Lorenzo Valla

Lorenzo Valla

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Lorenzo Valla (1407 – August 1, 1457) was an Italian
Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

 humanist
Renaissance humanism
Renaissance humanism was an activity of cultural and educational reform engaged by scholars, writers, and civic leaders who are today known as Renaissance humanists. It developed during the fourteenth and the beginning of the fifteenth centuries, and was a response to the challenge of Mediæval...

, rhetoric
Rhetoric
Rhetoric is the art of discourse, an art that aims to improve the facility of speakers or writers who attempt to inform, persuade, or motivate particular audiences in specific situations. As a subject of formal study and a productive civic practice, rhetoric has played a central role in the Western...

ian, and educator
Education
Education in its broadest, general sense is the means through which the aims and habits of a group of people lives on from one generation to the next. Generally, it occurs through any experience that has a formative effect on the way one thinks, feels, or acts...

. His family was from Piacenza
Piacenza
Piacenza is a city and comune in the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy. It is the capital of the province of Piacenza...

; his father, Luciave della Valla, was a lawyer
Lawyer
A lawyer, according to Black's Law Dictionary, is "a person learned in the law; as an attorney, counsel or solicitor; a person who is practicing law." Law is the system of rules of conduct established by the sovereign government of a society to correct wrongs, maintain the stability of political...

.

In 1431 he entered the priesthood, and after trying in vain to secure a position as apostolic secretary, he went to Piacenza, whence he proceeded to Pavia
Pavia
Pavia , the ancient Ticinum, is a town and comune of south-western Lombardy, northern Italy, 35 km south of Milan on the lower Ticino river near its confluence with the Po. It is the capital of the province of Pavia. It has a population of c. 71,000...

, where he obtained a professorship of eloquence. His tenure at Pavia was made unpleasant by his attack on the Latin style of the great jurist Bartolus de Saxoferrato
Bartolus de Saxoferrato
Bartolus de Saxoferrato was an Italian law professor and one of the most prominent continental jurists of Medieval Roman Law. He belonged to the school known as the commentators or postglossators...

. Valla wandered from one university to another, accepting short engagements and lecturing in many cities. In 1433 Valla made his way to Naples
Naples
Naples is a city in Southern Italy, situated on the country's west coast by the Gulf of Naples. Lying between two notable volcanic regions, Mount Vesuvius and the Phlegraean Fields, it is the capital of the region of Campania and of the province of Naples...

, to the court of Alfonso V of Aragon
Alfonso V of Aragon
Alfonso the Magnanimous KG was the King of Aragon , Valencia , Majorca, Sardinia and Corsica , and Sicily and Count of Barcelona from 1416 and King of Naples from 1442 until his death...

, who made Valla his private Latin secretary and defended him against the attacks on account of his public statements about theology
Theology
Theology is the systematic and rational study of religion and its influences and of the nature of religious truths, or the learned profession acquired by completing specialized training in religious studies, usually at a university or school of divinity or seminary.-Definition:Augustine of Hippo...

, including one in which he denied that the Apostles' Creed
Apostles' Creed
The Apostles' Creed , sometimes titled Symbol of the Apostles, is an early statement of Christian belief, a creed or "symbol"...

 was composed in succession by each of the twelve Apostles. These charges were eventually dropped.

Latin stylistics


By this time Valla had won a high reputation for two works: his dialogue De Voluptate, and his treatise De Elegantiis Latinae Linguae. In De Voluptate (On Pleasure), he contrasted the principles of the Stoics with the tenets of Epicurus
Epicurus
Epicurus was an ancient Greek philosopher and the founder of the school of philosophy called Epicureanism.Only a few fragments and letters remain of Epicurus's 300 written works...

, openly proclaiming his sympathy with those who claimed the right of free indulgence for man's natural appetites. It was a remarkable utterance. Here for the first time in the Renaissance
Renaissance
The Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned roughly the 14th to the 17th century, beginning in Italy in the Late Middle Ages and later spreading to the rest of Europe. The term is also used more loosely to refer to the historical era, but since the changes of the Renaissance were not...

 the ideas of Epicurus found deliberate and positive expression in a work of scholarly and philosophical value.

