3.10 In the Capital of Printing

Mancinelli's sojourn in the North is one of the least well documented periods of his life. From the time he left Rome in 1491 onward, the publication of his works becomes so frequent that we must really conceive of his life as a publishing career rather than a teaching one. An early example of how this is so is that the Spica and the Versilogus, originally printed in Rome in combination with other works, were published together in Venice in 1492 and remain paired in many later editions of Mancinelli's works. The value of the combination is not obvious at first, for Spica is a set of verse rules for the noun and verb inflectional paradigms, while the Versilogus contains rules for poetry. The logic of the combination must be sought in the market for textbooks. Both subjects were taught at about the same point in the organized curriculum, shortly after the most elementary presentations of Latin grammar in the Donatus and its accompanying reading texts. So, just about the time the students were ready for a second textbook, they would need both a text for drilling inflections and one to introduce the study of verse forms. "Spica & Versilogus," as it came to be marketed, was just the ticket. (43)

While in Venice Mancinelli wrote his most ambitious and influential technical works, namely, a set of notes on Lorenzo Valla's Elegantiae linguae latinae, a digest of that work, and a commentary on the Rhetorica ad Herennium. These three works were published together as a small manual of philology and rhetoric in the spring of 1494 and had a considerable reputation in this form. They are fully scholarly works, but Mancinelli included them in lists of his schoolbooks, and indeed they had the function of making simpler two classic texts on Latin grammar and rhetoric, one a humanist masterpiece, the other a late Roman one. He probably had Latin students at a fairly advanced level in mind, though surely also with an eye to his growing reputation as a scholar. (44) Both Valla' s works and the Ad Herennium were at the center of a controversy over Ciceronianism at Venice at this date. (45) The Ad Herennium commentary never became a standard; but the Valla commentary was later included in large, scholarly editions of the base text, Valla's Elegantiae, together with commentaries by other humanists.

All three of these "Venetian" works have rather defensive trappings in the form they have come down to us, and we may wonder if this does not reflect the highly competitive world of Venetian publishing. The commentary on the Rhetorica ad Herennium is prefaced by the longest of Mancinelli's dedication letters. The letter, named separately on the title page, defends the Ad Herennium as a genuine work of Cicero's, a matter that was very much on the mind of Venetian humanists in the period and continued to be debated for some years into the sixteenth century. (46) The two guides to Valla, entitled Epitome Elegantiorum and Lima in Vallam, have prefaces that are even more defensive, probably based on the hard experience of their publishing.

The Lima (the title means "polishing file") is a set of notes correcting and expanding specific points in Valla's Elegantiae. (47) It first appeared in the form of an addendum to the full-dress edition of Valla published by Filippo Pincio, the printer of the Venetian reprint Pomponio Leto's successful edition of Sallust. (48) By mid-March of 1493, Mancinelli had completed the second work, the Epitome, and in the spring of the following year these two works appeared together with the Ad Herennium commentary (completed in November 1493) in a small, separate volume. This April 1494 printing is the first edition of the Epitome and the Cicero commentary but it is described as the "second edition" of the Lima, because that work had first appeared in the Valla edition.

In the preface to the Epitome, Mancinelli responded to criticisms of his daring to correct the great Valla. He did not address a specific patron but entitled his preface "Antonio Mancinelli to the sons of his friends," a strategy that claimed a circle of students and friends but did not risk attaching the anticipated criticisms of the work to any one dedicatee. As a reply to criticism, moreover, the preface was remarkably unsubstantial. Its rhetorical strategy was the most extreme form of one that Mancinelli used elsewhere. He asked a challenging question, why correct Valla, answered it in part, but then shifted the argument to a different plane altogether, justifying his text in terms of the hard work and good intentions that went into it. This was not just bad logic; it was a deliberate strategy of deflection. Unlike the Donatus and Virgil prefaces, which described critics made stubborn by their own uncritical educations, or which refuted critics point by point, Mancinelli simply deflected criticism of his work on Valla by defending his motives in recasting Valla for a different audience. (49)

