Friday, September 25, 2009


Version at BMCR home site
Eckard Lefèvre, Eckart Schäfer (ed.), Michael Marullus: ein Grieche als Renaissancedichter in Italien. NeoLatina, 15. Tübingen: Gunter Narr Verlag, 2008. Pp. 288. ISBN 9783823364351. €98.00.
Reviewed by Werner J. C. M. Gelderblom, Radboud University Nijmegen

Table of Contents

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

In the field of Neo-Latin studies, the NeoLatina series published by the Gunter Narr Verlag is already well-known. In nine years, sixteen volumes have been published. Many of these are proceedings of the annual conference on a Neo-Latin author organized in Freiburg. The book under review is also the result of a Freiburg conference, this time on the quattrocento poet Marullus (ca. 1454-1500), who was the son of a couple from the Constantinopolitan nobility who found shelter in south-Italy after the fall of Constantinople. Marullus' most important and famous contributions to literature are the Hymni naturales, four books of hymns to pagan deities, but he also wrote four books of epigrams, some Neniae, and an unfinished mirror for princes. The volume under review examines almost all poetic works of Marullus in six sections of varying length.

In general, the contributions to this volume consist of critical interpretations of individual poems, which reconsider the romantic notion of this poet as a soldier who wrote his poetry in-between battles, a notion created among others by Carol Kidwell's biography (Kidwell 1989), in which Marullus' poetry is uncritically used to reconstruct his life (Enenkel's critical discussion of Kidwell's biography and Marullus' life (Enenkel 2008) came too late to be considered in the volume under review). Furthermore, the volume offers new insights into many matters of Marullus research. This being said, one flaw of the book cannot escape the attentive reader. The title promises to discuss Marullus as a Greek in Italy, but exactly this feature is almost neglected. Apart from a few, sketchy remarks about the possible effect of Marullus' Byzantine background on his laudatory and funeral poetry and his language, the influence of Byzantine literature is not discussed in this volume. Especially for the hymns, a discussion of this aspect is still a desideratum (here, I mention only George Gemistos Plethon's Nómoi, which contain several hymns to pagan gods). In the remainder of this review I will discuss the individual contributions to this volume, which enhance our understanding of Marullus in many ways, but have kept, perhaps too much, to the beaten track.

The two contributions in the first section, 'geschichtliches Selbstverständnis', focus on Marullus' self-representation in his epigrams. Bihrer's discussion of De exilio suo (Epigr. 3.37) cannot escape comparison with the more extensive treatment of the same poem by Karl Enenkel that appeared almost simultaneously and, as I said, could not be taken into consideration by Bihrer (Enenkel 2008). Both authors call biographical readings of this exile poem in question and show that Marullus creates a well-fashioned image of himself, especially by means of allusions to Virgil's Aeneid. Enenkel's treatment is more profound, but Bihrer's emphasis on the genre characteristics and the aesthetics of the poem are an important addition to Enenkel's conclusion, which sees a stronger connection between the poem and the plans for a crusade in the 1490s than Bihrer's.

In the same first section, Wiegand discusses Marullus' panegyric epigrams on Emperor Maximilian I. Wiegand's main point is that Kidwell's assumption of the existence of close relations between the emperor and the poet is based on a faulty reading of the epigrams. Wiegand shows convincingly that, in general, the poems fit in with the topical praises of Maximilian found in German vernacular poetry (although, hoping that the French king would start a crusade, Marullus is less hostile to that king), and in Byzantine panegyric traditions. It is a pity that the Byzantine influence is only observed (p. 41), but not examined by the author; especially considering the theme expressed in the title of the volume (Grieche ... in Italien).

The papers in the second section of the book try to identify and discuss the sources for the epigrams. Thurn's contribution rightly and importantly stresses that Marullus' poetry was not only imitative of classical authors, but also a response to contemporary Italian and Latin poetry and ideas. He shows some interesting examples of Marullus' dependency on Italian writers such as Petrarca (Thurn could have profited from the results of Corsinovi's 1975 publication here) and Lorenzo de' Medici. His conclusion that the four books of epigrams and its dominae echo Ficino's four degrees of being is too sparsely argued to be convincing, but the general notion of Neo-Platonic influences on the love epigrams seems undeniable.

Auhagen in his discussion of Epigr. 1.2 argues that this first love poem in Marullus' collection immediately formulates the poet's stance as a chaste writer. Of special interest is his treatment of the word passercule in this epigram. Marullus distances himself from Politianus' famous sexual interpretation of Catullus' passer, about which Marullus debated with Pontanus, by using the word emphatically as a pet name for Neaera. Auhagen overlooked Antonio Piras' publication that points out the same strategy in Marullus' poetic debate with Politianus on Catullus (Piras 2004).

