In his first published work, the surreal comedy Il Candelaio (1582), Giordano Bruno introduced the pedant Manfurio to personify all that was wrong with Latin learning. Manfurio does not speak in the literary Italian of his day, nor even in the colorful Neapolitan of some other characters in the play. His every sentence is a macaronic mix of Latin and vernacular, indulging in philological niggling and meaningless etymological digression. In a single brief speech, he can display slavish imitation of classical authors, apply a textbook commonplace badly, and claim a false intellectual pedigree:

MANFURIO:  Oh! Eliminate that nequam, for although the word is used in Scripture, it is in no way Ciceronian. "Living well, follow only the most learned men," says the Ninevite Giovanni Despauterio, followed in this by my praeceptor Aloisio Antonio Sidicino Sarmento Salano, successor to Lucio Giovanni Scoppa."

This kind of meaningless bluster, according to Bruno, was a common result of the standard humanist education of his day. Latinitas (Latin-ness) had been a cherished ideal of humanists for two centuries. But for Bruno it was no longer a goal; it was a fussy pretense. Humanism was all puffery and salesmanship. (1)

During the fifteenth century, Europeans witnessed the triumph of the studia humanitatis, the cultural program we call humanism. Soon thereafter, however, they saw this same educational philosophy decline in status from a cultural near-monopoly into a powerful but increasingly minority point of view, easily satirized by Bruno and many others. Humanism's slow rise took place in a manuscript world, but its rapid triumph and decline transpired almost entirely through the new medium of print. In this online book I relate a small but important part of the Italian adventure in humanism, the story of how humanists sold their program to the public through educational publishing across the long sixteenth century (that is, the period from about 1450 to 1650 or so). My subject is school books, or, to use a modern term that describes the end result of these two centuries of publishing history, textbooks. My study, however, is neither a history of education in the period nor properly a history of printing and bookselling. Both printing and pedagogy have their own extensive histories. (2)  Instead, I have chosen to plough a sizeable but I hope manageable field in which these two vast and varied landscapes intersect, namely the specific methods and problems of textbook publishing in the first two centuries of printing. The project is important if only because schoolboys and their teachers were so important a segment of the book market in the first years of printing. (3)

From 1450 to 1650, the open intellectual inquiry that humanists promoted slowly led to the demise of their monopoly on learning. The period witnessed both the invention of new kinds of school books and the decline of the educational system that produced them. The protagonists of this history are teachers, printers, publishers, and booksellers. Students will appear as well, but their voices are relatively little attested. Textbook publishing worked from the top down, in hierarchical terms that seemed natural to educators of the period. Renaissance teachers, like their medieval predecessors, did most of the talking in schools. We hear their voices as amplified and filtered by printers and publishers. Elementary students either remained silent or parroted words provided by their masters. More advanced students might have a speaking role and might even take on drilling the younger pupils; but such highly regulated student speech merely enforced the hierarchy of the classroom.


There were also many forces at work in the sixteenth-century classroom that came from outside the schools. The mass production of printed textbooks and the increasingly creative role of publishers and booksellers in marketing them introduced tensions into the supposedly "natural" relationship between master and student. These middlemen had a voice that was increasingly urgent. Often they insisted that authors speak in terms that advertised their books, for publishers could now measure the success of a given textbook baldly in sales figures. Marketing, then, is a major part of the history recounted here.


The teachers we can hear are largely humanists, men who taught in the Latin schools, though in chapters six and seven we will meet some others. At the start of our period in Italy, most teachers, certainly most of the authors of new textbooks, had had some education to humanist ideals. By the end, the educational theories of the humanists were almost universally accepted. But many medieval texts were in use in Italian schools in 1450. The force of tradition meant that some of these, especially at the most elementary level of Latin instruction, would remain in the hands of students right through the seventeenth century. It will be necessary, then, to consider both the conservative force of educational tradition and the ways in which authorship and pedagogy changed under market pressures. For the latter part of the period in question, we must also consider the effect of the Reformation on publishing and education alike. In this same period, general economic conditions -- both a long-term and large-scale decline in economic activity in Italy and short-term disruptions caused by political unrest, natural disaster, and war -- had negative effects on competition. Under these conditions, a few large firms flourished and dominated important sectors of the book market. But textbook publishing remained an exception in this regard; many small publishers jostled on the market with unoriginal and even shoddy products. (4)


