2.16 Packaging Morals

The most significant aspect of Bade's career, at least for the history of Italian textbooks, is that he packaged and re-packaged Italian humanist pedagogy for the Northern European market. His highly successful packages were then imported back to Italy by Venetian printers who proposed them for use in Italian schools in just the form we have seen, as teacher's manuals. I have found no evidence that these rather elaborate Venetian books were actually given to students in Italy, though some Paris editions by Josse Bade do bear marks of ownership by students. These fully annotated editions of elementary texts really represent an attempt to provide the humanist schoolmaster with books that will serve as reference aids (cribs, even) for his teaching. If we imagine that the target book buyer was a provincial teacher at an elementary level, we can see that these books were also intended to package the pretensions of such teachers to erudition and to embody their ties to the great world of humanist philological scholarship. Bade's extensive commentary on Pseudo-Cato was offered in Italy as part of a collected edition of the works of a famous Italian teacher of grammar, Antonio Mancinelli (1452-1506). The resulting package linked its humble, small-town buyer to the glorious tradition of Italian humanist scholarship, to the Roman Academy of which Mancinelli was a member, and to the pan-European world of humanism that had embraced the Italian achievement.

To judge from the bibliographical record, scholarly editions of Pseudo-Cato would seem to have far outnumbered reading or student editions in the early years of printing. But this is an illusion created by survival rates and bibliographical practice. Annotated Catos survive in relatively large numbers because they were more substantial, had longer working lives, and so seemed more worth binding up; they were also distinct enough to have their own place in modern bibliographies. By contrast the small versions of the Cato on a few leaves intended to be given to children have often disappeared without a trace or with just a mention in a printer's ledger or bookseller's inventory. The Cato printed specifically for children most often appeared in the same booklet with Pseudo-Donatus and, since Pseudo-Donatus precedes Pseudo-Cato, the modern bibliographical entries for such books are under Donatus.

The Cato anthology came to the humanists already assembled; it was fully traditional in medieval classrooms. On the model it offered, many humanists compiled other collections of moral sayings. In fact humanist schoolmasters seem to have felt that the new technology of printing afforded them opportunities to multiply the salutary effects of such collections by multiplying the collections themselves. Supplements to the Cato for schoolboys could be published easily and cheaply in any town with a printing press. With only a small investment a teacher could customize his basic Latin reading list with a great variety of texts that he wanted to teach. Almost always, these new anthologies included texts on Christian themes as well as the secular commonplaces included in the Cato itself.

A good example of the form is the small collection published in provincial Fano in 1502 under the sponsorship of the Latin grammar master there, Lorenzo Astemio (ca 1435 - ca 1505). Astemio served as librarian to the Duke of Urbino before settling as grammar master in Fano. He probably copied texts for his personal use over the years and eventually worked them up into this little printed anthology for local school use. (100) It is highly miscellaneous, including patristic and humanist poetry on mythological, hagiographic, and even political themes. There are encomia of St. Paul, St. Francis, St. John the Baptist, the Holy Cross, and the birth of Christ. The single largest number of texts are hymns in praise of the Virgin Mary. But Astemio also includes Petrarch's poem in praise of the Vaucluse, Lactantius on the phoenix, and a "verse of the Sibyll on the signs of the last judgement." The contents really have in common only that they are short poetic pieces on salutary themes. Astemio says they teach both elegant diction and "what is necessary for a pious life." (101) This theme, of course, is exactly the one Bebel attributed to the circle of Valla, that schoolboys should be given pleasant and salutary texts.

Astemio's anthology bears no title (its first page is blank); but it's author and printer made some advertising claims in the prefatory letter. Astemio tells us that he persuaded printer Girolamo Soncino, newly arrived in Fano, that the first work to come from his press should be one for young people, and that it should be sold at a small price, not out of consideration for the poverty of the students but because it would be so much the more widely used and therefore more salutary. In effect, this elegant little letter is selling the humanist commonplace we have already seen so often, that a good education is an education to good moral habits and that all of society is served by such schooling. Astemio does not remark the fact that it might also have been prudent for the famous Jewish printer to publish a work of Christian piety just after the run-in with the Venetian authorities that had prompted him to move to Fano. Instead he commends Soncino's friendship with the Franciscans in the person of the Venetian dedicatee of the letter, Fra Francesco Zorzi. As a whole, this letter is perfect advertising. It labels the intended audience exactly and advertises the good intentions of all the members of the publishing team. (102)


  • Open Bibliography
  • (100) Astemio 1502; Castellani 1926, 274-275 and 1929, 442-445; Sandal 1997, 102-103.
  • (101) Castellani 1926, 269: quae ad sanctimoniam vitae pertinent.
  • (102) Castellani 1926, 269;Sandal 1997, 99-106; Scapecchi 2001, 182.
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