Mussato, Albertino

Mussato, Albertino
   Italian scholar and lawyer, conventionally classed as one of the early North Italian "pre-humanists," but in some recent scholarship discussed as one of the founders of a genuine Renaissance humanism at the very beginning of the 14th century. He was a disciple and friend of the older Paduan humanist Lovato dei Lovati. Mussato was the illegitimate son of a nobleman whose death when Albertino was 14 left his family in poverty. The youth had to work as a copyist of books in order to sup-port himself and his younger brother and sister. Unable to afford the costly study of law, he was able to become qualified as a notary at Padua. Through native talent and hard work, Mussato soon became a major figure in local politics and an ardent defender of the city's sur-vival as an independent republic in an age when the ambitious lord of Verona, Can Grande della Scala, jeopardized the city's freedom. Mussato was such an effective speaker that he was allowed to plead cases before the law courts despite lack of an academic degree in law. In 1315 the faculty of arts at Padua crowned him poet laureate. The commune knighted him when he was only 35, and he became a mem-ber of one of the governing councils in 1296. He worked as adminis-trator of two cities in 1297 and 1309 and represented Padua on diplo-matic missions. Mussato served in the army during war against Can Grande in 1314 and spent several months as a prisoner.
   But his primary political activity was his eloquent defense of the existing republican constitution in the face of both internal and external pressure to seek security by accepting a signore (overlord). In 1325 he was permanently exiled by the Carrara governor of Padua, and he died in exile at Chioggia in 1329, the same year in which Padua formally recognized Can Grande as its lord.
   Mussato's most famous literary work was a tragedy, Ecerinis (1315), inspired by the Roman dramatist Seneca. This drama, based on the ca-reer of the 13th-century adventurer Ezzelino da Romano, was intended to warn his fellow citizens of the dangers of accepting the rule of a tyrant. He also wrote Historia Augusta, a chronicle of the Italian expe-dition of the Holy Roman Emperor Henry VII in 1310-1313. Mussato's earlier poetic writings had followed the classical style that Lovato had defined for Latin poetry. In this historical work Mussato extended the new classical style to the writing of Latin prose. His own guild of Pad-uan notaries commissioned him to write an account in Latin verse of an unsuccessful siege of Padua by Can Grande. He also wrote other his-torical works in Latin prose, a continuation of his Historia Augusta and, at the very end of his life, an embittered narrative of the betrayal of Padua into the hands of Can Grande. Beyond the field of history, Mussato wrote pessimistic tracts on fate and political decline, a life of Seneca, and works on moral philosophy conceived in the spirit of Seneca's Roman Stoicism. At the very end of his life, his last series of poems, Soliloquia / Soliloquies, reflects a religious conversion that made him question the value of the classical studies he had pursued throughout his life. Although later humanists rarely mentioned the hu-manists of the late 13th century, both Petrarch and Salutati, the lead-ing figures of later 14th-century humanism, did recognize the two Pad-uan writers, Lovato and Mussato, as their predecessors.

Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. . 2004.

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