracts, saints' lives, conduct manuals, chivalric romances, and news reports--short and portable texts that offered easy reading, entertainment, and moralizing instruction in equal measure. (71) But if the fourth edition of the Lamento is assigned to the Ripoli press, then at least seven years must have passed since the fall of Negroponte. What might account for the Lamento's enduring interest? Probably not the story itself so much as the manner of its retelling. The literary conventions of the historical ballad, with its heroes and villains, dramatic speeches, and narrative suspense, set this recent and shocking story in a frame of timeless romance; at the same time, a heavy dose of moralizing commentary related the significance of the events described to the larger religious and political concerns of the day. Both devices served to abstract the particular story of Negroponte into something larger and more universal, and of lasting interest to readers even decades later. (72) In fact, the Lamento di Negroponte would be reprinted in Italy a further nineteen times between 1500 and 1615, testament to a consistent interest in and demand for political texts long after the events they described had faded into history. (73)


Nearly a dozen other editions relating to the fall of Negroponte survive from the period 1470-72, editions which at first glance seem to belong to an entirely different world from that of the anonymous, popular laments. Most of these works were written in Latin--some in a quite elevated style--and, perhaps most significant, with one exception they were all signed by their authors. All were dedicated to prominent political figures. Both the content and the form of these texts mark them clearly as belonging to the much-maligned category of humanist rhetoric--consequently, they have been all but ignored for the past 500 years. And yet the Latin texts do treat the topic of a contemporary political event, and they found their way into print very shortly after that event's occurrence. Many of them were, like their vernacular companions, among the very first texts their printers ever produced and among the first printed works to appear in their respective cities. Whatever conclusions may be drawn regarding their literary merits, these editions are still significant artifacts for the history of early printing and, in particular, for an understanding of the sociology of early printing: an enterprise in which the political, economic, and intellectual interests of printers, editors, authors, and their intended readers overlapped, often coincided, and sometimes clashed.

Before the year 1470 was out, two Latin works describing the fall of Negroponte appeared in print in Italy, both of them epic poems by humanist scholars. One was by Paolo Marsi, an important figure in the Roman Academy of Pomponio Leto. In 1468, after the antiquarian group had been charged by Paul II with heresy, paganism, and conspiring to overthrow the papacy as a prelude to restoring the Roman Republic, several academicians were detained and tortured in the Castel Sant'Angelo. Marsi and Leto were both in Venice when the affair erupted; after Leto was extradited to Rome as the assumed ringleader of the plot, Marsi rather hastily attached himself to the household of the Venetian diplomat Bernardo Bembo, then embarking on an embassy to Castile. (74) Returning from Spain the next year, Marsi still felt it was unsafe to go back to Rome and so transferred his services to a new patron: Niccolo Canal, just then setting out with the Venetian fleet on a two-year tour of the Eastern Mediterranean. Canal would prove no great soldier; he was a man of letters, a patrician doctor of law and an amateur scholar of Greek who had a library of philosophical texts installed in his cabin before setting sail, and who seems to have hired Marsi as a sort of onboard panegyrist to record his maritime exploits for posterity. (75) The expedition turned out rather differently than Canal had expected. Marsi witnessed the fall of Negroponte from the decks of the Venetian flagship, and the long poem he composed immediately afterwards did not celebrate the admiral's virtues but chronicled the disaster he had helped to create.

Marsi's poem is written in elegiac distichs--the appropriate classical meter for a lament--in the lofty, often faintly preposterous idiom characteristic of much Quattrocento humanist verse. (76) But from beneath the classical verbiage a fairly detailed account of the events of the siege and sack can be recovered--written, after all, by a man in a position to know. Marsi finished the work on 26 August 1470, while still at sea with the Venetian fleet and within weeks of the disaster. When his ship reached Venice in September he wasted no time finding a printer for his work. The first edition of the poem, preserved in a unique copy at Harvard, has been identified as a rough "first attempt" by Federico de' Conti, a Venetian printer who enjoyed a brief--and from all evidence wholly unsuccessful--run printing classical and humanist works in the city, before stopping work abruptly in late 1472, a victim of the notorious Venetian printing crash. (77) As Conti's first dated work appeared on 5 January 1471, Marsi's poem must have been printed in late 1470, no more than three months after his return to Venice. A second edition appeared in Rome in the first half of 1471, issued by an anonymous printer whose entire remaining output consists of classical texts edited by Marsi's friend, Pomponio Leto. Leto was out of trouble by 1471: after a brief imprisonment in the Castel Sant'Angelo, he had resumed his work teaching at the Roman university in 1469 and seems also to have taken up a new line of work editing texts for an otherwise-unknown Roman press. (78)

Meanwhile, in Naples--where fear of an imminent Turkish attack had prompted King Ferrante to realign his foreign policy in the summer of 1470 away from Milan and Florence and into line with the war parties in Venice and Rome--the Genoese humanist Giorgio Fieschi produced another Latin account of Negroponte's fall: 725 breathless epic hexameters which cast the siege and sack of the city as an ingenious reenactment of the first two books of Virgil's Aeneid. (79) Fieschi's Eubois has everything from an invocation of the muse to stirring set speeches, supernatural portents, and squabbling gods on Olympus. Mehmed II is portrayed as a cunning and dangerous Achilles; the traitor Tommaso Schiavo is identified literally with Sinon, the treacherous Greek who tricked the Trojans into accepting the Trojan horse; the misfortunes of the Venetian women recall the sufferings of Hecuba and Cassandra; the churches of Negroponte are defiled like the Palladium of Troy. Not much is known about either Fieschi or where he got his information, and the poem itself is not dated. But it was printed in Naples by Sixtus Riessinger--the Neapolitan prototypographer who would soon issue an edition of the Lamento di Negroponte--and the state of the type marks it, like Conti's Venetian edition of Marsi's poem, as Riessinger's first attempt at printing in Naples. It may well have been the first book printed in the southern city. The British Museum catalogue dates it to the final months of 1470.

Despite their classical trappings, the Latin poems were more than mere rhetorical exercises. Both offer informative accounts of the city's fall and even preserve details not found in other sources. Both include, for example, descriptions of a second traitor who tried to betray Negroponte: the Florentine captain Fiore da Nardone, who deserted during the height of the siege and was later seen in the sultan's camp pointing out weak spots in the city walls. The Lamento and the Piante prefer to concentrate dramatic focus on the villainous figure of Tommaso Schiavo. There is no prima facie reason why the Italian accounts should be considered more accurate or reliable than the Latin ones. The question of their value to the cultural historian, however, is trickier. Literary scholars and historians of communications alike tend to assume that the kind of vernacular verse preserved in the anonymous pamphlets represents a more genuine strain of popular feeling than the artificial Latin compositions of Renaissance humanists. (80) In this view, the ballads embody a sort of organically grown urban discourse while the highly artificial humanist Latin confections represent little more than the personal ambitions of the men who composed them. But the humanists and, perhaps more importantly, their printers clearly saw value in their treatments of the subject. They may well have thought they would appeal to a certain type of educated reader not uncommon among the professional urban classes of Venice, Rome, and (to a lesser extent) Naples. The two sets of texts in fact have a great deal in common. Both assume prior knowledge on the reader's part of the basic details of the event, and both use the episode as a springboard for dramatic narration, moralizing commentary, and political advocacy.

