The Lives of the Popes and Emperors enjoyed a number of printings in the early Renaissance: Florence, 1478; Venice, 1507, 1526 and 1534. Today copies of these editions may be found in at least eight American libraries: New York Public, University of Miami, Chicago, Cornell, Indiana, Princeton, Washington (Seattle) and Yale. The obvious reason for this popularity was its attribution to Petrarch and Petrarch’s reputation as a great historian of the eminent men of the ancient past. In fact, his greatest work was often considered his De viris illustribus — Latin biographies of the outstanding classical men of action. Yet there is general agreement that this book is not Petrarch’s. This book was written in Italian, in the Tuscan vernacular, and offers the lives of 230 popes and 117 emperors from Julius Caesar to Pope Clement VII and the year 1526. It combines the medieval chronicle’s narrative of people, events, natural and celestial wonders with the grand themes of papal and imperial history and of sacred and secular authority. Not much more has been known about this work until the present edition.
Working from the 1534 edition, renowned translators Aldo S. Bernardo and Reta A. Bernardo offer a fresh, elegant and contemporary English translation of the complete text, adding to the legacy of their superb translations of Petrarch’s Letters on Familiar Matters and Letters of Old Age now also offered by Italica Press.
Dr. Tania Zampini provides a complete introduction to the work that describes the book and discusses its genre and possible sources. She then analyzes the book as a cultural artifact and traces its history in the Renaissance, the complex issue of the work’s authorship and parallels to Petrarch’s De viris illustribus and the Liber pontificalis of the medieval popes. She then places the Lives within the important works in the De viris illustribus tradition, including those of Saint Jerome, Bartolomeo Platina, Giovanni Colonna, Bartolomeo Scala, Leonardo Bruni and Vespasiano da Bisticci. The introduction also treats contemporary works of similar intent and parallel content, including Hartmann Schedel’s Nuremberg Chronicle.
In her conclusions, Dr. Zampini places the Lives into the larger context of Renaissance society and culture, focusing on the work’s major themes and its interest in papal, imperial and central Italian politics as well as on the newly emerging lay textual communities and religious cultures of the age of Lorenzo de’ Medici, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, Cesare Borgia, Niccolò Machiavelli, Leo X, Clement VII and Martin Luther.
The text is fully annotated with historical, cultural and biographical details and accompanied by a select bibliography and complete index.
Introduction, notes, bibliography, index, 17 illustrations.
History, cultural studies, Mediterranean studies, humanism.