Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Giovanni Francesco Poggio Bracciolini

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Catholic Encyclopedia (1913), Volume 12
Giovanni Francesco Poggio Bracciolini

by Paul Lejay


An Italian humanist and historian; born at Terranuova, near Arezzo, in 1380; died at Florence, 10 Oct., 1459. He studied at Florence and went to Rome about 1402. Boniface IX made him one of the Apostolic secretaries, which position he held under Innocent VII, Gregory XII, Alexander V, and John XXIII. The deposition of John XXIII and the delays of the Council of Constance afforded him leisure to search the libraries of the monasteries of Germany and France. In 1415 he discovered at Cluny a manuscript containing the following discourses of Cicero: "Pro Cluentio", "Pro S. Roscio", "Pro Murena", "Pro Milone", and "Pro Cælio". This manuscript was sent to Florence where Francesco Barbaro deciphered it with great difficulty. Later Poggio discovered at St. Gall's the first complete text of Quintilian's "Institutio Oratoria", of which Petrarch had known only fragments, a portion of Valerius Flaccus (I-IV, 317), commentaries on Cicero, among others that of Asconius, a commentary of Priscian on twelve verses of Virgil, and a manuscript of Vitruvius. During another search through the monasteries, probably Einsiedeln, Reichenau on Lake Constance, and Weingarten, he discovered Vegetius, already known by Petrarch, Festus in the abridgment of Paul the Deacon, Lucretius, Manilius, Silius Italicus, Ammianus Marcellinus, the grammarians Caper, Eutyches, and Probus. It was during this journey or the next that Poggio discovered the "Silvæ" of Statius. In 1417 he went as far as Langres, France, where he recovered seven discourses of Cicero, three on the agrarian law, "Pro Rabirio", "Pro Roscio Comœdo",and "In Pisonem". This journey also resulted in the discovery of a manuscript of Columella. Unfortunately most of these manuscripts exist now only in copies. One in his own hand at Madrid (Bib. Nat., X, 81) contains Asconius and the first part of Valerius Flaccus. After the Council of Constance Poggio accompanied Martin V to Italy and stayed with him at Mantua (1418). In 1423 he became his secretary. On his return from a journey to England Poggio discovered an incomplete Petronius at Cologne and Nonius Marcellus at Paris. Niccoli admitted him to his confidence with regard to the "History" of Tacitus, of which he made a secret. He shared in the discovery of the lesser writings of Tacitus by Enoch of Ascoli, in that of Aulus Gellius, of Quintus Curtius and the last twelve works of Plautus by Nicholas of Cusa. In 1429 he made a copy of the "De aquæ ductibus" of Frontinus. In 1429 he published his dialogue on avarice, in which he attacked especially the professors of law and the Mendicant Friars.

Shortly after the death of Martin V (20 February, 431) he began to write the four books of his "De Varietate Fortunæ", in the first of which he describes the ruins of Rome. Indeed it may be said that he was the first to practise archæology systematically. He brought from Switzerland the valuable booklet of a ninth-century pilgrim, the Anonymous Einsiedlensis, and he preceded J. B. de Rossi in studying it. He compared the ruins which he saw with the texts of writers and endeavoured to decipher the inscriptions. He collected some of his letters and in 1440 issued a dialogue on nobility. In 1450 an outbreak of the pest sent Nicholas V to Fabriano and Poggio to his birthplace where he completed the compilation of the "Facetiæ". This is a collection of witty sayings, anecdotes, quidproquos, and insolence, mingled with obscenities and impertinent jesting with religious subjects. In 1451 Poggio dedicated to Cardinal Prospero Colonna his "Historia disceptativa convivalis", in three books, of which the third alone is interesting. Poggio maintains against Leonardo Bruni of Mezzo that there was only one language spoken at Rome by the people and the educated classes. This question had a practical bearing for the Italians upon whom it was incumbent to create their literary language, but Poggio's sole ideal was Latin literature. Poggio himself wrote only in Latin, into which tongue he translated the history of Diodorus Siculus and the "Cyropædia" of Xenophon. In June, 1453, Poggio was summoned by the Medicis to Florence where he was given charge of the chancery of the republic. Here he composed his last works, the dialogue "De Miseriis humanæ condicionis", a translation of Lucian's "Golden Ass", and the ten books of his history of Florence from 1350 to 1455, a work much admired by contemporaries, but written in a diffuse style, and partial. No mention has been made of his occasional writings, eulogies, discourses, invectives, but reference must be made to his numerous quarrels with other humanists, Filelfo, George of Trebizond, Tommaso Rieti, Lorenzo Valla (author of "Antidotus in Poggium"). In all these disputes Poggio showed the same fecundity of low insults and calumnies as his opponents. Poggio's works were collected at Basle (in folio, 1513). His letters were issued in a special edition by Tonelli (3 vols., 1832-61).

SHEPHERD, Life of Poggio Bracciolini (London, 1802); VOIGT, D. Wiederbelebung d. klassischen Altertums, 3rd ed., I, 235 sq.; SYMONDS, The Renaissance in Italy, II (London, 1875-86), 230 sq.; SANDYS, A History of Classical Scholarship, I, 26, 38, 162; SABBADINI, Ciceronianismo, 20; IDEM, Le scoperte dei codici latini e greci ne' secoli XIV e XV (Florence, 1905), 76; CLARK, Anecdota Oxoniensia, X (1905).

PAUL LEJAY