De Elegantiis was no less original, although in a different sphere of thought. This work subjected the forms of Latin grammar
Grammar
In linguistics, grammar is the set of structural rules that govern the composition of clauses, phrases, and words in any given natural language. The term refers also to the study of such rules, and this field includes morphology, syntax, and phonology, often complemented by phonetics, semantics,...

 and the rules of Latin style and rhetoric
Rhetoric
Rhetoric is the art of discourse, an art that aims to improve the facility of speakers or writers who attempt to inform, persuade, or motivate particular audiences in specific situations. As a subject of formal study and a productive civic practice, rhetoric has played a central role in the Western...

 to a critical examination, and placed the practice of composition upon a foundation of analysis and inductive reasoning. It was a basis for the movement of the Humanists to reform Latin prose
Prose
Prose is the most typical form of written language, applying ordinary grammatical structure and natural flow of speech rather than rhythmic structure...

 style to a more classical and Cicero
Cicero
Marcus Tullius Cicero , was a Roman philosopher, statesman, lawyer, political theorist, and Roman constitutionalist. He came from a wealthy municipal family of the equestrian order, and is widely considered one of Rome's greatest orators and prose stylists.He introduced the Romans to the chief...

nian direction on a scientific basis. Valla's work was controversial when it appeared, but its arguments carried the day. As a result, humanistic Latin
Humanist Latin
Renaissance Latin is a name given to the distinctive form of Latin style developed during the European Renaissance of the fourteenth to fifteenth centuries, particularly by the Renaissance humanism movement.- Ad fontes :...

 sought to purge itself of post-Classical
Medieval Latin
Medieval Latin was the form of Latin used in the Middle Ages, primarily as a medium of scholarly exchange and as the liturgical language of the medieval Roman Catholic Church, but also as a language of science, literature, law, and administration. Despite the clerical origin of many of its authors,...

 words and features, and became stylistically very different from the Christian
Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

 Latin of the Europe
Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

an Middle Ages
Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...

. This was thought to be a major improvement in style and elegance in Latin usage.

Exposing historical hoaxes


Valla's originality, critical acumen, and knowledge of classical Latin style were put to good use in an essay he wrote between 1439 and 1440, De falso credita et ementita Constantini Donatione declamatio. In this he demonstrated that the document known as the Constitutum Constantini (or "donatio Constantini" as he refers to it in his writings), or the Donation of Constantine
Donation of Constantine
The Donation of Constantine is a forged Roman imperial decree by which the emperor Constantine I supposedly transferred authority over Rome and the western part of the Roman Empire to the pope. During the Middle Ages, the document was often cited in support of the Roman Church's claims to...

, could not possibly have been written in the historical era of Constantine I
Constantine I
Constantine the Great , also known as Constantine I or Saint Constantine, was Roman Emperor from 306 to 337. Well known for being the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity, Constantine and co-Emperor Licinius issued the Edict of Milan in 313, which proclaimed religious tolerance of all...

 (4th Century), as its vernacular style dated conclusively to a later era (8th Century). One of Valla's reasons was that the document contained the word satrap
Satrap
Satrap was the name given to the governors of the provinces of the ancient Median and Achaemenid Empires and in several of their successors, such as the Sassanid Empire and the Hellenistic empires....

which he believed Romans such as Constantine I would not have used. The document, though met with great criticism at its introduction, was accepted as legitimate, in part owing to the beneficial nature of the document for the western church. The Donation of Constantine suggests that Constantine I "donated" the whole of the Western Roman Empire
Western Roman Empire
The Western Roman Empire was the western half of the Roman Empire after its division by Diocletian in 285; the other half of the Roman Empire was the Eastern Roman Empire, commonly referred to today as the Byzantine Empire....

 to the Roman Catholic Church
Roman Catholic Church
The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the world's largest Christian church, with over a billion members. Led by the Pope, it defines its mission as spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, administering the sacraments and exercising charity...

 as an act of gratitude for having been miraculously cured of leprosy
Leprosy
Leprosy or Hansen's disease is a chronic disease caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium leprae and Mycobacterium lepromatosis. Named after physician Gerhard Armauer Hansen, leprosy is primarily a granulomatous disease of the peripheral nerves and mucosa of the upper respiratory tract; skin lesions...

 by Pope Sylvester I. This would have obviously discounted Pepin the Short's own Donation of Pepin
Donation of Pepin
The "Donation of Pepin", the first in 754, and second in 756, provided a legal basis for the formal organizing of the Papal States, which inaugurated papal temporal rule over civil authorities...

