Layered Wisdom - Valentina Lepri - ebook

In the variegated cultural panorama of the early modern age, a fascinating alternative to the transmission of knowledge to posterity by a single author became increasingly popular. This was a form of Layered Wisdom, generated by the combined and stratified contributions of different authors, publishers, editors and translators. This book focuses on one of the most representative expressions of this phenomenon: the 16th-century collections of political maxims. Working at different times and in different places, the exponents of this little-known chapter of intellectual history came together in the attempt to define the rules of statecraft. This research traces their experimentation, illustrating how it helped pave the way for the evolution of modern political science.

Ebooka przeczytasz w aplikacjach Legimi na:

czytnikach certyfikowanych
przez Legimi

Liczba stron: 380

Odsłuch ebooka (TTS) dostepny w abonamencie „ebooki+audiobooki bez limitu” w aplikacjach Legimi na:


La filosofia e il suo passato


Collana diretta da

Marco Forlivesi, Fabio Grigenti, Sarah Hutton, Mario Longo, Giuseppe Micheli, Gregorio Piaia

Comitato scientifico

Enrico Berti, Carlo Borghero,

Mário Santiago de Carvalho, Michele Ciliberto,

Girolamo Cotroneo, Chiara Crisciani, Michel-Henri Kowalewicz,

Filippo Mignini, Ann Moyer, Stefano Poggi,

Riccardo Pozzo, Jacob Schmutz

Valentina Lepri

Layered Wisdom

Early Modern Collections of Political Precepts

Layered wisdom : early modern collections of political precepts / Valentina Lepri. – Padova : Cleup, 2015. – 229 p. ; 22 cm. (La filosofia e il suo passato ; 59)

ISBN 978 88 6787 445 3 (print)

ISBN 978 88 6787 446 0 (ePub)

1. Politica – Aforismi – Sec. 16.

I. Lepri, Valentina


First edition: October 2015

First digital edition: December 2015

ISBN 978 88 6787 445 3 (Print)

ISBN 978 88 6787 446 0 (ePub)

© 2015 CLEUP

“Coop. Libraria Editrice Università di Padova”

via G. Belzoni 118/3 – Padova (t. +39 049 8753496)

All right reserved.

Publication proposals should be addressed to: Professors Giuseppe Micheli and Gregorio Piaia, Università degli Studi di Padova, Dipartimento FISPPA, Piazza Capitaniato n. 3, I-35139 Padova (PD); e-mail: [email protected] and [email protected] Acceptance for publication of the submitted texts is conditional on a peer review process.

Cover: Raffaello, La filosofia

(Palazzi Vaticani, Stanza della Segnatura)

Table of contents



1. Political Genres and the Collections of Precepts at the End of the 16th Century

1. The Precepts and their Readers

2. Classifying the Political Works: The Bibliographies

3. Inside and Outside the Books: General Characteristics of the Anthologies

2. The Writers and their World

1. The Tuscan Genesis

2. “Guichardin en ses Axiomes”

2.1. The School of Law

2.2.Family Books and Zibaldoni

3. The Unscrupulous Giovan Francesco Lottini

3. The Bustling Print Shop

1. Form and Content Conceived for Political Advisers

2. The Rules of the Market and the Ambitions of Francesco Sansovino

3. Two Collections, the Same Goal

4. The Epistemology of Precepts

1. Multum in Parvo. The Tight Schedule of the Statesman

2. Aristotle and Machiavelli

2.1. Syllogisms for Action

2.2. The Language of Politics

5. The Destiny of the Collections

1. Translations and Adaptations

2. New Paths

3. The case of Andrzej Maksymilian Fredro’s Monita



The author


The idea that knowledge is constructed jointly, through a collective effort, is an ancient concept that dates back to the classical age. It was, however, in the early modern age that it became the basis of a programmatic plan for a number of institutions, through the support of the powerful new instrument of printing. Throughout Europe academies, universities and symposia were engaged in intellectual debates regarding the epistemological characteristics of the subjects of study, and these discussions also extended to methodological approaches and concerned the hierarchy between disciplines.

The subject of this book is not the sites traditionally appointed to the promotion of knowledge, but the printing workshops and the various professional figures operating in the sphere of publishing who fostered the production of a particular type of collective knowledge in the early modern age: the collections of political precepts. The production of Renaissance political precepts is an extremely vast subject. The numerous studies that have addressed it to date have concentrated predominantly on the use of the precept as a vehicle for specific currents of thought, such as Neostoicism and Tacitism, or to circulate the reflections of certain censured writers, foremost among them Niccolò Machiavelli.

However, an equally important aspect of these works, which is connected with their intrinsically choral nature, has been completely neglected. The true merit for the success of such collections resides with the editors, translators and publishers of the volumes, whose work gave rise to a fundamental cultural experience which played a decisive role, not only in the circulation of the texts but also in the political debate in general.

