Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The 16th Century: the Renaissance

The 16th Century: the Renaissance

Bembo's New Standard
When a linguistic unification is achieved, political consolidation often follows. But the Italians, who were on the whole, whether willingly or not, divided by foreign powers who extended their political influence throughout the peninsula, would or could not settle their differences and the feuds between powerful local families usually ended in violence. Feelings ran high even between jealous siblings whom enemies knew how to pit against one other. 

Because of such partisanism, even linguistic consolidation could not achieved without difficulties, on account of the same rivalries that divided the courts politically. Though scholars like Castiglione and Trissino, quoting Dante, defended the dignity of the language spoken at court, claiming that a national standard should be the equal sum of regional varieties rather than predominantly Florentine and praised the dignity of Italian. 

Castiglione and Trissino's school was aptly called the Courtisan Tradition and is explained in the former's masterpiece, Il Cortegiano (1528), soon to be followed by Giangiorgio Trissino's Castellano (1529) which supported Castiglione's theories. 

The theory earned a certain reputation, but regional jealousies could hardly lead to a consensus. A compromise between dialects was all but impossible as each prince pretended to impose his own over the others, while the Florentines, given their literary tradition would not accept 'corruptions' from the outside. 

And yet not not a few Italians felt a common language was necessary, not least merchants who had to compile glossaries of different dialects even for minor business trips within Italy. Hoping to reach a solution, Machiavelli defended the rural or vernacular Florentine as opposed to the high standard of Dante, Boccaccio and Petrarch. 

Machiavelli's Rural Florentine: the Municipal Tradition 

Italian seems to develop after the success of purist view, (Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio'a literary language should be the canon). Such party is probably responsible for the coinage of many new words of classical origin while those from dialect (spoken Florentine) sometimes take new meanings.

Machiavelli's position is openly municipal: he puts more value in the colloquial Florentine spoken at his time and excludes any literary or archaic language from the past. In the appendix to his Clizia, one of his comedies, he expounds his ideas in an imaginary conversation between him and Dante. 

Here, il Sommo Poeta is made to sound like a snob and hypocrite, since machiavelli accuses him of having perverted the beautiful florentine vernacular into an artificial literary language without giving proper credit and praised to that spoken language which he also used and appreciated. 

Machiavelli's views emerge from his lifetime experiences of international ambassadors sent on several missions to several European powers, and his contact with intellectuals and politicians but also ordinary people with whom he spent  his most important moments of his life, first inside, and after the exile, outside Florence. 

The attitude of the renaissance man is as pragmatic in language as in politics, which in his opinion was the key to everything, and only italy's unification would solve the age-old question of which standard to choose, and make sure that everyone would conform to it. 

No providence ruled the world, and fortune was no longer the minister of God, as dante said, but a capricious whore who understood nothing but force: when Machiavelli talks about the eternal dilemma of virtue and fortune in his Prince he says that 

...la fortuna è donna; ed è necessario, volendola tenere sotto, batterla e urtarla. E si vede che si lascia più vincere da questi, che da quelli che freddamente procedono. 

E però sempre, come donna, è amica de' giovani, perché sono meno respettivi, più feroci, e con più audacia la comandano. ... 


...luck is female; and if you want to keep her under your yoke, you have to beat her. See how she is more easily conquered by these [men who treat her badly], than by those who treat her gently. 

And yet, being female, she seeks the company of young males, because they are tougher with her, more driven by passion, so that they master her more boldly. (The Prince, chap.XXV) 

The Renaissance redescovers the original Latin meaning of virtù (ability), ignored in the Middle Ages: virtù here menas the capacity to carry something to effect, whatever the means. In the above passage, feroce, "fierce" also regains its old Latin meaning of: 'impulsive, impetuous'. 

Ferocia is not necessarily evil: it is what we call "aggressive action", a self-preserving drive.

Machiavelli had an extensive knowledge of the classics and Roman History, and especially Titus Livius who largely inspired his Prince, a work in which he, based on the study of Roman History, explained his vision for unifying Italy: based on such convictions he epeatedly exorted Prince Borgia 'Vantentino' to carry out the unification process. Assassination was a small price compared to what was at stake, italy's future. 

