FACES IN THE CROWD
In every generation and in every society, there are those who make a difference, without recognition or fame. Mostly, they are just plain folks, leading ordinary lives, who find themselves thrust into a situation that demands courage, integrity and solid common sense. At that crucial moment, these average citizens rise to the occasion. They do what needs to be done, then fade back into ordinary lives. These special people deserve our thanks and respect. Here is one such story.
Winter had come early to Tuscany, and Poggio Bracciolini moved his desk a little closer to the crackling fire, and tugged his cloak a little tighter. His office and residence in the Villa di Carreggi was snug from the howling wind and pelting sleet of this October afternoon, but like most medieval buildings, it was drafty and poorly insulated.
He bent over the manuscript he was studying, and adjusted the candelabra to improve the fading light. His friend and patron, Cosimo Medici, and most of his courtiers, were still in the palace in Florence, and Poggio was enjoying the opportunity to work with his beloved archives.
Tomorrow—when Cosimo returned the full load of his office as Chancellor of the Florentine Republic—would come crashing down on him, and the thought made him question his decision to leave his office as Papal Secretary.
Serving the Pope had allowed him ample free time and official access to all of Europe’s monasteries and churches. He had worked with seven Popes over his career, before returning to Florence to serve Cosimo.
During the years he had been with the Vatican, he had found and catalogued many of the old manuscripts describing the Roman and Greek world. Ideas and concepts that had been lost for a thousand years, were now sweeping the medieval world, and wiping away the despair of the dark ages.
A new era of scholarship, art and science, led by enlightened men, such as Cosimo Medici, awakened the souls of men everywhere, and Bracciolini was justifiably proud of his contributions to the movement. Much of the change affecting Europe could be traced to Poggio’s single purposed pursuit of these ancient manuscripts.
As the fire began to burn low, his mind wandered back to 1417, when he sat near another fireplace in the library at the Benedictine monastery at Fulda in Germany. The Abbey had been a center of learning in the 800s, and the monks and scribes had copied and preserved many of the ancient manuscripts from the final years of Rome. He had been working here for the past three months, and so far, had examined close to 2,000 manuscripts.
On this January day, he was about to give into the fading light, when his eye caught the name Lucretius in the title of a dusty roll of parchment. He remembered seeing the name from his reading of Cicero, and he began to unroll the document. It was written in classical Latin, and titled De Rerum Natura, or On the Nature of Things.
As he read, he soon realized that he was holding in his hands a long poem describing the philosophy of Epicurus. He read all 7,400 lines that very evening. Poggio understood the importance of his find, and using his papal office, took the original to his friend and colleague, Niccolo de Niccoli, to be copied and circulated in scholarly circles.
He smiled to himself with satisfaction, and as the fire died down and the candles sputtered, he quietly passed away. Cosimo Medici mourned the passing of his lifelong friend, and eulogized his influence in the revival of ancient Latin and Greek, as well as his contribution to the revolution, now sweeping the world. He has since been described as the Father of the Renaissance.
Sample of Niccoli’s cursive script is licensed under CC By 4.0 — linked to en.wikipedia.org
I know this account. The script of those scribes is amazing especially considering they were using a bird feather or the like.
There is a very good book, entitled The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, by Stephen Greenblatt, that goes into great detail about Poggio Bracciolini’s life, how he came to find Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things), and Epicureanism. A good read and highly recommended. I found it to be enlightening.
There is a very good book entitled, The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, by Stephen Greenblatt, that goes into great detail about Poggio Bracciolini’s life, how he came to find Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things), and Epicureanism. A good read and highly recommended. Enlightening.