Indeed, the multiplicity of voices that characterises the anthologies of political precepts is found not only within the covers of the books, but in the context of their production as a whole, since it extends to all those involved in their making. In the print shops of the late 16th century, the publishers and their collaborators showed themselves to be attentive to the market but also to social change, to the extent that they intervened on the texts with the greatest freedom. They supplemented them with commentaries and guided the reader by providing explanatory tables and compendia, with the result that – and this is the most interesting aspect – at times their manipulations constituted works in their own right. In their reorganisation, their cutting here and adding there, they constructed new and original collections on political topics, both by reworking existing anthologies and by developing new ones. They did so with what would probably nowadays be considered a lack of due respect for the original texts and authors, selecting fragments of the writings of different thinkers and appropriating their words and ideas.

There is nothing odd about the fact that in their work – which at times resulted in a radical distortion of the original material – they acted as if they themselves were the authors. And that’s not all: by drawing emblematic phrases from the writings of other thinkers, they transformed them too into precept writers: they were writers of maxims malgré eux, since they had at no point made a conscious decision to try their hand at the genre. Thus, in such anthologies we might find on the same page precepts by Fadrique Furió Ceriol and reflections by the editor of the volume rubbing shoulders with maxims taken from the writings of, say, Paolo Giovio.

However many times the aphorisms were mixed and matched, changed hands and places, the aim of various editions continued to be the same: to furnish advice and instructions for government along with a new vision of politics. The lack of attention towards this extraordinary aspect of the cultural history of the early modern age can probably be explained by the fact that it is a ‘concealed’ collective production. Indeed, the persons involved – both authors and editors – do not act in the same place and contemporarily but in different social contexts and at different times. The common effort is bent to the same purpose, namely to elucidate politics, but it materialises in a vertical direction through a stratification of actions at the end of which only the finished object, the book, documents the participation of the various agents.

This study is devoted to a description of the main features of several texts and their editorial history, developing over a timespan stretching approximately from the end of the sixteenth century to the middle of the seventeenth. The phenomenon is too vast to permit a complete reconstruction. Consequently, the idea is to focus on a series of emblematic cases, mapping a symbolic route from the compilation of the first collections, through the codification of the genre by experts in textual production up to its gradual transformation and decline.

The first two sections of the book provide a general overview of the argument and the genesis of the precepts in Tuscany. One of the financial and economic powers of the time, Florence was also a place of great political changes. It had had a long history as a Republic, comprising innovative systems of political and social control, such as the civic militia. Equally out of the ordinary was the rapid rise and hegemony of the Medici family, richly entwined with internal intrigues and foreign relations. Among its more cultured citizens, the practice of government was an argument of absorbing interest, directly connected as it was with the business and the destiny of the various dynasties. Consequently politics was frequently the subject of texts of different kinds, from treatises to humanist dialogues, and even notes in the Zibaldoni. And it was indeed in Florence that two works saw the light that were to provide an inspiring model for the editors of the anthologies of precepts, who used them to usher in a season of intense experimentation. These were the Ricordi by Francesco Guicciardini and Gli avvedimenti civili by Giovan Francesco Lottini, two writers who had very little in common in terms of education and career, but whose destinies were strangely linked by the great and often joint popularity which their precepts enjoyed in late-sixteenth-century Europe. Conceived for private use, these collections were the fruit of the writers’ experience in their capacities as counsellors and ambassadors: their main subject is the rules of politics which are illustrated not ex parte principis, but rather addressed directly to his assistants, and to the political counsellors in particular.

The third section of the book homes in on the print shops themselves, the places from where the Tuscan precepts were launched on their international adventures by a series of enterprising editors. One of them was the energetic Francesco Sansovino, whose editions of political maxims are striking for the astute choice of the extracts, the logical order of their presentation and the attentive overall organisation of the material. Using the collections of Guicciardini and Lottini as a basis, Sansovino and later editors in Italy and elsewhere in Europe then added their own thoughts, as well as fragments extrapolated from various other works. Although the collections are not restricted to Italian writers, they constitute a significant presence in the form of passages from the works of Giovanni Botero, Paolo Giovio and, above all, Niccolò Machiavelli. To a degree these were operations of censure, performed in order to sidestep ecclesiastical bans or royal prohibitions. But alongside interventions of this kind there was another modus operandi which stemmed from the common objectives of the editors of the anthologies. Their intentions were to raise the precepts to the role of theorems of political thought, in which the brief formula of the maxim drew on the particular languages of the jurist’s consilia, the orders of the military captain and the doctor’s prescriptions. The inspiration to be drawn from the various literary genres that condensed vast areas of knowledge such as law, medicine and the art of war into brief and pithy aphorisms was essential in view both of the intricacy of the subject being dealt with – namely, politics – and of the particular character of the target audience.

