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The Chronology of Leonardo Bruni’s Later Works (1437-1443)
By James Haskins
Studi medievali e umanistici, Vol. 6 (2007)
Introduction: In the preface to Leonardo Bruni’s Historiarum Florentini populi libri XII, written probably in 1416, Bruni gives an account of his motivations in beginning so arduous a task as writing the history of his adopted city. Among other motives, he mentions the duty of scholars to celebrate the deeds of their own time in a Latin prose whose clarity and elegance will guarantee their survival into later times.
Atque utinam superioris aetatis homines, utcumque eruditi atque diserti, scribere potius sui quisque temporis facta quam praeterire taciti maluissent. Erat enim doctorum, ni fallor, vel praecipuum munus ut suam quisque aetatem celebrando oblivioni et fato praeripere ac immortalitati consecrare niterentur. Sed puto alia aliis tacendi causa fuit; quosdam enim labore deterritos, quosdam facultate destitutos, ad alia potius scribendi genera quam ad historiam animum appulisse. Nam libellum quidem aut epistolam, si paulo coneris, faciliter transigas. Historiam vero, in qua tot simul rerum longa et continuata ratio sit habenda causaeque factorum omnium singulatim explicandae et de quacumque re iudicium in medio proferendum, eam quidem velut infinita mole calamum obruente tam profiteri periculosum est quam praestare difficile. Ita, dum quisque vel quieti suae indulget vel existimationi consulit, publica utilitas neglecta est et praestantissimorum virorum rerumque maximarum memoria paene obliterata.
Bruni goes on to remark that he has decided to investigate ‘non aetatis meae solum, verum etiam supra, quantum haberi memoria potest, repetitam huius civitatis historiam’. But the emphasis in the preface is clearly on contemporary events. Bruni indeed begins his preface by stating that his original inspiration for undertaking the history was the greatness of the actions the Florentine People had performed, first its internal and regional struggles in remote time, but much more its recent struggles as a great power in its own right against Giangaleazzo of Milan (1390-1402) and Ladislas of Naples (1406-1414). Even beyond Italy the People caused kings and vast armies to cross the Alps from France and Germany (1390, 1401). But Florence’s greatest achievement was her conquest of Pisa (1406), which Bruni compared to Rome’s defeat of Carthage. We know in fact from a letter that Bruni wrote to Niccolò Niccoli in 1406 that it was the conquest of Pisa that gave Bruni the idea that his Laudatio Florentine urbis of 1403/4 might be turned into a history.
Over two decades later, Bruni turned to writing his Memoirs (De temporibus suis) and once again he laid emphasis on the duty of learned men to record the events of their own times and complained that previous generations had neglected this duty. Thus he was going to try ‘to produce for future generations what I have required of others, so that if perchance there are those who want to read it, knowledge of our times will not be lacking.’