Machiavelli's love for Latin loans must not lead us to think he was a something like a bookworm or a theorist. His attitude was similar to Lorenzo's love for blends of popular and scholarly terms: he was a practical man who wanted to hear this language spoken by Italians from all walks of life, not just the erudite, and continuously 'abused' his own language, eager as he was to experiment with it. 

His Italian standard should, most of all, be able to reach into the heart of the layman. As a Florentine Machiavelli was continually exposed to his dialect in which he was raised, and loved it, with a sympathy for the one spoken in the countryside rathern than the city. 

Remembering his native land and the simple people he befriended, he never forgot his native dialect. Could a volgare illustre contain the technical terms a worker needed for his daily chores? It could and it should, but it did not because Italian writers often looked to 'urbane' Florentine as the only basis for the Italian language. 

Surprisingly, this conviction was even more rooted in other Italian states than in Florence. Machiavelli appreciated the spontaneity of the rural language, both powerful and down-to-earth. He loved the countryside and did not mind going out on long walks hunting or fishing with friends or simply mixing with locals to play cards and drink wine and enjoying the occasional tavern brawl: 

Io mi sto in villa (...) ho insino a qui uccellato a' tordi di mia mano. Levàvomi innanzi dì, impaniavo, andavone oltre con un fascio di gabbie addosso, che parevo el Geta quando e' tornava dal porto con i libri di amphitrione: pigliavo almeno dua, al più sei tordi. E così stetti tutto settembre (...) Partitomi del bosco, io me ne vo a una fonte (...). Trasferiscomi poi in sulla strada, nell'osteria: parlo con quelli che passono, domando delle nuove de' paesi loro, intendo varie cose e noto varii gusti e diverse fantasie d'uomini. Viene in questo mentre l'ora del desinare; dove con la mia brigata mi mangio di quelli cibi che questa mia povera villa e pàululo patrimonio comporta. Mangiato che ho, ritorno nell'osteria. Quivi è l'oste, per l'ordinario, un beccaio, un mugnaio, due fornaciai. Con questi m'ingaglioffo per tutto dì, giocando a cricca, a trich-trach, e dove poi nascono mille contese e infiniti dispetti di parole iniuriose; e il più delle volte si combatte un quattrino, e siamo sentiti non di manco, gridare da San Casciano. Così, rinvolto intra questi pidocchi, traggo el cervello da muffa (...) (italics mine) 


I live in the countryside (...) so far I've been hunting thrushes with my own hands. I used to get up before dawn, set the lime for the birds, going past the traps with such a bunch of cages on my back as to look like Getas when he came back from the port with Amphitrio's books on his back: and I usually caught a minimum of two , six thrushes at best. This was my life througout September (...). As I leave from the wood I walk to a spring (...). Then I get to the road and reach a tavern: I speak with passers-by, ask them for news, from where they come from, hear many novelties and make a note of those diverse tastes and different types of men. As I do that, it is lunch time already: now, surrounded by my friends I eat what food can be had in this poor countryside with what little money I can spare. After lunch, I head back to the tavern. Here I usually meet the host, a butcher, a miller and two bakers, and I have quarrels with them all day, playing three-of-a-kind, backgammon: and now when we get into endless fights and backbitings without no four-letter-words to spare; most of the time we fight for a pence, and we are heard shouting a long way from San Casciano. This way, soaking in that trash, I save my brain from rusting (...) 

(Letter dfrom Niccolò Machiavelli to Francesco Vettori in Rome) 

The passage refers to his exile in San Casciano, not far from Florence, where he retreated after being imprisoned and tortured by the Medicis after their return. Machiavelli had been employed as ambassador and cousellor by the these princes of Florence, but after the French had dethroned them he had also collaborated with the short-lived republic. 