The reader envisaged in the compilation of these collections was indeed the political counsellor, who at the end of the sixteenth century was a pivotal figure on the European cultural stage, absorbing the legacy and incorporating the characteristics of other crucial Renaissance roles such as those of the courtier, the humanist and the captain. The precepts addressed to him belong to the same fertile terrain that nurtured the reflections of Antonio Guevara on the education of the politician, and the thoughts of Scipione Ammirato on the theory of the waiver of power. The figure of the counsellor traced in the collections of precepts appears to drive the discourse on the practice of politics towards a distinctly novel form of realism, a prelude to the political language that was shortly to emerge in a number of treatises devoted to the concept of the ‘Reason of State’. These anthologies, which drew unscrupulously on the works of many authors, and notably on those of the Tuscans Machiavelli and Guicciardini, ushered in a new phase in terms of both the concept and the conduct of politics, seen as embedded in the reasons of strength and of interests.

The fourth section addresses the multiple-level influence of Aristotle and Machiavelli in the anthologies, from subject-matter to logical structure and even language. Aristotle’s Politics provides fragments or topics for the collections, but the precept-writers also draw inspiration from an approach that we might define as ‘rhetorical’, promoting it to the status of a logical method. Indeed, while the Politics and the Nicomachean Ethics provide indications for political practice, the writers also draw inspiration from the Rhetoric: in this case, in their choice of the literary genre of the precept and the consequent manipulation of the texts. Like Aristotle, the mark that Machiavelli left on the precepts was less one of theme than of method, since his fragments are complementary to the system of transmission of knowledge applied in the collections. In quoting entire passages from Machiavelli’s works the anthologies reproduce the freshness of his language which becomes an instrument for underpinning the logical structure of the precepts. Concise punctuation and a simple vocabulary do indeed make it easier to discern the skeletal structure of the maxims, to follow the logic of the premises, examples drawn from experience and instructions for action.

The last section of the book focuses on the mature stage of the experimentation launched by the specialists of the publishing world. Although it would be excessive to say that the collections generated a political science in the strict sense of the word, these editors undoubtedly seized an opportunity and made the most of it. They left a significant legacy, which was then taken over again by the ‘authors’, all of whom were then able to draw in turn on the rich treasure of precepts that lived on in the collections of Robert Hitchcock and Eberhard von Weyhe, and even in the anthologies compiled by the Bohemian Jaroslav Shiřický and by Sir Walter Raleigh. The examples discussed in the last part of the book illustrate how the influence of the political maxims lived on up to the middle of the seventeenth century, despite the changing times and the distance from the Italian model. Finally, the case of the Monita politico-moralia by the Polish political thinker Andrzej Maksymilian Fredro offers a paradigm of the incessant transformation of the genre in response to the cultural climate. Fredro’s collection too is conceived to furnish an example of the practice of power, the aim being always to offer guidance to those engaged in politics, as intuited by the very first editors of the anthologies. At the same time it also makes room for reflections on the moral sphere and for a display of erudition and encyclopaedic knowledge consonant with Baroque taste.

The work of the editors who assembled the aphorisms and drafted the anthologies is a fascinating chapter in the history of culture, underscoring the fact that the creation of knowledge is not the prerogative of academies and universities. Working behind the scenes on the volumes that bequeathed wisdom to posterity were a plurality of figures who sought to offer a systematic framework for the theory and rules of the practice of statecraft. Considering the phenomenon in a wider perspective, the collections of precepts undoubtedly deserve greater attention: the instructions they contain represent an eloquent barometer for observing the context of a significant phase in political reflection, prior to the consolidation of modern political thought in the seventeenth century.


Having reached the end of this book, I should like to thank all those who have helped me with the research that went into it.

In the first place, I should like to express my gratitude to Gregorio Piaia, who kindly agreed to include this contribution in his series. In the second place, many thanks to all the personnel of the English, French, German, Italian and Polish libraries in which I worked for their careful and patient collaboration.*

A special thank you goes to Villa I Tatti – The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies, which is the foremost research institution in the world for Italian Renaissance art, history, literature, and music. It was indeed there that my work took shape, sustained and nurtured by the stimulating environment of the Villa, in which I was able to enjoy an intense dialogue with scholars of different disciplines and expertise. Among them I would particularly like to thank: Nadja Aksamija, Andrew Berns, Giancarlo Casale, Emanuela Ferretti, Nicoletta Marcelli, Laura Refe and, above all, Marco Sgarbi.

I should also like to express my thanks to Michele Ciliberto, president of the Istituto Nazionale di Studi sul Rinascimento in Florence, of whom I am a proud alumna, and all my friends at the Istituto: Simonetta Bassi, Laura Fedi, Fabrizio Meroi, Elisabetta Scapparone and in particular, Maria Elena Severini. I am also most appreciative of the helpful conversations with Francesco Bausi, Giovanna Brogi-Bercoff, Marco Faini, Neil Harris, Mario Infelise, Diego Quaglioni, Piotr Salwa, Merio Scattola, Lech Szczucki and my dear friend Helen Cleary.

