Manetti, Giannozzo

Manetti, Giannozzo
   Florentine humanist, orator, and diplomat, best known in his own century for his treatise De dignitate et excellentia hominis / On the Dignity and Excellence of Man, written at the request of King Alfonso V of Naples while Manetti was Florentine ambassador there. The book is the ablest of a number of treatises written as responses to an earlier work, On the Misery of the Human Condition, written in the late 12th century by Lotario di Segni, who later became Pope Innocent III. Pope Innocent's book emphasized the fleeting nature of human happiness and was intended to show that all worldly goods are unreliable and that only God can give lasting happiness. Pope Innocent also announced a never-fulfilled plan to write a second treatise on human happiness. The pope's tract had come up in Manetti's conversations with the king, and when he completed his book, he dedicated it to Alfonso. Although his treatise does indeed glorify human nature, it is by no means devoid of religious sentiments. His emphasis on the suitability of an active life for humans is compatible with his own career as an active participant in Florentine politics. He believed strongly that political involvement was morally obligatory for the citizen of a republic, and his own role in the political life of his city brought him fame but also much criticism.
   In 1453 Manetti, unwilling to be silenced by the growing political power of Cosimo de'Medici, openly opposed Cosimo on a question of foreign policy and was forced into exile. He spent two years at Rome as secretary to Pope Nicholas V and in 1455 was appointed as a councillor to King Alfonso, who provided him with a palace and a large secretarial staff to assist him in translating Greek works into Latin. He also undertook a fresh translation of the Old Testament from Hebrew, though he completed only the text of Psalms. Manetti was both a humanist admirer of ancient languages and literature and a pious Christian, who near the end of his life wrote a book Contra Iudeos et gentes / Against the Jews and Gentiles, which asserted that Christianity was the fulfillment of the best elements in both Jewish religion and the wisdom of the ancient pagan sages.
   Although most Florentine humanists of the earlier 15th century viewed their humanistic culture and the values that governed their lives in a predominantly secular frame of reference, Manetti was notably devout. He had studied Greek with Ambrogio Traversari, a humanist who was also a member of the strict Camaldolesian religious order and whose scholarship focused on ancient Greek patristic authors. He became expert not only in classical Latin and Greek but also in Hebrew, a rare attainment for a Christian scholar of his generation. He also wrote historical and biographical works, including literary assessments of the work of the three great Florentine intellectuals of the preceding century, Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio; also a life of the humanist Niccolô Niccoli; and a life of his patron Pope Nicholas V. Manetti made new translations of the ethical writings of Aristotle. Perhaps the most intriguing of his translations, however, is his translation of the New Testament from Greek, apparently made independently of the famous textual notes on the Greek New Testament made by Lorenzo Valla a few years earlier. Manetti may have known of Valla's annotations, since both men were living at the papal curia in 1453-1457, yet his work appears to be independent. His translation survived only in a few manuscripts and has never been printed.

Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. . 2004.

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