Ability and good fortune combined to make this man most eminent in the holy college of cardinals. For not only in his enthusiasm for the classics and the fertility of his untiring genius but in literary taste and style and in strongly marked character he was very like Pius II, who adopted him into his family and elevated him to the purple.
We possess his Commentaries on important events and Letters in which he seems to have aimed at a reputation for senatorial wisdom and Christian austerity rather than the distinction of a perfect style, because, busied as he was with the weighty duties of his official career, he had sadly dimmed that brilliant light of glorious eloquence which had once been his with a hurried and, at need, almost headlong manner of writing. But in an age as yet uncultured those talents were readily thought marvelous and lofty which today, now that criticism has awakened, so to speak, can hardly find a seat in the lowest rows of the literary theatre. Perhaps, however, 49 he was contented with popular approval and despised the glory of a finished style as trivial and appreciated only by the very learned (that is, by the very few), so that, by applying his talents rather to the study of sacred letters, he might scrupulously maintain the dignity of the rôle the gods had assigned him. By following these principles he was paving himself a road to the very summit of power, but mocking Fortune tricked him and halted him when he had almost reached the top, since the Fates chose to lay out for him another path to heaven. For he died before he reached old age while in retirement near the grottoes of San Lorenzo at the Lake of Bolsena, tragically murdered by a strolling physician. For this man, who was most sagacious in everything except protecting his own health, was impelled by destiny to drink the cruel hellebore given him by a fool, that he might throw off an irksome quartan fever.
He had made a will characterized by noble and dutiful generosity, but Pope Sixtus annulled it, because the considerable sum of money which had been secretly deposited with his bankers was generally thought to be too large a fortune for a frugal man who had despised riches. The following epitaph, however, which formed part of the same will, was not confiscated but left to his heirs to be inscribed on a marble tablet for his tomb:
Calderia, a town in the territory of Verona famous for its hot springs, was the birthplace of Domizio. When his eager and fiery genius was panting toward fame, Cardinal Bessarion took him up and advanced his fortunes. Then, when he was 50lecturing at Rome and had elucidated the dark meanings of the more difficult poets by the remarkable evidence drawn from his exhaustive reading, he was acclaimed as the savior of the splendor of letters and the enlightener of all darkness. But, after he had published his Notes and Comments, he engaged in the most bitter quarrels with his rivals (which were, nevertheless, very instructive to the young), seeking in a boastful and too stinging tone to win a name from others' ignorance and indulging in unrestrained abuse and recrimination.
In the prime of life and at the height of his fame he overtaxed a weak digestion by excessive study and died of a quick fever while he was still planning works that would have deserved to live for many centuries. When the Academy celebrated his funeral, the young nobles attended weeping and in mourning and Poliziano commemorated with the following poems the man who had been his rival and aspired to the sovereignty of letters:
Who would not marvel to find so quick and lofty an intellect behind the grinning countenance of a fat ape? or such exalted fortune in one of lowly birth? For Antonio Campano 51 was born under a laurel tree in an open field by a peasant woman weary with toil. She reared him and, as he was a precocious child, she sent him to the parish priest to be his servant and pupil. Having there successfully mastered the rudiments of letters, he was soon offered a post in Naples as tutor to a noble lad and in five years he made such progress in Latin that he went from Naples to Perugia with the definite purpose of opening the door to a distinguished career by lecturing in the bright light of a crowded university. Not long after, he was made a citizen of Perugia and won the favour of Pope Pius II because of the similarity of their interests. In recognition of his talents Pius made him Bishop of Teramo and the next pope, Paul, enriched him; but finally, though he had governed many cities with unblemished reputation, Sixtus forced him into exile because he was too ardent a partisan of the lords of Città di Castello.
He died at Siena, which he loved for the memory of Pius, before he reached old age, since epilepsy grudged him a longer life.
Of his numerous extant speeches and other works in many different styles, the most popular is the Life of the famous captain, Braccio, which would deserve to live hereafter if he had not impaired the credibility of the exploits he narrates by romantic flattery.