The second edition of the Lima also has no personal dedication, a striking fact, because these two works on Valla are almost alone of Mancinelli's works in appearing without dedications to patrons or friends. Under the simple rubric, "Antonio Mancinelli to the Reader," he invoked Valla's own method of studying ancient sources to determine correct grammatical practice. Mancinelli borrowed the title and fame of Valla's work but claimed that it can be made more useful with additions and corrections. Mancinelli wanted to be what one later commentator called him, a Latin observator, that is, a lexicographer who, like Valla, worked by selecting vocabulary from the best ancient authors. Valla, Mancinelli added, wrote about good usage and not about abuses, and sometimes Valla himself added something when he discovered new data. Apparently some of Valla's defenders had complained that when Mancinelli adduced additional passages to some of Valla's points he was implying that Valla had not read the works in question. There are traces of this critique within the commentary too. Mancinelli's sin, it seems, was that he would stack up his own reading list against Valla's. (50)

An additional clue to Mancinelli's state of mind in his final months of teaching in Venice comes from another volume printed by Filippo Pincio in April 1493. The title page announced two works, the Orthography of Giovanni Tortelli, and a Lima on Tortelli by Antonio Mancinelli. (51) The editor, Pirro Pincio (otherwise unknown, perhaps the printer's brother), mentioned in his preface that he consulted with Mancinelli. Pincio praised Mancinelli's erudition in all matters of Latin philology, remarking especially his commentaries on Virgil and Juvenal. Given the title page and this preface, we would expect the main text to be followed by a set of corrections and additions to Tortelli's work, especially since the orthography of Tortelli was a frequently commented and sometimes problematic text. (52) But strangely, in the place where one would expect Mancinelli's contribution, there is a different, older work on orthography by Giorgio Valla. On the verso of an otherwise blank leaf at the back of the book -- in effect, the back cover -- we find a remarkable printer's note, which only partly explains the curious make-up of the book:

Although on the front page of this work there is the title of a Lima by Antonio Mancinelli (which there was no chance to remove because we were already printing), we have omitted that work and in its place have printed the tract on orthography by Giorgio Valla. (53)

While Mancinelli's Epitome of Lorenzo Valla was in preparation, then, and just a month or so after his controversial Lima in Vallam had appeared (and while a second printing of his Virgil commentary was also in press), the decision was made not to print a second lima on another widely esteemed contemporary grammarian. In fact, no set of corrections to Tortelli by Mancinelli ever appeared. We cannot know the motives of the author or printer, but the fates of the two limae were surely linked. Toward the end of his stay in Venice, Mancinelli must have been over-busy or feeling embattled or both.


  • Open Bibliography
  • (43) There are editions of the paired works as late as 1527. On the curriculum as conceived by Mancinelli, Mellidi 2002, 80-122.
  • (44) Mellidi 2002, 141.
  • (45) Cox 2003, 684-686.
  • (46) Ibid.
  • (47) On text criticism of the period as "polishing with a file," Miglio 1983, 255-56.
  • (48) Valla 1492, IGI 10095. The Sallust reprint, IGI 8551 appeared in May 1491, and though Leto was then in Rome, the preface implies that he was in contact with the printer, Pincio.
  • (49) Mancinelli 1494a.
  • (50) The preface appears in Mancinelli 1518, fol. g4r-v. On Mancinelli and Valla, Mellidi 2002, 133-143. On Valla's antiquarianism, Bober 2004, 456-460. On the reception of Valla, Fuiano 1971, 28-31; Grafton and Jardine 1986, 66-82; Gavinelli 1991, 155-176; Bommarito 2005, 46-53; Santoro 2007, esp. 31-32.
  • (51) Tortelli 1493: Tortelii Lima quaedam per Antonium Mancinellum.
  • (52) Capoduro 1983, esp. 50-52.
  • (53) Tortelli 1493; cited in BMC 5:494: Licet in fronte huius operis Anto. Mancinelli limae extet inscriptio (qua nisi sublata fuisset occasio impessuri eramus) ea tamen ommissimus loco cui apposuimus Georgii Vallae tractatum de orthographiae.
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