Other humanist authors meditated on the story of Negroponte in even more oblique ways, often trying to make sense of the terrible events by setting them in a broader context, whether historical, theological, or moral. In Rome, Giovanni Alvise Toscani, a jurist at the papal court, and, in Venice, the poet Raffaele Zovenzoni, each wrote long Latin poems exhorting the princes of Europe to action against the Turks; both recounted details of Negroponte's siege and sack as a way of underscoring the necessity of a new European crusade. (81) In a quite different vein, Rodrigo Sanchez de Arevalo, Bishop of Zamora and a prominent member of the Curia, addressed a long consolatory letter on the fall of Negroponte to Cardinal Bessarion, who was a personal friend. It was one of the last things the bishop wrote before his death on 4 October 1470. (82)

Sanchez was a renowned scholastic theologian: in his consolation, he adduces four distinct logical causes why Bessarion must not lose heart at the loss of the city. Drawing on passages from Isaiah and Jeremiah, he demonstrates that defeat in this world is temporary and inconsequential. True victory remains to be won in the next life, where the infidel will soon know true death, the kind that lasts for eternity. And yet, as conventionally platitudinous as Sanchez's scholastic thinking may be, the bishop was clearly alert to the uses of humanist learning. He prefaces his consolation with a learned precis of ancient geographical lore concerning Euboea, its cities and coastlines, drawing on favorite humanist authorities like Pliny's Natural History and the geographies of Strabo and Pomponius Mela. It is only after this display of classical erudition that the bishop settles down to his moralizing exegesis on the subject of urban catastrophes. Sacred and secular concerns are likewise woven together in the anonymous Lamentatio Nigripontis, printed in Rome around 1472 and also addressed to Bessarion. (83) (The cardinal, as leader of the exiled Greek community in Italy, an influential curial figure, and a forceful advocate for a new crusade, was clearly seen as the Church leader most interested in the Turkish problem.) The author of the Lamentatio consoles Bessarion on the loss of the city, compares the plight of the Greeks to the tribulations of Israel under Pharaoh, likens Mehmed II to such classical conquerors as Xerxes, Hannibal, Caesar, and Alexander the Great, and castigates the princes and peoples of Europe for leaving the cardinal to lead the struggle against such a foe on his own. Intriguingly, Pope Paul II figures among the feckless princes the author targets: he excoriates the pope for piling up riches at the papal court when he could be outfitting a new fleet to fight the Turks. (84) The fall of Negroponte is here exploited as a tool of political agitation: the violent tone of the work probably explains why it was printed anonymously in the papal city.

Many of these same rhetorical commonplaces are invoked by the vernacular lamenti as they recount the siege and sack of the city. Here, too, the poets pause frequently to castigate a wayward Christendom for allowing the disaster to happen, to invoke God's mercy on the dead, to pray for vengeance upon the Turks, or to exhort their listeners to take up the crusader's cross. (85) Classical allusions and exempla appear in the Italian works as well, with the sultan portrayed as a new Hannibal, a raging Pyrrhus, and the incarnation of Attila; Negroponte falls like Troy and Carthage; the Turks are new barbarian hordes, threatening to overrun Italy as the Huns and Goths before them. Most striking is the frequent editorializing of the vernacular texts, especially on the topic of the European states' complicity in the disaster. Eighteen stanzas of the Lamento (in the Florentine edition) are written in the voice of Negroponte herself; as the Turks breach her walls she calls for help from the princes of Europe--from Naples to Scotland, from Portugal to Norway, the city beseeches each king and duke in turn, then weeps at their collective neglect of her plight; she concludes with a lengthy catalogue of the far-flung territories of Eastern Christendom that have been lost to the Turk. (86) The poetic speech of Negroponte reveals a level of political and even geographical sophistication on the part of the poet (and, perhaps, of his audience) that can rival much humanist commentary of the day. (87)

It seems that for authors writing in Latin and Italian alike, a calamitous event like the fall of Negroponte prompted a breakdown in the boundaries between standard generic categories--between historical commentary and deliberative rhetoric, epic artifice and pious homiletic. And as the generic categories blur, so, crucially, do the distinctions between the registers of popular and high culture. There is more literary polish and political sensibility in the vernacular works than might first be expected, and a good deal of genuine passion in the humanist accounts as well.

Nowhere is the hybrid character of these texts more apparent than in a Negroponte text by the humanist poet Antonio Cornazzano, published under the title Vita di Cristo (Life of Christ) by an anonymous Venetian printer in 1472. (88) Cornazzano's text straddles the ground between the vernacular and learned cultures of Quattrocento Italy and calls into question some of the most basic distinctions between these two realms. His text, like the others from either side of the linguistic divide, draws on a common stock of empirical detail, rhetorical flourish, classical allusion, religious sentiment, and political agitation.

Cornazzano's Life of Christ starts out as just that--a long account in terza rima of the Savior's birth, miracles, passion, resurrection, and ascension. Throughout, the emphasis is on the many trials Christ faced and overcame; Cornazzano sets these alongside typological parallels from the Old Testament and the lives of saints and martyrs, formal expositions of Catholic doctrine, and a series of poetic confutations of heretics, false Christians, and other enemies of the faith. It is under this last heading that Cornazzano adds an exhortatione to Italy to come to the defense of the Christian religion, now under assault by the terrible Turks: Venice has always striven to defend the faith, but the time has come for the other Italian powers to rally to her aid. The poem then concludes with an account Dell'expugnatione et ruina di Negroponte presa da Turchi, a vernacular lament for Negroponte which includes a full account of the city's fall, from the dreadful arrival of the Turks to the treachery of Tommaso Schiavo, the failure of the Venetian fleet--which Cornazzano, writing in Venice, tries to excuse--and the terrible aftermath of the sack. The poet links each of these events to his larger theme of the trials of the faith and the faithful, while also comparing Mehmed II to a series of ancient barbarian conquerors and urging the princes of Christendom to respond to the sultan's attacks on their honor and faith by launching a new crusade. (89)

The lamento concludes on this note, but this is not the end of the book. Cornazzano now switches to Latin, embarking on a carmen heroicum (heroic poem) praising Venice as the perennial bulwark of Christendom against the infidel threat. There can be no doubt the two texts were printed as a single unit: quite apart from the evidence of the quire structure, the Latin poem begins with Cornazzano in high Horatian mode, boasting that he has been the first to sing the life of Christ in Aonian (or Italian) meters. (90) But now he takes on an even greater subject, the perennial struggle of Venice against the Turks, and to do so he will employ the more exalted language of his classical forebears. (91)


All the Negroponte texts--whether Latin, Italian, or some combination of the two--were printed relatively quickly, suggesting at first glance a single, spontaneous outpouring of texts that early printers were eager to print and Italian readers were eager to buy. The situation was probably not so simple as this. One very noticeable way in which the humanist Latin accounts of Negroponte's fall differ from the anonymous vernacular ballads is their strong sense of authorial identity, articulated in both the texts themselves and their material presentation. In each of the humanist editions (with the exception of the Latin Lamentatio, left anonymous for reasons just suggested), the author is clearly identified on the first page, and every text, including the Lamentatio, is dedicated to an important political leader--the pope, the King of Naples, the doge of Venice, or Cardinal Bessarion, the champion of the crusade. (92) Dedication to a public figure, the time-honored way for men of letters to attract attention to their work and enhance their reputations, raises the question of readership: did the Latin texts really have one? It might seem that they were written to advertise the importance and erudition of their authors just as much as they were meant to inform the "reading public" of important news or to involve them in the pressing political debates of the day. In a few cases we even know why their authors hoped to attract attention. Cornazzano, who dedicated his poem to the government of Venice, was looking for work in the republic in 1472; he had recently left the employ of the condottiere Bartolomeo Colleone, whom he had served as court poet between 1466 and 1470. (93) In 1471 Paolo Marsi, too, was on the lookout for a job. After escaping the papal crackdown on humanists of 1468 by accompanying Niccolo Canal to the East, Marsi now needed rather urgently to distance himself from the stain of the admiral's disgrace. (Canal had been brought back to Venice in chains, publicly tried, and banished permanently from the city.) The Venetian edition of Marsi's text, printed less than three months after his return from Greece, includes lavish praise for Canal's successor in the post of captain general, Pietro Mocenigo; (94) the Roman edition, dating to early 1471, carries a fulsome dedication to Paul II.