With similar gratitude I would also recall my colleagues in the Artes Liberales Faculty of the University of Warsaw, especially its illuminated dean Jerzy Axer, who encouraged me at every stage of the research and set an inspiring example of devotion to one’s work.

Finally, my most heartfelt thanks to Danilo Facca, director of the Department of Philosophy of the Polish Academy of Sciences, for his generous advice and, even more importantly, for his Aristotelian philia.

* In addition to the numerous Italian libraries these include: the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, the Bibliothèquede l’Arsenal; the British Library; the Herzog August Bibliothek, Wolfenbüttel; the National Library of Poland; the University Library of Warsaw (BUW) and the Jagellonian University Library in Krakow.

Habent sua fata libelli

To Fulvio

1. Political Genres and the Collections of Precepts at the End of the 16th Century

1. The Precepts and their Readers

Towards the close of a versatile literary career studded with editorial successes, Francesco Sansovino (1521-1583),1 son of the famous artist Jacopo, published in Venice a collection of political precepts which he presented to readers with a short preface by his own hand. The work was entitled Propositioni overo Considerationi in materia di stato,2 and it appeared in the spring of 1583 in an elegant quarto edition produced in the print shop of Altobello Salicato (operative from 1569 to 1607). Although Sansovino had his own printing workshop, it was not unusual for him to have his books published elsewhere. As well as working on his own behalf and as a proofreader at the print shop of Gabriele Giolito (1508-1578), he occasionally also used the presses of De Alaris, Farri, Sessa and Valgrisi.3 When he delivered his book to Salicato, moreover, Sansovino was in poor health and his eyesight was severely deficient. Evidently he felt it wiser to entrust the work to a fellow publisher with experience in printing such volumes who already had several anthologies of aphorisms on legal and military arguments in his catalogue.

The editor’s need to explain the purpose of his work emerges clearly from the very first notes on the frontispiece; he seeks to clarify both the nature of the text and the reasons that led him to produce it. From the details on the frontispiece we learn that Sansovino had already published political precepts, in the form of an anthology produced in his own print shop just a few years earlier in 1578.4 Here, however, he informs readers that the new edition has been expanded and corrected for their benefit, trusting that they will be in a position to appreciate the result. His Propositioni “contain laws, rules, precepts and maxims most useful to those who are in charge of Principalities and Republics and indeed any other sort of government”. The dedication, which is dated 15 April 1583, is addressed to a foreign politician, a British citizen called William Parry (-1585) who sojourned at length in Venice and may even have frequented Sansovino.5 A Member of Parliament and diplomat, Parry was a somewhat enigmatic visitor to Venice at the time; shortly after the publication of the volume he was accused in England of being party to a plot to kill the Queen. In those last years of the century, the court which Parry came from and to which he was preparing to return was ravaged by profound religious strife and endless conspiracies against the crown. Elizabeth I staunchly defended the Anglican church against the attempts at Catholic restoration perpetrated by Mary Stuart and her circle of supporters. Upon his return from Italy Parry too became caught up in the mesh of the Queen’s repressive exercise, and was put to death shortly afterwards.

This woeful epilogue to Parry’s career also coincided with the death of Sansovino. However, only a short time before, the latter had showered Parry with lavish words of praise, describing him as both an able politician and a man who was familiar with the different cultures of the world. Parry embodied the heroic image of a “new Ulysses”, capable of “understanding the customs, manners and laws of other peoples and nations.”6 Homer’s hero evidently held a certain fascination for the editor, and he had already appeared in the note to the readers in one of his first and most important editorial successes, Del governo de i regni et delle republiche cosi antiche come moderne, which he had printed in Venice in 1561. At the beginning of this earlier work, Sansovino cited the authority of Aristotle and other ancient writers on how Principalities and Republics ought to be governed, while also boldly declaring that he wished to sketch out the theory of a “new Politics”. It was for this purpose that he used the model of Ulysses, who represented the hero and the true political expert in that: “he was not a philosopher because he had studied, but a pragmatist because he had seen many peoples, and the customs of many different races, from which man can undoubtedly learn much more in a brief time than he can from reading at great length.”7

In the European intellectual circles of the late sixteenth century there was much lively discussion on the subject of the teaching of statecraft. Debate was particularly intense regarding the respective weight that ought to be attributed to the teaching of the ancients and the experience of life in the training of the politician. The sun had not yet set on ardent reverence for the wisdom of the Greeks and Latins, but there had been a change in the appearance of the topic in question: politics. Sansovino does not deny the value of studies in favour of practice in the field, and Greek philosophy – especially the Aristotle-Averroes strand that he had apprised from Ludovico Boccadiferro (1482-1545) – was the magnifying lens through which he viewed the world. In Del governo, and again in the Propositioni thirty years later, the example of Ulysses adds to the politician’s requisite credentials a profound knowledge of the world. However there is no antithetical tension between study and experience, and no hierarchical ranking is established. The editor’s intention is to distinguish what is inherent to the subject of politics and what is extraneous to it, and he takes as the starting-point of his reasoning the skills that the politician ought to possess in order to define himself as such. As Sansovino sees it, the example of the Republic of Venice should furnish the British Ulysses, Parry, with a model of government to be applied to the kingdom of England, while his Propositioni will guarantee the positive outcome of all political action, since they can point it in the direction of success.

