Wednesday, November 26, 2014


Francesco Tateo (ed.), Giovanni Pontano, 'Aegidius, Dialogo'. RR inedita, Saggi 56. Roma: Roma nel Rinascimento, 2013. Pp. 131. ISBN 9788885913806. €25.00.

Reviewed by Julia Haig Gaisser, Bryn Mawr College (

Version at BMCR home site

This volume contains the Latin text of Giovanni Pontano's dialogue Aegidius edited and translated into Italian by Francesco Tateo, together with Tateo's introduction and notes.

Giovanni Gioviano Pontano (1429-1503) served five kings of Naples in positions ranging from scribe to prime minister, headed a famous humanist sodality, and transcribed and annotated the works of several ancient authors. He composed brilliant Latin poetry in many genres and enough prose works to fill several copious volumes. Among his most important works are the five dialogues that he composed over the thirty-year period from around 1471 to a year or so before his death. The last and greatest of these is Aegidius, a philosophical and religious discussion well described by David Marsh as "Pontano's literary and spiritual testament." 1

Pontano's dialogues have long been in need of a modern edition. The first (and the last) scholarly edition of all five dialogues was published by Carmelo Previtera in 1943 (Giovanni Pontano, I Dialoghi). It met a harsh reception.2 Nonetheless, the German translation published forty years later reprinted Previtera's text unchanged (Dialoge, Hermann Kiefer et al., trans. Munich, 1984). In 2012 the I Tatti Renaissance Library published my edition and English translation of the two earliest dialogues (Charon and Antonius). These were the easiest to edit, since the obvious basis of their text was the edition of them printed and corrected in Pontano's lifetime.3 The other dialogues have awaited an editor, but Aegidius, at least, has found one well suited to the task.

Francesco Tateo has devoted many books and articles to Pontano, and several to the dialogues. His early article (1964; see note 2) on the text of Actius is required reading for anyone attempting the difficult task of editing that dialogue, and a future editor would do well to find his recent article on the same subject, which is apparently not yet available, although it is dated 2012.4 Tateo has also written literary articles on all five dialogues, treated Pontano's poetry, and edited and translated Pontano's ethical works. 5

In the introduction Tateo places Aegidius in its intellectual and cultural context. The inspiration for the dialogue was Pontano's encounter with the famous Augustinian theologian and papal orator Egidio da Viterbo (the Aegidius of the title) when Egidio visited Naples around 1501. Egidio (1469-1532), a generation younger than Pontano, was already well on his way to becoming a central figure in the religious and intellectual culture of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. Tateo argues that the encounter had a profound effect on Pontano, providing a challenge to his own long-held philosophical and religious ideas. Both men were highly educated and deeply religious; both were profoundly convinced of the importance of rhetoric, oratory, and what one might call the power of the word, whether in its secular or in its Christian sense. But their perspectives were very different. Pontano, devoted to Cicero and Aristotle, was as much interested in this world as in the next, espousing "un classicismo, perfino al limite paganeggiante, ma sostanzialmente non lontano da una sorta di umanesimo cristiano" (p. 12). Egidio, "un religioso oltre tutto" (p. 12), was a theologian steeped in Augustinian and Platonic philosophy, mysticism, and the esoteric works of late antiquity, as well as the cabbala. Tateo's subtle and well documented discussion presents the dialogue as Pontano's exploration of the issues arising from the juxtaposition of such different ways of approaching religious and philosophical questions. He notes that although Aegidius is the most dialectical of the dialogues, it presents not a confrontation or clash of opinions, but rather an exchange of views expressed in the different voices of the interlocutors, each raising and treating questions from his own perspective and area of competence (p. 16). The dialogue is not so much a debate as a meeting of minds ranging over various topics, which include creation, dreams, free will, the immortality of the soul, the relation between heaven and earth, astrology, and mysticism. Underpinning it all is Pontano's assumption of a convergence between classicism (including myth) and the ideas of fifteenth-century Christianity. Tateo brings all these themes together in what one should probably regard not as a mere introduction but rather as an appreciation or reading of the dialogue as a whole. Particularly interesting to me was his discussion of the opening scene in which two interlocutors greet Pontano in the name of the Muses. Tateo presents it as an introduction to the theme of convergence, arguing that it both establishes a link between literary and religious inspiration and prepares readers for connections between other ancient and modern (fifteenth-century) themes. The latter, not surprisingly, include some ideas especially important to Pontano himself. One of these is the theme of the garden, in Pontano's presentation of which Tateo finds affinities between Paradise, Elysium, the Garden of the Hesperides (subject of Pontano's poem, De hortis Hesperidum), Vergil's country villa, and Pontano's own Villa Antiniana.

