BMCR 2012.12.09

Hérodote à la Renaissance. Latinitates (LATIN), 7

, Hérodote à la Renaissance. Latinitates (LATIN), 7. Turnhout: Brepols Publishers, 2012. 272. ISBN9782503541211 €85.00 (pb).

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

The volume contains thirteen essays originally presented as papers at a Paris conference under the same title in March 2009. It is a remarkable collection of the work of specialists from various disciplines, which reveals the complexity of the reception of Herodotus in the Italian, French and Spanish Renaissance (15th-16th cent.) and the diversity of fields influenced by his Histories, such as philology, history, geography, cartography, ethnography, natural sciences, philosophy, scientific and travel literature.

In her introduction S. Gambino Longo outlines the major points that marked this reception and influence. She goes through those scholars and works that initiated and established the reception of Herodotus, first in Italy and then outside Italy (Palmieri’s and Valla’s Latin translations, Boiardo’s Italian translation, and the editio princeps of the Greek text), and briefly assesses the influence of Herodotus on various fields of knowledge, the confrontation between Herodotus’ and Thucydides’ historical models in historiography, the effect that Herodotus’ description of places, people and cultures had on the study and writing of geography, ethnography, and other social sciences, especially in an era when Europeans came in contact with ‘barbarous’ people and cultures as a result of the discovery of new worlds. The editor does not simply combine material extracted from the essays, but adds valuable information that makes her introduction useful for those who want to form a general idea of the reception of Herodotus in the Renaissance.

S. Pagliaroli, who has worked on L. Valla’s translation,1 discusses the unpublished Latin translation of Herodotus’ Histories by Mattia Palmieri, produced in the middle of the fifteenth century.2 The author focuses on Palmieri’s dedicatory epistle, the critical edition of which he provides at the end of his article. Based on it Pagliaroli makes some sound observations on Palmieri’s biography and, comparing it with other primary sources, he establishes the approximate date of the translation, which appears to be the first complete Latin translation of Herodotus. Equally important is the identification of the introductory part of the epistle with a part of Censorinus’ dedication to Caerellius of his De die natali.

H. Estienne’s Traité preparatif à l’apologie pour Hérodote is the focal point of J. E. Girot’s article. The author methodically traces Estienne’s study of both Thucydides and Herodotus, and examines how the French scholar defended the latter from the criticisms against his historical method. Girot persuasively compares the Apologie with Estienne’s Traité de la conformité des merveilles anciennes avec les modernes and concludes that in Estienne’s mind Herodotus and his language were significant for the French language and thought of his own time.

After a short introduction to Boiardo’s Italian translation of Herodotus, produced in the late fifteenth century, D. Looney publishes the marginal comments on it from Modena, Biblioteca Estense ms. α.H.3.22. The significance of the essay lies not only in Looney’s remarks on the commentator and the content of his comments, but mostly in the value of these comments for the textual reconstruction of Boiardo’s text.

L. A. Sanchi has produced a very well-argued illustration of G. Budé’s study of Herodotus. Having identified the Greek copy of Herodotus used and annotated by Budé, and making excellent use of Budé’s comments on a copy of Gregorius Pardus’ De dialectis as well as Budé’s autograph notebooks, Sanchi studies in depth the use of Herodotus in Budé’s philological and philosophical works, namely the Annotations aux Pandectes, De Asse, De transitu Hellenismi ad Christianismum, Commentaires de la langue grecque, etc.

C. Varotti provides in his article a meticulous analysis of the whole range of Herodotus’ influence on historiography and other social sciences, namely ethnography and geography, in Italy from the middle of the fifteenth to the early sixteenth century. The author investigates how the controversy in historiography between Thucydides’ and Herodotus’ models was portrayed in theoretical approaches to history as well as in historical works of the time under discussion (e.g., Valla and Bruni). He also looks at Herodotus’ impact on the increasing interest in ethnography and geography as a result of the European voyages of discovery (e.g., Ramusio and Navagero). Very captivating is also the study of how Italian scholars dealt with the histories of their patriae (using the examples of Florence and Venice) and how they overcame the mythological tradition of their origins.

H. Estienne’s study and defense of Herodotus is also one of the three major topics of P. Payen’s article on how the Greek historian affected and to a certain degree determined the nature of Renaissance historiography. The first part of the article (“Hérodote redivivus : ca. 1400-1500”) is a synopsis of the reception of Herodotus from Petrarch to Italian and French scholars, from the Latin translations to the Italian and French ones, and how modern scholars perceive Herodotus’ importance for the development of historiography and the theory of history. Payen also comprehensively illustrates how Herodotus was the model for the travel narrative technique of J. de Léry in his Histoire d’un voyage faict en la terre du Brésil.

Herodotus’ influence on humanistic geography is the main topic of A. Lamy’s study. The author offers a well-argued discussion of the poetical approach of pre-humanistic geography, which mixed reality with fantasy, and how the methods of comparison and autopsy, extracted from Herodotus’ work, were put in practice by historians, travel authors and antiquarians of the fourteenth century, with Petrarch and Boccaccio being the most notable examples. Lamy also looks at several fifteenth-century scholars and their works, such as P. d’Ailly and his Imago mundi, which was read by Christopher Columbus, R. Volterrano’s Commentariorum urbanorum libri, and M.-A. Sabellico’s Annotationes.