Several of the humanist authors also had connections to the early printing industry in Italy and very likely helped to see their works through the press. Zovenzoni, for example, had worked as an editor for the first Venetian printers, the de Spira brothers, between 1469 and 1472; (95) Cornazzano had corrected text for Nicholas Jenson in 1470. (96) Both poets ended up printing their works on Negroponte with other presses--much newer presses, as it happens--suggesting perhaps an element of quid pro quo in the arrangement, with the poets offering newly established printers their services as editors or proofreaders in exchange for getting their own works into print. (97) Fieschi's text was the first that Sixtus Riessinger printed in Naples; Cornazzano's was also his printer's first. Marsi's poem was the first printed by Conti at Venice, in an edition laced with congratulatory distichs by several of Marsi's Venetian friends and fellow humanists, including Ermolao Barbaro and Raffaele Zovenzoni.

Did Zovenzoni, the first Venetian humanist to work with and for the press, help his friend Marsi find a printer in Venice on his arrival back from Negroponte? It seems almost certain that Pomponio Leto helped Marsi get his text printed at Rome, as the press used there was closely associated with the Roman professor, and Marsi was still in Venice when it appeared. Most of the other Latin authors had connections to printing, as well: Toscani--an accomplished poet, orator, doctor of law, and, as it happens, a good friend of Pomponio Leto (98)--edited and corrected legal texts for Roman printing firms throughout the 1470s, eventually becoming a legal publisher in his own right. (99) All this lay in the future in late 1470, when his Declamationes contra Turcos was printed by Ulrich Han in Rome, but Han's early production included several papal bulls, constitutions, and other legal texts issued from the Curia; Toscani may have known Han from these commissions and given him his text to print. Rodrigo Sanchez, an even higher-level curial official than Toscani, had already seen another of his works in print: his Speculum humanae vitae was issued by the Roman press of Sweynheym and Pannartz in 1469. In 1470-71, however, it was Ulrich Han, again, who printed both Sanchez's consolatory letter on Negroponte and another of his works, a history of Spain. It is possible that all these printers simply happened upon copies of the works in question and published them without their authors' knowledge. (100) But given what we know about the precarious economic position of many early Italian printers, their perennial search for new and marketable texts to print, and--above all--the tendency of enthusiastic humanist scholars to attach themselves to their operations, it seems far more likely that the decision to print originated with the authors themselves or their close friends, and that their motives for having them printed included bringing themselves to the attention of the great and the good.

A brief episode in the career of Francesco Filelfo--perhaps the fifteenth century's most prolix commentator on Turkish affairs and an early enthusiast for the technology of print (101)--lends credence to this hypothetical scenario. In the immediate aftermath of the fall of Negroponte, Filelfo, a learned scholar, sometime diplomat, and tireless self-promoter, wrote several letters to prominent political figures expressing dismay at the news and hopes for a concerted European response. (102) Throughout 1470 Filelfo also kept up a private correspondence with the Greek scholar Theodore Gaza. Through Gaza, Filelfo had come to know the humanist bishop Giovanni Andrea Bussi, editor at the press of Sweynheym and Pannartz in Rome. (103) The three scholars were planning to use the Roman press to issue an edition of Filelfo's translation of Xenophon's Cyropaedia, a project which in the end they failed to realize. In February 1471, in the midst of negotiations over the text and some six months after news of the fall of Negroponte broke in Italy, Filelfo sent Bussi a short letter expressing his regret that, despite Gaza's request, he did not have the heart to compose a new crusade exhortation to the princes of Europe. Given the selfish intransigence of the Christian powers, he wrote, the exercise would be about as useful as washing a brick. (104) We know from other sources that Bussi was, at this precise moment in the winter of 1470-71, looking for a short text for his printers to work on while awaiting delivery of a stock of royal paper for a long-planned edition of the Bible. (105) In the end, Bussi gave Sweynheym and Pannartz a brief text of Cyprian to produce, but Filelfo's letter suggests that the humanist editor and his Greek colleague had first tried to solicit him for copy to fill this gap in their production schedule--perhaps in the hope that a topical piece on the Turkish problem would sell better than Bussi's classics, which were proving slow to move off the shelf.

This apparent collaboration between a humanist author, editor, and corrector, working together to arrange the publication of an anti-Turkish text at "their" press (and yet failing actually to produce it) serves to underscore an important point. In the earliest years of print, the choice of texts for publication was often astonishingly haphazard, contingent on what was available, what fit in the production schedule, what an editor or author felt like producing, and (often, but not always) what suited the economic requirements and capacities of the printers. The unpredictable and contingent nature of incunabula publication needs to be stressed, if only to explode one persistent assumption regarding the printing of political information in Italy in its earliest phases: namely, that it was government-sponsored--propaganda strictly defined. How unlikely this is can be determined by a glance at how the Italian states and the men who led them made known their thoughts on the fall of Negroponte in 1470. They did not use print.

Cardinal Bessarion has already made several appearances in this story--as a leading crusade advocate, as an early link in the chain of reports about the event that circulated through Italy in August 1470, as the dedicatee of two Negroponte texts printed three times in 1471-72, and as the author of a series of letters and orations urging a European response to the disaster. (106) Bessarion's orations, which he addressed to the princes of Europe in the first few weeks after hearing the news of Negroponte's fall, are thoughtful, impassioned pieces which rehearse the details of the siege and sack of Negroponte before going on to a broader consideration of the dangers facing Christendom from the Ottoman East and an appeal to the Christian princes--the last he was to make before his death in 1472--for a new crusade against the Turks. At the point he wrote them, Bessarion had already enjoyed a long association with printing in Rome. In 1468-69, Bussi had assisted Sweynheym and Pannartz in publishing several of the Neoplatonic texts Bessarion had championed at the papal court, as well as the first edition of the cardinal's own In calumniatorem Platonis, an attack on the scholarly reputation of George of Trebizond, one of his bitterest academic rivals. But Bessarion never called on Sweynheym and Pannartz, nor any other printers in Rome, to print his orations against the Turks. The most respected living authority on the Turkish problem, with the services of a great printing house at his disposal, seems never to have considered issuing his orations on the fall of Negroponte in print. His authority was such that he did not need the press to secure an audience for his text. Rather, in August 1470 Bessarion sent a manuscript copy of his Negroponte works to Doge Cristoforo Moro of Venice; Moro replied immediately on the twenty-fifth of the same month. Later that fall the cardinal shared other copies of the text with some of his close friends and former students.

It was Bessarion's humanist friends, occupying a rather lower rung on the social and political scale, who took the initiative to see his text into print. What is more, they did so without the cardinal's knowledge. The humanist Ludovico Carbone, a sometime client of Bessarion, received a manuscript copy of the cardinal's orations in late 1470. Carbone was then working as a corrector for Christoph Valdarfer's newly established Venetian press. Carbone translated Bessarion's text into Italian, added a lengthy preface of his own recommending Bessarion and himself to Borso d'Este, Duke of Ferrara (with whom Carbone hoped to find a job), and had the whole collection printed by Valdarfer before the end of 1471. Bessarion seems to have had nothing to do with its publication. (107)

In the winter of 1470-71 the cardinal sent another copy of his orations to yet another humanist associate, the Parisian university professor Guillaume Fichet, and asked Fichet to circulate the manuscript at the court of Louis XI. The cardinal was quite unaware that Fichet had helped to establish and was now editing and correcting texts for the first press to operate in Paris. In the spring of 1471 Fichet had Bessarion's text printed at his press, prefaced by his own fulsome introduction. Then, in a remarkable campaign of aggressive self-promotion, the professor sent copies with further letters of introduction written in his own name to lay and ecclesiastical leaders across Northern Europe. The Holy Roman Emperor, the Kings of France and England, the Dukes of Bavaria and Burgundy, and various French, German, and Spanish cardinals, bishops, and abbots all received copies of Bessarion's orations on Negroponte from Fichet, though Bessarion had no idea that Fichet had even published his text. The cardinal was delighted eventually to hear of Fichet's efforts on his behalf. (108)

The actions of both Carbone and Fichet support the model of humanist publication I have proposed for the other Latin editions of Negroponte texts. In each case a humanist scholar with connections to the press took the initiative for publication, offering the printers either his own or another author's text. Publication was not government-sponsored, but it did not necessarily cater to existing public demand, either. The purpose of most of these publications seems to have been to promote the interests and reputation, and perhaps to advertise the social and political connections, of a relatively little-known figure--author, translator, or editor, as the case may be. (109) It is unlikely that a cardinal or any other senior political figure would have employed such middling types to broadcast a topical message when they could have done so just as easily themselves. (Indeed, Moro and Bessarion did just that when they exchanged open letters to one another and to the Christian princes of Europe during the late summer and fall of 1470. The cardinal and the doge issued their communiques in manuscript.) Despite the close ties linking many of these humanist authors to figures of political authority in Rome and Venice, there was no organized or official impetus behind the publication of their Negroponte texts. Men of letters, not governments, were the first to recognize the advantages that print could bring, and for them it meant the possibility of patronage and fame as much as the ability to broadcast the latest news or sway popular opinion.


