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MikeH  MikeH is offline
Join Date: 03 Nov 2007
Location: Oregon USA
Posts: 443
Pre-1460 Italian conceptions, documented, Part 2

Now let me give a summary of Curran’s exposition of how the Italian humanists in Florence investigated hieroglyphics in roughly the first half of the 1400s.

We first need to understand who this small band of “Florentines” was that first read the Horapollo manuscript. Speaking of the new generation of humanists who tackled the mystery of the obelisks in Rome, Curran says:
These included the Florentines Niccolo Niccoli (1364-1437) and Poggio Bracciolini (1380-1459); the traveling merchant, antiquarian, and epigrapher Cyriacus (Ciriaco) of Ancona (circa 1390-1455); the historian Flavio Biondo of Forli (1392-1463); and the author and architect Leon Battista Alberti (1404-72). All of these men were dedicated students of antiquity and tireless proponents of its renovatio...One by-product of this moment was the emergence of a kind of Egyptology, which was directed in its initial phases to the problem of the hieroglyphs.(p. 35)
Only the first two, strictly speaking, are Florentines. Curran continues
Niccoli was a collector of manuscripts. He had Tacitus’s Histories and the second half of his Annals, bound together with Apuleius’s Metamorphoses. Niccoli also owned incomplete manuscirpts of Pliny’s Natural History.. His friend Pogio, visiting the monastery of Fulda in 1417, discovered the manuscript of Ammianus Marcellinus’s Rerum Gestarum Libri... (p. 36)
Niccoli immediately started reading. I have already given the relevant quote in my preceding post, about how "individual characters stood for individual nouns and verbs; and sometimes they meant whole phrases," and his examples, "by a vulture they represent the word “nature,” because, as natural history records, no males can be found among these birds, and under the figure of a bee making honey they designate “a king,” showing by this imagery that in a ruler sweetness should be combined with a sting as well". (Curran p. 57)

Just as Niccoli was finishing his study of Ammianus, Pogio handed him the Horapollo. So when Pogio and he were in Rome, 1422-24, they recognized the strange inscriptions on the obelisks as Egyptian hieroglyphs. Poggio talks in a letter of the inscriptions “with various figures of animals and birds that the ancient Egyptians used in the place of letters” (p. 58).

Next, Cyriacus. He actually went to Giza and copied down the hieroglyphs he saw there, in 1435, no doubt inspired by their explanation in Herodotus, who said they pertained to the amount spent on “radishes, onions, and garlic for the workmen,” among other things (Curran p. 61). He or a contemporary may have made in the 1430s the “Latin abridgement of 36 signs from Horapollo’s book I that was copied years later in a sylloge now preserved in Naples.” This hypothesis was first advanced by Giovanni Batttista Rossi and still “has considerable merit,” Curran says (p. 104). Upon his return Cyriacus probably made the rounds of the various cities and courts; there was also his travel journal, with the copies of hieroglyphs. We know he went to Belfiore to talk with Leonello in 1449, because of his famous description of the Belfiore Muses there. I would not be surprised if he had an earlier visit closer in time to his return from Egypt.

Then there is Francesco Filelfo, who was in Florence 1427-1433. What is most interesting about him is that he joined the Milanese court in 1440 and stayed until around 1474 ( friend and fellow Florentine Filarete came to Milan as well, sent by Cosimo to Francesco, where he wrote his treatise on architecture, only the second since Vitruvius, mentioning the decipherment of one hieroglyph unique to Horapollo, the depiction of an eel. Here is the essential quote:
They are all picture letters; some have one animal, some another, some have a bird, some a snake, some an owl, some are like a saw and some like an eye, and some with some kinds of figures, some with one thing and then another, so that there are few that can translate them. It is true that the poet Francisco Filelfo told me that some of these animals meant one thing and some another. Each one had its own meaning. The eel means envy. Thus each one has its own meaning...(Curran p. 85)
Filarete says he learned these meanings from Filelfo. Filelfo could have gotten a copy of Horapollo when in Florence 1429-1431. As for Filarete’s possible connection to the tarot, one has only to compare the drawing of his utopian city of Sforzinda with the city on the PMB World card.

