Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/591

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page needs to be proofread.

a change of scene and of audience would enable him to use them over again. A lecture by such a man as Filelfo had, in fact, a twofold quality. On the one hand, it was an exposition,—not of an advanced character, judged by modern standards, yet not too elementary for the conditions of the time. On the other, it was a recognised opportunity for the display of oratorical and dialectical skill. The audience were prepared for flashes of lively eloquence, quotations, epigrams, strokes of satire, panegyric, or invective. As scholarship advanced in Italy, the humanistic lecture became more sparing of irrelevant ornament; but it always preserved something of its old rhetorical character.

Angelo Ambrogini, called Poliziano (Politianus) from his birthplace, Montepulciano, was born in 1454. His precocious abilities were shown in boyhood. In 1470 he earned the designation of "Homericus iuvenis" by translating four books of the Iliad (n-v) into Latin. At eighteen he published an edition of Catullus. He attracted the notice of Lorenzo de? Medici, who made him tutor to his children. Before he was thirty he became professor of Greek and Latin at Florence. He held that chair till his death, in 1494, at the age of forty. Like Filelfo, Politian covered in his lectures a wide field of literature in both the classical languages. But his standard of scholarship, best exemplified in his edition of the Pandects, was higher and more critical than that of any predecessor. A quality which distinguished him not less than his comprehensive scholarship was his rhetorical genius. Its characteristics were spontaneity, swiftness, fire, with a certain copiousness of matter, poured forth from a rich and prompt memory. This, indeed, even more than his learning, was the gift to which he owed his unique fame with his contemporaries. A vivid idea of his power as a rhetorician, which also helps us to imagine him as a lecturer, is given by four Latin poems comprised in his Sylvae. Each of these poems was written in order that he might recite it in his lecture-room as a prelude to a course of lectures. The first piece, entitled Nutricia, is an outline of the history of poetry from Homer to Boccaccio, with a peroration in praise of Lorenzo de1 Medici. It may justly be called one of the most noteworthy products of the Italian Renaissance. The facility and rapidity of the sonorous hexameters are extraordinary. Politian is said to have been, in all styles, a swift composer; and these verses convince the reader that they flowed forth. The matter is scarcely less remarkable. We observe that this great humanist is far more at home with the Latin poets than with the Greek. Thus, though no less than twenty-seven verses are given to Pindar, these turn wholly on the ancient traditions about his life; there is not a word that proves knowledge of his work or insight into his genius. The three masters of Greek tragedy are dismissed with one verse apiece, purporting to tell how each was killed;-Aeschylus, by a tortoise falling on his head,—Sophocles, by a shock of joy at the success of a play,—and Euripides, by wild dogs in Macedon. This brief passage