, which gave the Lombards land to the north of Rome.

Valla was motivated to reveal the Donation of Constantine as a fraud by his employer of the time, Alfonso of Aragon, who was involved in a territorial conflict with the Papal States
Papal States
The Papal State, State of the Church, or Pontifical States were among the major historical states of Italy from roughly the 6th century until the Italian peninsula was unified in 1861 by the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia .The Papal States comprised territories under...

, then under Pope Eugene IV
Pope Eugene IV
Pope Eugene IV , born Gabriele Condulmer, was pope from March 3, 1431, to his death.-Biography:He was born in Venice to a rich merchant family, a Correr on his mother's side. Condulmer entered the Order of Saint Augustine at the monastery of St. George in his native city...

. The Donation of Constantine had often been cited to support the temporal power of the Papacy, since at least the 11th century.

The essay began circulating in 1440, but was heavily rejected by the Church. It was not formally published until 1517. It became popular among Protestants
Protestantism
Protestantism is one of the three major groupings within Christianity. It is a movement that began in Germany in the early 16th century as a reaction against medieval Roman Catholic doctrines and practices, especially in regards to salvation, justification, and ecclesiology.The doctrines of the...

. An English translation was published for Thomas Cromwell in 1534. Valla's case was so convincingly argued that it still stands today, and the illegitimacy of the Donation of Constantine is generally conceded.

Subsequent career


From Naples, Valla continued his philological work. He showed that the supposed letter of Christ
Christ
Christ is the English term for the Greek meaning "the anointed one". It is a translation of the Hebrew , usually transliterated into English as Messiah or Mashiach...

 to Abgarus was a forgery, and by throwing doubt upon the authenticity of other spurious documents, and by questioning the utility of monastic life, he aroused the anger of some of the faithful. He was compelled to appear before a tribunal composed of his enemies, and he only escaped by the special intervention of Alfonso. He was not, however, silenced; he ridiculed the Latin of the Vulgate
Vulgate
The Vulgate is a late 4th-century Latin translation of the Bible. It was largely the work of St. Jerome, who was commissioned by Pope Damasus I in 382 to make a revision of the old Latin translations...

 and accused St Augustine
Augustine of Hippo
Augustine of Hippo , also known as Augustine, St. Augustine, St. Austin, St. Augoustinos, Blessed Augustine, or St. Augustine the Blessed, was Bishop of Hippo Regius . He was a Latin-speaking philosopher and theologian who lived in the Roman Africa Province...

 of heresy
Heresy
Heresy is a controversial or novel change to a system of beliefs, especially a religion, that conflicts with established dogma. It is distinct from apostasy, which is the formal denunciation of one's religion, principles or cause, and blasphemy, which is irreverence toward religion...

. In 1444 he visited Rome
Rome
Rome is the capital of Italy and the country's largest and most populated city and comune, with over 2.7 million residents in . The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, on the Tiber River within the Lazio region of Italy.Rome's history spans two and a half...

, but in this city also his enemies were numerous and powerful, and he only saved his life by fleeing in disguise to Barcelona
Barcelona
Barcelona is the second largest city in Spain after Madrid, and the capital of Catalonia, with a population of 1,621,537 within its administrative limits on a land area of...

, whence he returned to Naples. But a better fortune attended him after the death of Eugene IV in February 1447. Again he journeyed to Rome, where he was welcomed by the new pope, Nicholas V
Pope Nicholas V
Pope Nicholas V , born Tommaso Parentucelli, was Pope from March 6, 1447 to his death in 1455.-Biography:He was born at Sarzana, Liguria, where his father was a physician...

, who made him an apostolic secretary, and this entrance of Valla into the Roman Curia
Curia
A curia in early Roman times was a subdivision of the people, i.e. more or less a tribe, and with a metonymy it came to mean also the meeting place where the tribe discussed its affairs...

 has been called "the triumph of humanism over orthodoxy and tradition." Valla also enjoyed the favour of Pope Calixtus III.

