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the Complete Review
the complete review - dialogue


Giovanni Gioviano Pontano

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To purchase Aegidius

Title: Aegidius
Author: Giovanni Gioviano Pontano
Genre: Dialogue
Written: (1501) (Eng. 2020)
Length: 115 pages
Original in: Latin
Availability: in Dialogues (III) - US
in Dialogues (III) - UK
in Dialogues (III) - Canada
in: Dialoge - Deutschland
  • Latin title: Aegidius
  • First published posthumously in 1507
  • Translated, edited, and with an Introduction 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 : excellent edition of a quite interesting piece

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       The third and final volume of the I Tatti Renaissance Library edition of Giovanni Gioviano Pontano's Dialogues pairs the last one he wrote, Aegidius, with the earlier (but also only first published posthumously, in 1507), Asinus. In nine chapters or sections Aegidius features Pontano in conversation with a variety of visitors -- other real people of his times --, the exchanges ranging from some back and forth as in actual conversation to some that are more like lectures; the seventh section is simply a monologue, while the final one has Pontano expound at great length, with his interlocutors each only getting a few words in at the very conclusion.
       The dialogue opens with Suardino Suardo and Francesco Peto, new to town, reaching: 'the Pontaniana', and reading the long inscription on it describing: "Gioviano Pontano, a remnant of an earlier time". They find the wise man -- "walking alone in front of the entrance" -- and approach him when he sits down on a bench. Pontano is happy enough to talk to them -- as well as then the other men who drop by as the dialogue progresses, "visiting our portico according to their custom".
       The dialogue is named after Egidio da Viterbo and, as translator and editor Julia Haig Gaisser notes in her Introduction: "was inspired by Pontano's encounter with Egidio when he visited Naples from 1498 to 1501". Gaisser notes that two had different perspectives -- Pontano espousing: "a sort of Christian humanism, while Egidio was a theologian steeped in Augustinian and Platonic philosophy". While Pontano interestingly did not bring Egidio into his dialogue in person, he does allow him at least some say, notably in reproducing -- declaiming, in the dialogue -- 'Egidio's Sermon to the Congregation'.
       Perhaps well aware of his own mortality -- Pontano would die in 1503 --, the subject, and the memory of others who have died, feature quite prominently in the dialogue. So also, one of the exchanges tries to reconcile the concepts of Elysium and the Christian Paradise -- as throughout all his dialogues Pontano frequently looks to find overlap between classical and modern-Christian thought (though tellingly he here, in this Elysium/Paradise bit, has others do the arguing).
       Not only classical thought but classical language -- specifically the refined Roman Latin, as opposed to the then-present-day Latin usage -- is a particular concern to Pontano. Indeed, he expresses as almost a dying wish a longing for a return to those standards:

And so, although I am old and heavy with years, I have begun to hope that before I depart from you, I might see Latin philosophy laying out its subject with more cultivated and elegant language and that, abandoning the current disputatious mode of discussion, it might take on a quieter form of speech and discourse and a use of appropriate and above all Roman vocabulary.
       Earlier already one of his interlocutors had lamented how: "for many centuries praise of speaking has been separated from knowledge of the disciplines", as: "after the decline of the Roman empire the study of eloquence was completely lost, and traces of grammar itself scarcely remained, although the disciplines themselves were nevertheless held in honor". Another argues that: "The task of the poet, unless I am mistaken, involves these three elements above all: to teach, to please, to move" (ut doceat, ut delectet, ut moveat) -- and:
Indeed, how will you teach or move your audience, when you use speech that is uneducated, disorganized, and badly put together, inelegant language, gesture either foolish or uncouth, a grating and disagreeable voice ? Accordingly, a writer must be mindful above all of charm and embellishment and elegance.
       Around these argument, Pontano again brings in Egidio -- as he sees some hope for the future in his example, because he believes Egidio is one of those modern scholars going down the right path, with an understanding of the importance of the use of proper language.
       Pontano certainly made some effort to live up to his own ideal in these dialogues, and Aegidius seems a quite successful effort in this regard. The set-up, and the coming and going of various interlocutors along the way, works quite well -- though some of the arguments do have that carried-away feel, of speakers going on at great and uninterrupted length in making their cases; a more back-and-forth dialogue is usually more effective, but at least Aegidius doesn't get too bogged down in any one place. Some over-arching themes -- the shadow of death over practically the entire scene; the focus on language -- also help make for piece that feels fairly unified.
       As to the Latin, those with considerably better knowledge of the language and literature will have to judge that, but it has the feel more of eloquence than forced grandiloquence, which is already something. (There is a section where Pontano again gets a bit carried away with exact word choices in translation (from Greek to Latin) -- the kind of thing also found in some of the earlier dialogues -- which ultimately feels more pedantic than useful but is not entirely without interest; again, it's not the sort of argument for which the dialogue-form -- at least as employed here by Pontano (the section is all monologue ...) -- seems ideally suited. On the other hand, the basic complaint here -- about "those who quite ignorantly translated the works of Aristotle" and the consequences -- seems well worth hammering home. )

       This volume also comes with a helpful (and very brief) Introduction, as well as a good set of endnotes. A useful Appendix of the Interlocutors in both dialogues is also included here; the brief biographies and other references are particularly useful regarding the people who appear in Aegidius -- though in fact numerous characters also appear in the very different Asinus (and some -- mostly mutely -- in Actius). Finally, this third volume of Pontano's Dialogues also has a Cumulative Index of Citations as well as a Cumulative General Index for all three volumes in the I Tatti-series.

- M.A.Orthofer, 11 December 2020

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Aegidius: 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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© 2020-2021 the complete review

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