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the Complete Review
the complete review - dialogue

    

Antonius

by
Giovanni Gioviano Pontano


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Antonius



Title: Antonius
Author: Giovanni Gioviano Pontano
Genre: Dialogue
Written: 1487 (Eng. 2012)
Length: 223 pages
Original in: Latin
Availability: in: Dialogues (I) - US
in: Dialogues (I) - UK
in: Dialogues (I) - Canada
in: Dialogues latins I - France
in: Dialoge - Deutschland
in: Dialoghi - Italia
  • Latin title: Antonius
  • Translated and edited by Julia Haig Gaisser
  • This I Tatti Renaissance Library volume is a bilingual edition, with the Latin original facing the English translation

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Our Assessment:

B : enjoyable bits, but never really finds its form

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Renaissance Quarterly . 66:3 (Fall/2013) Robert Black

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The complete review's Review:

       Antonius opens with a Visitor hoping to find the portico of one Antonio -- and Antonio himself:

For I hear that a gathering of literary men meets there in the afternoons and also that Antonio himself, although he speaks a great deal, generally offers more questions than answers and is less likely to approve of what is said than to mock the speakers in a sort of Socratic manner, and that in fact he sends his listeners home more filled with a certain pleasure in what he says than confident about the questions under discussion.
       The Visitor is out of luck -- though not more so than Antonio, who has passed away. The Antonio was Antonio Beccadelli, called Panormita -- and author of The Hermaphrodite -- and though he is dead, the conversation goes on, in no small part in homage to the deceased but not forgotten master. If no longer physically present, he still looms large over much of the conversations that follow -- with the participants wondering, for example: "What, I ask you, would Antonio have said to these things ?"
       If Antonio is one real-life figure with an outsize presence in this dialogue, the other is the author (who: "lives in the neighborhood"), who is also repeatedly the subject of conversation -- not least, down the line, with his son Lucio tattling on him (as Pontano's wife is not at all pleased by all of his womanizing), in an amusing little scene/conceit.
       Unlike Charon -- published together with this dialogue in the same volume --, Antonius doesn't offer quite as lively a back and forth between the various speakers; in fact, it's a bit of a mishmash, including not only several lengthy expositions by individual speakers but also closing with a poems-sequence of over six hundred lines, taking up, at least page-wise, over a quarter of the work.
       Favored targets of Pontano's dominate the conversations here as well. The present-day keepers of the faith are condemned -- "for shame ! -- what sewer is not cleaner than the priesthood ?" --, but it's the abusers of language , the detested pedantic grammarians who get most of the attention. Pontano here expounds at considerable length on how those who nitpick about language and grammar miss the point. Repeatedly, it's noted that Antonio insisted that Homer and Vergil were the paragons of Greek and Latin writing:
Thus he believed that these two men rightly held supreme leadership in the two noblest languages, Greek and Roman, and that one was king of Greek poetry, the other of Roman; that their words and inventions had the standing, force, and authority of law; that they were to be venerated, celebrated as fathers of their country with honors public and private, and paid homage by all men everywhere.
       The speaker here also adds that Antonio also: "argued abundantly, acutely, and splendidly in defense of Cicero", the third of the classical masters that Pontano defends at length in this work.
       Pontano argues for a creative freedom that the strictures of grammar -- and logic more generally -- doesn't permit, making a case for trusting the artist rather than insisting on hidebound rules and traditions:
Away then with such far-fetched pedantry ! Let many liberties of this sort be permitted to poets; they fall into them on purpose and not because they are deceived by ignorance of the facts.
       Several of the speakers give examples of what they've come up against -- "the frenzy of grammarians". Pontano has good fun in describing grammarian-excess -- a near-theological militant rigidity of thought --, with descriptions such as:
     I endured furious arrogance from another grammarian and thought myself lucky not to lose an eye from his fist. But for what reason ? Because I asserted that after an adverb of negation one could also place a connective that would repeat the negation, for example in the seventh book of Caesar's Gallic Wars
       Here and elsewhere examples are listed and presented -- which is of some interest and, thanks to Julia Haig Gaisser's translation/explication, not entirely Greek to even the non-Latinist reader, but is ultimately of rather narrow interest. Yes, Pontano presents quite a variety of examples from classical literature, but anything more than his general point -- rather easily and quickly made -- can get a bit wearying, at least for the casual reader.
       Pontano brings in a number of different characters entering into this dialogue, but rarely hits the sweet spot of the give and take of real exchange; conversation, as such, only occasionally develops. Antonius' speakers do offer interesting opinions and recount amusing experiences and observations, but there's a great deal of (lengthy) exposition and story-telling, of sorts, going on, rather than more free-wheeling conversation, or a livelier, quicker back-and-forth; it bogs the dialogue down some. Pontano is not without some sense of staging and pacing -- sending his son onto the scene is among the amusing little bits that work nicely -- but overall the work never really finds its form.
       Bits of Pontano's poetry are also tossed in for variety along the way, which is fine -- and then a very long poem brings the dialogue to a close. In her Introduction Gaisser suggests it: "functions as an epilogue", but it is a rather odd -- and big -- final turn (and not very dialogic, one might add). The battlefield-epic has some appeal as such -- another good story; a change of form (to verse) -- but isn't exactly fully tied into the dialogue that it is attached to.
       Antonius is a fine, if somewhat loose and far-flung, display of Pontano's interests and talents, and there's quite a bit to enjoy here, but ultimately it is a rather awkwardly shaped and stuffed work.

- M.A.Orthofer, 14 November 2020

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Links:

Antonius: Reviews: Other books by Giovanni Gioviano Pontano under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Giovanni Gioviano Pontano lived in Naples 1429 to 1503.

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© 2020 the complete review

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