Il Trecentonovelle (Italian Edition)
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Allow this favorite library to be seen by others Keep this favorite library private. Romans planted towns, whose judges and soldiers radiated Latin, impinging from above on the native Celtic languages. But by the fourth century, Roman rule was crumbling, leaving by then only bishops to continue the radiation. By mere head-count, of free and unfree, throughout fifth-century Gaul, it is still doubtful if speakers of any kind of Latin formed more than a minority.
Compared with the Germanic invaders of Italy, the Salians were quicker in coming to terms politically and religiously with the romanitas of their new lands, but linguistically they were slower. Franks equivocated.
The eastern ones on the Moselle began by accepting the language they found but later settled for German. The term betrays also a Germanic background.
Franks thought in terms of tribes, not regions like Latium. But faith feeds on wishful thinking. As the Empire crumbled, it was to be increasingly Christianity that kept written Latin alive. Question: would the language in which Marsilius of Padua wrote Defensor pacis have existed but for the Church it attacked?
Administratively, Christianity meant bishops; and Italy — with all those towns — had far more bishops per square kilometre than anywhere else in Europe. More might mean worse, here too, and many Italian bishoprics — with their Latin, to judge from the little we know of it — took a battering from the Lombards.
But some remained; and in one bishopric, above all, Latin was as safe as early medieval Europe could make it. For all its plagues and sackings, Rome remained by far the largest city in western Europe, and in so far as anyone ruled it, it was its bishop, his primacy in the Church — hence his communication-network — ratcheting up with every imperial crisis. Papal Latin, stout enough to feed both the Northumbrian and Frankish renaissances, would take its severest dip in the tenth century; but only to rise to new heights in the late eleventh.
But not in Latin, because the main sources of that erosion, Roman law and republicanism, themselves fed on a Latin of even purer vintage than that of the bishops. Republicanism, when it rose above the surface with Brunetto Latini , looked straight back to the Latin of Cicero.
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For the present purpose I defined the early Italian Renaissance as beginning in the middle of the thirteenth century. Then, in Italian cities, users of these three strands of Latin still largely co-operated. Their language duly bound them together and excluded everyone else, fortifying an authority which might otherwise have been precarious. Flattering the assembled functionaries as litterati the word before c. Like all such, it could prove a hindrance as well as a blessing. In one particular, it had already been a hindrance.
Imputing motives is hazardous. But from the effects, at least, it seems as if the heirs of latino thought it unnecessary or even presumptuous to add to the classics. Written volgare poetry had begun earlier in the century and proved equally explosive. Where other European vernaculars had had poetry from the millennium or earlier, and Italy next-to-none before the s, in little over a century Italian volgare poetry had produced Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio, sending an influence into other European vernaculars greater than any which any of them would send into any other.
As in humanism, so in volgare poetry, Latin tradition was a prime cause. The volgare slave had broken free, and all the freer through knowing where the keys were. This is not pure fancy. A Vatican codex made in Tuscany around contains nearly a thousand Italian vernacular poems, by a hundred poets. But it was no more than a necessary consequence of all before it, and would in time bear exceptionally rich fruit. The final winner, the vernacular, reaped its fruit in two forms.
Because the debate had been conducted by and for an oligarchic class spread through many cities, not for one prince, those qualified to judge find that the birth of a generally-accepted vernacular proved smoother and more stable than those beyond the Alps. Sixteenth-century diplomats would expect Italian to be understood in all major European countries and in the Turkish empire. The vogue for classical translations gave way to a demand for the Latin originals. Even Boccaccio, the great vernacular story-teller and another Dante devotee, thought the Comedy would really have been more dignified in Latin.
But now Alberti defended volgare. Petrarch had once said loftily that he wrote for the discerning few. It did. After it was over, in , a humanist who foresaw the imminent demise of Latin confessed, eirenically, that his only regret was that the issue had divided people. Most citizens had no professional imperative to learn Latin. They were happy to cultivate and learn to write their everyday language; and it was their preferences, however ill-represented in the literary sources, which gave tectonic force to the case for volgare , and fuelled the high feelings.
What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable body? Something approaching this happened between volgare and Latin.
The result was an exploration, of a thoroughness paralleled nowhere else, of the functions required of a language. Classical Latin, with its cases, inflexions, tenses, voices, and moods, allowed finer thinking than any western rival. It had long done that in science, would shortly do the same in the universalism of Erasmus and More. It had already, before then, done the same on a miniature scale within Italy, with a paradoxical result.
An inter-regional sodality of Latin writers, in the mid-Quattrocento, proved the necessary antecedent for the formation of a shared Italian language. Here, too, the Church played a part, because preaching was in theory meant to reach everyone, without even their asking for it; therefore in a common language.