Manuel Chrysoloras, who was the first to bring back to Italy after seven hundred years Greek letters which had been driven out by the barbarian invasions, was a teacher of such broad and liberal culture that his noble countenance ought to have the signal honor of being first among the portraits of the Greeks, though we possess no monuments of his more profound learning except his Rules of Greek Grammar.37 For, although he never wearied of teaching, he might easily have seemed lazy in writing, since that second glory which our countrymen so eagerly desire he sought to win by a practical profession.
Having been sent from Constantinople by the Emperor John to visit the sovereigns of all Europe and implore their speedy 52 aid for perishing Greece, he was able to fulfill a mission, which might have entailed wearisome travels, by going no farther than Italy. For Greece had been freed from immediate fear when Bajazet, the Turk, called the Lightning because of his terrible swiftness, was captured at Mt. Stella38 by Tamerlane, the Terror of the East. Therefore Chrysoloras, rejoicing that the dread enemy of Greece had been removed, set himself to revive the study of Greek, first at Venice, then at Florence and Rome, and finally at Pavia, where duke Gian Galeozzo offered him great inducements; and he met with such success that from his school there went forth geniuses of supreme and therefore immortal glory, among them Leonardo Aretino, Francesco Barbaro, Filelfo, Guarino, and Poggio.
Finally, from curiosity to see so splendid a sight, he went to the Council of Constance, which was called to settle the controversy of the anti-popes, and he died there soon after Baldassare Cossa39 was deposed. Poggio adorned his tomb with these verses:
In that celebrated council of all nations held at Florence and presided over by Eugenius, in which, after a discussion between Greeks and Italians, the integrity of the Christian faith was unanimously affirmed, the extraordinary powers of Bessarion of Nicaea earned him the insignia of a cardinal. For, as a mark of honor to all Greece for renouncing her ancient stubbornness, two of that nation, Isidore and Bessarion, were granted the sacred purple. But in Bessarion all virtues were so marvelously blended in perfect harmony and proportion that no one more conspicuous for Christian probity, no one more remarkable for learning, no one more distin53guished and illustrious for nobility of character has been seen in the sacred college during the sixty years since his death. For the gravity becoming a cardinal he tempered by a courteous and most winning address and his reputation as a prince among men he maintained both at home and abroad by his elegant and hospitable way of living and by the kindliness of a generous spirit; for the gifted men of Greece, which was then subject to the Turks and therefore falling into ruins, after long buffetings on land and sea found with him a sure harbor of salvation, and the members of the Academy also enjoyed his protection and hospitality.
He lived at the foot of the Quirinal near the Church of the Santi Apostoli, but early every morning he was escorted to the Vatican by a following, not indeed numerous and fashionable but rendered distinguished by their talents alone; for the brightest lights of the Greek and Latin tongues, whom strangers in Rome were eager to see, might be pointed out by the citizens as this company passed through the streets. Among them were often seen Trapezuntius, Gaza, Argyropoulus, Plethon, Filelfo, Biondo, Leonardo, Poggio, Valla, Sipontino, Campano, Platina, Domizio, names that will never die. Surrounded by these men at his house he enjoyed a glorious reputation so untouched by envy that, if they had had the right, Eugenius, Nicholas, and Pius would each have liked to choose him as his successor. Nor did a man who had deserved so well of the state fail to win the support of the cardinals. But after Paul's death a fatal chance in the conclave prevented his attaining so high an ambition. For they say that three very influential cardinals, who had gone to seek him out in the seclusion of his cell with the intention of saluting him as Pope, were turned away by the doorkeeper Niccolò Perotti, because the foolish fellow said that Bessarion was working and must not be disturbed. This made them so angry that they went away indignantly saying: "Is the supreme office then to be forced on a man who will not lay hold of it or even ask for it, so that, while he sits waiting for votes to fall from heaven, we must take orders from insolent and stupid doorkeepers?" And they immediately transferred their votes to Sixtus. After his election had been at once announced and he had been adored as Pope, Bessarion 54 is reported to have said, "This untimely zeal of yours, Niccolò, has cost me the tiara and you the cardinal's hat."
Not long after this he was removed to France under pretence of the honor of an embassy, because Sixtus with a presumption unknown before thought that the papacy ought to be administered like a monarchy and could not bear to see the face of a man who said what he thought with frankness, dignity, and piety. On his way back from France he fell ill at Ravenna, where he died in his seventy seventh year.