Generations of historians have dismissed Renaissance humanist rhetoric against the Turks as self-serving and insincere. (110) By their lights, the steps the humanists took to get their works into print serve as further proof of their blind ambition and little more. Indeed, these sonorous Latin editions, garlanded with obsequious dedications and liminary verse, do look suspiciously like vanity publications, produced at the instigation, and possibly even the expense, of a class of aspiring civil servants and courtiers grasping for patronage and publicity. The humanists may well have exploited their connections and clout with inexperienced printers (many of them German immigrants only recently arrived in Italy) to get their projects realized, with scant regard for their market value. It is distressing to note how many presses that enjoyed the attention of humanist editors, advisors, and "content providers" in the early 1470s went out of business rather quickly after starting up. But it was not just the printers of Latin Negroponte texts who went out of business in the printing crash of 1472-73. Just about everyone did, including several of the early printers of the vernacular lamenti. The market at this point was simply too volatile and unpredictable to serve as a reliable gauge of the success of a particular style of text, though the Italian texts are far more likely to have found a ready audience in the streets of Venice, Milan, Florence, and Naples, where urban crowds were long accustomed to consuming the news in the lively, semi-theatrical form of the topical ballad. (111) In such a dynamic atmosphere, the learned Latin verse of the humanists can hardly have competed. (112)

But if we examine the content of the various Negroponte texts without regard for their fortunes on the market, there seems far less to distinguish them. The texts all reflect a common set of preoccupations and prejudices, even if they articulated these to varying degrees of acclaim. I have suggested that the supposedly "high" and "low" cultures of Renaissance political discourse in fact share an enormous amount of common ground. The authors and editors treated here, whether working in Latin, Italian, or both, endeavored not only to describe the disaster at Negroponte but also to explain its historical, political, and even teleological significance, to suggest and promote possible routes toward redress, to stoke popular concern for the crisis, and to offer consolation to those who felt its effects most keenly. The Turkish "problem" was a topic that occupied Italians of every social station; they understood the issues and cared deeply about the crises in authority--papal, imperial, Italian--that had provoked them. The vernacular balladeer haranguing crowds in the piazza with tales of the latest Turkish atrocity, the humanist courtier fretting in his study over the failures of Italian statecraft, the cardinal attempting to rouse the leadership of Christendom to action--all addressed readers gripped by the same concern. Cornazzano's bilingual poetry shows he could speak to these issues in more than one register. Perhaps it is not even accurate to speak in terms of distinct reading populations. Sanchez's theological ruminations, addressed in Latin to a cardinal, are not so distant from the thematic sermons against the infidel declaimed from public pulpits throughout Italy. Carbone, on the other hand, translated Bessarion's sophisticated orations on Negroponte into Italian--and then dedicated them to a duke.

The reception of political texts in Italy in the incunabular period remains a difficult question; in the end we can only assume which editions were eagerly snapped up by buyers on the open market and which were mere vanity productions, left unsold, unread, and regretted by the printers who spent time and capital to produce them. But whether the printed response to the fall of Negroponte represents failure or the first glimmers of a European news industry that would come practically to define sixteenth- and seventeenth-century political culture, the episode does serve as a useful case study for the history of the production of political ideas in Renaissance Italy. A sophisticated, politically engaged, and informed system of public discourse was already at work in the urban centers of Italy before print arrived. The shock of Negroponte's fall captured public attention at every level, provoked responses that crossed the boundaries of language and genre, and set the close-knit worlds of Italian humanism, diplomacy, and book-publishing into productive motion. The press did not create these reactions, nor even make them possible; rather, the finely tuned sensibilities and firmly entrenched habits of various groups--the makers, marketers, and readers of political texts--provided the Italian press a patch of fertile ground in which to grow.



Incunabula Relating to the Fall of Negroponte. Data taken with adjustments from ISTC.

1. Piante di Negroponte (terza rima)

[Venice?: Printer of the 'Fiore di virtu' (Adam de Ambergau?), about 1471]

IGI 5644

2. Lamento di Negroponte (ottava rima, forty-seven stanzas)

[Milan: Pamfilo Castaldi, 1471]

IGI 5643

3. Lamento di Negroponte (ottava rima, forty-eight stanzas)

[Milan: Philippus de Lavagna, about 1472]

Michelini Tocci, 21

4. Lamento di Negroponte (ottava rima, 103 stanzas)

[Naples: Sixtus Riessinger, between 1471-78]

IGI 5642

5. Lamento di Negroponte (ottava rima, ninety-five stanzas)

[Florence: Apud Sanctum Jacobum de Ripoli, about 1477] or [Florence: Johannes Petri, ca. 1471-73]

IGI 5641

6. Paolo Marsi, Lamentatio de crudeli Eurapontinae urbis excidio

[Venice: Fredericus de Comitibus, late 1470 or early 1471], with additions by Ermolao Barbaro, Raffaele Zovenzoni, and Basso Romano

Goff, M284; Walsh, S-1619B

7. Paolo Marsi, Lamentatio de crudeli Eurapontinae urbis excidio

[Rome: Printer of (Pomponio Leto's) Silius Italicus, about 1471]

H 10783*; IGI 620

8. Giorgio Fieschi, Eubois

[Naples, Sixtus Riessinger, late 1470 or early 1471]

H 7132*; IGI 3977; BMC 6:855; GW 9995

9. Giovanni Alvise Toscani, Declamationes in Turcum

[Rome: Ulrich Han (Udalricus Gallus), 1470-71]

H 15749; IGI 9896

10. Raffaele Zovenzoni, Carmen concitatorium ad Principes Christianos in Turcum

[Venice]: Adam de Ambergau, [about 1471]

HR 16289; IGI 10446

11. Rodrigo Sanchez de Arevalo, Bishop of Zamora, Epistola de expugnatione Nigropontis

[Rome: Ulrich Han (Udalricus Gallus), about 1470]

C 5141

12. Rodrigo Sanchez de Arevalo, Bishop of Zamora, Epistola de expugnatione Nigropontis

[Cologne: Ulrich Zel, about 1470-71]

H 13957* = 13956; IGI 8391; BMC 1:195

13. Lamentatio Nigripontis

[Rome: Printer of "Mercuriales Quaestiones" (Theobaldus Schencbecher), about 1472]

HC 9839; Oates, 1393

14. Antonio Cornazzano, Vita di Christo (including Lamento di Negroponte); Carmen heroicum pro laudibus Venetiarum

[Venice?: Printer of Cornazzano] 1472

H 5727 = HR 5729; IGI 3198; BMC 7:1147; GW 7550

15. Bessarion, Epistolae et orationes contra Turcos (Italian), trans. Ludovico Carbone

[Venice: Christophorus Valdarfer, 1471]

HCR 3007; IGI 1624; BMC 5:183; GW 4186

16. Bessarion, Epistolae et orationes contra Turcos, ed. Guillaume Fichet

[Paris: Ulrich Gering, Martin Crantz, and Michael Friburger, Apr. 1471]

H 3005; C 1013; IGI 1622; GW 4184

17. Matthias Herben, Historia Nigropontis. Factio Ferrariensium. Oppugnatio oppidi Schutrensis

[Cologne: Printer of the "Elegantiarum viginti praecepta" (Johann Guldenschaff?), about 1487]

Goff, H70

18. Antonio Cornazzano, Vita di Christo (including Lamento di Negroponte); Carmen heroicum pro laudibus Venetiarum (reprint of the 1472 edition)

[Venice: Tommaso di Piasi, 1492]

CR 1806; IGI 3199; GW 7551

19. Bessarion, Epistolae et orationes contra Turcos (reprint of the 1471 Paris edition)

[Paris: Guy Marchant, 1500]

HC 3006; IGI 1623; BMC 8:68; GW 4185


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*For helpful comments, criticisms, and suggestions I thank Jill Kraye, Martin Davies, Anthony Grafton, James Hankins, Mordechai Feingold, John Van Engen, Eileen Reeves, and Robert Goulding. John Goldfinch, Filippo de Vivo, Mary Laven, and Paul Cobb solved tricky questions. I am especially grateful to Peter Stallybrass, who persuaded me to pursue this project at a critical juncture. All translations are my own.