Since bookselling had so much to do with the success of the humanist educational program, in schools as in cultural life more generally, I call my study Humanism For Sale. I realize that this title directly challenges one of the most cherished and persistent of humanist commonplaces, that learning cannot be bought and sold. Even today, as Robert Lopez put it in a classic essay, "The dirty boots of the economist are notoriously unwelcome on the polished floors of humanistic mansions." (5) In the sixteenth century, similar, commonplace prejudices were in effect. A highly-developed sense of honor led many humanists to insist on subsidizing their own books to keep them from becoming merely venal. The practice was so widespread as to distort markets entirely in some places. (6) Still, Humanism For Sale seems a particularly appropriate way to describe the market for Latin textbooks. Throughout late-Renaissance Europe, largely similar products packaged for use in highly standardized curricula competed for sales by advertising connections with humanist celebrities. Even conservatively chosen and framed works inherited from the Middle Ages and repackaged for sixteenth-century schools relied on associations with well-known educators. Classicizing fama increasingly turned into market-driven celebrity. (7)


My title also points toward the future of educational publishing. While humanist philology emphasized slow, critical work on ancient and traditional texts, the educational market (and other forms of popularization) pulled authors in the opposite direction, toward confecting entirely new texts that could be quickly delivered and frequently reprinted. (8) Latin-trained intellectuals constantly had to resell the elitist ideals of humanism to a public of politicians, churchmen, and influential businessmen. This was as true at the beginning of our period, when humanism was still a relatively new movement, as at the end, when Latin, even in its seeming moment of triumph, was beginning to lose ground, eventually to become the shibboleth of a superseded cultural ideal. (9) Marketing was increasingly a key to literary success in early modern Europe, and humanism was only as successful as its market was broad and deep.


Open Bibliography (330 KB pdf)
(1)  I, v; I have adapted the translation of Gino Moliterno, Bruno 2000, 80. De Spauter and Scoppa were real, authoritative writers (treated in chapters 3 and 4), but Manfurio's ostensible teacher is an amalgamation of two minor Neapolitan grammarians of the intervening generation. On the Candelaio, Siber 2005, 71-87; further on Bruno, Wyatt 2005, 241-247. The most famous precedent for Bruno's pedant was Macchiavelli's  Callimaco in La Mandragola, for which see the edition of Stopelli, Machiavelli 2005, and Godman 1998, 259. For some useful pages on other all-too-true parodies of grammarians, Garin 1976, 99-104, 176-180; Sabbatino 1995, 76-86; Bommarito 2005, 34-38. On ideals of Latinitas, Bloomer 1997, 1-11; on humanist controversies over it, Blasio 1986, 485-490.
(2)  In important monographs and collections, e.g.Garin 1976, Grafton and Jardine 1986, Grendler 1989 and 2002a, Toscani 1993, Ortalli 1993, Richardson 1994 and 1999, Trovato 1998; Houston 2002, McKenzie 2002, Nuovo 2003. On periodization, see Marino 1994, 331-355; Celenza 2004a, 147-150.
(3)  Milway 2000, 114-115.
(4)  Quondam 1977, 93-103; Di Filippo Bareggi 1988, 303-307.
(5)  Lopez 1970, 3.
(6)  Bertoli 2007, 89-90.
(7)  Recent case studies are offered by Hamilton 2003, esp. 6-13; and Crane 2005, 28-39.
(8)  Hamilton 1993, 10-11; West 2006, 246-253.
(9)  On the vagueness and imprecision of popular perceptions of the humanist program ca. 1615, see Baltasar de Cespedes, ed. in Andres 1965, 203-204.

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Laszlo on paragraph 8:

A good example for this on the field of poetry is Iacobus Piso, Schedia, no. 1. De suo libello.

Si quis habet nostrum cerdo caupoue libellum,
Sic vendat patiar, ut neget esse meum.
Irritare tamen si vult emptoris alutam,
Nequicias satis est dicere vendo novas.

Analecta nova ad historiam renascentium in Hungaria litterarum spectantia, iusu Academiae Scientiae Hungaricae ex scriptis ab Eugenio ABEL relictis cum commentariis edidit partimque auxit Stephanus HEGEDÜS, Budapestini, Hornyánszky, 1903, 408.

December 15, 2008 3:29 pm
dianarobin on paragraph 1:

I find the breaking up of the chapters into small bubbles serves to fragment the concepts. I find myself constantly stopping to scroll back up to begin the next section when I want simply to read on, to move from section to section.In this way I lose the flow and continuity of the chapter. Why all these short sections? These would be perfect for museum wall texts moving us nicely from exhibit to exhibit. But for the continuous narrative or exposition of a book the sections interrupt and irk, I find.