His funeral was held at Rome in the church of the Santi Apostoli, where he had erected for himself a marble tomb with a Greek inscription which the Calabrian Maiorano translates as follows:
Georgius Trapezuntius was born in Crete, but, because his family on his father's side came from the famous city of Trebizond on the Pontus, he preferred to adopt the name of the country of his ancestors rather than to bear witness to that of his native land. In an age that saw the rebirth of letters he was considered almost the first Greek at Rome to achieve a literary style in translating Greek into Latin and his success is abundantly evident from his versions of the works of Aristotle and the sacred writings of Eusebius of Caesarea and the Rhetoric of Hermogenes.
His intellect was vigorous and equal to severe study, but it soon became apparent that he was full of bitter malice for, because he professed himself a peripatetic and glorified Aristotle alone, he was so intolerant that he could not bear to hear the praises even of the divine Plato, whose doctrines and character he attacked with the utmost harshness and insolence in a slanderous book. But when Bessarion with his noble learning and brilliant eloquence came to the defence of Plato, Georgius could not stand against the force of such a torrent and he was destroyed by the fire of popular indignation because he had abused with impious and foul mouth the most revered of philosophers who showed the way to a 55 holier life and therefore came nearest to the teachings of Christ.
He lived beside the temple of Minerva in a fine house which he built for himself and his descendants near the smaller obelisks of St. Maurus. He was married and had a son named Andrea, who did not, however, inherit his ability as a scholar; for when he took up his father's quarrels and wrote a reply to Theodorus Gaza accusing him of maliciously detracting from Georgius's reputation, Theodorus treated such unbridled and furious recrimination with easy contempt.
Georgius is said to have lived to be so old that he became childish and almost silly and forgot all about his distinguished career and would go about Rome alone in cap and worn out cloak supporting his tottering steps with a gnarled staff.
Andrea's daughter and heiress married the delightful Roman poet, Fausto Maddalena, who, when he was a prominent member of the Roman Academy and a great favorite of Leo because of his sweet disposition, used to tell many stories of the learning and the bitter quarrels of his wife's grandfather. He died before his time in the sack of Rome.
Theodorus Gaza, of a distinguished family of Thessalonica, came to Italy when Murad was making all Greece quake with his victorious arms. In keenness and fertility of genius he was second to none, while he surpassed all other Greeks in knowledge of their language and in sound judgment. Under Vittorino da Feltre he received so broad and thorough a training in Latin that he wrote that language far better than any of his countrymen and it was very difficult to tell whether he rendered Greek into Latin or Latin into Greek with greater accuracy and precision. For in his bold but noble translations of Aristotle's History of Animals and Theophrastus's work on Plants he enriched the Latin language with ingenious formation of new words and he translated Cicero's De Senectute into Greek so successfully that the best critics admire in his version now only its closeness to the meaning of the original but the very majesty of Cicero's own eloquence reproduced with skill and dignity. He translated also the 56 Problemata of Aristotle and the Aphorisms of Hippocrates, that he might restore these distinguished writers to their proper place with a view to establishing their authority and contributing in no uncertain measure to the welfare of mankind.
As a reward for these labors he received, on the recommendation of Bessarion, a benefice in Magna Graecia, which would certainly have sufficed for the needs of a temperate and frugal man who resisted all temptations to extravagant pleasures, if he had not been utterly careless of his income and entrusted the management of his property to rapacious Greeklings and Bruttians.
When he finally offered to pope Sixtus the splendid results of his studies carefully written on parchment and received a sum that would not have been a fitting recompense even for the copyist, indignant at the Pope's uncultivated taste, he exclaimed, "I will flee from this place, now that the best grain is flat to the nostrils of gross asses!" and forthwith he hastened off to his parish in the Abruzzi.
He died not long after, an old man, and it was by no means unfitting that he who was born in Greece and trained in Italy should be buried in Magna Graecia as having deserved well of both languages.