Simons' close reading of another epigram by Marullus, a fictitious epitaph for a nun named Pholoe who became a prostitute (Epigr. 1.42), shows the influence of not only Tibullus on Marullus' poetry (also discussed in the contribution by Freyburger and Polizzi), but also of ideas on women in quattrocento Italy: Simons convincingly argues that, in this poem, Pholoe develops from a simple prostitute into a quattrocento cortigiana onesta, but also from Tibullan Pholoe and Marathus into Tibullus himself.

Notter's discussion of the use of Martialis' epigrams in Marullus' own shows that the latter considered Martialis too obscene a writer for his taste, and that he made scant use of this epigrammatist in his own non-erotic poems. Notter does indicate some passages in Marullus' epigrams that allude to Martialis, but fails to explain for what reasons Marullus did so. Part of the answer may be found in Marullus' interaction, completely neglected by Notter, with contemporary poets. For example, when Marullus refers to Martialis' preface to his first book in Epigr. 1.62.9 'Tu licet huc Marsumque feras doctumque Catullum' (p. 87), he was probably responding to Beccadelli Hermaphroditus 1.18, in which this notoriously obscene Neo-Latin poet imitates the same passage in Martialis to justify his own obscenity in poetry.

The third section of the book, dedicated to the Hymni naturales, begins with a long article by one of the two editors of the volume, Lefèvre. This discussion of Marullus' hymn to Bacchus (Hymn. nat. 1.6) makes extensive use of the available commentaries on the hymns (overall, the hymns have received far more attention in the academic world than Marullus' other works), but still manages to give a new interpretation of this poem. Especially his comparison with the Venus hymn by Lucretius and the conclusion drawn from this comparison that the poem is some sort of sphragis (which explains the last position in the first book) are very convincing and important. Moreover, this contribution is also an introduction to some problems in research on the hymns, mainly their Neo-Platonic characteristics, possible Lucretian influences, and their heretic/Christian scope.

Manuwald's discussion of the last poem in the second book of hymns, the hymn to Mercurius, closely connects to Lefèvre's article, since Manuwald argues that this poem has a sphragis function as well. The hymn typically starts with two stanzas on the 'hymnal narrator' instead of Mercurius and afterwards praises Mercurius mainly for his aid to the 'hymnal narrator'. Manuwald shows that by these means, Marullus created an 'autobiography' at the end of the second book, an untypical feature for hymns, but typical in other genres (odes and elegies). This intermingling of genres is a Marullan innovation. A second point made by Manuwald is that the image of Mercurius in the hymn is based on his appearance in classical hymns (mainly Horace's), but also on the fatherly god that occurs in the works of the so-called Hermes Trigemistus, which gained much popularity in Marullus' time thanks to Ficino's translation.

Czapla's contribution focuses on the different uses that Marullus makes of the figure of Amor in his hymns and epigrams. She distinguishes four: as mythic scamp, tormentor of the poet, Neo-Platonic creative power, and allegory for human love. The third receives most attention. In her analysis of Hymn. nat. 1.3 and Epigr. 3.36, Czapla shows that Ficino's Neo-Platonic concept of amor divinus and amor vulgaris has greatly influenced Marullus' image of Amor in these two poems. She refrains from participating in the lively discussion about the Christian background of this hymn and reads Marullus' poetry as if it was written in a pagan world.

The last contribution to start from Marullus' hymns is Benz's treatment of the relationship between Marullus' poetry and contemporary figurative art. Its line of reasoning is not very clear. Benz seems to argue that because figurative art and Marullus' poetry are both influenced by Ficino's Neo-Platonic theories, and because Marullus often makes use of expressive language, influence of popular culture and figurative art on Marullus' poetry is very probable. Her comparison between Botticelli's Venus and Mars and Marullus' description of Mars in his hymn to Venus (Hymn. nat. 2.7) is to my opinion not convincing, since there are no striking similarities between the two images. Benz does not discuss the relation between Marullus' epigrams and art, which may well be more interesting, since this genre has always been more closely connected to figurative art.

The two following sections of the book both consist of single articles. The first is dedicated to Marullus' Institutiones principales. In contrast to the other contributions, which mainly provide us with interpretations of individual poems, Burkard's lengthy article presents prolegomena for, and some samples of a commentary on Marullus' mirror for princes, in which he mainly shows where he disagrees with his predecessor Schönberger 1997. The author, who according to the website of his research institute is preparing an edition with commentary of Marullus' Institutiones principales,1 commences with a proposal for a new stemma. This new stemma is not based on a fresh collation of the manuscripts, but on the critical apparatus made by Perosa (whose 1951 edition of Marullus' work is still the standard). Surprisingly, some queries in Kristeller's Iter Italicum revealed that Burkard should have taken into account at least three more manuscripts (Vat. Lat. 2163; Vat. Lat. 5225; Bologna, Archivio Isolani F71.178). It is to be hoped that Burkard will include these manuscripts in his new edition as well, since the textual constitution of this unfinished work is far from certain. Burkard's discussion of Marullus' language is very useful, not only for researchers of this work, but for all critics of Marullus' work and Neo-Latin poetry. The samples of the commentary will not be discussed here, but seem generally sound.2 The last four pages of the contribution present an interpretation of Marullus' work as a pedagogical treatise by an unusual Spartan-Platonic principle.