February 2, 2009 4:56 am
John Vincler :

Perhaps this has been changed since Diana Robin’s comment, but there is a “Next” link at the bottom of each section. Scrolling to the bottom of the page leads to “Next: 0.02 Regionalism” allowing for the sort of linear continuity Diana seems to be seeking. Perhaps this is slightly less intuitive since it appears after the footnotes (if one skips the footnotes this feature may be missed).

Along a similar line, I think it would be useful to link the footnotes in the text to the footnotes on the bottom of the page. The hyperlinking of footnotes from citation to entry seems to be a fairly accepted convention at this point in electronic scholarly publishing. This works best when one can return to the original place in the text by hitting the browser’s back button (i.e. rather than having this return to the top of the page and having to work your way down again). A pop-up window for footnotes is another potential solution. In this scenario the reader can simply exit out of the pop-up and continue reading.

March 28, 2009 12:21 pm
dianarobin on paragraph 7:

latinitas should be translated “latinity”
or “a pure Latin style” (Lewis and

February 12, 2009 12:19 pm
Paul F. Gehl :

Can’t argue with Lewis and Short, but in my reading of the larger debate, the term has a strongly linguistic dimension colored by the humanists’ emphasis on the recovery of ancient usages. Although the humanists as rhetoricians were always trying to achieve a “pure … style,” that translation doesn’t quite get at the pervasiveness of the linguistic urge.

April 2, 2009 8:33 am
sgaylard on paragraph 1:

I couldn’t agree more about the footnotes — it’s hard to chase them by scrolling up and down, so would be great to be able to find the right footnote directly from the text. I also agree with Diana Robin, though — I find the footnotes and “Next section” links are placed so as to interrupt the flow of the chapter from section to section.

March 31, 2009 10:51 pm
siribeckett on paragraph 6:

It’s interesting that spreading the word about different school books played such a big role in this history. How did one advertise to large groups of teachers and students in the middle ages? I suppose that’s where the “celebrity” teachers come in; if they advocate for a certain author or book, then that book or person’s reputation would leap upwards. Does there still exist records or stories of how a particular book became so well known and widely used? Or do we only know which books were used based on what still exists today?

October 7, 2011 7:10 pm
Paul Gehl :

Our evidence is almost entirely the surviving schoolbooks, which is why it is important to interpret the title pages, prefaces, and other introductory material so carefully. We do have documents to evidence the lives of some of the teachers, but for their actual teaching, the textbooks are our best source.

October 9, 2011 8:14 am
milestbird on paragraph 8:

How much of the modern day textbook is carried over from its original forefather in the 15th century? Did these texts have practice questions, highlighted passages, summaries? What tools for memorization and/or learning were specifically contained within the textbook

October 11, 2011 12:10 pm
Paul Gehl :

All of the typographical and layout devices you mention, Miles, originated in the manuscript period, but of course, in single manuscripts reproduced individually. They became much more common in the first age of print both because there were many more copies mad at once, but also because printers copied (and teachers began more and more often to demand) things like this that made it easier to use the textbooks.

October 11, 2011 7:59 pm
Paul F. Gehl on paragraph 10:

Further on the Candelaio, see now: Hilary Gatti, “Giordano Bruno’s Candelaio and Possible Echoes in Shakespeare and Ben Jonson,” in Viator 43, no. 2 (2012): 356-375, esp. 359-362.

February 26, 2014 2:41 pm
Paul Gehl on paragraph 10:

Nuovo’s 2003 work has now been supersede by her The Book Trade in the Italian Renaissance, Leiden, Brill, 2013.

May 17, 2014 8:47 pm
Paul F. Gehl on whole page :

It will be clear from this section that my approach to humanism in this book is largely commercial. As comments here and again at the end of the book (in chapter 8) reveal, however, this is only a partial view, and many scholars take exception to my emphases. The recent republication of Maury Feld’s several essays on early printing remind me that he presented a richly nuanced view of the commercial dimensions of humanism (very limited in his view) in a series of essays that appeared in the Harvard Library Bulletin. See now, however, M.D. Feld, Printing and Humanism in Renaissance Italy: Essays in the Revival of the Pagan Gods (Rome: Roma nel Rinascimento, 2015), especially pp. 176-181, i.e. the section of chapter 6 headed, “Cottage Enterprise — Court Enterprise.”

July 12, 2016 2:17 pm
Paul Gehl on paragraph 9:

A very few commentators have taken the position that all printed books functioned in an essentially commercial way. See most recently Alberto Cevolini, “Complessita` e tecnologizzazione del sapere,” La Bibliofilia 118 (2016), 283-313, esp. 286-288. For Cevolini, the actual marketing and commercial exchanges around the buying and selling of books are secondary to market of ideas created by printing itself.

April 26, 2017 4:02 pm

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