John Argyropoulus of Constantinople, who was driven from Greece by the same invasion of the Turks as Theodorus Gaza, won the favor of that illustrious and generous patron of letters, Cosimo dei Medici, who esteemed him so highly that he made him tutor to his son Piero and his grandson Lorenzo, by whom Argyropoulus was regarded as a father, and secured him an appointment to lecture publicly on Greek authors to the youth of Florence. As evidence of his gratitude to the Medici for such benefits there are glorious monuments of his labors treasured in that house which was the foster-mother of true excellence. For he made a very fine translation of Aristotle's Naturalia and Moralia, which was received with such enthusiasm by his old friend, Theodorus Gaza, who had himself selected various parts of Aristotle to 57 translate, that he burned his own versions of certain of these passages, that, in case of rivalry and invidious comparison, they might not interfere with the growing reputation of a man with whom he was on the most friendly terms. Superior as he was to Argyropoulus but withal the most modest of the Greeks, Gaza readily did this service for one who was proudly ambitious and very eager to advance his fortunes, while he himself had always disdained riches and earthly glory as being but fleeting.
The conversation of Argyropoulus, however, was not only wearisome but actually distasteful to scholars and the climax was reached when he rudely declared that Cicero knew no Greek.
Finally, when the plague was ravaging Tuscany, he came to Rome, where he made large sums by his lectures in Greek on Aristotle. But he lived in such style that his whole income sufficed only for his everyday expenses and his last act was a jest by which he made a will leaving his richer friends heirs to his debts.
His capacity for food and wine matched his appetite so that he grew enormously stout, and finally, after eating too many melons, he fell an easy victim to autumnal fever, which carried him off in his seventieth year. John Lascaris commemorated his fellow citizen and teacher in Greek verses, which are thus translated by Lascaris's pupil, Maiorano:
The Greek, Marullus Tarchaniota, served in Italy in the auxiliary cavalry under the Spartan general, Nicholas Rhallus. In the intervals of fighting he transferred to the tender Muses the toil and enthusiasm he had devoted to cruel Mars, with such success that he became celebrated not only for his Greek 58 but for his Latin poetry. For, following closely in the distinguished footsteps of Theodorus and Argyropoulus, he thought it not enough glory to be learned in Greek, unless complete mastery of his mother tongue was combined with eloquence in Latin. Therefore at Florence he married Alessandra, the accomplished daughter of Bartolommeo Scala who held the exalted office of gonfaloniere, the same man who, shortly before, had championed the Greeks in a long quarrel carried on in most abusive letters with Poliziano, who hated the scholars of that nation.
But Marullus, who because of his restless disposition could find no permanent abode anywhere, was always changing his interests and traveling about. And the work of translating, in which others engaged with so much rivalry and distinction, he always despised as a dangerous task by which no adequate or at any rate no splendid reputation was to be won. Therefore, after publishing his books of epigrams on which Apollo's favor had conferred extreme elegance, he was planning a more serious work; but at Torre di Vado in a dangerous ford of the Cecina river, which was swollen more than usual, his horse lost his footing and he was violently swept away. This happened on the very day when Lodovico Sforza, betrayed by the Swiss, was taken to France to die miserably behind prison bars. Marullus was mourned with equal sorrow by Greeks and Italians.
Demetrius Chalcondyles, a careful scholar and superior in character to most Greeks since no deceit nor guile was to be found in him, a man of undoubted gentleness and virtue, reopened at Florence the school that had been given up by Argyropoulus and then taken over by Poliziano since there were no Greeks to do so. But Demetrius was no match for his very shrewd and ambitious rival, who resorted to many devices both good and evil for maintaining his authority and reputation as lecturer. He was especially his inferior in Latin eloquence and therefore his audience grew thin and the youth deserted him, since, though extremely learned, he might easily seem dry and dull to fastidious and pampered ears that had 59 been enchanted with the extraordinary charm of the sweet and melodious voice and the graceful wit of Poliziano as he intoned his verses and scattered his many-colored flowers of rhetoric.
Demetrius, however, retained an honored place in the favor of Lorenzo in spite of the enmity and the continual insinuations of Poliziano, who not only could brook no equal among the Italians but wished to be thought more learned than the Greeks themselves. Lorenzo therefore divided the duties of tutor between them to put a stop to their jealous wrangling and to fire his sons to learn by the rivalry of their teachers.
