Renaissance and Reformation Ciceronianism
Craig Kallendorf
  • LAST REVIEWED: 03 May 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 January 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0314


At first glance, a modern observer might well have trouble sympathizing with the Renaissance controversy over the imitation of Cicero: for a post-Romantic sensibility, imitation sounds suspiciously like the kind of copying that runs counter to the creative genius, and the idea that only one model (Cicero) is worthy of emulation may seem suspicious as well to those who have matured intellectually in a more pluralistic environment. The issue, however, was an important one, beginning with Petrarch and continuing through the 17th century. The idea that Antiquity could be revived was fundamental to Renaissance humanism, and the drive to read, speak, and write the Latin of Antiquity was an important part of that revival. That Cicero was a worthy model was beyond dispute; what was in question was whether imitation should focus only on him as the best model, or whether an eclectic style that included other models in addition to Cicero was preferable. Much scholarly attention—perhaps too much—has been devoted to the major exchanges between individuals, but in fact the Ciceronian controversies extended to some rather unexpected areas of Renaissance culture, from religion to the arts, that are worth pursuing as well.

Rhetoric in the Renaissance

Ciceronianism can only be understood as part of the larger history of rhetoric in the Renaissance. Mack 2011 presents a general survey in which specific controversies regarding Ciceronianism are placed into their larger context, while Monfasani 1988 offers an overview focused specifically on rhetoric and the classical tradition. Murphy 1983 contains essays that answer a good many questions about Renaissance rhetoric in general, while Green and Murphy 2006 offers access to the primary sources on which further research depends. See also Fumaroli 1980, in General Studies on Ciceronianism.

  • Green, Lawrence D., and James J. Murphy. Renaissance Rhetoric Short-Title Catalogue 1460–1700. 2d ed. Aldershot, UK, and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2006.

    A fundamental bibliography of primary sources, containing 1,717 authors and 3,842 rhetorical titles in 12,325 printings, published in 310 towns and cities by 3,340 printers and publishers from Finland to Mexico prior to 1700. Expansion of Garland edition (New York, 1981).

  • Mack, Peter. A History of Renaissance Rhetoric, 1380–1620. Oxford-Warburg Studies. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:osobl/9780199597284.001.0001

    The standard history of Renaissance rhetoric, showing how Renaissance scholars recovered and circulated classical texts and adapted classical rhetorical teaching to fit the conditions of their day. A masterful synthesis.

  • Monfasani, John. “Humanism and Rhetoric.” In Renaissance Humanism: Foundations, Forms, and Legacy. Vol. 3, Humanism and the Disciplines. Edited by Albert Rabil Jr., 171–235. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1988.

    A useful overview of Renaissance rhetoric that focuses on the impact of Greek and Latin authors on Renaissance rhetorical theory and practice and on the tension between reception and adaptation.

  • Murphy, James J., ed. Renaissance Eloquence: Studies in the Theory and Practice of Renaissance Rhetoric. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983.

    A collection of twenty-three essays that can be divided into four groups: bibliographical studies, historical surveys of texts and their reception, studies of rhetoric and humanism, and applications of rhetorical principles to the interpretation of poetry. Sometimes dated, but still an important collection.

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