Textual criticism


One of Valla's most remarkable achievements lay in his emendations of Latin texts. He made countless suggestions for better readings in his manuscript of Livy
Livy
Titus Livius — known as Livy in English — was a Roman historian who wrote a monumental history of Rome and the Roman people. Ab Urbe Condita Libri, "Chapters from the Foundation of the City," covering the period from the earliest legends of Rome well before the traditional foundation in 753 BC...

's Ab urbe condita, which, in the previous century, had belonged to Petrarch
Petrarch
Francesco Petrarca , known in English as Petrarch, was an Italian scholar, poet and one of the earliest humanists. Petrarch is often called the "Father of Humanism"...

, who, likewise had inserted emendations. The emendation of Livy
Livy
Titus Livius — known as Livy in English — was a Roman historian who wrote a monumental history of Rome and the Roman people. Ab Urbe Condita Libri, "Chapters from the Foundation of the City," covering the period from the earliest legends of Rome well before the traditional foundation in 753 BC...

 was also a topic discussed in book IV of his Antidotum in Facium, an invective against Bartolomeo Facio
Bartolomeo Facio
Bartolomeo Facio was an Italian historian, writer and humanist.Facio was born into a wealthy family of La Spezia, Liguria. He studied in Verona, Florence and Genoa and was a notary in Lucca and Genoa...

. In this part of the treatise, which also circulated independently under the title Emendationes in T. Livium, Valla elucidates numerous corrupt passages and criticises the attempts at emendation made by Panormita and Facio
Bartolomeo Facio
Bartolomeo Facio was an Italian historian, writer and humanist.Facio was born into a wealthy family of La Spezia, Liguria. He studied in Verona, Florence and Genoa and was a notary in Lucca and Genoa...

, his rivals at the court of Alfonso the Magnanimous.

Biographies and critical esteem


All the older biographical notices of Valla are loaded with long accounts of his many literary and theological disputes, the most famous of which was the one with Poggio, which took place after his settlement in Rome. It is almost impossible to form a just estimate of Valla's private life and character owing to the clouds of dust which were stirred up by this and other controversies, in which the most virulent and obscene language was employed. He appears, however, as a vain, jealous and quarrelsome man, but he combined the qualities of an elegant humanist, an acute critic and a venomous writer, who had committed himself to a violent polemic against the temporal power of Rome. In him posterity honors not so much the scholar and the stylist as the man who initiated a bold method of criticism, which he applied alike to language, to historical documents and to ethical opinions. Luther
Martin Luther
Martin Luther was a German priest, professor of theology and iconic figure of the Protestant Reformation. He strongly disputed the claim that freedom from God's punishment for sin could be purchased with money. He confronted indulgence salesman Johann Tetzel with his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517...

 had a very high opinion of Valla and of his writings, and Cardinal Bellarmine
Bellarmine
Bellarmine can refer to:*Robert Bellarmine , a Cardinal and saint of the Catholic Church*The schools named after him:**Bellarmine University, in Louisville, Kentucky**Bellarmine College Preparatory, in San Jose, California...

 calls him praecursor Lutheri, while Sir Richard Jebb
Richard Claverhouse Jebb
Sir Richard Claverhouse Jebb, OM, FBA was a British classical scholar and politician.He was born in Dundee, Scotland. His father was a well-known barrister, and his grandfather a judge...

 says that his De Elegantiis "marked the highest level that had yet been reached in the critical study of Latin." Erasmus stated in his De ratione studii that for Latin Grammar, there was "no better guide than Lorenzo Valla."

