Sunday, June 4, 2017


Rodney Lokaj, Two Renaissance Friends: Baldassare Castiglione, Domizio Falcone, and their Neo-Latin Poetry. Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies 466. Tempe, Arizona: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2015. Pp. xii, 372. ISBN 9780866985192. $72.00.

Reviewed by Fabio Stok, Università di Roma Tor Vergata (

Version at BMCR home site

In this book, Rodney Lokaj publishes the Latin poems of Baldassare Castiglione and Domizio Falcone. Of these two authors, only Castiglione is well known, thanks to his Book of the Courtier (Il Cortegiano): a work written between 1508 and 1528, when it was published. This work gives an influential portrait of the perfect courtier and long served as a model for civilized and polished behaviour. Domizio Falcone, by contrast, is not so well known. Falcone was born in Mantua (like Castiglione) and studied with Castiglione in Milan under Giorgio Merula and Demetrius Chalcondylas. Falcone then became the private tutor of Girolamo, the younger brother of Baldassare, when the latter was forced to leave Mantua and went to Urbino to the court of the Duke Guidobaldo of Montefeltro. Some years later Castiglione moved to Rome where his brilliant diplomatic career began. He tried to find a position in Rome for his friend, but Falcone died suddenly of a fever (1505).

Castiglione expressed his grief at this loss in a pastoral composition entitled Alcon in which he echoes the amorous despair of Corydon in Virgil's second Eclogue and the laments for the death of Daphnis in the fifth. This little poem (154 lines) soon became well known in Renaissance culture and as a model for pastoral compositions (it inspired Bembo, Spencer, Milton, and others); but the real person hidden behind the name Alcon, that is, Falcone, remained unknown for a long time. Lokaj has discovered the story of the two friends, and he proposes a synoptic reading of all their Latin poems, giving a critical edition of the texts, a sympathetic English translation, and useful notes on their poetic language and sources.

Lokaj also offers a new interpretation of the elegy in which Castiglione imagines his wife Ippolita Torelli writing to him to complain about the absence of her husband who is away from home and attending to unspecified duties in Rome. Previously the elegy had been interpreted as a learned imitation of Ovid's Heroides, the main source of the poem together with Catullus and Propertius, both frequently echoed by Castiglione. Lokaj shows that while the elegy seems to depict a tender and affectionate wife and a husband yearning to return home,several clues present a very different picture, showing Ippolita as a petulant wife and Baldassare as a man using his duties in Rome and at the Papal Court as an excuse for not returning home at all. The double face of Castiglione's poetry is well revealed by an epigram only published in 1996, previously censored for its sexual allusion: it concerns a woman who defended the city of Pisa during the 1499 assault by the Florentine troops, and who in another epigram (De viragine) is celebrated as a heroic maiden sacrificing herself in defence of her homeland. In the censored sequel (De eadem viragine) the maiden's death is lamented by her lover, who sees the girl pierced by a sword and says: «Alas, you should have been pierced by a very different weapon!». A Priapic nudge and wink, as Lokaj observes, that presupposes a poetic dialogue, the one between Castiglione and Falcone, which included unconventional allusions and references to the sexual sphere. Several of Falcone's poems, moreover, are epigrams inspired by the Priapea, with direct sexual references.

The poems of both friends are an interesting example of the role acquired by Latin poetry in the sixteenth century, when the Italian vernacular was acquiring an almost equal status to that of Latin in the Italian courts. In the previous century Latin had been generally used for official and solemn communications and celebrations, but the real purpose of Castiglione's and Falcone's Latinity was to entertain a sodality of learned and acutely perceptive humanists trained and willing to read such poetry on very different levels.

The 22 Latin poems of Castiglione are published in chronological order. Lockaj also includes three new poems "of uncertain attribution" from the manuscript Vat. Lat. 6250 (but he seems rather sure of their authenticity). One is an elegy on the death of Raffaello Sanzio (1520), who, like Castiglione, had worked in Rome under Leo X. In the case of Falcone Lokaj presents what amounts to an editio princeps. He divides the seventy-nine poems (in various meters) into three sections. The first includes twenty elegies and epigrams dedicated to a woman named Paula. The thirty compositions of the second section are dedicated to several friends, not always identifiable (some are addressed to Castiglione; others to Roberto Sanseverino d'Aragone, Francesco Sforza's nephew, and to Luigi and Francesco Gonzaga, of the princely family that ruled Mantua). The third section contains the Priapeia mentioned above.

The edition is philologically satisfying: Lokaj has collated all the known manuscripts and editions and gives the variants in the apparatus (but that on Falcone is unusual). In the commentary he indicates the several sources of the poetic language of the two authors. The principal sources are Virgil and Propertius, but Lokaj also identifies several others. I only add a few references: Castiglione's spirantia signa (carm. 19 l. 1) echoes Virgil Aen. 6.847; the idiomatic pair candida nigra, in the final epitaph of the Alcon (p. 88), echoes primarily Virgil Ecl. 2.18. In conclusion, Lokaj's edition is a brilliant contribution to the study of the Neo-Latin poetry of the sixteenth century.

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