In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Italian Rhetoricians

  • Introduction
  • Italian Rhetoricians and Law

Medieval Studies Italian Rhetoricians
Elisabetta Bartoli
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 May 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0300


In giving an overview of the Italian rhetoricians between the 12th and 15th centuries, we encounter authors who made their mark on the history of rhetoric, others who changed rhetorical-philosophical culture in a broader sense, and others still who were crucial for normative literature on the art of written and spoken discourse. Although their rhetoric was derived from the forensic activities of classical Latin, medieval rhetoricians did not limit themselves to the study of legal language or oratory persuasion. They also discussed written and spoken discourse while declaring their interest in the ornatus in various fields of application. Consequently, various artes and a number of authors are found under the aegis of medieval rhetoric. Medieval rhetoric was both a theoretical and a practical discipline; as such, it was used for speculative purposes, and it also had numerous concrete applications, which have been taken into account. Medieval literature was a European phenomenon: what the masters developed in Italy, thanks to the translatio studi and the clerici vagantes, immediately reached the other side of the Alps, enriching the theories of the local masters and, in turn, acquiring new elements itself. This dialectic of exchanges would produce, in the centuries explored here, several rhetoricians so important (such as Bernard, Bene of Florence, Pietro della Vigna, Dante, Petrarch, Barzizza, Guarino, etc.) that they had a profound impact on European culture, preparing and building a republic of humanist “literature” that should be seen as the result of a cultural continuity with the Late Middle Ages, and certainly not as a break from it. The citations chosen for this article correspond to two times of division and change: the earliest period (12th century) is known for the birth of the ars dictandi, the discipline that teaches correct letter-writing, although the instructions contained in the treatises are intended for all prose texts; the latest period (15th century) is characterized by the presence of liminal authors, such as Valla, Alberti, Flavio Biondo, etc., with whom it marked the start of a perceptible change in dictatio, rhetorically and philologically speaking. This bibliography has been organized into three main sections. General Reference is aimed at anyone looking for information in specialist but easy-to-consult texts such as encyclopedias, dictionaries, and compendiums. Texts is dedicated to anyone dealing with philological-literary disciplines or looking for information from primary sources; listed here are many editions and specific studies about textual transmission selected for their innovative impact on rhetoric. Studies is primarily critical and includes selections related to pre-humanist and humanist rhetoric, which provide users with a selection of essays useful for an interpretative reading of these phenomena. Each section addresses an important theoretical topic discussed by Italian rhetoricians in the Middle Ages or concerns the main areas of critical debate on the subject: this bibliography is designed for scholars and students who wish to deepen their philological-literary, historical, socio-anthropological, and comparative knowledge, and for those who are looking for essays about highly specialized topics related to rhetoric and who could benefit even without a direct reading of medieval Latin sources.

General Reference

The general works selected correspond to the two approaches outlined earlier: texts useful in a philological-literary sense (with access to sources where appropriate) and critical essays on the authors mentioned; this introductory section prioritizes contributions that analyze several authors together and try to provide a general overview and comprehensive reading of a cultural period. This section is organized into three subsections: Census and Catalogues; Compendiums Contributions, Miscellanies; Web References.

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