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Philosophy for the People? Antonio Brucioli as Translator of Aristotle in Sixteenth- Century Italy

Final Report Summary - ABRUCIOLI (Philosophy for the People? Antonio Brucioli as Translator of Aristotle in Sixteenth- Century Italy)

My project studied the role of Antonio Brucioli (1498c.-1566) in the vernacularization and dissemination of the works of Aristotle in sixteenth-century Florence and Venice. A figure largely ignored in modern scholarship, Brucioli represents a crucial intersection of religious and philosophical interests and of informal contexts of learning. My research has led to the first sustained study of this figure in 70 years, contributing to the new wave of interest in the spread of Aristotle’s works in the vernacular throughout the Italian peninsula. This has made been possible thanks to the discovery of unknown editions and an evaluation of the accomplishments reached by Brucioli as a translator.

In particular my research has obtained the following results :

1) A general re-assessment of Brucioli’s biography, education, and literary output in Florence, particularly from the standpoint of his activity as a professional translator and amateur philosopher. I have therefore investigated Brucioli’s connection to the eclectic milieu of the Orti Oricellari in Florence, which he attended as a young man in the 1510s. Though it is often affirmed that Brucioli had a debt towards Francesco Cattani da Diacceto (1466-1522), who was an important forerunner of the vernacularization of philosophical texts, my investigation – both in archives and in libraries - did not reveal any direct connection between the two men. When Brucioli was interested in serving the marketplace translating in the vernacular, Diacceto had a different approach to the question: completely disinterested in the book market (his vernacularizations were in fact all printed posthoumously) Diacceto considered philosophy an elitist discipline in itself, and therefore suitable to be expressed in any language, though preserving its deepest truths. Another aspect of my research focused on Brucioli’s Dialoghi (1st edition 1526), devoted to different philosophical subjects: though subsequently Brucioli will show a sustained engagement with Aristotle’s works of natural philosophy, in contrast to that of other translators who preferred to concentrate their energies on the ethical and rhetorical works, doubtless because of their easier theoretical structure and their more immediate application within the context of courts and academies, he did not show any deep predilection for this kind of matters in the Dialoghi. He undoubtedly felt more at ease with subjects like ethics and politics, and if he later translated only the Aristotelian Politics in the vernacular, it was only for marketplace reasons (see point 2). Furthermore, research in Vatican archives had offered new elements in order to justify Brucioli’s choice of translating Aristotle, after spending years in working on the vernacularization of the Holy Scriptures. The parallel stories of Brucioli as a translator of Aristotle, and of his three trials for heresy depict a very vivid picture of cultural and editorial life in sixteenth-century Venice, a picture which enriches the past excellent works by Paul Grendler and Brian Richardson. I have therefore corrected the chronology of Brucioli’s vernacularizations of Aristotle, discovered new editions through a systematic examination of the catalogues of European libraries (in particular in England, Italy and Vatican City). The points mentioned above could have not been addressed without considering the rest of Brucioli’s output as a translator, which in addition to the Bible included editions of classical authors such as Cicero, Pliny, and the famous medieval author Johannes Sacrobosco. Through an analysis of these works, I have been able to delineate Brucioli’s own translation theory, which rests over the concept of translatio studiorum and confers to Greek and Judaic cultures the dominating position over peers.

2) I have explored the Venetian context in which Brucioli operated in the 1540s-1550s. It is noteworthy that most of Brucioli’s translations were published by the Venetian printer Bartolomeo Imperatore (fl. 1542-1556), whose editorial programme included almost exclusively works in the vernacular (volgare), and in particular the vernacularization of other Aristotelian treatises, such as translations by Bernardo Segni, a member of the Accademia Fiorentina. The competion with Segni prevented Brucioli from vernacularizing the ethical treatises of Aristotle, already being published by the Florentine Accademico. The study of the paratexts of Brucioli’s works and a prosopographic study of those to whom he addressed the texts allowed me to contextualize his work, and to understand the motives behind his ambitious project of rendering in the vernacular the entire Aristotelian corpus: these particularly included financial concerns (after the first trial for heresy in 1547 Brucioli was forced to close his own printing shop and to stop translating scriptural texts) and consequently the need of offering products which could appeal audience as absolutely new, and possibly interest powerful patrons. The multiple dedication letters which he prepared for a single Aristotelian translation are a clear demonstration of his continuous search for important patrons, from whom he wished to obtain money and political protection. I have also studied other vernacular treatises in via Aristotelis — for the most part devoted to the topic of the soul —printed in Venice during the 1550s: they included a paraphrase of the De anima by Francesco Sansovino (1521-1583), a booklet on the same subject by Rinaldo Odoni (fl. 1557), and a couple of commentaries composed by Francesco Venier, whose relations with Brucioli were at times less than cordial.

3) More generally I have also found evidence of the audience addressed by Brucioli’s translations. Vernacularizations of philosophical texts would not have gained entry into university classrooms, where Latin continued to prevail. What were the reasons, and intended audiences, which led Brucioli to stress Aristotelian natural philosophy? Uncommon elements of editorial crafts reveal that Brucioli aimed at a erudite audience, possibly university students.

4) Finally, I investigated the circulation of Brucioli’s translations. Unsurprisingly they did not enjoy a broad circulation, because Brucioli’s name was inserted in the Index of Prohibited books at an early stage. Nonetheless notes of possession on some extant copies revealed a good degree of success in France, where Brucioli had spent some years in the 1520s.

These results will be all collected in the monograph I am currently writing, which will delineate for the first time in all his complexity a central figure of early modern European culture, framing his activity within a historical and geographic context where the vernacular was gaining in importance and dignity.