- Die Ökonomie der Dichtung: Das Lobgedicht des Pietro Lazzaroni an den Borgia-Papst Alexander VI (1497). Einleitung, Interpretation, kritische Erstedition und Kommentar ed. by Bernhard Schirg
Until fairly recently there has been a distinct reluctance on the part of modern scholarship to tackle neo-Latin encomiastic poetry. Understandably so, given the intricacies of the genre, the obscurity of many of its practitioners, and the not wholly unfounded impression that such work was produced by paid hacks whose sole aim in writing was to serve the interests of their patrons. Added to this was the widely shared conviction that works of this kind, often dashed off at high speed, with one hand on the pen and the other extended to receive cash payment, could have no real poetic value.
All that has suddenly changed over the past decade or so thanks largely to a younger generation of German scholars. Brushing aside contested issues like that of poetic value, a new wave of scholarship has come at the Latin encomiastic literature of the Renaissance with a fresh set of questions: how was such work produced? Who exactly dictated its parameters? What exactly were the circumstances surrounding its composition and diffusion?
Clearly it is not possible to answer such questions in the abstract, which is why most of the new work tends to focus, like the book under review, on a specific figure, and even, as here too, on a specific work. Pietro Lazzaroni (c. 1425–c. 1500) is certainly no household name. Little is known of his life, beyond what can be gleaned from the information he drops here and there in his thirty-six known poetic compositions. Most of these were occasional verse pieces that he deliberately crafted to please the powerful in the hopes of promoting his own social advancement. The strategy appears to have paid off in Milan: a 1200-hexameter-long verse history of the dukes of Milan (the Vita Ducum) resulted in his being appointed to teach law at the University of Pavia in 1480. This put him into direct contact with a number of influential figures in the entourage of the effective ruler of the duchy, Ludovico Maria Sforza. Although Lazzaroni's prospects at the Milanese court were to remain precarious at best, he continued for the rest of his life—as far as we can determine—to tailor his poetic efforts to the apologetic needs of the Sforza regime.
As its subtitle indicates, Bernhard Schirg's book revolves around Lazzaroni's last and longest poetic composition, the Carmen ad Alexandrum VI. Written in the [End Page 244] spring/summer of 1497, and addressed to the notorious Borgia pope Alexander VI, the poem consists of 2100 hexameters organized into three books. Schirg not only provides us with the first edition of the poem, but also with an exhaustive commentary explaining the context. In commissioning Lazzaroni to write this work, Ludovico Sforza was investing him with what might be described as a literary mission impossible. Because he was addressing a pope, Lazzaroni was first of all obliged to conform to the requirements of the genre, or sub-genre, of papal panegyric, a tricky task in itself. Secondly, he had to slant his content to meet the needs of a particularly delicate moment. By the middle of the year 1497 the formerly cosy relationship between Milan and Rome had deteriorated almost to the point of no return. Lazzaroni's poem was part of a desperate last-ditch move by Ludovico Sforza to patch up his broken ties with the Borgia pope.
Schirg shows how Lazzaroni skilfully negotiated various obstacles, especially in Book I, where he had to provide an account of the first five years of the Borgia pontificate (1492–97) without so much as alluding to the reasons for the falling out between Rome and Milan. Yet perhaps the most impressive thing about Lazzaroni's performance was the speed at...