In addition to the role of the politician and the characteristics that he ought to possess, Sansovino addresses another topic that is tied up with his general vision of politics, namely: the inherent evolution of policy over time. Analysing the different types of organisation of the State, he shows how the generation of one leads to the birth of another, following a circular structure. He emphasises how the government of a single individual, whether he be called Prince or King, is initially just, but “since his successor was corrupted by luxuries and was devoted no longer to the public good but to his own interest, he changed his name and became called Tyrant”. Driven to exasperation, at a certain point various citizens oust him from power, “but they too were corrupted, and in the long term they too became devoted to their own comfort rather than the good of others, and in the end were unbearable and were driven out by the community of the people”.8

Sansovino is plainly describing Polybius’ theory of anacyclosis, famously taken up also by Niccolò Machiavelli in his Discorsi sopra la prima Deca di di Tito Livio.9 Or rather, it is probably from the reflections of Machiavelli that Sansovino retrieved the representation of Polybius’ cycles of political regimes. The correspondence between the Discorsi and the Propositioni emerges clearly if we consider the way in which the Latin historian, on the one hand, and the two modern thinkers, on the other, distinguish positive and negative forms of government.10 In The Histories of Polybius the contrast between a positive form of government and its negative counterpart derives from the fact that in the former power is founded on consensus and in the latter on strength. Instead, in the case of Sansovino and Machiavelli, the distinction between the good and bad forms of state pivots on the respect or otherwise of the common interest. It is, in other words, the predominance of the personal appetites driving the person in power, as described by Aristotle in the famous argument in the third book of the Politics.11 In the words addressed to Parry the subject is further developed. Despite the incessant passage from one form of government to another, and whether it is a moment of crisis or of rebirth of the institutions, certain outstanding men are nevertheless able to implement and impose their plans:

and hence, in this circle of the aforesaid forms, affecting all the governments of all peoples and places that were and are to be found under the sun, in all the excesses and disorders there were always excellent men of gifted intellect who sought to remedy the predicaments with rules, reforms and laws designed to cure the malaise that every type of government brings with it over time, by its very nature.12

These outstanding minds can work for the common good, and the instrument that permits them to intervene regardless of the changing circumstances is precisely the rules of which this book – hot off the press – offers the diplomat a complete collection.

What is most striking as we look over these four leaves containing the frontispiece to the prefatory letter is the attention Sansovino devotes to defining the subject of politics, its sphere of action and its protagonists. On the one hand he is at pains to clarify the sense of the term propositioni, and on the other to circumscribe the audience to which his work is directed. The readers he believes will be interested in his publication undoubtedly include the budding scholars, who will be in a position to appreciate the textual solicitude and the richness of the contents. But it is in particular those who actually deal in matters of statecraft that will be able to draw profit from it. He includes sovereigns among them, while also taking into account their collaborators, of whom Parry represents a brilliant example. As regards the definition of the propositioni, on the other hand, while Sansovino has no doubt about the pioneering role of Francesco Guicciardini in the creation and use of political maxims, he also remarks on how these collections have been the subject of a continual oscillation of terminology. In the method of teaching political practice the Florentine historian “was the first inventor of these propositions, Rules, Maxims, Axioms, Prophecies, Precepts, Sayings, Authoritative Opinions or whatever else you may wish to call them.”13

The difficulty encountered by Sansovino in describing the status of the precept in relation to the material dealt with is anything but an isolated case in the Europe of that time. Identical problems were being addressed by authors and editors engaged with another literary genre: that of the political bibliography. The intense proliferation of this type of text around the turn of the century illustrates that the interest in politics was not restricted to aristocratic circles. It also penetrated the groves of academe where, even before becoming a subject for study, politics was the subject of both heated debate and numerous publications.

