Alciato and the Grammarians: The Law and the Humanities in the Parergon Iuris Libri Duodecim *

Article excerpt

Andrea Alciato (1492-1550) is known to modern scholars for his work as a humanist reformer of jurisprudence and as the inventor of the poetic emblem (Fig. 1.). (1) The twelve books of what he called "Asides from the law" are only marginally relevant to the latter insofar as they contain incidental references to a few of the emblems which subsequently appeared in the collection published by Aldus in 1546. They are, however, the direct product of his work in jurisprudence and his approach to that work as a humanist. During preparation for his lectures, as he tells us in his preface, he was continually encountering in legal texts words and expressions, seemingly obscure or misunderstood by predecessors, which could be explained by reference to works outside the usual ambit of legal studies, works on language, literature, and history. He accumulated notes on these occurrences throughout his professional life and they were published in three collections, the last posthumously. The work belongs in the tradition of humanist notebooks which starts with Lorenzo Valla's Elegantiae, (2) and more precisely to the type of selective philological annotations, or "Gellian" commentary, whose model is the Miscellanies of Angelo Poliziano. (3) It also follows in the wake of the legal Annotatianes of Guillaume Bude, the Castigationes of Pio Antonio Bartolini, (4) and Alciato's own early volumes of legal annotations (Annotationes, Paradoxa, Dispunctianes, and Praetermissa), but is distinguished by the author as belonging in the field of "eloquence" rather than jurisprudence. There is some uncertainty in his mind about the work's place in the hierarchy of knowledge, but it may be seen perhaps as another representative of the development of the humanist notebook from the generalist type of Valla and Poliziano to the specialist type devoted to particular disciplines.


Alciato's enthusiasm for the sort of material he collects in the Parergon iuris is apparent in the first mention of the work in a letter from Bourges in 1529. (5) Not only is this material likely to be welcome to scholars, he observes, but it is a proof of the usefulness and richness of legal studies. He is already talking of"one hundred chapters" and in 1530 of "three books"--there will eventually be 126 chapters in three books in the first collection. (6) However, he decided in 1530 that he should include some material he had left in Italy and publication would have to await his return there, (7) so it seems that he had made many of these notes before he went to Bourges in 1529. He did not return to Italy until 1533, to spend four rather difficult years at his old University of Pavia, where, as he complained to another correspondent, (8) the publication of the Parergon iuris was further delayed because he was much more busy there than in France.

These preoccupations are more likely to be the real reasons for the delays than the conventional ones put forward in the dedicatory letter, where he talks of fears that he may appear to put play before work or mix the frivolous with the serious, though these alleged fears do hint at the relative values generally accorded to the law and the humanities. This dedicatory letter is dated 1 May 1536 and is addressed to Alciato's former pupil at Pavia, Otto Truchsess, (9) who seems to have put some pressure on the author to publish when he would have preferred to wait and include still more of the material he was constantly accumulating, (10) The first volume of Parergon iuris was finally published in 1538, (11) and this, the later books 4 to 10 of 1543 and the posthumous books 11 and 12 (12) (331 chapters in all), are all dedicated to Truchsess, later bishop of Augsburg and a cardinal. The posthumous volumes were edited by Alciato's nephew and literary heir Francesco Alciato, who praises Truchsess for the way he has contained the spread of Protestantism in his diocese--an echo perhaps of Andrea's own leanings towards the empire and the papacy in the later part of his life. …