Salutati, Coluccio

Salutati, Coluccio
   Italian humanist, notary, and chancellor of the republic of Florence; in the latter role, he became one of the most influential figures in the diplomacy of his time. Born near Florence, he received his education in Bologna, where his ex-iled father served the local ruler. He studied the notarial art (1348-1350) and worked as a private notary and then as secretary of several city governments until 1374, when he received an administrative job in Florence that led the following year to his appointment to the powerful position of chancellor. He held this position for the rest of his life. His success as the administrator of Florentine foreign policy in a dangerous period and as an effective propagandist for the republic's opposition to the political intrigues of the papacy and the aggressive military expansion of Giangaleazzo Visconti, duke of Milan, made him famous throughout Italy.
   More than a decade before moving to Florence, Salutati's interest in ancient literature and history brought him into contact with the Florentine admirers of the humanist Petrarch. He developed a widely admired style of classicized Latin, though he used it only in his private correspondence and literary publications, retaining the tra-ditional notarial Latin of the late Middle Ages for his official papers. His letters of propaganda in favor of Florentine foreign policy con-tained many references to events in ancient and medieval history that cast Florentine republicanism in a favorable light and Milanese des-potism in an unfavorable light.
   As the holder of an influential public office, Salutati gathered a group of younger humanists around his person (including leading fig-ures of the next generation such as Leonardo Bruni, Poggio Brac-ciolini, Pier Paolo Vergerio, and Antonio Loschi), encouraged their studies, promoted their careers, and maintained contact after they left Florence to pursue careers elsewhere. His diplomatic correspondence and access to courier service enabled him to create a network of ed-ucated men in many parts of Italy who shared his interest in ancient language and literature. Although Salutati never had leisure to gain an effective mastery of Greek, he realized that ancient Latin litera-ture could not be understood thoroughly unless humanists also knew Greek language and literature, and in 1397 he was instrumental in bringing the Byzantine scholar Manuel Chrysoloras to Florence as a teacher of Greek, a move that was the real beginning of Greek stud-ies in Renaissance Italy.
   Like Petrarch but unlike his young humanist disciples, Salutati was deeply concerned about religious questions such as the relation be-tween predestination and free will. His major book De laborious Her-culis / The Labors of Hercules (written in two parts, 1382 and 1381-1391) interpreted the myths about the ancient demigod as sym-bols of Christian truths. Later in life, Salutati's Christian outlook led him to express reservations about excessive devotion to pagan litera-ture, producing some tension between him and secular-minded disci-ples such as Leonardo Bruni. He also revered the great Florentine vernacular authors of the 14th century, especially Dante and Pe-trarch, with a respect that was not fully shared by his more narrowly classicist followers.
   Although Salutati vigorously defended the excellence of Flo-rence's republican constitution and insisted that Florence itself had been founded under the Roman republic and not by Julius Caesar, the first emperor, he was also more respectful than followers like Bruni toward the medieval Holy Roman Empire and the leading role of the papacy in Italian political life. His political leadership, his own classical studies and Latin prose style, and his many efforts to arouse sympathy for humanistic studies throughout Italy enhanced the role of Florence itself in the emergent humanistic culture, and he was the individual most responsible for the city's rise to be the intellectual center of Italian Renaissance humanism.

Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. . 2004.

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