2. Classifying the Political Works: The Bibliographies

At the end of the century, the disciplinary differentiation of politics-related studies was high on the agenda of the European scientific debate. In the German universities, in particular, the academics sought to establish the place of politics in the hierarchy of knowledge, and the question led to clashes between the jurists – who claimed the exclusive monopoly of the discipline – and the philosophers who not only considered that politics ought to be distinct from law but even saw it as superior to jurisprudence. It was only, indeed, from the seventeenth century that the first Chairs for the teaching of politics were established, rendering official a teaching activity that was in many universities already on the syllabus, albeit as part of the courses of law or of philosophy.14

While at the turn of the century jurisprudence and politics vied for theoretical ascendancy within the various expressions of civil life, the contribution to the debate made around the middle of the seventeenth century by the writings of the German jurist Hermann Conring (1606-1681) appeared to definitively endorse the supremacy of politics. In short, Conring constructed a hierarchical order that included all the forms of law, and placed politics at the summit. Not only was politics set at the apex of this structure, but it also encompassed all the elements that came beneath it, such as the laws of jurisprudence and the so-called ‘prudential’ provisions that elude legislative regulation and are bound up with temporal contingency.15 Conring’s systematic order came at the end of lively discussions in university circles which, in parallel, stimulated a conspicuous literature on the subject. These numerous publications also comprised a specific type of editorial product that was conceived precisely to organise and discipline them: the political bibliographies.

As soon as the discipline was institutionalised absolute priority was given to organising the knowledge already existing in this field of study. Only thus could every treatment of the argument be conducted by following clearly determined schema of exposition that include references to both classic and contemporary works: both the commentaries on the Nicomachean Ethics and the advice to statesmen. In the bibliographies, texts and authors from all over Europe and from all periods were subjected to considerations of a methodological nature connected with the ordering of knowledge in line with an entrenched Aristotelian principle. They are particularly useful because they allow us to observe how the various literary genres dealing with political arguments were evaluated by the intelligentsia of the time, considering them as part of an articulated epistemic system.

The compilers of the bibliographies had to come to terms with the exponential growth in the number of works devoted to the analysis of political questions or to the education to action of the government. Like Sansovino, they too had to address the thorny issue of the definition of the genre of political precepts. The bibliographies classify the various texts in categories, depending on the argument and the literary genre. Clearly, such distinctions are not immune to various types of error or limitation, especially in terms of distortion and forcing. For example, at times the court genres are rendered ‘academic’, or the university literature loses some of its characteristic components when inserted in a category that does not fully represent it.

Among the literary genres propaedeutic to the study of politics, the bibliographies distinguish two main strands featuring both academic and practical purposes. The first is the dissertatio de natura politicae, which comprises works of a strictly academic type and aims to treat politics as a scientific discipline and to attribute to it a correct epistemological value. The other strand is represented by the Dissertatio de studio politico ordinando, which brings together texts that address the study of politics connected with prudentia, which cannot be grasped merely through knowledge of certain information. The texts that the bibliographers place in the second group illustrate the intellectual exercise that must be performed to achieve this, and hence a study that is preliminary to practice: politics is seen not as a contemplative discipline but as a practice of behaviour. Among the most important writers of the Dissertatio genre is Joannes Caselius (1533-1613), a pivotal figure at the universities of Rostock and Helmsted with a circle of colleagues and admirers gravitating around him, but who also worked at length as a tutor in several royal courts in northern Europe.16 In his work Caselius drew largely on Italian humanist sources, among which he favoured Il Cortegiano byBaldassarre Castiglione (1478-1528) and, to an even greater degree, La civil conversazione by Stefano Guazzo (1530-1593).17

Also encompassed within the class of the Dissertatio de studio politico ordinando is the epistolary genre, far removed from the academic disciplines and addressed to a monarch, offering practical advice for his training. It is not easy to provide a list of the most important writers of the epistolary collections, since numerous thinkers exploited this genre, while many publishers brought together both original material and that already published by others. Among the former the name of Caselius recurs, with his popular Epistolas ad Principes,18 while prominent in the second group is Paolo Manuzio and the activity performed by certain of his illustrious collaborators, such as Lodovico Dolce and Cosimo Ruscelli.19 In the epistolary genre too the Italian example is preponderant, probably because its history – constellated with small states and seigneurial systems – appeared to offer greater and more varied suggestions for correct political conduct. Indeed, the Italian treatises in the form of ‘civil conversazione’ propose codes of behaviour adapted to the new historical contingency, in which a specific cultural approach underpins the need to conserve power, exploiting the techniques of the dialogue based on principles of grace, pleasure and utility.20

The issue of political prudence is extensively addressed in the literature on the discipline, its most salient aspect being the administration of the government in relation to changing times and circumstances. Such prudence appears to elude classification so that specific ‘mixed’ bibliographies were created, concentrating exclusively on works dealing with this topic. Distinct from the strictly scientific texts, these works aim to furnish an introduction to politics by presenting only the contributions of the most important writers relating to the subject of political prudence.

The following pages present the examples of Lodovico Guicciardini and his more famous uncle Francesco. They offer the most illuminating instances of the difficulties encountered by the bibliographers in classifying the works of authors whose production was not restricted exclusively to the creation of political texts. Indeed no few misunderstandings were generated by their multiform production and the need to pigeonhole it within precise categories of political literature.

