Bryn Mawr Classical Review 03.02.25


Diana Robin, Filelfo in Milan: Writings 1451-1477. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991. Pp. xvi + 270. ISBN 0-691-03185-1.


Reviewed by James J. O'Donnell, University of Pennsylvania.

I will avow an interest by saying at the outset that the author of this volume was kind enough to send me a personal copy after an epistolary conversation that I had instigated, and it would be impertinent to 'review' a gift of this sort. This note is simply to call attention to a detailed study of a kind of Renaissance humanism that does not always make it into the stereotypes. Filelfo, 'who took pleasure in advertising himself as the "bard with three testicles",' was born at Tolentino in the papal states in 1398 but made the career here examined in the last half of his long life as humanist to the carriage trade in Milan and professor at Pavia. To an inexpert eye, the book is vivid, continuously interesting, and thoroughly grounded in the primary texts. What I particularly appreciated was Princeton Press's willingness to devote 66 printed pages of appendices to presenting extensive samples of Filelfo's texts in the original Latin. One difficulty that scholars working outside the canonical golden and silver ages face is the relative unfamiliarity of audiences with the texts they discuss. More than once I have attended a Bryn Mawr classics colloquium, those matchless afternoons awash in nectar and ambrosia (or reasonable facsimiles thereof: I still say my brownies were better than Hamilton's), and watched how a talk on Homer or Euripides evokes lively and immediate discussion precisely because the texts are so canonical; and how many a more venturesome talk falls on thoughtful ears for no better reason than that the texts are not so prominent. So here to read of Filelfo is one thing, but to have hearty specimens of his own words (some never published, some printed until now only in incunabula) is to have a greatly enriched access to the humanist and his world: epic, lyric, prose epistles, philosophical essays all flowed from his pen, and the reader is left with an appetite whetted for his Psychagogia, his collection of forty-four dauntless poems of his own in Greek. Students of the Renaissance have such fun, I often think.