In the following section of the book, Baier discusses Marullus as a philologist, using Marullus' work on Lucretius as a point of departure. Allegedly, a copy of De rerum natura was found with the dead body of Marullus; the text in this copy had been emended by him. Departing from earlier reconstructions of these Lucretian emendations by Marullus, Baier shows that Marullus did not intend to make a scholarly contribution to the text of Lucretius, but that his additions to the text were merely poetic exercises in style. Yet these yielded some conjectures that remain valid until the present day. Baier also shows that Lucretius never became a favorite of Marullus, although his poems allude to Lucretius' work every now and then.

The last section of this volume is devoted to Marullus' reception in the renaissance and in the 20th century. This important section, consisting of four contributions, gives proof of the mixed feelings about this author after his death: his poetry was elegant, but the contents seemed to be heretical. Unfortunately, none of the contributions comments upon Marullus' reception in Neo-Latin poetry, although his poetry was of great influence on e.g. Johannes Secundus' Basia.

Walter focuses on Erasmus' few remarks about Marullus, in which he famously rebukes the poet for his paganism. It is shown that Erasmus' unfavorable comment is partly inspired by the Ciceronianism debate with 16th-century Italian authors, who defended quattrocento Latin poetry. It is annoying that in this well-argued paper, Walter includes too many footnotes that provide additional biographical details about all persons he mentions (including well-known humanists such as Pontanus and persons unimportant for his main point).

In the first non-German article, Hirstein (Strasbourg) informs us about the Paris edition (1509) of Marullus' poetry. The editor, Beatus Rhenanus, comments in his accompanying letters on the supposed paganism of Marullus. Although he explains the hymns to pagan deities as allegorical, Rhenanus presents Marullus as if he were a pagan classical author and advises his readers to read him as such (i.e. to gather all good things from it, and neglect the bad parts). Hirstein's suggestion that the publication of Marullus' poetry may have been inspired by Rhenanus' Maximilian sympathies, which may even be reflected in editorial decisions in the 1509 edition, is noteworthy.

The second French contribution shows how two poems by Lygdamus (then considered to be Tibullus) were imitated and emulated in an epigram (3.44) by Marullus, and how that epigram inspired two vernacular writers to compose new (passages in their) poems, Ariosto in Italy and Du Bellay in France. The latter imitates Ariosto as well as Marullus and so, according to the authors, opens the way to the new French literary aesthetics. This last point can be doubted, since "window references" of this sort occur already in classical poetry, and are very common in renaissance poetry.

In his second paper in this volume, Lefèvre comments on two amusing handlings of one poem (Epigr. 1.4) by two renaissance critics. Scaliger's negative comments on and rewriting of the epigram are qualified as hairsplitting by Lefèvre. The author's discussion of Balde's use of the poem in his Expeditio Polemico-Poëtica convincingly explains how Balde exploits the poem in a comical and satiric way.

Appropriately, this volume ends with Lupi's contribution (in Italian) about Benedetto Croce's rediscovery of Marullus in the 1930s. It is shown that Croce's ideas about aesthetics and his reaction to Mussolini's politics affected the image he presents of Marullus and his poetry, which is still very influential. Croce's psychological approach as well as his philological scrutiny is elucidated in this tribute to the man who rediscovered Marullus.

The book is as beautifully produced as books in the NeoLatina series customarily are, with very few misprints.3 To the profit of the academic user, it contains an index of references to Marullus' poetry (it would have been useful to include references to other writers as well) and an index of names and topics. However, the editors could have strived for more coherence in the volume as a whole. It is an inconsistency that most contributions contain an edition and translation of the poem under discussion, but two do not (Simons' and Manuwald's), and, although some contributors refer to each other, more internal references could have been useful.4 Apart from these quibbles (and the neglect of Marullus' Byzantine background), this volume is an important addition to research on Marullus that every library with a Neo-Latin section should acquire. Scholars of quattrocento Latin poetry will also want it for their personal libraries.5

Vorwort (p. 9)


Andreas Bihrer: Aeneas flieht aus Konstantinopel - Exil, Heimatliebe und Türkenkrieg in Michael Marullus' Elegie De exilio suo (Epigr. 3,37) (pp. 11-31)