Among the various kinds of political bibliographies produced at the time, the anthologies of precepts are predominantly comprised in the last category mentioned above: that is, the ‘mixed’ bibliographies.21 Within these they appear mostly under the heading of ‘discursus’ which identifies a fairly free genre, one of those furthest removed from the traditional academic models.22

Once the compilers had decided on the most appropriate category in which to place the collections of precepts, they were faced with the trickier question of selecting among the various editions only those anthologies that genuinely had the weight of theoretical argument. This meant they had to exclude books that were merely collections of advice and examples, as well as a vast production of maxims of hybrid content. The latter included compilations in which the educational intent was more generalised, such as those addressed to youths or to the noble knight, as well as the aphorisms of proverbial origin of largely recreational intention. Not infrequently the distinction was rendered even more challenging by an author who dealt in different types of maxims. An emblematic case is that of Lodovico Guicciardini (1521-1589),23 who was responsible for an extremely variegated production within the field of precepts.

The son of Iacopo di Piero Guicciardini, Lodovico was engaged in the family’s silk trade in Antwerp, while at the same time nurturing sophisticated literary tastes that embraced both historic and scientific interests.24 His Descritione di tutti i Paesi Bassi25 was particularly appreciated: the very first geographical, social and artistic description of the Netherlands, complete with valuable geographical and topographical maps, it was translated into several languages, and continues even now to be a precious documentary source for scholars.26

Similarly well-known was Guicciardini’s Hore di Ricreatione, also known as Detti e facti piacevoli et gravi. The latter was the title of the first Venetian editions, which were moreover published by Francesco Sansovino, giving rise to a lengthy querelle when Guicciardini accused the publisher of having stolen his work.27 This rich collection contains maxims by various ancient and modern writers, drawing on a vast range of sources that includes, inter alia, Lorenzo the Magnificent and Cosimo the Elder, Pope Urban IV and the English king Henry VIII. The subject of politics is, however, addressed only marginally, since the predominant themes are the diversity of human nature and the whims of destiny.28

I precetti et sententie più notabili in materia di Stato, published in the print shop of Christophe Plantin in Antwerp in 1585 is of a completely different tenor and content.29 Here the precepts are exclusively focused on politics and the activity of government; Guicciardini’s role is that of editor, rather than author in his own right, and he presents a corpus of two hundred maxims divided into two categories.30 The first hundred are called “precepts” and follow the text of Francesco Guicciardini’s Ricordi, in the first printed edition published a few years earlier in Paris;31 the remainder are referred to as “sentences” and consist of a series of maxims on political arguments which the editor has extrapolated from the Storia d’Italia.

Francesco Guicciardini is another of the authors who complicated the work of the compilers of the bibliographies. At the end of the century Lodovico’s illustrious uncle was known all over Europe, as a result of the broad circulation of his Storia d’Italia in the form of different editions, translations and compendia. The princeps, albeit incomplete, was printed in Florence by Francesco Torrentino in 1561 in a folio version and one in ottavo, edited by his nephew Agnolo Guicciardini. This was followed the year after by two Venetian prints by Giovan Maria Bonelli and by none other than Francesco Sansovino. Niccolò Bevilacqua too presented a version of the book in 1563 complete with biographical notes about the author, summaries and glosses edited by Remigio Nannini (1518-1581).32 A similar commitment was displayed by Gabriele Giolito, who published the remaining four books of the text in 1564, and then the complete volume of the twenty books in 1567, 1568 and 1569.33 In the meantime, the Latin edition and subsequently the German edition of the text were published in Basle in the workshop of the Lucca exile Pietro Perna, introducing the historian’s masterpiece to a Mitteleuropean public.34 The Latin version dates to 1566 and was edited by one of the most famous of Perna’s collaborators, Celio Secondo Curione. The German translation was by Georg Forberger, who used Curione’s material and one of the Italian editions (not clearly specified by the editor).35 In 1569 the Loci duo was printed, again in Basle.36 This text consisted of two portions of the Storia d’Italia dealing with the politics of the papacy, which had hitherto been censured and omitted from the other printings of the work, and their publication added fuel to the heated debate between the Catholic and the Reformed churches. Guicciardini hence appeared to his European readers, in the first place as a master of historic narration and, through the contents of the Loci Duo, also as a witness of the political intrigues of the Catholic Church.37 In the same years in which these works were published, a collection of political precepts compiled by Guicciardini at different times of his political career also attracted the interest of publishers and readers. The anthology is now known by the name of Ricordi, but in the sixteenth century it was known as Avvertimenti, Aurei Avvertimenti or Avvedimenti, depending on the different manuscript traditions from which the editions originated.38

Among the various bibliographies, the name of the Florentine appears, for example, in the Bibliographia Historico-Politico-Philologica Curiosa composed by Johann Heinrich Boeckler and published in 1677.39 Boeckler studied theology and history at the University of Strasbourg, and later was professor of rhetoric and a reader in statecraft and politics at Upsala. His reading of the works of Cornelius Tacitus had a considerable influence on his activity.

