Saturday, September 29, 2007

BOOK: J.-K. Huysmans, "A Dish of Spices"

J.-K. Huysmans: A Dish of Spices. Translated by Paul Oldfield. Caryatid Classics, 2005. 0955166705. 126 pp.

This is Huysmans' first work; the first edition was published at his own expense in 1874. It is a collection of short pieces, ranging in length from less than a page to some 10-15 pages. Some of them are perhaps best described as poems in prose, others as sketches or short stories. In many ways they reminded me of his later collection, Parisian Sketches, which I read last year, although there the pieces were perhaps on average slightly longer, and there weren't any poems in prose.

Thematically this collection is somewhat more diverse than Parisian Sketches, in the sense that not absolutely everything in it deals with Paris. For example, #8 “Claudine” is set in a somewhat more rural environment, and is really a charming short story about a girl who cannot make up her mind between two suitors. Several of the pieces are set in the past rather than in contemporary times; thus there's a very brief sketch of the life of Villon (#15), and several stories involving various more or less besotted 17th-century Dutch and Flemish painters (#16 “Adrian Brauwer”, #17 “Cornelius Bega”).

(Incidentally, this interest in Dutch and Flemish art seems to be one of the running themes going throughout Huysmans' works (although in the later ones he seems to be mostly interested in their medieval artists rather than more recent ones). I wonder if this is a result of Huysmans' own family background — his father was a Dutchman, and indeed Huysmans himself used the Dutch version of his name in his capacity as a writer (Joris-Karl, whereas as a government bureaucrat he would have been Charles-Marie-Georges). See his biography in the Wikipedia.)

In addition to that, this book contains, of course, the usual assortment of pieces based on pointless flaneurism through the more sordid and/or obscure parts of Paris (e.g. #14 “The Left Bank”, #19 “Around the Fortifications”); I've ranted about this in my post about Parisian Sketches, and there's no use repeating myself.

The book also has an interesting short introduction, some illustrations (unfortunately most of them seem to be based on low-resoution scans of old photographs, and the pixels can be seen all too well), and helpful notes at the end of the book. It is, if I understand correctly, the first translation of this collection into English. I think it can definitely be recommended to every Huysmans enthusiast; some people will perhaps enjoy these short pieces for their own sake, while others (like me) will chiefly find them interesting as an early example of Huysmans' decadent sensibility, and also as a proof that this sensibility didn't only emerge in his career with À rebours but was already present from the very beginning, even in the years when he was still writing naturalist novels.

P.S. I couldn't help noticing the contrast between the glitter of À rebours, which is the first book by Huysmans that I had read, and the general sordidness that pervades A Dish of Spices, as well as other early books of his that I've read in the last years. What a crafty writer Huysmans is — he lures you in with des Esseintes and his jewel-encrusted turtle, and then before long you end up wading along with him through the gutters of Paris, and crawling on your knees around obscure French ecclesiastical institutions :)

P.P.S. Shame on — they are currently selling the book for £8.49, but the RRP printed on it is just £6.50. Well, they used to charge a special £2-or-thereabouts ‘sourcing fee’ for books from obscure publishers; I guess that people were annoyed by that, and so amazon is now silently including those two pounds directly into the price of the book itself. Anyway, I got it for just £3 on eBay :)

P.P.P.S. One thing that annoyed me about this book is the ridiculously tight binding. It takes a nontrivial amount of force to hold the book open while you are reading it. And forget about keeping it open without the use of your hands (e.g. to read it while eating), at least not without utterly ruining the spine in the process (which I didn't try). I know that paperbacks can sometimes be a little cumbersome in this way, but this one is much worse than any other book I've ever read. And it seems that the paper of the pages is tougher than that of the covers :)

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Saturday, September 22, 2007

BOOK: Giovanni Pontano, "Baiae"

Giovanni Gioviano Pontano: Baiae. Translated by Rodney G. Dennis. The I Tatti Renaissance Library, Vol. 22. Harvard University Press, 2006. 0674021975. xiii + 362 pp.

This is a book of approx. 70 short poems, written by Giovanni Pontano in the 15th century. Most of them are just one or two dozen lines long, and the lines are ‘hendecasyllabics’, at least in the original — i.e. they have eleven syllables, but in the translation most of them are shorter. Well, at least the translation is in verse rather than in prose (as has been the case in some of the other ITRL poetry volumes). On the other hand, it doesn't try to preserve the metrical characteristics of the original verses.

