TWELVE HUNDRED AND FIFTY COPIES OF FACETIA EROTICA HAVE BEEN PRINTED IN BENEDICTINE BOOK TYPE; COPIES 1 T0 50 IN FULL PARCHKIN BINDING STAMPED IN GOLD, CONTAIN A HAND COLORED FRONTISPIECE SPECIALLY DONE FOR THE RESPECTIVE OWNER; 51 TO 250 BOUND IN FULL MOROCCO; 251 TO 1250 BOUND IN VELLUM.
Poggio Bracciolini, better known as Poggio the Florentine, was born in Terranuova in the district of Florence in 1380, as the son of a poor notary. At an early age he journeyed to Florence to enjoy the teachings of Emmanuel Chrysoloras, whose humanistic ideas were then pervading Italy, and absorbed from him much of that genial cynicism which characterizes his writings.
Finding himself in moderate circumstances and having strong literary ambitions, Poggio chose the Roman papal court as the best field for his professional efforts. In his early twenties, therefore, he betook himself to Rome and began a career of fifty years as apostolic secretary and close confidant to the reigning popes of the early fifteenth century. In this capacity, he played an important part in the historic schism which was then rending 6 the Church; and had an opportunity at first hand to learn the extent of the popular unrest against the clergy.
Poggio spent a considerable part of his life in travel. He attended the historic Council of Constance as a papal delegate and heard the fatal verdicts rendered upon the heads of Hus and Hieronymus. Then, wearying of religious disputes, he visited Germany and Switzerland, where he indulged his love of learning by searching for old Latin and Greek manuscripts, some of which he later published. The records of these travels, as well as a visit which he paid to England, have been preserved in his letters, which form an important part of his work.
During the reign of Martin V. he returned to his ecclesiastical duties in Rome. Here he also attended regularly the genial sessions of the “Bugiale,” a circle of wits and storytellers, which he describes in a postscript to 7 his “Facetiae.” Antonio Lusco, who is frequently quoted by Poggio, was a nightly figure at these gatherings; and here Poggio, himself, told stories and heard jests and anecdotes of bishops and princes and scurvy peasants, many of which are retold in this volume.
This society was a natural product of the decadent Rome of the quintocento. Its members, comprising the enlightened spirits of the Roman curia, had brought humanism to the point of complete agnosticism and disrespect for all authority. In their reaction against the religious and moral hypocrisy of the medieval church, they mistook licentiousness for freedom and lewdness for knowledge. Their sayings are equally woven of wit and vulgarity, but only by visualizing the entire pattern of which they are a part, can the two be separated and justly appraised.
Poggio’s “Facetiae” are a collection of such anecdotes, written in his later years. In its 8 form the “facetia” or humorous tale has its parallel in most languages and is closely descended from the fable and folktale. Although it lacks the moral theme upon which they were built, it has, on the other hand, the same simplicity of speech and the same concern with common human emotions. As for its vulgarisms, the author had many examples of this both in the facetiae of his contemporaries as well as in classic Roman models. Moreover, a frank concern with the bodily functions did not carry in those days the reproach that it bears today.
Unquestionably, however, Poggio, like his comrades of the “Bugiale,” delighted in broad humor and odorous jest. In his facetiae he portrays a material world of earthly desire, impiety and jocular cynicism. In this world, the women are all unfaithful and the men cuckolds; and the clergy and royalty are mercilessly ridiculed. The picture is undoubtedly 9 exaggerated and unfair. But to a large extent it was the world which he and his comrades knew.
The “Facetiae” were first issued in hand-written copies in the Latin tongue. But with the development of printing toward the close of the century, they were reproduced in numerous printed editions, until, in Poggio’s own words, “they flooded all Italy and overflowed into France, Spain, Germany, England and every other country where Latin was understood.” More recently they have reappeared in translation in some of the European countries and are now offered, in this selection, for the first time in an American edition, with the hope that they will give the American reader both amusement and an insight into the colorful life of the early Italian renaissance.
I think there will be many who will condemn these anecdotes, either as being light things and unworthy of an earnest man’s effort, or because they will miss in them a certain delicacy and elegance of style. But it seems to me that I shall have done enough to regain their good opinion when I answer such critics, that I have read our elders, very wise and learned men, who took a keen delight in humorous tales and fables, for which they were praised rather than blamed. For who will lay it to my discredit that I imitate our fathers in these things (since I am unable to imitate them in others), particularly, if at the same time I am able to afford amusement to my readers, by consecrating to my writing 12 the effort which others waste in the social drawing-room.
It is, indeed, a desirable, I might almost say, a necessary thing, in accordance with the belief of philosophy, to relieve the spirit, burdened by numerous cares, and by jest and banter to refresh it from time to time. It would be out of place, however, to attempt a fine style in such light matters, where the chief concern is to reproduce a witty retort of the truthful saying of another. For in such material ornament becomes a vice, where the author seeks to reproduce the form and spirit of the words, as they came from the mouths of those who spoke them.
Perhaps there will be some also who will think that it is a lack of talent which motivates this apologia; and this is also my own opinion. I ask only, however, that those who believe this take these same stories and ornament and refine them, so that the Latin tongue 13 of our age may be enriched even in light things; and the practice of this art will lead to the development of a more eloquent style. For I, myself, in this work sought to make trial to find if many thoughts which were said to be difficult of expression in Latin could nevertheless be treated without absurdity. And since I did not find it possible, for my purpose, to employ a brilliant display of words, I shall be content if I at least give the impression that my tales are not clumsily told.
As for the rest, those who are too bitter in their criticisms may spare themselves the reading of these conversations — and, as Lucilius once said, my hope is to be read by witty, good-natured people. If, however, they are too uncultivated to find enjoyment in them, I have no objections to their thinking what they will, provided they do not condemn the author, who has written mainly for his own pleasure and to exercise his talent.