BMCR 2024.02.11

I Miscellanea di Angelo Poliziano: edizione e commento della Prima Centuria

, , I Miscellanea di Angelo Poliziano: edizione e commento della Prima Centuria. Florence: Olschki Editore, 2022. Pp. lxii, 542. ISBN 9788822260949.

The humanist Angelo Poliziano displayed all his learning and expertise to provide critical interpretations of texts both in the first volume of his Miscellanea, printed in 1489, and in the unfinished second one. Both volumes collect discussions on various issues related to textual problems in works of Latin and Greek authors. The Italian philologist Alessandro Perosa (Trieste 1910–Florence 1998) turned his attention to Poliziano during the most productive and mature period of his scholarly life, so that his Commento on the Miscellaneorum prima centuria constitutes the most structured and enlightening study of this masterpiece of humanistic philology. Perosa’s work was published in two volumes with the title I Miscellanea di Angelo Poliziano. Edizione e commento della prima centuria in 2023 for the “Edizione nazionale di Angelo Poliziano,” as the first issue of the series “Strumenti.” Although Perosa began to study Renaissance humanism in 1938, his first publication on Poliziano, entitled “Febris: A Poetic Myth Created by Poliziano,” dates to 1946, when it appeared in the Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes (Vol. 9, N. 1). Perosa’s research focused almost exclusively on Poliziano after 1952, when he undertook the study of the Prima centuria, planning to write a commentary on it; unfortunately, he did not complete this project. Now this long-awaited work has appeared in print thanks to Paolo Viti.

The first volume opens with a Foreword (pp. V-VI) and an Introduction (pp. XII-LX) by the editor, followed by the most important section, which has the title of the volume itself: “I Miscellanea di Angelo Poliziano. Edizione e commento della prima centuria.” However, the Commento occupies the first volume and the edition is placed in the second. As mentioned above, the Commento is incomplete and covers 51 chapters (1-24, 26-37, 39-40, 42, 44-46, 49-52, 56, 61, 70, 79, 96)  of the 100 of Poliziano’s Prima centuria (Vol. I, pp. 1-291). The second volume opens with a second introduction by Alessandro Perosa in two parts (“I primi e i secondi «Miscellanea»”: vol. II, pp. 293-301; “La tradizione dei «Miscellanea»”: pp. 302-307), followed by the edition of the text (“Angeli Politiani Miscellaneorum centuria prima”: vol. II, pp. 309-467); indexes and a bibliography by Paolo Viti conclude the volume (“Indice dei nomi dei «Miscellanea»”: vol. II, pp. 469-482; “Bibliografia” cited in Perosa’Commento: pp. 483-507; “Indice dei manoscritti”; “Indice degli incunaboli”; “Indice dei nomi di persona e di località”: pp. 509-538).

In the foreword, Viti explains the reasons for the publication of the book, which allowed him to find a new opportunity for an intimate conversation with his teacher, to whom this publication is a personal tribute. He decided to collect all of Perosa’s papers on the Prima centuria that appeared complete and at the stage of a final draft, while he left out various and heterogeneous materials consisting of notes and worksheets. They represent an extraordinary archive of data referring above all to classical sources, on which Perosa would have wanted to build the commentary on the remaining half of the Miscellanea (Viti, “Introduzione,” p. XVII. Viti’s introduction stands out for the completeness and the precision with which the distinctive elements of Perosa’s scientific and cultural personality are presented. In two chapters, entitled “Alessandro Perosa e la filologia umanistica” and “Gli studi su Poliziano” (Vol. I, pp. VII-XVII and XVII-XXXV, respectively), Viti recalls his teacher’s main fields of study  with plenty of data and bibliographical references. More importantly, he provides a vivid glimpse on Perosa’s long research activity on Poliziano and his great efforts for the 1954 celebration of the five hundredth anniversary of the humanist’s birth (Vol. I, pp. XX-XXX).

