This 250-page book consists of two parts of five chapters, each corresponding to a philological problem faced by Roman humanists. After thanking the small world of scholars in Neolatin, the author moves into an introduction sketching the history of literary criticism of the Quattrocento. Chapters one to three deal with lexicography: the first focuses on Lorenzo Valla, the second on humanistic lexicography, and the third on Niccolò Perotti, Chapters four and five deal with exegesis; chapter four is devoted to Pomponio Leto’s exegesis of Virgil and the fifth and final chapter focuses on the reception of Pomponio Leto ‘s exegesis in modern commentaries. An extensive bibliography, is included, together with three indices: an index of names and quoted passages supplemented by an index of manuscripts and incunabula. Abbamonte’s bibliography is extensive, accurate and international, showing that the question of philology touches upon interdisciplinary studies (book history, cultural studies, art history). The indexes are functional but we must especially commend the index of manuscripts and incunabula which will greatly facilitate the work of researchers interested in Roman humanism, whose objects of study are slightly different from those of Florentine humanism and, even more, of Neapolitan humanism.
The introduction focuses on the history of the literary criticism of the Quattrocento, which has shown itself both teleological and excessively focused on Florence before recognizing that the Renaissance was polycentric and flourished throughout Italy. If Lorenzo Valla has always been the Roman humanist most studied, Giovanni Tortelli, Niccolò Perotti and Pomponio Leto have been closely studied only since the 1980s. This neglect can also be explained because there are few trustworthy editions of the important authors; Valla’s Elegantiae and Tortelli’s De Orthographia have not yet been published, for example, even if Niccolò Perotti’s Cornucopia is now available after a long decade of collective work. Abbamonte presents Roman humanism as the first moment of the refutation of the medieval auctoritas and the birth the birth of a scientific study of language with Lorenzo Valla.
Chapter 1 is a study of the role of Valla in the humanist debate on lexicography. After his Neapolitan period (1435- 1448) where controversies arose with Bartolomeo Facio and Antonio Panormita, he was assisted by Giovanni Tortelli, the librarian of the Vatican Library that was being set up by Pope Nicolas V. In Rome he developed an anti-normative approach based on usus and the rehabilitation of authors of late Antiquity (Lactantius, Jerome, Augustine, Macrobius) but criticized late grammarians for their agglutination method as medieval lexicographers (Balbi, Papia, Uguccione da Pisa). The first section of the chapter traces the great novelty of Valla’s method, nourished by his thoughts on the triumuiri of ancient Latin grammar who influenced Roman lexicographers.
Chapter 2 deals specifically with the nature of lexicography, after notes on Tortelli, on printing, on the Cornucopia and finally on Valla’s lexicographical debate in Naples with Giuniano Maio. This comparative study is highly commanding because it lets us see two different theoretical positions and their effect on later theories of language and poetry: the author believes that the anti-Vallism in Naples stopped all serious study of lexicography until Sannazaro.
Chapter 3 focuses on Perotti, explains his preference for Martial as the largest lexicon of the Latin language in his dedication to Frederick of Urbino as a tribute to Valla and his term elegantiae. Perotti really seems to be in line with Valla, as he defends the neologism for example and his periodization does not imply a value judgment as in the Middle Ages, which is why he may be deemed modern.
Chapter 4 lists Pomponio Leto’s sources and studies his relationship with ancient writers like Servius, Pseudo-Probus and Pliny the Elder through the study of his commentaries on their manuscripts. Chapter 5 shows how Pomponio’s philological annotations on the Georgics had an influence even on modern and contemporary tradition. The author also shows how Pliny’s Natural History and Theophrastus’s botanical works were able to feed this work by presenting Pomponio as a scholar steeped in Greek and Latin authors, not by mere scholarship.
While chapters 4 and 5 are very technical and are essentially an edition of Pomponio Leto’s comments, which might have been the subject of a book of their own, we can only welcome this book which, from the point of view of cultural history and the history of classical tradition, accurately and vastly documents the period and the actors of Roman humanism, which remained somewhat in the protective shadow of Lorenzo Valla. The author humorously writes on page 23 that he hopes to be useful for his “twenty-five future readers” but also able to reach a wider audience of amateurs: we take this for a rather tongue-in-cheek remark, as this book should find a wider readership.