When the Medicis returned, he offered his services to them, but they no longer trusted him. He was imprisoned, tortured and when released, was still unwelcome in the city, and had to go into exile. He hoped his friend Francesco Vettori among others might put in a good word for him so he could return to work for the Medicis. But they would no longer employ him. This devastated him more than anything in the world, and he ended his life haunted by regrets and the bitterness for not being able to serve his beloved Florence ever, again. 

It is likely a polite person like Bembo would not have appreciated some of the words I have in Machiavelli's passage: he was the kind of man who, when faced with choosing between 'get' and 'acquire' would have invariably crossed out the former on your paper and reproached you for using that, and never forgive you for using Scottish over British English. 

A few hundred miles from Florence, in the aristocratic Republic of Venice, the perception of Italian might change dramatically, and Bembo's pedantic views could hardly inspire a collection of sonnets like Petrarch's: at best, his excellent knowledge of literature might produce perfect but sterile imitations, and this is precisely what he did. 

Purists like Bembo admired Petrarch for the unique purity of his language: terse without being banal, beautiful and rich without using the four-letter words or those popular expressions that Dante and Boccaccio alternated to their polite, refined, and even complex sentences. Their virtue ws the ability to span between both sides of the sprectrum: but Bembo considered it a flaw, a weakness, and was looking for an artificial uniformity. 

In effect, even Dante was able to switch register though the model Italian he presents in his de Divina Eloquentia largely ignores his 'oversights' used to inveigh against the corrupted politicians and clergy who sentenced him and his friends to death, eventually forcing him into an exile which left him destitute and obliged to appeal to the compassion of princes like Cangrande della Scala. 

Bembo appreciated Boccaccio for inventing Italian prose, but, even more than Dante, Boccaccio has the ability of being direct and hitting on taboo subjects as eroticism, sex, brutal murders while still keeping an elegant, clear style, and this was what embarassed Bembo and his friends. Only Petrarch was fail-safe in every respect, Bembo's admiration for him was unconditional. 

Venice and the Purists 

Pietro Bembo (1470-1547), a Venetian who lived long in the Florence of Lorenzo Il Magnifico, represented the purist's view, not least, as we said, because he was from outside Florence. Like many Italians had made icons of Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio: no language outside their books could be called Italian.

Bembo wanted to protect Florence's literary language from such contaminations as those 'suffered' at the hands of Venetian, but would not hear of any modern Florentine as well. The establishment of standard Italian marked, in fact, the birth of Florentine as a dialect of the Italian language, but one that had rusted in the books for to hundred years. 

In his Prose della volgar lingua (1525), a fictional dialogue (in three books) supposed to have taken place in Venice, in the home of his brother Carlo Bembo, Pietro tells a brief history of the Italian language, praising Petrarch, Dante and Boccaccio as models for all Italians (first book). 

He then proceeeds to analyse excerpts and poems from the three writers (second book); in the last he elaborates the ideal rules for an Italian grammar. He believes that only the Florentine language in its 'golden age' written by those authors could be the basis for a standard: his preference goes to Petrarch, followed by Boccaccio and Dante. 

Because of its perfection, their Italian would be unchangeable through time because no other future author could ever make better literature than these. Bembo's uncompromising view was also prompted by his fears about the increasing influence of his own dialect, Venetian, which was becoming more important given the great political power of the Republic of Venice in the 1500s. 

Ludovico Ariosto was one of Bembo's adimirers and his principles are reflected in his works. Besides writing the Orlando Furioso, a long narrative poem vaguely inspired by the deeds of the Chanson de Roland, he also wrote several comedies for the court of Ferrara. 

"He was the first in our literature to write commedie in vernacular modeled on those by Plautus and Terentius, and the first in the history of theatre to devise and build a self-sufficient scene", says Manacorda, reminding us of some of his greatest comedies: Cassaria, Suppositi,

Negromante, Lena and Studenti. 

The opinions of most Renaissance writers, though varied, fell within one spectrum. All of them agree on establishing norms that must generate a kind of 'ideal' language, from Machiavelli's municipal, to Castiglione's koinè of court vernaculars to Benbo's 1300s literary tradition, and despite their differences, a national will eventually be arrived at in this century. 