St Bernardino of Siena was only the most famous, as he was by far the best-recorded, of preachers who embodied this principle, taking pride in his ear for local dialect, and teasing preachers who could not or would not use it. Back in Genoa in , town- and guild-statutes had been in Latin. That was because everyone who mattered understood them and their subjects did not. In the course of the fourteenth century, in Italy as elsewhere in Europe, Latin statutes of this kind were replaced by vernacular: in Siena, in ; in Perugia, in ; in Ascoli, in , and so on.
The dates give the shell of the story, but hide the motives. These are usually guesswork, but sometimes more than that. Under guild pressure, in , the Florentine Signoria ruled that commercial legal proceedings were henceforth to be recorded in volgare. Nothing special in that. It is the sanctions that are revealing. Any notary who thenceforth drew up a document in Latin would not only invalidate the document but be fined a thousand pounds. Poor notaries. They had lived by Latin, and helped keep it alive since Roman times. Poor lawyers as such.
When the contest was over, it is a lawyer we still hear trumpeting on about the qualities of Latin — except lawyers learn when to keep quiet the one he may have cared for most, the protection it gave to his fees. But actually it did not finish, and never can. The tensions innate in all language had fired the debate, and survived in their new format. In the questione , its defender replied that Greek and Latin had once been crude but had improved, and volgare could do the same. But that ran into the same difficulties as humanist Latin. Its name was at first usually toscano , though sometimes — after the conquest of Pisa in Florence was ever more securely in control of Tuscany — fiorentino.
The two were not identical because Florentines had made their own refinements. But the differences were not obvious in non-Tuscan regions with their own historic dialects. So the terms were often used interchangeably, both to give way after , increasingly though not exclusively, to italiano. By then neither name was anyway quite what it implied, non-Tuscan adjustments having entered toscano as it rose in rank. Its pre-eminent paragons, Dante and Petrarch, Tuscan-born, had spent much of their later lives being lionized in northern Italy.
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Its evolution is easily charted from literary texts. How far it related to everyday written and spoken language is another question. Commercial and government communication played as big or a bigger part in the drift towards toscano ; and here was yet another paradox. The heyday of Florentine commerce and literature had been in the Trecento but it was in the Quattrocento that toscano upstaged other vernaculars.
Like Augustan Latin — of which it may have begun with a lingering memory — toscano rose to new responsibilities, and was recognized for meeting them. Others lay in external circumstance. Although fragmentation weakened Italy externally, internally it raised the premium on inter-government communication, by letter and personal diplomacy. In Machiavellian Italy, misunderstandings could be costly. From the s onwards, a corps of patrician diplomats progressively refined toscano to a point where, after , it got a name of its own as cortigiano.
A more material factor was printing. Despite its dispersed production Venice in the lead , printing favoured a standardization which could only favour Tuscan. More decisive still was a flurry of grammars, some twenty published between and After the twists and turns which toscano had already undergone, grammars gave it not just an orthodoxy, but one which gave precedence to the language of the best toscano writers of prose and verse. This is because grammars normally quarry the best writing for examples. It had been this use of Augustan writing, in medieval Latin grammars, which had sparked humanist interest in it.
But he could do nothing about it, and most Florentines would have disagreed. Despite their mastery of many languages, Renaissance diplomats could be recommended to prefer their own because it boosted national prestige. But one guess as good as others attends a reminiscence by Vespasiano da Bisticci, the gregarious Florentine bookseller, about a conversation he had in with an Aragonese envoy he knew. The envoy came to Florence and called first on Vespasiano, who asked what his mission was and learned that it was to win Florentine support for an Aragonese claim to Naples.
The envoy paused. Not just notaries, foreigners, too, had to use the up-and-coming language. But when the more precariously-placed Maximilian, two years later, asked for Florentine help, he wisely did so in toscano , which the Signoria was no doubt pleased to use for its favourable reply. But Florence was rising. The medieval relationship between the two cities has been slow in becoming clear. Oligarchic Europe found in Renaissance Florence its favourite ancestor.
It was good, popes bad that statues of Dante went up all over Italy was not just for his poetry. A century of reflection on post-Roman Italy, over the long term, has amended that view. It has become clear that without the papacy, the only people today to have heard of Florence would be archaeologists interested in small Roman towns. As it was, in , Florentine supremacy in Tuscany was all but complete, for reasons most of which lie in the defiles of economic and political history.
But the most fundamental reason, the necessary precondition, was that Florence had proved the best-placed and best-managed of all Tuscan towns to reap the decisive advantage their geography offered them for fruitful symbiosis with the ghost of the Roman Empire who lay to their south.
For different motives, Florence and Rome shared an abhorrence for the very idea of imperial domination. Whence Guelfism. But the symbiosis went deeper, and cast Tuscan and papal powers as natural good neighbours apart from two brief boundary flare-ups, in and Pace the satirists, the popes were chronically short of money.