1902 Encyclopedia > Politian

Politian
(also known as: Angelo Poliziano or Politianus)
Italian poet and humanist
(1454-94)




POLITIAN (1454-1494 Angelo Ambrogini, known in literary annals as Ax(nmo POLIZIANO or POLITLANUS from his birth-place, was born at Montepulciano in Tuscany in the year I -151. His father, Benedetto, a jurist of good family and distinguished ability, was murdered by political antagonists for adopting the cause of Piero de' Medici in Montepulciano ; and this circumstance gave his Dldest son, Angelo, a claim on the family of Medici. A.t the age of ten the boy came to prosecute his studies at Florence, where lie learned Latin under Cristoforo Landino, and Greek under Argyropulos and Andronicos Kallistos. From Marsilio Ficino he imbibed the rudiments of philo-oplay. The precocity of his genius for scholarship and poetry wa,s early manifested. At thirteen years of age lie began to circulate Latin letters ; at seventeen he sent forth 3ssays in Greek versification ; at eighteen he published an adition of Catullus, In 1470 he W011 for himself the title Df Honiericus fuvenis by translating four books of the Piaci into Latin hexameters. Lorenzo de' Medici, who was then the autocrat of Florence and the chief patron of learning in Italy, took Poliziano into his household, made him the tutor of his children, and secured him a distin-guished post in the university of Florence. Before he reached the age of thirty, Poliziano expounded the humani-ties with almost unexampled lustre even for that epoch of brilliant professors. Among his pupils could be numbered the chief students of Europe, the men who were destined to carry to their homes the spolia opinza of Italian culture. Not to mention Italians, it will suffice to record the names of the German Beuchlin, the English Grocyn and Linacre, and the Portuguese Tcssiras. Poliziano had few advantages of person to recommend him. He was ungainly, in form, with eyes that squinted, and a nose of disproportionate length. 'Yet his voice was rich and capable of fine modu-lation ; his eloquence, ease of utterance, and copious stream of erudition were incomparable. It was the method of professors at that period to read the Greek and Latin authors with their class, dictating philological and critical notes, emending corrupt passages in the received texts, offer-ing elucidations of the matter, and pouring forth stores of acquired knowledge regarding the laws, manners, reli-gious and philosophical opinions of the ancients. Poliziano covered nearly the whole ground of classical literature during the years of his professorship, and published the notes of , his courses upon Ovid, Suetonius, Statius, the younger Pliny, Quintilian, and the writers of Augustan histories. He also undertook a recension of the text of the Pandects of Justinian, which formed the subject of one of his courses; and this recension, though it does not rank high in the scale of juristic erudition, gave an impulse to the scholarly criti-cism of the Roman code. At the same time he was busy as a translator from the Greek. His versions of Epictetus, Herodian, Hippocrates, Galen, Plutarch's Emticus, and Plato's Charntides delighted contemporaries by a certain limpid fluency of Latin style and grace of manner which dis-tinguished him also as an original writer. Of these learned labours the most universally acceptable to the public of that time were a, series of discursive essays on philology and criti-cism, first published in 1489 under the title of Miscellanea. They- had an immediate, a lasting, and a wide renown, encouraging the scholars of the next century and a half to throw their occasional discoveries in the field of scholarship into a form at once so attractive and so instructive. Poll-ziano was not, however, contented with these simply pro-fessorial and scholastic compositions. Nature had endowed him with literary and poetic gifts of the highest order. These he devoted to the composition of Latin and Greek verses, which count among the best of those produced by men of modern times in rivalry- with ancient authors. The „Ifcrizto, in which he pronounced a panegyric of Virgil ; the flnibict, which contains a beautif ul idy-llic sketch of Tuscan landscape, and a studied eulogy of Homer ; the Rusticus, which celebrated the pleasures of country life in no frigid or scholastic spirit ; and the Kutricia, which was intended to serve as a general introduction to the study- of ancient and modern poetry, - these are the masterpieces of Poliziano in Latin verse, displaying an authenticity of inspiration, a sincerity of feeling, and a command of metrical resources which mark them out a,s original productions of poetic genius rather than as merely professorial lucubrations. Exception may be taken to their style, when compared with the best work of the Augustan or even of the Silver age. But what renders them always noteworthy- to the student of modern humanistic literature is that they are in no sense imitative or conventional, but that they convey-the genuine thoughts and emotions of a born poet in Latin diction and in metre moulded to suit the character-istics of the singer's temperament.





Poliziano was great as a scholar, as a professor, as a critic, and as a Latin poet at an age when the classics were still studied with the passion of assimilative curiosity, and not with the scientific industry of a later period. He was the representative hero of that age of scholarship in which students drew their ideal of life from antiquity and fondly- dreamed that they might so restore the past as to compete with the classics in production and bequeath a golden age of resuscitated paganism to the modern world. Yet lie was even greater as an Italian poet. Between Boccaccio and Ariosto, no single poet in thc mother tongue of Italy- deserves so high a place as Poliziano. What he might have achieved in this department of literature had he lived at a period less preoccupied with humanistic studies, and had he found a congenial sphere for his activity, can only- be guessed. As it is, we must reckon him as decidedly the foremost and indubitably the most highly gifted among the Italian poets who obeyed Lorenzo de' Medici's demand for a resuscitation of the vulgar literature. Lorenzo led the way himself, and Poliziano was more a follower in his path than an initiator. Yet what roliziano produced,. impelled by a courtly wish to satisfy his patron's whim, proves his own immeasurable superiority as an artist. Ilis principal Italian works are the stanzas called La Giusti-a, written upon Giuliano de' Medici's -victory in a. tournament ; the 0 rfeo, a lyrical drama performed at Mantua, with musical accompaniment ; and a collection of fugitive pieces, reproducing various forms of Tuscan popular poetry. La Giostra had no plan, and remained imperfect ; but it demonstrated the capaci-ties of the octave stanza for rich, harmonious, and sonorous metrical effect. The 0 ifeo is a slight piece of work, thrown off at a heat, yet abounding in unpremeditated lyrical beauties, and containing in itself the germ both of the pastoral play and of the opera. The Tuscan songs are distinguished by a " roseate fluency," an exquisite charm of half romantic half humorous abandonment to fancy, which mark them out as improvisations of genius. It may be added that in all these departments of Italian composi-tion Poliziano showed how the taste and learning of a classical scholar could be engrafted on the stock of the vernacular, and how the highest perfection of artistic form might be attained in Italian without a sacrifice of native spontaneity and natural flow of language.

It is difficult to combine in one view the several aspects presented to us by this many-sided man of literary genius. At a period when humanism took the lead in forming Italian character and giving tone to European culture, he climbed with facility to the height of achievement in all the branches of scholarship which were then most seriously prized - in varied knowledge of ancient authors, in critical capacity, in rhetorical and poetical exuberance. This was enough at that epoch to direct the attention of all the learned men of Europe on Poliziano. At the sante time, almost against his own inclination, certainly with very little enthusiasm on his part, Ile lent himself so success-fully t-o Lorenzo de' Medici's scheme for resuscitating the decayed literature of Tuscany that his slightest Italian

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