Baiae was a seaside town (on the Bay of Naples), of which Pontano was apparently quite an avid visitor. Thus, most of the poems here deal with drinking or with sex, or possibly with both. Some of them are addressed to Pontano's friends, inviting them to come to Baiae and join him; some are written to the various ‘courtesans’ that he had been seeing over the years (none of which apparently got in the way of his perfectly regular marriage of several decades; see the translator's introduction, p. xi, and the poems 1.12, 1.13). The mentions of sexuality are fairly explicit in several passages, much more so (according to the translator) than what one typically finds in the classical poets that were Pontano's models (mostly Catullus).

In fact there's a very interesting passage in the introduction (pp. xv) that argues that Catullus was (and still is) widely misunderstood as a “poet not of passion, but of sexuality. The essential event took place about one hundred years after his death when Martial wrote ‘donabo tibi passerem Catulli’ (‘I shall give you Catullus's sparrow’) and changed, for all time, the charming little bird into the membrum virile. Subsequent generations accepted Martial's reading of Catullus's sparrow poems.” (See also p. xvi, and the note to 1.29.11 on p. 213.)

The translator's notes make a very detailed comparison between Pontano's poems and those of Catullus, identifying every passage where Pontano seems to have been influenced by something from Catullus. For someone interested in a very detailed study of these influences, this is undoubtedly great, but for a casual reader like me, most of these notes weren't really terribly interesting.

As for the poems themselves, many of them aren't bad or unpleasant to read, but there's nothing here to write home about either. Several of the poems struck me as fairly conventional — praising Baiae, extolling the pleasure of the easy life of the people vacationing there, the drinking and the sex — this is all very well and good, but there's nothing particularly clever in most of these poems, nor, I guess, anything terribly original either. They are pleasant enough to read, but I also quickly forgot them and there's nothing much here that I will remember e.g. a few months hence.

Some of the more touching passages were those in which Pontano acknowledges that now that he is old he will have to leave sex to others, while he himself will focus on wine as his main remaining consolation (1.6, 2.1). But sometimes he is also more optimistic; although he often makes reference to his age (2.14, 2.35), he isn't quite ready to give up sex yet.

When he praises the physical aspects of the women that he sings about, he often mentions the sweetness of breath in a more prominent way than I would have naively expected (see e.g. 2.30.12, 2.33.7, 2.34.15). Maybe it's just a poetic convention; or maybe, in an age before modern medicine and dentistry, it was more likely that there would be difficulties in that department.

I learned something new from the title of poem 1.23 (p. 69), “Lucilla's Dazzling Breasts”. In the Latin text on the opposite page, there is the word “papillis”. This reminded me of the fact that Edmund Spenser tends to refer to breasts as ‘paps’, and I wondered if this might have been descended from this Latin word. Now I looked it up in the dictionary, and it indeed says that the word ‘pap’ is related to (although not descended from) the Latin ‘papilla’. Incidentally, the dictionary says that it means ‘nipple’ rather than ‘breast’.

There's an interesting stylistic peculiarity in many of these poems: Pontano is very fond of repetition. Not (at least not usually) direct repetition of whole lines, but a phrase is repeated, with slight variations, perhaps with one of the words replaced by a synonym, in several lines, not necessarily with any particular regularity (the lines need not be directly one after another, the repeated phrase is not necessarily always at the beginning or the end of the line, etc.). I didn't get the impression that this device particularly improves the poems, but Pontano clearly enjoys using it throughout this collection.

One thing that annoyed me about this book is the small amount of material — I think it's the thinnest ITRL book I've read so far, and most of the pages are half empty anyway (each poem begins on a new page, and many poems take up much less than one whole page). Judging from the translator's notes (p. xi), Pontano wrote plenty of other poems as well, so they really could have translated some more and published a somewhat thicker book. The ITRL series has a constant price per book, usually around $30, so the thinner the books, the less value we are getting for our money :)

What to say at the end? This book was not a disappointment, but it isn't one of my favourite ITRL poetry books so far either — that title remains with the volume of Pietro Bembo's lyrical poetry.

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Saturday, September 15, 2007

BOOK: Angelo Poliziano, "Letters"

Angelo Poliziano: Letters. Vol. 1: Books I–IV. Edited and translated by Shane Butler. The I Tatti Renaissance Library, Vol. 21. Harvard University Press, 2006. 0674021967. xiii + 362 pp.


Poliziano was a 15th-century humanist; I've already read one other book of his from the ITRL series, namely Silvae, which contains his didactic poems about literature. This present book, on the other hand, is a small selection of his correspondence, containing not just letters written by Poliziano but also letters written to him by various correspondents, mostly other Italian humanists of that period.

