1902 Encyclopedia > Paulus Jovinus

Paulus Jovinus
(Paolo Giovio)
Italian historian and biographer
(1483-1552)




PAULUS JOVIUS, or PAOLO GIOVIO (1483-1552), an Italian historian and biographer, was born of an ancient and noble family at Como, April 19, 1483. His father died when he was a child, and Giovio owed his education to his brother Benedetto. After studying the humanities, he applied himself to medicine and philosophy at his brother's request. He was Pomponazzi's pupil at Padua ; and afterwards he took a medical degree in the university of Pavia. But the attraction of literature proved irresistible for Giovio, and he was bent upon becoming the historian of his age. Some time, probably in or after 1516, he went to Bome, with a portion of his history already finished. This he presented to Leo X., who read the MS., and pro-nounced it superior in elegance to anything which had been produced since the decades of Livy. Giovio, encouraged by the success of his first step in authorship, took up his residence in Rome, and attached himself to the court of the cardinal Giulio de' Medici. The next pope, Adrian VI., gave him a canonry in his native town of Como, on the condition, it is said, that Giovio should mention him with honour in his history. This patronage from a pontiff who was averse to the current tone of Italian humanism, proves that Giovio at this period passed for a man of sound learn-ing and sober manners. After Adrian's death, Clement VII. assigned him chambers in the Vatican, with main-tenance for servants befitting a courtier of rank. In addition to other benefices, he finally, in 1528, bestowed on him the bishopric of Nocera. Giovio had now become in a special sense dependent on the Medici. He was employed by that family on several missions,—as when he accom-panied Ippolito to Bologna on the occasion of Charles V.'s coronation, and Caterina to Marseilles before her marriage to the duke of Orleans. During the siege of Bome in 1527 he attended Clement in his flight from the Vatican. While crossing the bridge which connected the palace with the castle of S. Angelo, Giovio threw his mantle over the pope's shoulders in order to disguise his master.

In the sack he suffered a serious literary loss if we may credit his own statement. The story runs that he deposited the MS. of his history, together with some silver, in a box at S. Maria Sopra Minerva for safety. This box was discovered by two Spaniards, one of whom secured the silver, while the other, named Herrera, knowing who Giovio was, preferred to hold the MSS. for ransom. Herrera was so careless, however, as to throw away the sheets he found in paper, reserving only that portion of the work wdiich was transcribed on parchment. This he subsequently sold to Giovio in exchange for a benefice at Cordova, which Clement VII. conceded to the Spaniard. Six books of the history were lost in this trans-action. Giovio contented himself with indicating their substance in a summary. Perhaps he was not unwilling that his work should resemble that of Livy, even in its imperfection. But doubt rests upon the whole of this story. Apostolo Zeno affirms that in the middle of the last century three of the missing books turned up among family papers in the possession of Count Giov. Batt. Giovio, who wrote a panegyric on his ancestor. It is therefore not improbable that Giovio possessed his history intact, but pre-ferred to withhold those portions from publication which might have involved him in difficulties with living persons of importance. The omissions were afterwards made good by Curtio Marinello in the Italian edition, published at Venice in 1581. But whether Marinello was the author of these additions is not known.

After Clement's death Giovio found himself out of favour with the next pope, Paul III. The failure of his career is usually ascribed to the irregularity of the life he led in the literary society of Rome. We may also remember that Paul had special causes for animosity against the Medici, whose servant Giovio had been. Despairing of a cardinal's hat, Giovio retired to his estates at Como, where he spent the wealth he had acquired from donations and benefices in adorning his villa with curiosities, antiquities, and pictures. He died upon a visit to Florence in 1552.

Giovio's principal work was the History of his own Times, from the invasion of Charles VIII. to the year 1547. It was divided into two parts, containing altogether forty-five books. Of these, books v.-xi. of part i. were said by him to have been lost in the sack of Bome, while books xix.-xxiv. of part ii., which should have embraced the period from the death of Leo to the sack, were never written. Giovio supplied the want of the latter six books by his lives of Leo, Adrian, Alphonso I. of Ferrara, and several other personages of importance. But he alleged that the history of that period was too painful to be written in full. His first published work, printed in 1524 at Bome, was a treatise De Piscibus Romanis. After his retirement to Como he produced a valuable series of biographies, entitled Elogia Virorum Illustrium. They com-memorate men distinguished for letters and arms, selected from all periods, and are said to have been written in illustration of portraits collected by him for the museum of his villa at Como. Besides these books, we may mention a biographical history of the Visconti, lords of Milan ; an essay on mottoes and badges; a dissertation on the state of Turkey; a large collection of familiar epistles; together with descriptions of Britain, Muscovy, the Lake of Como, and Giovio's own villa. The titles of these miscellanies will be found in the bibliographical note appended to this article.





