In This Article Brunetto Latino

  • Introduction
  • Biography
  • Historical Context
  • Illuminations
  • Rettorica, Orazioni, Epistole
  • Il Tesoretto and Il Favolello
  • Li Livres dou Tresor
  • Il Tesoro
  • Other and Doubtful Works
  • Translations into English
  • General Studies
  • Politics and Rhetoric
  • Didactic Allegory, Cosmography, Bestiary, and Encyclopedism
  • Classical Sources

Medieval Studies Brunetto Latino
by
Julia Bolton Holloway
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 February 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0261

Introduction

Scholarship on the 13th-century Florentine Brunetto Latino, usually cited by modern writers as “Brunetto Latini,” has been impeded by Dante’s assignment of him to Inferno, by the Victorian editions of the Tesoro wrongly ascribing the work to Bono Giamboni on the basis of a late Venetian manuscript, Carrer 1839, (cited under Il Tesoro), etc., and by Imbriani 1878 (cited under Biography), claiming that Latino was too busy a man to teach Dante. But primary research of archival documents and manuscripts in libraries reveals Latino’s Pan-European politics at the same time that he taught statesmanship through dictating encyclopedias to students in his legal chambers, in exile, or abroad on diplomacy or home in Florence. Latino wrote in Latin, French, and Italian, influenced by the education of notarial families in Roman history and oratory, particularly Sallust, Lucan, and Cicero. From his 1260 embassy to Alfonso X the Wise, he added to these Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics and Ptolemy/Alfraganus’s astronomy, and, from his exile in France, the Roman de la Rose. There are a hundred documents in archives referencing Brunetto Latino, of which eleven are written in his own beautiful chancery hand, including pages in the Libro di Montaperti, his signature and notarial sign of a column and fountain given thirteen times. He writes of Cicero as “quasi per una mia sichura cholonna, sicchome una fontana che non è istagna” (as if for me a secure column, as an unstagnant fountain). Latino had his French and Italian manuscripts copied in Bolognan libraria using the efficient Arabic book production methods he observed at the court of King Alfonso X the Wise in Spain. He likely dedicated the Rettorica to a fellow Florentine in exile, the Tesoretto to Alfonso the Wise, and Li Livres dou Tresor, usually in Picardan French, and its translation back into Tuscan Italian, as Il Tesoro, to Charles of Anjou. Between 1282 and 1292 his students were Guido Cavalcanti, Dante Alighieri, and Francesco da Barberino, the latter continuing publishing the texts of his master, Brunetto, and his colleague, Dante, through 1347.

Biography

Brunetto Latino gives his autobiography within his three major texts, the Rettorica, the Tesoretto, and the Tresor/Tesoro, telling of his embassy to Alfonso X the Wise of Spain and the notice, following the Battle of Montaperti, of his exile from Florence. Donati 1896 transcribes the tear-stained letter from his father, said to be given to Latino in the Pass of Roncesvalles, telling him of the tragedy, which is copied into the Epistolaria. Meanwhile, documents written and signed by Latino, as well as others mentioning him, still exist in archives in Florence, Siena, Genoa, the Vatican, and Westminster Abbey from 1254 to 1292. Second redaction (edition) Tesoro manuscripts update events in the Chronicle section through the Sicilian Vespers, one of which carefully documents his participation in the diplomatic plotting against Charles of Anjou in great detail with letters and conversations. Giovanni and Filippo Villani, Francesco da Barberino, and commentaries to Dante’s Inferno XV also provide biographical materials. Helene Wieruszowski wrote a biography for the Italian Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani “L” volume, but which was not published.

  • Ceva, Bianca. L’uomo e l’opera. Milan: Ricciardi, 1965.

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    Considered standard but leaves much to be desired.

  • Holloway, Julia Bolton. Twice-Told Tales: Brunetto Latino and Dante Alighieri. New York: Peter Lang, 1993.

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    First studying the political documents, then the literary manuscripts, demonstrates how these weave into Dante’s Commedia, a text likewise using Cicero and Aristotle. Translates citations into English. The research is updated and available online.

  • Cella, Roberta. “Gli atti rogati da Brunetto Latini in Francia (tra politica e mercatura, con qualche implicazione letteraria).” Nuova rivista di letteratura italiana 6.1–2 (2003): 459–461.

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    Says discovers Vatican, Westminster documents, not citing previous published citations/transcriptions.

  • Davidsohn, Robert. Storia di Firenze. 8 vols. Translated by Giovanni Battista Klein. Florence: Sansoni, 1957.

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    Many valuable references to Latino documents in archives. Photographic plates of Latino portraits, etc. With Giovanni Villani, Cronica, essential for documenting Latino and Dante with primary sources in their historical context. Translation into Italian of Geschichte von Florenz. 4 vols. Berlin: Mittler, 1896–1927. Lacks Forschungen sur älteren Geschichte von Florenz.

  • Donati, F. “Lettere politiche del secolo XIII sulla guerra del 1260 fra Siena e Firenze.” Bulletino Senese di Storia Patria 3 (1896): 222–269.

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    Gives letter purportedly from Latino’s father, exiled to Lucca, to Latino in Spain lamenting outcome of Montaperti. Tesoretto has Latino learn of Montaperti on his return from a Bolognan scholar at Roncesvalles. Bonaccorso Latino, Latino’s brother, was a student at Bologna. In Latin and Italian. Continued in subsequent issues: 4 (1897): 101–106; 5 (1898): 257–269.

  • Imbriani, Vittorio. “Dimostrazione che Brunetto Latini non fu maestro di Dante.” Giornale napoletano di filosofia e lettere. A VII (1878): 1–24, 169, 198.

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    Précis of primary materials, though misdating a document. Considers it absurd for Latino to be teacher of Dante when so busy with state affairs, and with writing the Tresor. Francesco Novati vigorously opposed him. Reprinted as “Che Brunetto Latini non fu maestro di Dante.” Studi danteschi, Florence: Sansoni, 1891, pp. 335–380.

  • Mac Cracken, Richard. The Dedication Inscription of the Palazzo del Podestà in Florence. Florence: Leo S. Olschki Editore, 2001.

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    Demonstrates Latino’s authorship of the Primo Popolo’s Bargello plaque quoting Lucan and which Dante would translate from Latin into Italian at the opening of Inferno XVI. In English.

  • Sundby, Thor. Della vita e delle opere di Brunetto Latini. Florence: Le Monnier, 1884.

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    Translated from the Danish into Italian by Rodolfo Renier, with appendices by Isidoro Del Lungo giving civic Florentine documents mentioning Latino, and Adolfo Mussafia on Tesoro manucripts.

  • Villani, Giovanni. Istorie fiorentine. Milan: Società tipografica dei classici italiani, 1802–1803.

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    And in the year 1294 a valued citizen died in Florence, who was named Brunetto Latini; who was a great philosopher, and the best teacher of rhetoric in knowing how to speak and write well. And it was he who explained Cicero’s Rhetoric, and who made the good and useful book called the Tesoro, and the Tesoretto, and the key of the Tesoro, and other books of philosophy and of vices and virtues, and he was Chancellor of our city.

  • Villani, Filippo. Liber de civitatis Florentinae famosis civibus. Florence: Mazzoni, 1847.

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    Important Latino vita. The Laurentian Library’s Ashburnham MS 492 of this text has corrections by Coluccio Salutati who adds in margin “rhetorico” and “quem thesaurum appellant.” Filippo Villani’s Lives of Famous Florentine Citizens useful also for Taddeo Alderotti and Francesco da Barberino.

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