But when that prince of matchless genius was carried off by death, Demetrius went to Milan at the invitation of Lodovico Sforza, taking with him his Florentine wife by whom he had already had children. Not long after, as a result of his lectures, he published a useful book on the rudiments of grammar, because he thought that Theodorus's work on the same subject, though distinguished, was too hard, composed as it was for advanced students and scholars.
His wife managed the household with masculine energy, as he himself was old and absorbed in his studies, but this independence in a woman who was remarkably fruitful gave rise to doubts as to her virtue, although her three sons were the image of their lawful father in every line of their distinctively Greek countenances. Theophilus, the eldest, an unruly youth, was stabbed to death one night in a brawl at Pavia, where he was lecturing on Homer; Basil, who was endowed with extraordinary talents, was called to Rome by Leo to teach in the university and in a few months wasted away from a slow fever; Seleucus, the youngest, did not live to grow up. But Demetrius himself lived to be more than eighty and died at Milan shortly before the French were driven out of Italy by the forces of Pope Julius and the Venetians, not wholly unhappy in his fate since he knew nothing of the death of Theophilus, which his wife had concealed from him.
Marcus Musurus, the Cretan, a most painstaking scholar and a poet of rare charm, having for some time lectured on 60 Greek authors in the university of Padua, attained to the full ripeness of learning together with a great reputation for penetrating intellect. But when the Venetians were defeated by the fierce league of foreign powers,40 he was forced to leave Padua and sought out a peaceful retreat where he might sing in Greek verse the praise of the divine Plato. This poem which is extant and may be read prefixed to Plato's works, can by common consent bear comparison for elegance with the poems of antiquity.
When Leo held out splendid inducements to brilliant men of genius, Musurus went to Rome and soon after, on the death of the learned and wise Greek, Manilius Rhallus, he was made Archbishop of Malvasia. This speedy good fortune he received with unbridled arrogance, as if still greater rewards were foretold him by the secret Fates, so that, excited by mad and passionate ambition, he thought his new honor of the holy mitre was by no means equal to his deserts and he shamelessly aspired too soon to the purple, often complaining that it was an insult to his race that no Greek had been created cardinal, when the Pope, who was exceedingly generous in bestowing this honor, had at one consistory conferred the red hat on more than thirty individuals chosen from among all nations. As a result of this untimely thirst for advancement his body wasted away so quickly that he died of dropsy almost before he had had a chance to display the insignia of his office
He was buried in the church of Santa Maria della Pace and Antonio of Amiterno41 had this couplet carved on this tomb;
John Lascaris was almost the noblest and most learned of all the Greeks who took refuge in Italy when they were driven from their country by the arms of the Turk. For his lofty character bore witness to his legitimate descent from a glorious emperor of Constantinople and to his liberal education in the classics.61
In the shipwreck of his fortunes he was rescued by Lorenzo dei Medici, who thought nothing more important than to bind to him men of talent by generous services. He was at that time eager to found a library and he therefore twice sent Lascaris to Constantinople on an embassy to Bajazet to search for manuscripts. The barbarian emperor never refused his honorable requests, for he was himself a student of all philosophy and a distinguished follower of Averroes and he had personally the kindest feelings toward Lorenzo as an illustrious patron of genius. This he had proved not long before, when he had manacled and handed over for punishment Bandino, the murderer of Lorenzo's brother, who had escaped to Asia, thus setting a shining example of piety and justice, since he believed that the man who had dared to commit a monstrous crime in a church should suffer the penalty he deserved. So Lascaris, having ransacked unmolested every corner of Greece, though the wealth of his country had been the spoil of her conquerors, collected ancient and valuable manuscripts which were far more precious than any riches, that they might be preserved in Italy.
After a time he crossed over to France and was sent by King Louis as ambassador to Venice. But presently, when Leo because of their old friendship offered him generous encouragement, he set up a school on the Quirinal and brought noble lads from Greece, that the line of those who could speak Greek well might not die out.
He was so proficient in Latin that he composed Latin verses, which are still extant; but he was so lazy and so obstinate in his refusal to write, that, when it came to translating Greek, his friends had great difficulty in wringing from him by urgent entreaties a version of the Castrametatio of Polybius; for he thoroughly despised the business of translation, though it is hard to tell whether his attitude was from honest conviction or from spite. He does, however, deserve great credit for having made it possible for Latin scholars to have more correct manuscripts which they might themselves translate with less difficulty.
