A Defense of Scholarship

Peter Green (emeritus, UTexas at Austin) has a lengthy review of Anthony Grafton, Worlds Made By Words and Roger H. Martin, Racing Odysseus in the Times of London. Here’s my favourite paragraph (with favourite sentence highlighted):

More immediately accessible is a vigorous (and to me very welcome) defence of humanist Latin as a still-viable scholarly lingua franca, launched as part of Grafton’s enthusiastic welcome to the initial volumes of the I Tatti Renaissance Library. As an instrument, it had to break away from the very different liturgical, legal and medical Latin of the Middle Ages; and this it triumphantly did, against considerable opposition, becoming “a revived classical language, purist and discriminating”, based on a close verbal familiarity, almost inconceivable today, with the major poets and prose writers of Republican and Augustan Rome (the Flemish philologist Justus Lipsius “offered to recite the text of Tacitus with a knife held to his throat, to be plunged in if he made a mistake”). Armed with this powerful scholarly vox generalis, Petrarch, Boccaccio and others set about retrieving the culture that had first employed it. They hunted down the manuscripts of lost texts. They practised ancient genres long forgotten: epic, history, epistolography (Maffeo Vegio added an elegantly pastiched thirteenth book, complete with happy ending, to Virgil’s Aeneid). They promoted the secular teaching of classics, encouraged the making of classical libraries, got classicists into key positions as ambassadors and administrators. Their Latin works were admired and imitated by writers from Sir Thomas Browne to Samuel Johnson.

    I’ve heard/read the Lipsius anecdote before … anyone know whence it comes? I’ve never been able to track it down …

  • Google Books or Great Books?

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