Perhaps unusually for a book of letters, this one was was initially edited and published by Poliziano himself; according to the translator's introduction here (p. ix), the whole thing consists of twelve books, of which the present volume contains the first four, so I guess there will eventually be two more volumes of Poliziano's correspondence.

Lucio Phosphorus, bishop of Segni, writes to Alessandro Cortesi (3.10.1, p. 163): “I have read Poliziano's letters very attentively and with the greatest pleasure, both of these being nearly inevitable”. How I wish that I could say the same :( But, as on a number of previous occasions, I must sadly say that this was one of the most boring I Tatti Renaissance Library books I've read so far (perhaps even the most boring one altogether).

I was disappointed to see how little of substance these intellectuals had to say to one another. Most of the text of these letters consists of mutual compliments — they just can't help praising each other, with an intensity that looks extremely weird by present-day standards. Their abject grovelling would make even the Usenet Oracle blush. The contents of most of them can be summarized as “You are so wonderful, can I be your friend?” or (if the writer is already the addressee's friend) “My friend X also thinks that you are so wonderful, can he be your friend too?” or “X and me both think that your patron / influential acquaintance / etc. is really wonderful, can you recommend us to him as well?” Perhaps one of the greatest services that LinkedIn and Facebook will do to humankind is to rid them of the need to write, and read, letters like these :)

The other major concern of these letter-writers (especially Poliziano's own, I suspect) was showing off their erudition in front of their humanist peers — they are constantly trying to be clever and polished, employing all sorts of rhetorical technicalities, reams of classical allusions, etc. According to the translator's introduction (pp. x–xi), the originals of some of these letters are also preserved, and comparing them to the text as it was printed by Poliziano shows that Poliziano sometimes changed the letters a little bit to improve them stylistically — not only his own but even those of other people!

If we ignore the politenesses and the mutual praise, most of the letter here don't really have a whole lot to say. One relatively commonly recurring topic has to do with books — this was fairly early in the age of print, many books weren't readily available, and the letters often involve requests for help in finding some obscure work, or having a manuscript copied, etc.

Another frequent subject has to do with a book, the Miscellanea, which Poliziano published around that time (1489), and many of the letters contain his friends' comments (mostly praise) regarding the book. For example, Jacopo Antiquari writes (3.18.1, p. 195): “I ran into a large number of young men [. . .] who [. . .] vied keenly with one another to read a book they had in their hands, its pieces distributed among them. When I ask, ‘What new work, pray tell, has come out?’ they reply, ‘Poliziano's Miscellanea.’ ” I am especially intrigued by “its pieces distributed among them” — poor book! but it shows how itching they were to read it.

Lorenzo's death

The longest, and perhaps the most interesting, letter in this volume is 4.2, in which Poliziano describes the death of Lorenzo the Magnificent, the de facto ruler of Florence and Poliziano's patron and friend of many years. The letter describes Lorenzo's final days on his deathbed, followed by his death and funeral. It was fairly touching to read. Perhaps Poliziano embellished the truth somewhat to make it more touching and edifying, but if not, then I must say that Lorenzo was really a model dying person. I was also impressed by his insistence on avoiding a state funeral and having only a small one, such as would be suitable for a private individual (4.2.5, 4.2.17); he was a de facto rather than a de jure ruler of Florence.

In 4.2.3 (p. 229), Poliziano writes about Lorenzo's illness: “Lorenzo de' Medici had suffered for roughly two months from those pains which, since they settle into the cartilage deep in the body, are called, on that basis, hypochondrian.” This is interesting because I wasn't familiar with the etymology of this word until now, but, in the light of the present-day meaning of the word ‘hypochondria’, this passage is quite hilarious. Poor Lorenzo, seems that nobody told him that he was just imagining it, and he just went and died :-))

On the rather silly last efforts to save Lorenzo's life (4.2.6, p. 235): “Next, your Lazzaro, a very creative physician, as indeed became apparent, arrived from Ticino. Although he had been summoned too late, in order to avoid leaving anything untested, he tried a very expensive kind of remedy by grinding pearls and precious stones of all sorts.”

Other interesting letters

Another of the more interesting letters was 3.17 (pp. 189–93), written to “Cassandra Fedele of Venice, most learned girl”. Poliziano is quite effusive in praising her skill and talents, and encouraging her to keep going in her studies of the humanities. His writing seems to be quite free from the sexism and misogyny with which women's efforts to educate themselves and have all too often been greeted throughout practically all the periods of history.