J. Boulègue systematically investigates the case of a description of the landscape of Northwestern Africa by the Portuguese A. Donelha in the late sixteenth century, which reveals surprising similarities with some fifteenth-century Catalan maps of the area. Both sources appear to depict the description of the river Nile and its topography by Herodotus, which makes Boulègue assume that somehow Herodotus was known to Catalan cartographers, who had a theoretical knowledge of that part of Africa before acquiring a real knowledge of it. The article is supplemented with figures and photographs of maps related to the area discussed.

B. Gauvin’s article deals with Herodotus’ influence on travel literature, specifically on Pierre Martyr d’Anghiera’s Legatio Babylonica, which describes Martyr’s mission to Cairo in 1501. The author painstakingly examines how Martyr was inspired by Herodotus’ work and while he imitated his method of personal observation, he adapted the content of his narration to the contemporary description of Egypt, its people, culture, history and religion.

The debates on Herodotus’ place (as opposed to Thucydides’) in Renaissance historiography, and in ethnography and cosmography (as opposed to Ptolemy’s and Strabo’s) form the focal topic of F. Lestringant’s essay. The author provides a captivating study of the case of the sixteenth-century French explorer and cosmographer André Thevet, in particular three works of his, in which Herodotus is directly or indirectly involved: Les Vrais Pourtraits et Vies des hommes illustres, Cosmographie de Levant and Les Singularitez de la France Antarctique.

V. Giacomotto-Charra looks at another aspect of how Herodotus’ Histories were used as a model (for zoology and other natural sciences), rather than as a source of knowledge. The author focuses on the case of Conrad Gesner and his Historiae animalium, in which the references to Herodotus are few, compared to Gesner’s Bibliotheca universalis. She also studies P. Belon and his works La nature et diversité des poissons, Histoire de la nature des oiseaux, and the Singularitez, in which Herodotus’ work provides only a model.

S. Gambino Longo’s study concerns Herodotus’ anthropological-ethnographical impact on Renaissance scholars. She examines in depth how antiquarian humanists showed a growing interest in the funerary rites of antiquity after their contacts with foreign peoples as a result of the sixteenth-century European expansion. She discusses Tommaso Porcacchi’s Funerali antichi (1574) and the engravings in it, five of which are reproduced in the volume. Although Porcacchi’s work was based on De sepulchris et de vario sepeliendi ritu by Lilio Gregorio Giraldi, its author enriched the latter’s work with numerous details extracted from Herodotus. Gambino Longo’s well- structured analysis is concentrated around the engravings, in which she attempts to spot the details that reveal Herodotus’ influence.

A. Guzmán Guerra provides a comprehensive survey of the study, reception and significance of Herodotus in the Spanish Golden Age. After some introductory remarks on the study (or, in the case of Herodotus, lack of study) of Greek authors in Spain, the author turns to the examination, thorough and detailed, of the influence that Herodotus had (via translations and anthologies) on Spanish literature. He groups this influence into five categories, for each of which he presents its main representatives supported by examples.

This short description of the essays included in the volume clearly shows the breadth of Herodotus’ influence on the thought, literature and knowledge of Renaissance scholars. Nevertheless, because the presence of the Greek historian in the Renaissance is still little studied and poorly understood, this collection of essays is a valuable contribution to discovering and appreciating how his work influenced European culture. The original and innovative research presented in this volume will make it a useful reference work.

Table of Contents

Susanna Gambino Longo, Introduction (5-21)
1. Stefano Pagliaroli, “Il ‘Proemio’ di Mattia Palmieri alla traduzione Latina delle Storie di Erodoto” (23- 43)
2. Jean Eudes Girot, “Hérodote, ses détracteurs et le Traité preparatif à l’apologie pour Hérodote [1566] d’Henri Estienne” (45-65)
3. Dennis Looney, “Le postille al codice del volgarizzamento di Erodoto di Matteo Maria Boiardo, Biblioteca Estense, Modena, α.H.3.22” (67-85)
4. Luigi Alberto Sanchi, “Budé lecteur d’Hérodote: langue, idées, recherches” (87-97)
5. Carlo Varotti, “La leggenda e la storia: Erodoto nella storiografia tra Quattrocento e primo Cinquecento” (99- 125)
6. Pascal Payen, “Hérodote et la modélisation de l’histoire à la Renaissance (XV e – XVI e siècles)” (127-148)
7. Alice Lamy, “Le savoir géographique au XIV e siècle: les prémisses du succès d’Hérodote” (149- 166)
8. Jean Boulègue, “Un écho d’Hérodote dans les représentations cartographiques africaines au XVI e siècle” (167-174)
9. Brigitte Gauvin, “L’influence d’Hérodote dans la Legatio Babylonica de Pierre Martyr d’Anghiera” (175- 194)
10. Frank Lestringant, “Hérodote dans la littérature cosmographique de la Renaissance. Quelques remarques introductives” (195-208)
11. Violaine Giacomotto-Charra, “Le bestiaire d’Hérodote: y a-t-il un Hérodote naturaliste à la Renaissance?” (209-225)
12. Susanna Gambino Longo, “L’engouement renaissant pour les rites funéraires des barbares et leurs représentations” (227-243)
13. Antonio Guzmán Guerra, “Hérodote pendant la Renaissance espagnole (XV e – XVI e siècles)” (245-266)
Les auteurs (267-269)
Table des matières (271-272)


1. S. Pagliaroli, L’Erodoto del Valla, Messina 2006.

2. A critical edition of Palmieri’s translation is under preparation by the reviewer.