Giovio preferred Latin in the composition of his more important works. Though contemporary with Machiavelli, Guicciardini, and Varchi, he adhered to humanistic usages, and cared more for the Latinity than for the matter of his histories. His style is fluent and sonorous, rather than pointed or grave. Partly owing to the rhetorical defects inherent in this choice of Latin, when Italian had gained 1 the day, but more to his own untrustworthy and shallow | character, Giovio takes a lower rank as historian than the I bulk and prestige of his writings would seem to warrant, j He professed himself a flatterer and a lampooner. The old story that he said he kept a golden and an iron pen, to j use according as people paid him, condenses the truth in epigram. He had the faults of the elder humanists, in com-bination with that literary cynicism which reached its height in Aretino; and therefore his histories and biographical ! essays are not to be used as authorities, without corrobora-tion. Yet Giovio's works, taken in their entirety and j with proper reservation, have real value. To the student of Italy they yield a lively picture of the manners and the feeling of the times in which he lived, and in which he played no obscure part. They abound in vivid sketches, telling anecdotes, fugitive comments, which unite a certain charm of autobiographical romance with the worldly wis-dom of an experienced courtier. A flavour of personality makes them not unpleasant reading. While we learn to despise and mistrust the man in Giovio, we appreciate the litterateur. It would not be too far-fetched to describe him as a sort of 16th century Horace Walpole.

Bibliography.—The sources of Giovio's biography are—his own works ; Tiraboschi's History of Italian Literature; Litta's Genealogy of Illustrious Italian Families; and Giov. Batt. Giovio's Uomini ilhistri delta Diocesi Comasea, Modena, 1784. Cicogna, in his Belle Inscrizioni Veneziane Raccolta (Venice, 1830), gives a list of Giovio's works, from which the following notices are extracted :— 1. Works in Latin:—(1) Pauli Jovii Historiarum sui temporis, Florence, 1550-52, the same translated into Italian by L. Domenichi, and first published at Florence, 1551, afterwards at Venice; (2) Leonis X., Hadriani VI., Pompeii Columnse, Card., Vitse, Florence, 1548, translated by Domenichi, Florence, 1549 ; (3) Vital XII. Vicecomitum Mediolani principum, Paris, 1549, translated by Domenichi, Venice, 1549 ; (4) Vita Sfortiaz clariss. ducis, Rome, 1549, translated by Domenichi, Florence, 1549 ; (5) Vita Fr. Ferd. Davali, Florence, 1549, translated by Domenichi, ibid., 1551 ; (6) Vita magni Coiisalvi, ibid., 1549, translated by Dome-nichi, ibid., 1550; (7) Alfonsi Atestensi, &c, ibid., 1550, Italian translation by Giov. Batt. Gelli, Florence, 1553; (8) Elogia virorum bcllica virtute illustrium, ibid., 1551, translated by Domenichi, ibid., 1554; (9) Elogia clarorum virorum, &c, Venice, 1546 (these are biographies of men of letters), translated by Hippolito Orio of Ferrara, Florence, 1552; (10) Libellus de legaiione Basilii Magni Principis Moscoviai, Rome, 1525; (11) Descriptio Larii Locus, Venice, 1559; (12) Descriptio Britannise, &c, Venice, 1548; (13) De Bomanis Piscibus, Rome, 1524. 2. Works in Italian:—(l) Dialogo delle Imprese militari et amorose, Rome, 1555 ; (2) Lettere Volgari, Venice, 1560. Some minor works and numerous reprints of those cited have been omitted from this list; and it should also be mentioned that some of the lives, with additional matter, are included in the Vitse, Illustrium Virorum, Basel, 1576. (J. A. S.)







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