Another interesting letter is 4.8 (pp. 271–5), in which Poliziano writes to his friend Francesco della Casa, describing “the self-propelled device which recently was constructed by a certain Florentine named Lorenzo, in which the movements of the stars, in accord with the logic of the skies, are revealed” (4.8.1, p. 271). The translator's note on p. 352 says that the inventor's full name was Lorenzo della Volpaia — see e.g. this web site for more about him.

There's also a letter (4.10) that Poliziano wrote to one Ivan Gučetić of Dubrovnik (pp. 279–81), who apparently dedicated some of his poems to Poliziano. He warmly praises Gučetić's work, although he is also “stunned to heard that a man from Illyria, employed ‘in buying and selling merchandise’ (as Plautus says), has made, while still in the flower of his youth, such great strides in poetic art” (4.10.2, p. 279). The translator's note (p. 353) says of the poet: “Celebrated in his day for works in Latin, Greek, and Croatian (of which, however, only a single Latin poem survives) and still famous for the villa and garden (with arboretum) he built outside Dubrovnik.”


At the end of a letter to Jacopo Antiquari, Poliziano adds (3.19.6, p. 205): “Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, who resembles no one more completely than he does himself, has instructed me to append a hello to you in his own name as well.” Seems like someone overdosed on his tautology pills that morning :)

I was interested to learn, from the translator's note 3 to 3.10 (pp. 342–3), the source of the anecdote of the cobbler and Apelles the painter, which is famously referred to in one of Prešeren's sonnets: it's from Pliny's Natural History, 35.36.85 (Latin, English).

In one of the many passages about friendship, Poliziano writes (to Ludovico Odasio; 3.4.1, p. 147): “But genuine love does not need proof [. . .] nor does it engage in public boasting, since friends, according to Epicurus, are for one another a sufficiently large theater.” This ought to win some kind of ‘hypocrisy of the year’ award. No public boasting, huh? And then he goes and publishes this letter, along with several dozen others, in a book for all the world to see. No public boasting my ass.

A fine calumny against physicians, from Poliziano's letter to Niccolò Leoniceno (2.6.1, p. 93): “it pained me to consider the current condition of the human race, which for such a long time has allowed this depressing ignorance to victimize it and has gone on buying, at a price, the expectation to live from those very persons who are the source of detain death. Who, indeed, cannot see that more danger comes from a doctor than from disease, since treatment is for one disease instead of another, and these remedies are used instead of those?” This reminds me somewhat of Petrarca's invective against a physician — apparently doctors really weren't popular in the Renaissance.

Apparently Poliziano's erudition made him the target of importunate requests from all sides: “For if anyone wants a motto fit to be read on the hilt of a sword or the signet of a ring, if anyone wants a line of verse for a bed or a bedroom, if anyone wants something distinctive (not for silver, mind you, but for pottery pure and simple!), then straightway he dashes over to Poliziano. And already you can see that every wall has been smeared by me (as if by a snail) with diverse themes and inscriptions.” (He goes on for a whole long paragraph. This is from his letter to Girolamo Donà, 2.13.2, p. 127.)


Despite these sort-of-interesting things that I mentioned in the previous paragraphs, the book as a whole was really boring to read and I'm very much not looking forward to the remaining two volumes of Poliziano's letters. I would recommend this book only to people who enjoy witnessing academic mutual masturbation and those who are in a position to enjoy Poliziano's much-vaunted skillz in the composition of Latin letters (which I'm not, since I can only read the English translation, and there doesn't seem to be anything terribly impressive about the style there).

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Saturday, September 08, 2007

BOOK: Biondo Flavio, "Italy Illuminated"

Biondo Flavio: Italy Illuminated. Vol. 1: Books I–IV. Edited and translated by Jeffrey A. White. The I Tatti Renaissance Library, Vol. 20. Harvard University Press, 2005. 0674017439. xxvii + 489 pp.

This has got to be the most boring I Tatti Renaissance Library book I've read so far. It is basically a description of Italy. The author proceeds region by region (this volume covers Liguria, Tuscany, Lazio, Umbria, Piceno and Romagna; the rest of Italy will be covered in volume 2), and within each region he describes the cities, towns and various geographic features (usually in a fairly systematic way, e.g. by following the course of the major rivers). For the less notable places, he gives little more than the name, while for the more important ones he also includes a bit of their history (both ancient (his favourite sources being Livy and Pliny) and medieval or renaissance, all the way up to Flavio's own time) and mentions some of the famous people who lived or were born in that town or city. Thus, ultimately, this book is little more than a long list of detailed and terribly borring little factoids.