Hermann Wiegand: Politische Panegyrik in den Epigrammata des Michael Marullus: das Beispiel Kaiser Maximilians I. (pp. 33-44)


Nikolaus Thurn: Antikenrezeption und zeitgenössische Poesie: Marulls Epigramme 1,21; 2,4; 3,20 (pp. 45-55)

Ulrike Auhagen: Marullus -- ein ,Catullus pudicus' (Epigr. 1,2) (pp. 57-66)

Roswitha Simons: Das Epitaphium Pholoes (Epigr. 1,42): Zur Tibull-Rezeption bei Michael Marullus (pp. 67-82)

Catherine Notter: Marullos Epigramme und Martial (pp. 83-98)


Eckard Lefèvre: Marullus' Hymnus auf Bacchus -- eine humanistische Verinnerlichung antiker Topik (pp. 99-122)

Gesine Manuwald: Hymnus und Sphragis -- Michael Marullus' Hymnus an Mercurius (Hymn. Nat. 2, 8) (pp. 123-140)

Beate Czapla: Mythischer Frechdachs, Quälgeist, neuplatonische Schöpfungsmacht und rationalistische Allegorie: Amor-Variationen in der Lyrik des Michele Marullo (pp. 141-168)

Lore Benz: Marullus und die Kunst (pp. 169-178)


Thorsten Burkard: Marullus' Institutiones principales - ein poetischer Fürstenspiegel des ausgehenden 15. Jahrhunderts (pp. 179-216)


Thomas Baier: Marullus und Lukrez (pp. 217-227)


Peter Walter: Marullus und Erasmus (pp. 229-240)

James Hirstein: La réception de la poésie de Michele Marullo chez Beatus Rhenanus à l'époque de l'édition de 1509 (pp. 241-252)

Gerard Freyburger - Gilles Polizzi: "Non sum ego": Tibulle (Lygdamus), l'Arioste et Du Bellay - intertextes croisés autour de l' épigramme III, 44 de Marulle (pp. 253-264)

Eckard Lefèvre: Kritik und Spiel -- Julius Caesar Scaliger (Poet. 6,4) und Jakob Bälde (Exp. 4-7) über Michael Marullus' Falco (pp. 265-276)

Simona Lupi: Gli studi di Benedetto Croce su Michele Marullo Tarcaniota (pp. 277-286)

Register (pp. 287-288)


1.   See Forschungszentrum: Diskursivierung von Wissen in der Frühen Neuzeit.
2.   The commentary samples are printed in two different type sizes to separate the major from the minor observations. It goes without saying that every commentary evokes quibbles. Burkard's is no exception to this rule. E.g., on p. 199, Ovidius' fallere noctem (Her. 1.9) may be a better parallel for Marullus' fallere noctem (v. 111) than Propertius' fallebam ... somnum (1.3.41).

p. 25 n. 67: the full stop is missing.
p. 64 'ist 1, 2 ist': the second 'ist' must be deleted.
p. 107: A superfluous extra space in the fifth stanza of Horace's poem must be erased.
p. 118: naturae instead of natura
p. 124: (in the URL) .dr instead of .dev
p. 148: caelstis instead of caelestis
p. 149: Marulle 195 instead of Marulle 1995
p. 151: Note number 35 is left out.

The section titles in Lupi's article and Lefèvre's second contribution deviate in size from the those in the rest of the volume.

In the index, references to pages after page 277 are incorrect (probably due to a last minute cut to save paper).
4.   E.g., when Lefèvre discusses the sphragis qualities of Hymn. nat. 1.6, a reference to Manuwald would have been in order.
5.   I would like to thank dr. Bé Breij for correcting my English.


Corsinovi, G. 1975, 'Affinità e suggestioni petrarchesche negli Epigrammata di Michele Marullo', in: Studi di Filologia e Letteratura 2-3, 155-173.

Enenkel, K. 2008, 'XIV. Todessehnsucht am Schwarzen Meer: Michael Marules' lyrische Autobiographik im "Exilgedicht" ("De exilio suo"; 1489/90;1497) und anderen Gedichten', in: id., Die Erfindung des menschen. Die Autobiographik des frühneuzeitlichen Humanismus von Petrarca bis Lipsius, Berlin/New York: Walter de Gruyter, 368-428.

Kidwell, C. 1989, Marullus. Soldier Poet of the Renaissance, London: Duckworth.

Piras, A. 2004, 'La querelle entre Marulle et Politien sur trois passages catulliens' R.É.L. 32, 32-35.

Schönberger 1997: Michael Marullus, Institutiones Principales - Prinzenerziehung. Lateinischer Text, Einleitung, erste Übersetzung von Otto Schönberger, Würzburg: Verlag Könighausen & Neumann.

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