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Dictionaries, 1 (1979) FLORIO'S USE OF CONTEMPORARY ITALIAN LITERATURE IN A WORLDE OF WORDES David O. Frantz In the Epistle Dedicatorie of his monumental Italian-English dictionary, A Worlde of Wordes (1 598), John Florio asserts that Italian literature is difficult to comprehend, for even in the Renaissance "Italian literature" meant primarily the works of Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio: And I haue seene the best, yea naturall Italians, not onely stagger, but euen sticke fast in the myre, and at last giue it ouer, or giue their verdict with An ignoramus. Boccace is prettie hard, yet vnderstood: Petrarche harder, but explaned: Dante hardest, but commented. Some doubt if all aright. (Sig. A401 Earlier lexicographers were intent upon making only these difficult deities of Italian literature accessible, and Florio wonders: How then ayme we at Peter Aretine, that is so wittie, hath such varietie, and frames so manie new words? At Francesco Doni, who is so fantasticall, & so strange? At Thomaso Garzoni in his Piazza vniuersale; or at Allessandro Cittolini in his Typocosmia, who haue more proper and peculiar words concerning euerie seuerall trade, arte, or occupation for euerie particular toole, or implement belonging vnto them, then euer any man heeretofore either collected in any booke, or sawe collected in any one language? How shall we vnderstand Haniball Caro, who is so full of wittie iestes, sharpe quips, nipping tantes, and scoffing phrases against that graue and learned man Lodouico Casteluetri, in his Apologia de' Banchf! Howe shall the English Gentleman come to the perfect vnderstanding of Federico Grisone, his Arte del Caualcare, who is so full of strange phrases, and vnusuall wordes, peculiar onely to horse-manship, and proper but to Caualarizzil How shall we vnderstande so manie and so strange bookes, of so seuerall, and so fantasticall subiects as be written in the Italian toong? (Sig. A4r) Florio clearly intended to make all of these writers accessible, and in his Preface to the Reader, after citing the work of earlier English lexicographers like Elyot, Cooper, and Thomas Thomas, Florio trumpets his own accomplishment 47 48DAVID O. FRANTZ by stating that he has far surpassed the earlier Italian lexicographical works of Alunno and Venuti. "If any thinke I had great helpes of Alunno, or of Venuti, let him confer, and knowe I haue in two, yea almost in one of my letters of the Alphabet more wordes, then they haue in all their twentie, and they are but for a few auctors in the Italian toong, mine for most that write well, as may appeere by the Catalog of bookes that I haue read through of purpose for the accomplishing of this Dictionarie" (Sig. Blr). Florio goes on to list the books he has supposedly read "for the accomplishing" of his dictionary . Until recently, scholars have tended to take Florio at his word and have given him high praise for the breadth of his learning and reading. However, in a 1965 article, "John Florio Reconsidered," DeWitt T. Starnes provided a valuable corrective in Florio studies when he showed how, far from using words drawn from his own reading and inventing many definitions for his Worlde of Wordes, Florio followed standard Renaissance lexicographical procedure and borrowed many of his terms and definitions from earlier dictionaries, especially Thomas Thomas' Latin-English Dictionarium Linguae Latirme et Anglicanae.2 Starnes concluded his article by noting that Florio's claims of wide reading in primary sources 'Tike those of his antecedents and contemporaries in the field of lexicography, were vastly exaggerated."* While Starnes' argument is persuasive as far as it goes, he does not in fact give Florio his due in at least one major area, Florio's use of contemporary Italian literature. Starnes notes that it was common practise for Renaissance lexicographers to list books consulted which were never used. Florio follows this practise, but in his listing of contemporary Italian literature, Florio was not merely padding his list, for it can be proven that Florio did know the literature that had been written in 16th-century Italy and that he took great pains to make that literature accessible through his dictionary. Florio cites Aretino, Doni, Garzoni, and Caro among others in his Epistle...


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