Wednesday, June 19, 2013


Stefano U. Baldassarri, Benedetta Aldi, William J. Connell, Giannozzo Manetti. Historia Pistoriensis. Il ritorno dei classici nell'Umanesimo, IV: Edizione nazionale dei testi della storiografia umanistica, 7. Firenze: SISMEL – Edizioni del Galluzzo, 2011. Pp. xv, 270. ISBN 9788884504425. €54.00.

Reviewed by Jeroen De Keyser, KU Leuven (

Version at BMCR home site

If scholarship concerning the oeuvre of the humanist and politician Giannozzo Manetti (1396–1459), the son of a rich Florentine merchant, has been significantly increasing in the last decade, it is to a large extent through the merit of Stefano Ugo Baldassarri, who has steadily been producing both editions and careful analyses of Manetti's diverse writings. He is now joined by two other seasoned Manetti scholars in the first modern edition of the Historia Pistoriensis, the only real historiographical work Manetti produced other than the De terraemotu. It has been published only once before, in 1731, by Ludovico A. Muratori, under the title Chronicon Pistoriense, in volume 19 of the first series of the Rerum Italicarum Scriptores. Like many other of Manetti's works, its genesis and content were closely connected to his political activities. When in October 1446 Manetti was elected for a six month term as 'capitano di custodia' in Pistoia – then already entirely in the orbit of its neighbor Florence – he decided to write the city's history, from its origin until the moment when he took up his post. The first book starts with the Etruscan origin of Pistoia, allegedly founded by some remnants of Catiline's troops after their defeat in 62 BCE and continues until the end of the thirteenth century. The second book is dedicated to the 1289-1343 period, with the third and last one devoted to the century preceding Manetti's office in the city.

The Historia, however, also doubles as an apology pro domo. Manetti was apparently so effective in performing his duties in Pistoia that some locals asked the Florentine Republic to prolong his stay. This request met with the opposition of the Florentine Paolo Soldini, who accused the excessively ambitious Manetti of having engineered the request himself. In the end Manetti did not even complete his initial term, as the election of his friend Tommasso Parentucelli to the Holy See as Pope Nicholas V on 6 March 1447 prompted his mission as the Florentine ambassador to the papal court. Anyhow, in July 1447 the Historia Pistoriensis was officially presented to the authorities (the dedication copy has been lost, though).

Although most humanist historiographical writings were commissioned by the leadership of independent (city) states, Manetti's history of Pistoia was written by a Florentine during his mission in a city subject to his native Florence. In the composition of this work, Manetti mainly relied heavily on Giovanni Villani's Nuova cronica and the anonymous Storie pistoresi, both written in Italian, but especially on the Historiae Florentini populi by Leonardi Bruni, one of Manetti's major models throughout his career. But in spite of his admiration for Bruni, Manetti does not follow him slavishly. He implicitly contradicts Bruni in stressing the Roman origin of Pistoia; he adds to Bruni's body of classical sources; and unlike Bruni, he does not enter into polemics with Villani.

This critical edition is presented as the pendant of the Italian translation of the same work published in 2010 by S.U. Baldassarri alone (Storia di Pistoia, Alessandria: Edizioni dell'Orso, 2010), although it should be noted that the historical comment added to the text assigned here to William J. Connell (who has also added fourteen historical documents in an appendix) is reproduced to a large extent verbatim (yet adespoton) in the footnotes to the separate translation too. Such a duplication by the same authors makes one wonder whether one joint publication of the text with a facing translation and a single set of notes would not have made more sense for scholars wanting to use this interesting material.

In the volume currently under review, the elaborate Introduction and the philological discussion (Classificazione dei testimoni and Criteri editoriali) are due to Baldassarri, while the codicological descriptions of some manuscripts is due to Benedetta Aldi. Her own dissertation containing a critical edition of this very same text (Giannozzo Manetti, 'Historia Pistoriensis': edizione critica, introduzione e commento, Pisa 2009), written under the guidance of this series' general editor Gabriella Albanese, strangely enough remains unmentioned in the bibliography.

In the very interesting section dedicated to Metodo e fonti, Baldassarri discusses the main features of the Historia. One of the themes running through the work (whose scope is mainly limited to political and military events) is the caution against discord, a phenomenon considered the most serious threat to civil liberty. In his careful analysis Baldassarri repeatedly stresses the compilatory character of the Historia Pistoriensis and the lack of originality of Manetti's rush job, not to mention his unpolished, repetitive and pompous style, and he blames the probably lukewarm immediate response to the work by Manetti's contemporaries for the limited number of manuscript witnesses that has been passed down though the ages. The remaining seven witnesses indeed all stem from Tuscany – which comes as a surprise, as one could have expected copies from curial or Aragonese circles, inasmuch as Manetti moved to Rome first and then to Naples after his Pistoian experiences. Furthermore, not a single historian of the sixteenth century seems to have relied on Manetti's Historia.

