- On Renaissance Commentaries
What features of content or method distinguish a work of Renaissance pedagogy or scholarship? In particular, do commentaries composed during the Renaissance possess traits evident elsewhere in Renaissance scholarship? Is there, for example, a penchant for variant readings and textual emendations, or a greater interest in history and oratory, than is evident in their medieval counterparts? The present collection of papers was initially presented during the 2003 International Congress for Neo-Latin Studies in response to these questions. Commentaries on Sallust, Martial, Dioscurides, and Apuleius, and handwritten marginalia in printed books are cases for the study of the extent to which Renaissance commentaries resemble medieval predecessors or reveal a new ethos.
The first essay discusses a commentary attributed to Ognibene in the Opera of Sallust printed in 1500. Robert Ulery argues that it is a near reprint of a twelfth-century commentary, attributed to the famous Renaissance teacher possibly to attract customers, especially schoolteachers, for whom grammatical [End Page 834] explanations and paraphrases were essential. The "characteristic spirit of a Renaissance reading of Sallust's texts" (27), which the Ognibene is said to lack, is shown in a passage from the Sallust commentary by the Northern humanist Badius Ascensius, with its "emphasis on the development of style and the array of authorities" (15).
Patricia Osmond observes that Northern humanists like Badius and Glareanus sensed that a Sallust commentary attributed to Lorenzo Valla neglected Valla's aims of renovatio litterarum. The Northern suspicion about authorship is seen as evidence of a growing emphasis on standards of style and the application of historical and textual criticism. These, for Osmond, are elements of the Renaissance commentators' "changing expectations and attitudes" (46).
Marianne Pade discusses Niccolò Perotti's planned commentary on Martial, which grew into the Cornucopia, an encyclopedia of Latin language and culture. This expansion exemplifies for Pade the way humanists read and commented on classical texts: to acquire the philological learning in order to imitate the discourse of the ancient writers, but also to acquire mastery over a text's entire "linguistic and doctrinal universe" (63).
Johann Ramminger describes Ermolao Barbaro's corollarium to Dioscorides as a work of humanist philology in the field of medicine. Barbaro focused not on what today's readers would consider the scientific content of Dioscorides' herbology, but on ancient authorities, even digressing from the matter to discuss textual problems taken from non-technical literature. Ramminger sees here evidence of the method of Renaissance reading, rightly acknowledging that Barbaro's Dioscorides was hailed nonetheless for bringing the medical content to light. An appendix to the essay surveys historical meanings of commentarius, commentum, commentatio, and commentarii.
Julia Gaisser sees a continuity from medieval to Renaissance pedagogy in Filippo Beroaldo's commentary on Apuleius, considered as a window onto the famous Renaissance teacher's lectures. His method reflects medieval pedagogical method: word-for-word discussion of the text ostensibly ranging through all topics — usage, etymology, custom, law, mythology, religion, and history — but displaying a philologist's interest in the narrative and its moral and social implications, as opposed to that of a scientist striving after the correct textual or historical facts.
Craig Kallendorf's article calls on today's readers to discover how Renaissance readers defined themselves through annotating their books. Running debates with a text, criticism of religious or political viewpoints, records of events in one's life all show the personal dimension of what commentary means. Like the reverse perspective of a Byzantine icon, lines in this type of commentary point to the reader rather than to composition. This is helpful to those who would define commentary solely as a reflection of an objective text. Renaissance commentaries so conceived become places, hitherto neglected, to reconsider the idea of the rise of the individual.
The six case studies evidence both a continuity with medieval methods [End Page 835] of paraphrase and exegesis, and a developing "historical-critical method" as Renaissance readers sought to become masters as well as heirs of classical...