In the third chapter of his introduction, entitled “Il commento ai «Miscellanea»” (Vol. II, pp. XXXV-LII), Viti presents over thirty passages from the Commento and  with the last chapter, entitled “Nella storia della filologia umanistica,” he aims to explain the place of Perosa’s commentary in the history of humanist philology. The editor urges the reader to judge the work taking into account some inevitable limitations due to the fact that, in the 1950s, humanist philology was still an emerging field and attention and sensitivity to fifteenth-century Latin literature was still lacking. Viti adds that he published the Commento as it appeared among Perosa’s papers, because he believes it was unthinkable to intervene to update even the bibliography of each exegetical note, or  to check their compatibility with the current studies on Poliziano: such operations would have risked altering and submerging Perosa’s strong originality (Vol. I, pp. LIII-LIV).

Under the title “Criteri di edizione,” Viti presents the genesis of the edition, providing a description of the papers, letters, and other materials that were on Perosa’s desk at his death. Furthermore, Viti believes that Perosa never prepared a real critical edition because he considered the text of Antonio Miscomini’s editio princeps of 1489 as valid. Consequently, in 1956, he had the Sansoni Press prepare a draft of the text of the Prima centuria based on Miscomini’s edition, on which he intervened by his own hand correcting misprints, inserting the page numbers of the editio princeps between brackets and finally, it seems, occasionally modifying the punctuation. There are no other changes in the Latin text, which, among other things, also lacks an apparatus locorum.

Perosa’s commentary on the Prima centuria (Vol. I, pp. 1-291) is an impressive work containing an extraordinary amount of materials. In each chapter, after a first exegetical note summarizing the issues addressed by Poliziano, Perosa provided other notes offering a closer analysis in a very clear and never redundant exposition. We receive the impression that Perosa wished to show how much Poliziano’s working method was rooted in the classical tradition and how truly he mastered the Greek language. Perosa quotes exhaustively, for the benefit of the reader, the passages of Greek and Latin authors referred to by Poliziano or those  necessary to prove or to correct the humanist’s arguments. Perosa always paid attention to the manuscripts and printed editions available to Poliziano, most of which came from Lorenzo de Medici’s library.

For each case and chapter, the premises of Poliziano’s philological discussions were examined, but then the reader is gradually led to discussions that are certainly intrinsic to humanist civilization and essential for the complete understanding of many chapters of the Prima centuria. One of the most fascinating aspects of Perosa’s research is also his ability to clarify the steps of the humanist’s reasoning: while some textual or linguistic issues originated from his students at the Florentine Studio, Poliziano would later rectify some of his conjectures when writing the chapters of the Miscellanea, often with the help of manuscripts identified by Perosa. One of the characteristics of Poliziano’s working method was, in fact, his assiduous reading of a large number of texts from various ages, which led to attempts to restore them ope codicum when they turned out to be corrupted.  We find nothing equivalent to this among his contemporaries. Indeed, Poliziano’s work is unique because of the impressive exegetical activity he carried out in his short life, as well as the precision and excellence of his philological discourse. Not even prominent humanists such as Domizio Calderini, Bartolomeo Della Fonte and Cristoforo Landino fully equal  his learning and critical acumen. Perosa looked at some of the controversies between Poliziano and his contemporaries in this regard. In one such discussion, for example, Poliziano    treated the inscitia of the punctilious grammars of his time and the easy conjectures and frequent mistakes in their textual interpretations. He took a stand in particular against the oversights of Domizio Calderini, to whom—as Perosa clarified—Poliziano was greatly indebted.

Perosa’s notes on the chapters of the Centuria are not homogeneously detailed, which shows how his work was still in fieri. This can be seen, for example, from the absence of some data, such as the page numbers of manuscripts or incunables on whose margins Poliziano wrote notabilia and variants. Furthermore, the notes of the Commento do not follow a fixed pattern, but their structure gradually takes shape from the critical discourse itself. Perosa used a simple style and a very precise language, which obeys the essential standards of clarity and linearity in scholarly communication and which is—in such a difficult topic—a sign of his consideration of the needs and demands of the scholarly community.

Perosa’s Commento constitutes an important contribution to the history of Renaissance studies. Modern scholars working on Poliziano also will benefit from it, thanks to the clarity of the exposition and the rigorous scholarly method. This edition will most certainly prove important to the study of Poliziano’s work and give new impetus and vitality to the study of humanistic philology.