In the research for the perfect language, it is easy to feel the classical aura that surrounds the ideal cities painted and partly realised by the princes and their architects inspired by Vitruvius. Also, Utopians are widely acclaimed, whether their ideal is political (Thomas More) or architectural (Leon Battista Alberti) especially at a time where Plato's Repubblica enthralls politicians and philosophers. 

Perfection is what every man must aim for: Castiglione's Cortegiano must learn how to paint, play good music, sing melodiously, write poetry, dress according to a canon, even his behavior can be flawless if the reader will follow his precepts. But the real world was far from perfect, attempts to unified Italy failed, wars devasted the peninsula and the sack of Rome by Charles V's Landsnechts spread black death in Italy (1527). 

Paradoxically, all renaissance writers, as transpires from Machiavelli's letter, live in both worlds: the real one during the day, made of feudal strife, war, and famine, and an ideal one in their libraries, somehow combining both. They lived in real cities but dreamed of virtual cities, they were making a brand new world of technological marvels but admired unconditionally the classical world.

There was a strange connivence between magic and science in the most brilliant scientists, and it was much easier to be burned at the stake for sorcery than it was in the middle ages (only Galilei will explain with precision what science is and what it is not in the following century). 

Despite the paradox, harmony is what intellectuals believe in. For this they looked at Imperial Rome and especially the Age of Augustus and the great poets of that time (Orace, Virgil). 

The Outsider: Pietro Aretino 

For all the attempts to legislate over the Italian language, there was one loud voice outside the choir, a true rebel who did not subscribe to any of the ideas of the Renaissance scholars and widely anticipated many Baroque authors with his love of linguistic eccess, the use of personal neologisms and other caprices. 

Pietro Aretino may be considered Bembo's poetic nemesis: he became famous on account of his erotic poems and Tracts (Sonetti Lussuriosi, 1526, Ragionamenti or Sei Giornate, 1534-6). His realistic vein of the Sonnets bordering on porn looks like a parody of Bembo's Canzoniere (inspired by the pious Petrarch), while in his Sei Giornate (1534-6) an old woman teaches a young girl how to become a prostitute. 

His mercilessly satiric verse addressed to Kings and Princes, and his friendship with Cosimo I of Florence and his influential father earned him respect and was looked in awe even in Venice, home of Bembo himself. Holy Roman Emperor Charles V sent him quite a few gifts only to be spared his ironic verse which Aretino used to mail to the courts without notice for the unique pleasure of embarassing them. 

However, it would be unfair to say that his literary success was due to his political influence and blackmail. Aretino's poetry and drama is powerful and shows remarkable skill and versatility in all genres: contrary to the trend of his own age, he opposed a literature that tried to imitate the classics, and only trusted his own instinct. 

He rejected tradition in the name of originality whether that be or not be at the expense of decorum and religion. His phrase is already baroque in his irregular turns and twists, hyperboles, and use of extravagant language. 

Bembo's Radical Solution 

Pietro Bembo's plan was not just about Florentine purism: he intended to perfect the language through Latin and Greek calques. His uncompromising stand may seem radical, but as such it could evade the stumbling block of the partisan feuds over dialect imports. 

His views eventually prevailed, leading to an established standard sooner than it might be hoped for. He also modeled the Italian period on Cicero, whose work is one of the best examples of literary latin free from popular influence. 

Bembo's choice reflects a timeless, static view of language, whose virtue lies in its ability to resist change, not to adapt to it. Such stability is possible, says Bembo, when a language is built on the works of the greatest, immortal authors. 

According to his theory, the linguistic influence of Dante will continue to be felt, since his Commedia will always be read, and in a sense, will always be modern. 

Corruption and change are the whim of popular language, which is not dependent on written sources, he said. Such is the also position endorsed by Ludovico Ariosto and Torquato Tasso. 
The Power of the Aldine Press 

Though Manutius' printing press was sensitive to this issue, commercial interest, especially in the Republic of Venice, pushed in different directions. 