His Bibliographia is part of the so-called ‘mixed’ genre, and comprises a large section devoted to the Italian texts under the heading Italica. This is where we find the explicit reference to Guicciardini: “Francesco Guicciardini concerning events that occurred in Italy; he is a celebrated writer, judicious and expert, despite which Boccalini mocks him as garrulous.”40 Boeckler recalls the historian’s greatest work and enumerates his academic merits, but he is also aware of the stinging criticism levelled at him by Traiano Boccalini in Ragguagli sul Parnaso. Boccalini had indeed cited the Storia d’Italia, telling the story of the Spartan who is condemned to read Guicciardini’s work because he had used three words where two would have sufficed. After several pages the offender was so sorely tried by the reading that he appealed to the judges for clemency, asking them to commute his sentence to prison or torture.41

In the following section Boeckler considers Guicciardini’s texts and the various editions, starting from a parallel between the skills of the French historian Jacques de Thou and those of the Florentine:

To be considered as of equal experience of things, renown, prudence and genius as Thou, or certainly not greatly inferior, is Francesco Guicciardini, born into a noble Florentine family and elected to the most important affairs of the Republic, who expounds the facts and the events from 1494 to 1552 in the 20 books of the history of Italy. It was translated from Italian by Celio Secondo Curione, who published it in Basle in 1567. But the reading of the Italian editions is even more fruitful, where the complete work of Guicciardini’s Storia is furnished with a prefatory judgement by Tommaso Porcacchi, along with a collection of maxims and excellent marginal notes [drawn] from other historians of the time. It is also useful to add the Considerationi civili sopra l’Historie of Guicciardini written by Remigio Fiorentino and published in Venice in 1603. In the notes to book. I Pol. c. 9 Lipsius notes some flaws in Guicciardini but not so serious as to exclude him from the ranks of the most worthy historians.42

The concerns that Sansovino expresses in the introductory pages of his Propositioni are shared not only by the authors of the bibliographies but, more generally, by those in the academic world who wished to raise the teaching of politics to the status of an independent university discipline. The bibliographies indeed offered support for this project: by furnishing cornerstones in terms of texts and writers, they identified the teaching material required for a correct divulgation of the subject. The long passage from Boeckler confirms the strong link between the compilation of the anthologies and their use in guiding the teaching of politics, which gradually did acquire its own autonomy as a subject. The German thinker carries out a meticulous analysis, bringing to the fore his genuine command of the argument, which is not restricted to a few biographical notes about the author and the chronological context of his oeuvre. The reference to the work of Curione is important, as is that to the Collectionemque sententiarum which Tommaso Porcacchi (1530-1585) added to the edition of the Storia d’Italia printed by Giorgio Angelieri in 1574. The maxims which he drew from the historian’s work were exceptionally well received from their very first publication, providing the model – for example – for Lodovico Guicciardini’s collection I precetti et sententie. Finally, an edition of the Ricordi is also mentioned. In this case it was the version contained in the Considerationi civili by Remigio Nannini known as Fiorentino, and prepared by the Dominican friar Sisto in 1582. However, Boeckler makes an error in the dating of the edition, possibly confusing the Venetian print with the Latin version of the text which was published in a number of editions in Germany under the title Hypomneses. In any case, his attention is focused on Guicciardini’s work both as a historian and as a precept writer, citing at the end – albeit downscaled – even the criticisms levelled by Justus Lipsius, who in his Politicorum sive Civilis Doctrinae Libri Sex defines Guicciardini as an excellent historian among the moderns but very poor among the ancients.43 Boeckler acknowledges the value of Guicciardini’s works in terms of preparation for the practice of statecraft to the point of including them in his bibliography, and is aware of the various editions, also including those of the precepts. Nevertheless his list also comprises collections of maxims produced by other editors, such as the anthologies of Porcacchi and Nannini. Furthermore his classification does not go into further depth since the texts all belong to the Italica melting pot that gives its name to this section of the volume.

Both the Venetian publisher Sansovino and – several decades later – the scholars engaged in the academic debates, were convinced that it was possible to translate political experience into a system of knowledge that could be circumscribed and transmitted. Addressing the collections of precepts, the bibliographers have difficulty in finding the most appropriate category in which to place them. They sometimes confuse the editions and the works, and more importantly they do not identify who has created them, as in the just-mentioned example of Boeckler’s Bibliographia Historico-Politico-Philologica Curiosa. On the other hand, the erudite German’s intermingling of texts and writers is a natural consequence of the distinctive features of this particular literary genre, and above all of its inherently collective nature.