Though he neglected his property and lived extravagantly, he never lacked a dignified competence, not derived from a fixed income but acquired from the generosity of others, and 62 he was almost ninety when he died at Rome twisted out of shape with gout. he was buried in the Gothic church of Sant' Agatha in Subura and he had composed for himself a Greek epitaph, which Maiorano translates as follows:
If a more exact science enabled us to understand the power of the many-colored rays of heaven's light as clearly as we understand the courses of the stars, who would not admit that you, Rudolph Agricola, were born under planets that combined in rare and portentous conjunction? For you absorbed Hebrew and Greek with such astounding speed that the most learned scholars believed you born and bred in Jerusalem or Athens rather than in Groningen in farthest Holland. And furthermore you learned and taught Latin with such success that, to our shame, it seems that we must seek the perfect purity and far-famed richness of Roman eloquence on the wild and barren shores of Oceanus. Surely your Principles of Dialectic and Rhetoric, which are read so eagerly, and those poems of inspired genius in which you wrested their melodies even from illustrious poets will live on in the hands of your admirers; but we, who sorely miss your bodily presence, shall ever wonder resentfully at the fickleness of the gods, or at least of the stars, that they gave the world no more than a glimpse of one who was loaded with such gifts: a wrong to the human race which was all the heavier since he, who perchance was fitter to breathe the air of heaven, was snatched away in the midst of a most successful and productive career.
When he died at Heidelberg, a city of Germany famous for its university, the magistrates honored him with a tomb and Ermolao Barbaro, who was ambassador at the Emperor's court, paid the last services of friendship by inscribing on it this epitaph:63
[For a letter by Agricola to Jacob Barbirianus and a brief biography see Whitcomb's translation HERE on this site. — Elf.Ed.]
At the news of the death of Leone Battista of the illustrious Florentine house of the Alberti, Poliziano composed for him a splendid poetic eulogy.43 For my part I admire most of all his penetrating intellect and his felicitous style in dealing with a difficult theme. For he set himself to write a work on architecture, a subject untried before and unsuited to literary treatment, in which he was heavily handicapped by the poverty of the language, and he treated it with so much eloquence that he guided into the strait and narrow path of principle the untrained architects of that benighted and ignorant age, who had not known the clear light of science; for he illumined the precepts of Vitruvius that had been buried in blackest night and, from his examination of the remains of ancient buildings and his careful system of measuring, he established their plans and dimensions, so that he is believed to have enriched our age, barren and uncultured amid the ruin of the arts, with an astonishing number of discoveries.
He wrote also in the field of painting on background and shade and on perspective, by which his skilful hand was wont to make objects actually in the same plane seem remote or near. From his reflection in a mirror his clever brush produced a most finished portrait of himself, which I have seen in the gardens of Palla Ruscellai.
We have also his little book of Fables written with elegance and dignity, in which he is thought to have surpassed even Aesop in grace of fancy, and his Momus, a dialogue of such extraordinary charm that many think it deserves to be compared with the works of the ancients.64
Hail, peerless hero, most generous patron of genius, father of all arts and elegance, unrivaled judge of real ability! Hail again, thou who hast deserved immortal praise, since under thy sleepless watch not only thy Tuscany but all Italy as well flourished in prosperous peace; while verily, when orphaned of thee, her guardian and protector, she was laid low ravaged by fatal madness within and monstrous vandalism without! Hail yet once more, thou who hast so gloriously fostered and so successfully cultivated the Muses! Illustrious indeed as patron of poets and their rival and therefore by Heaven's grace most worthy of the never fading laurel due thy name, — unless indeed this should be thought a crown less splendid than befits thy fortune, since to have surpassed in fame thy grandsire Cosimo, the pride of a learned age, might be thought the very height of glory, wert thou not also the blest father of Leo X, sent to us by Heaven to do honor to true worth.
