Lorenzo Valla

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Lorenzo (or Laurentius) Valla (Rome, c. 1406 - August 1, 1457) was an Italian humanist, rhetorician, and educator. His family was from Piacenza; his father, Luca delle Vallea was a lawyer.

Valla was educated in Rome, attending the classes of eminent professors, among them Leonardi Bruni and Giovanni Aurispa (c. 1369‑1459), from whom he learned Latin and Greek. He also attended the University of Padua. In 1428 he sought a position with the papal diplomatic corps, but was turned down as being too young. In 1429, he accepted a position teaching rhetoric at Padua, but was compelled to resign after publishing an open letter mocking the scholastic method of jurisprudence.

In 1431 he became a priest, and after trying vainly to secure a position as apostolic secretary in Rome he went to Piacenza, whence he proceeded to Pavia, where he obtained a professorship of eloquence. Valla wandered from one university to another, accepting short engagements and lecturing in many cities. In 1433 Valla made his way to Naples, and the court of Alfonso V of Aragon, where he became Alfonso's private Latin secretary. Alfonso made Valla his private secretary and defended him against the attacks of his numerous enemies. One such attack occurred when Valla was summoned before the Inquisition on account of his public statements about theology, including one in which he denied that the Apostles Creed was composed in succession by each of the twelve Apostles. These charges were eventually dropped.

By this time Valla had won a high reputation for two works: his dialogue De Voluptate, and his treatise De Elegantiis Latinae Linguae. In De Voluptate, he contrasted the principles of the Stoics with the tenets of Epicurus, openly proclaiming his sympathy with those who claimed the right of free indulgence for man's natural appetites. It was a remarkable utterance. Here for the first time the paganism of the Renaissance found deliberate expression in a work of scholarly and philosophical value.

De Elegantiis was no less original, although in a different sphere of thought. This work subjected the forms of Latin grammar and the rules of Latin style and rhetoric to a critical examination, and placed the practice of composition upon a foundation of analysis and inductive reasoning. It was a basis for the movement of the Humanists to reform Latin prose style to a more classical and Ciceronian direction on a scientific basis. Valla's work was controversial when it appeared, but its arguments carried the day. As a result, humanistic Latin sought to purge itself of post-Classical words and features, and became stylistically very different from the Christian Latin of the European Middle Ages. This was thought to be a major improvement in style and elegance in Latin usage. However, its ultimate result was that the approved style of humanistic Latin, purged of neologisms and newly developed meanings for words, was much harder to write correctly than the workaday Latin based on the Vulgate which was used as a learned but still living language by lawyers, physicians, and diplomats. Valla may have inadvertently hastened the process of converting literature to the vernacular languages by making Latin much more difficult to use and learn.

Valla's originality, critical acumen, and knowledge of classical Latin style, were put to good use in an essay he wrote in 1439 De falso credita et dementita Constantini donatione declamatio. At the time of the pontificate of Eugenius IV, Valla's employer, Alfonso of Aragon, was involved in territorial conflict with the Papal States. Valla was motivated to show that the Donation of Constantine, often cited in support of the temporal power of the Papacy, was a forgery. In his essay, published in 1440, he demonstrated that the document known as the Constitutum Constantini could not have possibly been written during the time of the Roman Empire. Valla's argument was so convincing despite his vested interests that as a result the falsity of the Donation is generally conceded.

From Naples Valla continued his philological work. He showed that the supposed letter of Christ to Abgarus was a forgery, and by throwing doubt upon the authenticity of other spurious documents, and by questioning the utility of monastic life, he aroused the anger of the faithful. He was compelled to appear before an inquisitory tribunal composed of his enemies, and he only escaped by the special intervention of Alphonso. He was not, however, silenced; he ridiculed the Latin of the Vulgate and accused St Augustine of heresy. In 1444 he visited Rome, but in this city also his enemies were numerous and powerful, and he only saved his life by flying in disguise to Barcelona, whence he returned to Naples. But a better fortune attended him after the death of Eugenius IV in February 1447. Again he journeyed to Rome, where he was welcomed by the new pope, Nicholas V, who made him an apostolic secretary, and this entrance of Valla into the Roman Curia has been justly called "the triumph of humanism over orthodoxy and tradition." Valla also enjoyed the favour of Pope Calixtus III.

All the older biographical notices of Valla are loaded with long accounts of his many literary and theological disputes, the most famous of which was the one with Poggio, which took place after his settlement in Rome. It is almost impossible to form a just estimate of Valla's private life and character owing to the clouds of dust which were stirred up by this and other controversies, in which the most virulent and obscene language was employed. He appears, however, as a vain, jealous and quarrelsome man, but he combined the qualities of an elegant humanist, an acute critic and a venomous writer, who had committed himself to a violent polemic against the temporal power of Rome. In him posterity honours not so much the scholar and the stylist as the man who initiated a bold method of criticism, which he applied alike to language, to historical documents and to ethical opinions. Luther had a very high opinion of Valla and of his writings, and Cardinal Bellarmine calls him praecursor Lutheri, while Sir Richard Jebb says that his De Elegantiis "marked the highest level that had yet been reached in the critical study of Latin." Erasmus stated in his De ratione studii that for Latin Grammar, there was "no better guide than Lorenzo Valla."

Collected, but not quite complete, editions of Valla's works were published at Basel in 1540 and at Venice in 1592 fol., and De Elegantiis was reprinted nearly sixty times between 1471 and 1536. For detailed accounts of Valla's life and work see G Voigt, Die Wiederbelebung des classischen Alterthums (1880-81); JA Symonds, Renaissance in Italy (1897-99); G Mancini, Vita di Lorenzo Valla (Florence, 1891); M. von Wolff, Lorenzo Valla (Leipzig, 1893); Jakob Burckhardt, Kultur der Renaissance (1860); J Vahlen, Laurentius Valla (Berlin, 1870); L Pastor, Geschichte der Ppste, Band ii. English trans. by FI Antrobus (1892); the article in Herzog-Hauck's Realencyklopdie, Band xx. (Leipzig, 1908); and JE Sandys, Hist. of Class. Schol. ii. (1908), pp. 66‑70.


External link

fr:Lorenzo Valla it:Lorenzo Valla ja:ロレンツォ・ヴァラ pl:Lorenzo Valla


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