The Aldine Press printed as much as 80% of texts in Italian, but the rest of its efforts were spent on printing Latin and Greek classics with authoritative commmentaries and philological notes by eminent such scholars as Erasmus. Manutius, Bembo, the humanists working at the Aldine Press brought their favorite classic literature to bear on the linguistic debate about the Italian language. 

The Florentines were well aware that their language had changed since Dante had started to pen down his Commedia, and how damaging it was to try freeze it into some ideal, static model. But it was the Venetians who printed most of the books, and merchants from Tuscany could either print fewer copies of the greatest works and had to content themselves with more popular books that could be sold easily. 

Indeed, it was difficult for people not born and raised in Florence to grasp the beauty and richness of popular Florentine, which might be used for comedy, burlesque poetry, satire or simply reproduce the colorful accents of present-day life. But the economic power of Venice) had the upper hand. 

The rediscovery of Latin led at least to the introduction of more words into spoken Italian; from there they passed into other European languages, sometimes via French, sometimes they came staight from Italy. 

We have seen how Lat. machina had evolved from the meaning of 'machine' into it. macina (mill). Now the original word machina was reintroduced in its original sense of 'machine' by restoring the old H. Also, an unprecedented number of scientific terms were coined, most of those related to medicine date to the 1500s. 

Manutius, Bembo and 'new' coins from Latin 

This new 'Latinisation' received a strong impulse from the introduction of the press since scholars like Bembo and Erasmus collaborated with Manuzio to print the critical editions of a large number of Greek and Latin classics.

Aldo Manuzio was not just a printer, he was also an accomplished philologist who worked with Bembo. He prepared a special edition of Petrarch's songs from an original manuscript, that bore Petrarch's initials. More Latin words introduced by the press were: assioma, [en. axiom] circonflesso [en. circumflex ], circospezione [en. circumspection], clinica [en. clinic], comparabile [en. comparable], congenito [en. congenitus], dialetto [en. dialect], ecatombe [en.hecatomb], eccentrico [en. eccentric], peninsola [en. peninsula], omonimo [en. homonym], preferire [en. prefer], scenografia [en. scenography], trilingue [en. trilingual], utero [en. uterus] 

Italian terms coined from Vitruvius 

Almost all of the words used in architecture were taken from Vitruvius, as scenografia [see above list], simmetria [symmetry] or vestibolo [en. vestibule]. 

The same applied to maths and astronomy. Most of the new words passed into English when humanists like Giovanni Florio moved to England to teach Italian or Latin to the local aristocracy. 

A certain interest of Elizabethan England in the italian language transpires in some of his major works, such as the First Fruites (1578), The Second Fruites (1591) (two famous Italian grammars) and one English-Italian dictionary called A Worlde of Wordes (1598). As an enthusiast of renaissance drama, Queen Elizabeth I appreciated the Italian Renaissance and apparently spoke Italian flawlessly. 

The literary contribution of Italian dramatists and comedians to the Elizabethan Theatre (many Italian companies were in London in the 1590s and may have provided another channel for Italian and Latin loans) was essential. 

Spelling Problems 

While many of the new words survive in their original Latin or Greek form in English, a language that has no trouble pronouncing consonant clusters as -pt-, -ct- or -x-, in Italy such letters had to be assimilated to /tt/ or /ss/, /s/. Compare it. azione with English 'action', or It. essempio (later, esempio) with English 'example'.

However, many Italian writers kept swingin beteen forms for two more centuries (however, purists preferred the latin consonants clusters, and keeping the Hs in words like homo, honesto). Other spelling disagreements would persist, concerning for example, the use of ss instead of s. 

Though the Italian was mostly influenced by Florentine, differences between Florence's model, and the Northern and Southern varieties were still sensible even to scholars. The end of the century sees the foundation of the Accademia della Crusca by Lionardo Salviati (1583) to protect the purist standards propounded by Bembo. 

But as in politics, the struggles would continue in th bickering over terms adapted from vernacular and the 'lower' arts and crafts, an issue on which the Crusca was even less prone to concessions than bembo himself.

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