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The Lost Italian Renaissance

, 232 pages
December 2005



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The Lost Italian Renaissance

Humanists, Historians, and Latin's Legacy

Winner, Phyllis Goodhart Gordan Book Prize, Renaissance Society of America
Selected by Choice Magazine as an Outstanding Academic Title

The intellectual heritage of the Italian Renaissance rivals that of any period in human history. Yet even as the social, political, and economic history of Renaissance Italy inspires exciting and innovative scholarship, the study of its intellectual history has grown less appealing, and our understanding of its substance and significance remains largely defined by the work of nineteenth-century thinkers. In The Lost Italian Renaissance, historian and literary scholar Christopher Celenza argues that serious interest in the intellectual life of Renaissance Italy can be reinvigorated—and the nature of the Renaissance itself reconceived—by recovering a major part of its intellectual and cultural activity that has been largely ignored since the Renaissance was first "discovered": the vast body of works—literary, philosophical, poetic, and religious—written in Latin.

Produced between the mid-fourteenth and the early sixteenth centuries by major figures such as Leonardo Bruni, Lorenzo Valla, Marsilio Ficino, and Leon Battista Alberti, as well as minor but interesting thinkers like Lapo da Castiglionchio the Younger, this literature was initially overlooked by scholars of the Renaissance because they were not written in the vernacular Italian which alone was seen as was the supreme expression of a culture. This lack of attention, which continued well into the twentieth century, has led interpreters to misread key aspects of the Renaissance. Offering a flexible theoretical framework within which to understand these Latin texts, Celenza explains why these "lost" sources are distinctive and why they are worthy of study.

What will we really find among the Latin texts of the Renaissance? First, Celenza contends, there are a limited number of intellectuals who deserve a place in any canon of the period, and without whom our literary and philosophical heritage is diminished. Second, and more commonly, this literature establishes the intellectual traditions from which such well-known vernacular writers as Machiavelli and Castiglione emerge. And third, these Latin texts may contain strands of intellectual life that have been lost altogether. A groundbreaking work of intellectual history, The Lost Italian Renaissance uncovers a priceless intellectual legacy suggests provocative new avenues of research.

Christopher S. Celenza is a professor of Romance languages at the Johns Hopkins University.

"There is no doubt that with this book Celenza has drawn attention to a body of work that deserves far more attention than it has received and that offers exciting new avenues for historical study. "

"This impressive volume offers a fresh interpretation of Italian Renaissance learned culture and vindicates that culture's abiding importance... Lucid in its exposition of complex philosophical and linguistic theories, whether from the 15th century or the 20th, this exceptional book will help us to advance constructively to the 21st."

"An intelligent, learned, and well-written historical and critical account of how we have failed over the past century to meet the challenge of fully appreciating, and making relevant to our own time, the neo-Latin culture of Renaissance Italy... A fine book that should help frame the debate about humanism in the Renaissance."

"An important, thought-provoking book, one which at least suggests an approach to Italian Renaissance humanism that can allow a group of important authors to speak in such a way that they can, finally, take their rightful place in the history of Western philosophy."

"An original, engaging, well-written book."

"A courageous book that aims at a broad audience and takes an orignal approach."

"Intellectually stimulating book."

"For this sizable and important sector of academia, The Lost Italian Renaissance should be considered essential reading."

"Informative and brave book."

"A superbly well-conceived, original, and authoritative work. Christopher Celenza knows the literature extremely well and writes in clear and precise prose. I found this one of the most interesting books I have read in a long time."

"Christopher Celenza has written a smart, sensitive, and stimulating book on the intellectual history of the Italian Renaissance. He writes with balanced objectivity on the problem of Renaissance Studies to convey an engagement and urgency that is concise and captivating. His very well-written, clearly organized book is not only a pleasure to read, but demands a rethinking of the field."