Spencer, in his 1965 translation of Filarete (from Italian, i.e. Tuscan), mistranslated the word for “eel” as “obelisk,” and decided that Filarete’s source might have been Diodorus, read in Pogio’s Latin translation (Spencer p. 152). But Filarete’s word for “obelisk” was “guglia,” Curran points out (p. 85). The word “anguilla” means “eel,” he says (p. 320), citing Dempsey, “Renaissance Hieroglyphic Studies,” in Hermeticism and the Renaissance: Intellectual History and the Occult in Early Modern Europe p. 354. Here is the relevant sentence in Filarete’s Italian, minus accent marks:
Vero e che ‘l poeta Francesco Filelfo mi diesse che quegli animali significavano chi una cosa e chi un’altra, ciascheduno ognuno per se, l’anguilla significa la ‘nvidia, e cosi ognuna ha sua significazione, se gia loro ancora on avessino fatto ch’elle fussino pure come sono l’altre e potessinsi compitare. (p. 320).
“Eel” is indeed in Harapollo’s Hieroglyphics 2: 103. My only problem is that when I look there, I don’t see it meaning “envy.”
When they wish to indicate a man hostile to everyone and living in isolation, they draw an eel. For the eel is never found in the company of other fishes. (Boas translation, p. 94, in Google Books.)
So one of them, Filelfo or Filarete, is misquoting Horapollo--or misquoting someone about something other then eels, for instance vipers, which Horapollo says mean “children who hate their mother” (Boas p. 84). Curran cites Giehlow, pp. 19-21, for the assertion that Filelfo owned a copy of Horapollo.

I checked Dempsey. On whether Filelfo had a copy of Horapollo. Dempsey says:
Filarete’s memory, at least on this one point, did not fail him, for a letter written by Filelfo in 1444 to Scalamonti, the biographer of Syciacus of Ancona, refers to Horapollo and specifically cites the eel as meaning envy (Dempsey p. 354).
As to how Horapollo’s statement about the eel got interpreted as envy, Dempsey says that the eel’s tendency to live in isolation from other fish shows that it is ‘omnibus inimicus,” in Trebatius’s 1515 translation. Inimicus = odio, i.e. hatred. And Plutarch had said in a well known essay, De odio et invidia, "translated early" Dempsey says, that many had considered the terms synonymous, though he distinguishes them. So odio becomes invidias (Dempsey p. 354).

I find this explanation somewhat weak as it stands. It might have been that Filfelfo had read the book in Florence and was citing it from memory in Milan, making small mistakes in Latin as he did so, confusing unfriendliness with hatred and hatred with envy. He might also have confused eels with snakes: for Horapollo, snakes are symbols of hatred for the mother.

But for our purposes, the point remains that Filelfo had read Horapollo and quoted him in Milan, to Filarete at least. Nor would the information have stopped with Filarete. When Filarete makes this remark, it is in the context of a dialogue between him and the prince, a thinly disguised Francesco Sforza. So the remark is either one already made to Francesco, or one he could be expected to read in Filarete’s manuscript.

After this digression on eels, let me return to introducing the Florentine humanists. The next one is Flavio Biondo. He wrote a complete archeological topography of Rome for Pope Eugenius IV. That is about when the popes became interested in incorporating obelisks into their renovation of Rome. He describes the obelisks in much more detail than Pogio, which, Curran says (p. 62),
can be explained by the fact that almost all of it is copied word for word from Ammianus, with a concluding paraphrase of Tacitus’s observation that “the Egyptians, in their animal-picture, were the first people to represent thought by symbols,’ and that “these, the earliest documents of human history, are visible today, impressed upon stone.”
I have one more "Florentine humanist" to go, the youngest and most complex, Leon Battista Alberti. To be continued next post.
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