In this way it reminded me somewhat of many travel guides; they contain a lot of detailed information about all sorts of towns that nobody really cares about, except perhaps the unfortunate tourist that is stuck in that town for a day or two and desperately needs to find some way of occupying his time. And even he will be bored by the rest of the guidebook, i.e. the parts that don't deal with the specific town that he has been mired in. For me, who am not a traveller through 15th-century Italy, this means that basically the whole book is boring.

I'm not entirely sure to whom I could recommend this book. If you enjoy reading tourist guides for the sake of the factual details about obscure places, then this is the book for you. Otherwise, it's better to avoid it. I am very much not looking forward to volume 2 (except that I'm curious to see how much of the Adriatic coast he'll include in Italy — his region no. 11 is Istria; see p. xii).

Just as an illustration, here's a typical paragraph (4.4, p. 207): “As you enter Umbria from Scheggia along the flanks of the Apennines, you come upon Costacciaro, a town in the territory of Gubbio, and following that Sigillo di Perugia: between the two rises the river Chiascio, which comes down through the hills of Gubbio and Assisi and past the town of Cannara into the nearby river Tinia, or Topino as it is now called. Beyond Sigillo is the castle of Fossato di Vico, high on an Apennine hill. Four miles from Fossato is Vallidum, now known as Gualdo Tadino; Gualdo was built in place of a town, sited on the plain below, which the Lombards destroyed. A small stream flows from Gualdo which after a short while joins the Chiascio. The course of the Chiascio is the way to Perugia for those coming from Ancona and the region of Picenum, and crossing the Apennines from Fabriano via Fossato and Gualdo. Midway along this route, Casa Castalda looks down on the river Chiascio from a high hill. The road then continues to the village of Pianello in the plain, until it is carried across the Tiber by bridges at the villages of Ponte Pattoli, Ponte Valleceppi and Ponte S. Giovanni.” Now imagine this going on for almost 200 pages. Admittedly the above paragraph is perhaps one of the worse passages, and the text isn't quite this boring all the time, but nevertheless it's one of the best cures for insomnia I've ever read.


Although the book as a whole was boring, some of the individual factoids therein were interesting enough. Here are some of them:

From 1.1 (p. 3; Flavio cites Pliny 3.43): “Now the Italian peninsula is for the most part encompassed like an oak leaf”. WTF? I must agree with Obelix — these Romans are crazy indeed. Surely everybody knows that Italy is shaped like a boot, and nothing whatosever like an oak-leaf...

From 1.16 (p. 25): “Servius [. . .] says: ‘[. . .] All of the Ligurians, moreover, are liars, as Cato says in his Origins.’ ” This quotation has been proudly sponsored by the society for the promotion of fifth-hand slander against entire provinces :-)

Here's a priceless sentence from 2.49 (p. 99; it's actually a quotation from Livy 10.37): “Fabius slew 4500 of them and took 1740 prisoners, ransomed at 310 asses per head; the rest of the booty was given to the soldiers.”

Meet the emperor Clodius Albinus, glutton extraordinaire: “It is worth mentioning that Ostia had excellent melons. According to Julius Capitolinus the emperor Clodius Albinus sometimes devoured ten of them, among much else, at a single sitting.” (3.4, p. 123.) “Labici once had an abundance of fine grapes, of which Julius Capitolinus writes that Clodius Albinus devoured twenty pounds at a single sitting.” (3.31, p. 165).

From 3.22 (p. 153; Flavio cites Livy 8.21): “A more concrete and definite commendation of the Privernates came in the famous witticism of their ambassador to the Roman Senate: when asked what kind of piece it was that the Privernates were so keen to have, he replied, one that would last forever, provided the terms were good.”

From 3.42 (p. 183; actually a quotation from Pliny, 7.137), of one Lucius Furius, who managed to switch sides at the right moment during a war: “He is the only individual who, in the same year in which he had been its enemy, enjoyed the honour of a triumph in Rome, and that too, over the people whose consul he had previously been.”

There's an amazingly lurid paragraph about the supposed abominations practiced by the fraticelli, a heretical offshoot of the Franciscans, in 5.13 (pp. 255–9). What is worse, Flavio reports it all as if it was all the simple and obvious truth. They enjoy orgies, roast the resulting babies alive, eat them, etc. Well worth a read.