(1) Piante de Negroponte, terzina 15 (Polidori, 405): "Ah, Negroponte, that I should see you in such distress, assailed upon the battlements in the year fourteen-hundred and seventy."

(2) Modern accounts of the fall of Negroponte include Fincati; Magistretti; Miller, 470-79; Pastor, 4:174-83; Babinger, 279-84; Setton, 2:292-93, 298-313; Menage; Pepper, 40-42. For contemporary sources, see n. 4 below.

(3) In Rome, Cardinal Bessarion, the Greek emigre scholar and leading crusade advocate at the Curia, perceived at once the implications of the city's fall: "The Turkish navy will soon be at Brindisi, then Naples, then Rome. With the Venetians defeated, the Turks will rule the seas as they do the land" (Mohler, 3:552 [Bessarion to Bessarion of San Severino, before 25 August 1470]: "Brundusii navalis Turcorum exercitus, praesto Neapoli, praesto Romae. Iam ita mari dominatur Venetis cedentibus, quemadmodum terra").

(4) A number of eyewitness reports of both the siege and sack survive: Polidori, 433-40 (Fra Jacopo dalla Castellana, "Perdita di Negroponte"); Cicogna, 7-23 (Rizzardo); Angiolello, 35-37, 158; Malipiero, 49-52, 56-58 (Geronimo Longo and Fra Giacomo Pugliese). The eyewitness account of Paolo Marsi, previously unnoticed by historians of the events, is discussed below. Secondhand reports by contemporaries include Ivani; Pagello; Canensi, 168-69; Berni, 1018-19; Cronaca di Bologna, 778-80; Annales Forolivienses, 100; Malipiero, 48-63; the anonymous De Nigroponti Captione and Lettera d'un segretario del sig. Sigismondo Malatesta; and the letter of Daalman and Steynwech. Later Italian accounts (by, for example, Sanuto, Sabellico, Navagero, and Magno) are listed together with the principal Greek sources in Miller, 478. Magistretti reproduces letters by Milanese, Neapolitan, and Florentine observers in the summer and autumn of 1470; the records of the Venetian Senate for the period, a trove of useful details, are calendared by Setton, 2:298-313.

(5) Hess, 1902-04.

(6) Schwoebel, 1-23; Pertusi; Carile; Jones.

(7) Printers also set up in Foligno, Trevi, Treviso, Verona, Padua, and Perugia during this period. Stillwell, x, hails 1470 as a "turning-point in the history of printing."

(8) Figures for the intervening years are: for 1470, at least ninety editions (91); for 1471, at least 185. These numbers derive from The Illustrated Incunabula Short-Title Catalogue on CD-ROM, hereafter ISTC. Given the high number of unsigned and undated incunabula from this period, these numbers must be taken as approximate, nor do they account for the considerable number of editions which must have been printed in these years but for which no extant copy survives.

(9) These are listed in the Appendix.

(10) Steele; Lenhart; Hirsch, 125-53; Gerulaitis, 57-159; Schutte; Noakes.

(11) Gerulaitis, 66-67.

(12) For the "public sphere," see Habermas; Calhoun. The scholars mentioned include Raymond, 1996 and 2003; Voss; Watt; Halasz; Scribner; Dooley.

(13) Davies, 1991; Seguin; Turelli.

(14) Brockman; Gli umanisti; Simonetta, 194; Kristeller: these represent only a fraction of the topical publications produced before 1501. From a survey of some 27,000 incunable editions catalogued in ISTC, I have identified approximately 700 (2.5%) that describe or address contemporaneous events. 486 of these are reproduced in facsimile in Meserve, 2002.

(15) The foundational text is Eisenstein 1979, to whom Grafton, 1980, is a response. For the current state of the debate, see Eisenstein, Johns, and Grafton.

(16) Pepper, 30, describes Venetian concern for the colony in the wake of the fall of Constantinople; Babinger, 226, reports the warnings of Vettore Capello in 1463. In 1467 the Signoria instructed Jacopo Loredan, its captain-general in the Aegean, to take special care to protect Negroponte, "the shield and base of our state in the East": Setton, 2:286; see also 289, 292-93.

(17) The information came from both Greek spies (1465) and Venetian merchants in the city (1466): Setton, 2:273-74; Babinger, 280.

(18) Malipiero, 45 (Letter from the merchant Piero Dolfin to the Venetian Senate, 14 February 1470): "On the first of December we heard from Pera that the Turk is preparing a fleet ... he has come in person to Constantinople ... to look after his affairs. This report leaves no doubt that he intends to move against Negroponte" ("A primo de Decembrio havessemo da Pera, che l'Turco faseva preparar l'armada ... e era vegnudo in persona a Costantinopoli ... per sollecitar le cose soe. Questo aviso ne fa dubitar ... che 'l vogia vegnir contra Negroponte"). More letters to the same effect arrived in March: Setton, 2:298.

(19) Babinger, 280.

(20) Setton, 2:298.

(21) Malipiero, 48: "Se razona da ogni banda che l'Turco e per far l'impresa di Negroponte."

(22) For the funds, see ibid. At this time, galleys at large in the Eastern Mediterranean were also ordered to join Canal's fleet without delay. For the troops, see Ivani, 41, n. 6

(23) The report came from Niccolo Canal and arrived in Venice on 24 June: Malipiero, 49, 53-54.

(24) In June a galley captain on patrol in the Aegean sent his brothers in Venice a chilling account of an encounter with the Turkish armada. He had seen a line of some 400 ships stretching six miles across the water. "The sea looks like a forest" ("Il mar parea un bosco"), he wrote. The Senate must send men, ships, and provisions or Negroponte would be lost: "We need action, not words" ("Besogna forze, e no parole"): ibid., 51-52.

(25) Ibid., 54. At this time the Venetian ambassador in Rome was also instructed to impress upon the pope the severity of the situation and to secure his aid and support: Setton, 2:298-99.

(26) Cardinal Francesco Gonzaga discussed the crisis in a letter from Rome to Mantua on 30 June (Pastor, 4:174); at the court of Federigo da Montefeltro, Guernerio Berni recorded that "In June 1470, there came news that the Turk had taken to the field at Negroponte with 350 ships and 80,000 men" (Berni, 1018: "Del mese di Giugno 1470 vennero nuove che il Turco era uscito in campo a Negroponte con 350 vele e 80 mila persone per Terra"); Antonio Ivani, chancellor of Volterra, recorded hearing similar news in a letter of 1 July: Ivani, 40, n. 3. In Milan, however, Francesco Filelfo had heard only the dubious rumor that the Turks were aiming for Pherai in Thessaly (Filelfo, fol. 223v [Filelfo to Gherardo Colli, Milanese ambassador in Venice, 16 June 1470]: "We hear much talk about the Turks which I think is far from true" ("Multa de Turcis nunciantur, quae a veritate puto aliena").