The outstanding material qualities of the present edition seem therefore to exceed the text's relevance. The book is indeed very nicely produced, displaying the familiar pleasant layout and usual editorial accuracy of the series. One misprint crossed my eye: qundi in note 65 (p. 86) should of course be quindi. Likewise, one can only subscribe to the inevitable choice for a normalized Latin spelling – in the absence of authorized witnesses reflecting Manetti's orthographical preferences. My only reservation, however, is a serious one: the classificazione dei testimoni', expounded in almost 25 pages, does not convince. In Baldassarri's reconstruction, diversi testimoni presentano segni di una "contaminazione" che, date le caratteristiche di tali esemplari, non può essere effetto dell'attività dei rispettivi copisti ma va fatta risalire a dei manoscritti interpositi oggi perduti. (p. 63). He specifies that he uses the term "contamination" in quotation marks because the phenomenon is not the product of any collation, but has to be ascribed to Manetti himself, who time and again intervened, correcting and modifying his text, leaving traces of the saltuaria rilettura of his text, a process leading to an extremely 'fluid' text. "Varianti d'autore" seems then indeed a more appropriate term than "contaminazione".

The stemma proposed on p. 85 consists of no fewer than six bifurcations, and remarkably in all six cases the common source of the splitting branches is supposed to be a lost intermediary. While the basic bifurcation between the two branches α and β seems legitimate, and also the hypothesis of the existence of a lost intermediary γ (the source of the recentiores F and M), and itself a copy of the equally lost β, may be deemed convincing, my objections concern the assumption of the lost witnesses δ and ε. Baldassarri argues that U and V, the descendants of the lost α, are the two witnesses closest to the author, yet he also believes that Manetti kept intervening in various other stages of the transmission, thereby putting it as many as four stages removed from the archetype. Indeed, according to his reasoning, the manuscripts P, R and N contain the result of deliberate 'later' interventions, although none of these three witnesses displays any material traces of such corrections. This leaves us with the striking paradox that none of the conserved witnesses displays authorial intervention, while (in the editor's reconstruction) all lost witnesses inevitably did. While not impossible, such a dichotomy seems a remarkable coincidence at least. Furthermore, according to the editor's own explanation (a convincing one, at this point, as the copyist of N turns out to be reliably faithful, as is demonstrated on p. 68), we should assume another manoscritto interposito oggi perduto (p. 84) between ε and N. Therefore the stemma should in the first place be revised so that it has ε bifurcating not into R and N, but rather into R and ζ (my siglum), the lost source of N. This would then put N five steps away from the archetype – while it would still reflect the unique authorial interventions introduced in ζ, and that occurring after the author had already introduced interventions in four different preceding intermediaries that by mere coincidence are all lost. The precise nature of all these lost intermediaries (drafts or clean copies?) is nowhere specified.

In arguing for his complex reconstruction, Baldassarri repeatedly resorts to la situazione particolarmente fluida di questa zona stemmatica (p. 63, 71, 86) and to the hurried composition and unpolished character of Manetti's text, subsequently remediated by sporadici interventi sulle copie di questa sua opera to accommodate textual issues that seem at odds with his stemmatic reconstruction. Besides the (admittedly not impossible, yet unlikely) hypothesis that all six witnesses that displayed the scattered editorial efforts by Manetti are lost while none of the seven actually conserved manuscripts displays any such intervention, it may be noted in passing that the editor circuitously also falls into the trap of defining separate families by true readings instead of common errors.

With the caveat that one cannot make definitive claims without the evidence produced by a full collation of all witnesses at hand, there is, in my opinion, an easy alternative for the blurred and rather implausible reconstruction presented by the editor – and one that is not at odds with the variae lectiones he is citing. It would suffice, I believe, to tilt the stemma proposed on p. 85 just 45° to the left to convey what might be going on here, all the more so when substituting ε – N with the ε – 'ζ' – N sequence Baldassarri himself implicitly advocates. Such an 'optical' intervention produces a striking horizontal sequence β – δ – ε – ζ on a first, 'upper' level and a parallel, underlying horizontal sequence of γ – P – R – N. The upper level of this horizontal parallelism should in my opinion be reduced to one single master copy β that remained in Manetti's possession all the time, and that was revised at various times, as it became the single source of several subsequent copies. The 'fluid' situation, as Baldassarri has to depict it repeatedly to make his accumulation of bifurcations work, is then nothing other than either the author having second (or third) thoughts about his own interventions, and/or the respective copyists overlooking one or another authorized (marginal or interlinear) correction. The vertical sequence of β – δ – ε – ζ would then be replaced by a horizontal sequence β – β' – β'' – β''' representing an evolving subarchetype as the source of the copies γ – P – R – N. This much more economical explanation not only reduces the lost copies containing Manetti's scattered interventions in the β branch from five to two, it also eliminates the need of most of the editor's contorted explanations for the 'fluid' passages that oppose his stemma, and it produces a reconstruction of the transmission that is much more in line with both common humanist practice and standard stemmatic rendering of such practice. Such a horizontal rendering would also illustrate more clearly the prominent position, as the authorized final destination of an evolving text, of manuscript N, giving its due to being the witness that indisputably reflects the ultima voluntas auctoris – and that, by an irony of sorts, was already used as the source of Muratori's 1731 edition. In the editor's classic top-down stemma, N unfortunately appears as the less relevant witness, way downstream and far removed from the archetype.

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