The Pietro Bembo on Etna: The Ascent of a Venetian Humanist

ISBN : 9780190272296

Gareth Williams
432 Pages
156 x 235 mm
Pub date
Sep 2017
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This book is centered on the Venetian humanist Pietro Bembo (1470-1547), on his two-year stay in Sicily in 1492-4 to study the ancient Greek language under one of its most distinguished contemporary teachers, the Byzantine emigre Constantine Lascaris, and above all on his ascent of Mount Etna in 1493. The more particular focus of this study is on the imaginative capacities that crucially shape Bembo's elegantly crafted account, in Latin, of his Etna adventure in his so-called De Aetna, published at the Aldine press in Venice in 1496. This work is cast in the form of a dialogue that takes place between the young Bembo and his father Bernardo (himself a prominent Venetian statesman with strong humanist involvements) after Pietro's return to Venice from Sicily in 1494. But De Aetna offers much more than a one-dimensional account of the facts, sights and findings of Pietro's climb. Far more important in the present study is his eye for creative elaboration, or for transforming his literal experience on the mountain into a meditation on his coming-of-age at a remove from the conventional career-path expected of one of his station within the Venetian patriciate. Three mutually informing features that are critical to the artistic originality of De Aetna receive detailed treatment in this study: (i) the stimulus that Pietro drew from the complex history of Mount Etna as treated in the Greco-Roman literary tradition from Pindar onwards; (ii) the striking novelty of De Aetna's status as the first Latin text produced at the nascent Aldine press in the prototype of what modern typography knows as Bembo typeface; and (iii) Pietro's ingenious deployment of Etna as a powerful, multivalent symbol that simultaneously reflects the diverse characterizations of, and the generational differences between, father and son in the course of their dialogical exchanges within De Aetna.


List of Illustrations

Chapter 1. The Etna Idea
I: Pindar, Pythian 1
II: Virgil and Lucretius
III: Seneca, Ovid and the Aetna Poet
IV: The Open-Ended Etna Idea

Chapter 2. From Memory to Modernity
I: Mnemonic Topography
II: Antiquarian Travel before Bembo
III: Urbano Bolzanio
IV: Etna as an Island, Noniano as a Memory Place
V: Petrarch on Mont Ventoux
VI: De Aetna and the History of Mountaineering
VII: Banishing Hellish Myth and Legend

Chapter 3. From Venice to Sicily: Bembo's Greek Education, His Teachers,
His Inspirers
I: Poliziano, the Bembine Terence, and Bembo's Sogno
II: Bembo's Greek Studies in Messina
III: Absent Presences: Giorgio Valla and Ermolao Barbaro
IV: The Half-Story So Far

Chapter 4. De Aetna in the Context of Quattrocento Venetian Humanism
I: Ermolao Barbaro, Born for Letters, Bred for State-Service
II: The Evolution of Quattrocento Venetian Humanism
III: Pietro's Peers, Gli Asolani, and the Leggi della Compagnia degli Amici
(i) Angelo Gabriele
(ii) Gli Asolani, and Pietro's Correspondence with Trifone Gabriele
(iii) Vincenzo Quirini and Tommaso Giustiniani

Chapter 5. Physical Form and Textual Meaning in the Aldine Book: The Symbolic
Significance of Typeface
I: Venice, the Rise of Printing, and the Aldine Press
II: The Aldine Octavo Hand-Book
III: The Interrelationship of Physical Form and Textual Meaning
IV: Bernardo Bembo, Petrarch's Laura, and Leonardo da Vinci's Ginevra de'
V: End-Point, Start-Point

Chapter 6. Activations of Landscape in De Aetna
I: Venice, the Veneto, and Villa Culture
II: Father and Son in Pietro's Early Verses
III: The Recalibration of Perspective Through Contrasts of Landscape
IV: Shaping Etna's Landscape Through Poetic Inscription

Chapter 7. The Bembo Collection, and Evocations of Noniano
I: Pietro Bembo the Collector
II: Coins, Medals, and Valerio Belli's Bembo
III: Titian, Bembo, and Evocation of Sweet Noniano
IV: De Aetna and Naturalist Collecting
V: Bembo and Giovanni Bellini

Text and Translation
Index of Passages
General Index
Index of Latin Words
Index of Greek Words

About the author: 

Gareth Williams is Violin Family Professor of Classics, Columbia University. His previous OUP publications include The Cosmic Viewpoint (2016) and Roman Reflections (with Katharina Volk, 2015).

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