Pietro Leoni of Spoleto with his keen and penetrating intellect and his accomplished eloquence was almost the first among physicians to open the true door to medicine by making Galen generally known. For in his lectures at the most famous universities of Italy and in the authoritative practice of his profession he taught that the rules and remedies of the healing art should be imbibed not from the fetid pools of the Arabs but from the crystal springs of the Greeks. He was furnished with the strong defenses of all the sciences and was considered an expert not only in astrology but also in ancient magic, because he was in the habit of foretelling by divine inspiration the outcome of most important matters. For instance, it is well known that he often told his friends that the signs presaged for him danger of sudden death by water. Therefore he had a terror of rivers and of frequent voyages and consequently, though he clung to everything else that contributed to wealth and glory, he moved from Padua and the Venetians to Umbria and Spoleto, so 65 that, by changing his residence, he might escape any occasion for travel by sea. But the Fates find a way everywhere. For when Lorenzo dei Medici fell sick of his last illness, Leoni, who was summoned to Florence, concealed and made light of the progress of the disease, cherishing such groundless or at least fatal hope of the recovery of his patient that he rejected the remedies suggested by others in accordance with medical science and assured them that because of Lorenzo's strong constitution the violence of his illness need cause no alarm and would soon subside. Before long, however, when, as a result of his delay, malignant symptoms set in and the sick man was gradually failing, Lazaro, a famous physician of Piacenza, who had been sent from Pavia by Lodovico Sforza, was called in. He administered remedies, though it was already too late, thus indirectly censuring Leoni, who was by now detested by the whole family, because, owing to his neglect of the early stages of the disease and his rash folly in making light of the danger, the opportunity for a cure, which might have been a simple matter, had been lost.
When Lorenzo died from these causes, Leoni, his mind deranged by grief at his disgrace, fell a prey to a fatal madness and incurred the deadly hatred of Lorenzo's mourning household; so that, whether on purpose or through foul play, he plunged headlong into a well near Careggi and was drowned. Some thought that this crime was committed by Piero dei Medici, who, in his passionate anger, took this barbarous way of avenging his father's death, as Actius Sincerus laments in an Italian poem.44 But no evidence more clearly supports the suspicion of murder thus aroused than the death of the suspected man, which, from its resemblance to the crime, seemed a righteous punishment. For, while he was fleeing to the Liris after his overthrow by the French, his ship was wrecked in the harbor and he met a miserable end.
I dare swear that the portrait of no one of the distinguished dead is more deservedly exhibited in the Museum than yours, Ermolao, who were by far the most learned of all scholars 66 in every line. For by your trained and consummate judgment you gave back to the people of New Como their fellow townsman, C. Plinius Secundus, who had been stolen from them by the envious and ignorant. You brought him out of the dungeon where he lay filthy and neglected and turned on him the full radiance of your brilliant genius, so that, with his ancient dignity restored, he might come forth into the day his very self and might be seen to be indeed worthy of the marble statue which the citizens of Como erected in their square.
But the whole nation is in your debt because you translated into Latin Themistius, who sheds a dazzling light on the dark works of Aristotle. Thus the many distinguished offspring of your fertile brain bore witness to your eminence in physics, dialectic, and rhetoric: and it was not enough to have penetrated with glorious toil into that tangled forest of geography approached by few and explored by none, but you must also point out to sick mortals through your translation and commentary on Dioscorides the various healing and poisonous herbs that Nature causes to spring up in the lap of earth.
But not only do you seem to have surmounted the difficulties of all languages and sciences, but in the supreme glory of an unconquerable spirit you nobly rose above the envy hostile to your virtue, when, after you had held the most distinguished offices and were engaged on your last and therefore most important embassy at Rome, Innocent VIII in admiration of your probity had proclaimed you Patriarch of Aquileia in the face of the disapproval of the Venetian senate, which had voted that no honor that had not been sanctioned by their law should be conferred even on unparalleled merit. You did indeed endure calmly the severity of their vote, though this preferment was to be a stepping stone to the purple, which you equally deserved. But death crept upon you before your time and was so hastened by the plague that it outstripped with swift poison the potent remedy for your sickness which Pico and Poliziano despatched from Florence with relays of horses; so that, I suppose, your too stern country might not have the bones of her best citizen, which lie buried under the Hill of Gardens by the 67 Porta Flumentana at the entrance to the Campus Martius, where they are saluted by all the cultured youth of Rome.
