Exemplary Reading. Printed Renaissance Commentaries on Valerius Maximus (1470-1600)

By Foley, Adam | Seventeenth-Century News, Spring-Summer 2017 | Go to article overview

Exemplary Reading. Printed Renaissance Commentaries on Valerius Maximus (1470-1600)


Foley, Adam, Seventeenth-Century News


Exemplary Reading. Printed Renaissance Commentaries on Valerius Maximus (1470-1600). By Marijke Crab. Zurich: Lit Verlag, 2015. 328 pp. 59.90 [euro]. Just as the protagonist of Dostoevsky's "Bobok" finds that at times the dead begin to babble after a couple days in the ground, so it happens that an author sometimes rises from the grave and bursts out "I should like a taste of life!" In this diligent study of printed commentaries on Valerius Maximus's Memorable Deeds and Sayings, Marijke Crab breathes new life into the unread by showing how Renaissance scholars printed, commented on, and interpreted an author whose corpus in our day has yet to receive a proper burial. The genre of exemplum literature elides the line between history, rhetoric, and moral philosophy and thus appealed to the humanists of the fifteenth century for the same reason that its popularity began to decline in the sixteenth. In fact, the change in Valerius Maximus's identity from moral philosopher to historian was accompanied by a shift in the way commentators packaged the text for their readers. Crab demonstrates that around the middle of the sixteenth century, the line-by-line school commentaries that swallowed the text and regurgitated it to students were replaced by a more erudite series of annotationes that followed the text as an appendix in smaller octavo volumes. With this transition away from the classroom and into the scholar's study, the commentaries of the later sixteenth century were almost exclusively concerned with questions of a philological nature. Crab's work thus informs us as much about the fortuna of Valerius Maximus in the Renaissance as it does about the emergence of a new kind of textual philology, which at once baptized Valerius Maximus a historian and found him increasingly unworthy of the name.

The author begins her account with Dionigi Da Borgo San Sepolcro, whose commentary on Valerius Maximus was the first to be printed in the fifteenth century (before 1475). Comparing it with scholastic commentaries on philosophical texts, she concludes that Dionigi treated Valerius Maximus not as an historian but as a moral philosopher and that his commentary relied on the traditional format of medieval exegesis. …

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