1.18 More Controversy

In 1566 a controversy appeared in print in Piedmont over the pedagogical appropriateness of Terence for young students. (82) The issue was not new but the moment is significant, for these were the first years after the closing sessions of the Council of Trent. Churchmen and laymen across Catholic Europe were grappling with moral strictures the council fathers proposed for everyday Christian life. A decade earlier, as the council was in session, Ignatius Loyola had ordered an expurgation of Terence to be produced for the use of the fast-growing Jesuit colleges. The effort continued for many years, largely unsuccessfully; and meanwhile the Jesuits eliminated Terence, forbidding its use by students and teachers alike on the grounds that the plays could not be made over into chaste and salutary texts. The Jesuits were followed in this ban by some other religious orders like the Barnabites. Thus, the largest school system in Europe renounced the most popular school author of the century. As we will see later and in greater detail in chapter five, Jesuit curriculum reforms like the suppression of Terence were largely accomplished by unilateral action of the superiors of the order. No public debate was invited, and none occurred. (83)

By contrast, the protagonists of 1566 invited open debate about the use of Terence, though they themselves were obscure figures otherwise little known. Immediately, then, we may suspect them of careerism. We know nothing at all of Benedetto Grasso of Nice, self described anti-Terentian, except what he tells us in his book. Lucio Olimpio Giraldi, son of the eminent dramatist Giambattista Giraldi Cinzio (1504-1573) and grandson of the classicist Lilio Gregorio Giraldi (1479-1553) took the other part, in defense of Terence. The young Giraldi was in his early twenties, not yet an established figure. The controversy itself was short-lived, generating two small books from a single press. For the most part, the arguments expressed were not new; they represent themes that were implicit in the humanist endeavor from the start. The controversy merits our attention only because, like the Jesuits' renunciation, it provides a counterpoint to the continued success of Terence as a textbook. Grasso and Giraldi chose to join battle largely on literary grounds, but they ultimately had to come to terms as well with the increasingly prudish and morally sanctimonious tenor of the times. The age of open humanist debate was over.

In the long humanist tradition of defending classical authors against Christian moralists for whom they represented dangerous invitations to paganism, the question of Terence would seem to have been settled by the end of the fifteenth century. As we remarked in section 1.02, both the forceful opinions of ancient and modern critics and the real practice of the schools endorsed the notion that Terence was good for school boys. The Academia Veneta summarized this standard opinion of Terence as one item in a long list of new editions they considered desiderata. Their prospective catalogue of 1559 included this entry:

Terence, with brief, learned annotations that explain the purity of the language he used, and further, how the virtues of human life and its vices were scattered about in his comedies and yet observed in the common persons described in them, since those things that can provoke so much laughter are also discerned in other comic authors. (84)

The academicians displayed a tranquil complacency about the position of Terence in the Latin curriculum.

The controversialists of the fifteen sixties assigned a different meaning to the old commonplaces; their exchange derived a distinct color from its Counter-Reformation context. It is an early example of fully developed Tridentine piety in conflict with classicizing pedagogy. Significantly, the authors wrote in Italian, addressing a broad literary public and not merely the Latin-learned community. They presumed the power of the press to effect reform; but their soon-forgotten exchange also displayed the particular limitations of print as a forum in late sixteenth-century Italy.


  • Open Bibliography
  • (82) Croce 1945, vol.2, 125-133.
  • (83) MPSI 1:528; Codina Mir 1968, 305-316; Brizzi 1984, 164-169; Fabre 1995, 60-73; Bianchi 1993, 77-79. Further on resistence to the Jesuit reforms, sections 5.02, 5.10, 5.13.
  • (84) Academia Veneta. 1559: Terentius cum brevibus, & eruditis annotationibus, quibus ostenditur sermonis puritas, qua ipse usus est: deinde quemadmodum in eius comoediis sparsae sint humanae vitae virtutes, ac vitia, ratione habita tamen privatarum personarum, quae in ipsis inducuntur, cum in ceteris comicis ea tantum, quae risum movere possint, cernantur.
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