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Libraries & Culture 38.3 (2003) 271-273

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Letters and Orations, Cassandra Fedele. Edited and translated by Diana Robin. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000. xxvi, 181 pp. $45.00 (cloth); $15.00 (paper). ISBN 0-226-23932-2.

By translating the Latin letters and orations of Cassandra Fedele (1465-1558), classicist Diana Robin makes a second contribution to the important Chicago series for the classroom, The Other Voice in Early Modern Europe. Her first, the letters of Laura Cereta, was both a milestone and a dilemma. Because Cereta was more aggressively feminist than many other early women writers, she was a "must" for the series. But Cereta was also more aggressively classicizing. Undergraduates find her allusive prose forbidding even in Robin's fine translation. Fedele's letters present no such problem. Her humanism—that is, her engagement with the classicizing ideals of the studia humanitatis, with its pedagogical focus on grammar, rhetoric, moral philosophy, history, and poetry—is expressed more plainly. And Robin's graceful, sometimes paraphrased translation further smoothes the arch encomiastic periodicity of Fedele's prose.

Although Robin translates more than 120 letters and 3 orations, Fedele remains mysterious. The problems are twofold. First, the veil of rhetorical "insincerity" falls heavily everywhere. Second, loss on a grand scale has intervened. Fedele's copies of the letters and orations translated here are no longer extant. The three works that Fedele claims to have been composing are lost as well. Thus, in presenting the letters, Robin depends of necessity on Giuseppe Tomasini's Latin edition of 1636, making a good case for its reliability (13 n. 4). But students must be reminded that we are at some remove from the documents themselves.

Following Tomasini, Robin groups Fedele's orations together at the end of her volume. But Robin drops Tomasini's chronological arrangement of the letters themselves in favor of a "thematic" one by type of correspondent (e.g., women patrons, family members, princes and courtiers). This new arrangement makes some pedagogical sense, owing to the introductions Robin provides for each thematic section. But it also misleads, implying that the categories of correspondents are mutually exclusive, whereas "academics and literary friends" might be "men of the church" and vice versa—a point that matters in Renaissance intellectual history. Moreover, Robin's new arrangement removes a valuable piece of evidence, for Tomasini had the manuscript letters before him (as Robin explained to me in a generous and helpful conversation). Dates given in Tomasini are inconsistently translated, and chronological sequence even within the new thematic sections is sometimes reversed without explanation (e.g., Robin VIII and IX). [End Page 271]

Robin translates the letters' addresses (she calls these descriptive titles) from Tomasini, often making slight adjustments in silence to help her young readers. Tomasini's descriptive titles are given in the majority of cases, and alterations in them are sometimes explained (e.g., Robin XIV and CXIX), sometimes not (e.g., Robin XII and LXXI). Robin adds paragraphing throughout as well as helpful endnotes on classical allusions, on Fedele's self-deprecating diminutives, on many of the people mentioned in the letters, and on her own word choices for the translation. When Tomasini nods, Robin accounts for her emendations in ways accessible to students with rudimentary Latin (e.g., Robin VIII and nn. 30, 32, 33, 35).

The series editors chose not to include letters discovered since the seventeenth century:

  1. from Fedele to Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, dated Venice 10 kal. oct. [22 September] 1489, inc. Etsi ad te iamdiu scribere proposueram (Pesenti, ed., 1925, 266-67; for references, see Robin's bibliography);
  2. from Fedele to Lodovico il Moro, dated Venice 8 kal. feb. [25 January] 1492, inc. Tantum ab intellectu intelligibile omne percipi quantum fuit sensu perspectum (Cappelli, ed., 1895, 388-90);
  3. from Lodovico il Moro to Fedele, dated Milan, 3 February 1493, inc. Si Dominus Hieronimus Totavilla egit ne ad nos scribere verereris (Cappelli, ed., 1895, 390-91);
  4. from Lodovico il Moro to Fedele, dated 17 June 1494, inc. Est nobis vehementer gratum quod adventus Magnifici Pauli Boldu patricii veneti silentium interuperit (Cappelli, ed...


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