- Agnolo Ambrogini, known as Poliziano
- Montepulciano, 14 July 1454 - Florence, 29 September 1494
- Florence, Rome, Mantua
- Biographical information:
Agnolo Ambrogini derived his Humanistic appellative “Politianus” from the town where he was born in 1454: Mons Politianus, or Montepulciano.
Having moved to Florence in 1468, he pursued his education at the Studio, or University, where he attended the lessons of Cristoforo Landino, Giovanni Agiropulo and Andronico Callisto. He also followed the teachings of Marsilio Ficino. He acquired a superb mastery of Greek, to the extent that he was able to compose Greek epigrams and commenced the translation of the Iliad into Latin (1470), dedicating it to Lorenzo il Magnifico.
These works enabled him to enter the Medici household, where in 1475 he was employed as the secretary of the Magnifico and tutor to his children. It was in these years that he wrote his most famous texts and refined his study of ancient Greek and Latin culture. Around 1476-1477, together with Lorenzo he composed the very first collection of Tuscan poetry, with a dedicatory letter to Federico of Aragon, hence the title Raccolta aragonese. Between January 1475 and April 1478 he wrote his masterpiece: the Stanze, the poem in Italian inspired by the knightly joust of 1475 which was won by Giuliano de’ Medici, and by the latter’s love for Simonetta Cattaneo, who died terribly young the very next year. However, in 1478 Poliziano left the work unfinished at the 46th octave of the second book, when Giuliano was killed and Lorenzo injured in the dramatic Pazzi conspiracy. On this occasion the scholar penned the Pactianae coniurationis commentarium, a prose libel in defence of the Medici signoria attacked by the Florentine elite.
The period up to 1480 was marked by further dramatic and lamentable events. More specifically, the Medici war against Sixtus IV and clashes with Clarice Orsini, the wife of Lorenzo il Magnifico, drove Poliziano to leave the Medici household and break off his friendship with the Magnifico. Poliziano thus undertook a long journey through Emilia, Lombardy and Veneto, finally stopping at the court of Mantua where he was for a while in the service of Cardinal Francesco Gonzaga. At the Gonzaga court, he composed the Orfeo, a poem in octaves that constituted the first pastoral fable in Italian literature.
After a number of supplications, in August 1480 Poliziano obtained permission to return to Florence, where he was appointed to the chair of Greek and Latin literature at the University. He encapsulated his teaching experience in the four hexameter Silvae, introductions to his academic courses in literature: Manto on the poetry of Virgil in 1482-1483, Rusticus on Hesiod and Virgil in 1483-1484, Ambra on Homer in 1485-1486 and Nutricia, a panegyric on poetry, in 1486-1487. Having resumed excellent relations with Lorenzo il Magnifico, Poliziano devoted himself entirely to his role as critic and intellectual, sojourning between Florence and Fiesole in the vicinity of the Medici residences. Poliziano’s latter production was dominated by his passion for philology, generating results that were novel in comparison to the prior humanist tradition, expounded both in his academic lectures and in the Miscellanea (the first printed in 1489). Devoid of philosophical interests, he loved to compete in literary contests, vying with other scholars such as Michele Marullo, Paolo Cortesi and Giorgio Merula.
He held a number of official positions: in 1484 he was part of the embassy sent to Rome to pay homage when Innocent VIII was elected Pope, in 1488 he was sent to Rome once again for the wedding of Piero di Lorenzo de’ Medici and Alfonsina Orsini; in 1491 he was in Bologna, Ferrara, Padua and Venice seeking out codices destined to enhance the Medici collections and later the Biblioteca Laurenziana.
After the death of Lorenzo il Magnifico (1492), Poliziano in vain sought to secure a better position in the papal court. He pursued his philological studies up to his death, which took place between 28 and 29 September 1494 following an attack of pernicious fever. Just a few weeks later, in November, the Medici were driven out of Florence by the population in revolt led by Girolamo Savonarola.
Poliziano’s fame among his contemporaries was linked primarily to his Latin and Greek works: epigrams (1473-1478), odes and elegies, and philological studies. This extraordinary production of elegies, odes and Latin epigrams was then collected in the posthumous Liber epigrammaton. He also left a remarkable collection of letters, the Epistole (12 vols, 1494).
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