3.11 Presenting Cicero, Fixing Lorenzo Valla

Structurally, Mancinelli's three technical commentaries are highly dissimilar. The commentary on the Rhetorica ad Herennium is unremarkable in form. It proceeds by lemmata, short phrases from the base text, like most commentaries derived from classroom teaching (and like Mancinelli's Horace and Virgil commentaries). As such it takes the base text as authoritative with no attempt to argue with the author. Corrections are offered to the received manuscript tradition but not to the authoritative doctrine. Mancinelli, after all, supposed that this was a genuine work of Cicero that embodied the very Latin it was the aim of the humanists to recreate.

The two works intended to make Valla's lengthy Elegantiae Linguae Latinae useful in the classroom are quite different from the Cicero. It was not entirely original for Mancinelli to attempt to make the unwieldy Elegantiae more approachable by intermediate students of Latin. Indeed, epitomes and compendia of large works were common in all fields of knowledge in the late fifteenth century, made popular by the potential of printing to put copies into many hands. In the earliest years of Italian printing Bonus Accursius created a Compendium of Valla's teaching, roughly following the order of the Elegantiae but organizing the material more systematically, in the manner of a comprehensive introductory grammar. A similar approach was taken by Aurelio Bienato (d.1496), who had known Valla at Naples, and who dedicated his Epithoma to a young student of his own. (54) Mancinelli's approach was more radical. He set our to digest what is useful from Valla in a completely different format. The material that Valla presented by grammatical subject Mancinelli rearranged into short alphabetical entries, in a sort of authorized vocabulary. Completely rearranging the material in this way implied to Mancinelli's students that Valla's observations were of enduring value, but that they needed repackaging to be useful as a classroom tool.

When Erasmus published his own Epitome of Valla's Elegantiae he criticized Mancinelli's approach. Erasmus found the compilation of alphabetical vocabularies for single authors like Valla ridiculous, and he mocked the apparent visual order of dictionary-style printing. He preferred to present his own Epitome as merely a simplification of Valla's rich treasury, giving the substance of Valla's arguments with fewer examples and less detail. (55)

In fact, there are many difficulties with using Mancinelli's Epitome. To take an example Erasmus specifically mentioned, Mancinelli gave a substantial article for the conjunction ut, but no discussion at all for its near synonyms. Valla's careful distinctions between similar words get lost entirely. Elsewhere, Mancinelli cross-referenced from the Epitome to the Lima, but since this latter work is not alphabetical, the reader must search out the reference using the printed indexing notes in the margins. Mancinelli clearly intended these marginal notes to be there, but not all readers used them and some later printers omitted them so that the cross-references in the Epitome turned out to be useless.

In the Lima in Vallam Mancinelli transformed the base text even more, as its audacious title tells us he will have done. A lima is a polishing file, and the phrase in Vallam means that the polishing is "of Valla," but also that the commentator's refinements will be worked "on Valla" or even "against" him. The format in the printed editions is clear evidence that Mancinelli was intent on improving Valla's text. Mancinelli remarked only a few passages in each of the six books of the Elegantiae, proceeding in order as any commentary would. Recognizing that there were already in 1491 many editions of Valla available, Mancinelli cited the source text not by page but with Valla's first name, "Laurentius," followed by a book and chapter number, all abbreviated and centered on a single line, for example, Lau.lib.vi.c.i. ("Laurentius, book six, chapter one"). The exact words of Valla were then reported on the following line or lines. Mancinelli's Valla speaks in lemmata, but he is quoted in full syntactical units, so he has his own voice. On the next line of each entry there followed Mancinelli's surname and a titulus number, a classicizing term for a unit or section number. Again, the information was centered. These numbers are consecutive throughout the entire commentary, so the heading corresponding to the above lemma from Valla is Man.Tit.lxv. ("Mancinelli, unit sixty five"). The next article is Laur.l.vi.c.xv ("book six, chapter fifteen"), and the corresponding comment is Man.Tit.lxvi ("unit sixty six").

What is striking about this arrangement is that, although it preserved the notion of a commentary on an authoritative text by following Valla's order, it also privileged Mancinelli's independent work by giving his remarks their own, consecutive numbering. Valla's text, then, has authority by reason of his reputation for learning. Mancinelli's thoughts on Valla have an exactly parallel authority. Reflecting on a contemporary work of scholarship, Mancinelli says, is equally original scholarship. The Elegantiae were treated as requiring commentary not because the work was difficult or classical, but just because, as a printed text, it was so widespread and so frequently accepted uncritically that it needed polishing up and refining in the light of fifty years of additional humanist philology. Mancinelli's preface, then, was not only an observation on the state of the field, it also made two other claims, that he had mastered matters of Latinity that escaped even the great Valla, and that the text of Valla to be found in printed editions was incomplete, maybe even corrupt.

Perhaps to reinforce this latter point, Mancinelli followed a numbering of Valla's text that was typical of early Roman and Milanese editions of the Elegantiae but not of the more recent and more numerous Venetian ones. Starting in 1476, Venetian editors typically numbered Valla's chapters with consecutive numbers through all six books. Mancinelli followed the practice of the first Roman edition (and several others) in numbering the chapters anew from the start of each book. (56)

The handsome format of the Lima emphasized Mancinelli's authority. It is also rather prodigal of space because it uses a full line for the heading of each brief chapter, typically six or eight per quarto page. Whether this format, reminiscent as it is of manuscript practice, was Mancinelli's idea or the printer's we cannot tell, but it is interesting that it persists into successive editions despite the fact that it is relatively wasteful. In 1500 and again in 1503, Bartolomeo Zani published a new edition of Valla and added the Lima as an appendix. He transferred to the folio page the same spacious headings found in the early quarto editions, with the result that the brief Lima occupied fully sixteen folio pages. (57) In 1519 Rusconi would print the Lima in quarto, returning to the original spacious system of centered chapter heads.


  • Open Bibliography
  • (54) On Accursius, Scholderer 1927, 364-267; for Bienato, DBI 10, 269-370. Both works appear to have been especially popular at Naples, where Valla had taught; see Santoro 2007, 42.
  • (55) Erasmus 1547; Gavinelli 1991, 176-180. Erasmus probably had other editors of Valla in mind, but he criticized the alphabetical arrangement favored by Mancinelli.
  • (56) In this regard, the note in BMC 5, 494 that Filippo Pincio's edition follows that of Jacopo Rossi, is misleading. Even when the Lima was published as an appendix to a full edition of the Elegantiae with consecutive chapter numbers, Mancinelli's older numbering was followed, e.g. Valla 1500 and 1503a.
  • (57) Valla 1500 and 1503a, fols. o4r-p3v. A 1503 reprint of this edition by Giorgio Rusconi attempted to economize on paper by using smaller type and placing the headings as often as possible flush right on the last line of the previous entry; but even so, the Lima takes up eleven folio pages, Valla 1503b, fols. 85r-90r.
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