Works and translations


Collected, but not quite complete, editions of Valla's works were published at Basel in 1540 and at Venice in 1592, and De Elegantiis was reprinted nearly sixty times between 1471 and 1536.
  • Opera omnia, Basel 1540; reprinted with a second volume (Turin: Bottega d'Erasmo, 1962).
  • Repastinatio dialectice et philosophie, ed. G. Zippel, 2 vols. (First critical edition of the three versions: Padua: Antenore, 1982).
  • Elegantiae linguae Latinae, edited by S. López Moreda (Cáceres: Universidad de Extremadura, 1999).
  • Dialogue on Free Will, translated by C. Trinkaus. In: 'The Renaissance Philosophy of Man', edited by Ernst Cassirer et al. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1948)
  • De vero falsoque bono, edited by M. de Panizza Lorch, Bari, 1970; translated by A. K. Hieatt and M. Lorch (New York: Abaris Books 1977).
  • Collatio Novi Testamenti, edited by A. Perosa (Florence: Sansoni, 1970).
  • In Praise of Saint Thomas Aquinas, translated by M. E. Hanley. In Renaissance Philosophy, ed. L. A. Kennedy (Mouton: The Hague, 1973).
  • De falso credita et ementita Constantini donatione, ed. W. Setz (Weimar: Hermann Böhlaus Nachfolger, 1976; reprinted Leipzig: Teubner, 1994); translated by C. B. Coleman (Toronto: Toronto University Press, 1993); and by G. W. Bowersock (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press 2007).
  • Dialectical Disputations, Latin text and English translation by B. P. Copenhaver and L. Nauta. (I Tatti Renaissance Library), Harvard University Press, to be published in 2012 (two volumes).

Selected bibliography


For detailed accounts of Valla's life and work see:
  • G. Voigt, Die Wiederbelebung des classischen Alterthums (1880–81);
  • John Addington Symonds
    John Addington Symonds
    John Addington Symonds was an English poet and literary critic. Although he married and had a family, he was an early advocate of male love , which he believed could include pederastic as well as egalitarian relationships. He referred to it as l'amour de l'impossible...

    , Renaissance in Italy (1897–99);
  • G. Mancini, Vita di Lorenzo Valla (Florence, 1891);
  • M. von Wolff, Lorenzo Valla (Leipzig, 1893);
  • Jakob Burckhardt, Kultur der Renaissance (1860);
  • J. Vahlen, Laurentius Valla (Berlin, 1870); L Pastor, Geschichte der Päpste, Band ii. English trans. by FI Antrobus (1892);
  • the article in Herzog
    Johann Jakob Herzog
    Johann Jakob Herzog , German Protestant theologian, was born at Basel.He studied at Basel and Berlin, and eventually settled at Erlangen as professor of church history....

    -Hauck's Realencyklopädie, Band xx. (Leipzig, 1908).

  • John Edwin Sandys
    John Edwin Sandys
    Sir John Edwin Sandys FBA , was a classical scholar.He was born at Leicester on 19 May 1844, a son of the Reverend Timothy Sandys of the Church Missionary Society and Rebecca . Living at first in India, he returned to England at the age of eleven, and was educated at the Church Missionary Society...

    , Hist. of Class. Schol. ii. (1908), pp. 66‑70.
  • Melissa Meriam Bullard, "The Renaissance Project of Knowing: Lorenzo Valla and Salvatore Camporeale's Contributions to the Querelle Between Rhetoric and Philosophy," Journal of the History of Ideas 66.4 (2005): 477-81.
  • Christopher S. Celenza, "Lorenzo Valla and the Traditions and Transmissions of Philosophy,” Journal of the History of Ideas 66 (2005): 483-506.
  • Brian P Copenhaver, "Valla Our Contemporary: Philosophy and Philology," Journal of the History of Ideas 66.4 (2005): 507-25.
  • Matthew DeCoursey, "Continental European Rhetoricians, 1400-1600, and Their Influence in Renaissance England," British Rhetoricians and Logicians, 1500-1660, First Series, DLB 236, Detroit: Gale, 2001, pp. 309–343.
  • Lisa Jardine, "Lorenzo Valla and the Intellectual Origins of Humanist Dialectic," Journal of the History of Philosophy 15 (1977): 143-64.
  • Peter Mack, Renaissance Argument: Valla and Agricola in the Traditions of Rhetoric and Dialectic, Leiden ; New York : E.J. Brill, 1993.
  • Lodi Nauta, In Defense of Common Sense: Lorenzo Valla's Humanist Critique of Scholastic Philosophy, Cambridge, MA : Harvard University Press, 2009.

External links