(27) Ivani, 40, n. 3 (Donato Acciauoli to Antonio Ivani, 20 July 1470): "Letters, reports from many sources, and rumor itself all have it that the prince of the Turks has gone into Boeotia to capture Euboea" ("Litteris et sermonibus multorum fama denique ipsa vulgatum sit principem Turchorum ... in Boetiam venisse ... ut Euboiam traiciat").

(28) Canensi, 168; Infessura, 73; Malipiero, 54.

(29) Canensi, 168. On this same day in Venice the patriarch led a barefoot procession from San Marco to Castello, but this was to offer thanksgiving for a report of a Turkish defeat--a rumor which was soon disproved: Malipiero, 54.

(30) Infessura, 72-73; Canensi, 168, n. 4.

(31) Malipiero, 54.

(32) Ibid., 58: "Quei de colegio, discesi in piazza per andar a casa, domandadi da molti che desiderava de saver come andava le cose, no respondevano, e come stupidi andavano co l' capo basso al so via; in modo che la Terra e rimasa tutta sbigottida, dubitando che fusse seguido qualche notabele infortunio; e perche fu sentido alguni a mormarar che Negroponte era perso, tutta la Terra se empi di questa nuova, e non se poderia dir quanti gemiti e sospiri se ha sentido."

(33) Ibid., 58-59: "Queste lettere ha messo tutti in gran terrore. Adesso, par ben che sia abbassada la grandezza veneziana, et estinta la nostra superbia." Malipiero dates this episode to 27 July, which does not seem correct. In a letter dated 31 July the Senate wrote to Ferrante of Naples, "Nuntius est hodie ad nos allatus ex Neupacto": Cicogna, 34. Magistretti, 343, edits a letter recounting the same story and also dated 31 July: see n. 39 below; Setton, 2:200. Babinger, 283 (perhaps following the account in Sanuto, 1191) gives 30 July as the date the news reached the city.

(34) Malipiero, 58-59; Magistretti, 100-01 (Ercole Maino): "I pianti vi si fano qua universalmente"; Babinger, 283; Schwoebel, 157-59, 167-68.

(35) Niccolo Canal's own account of the events, along with dispatches from several junior officers of the fleet, reached Venice on 17 August.

(36) There were very few survivors; because the Negropontines had refused to capitulate, it was said, the sultan had consigned the entire population to slavery or to the sword. Generous provision was made for the few refugees who made their way to Venice. Beatrice Venier and Polissena Premarin were housed in a pilgrim hospice on the Riva degli Schiavoni, where they later founded the Franciscan convent of San Sepolcro: Franzoi and di Stefani; Howard, 213. In March 1471 the Signoria issued 300 ducats "per el so munegar," to a daughter of Zuane Bondolmier, killed at Negroponte (and celebrated for his bravery in the terza rima poem at terzina 19), and pensions to various other widows and orphans; in addition, "12 cittadini de Negroponte vegnudi qua" were paid lump sums of twenty-five ducats apiece: Malipiero, 67.

(37) Magistretti, 349 (Gherardo Colli to Galeazzo Maria Sforza, 12 August 1470): "Tutta Vinexia sta in tanto tremore, pare siano morti; et dicono che meno mal seria stato haver perso tute terre ferme."

(38) The text of the letter to Ferrante is in Cicogna, 34-35.

(39) Magistretti, 343-44 (Ercole da Maino to Galeazzo Maria Sforza, 31 July 1470): "Questa note ha havuto nova questa Sig.ria, per el governatore de Lepanto, come chel Turcho hae preso sino alj XII de questo Negroponte."

(40) 31 July: Diario Ferrarese, 64; 4 August: Mohler, 3:549-50; 5 August: Magistretti, 88 (Letter of Petrus de Pusterla); 9 August: Magistretti, 79; Labalme, 194. The Chronicon Eugubinum reproduces a letter purporting to be written by Mehmed himself to Ferrante, dated "XX Lima Machunz" (reported by Ivani, 42, as "die lunari vigesima Mocharen"--that is, 20 Muharram 875, or 19 July 1470), in which the sultan invites the king to celebrate with him the defeat of their mutual rival, Venice. Ferrante was seeking to court Ottoman favor in this period; but the fall of Negroponte was too great a calamity for Christendom, and he was unable to share in the sultan's delight, or so he replied on 4 September (Berni, 1019). The authenticity of these letters is uncertain.

(41) Malipiero, 61: "Per le parole de costu par che la Terra sia respira; el popolo ha concorso in piazza e a palazzo in gran moltitudine"; ibid., 62: "era cosa mirabile a veder el popolo concorso al palazzo per savcer qual che reussira de si fatto aviso; e fo fatti fuochi, brusa barche contra el voler della Signoria."

(42) Pastor, 4:177, 179; for yet more rumors, see Magistretti, 346-47; Babinger, 279.

(43) Ivani, 39 (Antonio Ivani to G. Meduseo, 19 August 1470): "Concerning the very troublesome capture of Negroponte, I decided to send you a concise and orderly review of the news that has already been reported in [other] longer and grievous letters, so that you, who have perhaps already been moved to grief by various popular rumors, may mourn the pitiable slaughter of eastern Christians once the situation has been better explained" ("Quae de pertinacissima Nigropontis expugnatione maestis quidem et prolixioribus litteris nunciantur, succincte summatimque ad te scribere constitui, quo et tu forte iam commotus ad dolorem ob varios vulgi rumores, re melius intellecta miserandam orientalium christianorum stragem ingemiscas"). The anonymous author of the Lamentatio Nigripontis (Appendix, no. 13), fol. 1r, reports similar confusion: "I had heard the news but unlike others I did not believe it; I put no trust in the letters that were arriving from every corner. I thought they were wrong and could not be true" ("Senseram enim proprius nec credidi litteris undique advenientibus fidem nec tribui; putabam errorem et non veritatem predicere"). Similar correspondence between the abbot Bessarion in Naples and Cardinal Bessarion in Rome is noted above; see also Filelfo, fols. 225v-228r (letters from Filelfo to Federigo da Montefeltro, 26 August, and to Bernardo Giustiniani, 13 September 1470); other correspondence in Pastor, 4:176; Magistretti; Cicogna.

(44) Malipiero, 59; Filelfo, fol. 225v; Setton, 2:305.

(45) Dei, 167; Berni, 1019. The anonymous Lamentatio Nigropontis touches on the same theme; see also Setton, 2:312.

(46) Diario Ferrarese, 64; Berni, 1018. Venice frequently complained that Ancona had engaged in similar collusion: Setton, 2:285-87.

(47) This is the constant theme of Bessarion's Epistolae et orationes contra Turcos. Bessarion mocks the indifference of the European powers to the plight of Negroponte: "What does it have to do with us? Let the Venetians worry about it. It's their affair. It would be to our advantage if they were beset by even heavier losses" (Mohler, 3:551 [Bessarion to Bessarion]: "Quid ad nos? Venetis curae sit. Recte cum iis actum est. Utile esset, si gravioribus incommodis conflictarentur"). Later, he asks, "Who will stop [the Turk] in his triumphant course? The Italians, whom the enemy threatens, who dangles the sword, slaughter, slavery, and exile over their heads? But they do not, they will not, they cannot be made to believe how near they are to danger" (ibid., 553: "Quis illum [sc. Turcum] a tanto victoriae cursu retardabit?... Italine, quibus hostis imminet, quibus caedem, ferrum, servitutem, exsilia denuntiat et ostentat? At nolunt, negligunt, non possunt adduci ut credant sese adeo propinquos esse periculo"). Filelfo, too, decried Europe's passive reaction to the disaster: "The Christian princes are watching this like a play" (Filelfo, fol. 225v [to Federigo da Montefeltro, 26 August 1470]: "Haec spectant perinde atque in theatrali ludo christiani principes").

(48) Setton, 2:299. What the renewal meant in practice was unclear: Paul II had appointed a special commission of cardinals to investigate possible courses of action and had canvassed Naples, Milan, and Florence for support for a new expedition against the Turks; but only Ferrante of Naples replied (promising Venice a small complement of ten ships on 24 July: ibid., 300). On 3 August, just two days before receiving word of the city's fall, the pope wrote again to Milan and Florence urging them to send legates to confer on how to help the besieged city.

