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Commentaries, Volume 1: Books I-II (The I Tatti Renaissance Library) Hardcover – November 19, 2003

4.8 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini, the Sienese humanist who became Pope Pius II, describes the election that brought him to the papal throne in a cold, mordant key that anticipates the Italian styles of Machiavelli and Guicciardini...For all his severity, Pius had a delightful way of describing cities and countryside. He could mock himself charmingly, as when he described his stay among the barbarian inhabitants of the British borders, who had never seen wine or white bread, and whose eager young women he refused to sleep with, as he stayed up all night for fear of bandits "among the heifers and nanny goats, who kept him from sleeping a wink by stealthily pulling the straw from his pallet." Pius's Commentaries, presented in a most elegant and informative way by Margaret Meserve and Marcello Simonetta, may well be the most entertaining work in the whole [I Tatti Renaissance Library] series. (Anthony T. Grafton New York Review of Books 2006-10-05)

About the Author

Margaret Meserve is Assistant Professor of History, University of Notre Dame.

Marcello Simonetta is Assistant Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures, Wesleyan University.
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Product Details

  • Series: The I Tatti Renaissance Library (Book 12)
  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; Edition Unstated edition (February 17, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674011643
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674011649
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1.1 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #728,694 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover
Excerpted from a book review published in "Bryn Mawr Classical Review" (2004.11.08):

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Margaret Meserve, Marcello Simonetta, Pius II: Commentaries (Volume 1). I Tatti Renaissance Library. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004. ISBN 0-674-01164-3.

Reviewed by Dr. Dustin A. Gish, John Cabot University and The American University of Rome

"These are the labors of the night, for we have borrowed the hours owed to sleep and spent the better part of them on our writing. Another man, it is true, might have used his watch better, but I felt an obligation to my mind, which took such delight in the task."

Thus writes Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini (1405-64; Pope Pius II, r. 1458-64), in 1462, one of the tensest years of his papacy, regarding the completion of his treatise on Asia, part of an ambitious, yet unfinished Cosmographia. These lines serve as a fitting epigram for Aeneas Sylvius [hereafter, AS] and open the Introduction to the first of five projected volumes of Pius II: Commentaries from the I Tatti Renaissance Library, edited and translated by Margaret Meserve and Marcello Simonetta.

In this volume we have the first two books of AS's Commentaries: a monumental work (thirteen books in all) of literature, historiography, and autobiography, authored by one of the most intriguing characters in the humanist movement. It is the only autobiography ever written by a reigning pope, and the fitting culmination and keystone of a Renaissance career which may be called 'typical' only in the sense of being truly exemplary. AS excelled as a humanist scholar and diplomat, and was an accomplished Latin poet (crowned 'Poet Laureate' in 1442: I.11.
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The only autobiography ever written by a reigning Pope (r.1458-1464), it is very entertaining and well written. It offers a window on a Renaissance man and his life and world written in his own words. This recent 2003 Harvard University translation is modern and easy to read, with the original Latin text on each facing page (ie. the amount of actual English translation is about 188 pages). It is mostly about current political events of the day (a time of great conflict and strife) and memorable scenes from his life, written with great artistic skill by a master of rhetoric.

Some of the more memorable scenes including his trip to Scotland where he stays the night in a hay-loft with two Scottish women.. the incredible set-piece when he is elected Pope, the drama of which is nothing short of some of the best I've read in a while, his entire life leading up to this scene: "All sat in their seats, pale and silent, thunderstruck, as if in a trance. For some time no one spoke, no one opened his lips, no one moved any part of his body except his eyes, which kept darting about." And the travel from Rome northward to meet with the Holy Roman Emperor to discuss what to do about the Turks and the recent Fall of Constantinople - in particular some of the accounts of lords and the tortures and sexual abuses they committed were really very shocking - a window on the world as it was.
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Pius II's autobiographical description of the seemingly chaotic goings on in Europe and Asia Minor in the 1400's is more readable than I anticipated. It is in form somewhat akin to a fiction work with a hero, a quest, lots of alter-egos to choose from, and a somewhat contrived successful ending. The style is "unusual" in that our hero is writing the account and always refers to himself by name. This generally signals egocentricity, and there is considerable evidence in support. As a non-catholic (and almost everything else), I was drawn to the subject by the resignation of Benedict, hoping to put in context the conclave in Rome. I got more than I bargained for with a history lesson and some insight into the geographical, political, and ethnic considerations affecting a pope's ascension.
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It`s an excellent edition bilingue.
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