In Giorgio Merula of Acqui in the province of Alessandria an intellect somewhat rustic, and therefore vigorous enough to undergo the strain of severe study unassailed by any chance allurements of pleasure, was conspicuous in an age when Greek studies were flourishing everywhere and, joining in an auspicious partnership, were handing on the splendors of an ancient glory to the Latin genius. Having therefore won a reputation for wide learning, he taught the youth at Venice and Milan for more than forty years. He often criticized too sharply the works of others, since he was frequently over eager to censure the mistakes or at least the omissions of Calderino, Galeotti, and Poliziano, publishing books of Notes by which he hoped to win a wide reputation among awestruck scholars.
He also brought out a translation of Dio's biography of Trajan and, furthermore, at the request of Lodovico Sforza, he wrote a history of the ancestry and the wars of the Visconti, which is composed in a dignified style and most excellent Latin, though the less serious reader will feel the lack throughout of entertaining digressions. But the last books of this history, which are, in my opinion, the most interesting, are denied the light of day and lie hidden in their boxes, where they are destined to sleep forever, since no one of the noble stock of the Visconti comes forward to rescue from darkness the buried glory of their family and their country; for there is almost no one of that house who does not seem to have despised a reputation for true worth and to have ruined himself with extravagant luxury.
Merula died of quinsy in extreme old age and thereby freed Poliziano from panic, since Merula was said to have 68 been on the point of launching an overwhelming charge of his troops and squadrons against that scholar's Miscellanies. Duke Lodovico paid him who deserved so well of letters the due honor of funeral rites and he was buried in the church of Sant' Eustorgio. The following verses were inscribed on his tomb by Landino:
Poliziano at a very early age won a reputation for extraordinary talent by celebrating the tournament of Giuliano dei Medici in an original and brilliant poem45 in which he was generally agreed to have surpassed the famous poet, Luca Pulci, who had sung the jousts of his brother Lorenzo in the same measures.46 For in this poem Poliziano was thought to have gathered together flowers culled from Greek and Latin authors which held his public spellbound. Soon after, when Giuliano was foully murdered in the cathedral by the Pazzi, he wrote in most elegant Latin a history of the punishment of the conspiracy; and finally, when he lectured in the university on both Greek and Latin literature, he was received with such applause by the enthusiastic youth that Demetrius Chalcondyles, a Greek and a man of extraordinary learning, was deserted by his pupils as being dry and barren. He then published a Latin version of Herodian, without doubt wresting the honors from all who had before undertaken a task of this kind, though his rivals, as I have heard from Pope Leo, said that this translation was by Gregorius Tifernas, since it everywhere betrayed imitation of another's style by its coat of artificial dye and patches of unnatural color.
But when Poliziano was at the height of his fame because of his continued productivity in all subjects, after he had published the hundred chapters of his Miscellanies and his Latin poems, he was overtaken by untimely death.
His character was in many respects distorted just as his face, which was by no means frank and open, was made particularly grotesque by an enormous nose and a drooping 69 eyelid. His intellect was shrewd, keen, and slyly malicious, since he was always jeering at the works of others, yet could not endure to have his own criticized even by impartial judges. They say he was made an easy prey to fatal disease by his mad love for a noble youth. For, having seized his lute in the heat and fever of his consuming desire, he burst into song with such overmastering passion that presently in his frenzy his voice and the muscles of his fingers and finally breath itself failed, as a shameful death bore down upon him. Years of life which a ripening judgment would have rendered sane and normal were thus swept away by hasty Fate, to the great injury of the Muses and the grief of his generation; for he had hardly reached his forty-fourth year. Yet in his sudden end he was assuredly happy, since he did not live to see the ruin that threatened the tottering house of the Medici.
His pupil, Crinito, laid these verses on his tomb:
36 Jacopo Ammanati.
37 His Erotemata (Florence, 1484) was the first modern Greek textbook.
38 The battle of Angora, 1402.
39 John XXIII.
40 The League of Cambrai.
41 Antonio Fabro.
42 The Latin Musure, mansure puns on his name.
43 Cf. Poliziano, Ep. 10.7 I have not been able to find any poetic eulogy.
44 Sannazaro, Rime; Nella Morte di Pier Leone.
45 La Giostra.
46 La Giostra di Lorenzo dei Medici.