(49) In addition to these letters to foreign governments (on which see Malipiero, 60), Venice continually advised its ambassadors abroad to press this point in person. On 10 and 18 August the Senate sent detailed accounts of the fall of the city to the Venetian legates in Rome--the latter dispatch digested the reports of Canal and his lieutenants: Setton, 2:300, n. 108, 304; text in Cicogna, 36-37--with instructions to emphasize the severity of the situation to the pope.

(50) Magistretti, 110 (Doge Cristoforo Moro to Galeazzo Maria Sforza, 22 August 1470): "In eadem navi, ut aiunt, omnis Italia et omnis Christianitas est; in eodem omnes versamur periculo, et nulla est ora, nulla provincia, nullus Italiae locus qui etsi longinquior et abditior coeteris appareat, tutior tamen ceteris possit existimari."

(51) Pastor, 4:178-79, notes letters from Paul II to the governments of Milan, Venice, Florence, Savoy, Brandenburg, Frankfurt, and Cologne from the period 23-25 August 1470. There was also some correspondence with bishops in France: Setton, 2:308; in October the Venetian government wrote to Charles of Burgundy and Louis XI of France: ibid., 305-06. MS Paris BN n.a.l. 546, fols. 171v-172r, is a letter dated 3 October 1470 from Henricus Daalman and Henricus Steynwech, curial officials in Rome, to an unnamed northern prince, and includes an account of the fall of Negroponte and notice of Paul II's crusade bull, a copy of which apparently accompanied the letter.

(52) On 4 September Ferrante is said to have replied to Mehmed II that he could not join him in celebrating Venice's loss (Ivani, 42, n. 3); around this time he also wrote to his ally Galeazzo Maria Sforza, saying the time had come to cooperate with Venice (Babinger, 288; Pastor, 4:177). Bessarion likewise reports hearing assurances of the king's dedication to the cause of a new crusade.

(53) Setton, 2:304-05. Canensi, 169, mentions legates from Naples, Venice, Milan, and Florence. See Pastor, 4:176, for correspondence regarding Negroponte among the Italian powers in August 1470.

(54) Cronaca di Bologna, 783: "A di 8 [gennaio] venne un Breve a Bologna per parte di Papa Paolo II come la Pace era conchiusa in Roma a di 22 Dicembre del 1470 fra tutte le Signorie d'Italia contra il Turco. Per questo i Reggimenti fecere sonare le campane del Comune a martelle e fare falo, e per tre giorni processione per allegrezza." See also Pastor, 4:179; Setton, 2:307.

(55) Appendix, nos. 1-5; see also Medin, 208-11, 494, nos. 81-84.

(56) Such texts are collected in Guerre in ottava rima; Medin and Frati. See the very useful discussion by Martines, 232-48.

(57) Noakes, 45-46; Adorisio; Farenga; Petrucci; Davies, 1991, 9-17.

(58) Piante de Negroponte, terzina 21 (Polidori, 405): "tu sai s'i' dico el vero."

(59) Martines, 232-48.

(60) Several other poems on the event are preserved in manuscript but did not get into print: for example, a Lamento for Negroponte in sesta rima, "Signor, che festi l'umana natura...." (Medin and Frati, 261-86 [from MS Paris BN Ital. 1095, fols. 6-14]); the editors note another ottava rima lament for the city, "O summo et ineffabile creatore...." in MS Rome, Biblioteca Corsiniana, 44.G.27 (ibid., 253-54) and "una canzone popolare" on the disaster in the library of the Museo Correr (ibid., 259).

(61) The poet was not an eyewitness to the events of July 1470 but had visited Negroponte in 1463-65. Medin, no. 82, suggests the author is the Cagnolo (Cagnola?) named in line 132; see also Polidori, 401. The text is edited in ibid., 403-08. The types of the Piante are the same as those used in the Venetian Fiore di Virtu of ca. 1472 (Indice generale degli incunaboli, 6 vols. [Rome, 1943-81; hereafter IGI], 3927); both editions have been assigned to Adam of Ambergau by Hillard, 1609.

(62) Polidori, 401, suggests some other possible identifications, and publishes a redaction of the text in ninety-seven stanzas (409-32). Medin and Frati, 287-320, reproduce the text of a 1587 edition in ninety-five stanzas. The text of the Florentine edition (also ninety-five stanzas) is reproduced in facsimile in Guerre in ottava rima 4:53-76; the first Milanese edition is reproduced in ibid., 27-50, the Neapolitan edition in ibid., 79-108.

(63) Catalogue of Books Printed in the XVth Century Now in the British Museum (London, 1909-, hereafter BMC), 6:20.

(64) Ibid., xxi-xxii.

(65) Riessinger's edition is undated. It probably dates to an early point in his career at Naples (soon after the fall of Negroponte), but could have been printed at any time during his stay in the city, 1470-78.

(66) For the role of cartolai in the early printed-book trade see Rouse and Rouse, 17-22, 66-68.

(67) IGI 5641.

(68) Rouse and Rouse, 38-40; BMC 6:xiii-xiv.

(69) Rouse and Rouse leave the question of the edition's attribution open, noting that, of the dozens of unsigned, undated editions attributed to the Ripoli press, almost all can be confirmed by cross-reference to the press's Diario; only seven extant editions are not mentioned in the Diario, and the Lamento is one of these. Thus, "there will always remain some question" as to whether it is in fact a much earlier work by Petri (92). It should be noted, however, that the Ripoli press did a steady business producing vernacular ballads, laments, and other news reports of just this sort; in 1480-01, the tumultuous period when the Turks besieged Rhodes and occupied Otranto, the Ripoli Diario records production of a Lamento d'Otranto (produced on commission from a cerretano in November 1480), an Operetta del Turco, and an Operetta di Rodi (the unique copy of which was recently discovered by Scapecchi, 169-73). Thus the lament for Negroponte could well have been printed by the Ripoli press in 1480, when the market was eager for news--however out of date--relating to the Turks.

(70) Noakes, 43-48; Rouse and Rouse, 43-48.

(71) Noakes, 34-40; Conway, 67-81. Other topical poems issued by the press between 1477 and 1484 include the Libretto della morte di Giuliano (printed twice) and a Lamento di Pisa.

(72) Martines, 238, 242, 244-48: political poetry "was a form of condensed memory ... a salient moment of public opinion caught in words" (248).

(73) Guerre in Ottava Rima, 1:151-61, lists six undated editions and fixes the remainder at or around 1512, 1515, 1520, 1530 (two), 1541, 1547, 1557, 1568, 1587, 1597, 1614, and 1615.

(74) Della Torre, 144-50, 169-73; Fritsen.

(75) Johannes Jacobus Canis composed a panegyric honoring Canal's commission as Captain General in 1470: this was later printed as Ad Nicolaum Canalem classem contra Turcos ducentem carmen, attributed by the Gesamtkatalog der Wiegendrucke (Leipzig, 1925-, hereafter GW) no. 5980, to [Vicenza: Leonardus Achates de Basilea, about 1475] and by IGI (2403) to [Padua: Printer of Lucianus, about 1482]. While at sea in the spring of 1470, Canal also received from his friend Francesco Filelfo a copy of the latter's translation of Xenophon's Cyropaedia: Della Torre, 173.

(76) For a summary of the work, see Della Torre, 178-91. On the standard tropes of humanist crusade rhetoric, see Hankins; Meserve, 2004.

(77) Appendix, no. 6; Walsh, S-1619B. The other works attributed to Conti's first, Venetian press are mostly humanistic in character: a grammar by Guarino, Galeotto Marzio's De homine, and the poetry of Propertius, Tibullus, Ovid, and Dante. Caught out when the Venetian printing bubble burst, in September 1472 Conti accepted an invitation to move to Iesi, where tax concessions were offered to artisans willing to settle in the recently plague-ravaged town. Upon arrival, Conti began printing more marketable texts: law books, proclamations, vernacular devotional works, and, in 1474, an Esortazione ai Cristiani contro il Turco: Scholderer; BMC 7:lvi.