Appended to the introduction is a detailed discussion of the text. Aegidius, along with its sister dialogues Actius and Asinus, was printed in 1507, four years after Pontano's death, in a volume edited by his friend and frequent amanuensis, Pietro Summonte.6 No manuscript in Pontano's own hand exists, but we do have a manuscript transcribed in his lifetime (Rome, Biblioteca Corsiniana, 36 F 16), which bears the date 1501; this manuscript shows some signs of revision by its scribe, whom Tateo does not attempt to identify. It was certainly not Summonte, whose hand is well known. This is a point on which I would have welcomed some speculation on Tateo's part, for the identity of the scribe would certainly be relevant to the authority of the manuscript.

Tateo reports the differences between the Corsini manuscript and Summonte's edition, but with only a few exceptions prints the latter. His course may strike some readers as over cautious, but it is probably sound. On the one hand we have the evidence of the manuscript, on the other the well-documented tendency of Summonte to revise Pontano's text to accord with his own ideas of linguistic, orthographical, and theological correctness, as well as his manipulation of names in the various works.7 But the manuscript is dated two years before Pontano's death, and there is always the possibility, however exiguous, that Pontano made some or all of the changes himself in a lost manuscript.

Tateo's text clearly supersedes that of Previtera in both quality and convenience. Dispensing with an apparatus criticus, he follows the princeps of 1507, but includes and discusses the few major variants from the manuscript in footnotes. Previtera, by contrast, presented an apparatus cluttered with readings from sixteenth-century editions; he did not know the Corsini manuscript. By following the princeps Tateo reproduces what he calls the "usus pontaniano" in orthography and word division, bringing us as close as possible to what Pontano actually wrote, whereas Previtera preferred to smooth out and standardize Pontano's usage. Tateo also breaks the text into numbered paragraphs and indicates scene divisions with bracketed numerals—a practice that makes it easy to cite and refer to passages. Previtera's text, without such standard aids, could be cited only by page and line number.

Tateo's text also benefits from a facing Italian translation as well as from copious explanatory footnotes, which are full enough to be described as a commentary; they identify historical figures and events, discuss Latin usage, treat textual problems, and identify ancient and Renaissance works cited in the text. All the notes are provided with extremely valuable references. These would have been still more useful had the volume been provided with a bibliography. Without it, the search for references is unnecessarily difficult, especially since works cited more than once are not accompanied by a full bibliographical reference, but rather by the abbreviation, "cit.," which forces one to look through previous notes for the full citation.

The volume is handsomely produced, but unfortunately contains far too many misprints. A few are worth mentioning: the date of Previtera's edition is given as 1443 (p. 25); princeps appears as princepes (p. 29, l. 1); a bibliographical reference is printed twice (p. 25, n.3), etc. I saw one misprint in the text itself: surnus for sumus (p. 34); there may be others. If Tateo's work becomes the standard edition of Aegidius, as I expect it will, the copy editors should scrutinize it with great care before it is reprinted.

But these are small points. Tateo's edition is an extremely important contribution not only to the study of Aegidius, but also to that of Pontano himself. It will be welcomed by scholars of both Pontano and Neapolitan humanism.


1.   David Marsh, The Quattrocento Dialogue (Cambridge, Mass., 1980) 101.
2.   Among the most critical (and useful) discussions are: Scevola Mariotti, "Per lo studio dei Dialoghi del Pontano," Belfagor 2 (1947) 332-44 (reprinted in Mariotti's Scritti Medievali e Umanistici, Rome, 1994, 261-84) and Francesco Tateo, "Per l'edizione critica dell 'Actius' di G. Pontano," Studi mediolatini e volgari (Università di Pisa) 12 (1964) 145-94.
3.   [Dialogi qui Charon et Antonius inscribuntur]. Naples. Mathias Moravus. 31 January 1491.
4.   Francesco Tateo, "Pietro Summonte editore e copista di Giovanni Pontano. Altre note per una nuova edizione dell'Actius," in A. Piccardi, ed., Trasmissione del testo dal Medioevo all'età moderna. Leggere, copiare, pubblicare. (Szecin, 2012) 135-73.
5.   For details see the long list of Tateo's publications at
6.   Giovanni Pontano, Actius de numeris poeticis & lege historiae; Aegidius multiplicis argumenti; Tertius dialogus de ingratitudine qui Asinus inscribitur (Naples, 1507).
7.   For three studies by Liliana Monti Sabia detailing Summonte's revisions see Liliana Monti Sabia and Salvatore Monti, Studi su Giovanni Pontano, ed. Giuseppe Germano (Messina, 2010) 215-92.

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