He mentions Sigismondo Malatesta in 6.7 (p. 285), but quite calmly, calling him “the famous military leader”. This is an interesting contrast with the mention of Malatesta in Pius' Commentaries, where Pius goes to great length to describe what a tyrant Malatesta is and what horrors he has committed.

Here's a priceless note by the translator, referring to a passage (5.1) where Flavio describes the borders of the region of Piceno: what is on the north, what on the east etc. The translator adds charitably: “Biondo's compass points here are more or less 90 degrees different from ours.” (P. 422.)

In 1.30 (p. 37) Flavio mentions the Ordelaffi family of Forlì; I find this interesting because I've heard of a similar name once before, in the History of Venice by J. J. Norwich, who mentions the Venetian doge Ordelafo Falier and writes as if this name was the most unusual and unheard-of thing in the world: “nor has anyone ever provided a satisfactory explanation of his Christian name, unique in Venetian and indeed Italian history — Ordelafo. It has been pointed out that Falier is only a Venetian variant of the more usual Faledro, in which form his full name would be virtually a palindrome; perhaps therefore, it can be ascribed merely to some fantastic whim on the part of his parents” (Norwich, ch. 7, p. 81). But here it seems that the name has also appeared elsewhere, e.g. among the above-mentioned Forlivians; if it appears somewhere as a surname, surely it isn't that surprising that it is occasionally also used as a first name?

In 6.32, he discusses the quality of the wines of Ravenna; he reports that Pliny (14.34) praised them while Martial (3.56) put them down. I found this really weird — Ravenna is not exactly at the end of the world; instead of reporting, inconclusively, the opinions of two ancient authors, why didn't he simply buy some Ravenna wine and try for himself? Or ask somebody who had been to Ravenna and tried it for himself? (In the same paragraph he also discusses asparagus, but here both of the above-mentioned worthies are unanimous in praising the asparagus of Ravenna, so I guess it must really be good :-))

He often mentions the foreign mercenaries that were involved in the numerous wars in Italy during the late middle ages and the renaissance. Interestingly, many of them were Bretons (see e.g. 6.44). I found it curious that this small region gave so many mercenaries.

Apparently there exists a town named Adria, from which the Adriatic Sea derives its name (6.75, p. 353).

In 3.11, there's an interesting quotation from Pliny (Natural History 3.57) about the earliest mentions of Rome in the Greek authors: “Theophrastus, the first foreigner who treated of the affairs of Rome with any degree of accuracy (for Theopompus, before whose time no Greek writer made mention of Rome, only spoke of the capture of the city by the Gauls, and Clitarchus, the next after him, only of the Roman embassy to Alexander)” (p. 135).

There's an interesting discussion in 6.30 on the progress since the beginning of the Renaissance: “We can see that the benefit brought to our countrymen by so many books — the tinder of eloquence itself — resulted in our age having richer and finer resources of expression at its disposal than Petrarch enjoyed. The arrival of Greek letters was no small help in the acquisition of eloquence;” etc. (p. 307).

I was rather shocked by this immodest passage from 6.53, discussing the important things achieved by people from the region of Romagna: “Following these, I hope that the same Romagna has given Italy a third glory in a great entreprise through this work of mine. I am putting my hand to a history that has been hidden for more than a thousand years” etc. (p. 327).

The acronyms of the various books cited by the editor's notes are remarkable for their inconsistency: some use roman type, some italic; some use periods, some don't: “CIL”, “RIS”, “R.I.”, “S.H.A.” (p. 381).

Generally the ITRL books use American spelling, but “honour” appears here once in 3.42 (p. 183). Interestingly, it's written as “honor” just one sentence earlier.

There are quite a few typos in the book. Yes, I know that I'm pathetic for remarking on things like this, but sheesh — this is the Harvard University Press, don't they have a reputation to uphold and so on? Can one be blamed for being a bit annoyed to see them being so sloppy? Here we have “he become” (instead of “became”, p. ix), “bngs” (for “brings”, p. 213 — could it be an OCR problem?), “fame of mind” (for “frame”, p. 259), “the Germans kings” (p. 319), and a bevy of missing full-stops.

Another thing that annoyed me is that in the section with the translator's notes at the end of the book, the page headers don't say to which region the notes apply. This makes it more difficult to quickly find the note you're looking for. On the other hand, I must praise the notes themselves — the translator has really taken the trouble to find precise references for all the (very numerous) passages where Flavio cites something from some ancient author. The book also has a nice and extensive index.

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