(78) Appendix, no. 7; Hain, 10783; IGI, 6202. Only four editions are attributed to this press: an edition of Silius Italicus edited by Leto and including Leto's life of the poet; Marsi's poem; and editions of Columella (on whose works Leto later wrote a commentary) and Martial. Marsi's Lamentatio, dedicated to Paul II, must have been printed before the pope's death on 26 July 1471.

(79) Appendix, no. 8; BMC 6:xl-xli, 855. For a typically breathless passage, see Fieschi, fol. 4r: "The horror! The sorrow! Alas! And so a great island falls captive!" ("O stupor, o dolor, ah! Celebris sic insula capta est!").

(80) Martines, 237; Gerulaitis, 113: "Books in Italian ... better reflect the taste of the public that read for enjoyment or devotional reasons."

(81) Both texts were printed by early 1471: Appendix, nos. 9-10.

(82) Printed in two editions in 1470-71: Appendix, nos. 11-12; Kalogeropulo, no. 657; Trame, 194-95. Roman intellectuals inhabited a small world. Sanchez, in his role as governor of the Castel Sant'Angelo, had served as Pomponio Leto's jailer after the eruption of the Academy conspiracy; the two scholars maintained a learned correspondence during Leto's stay; during this period Cardinal Bessarion also wrote to Sanchez to ask for clemency on Leto's behalf.

(83) Appendix, no. 13; Copinger, 9839; Oates, 1393.

(84) Lamentatio Nigripontis, fol. 3r-v.

(85) Piante de Negroponte, terzina 45 (Polidori, 408): "E poi trapaserai [pianto mio] oltramontani / che voia renovar la chruciata / per ristorar li antichi e novi dani."

(86) Lamento di Negroponte, Florentine edition (Guerre in ottava rima, 4:65-69), ottave 49-66. Only the first stanza of this lament appears in the Neapolitan edition (ibid., 100) ottava 77. The author of the Piante likewise addresses appeals to Paul II, Frederick III, and Cristoforo Moro to mount a new crusade against the Turks (Piante de Negroponte, terzine 30-40 [Polidori, 407-08]).

(87) As late as July 1470 the Latin author Antonio Ivani, Chancellor of Volterra and soon-to-be author of a prose account of Negroponte's fall, had to ask his friend Donato Acciaioli precisely where in Greece the Venetian colony was: Ivani, 40, n. 3

(88) Appendix, no. 14; Hain 5729; GW 7550. On the text, see Bruni and Zancani, 97-104; Bianchi; Certui Burgio. The poem was composed between April and August 1471 (Bianchi, 12).

(89) Cornazzano, 3.6 (sig. [h]4v): "Risponde, Italia sorda, a chi re chiama / et a quel che scritto ho guardati indetro / che non e honor vedere a chi fede ama / Christo battuto, e far stalla in san petro." Mehmed II's barbarian prototypes include Xerxes, Brennus, Mithridates, Tigranes, and Hannibal.

(90) The Latin text follows the Italian in the middle of quire [h].

(91) Cornazzano, sig. [h]5r.

(92) Fieschi dedicated his epic to Ferrante; Sanchez and the anonymous Lamentatio author addressed their consolations to Bessarion; Toscani and Marsi dedicated their poems to Paul II; Cornazzano addressed his to the doge and senate of Venice.

(93) Bianchi, 1; Cornazzano had also worked for the Dukes of Milan in the past and would eventually find patronage at the Este court in Ferrara.

(94) Della Torre, 191-92; Fritsen, 360.

(95) Zovenzoni also composed additional texts for de Spira editions of Appian, Boccaccio, Cicero, Martial, and Terence, and Donatus's commentary on Terence.

(96) Cornazzano corrected Jenson's 1470 Eusebius; Jenson published his Vita della Vergine in 1471: BMC 7:1147.

(97) The anonymous press that produced Cornazzano's Vita di Cristo, known as the "printer of Cornazzano," later printed an edition of his Vita della Vergine (GW 7557). On contractual arrangements for editors in the earliest phases of print, see Richardson, 7-12.

(98) Rossini, 103-04.

(99) Cosenza, 4:3496-97; Weiss. Toscani also edited classical texts for Roman presses.

(100) This seems quite likely in the case of Sanchez, a well-known theological authority whose works were issued by several early printers in Rome and elsewhere. The Cologne printer Ulrich Zel issued editions of his letter on Negroponte and his Speculum humanae vitae in late 1470, most likely after the bishop's death in October of that year.

(101) Sheppard.

(102) See n. 43 above.

(103) Bussi's role at the press was something like that of editorial director, with responsibility for selecting, preparing, and correcting most of the press's output with occasional philological assistance from Gaza.

(104) Filelfo, fol. 229v (letter to Giovanni Andrea Bussi, 13 February 1471): "Our friend Gaza also asks me to exhort the princes to a crusade against the Turk. That will do about as much good as washing a brick. I see nearly all the princes of this age care more for profit than military glory. So why should I labor in vain? Europe ruled Asia for a long time. Change is natural to all things. What else can I think, in the face of such monumental carelessness and inaction on the part of the Christian princes?" ("Petit etiam noster gazes ut principes adhorter, ad expeditionem in Turcum: id quod aliud nihil futurum sit quam laterem lavare. Video enim omnis fere horum temporum principes non rei bellicae sed pecuniariae studere. Quid igitur frustra laboremus?... Tandiu Europa imperitavit Asiae. Omnium rerum vicissitudo est natura. Quid enim aliud opinemur, in tanta christianorum principum vel negligentia vel secordia?").

(105) This edition appeared in March 1471: Davies, 1996, 206.

(106) Appendix, nos. 15-16; Meserve, 2003; Schwoebel, 157-59, 167-68; Manselli. On the Valdarfer edition, see Lowry, 1994, whose assumptions about the involvement of the Venetian government in its production I do not share.

(107) See Lowry, 1987 and 1994.

(108) Meserve, 2003, 532-37.

(109) Here it is worth noting the curious case of the schoolmaster Matthias Herben of Maastricht, author of a Historia Nigropontis printed in Cologne around 1487 (Appendix I, no. 17). Herben's Latin account of Negroponte's fall appears with two other topical texts composed by him, describing the siege of Shkoder (Scutari) in Albania by the Turks in 1474 and a public uprising in Ferrara in 1476. In his preface Herben suggests that he writes to share with his countrymen some of the stories he had heard told during an extended stay in Italy in the mid 1470s: he expresses a certain degree of pride in his familiarity with these distant events. Herben had arrived in Rome in the train of a papal legate returning from Liege in 1469; seeking his fortune in the papal city, he composed an epic poem in 6,000 hexameters on the recent sack of Liege, but Paul II died before he could present it. He then found work as secretary to Niccolo Perotti--Bishop of Siponto and a close associate of Cardinal Bessarion--who was responsible for editing and sometimes rewriting much of Bessarion's Latin prose: Ijsewijn; Monfasani.

(110) Burckhardt, 156-57; Babinger, 169, 198 ("it is hard to think of anything sillier or more degrading than the anti-Turkish literary exercises that the venal humanists of Italy turned out in those years"), 237; Schwoebel, 149-50.

(111) It is worth noting, however, which of the Negroponte texts were reprinted in later years: the lament in ottava rima; the Vita di Cristo by Cornazzano, whose reputation as a poet of considerable merit only increased in the years after 1470; and the orations of Cardinal Bessarion (Appendix, nos. 5, 18, 19).

(112) Less than a generation later Savonarola would exploit brilliantly the strategic differences between the use of Latin and the vernacular in printed publication. The charismatic friar made sure that all his most important works, though first composed in Latin, were quickly translated, printed, and issued in Italian as well.
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Author:Meserve, Margaret
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Geographic Code:4EUIT
Date:Jun 22, 2006
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