Valla, Lorenzo

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.
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Valla, Lorenzo

Lorenzo Valla (lōrān´tsō väl´lä), c.1407–57, Italian humanist. Valla knew Greek and Latin well and was chosen by Pope Nicholas V to translate Herodotus and Thucydides into Latin. From his earliest works, he was an ardent spokesman for the new humanist learning that sought to reform language and education. From the late 14th through the 16th cent., the humanists researched the texts of classical antiquity, believing that the spirit of Greco-Roman times that had been lost during the Middle Ages could be revived. By concentrating on the humanistic disciplines of poetry, rhetoric, ethics, history, and politics, they claimed a special dignity for human life and conduct. In a pioneering work of criticism, Valla proved that the long suspect Donation of Constantine (see Constantine, Donation of) was a forgery because the Latin text was written four centuries after Constantine's death. At 26 he wrote De Voluptate, a dialogue in three books that analyzes pleasure and offers a humanist condemnation of scholasticism and monastic asceticism. Aggressive in tone, it was received with hostility. De libero arbitrio demonstrated that theological disputes over divine prescience and human free will could never be resolved. His masterwork, the six books of the Elegantiae linguae latinae (1444), was a brilliant philological defense of classical Latin in which he contrasted the elegance of the ancient Romans' works—especially those of Cicero and Quintilian—with the clumsiness of medieval and Church Latin. This enormously influential work ran to 60 editions before 1536. Valla's investigations into the textual errors in the Vulgate spurred Erasmus to undertake the study of the Greek New Testament.

See selections in E. Cassirer et al., ed., The Renaissance Philosophy of Man (1948); M. de P. Lorch, A Defense of Life (1985).

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