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Humanism and Empire: Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini, Cicero and the imperial ideal*

  • Cary J. Nederman (a1)

The paper argues that the De ortu et auctoritate imperii Romani of Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini (1446) has been unjustifiably ignored by historians of quattrocento humanist political thought simply because of its adherence to the ideal of universal imperial government. At present, when De ortu is addressed at all, it is considered merely as an anachronistic product of a ‘medieval’ mentality. It is shown, however, that Aeneas, by working within a demonstrably Ciceronian framework, actually articulates a philosophically coherent defence of a single universal empire by exploiting a conceptual ambiguity in Cicero's own presentation of the foundations of social and political association. Aeneas suggests that Cicero's account of the communal nature of human beings, so far from sanctioning republican civic institutions, actually justifies the imposition of universal empire. A study of Piccolomini's political thought thus points to a greater diversity within the political viewpoints associated with humanism than current scholarship on the subject acknowledges. Moreover, it reveals the level of philosophical sophistication to which renaissance defences of empire could aspire.

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1 Brian Pullan describes Aeneas' career and contributions as a virtual archetype of the humanist experience in the fifteenth century (A history of early renaissance Italy [London, 1973], p. 182).

2 Piccolomini's accomplishments have been surveyed most recently by Kisch, Guido, Enea Silvio Piccolomini und die Jurisprudent (Basel, 1967) and Widmer, Berthe, Enea Silvio Piccolomini in der sittluhen und politischen Entscheidung (Basel, 1963).

3 The standard biography of Aeneas is by Voigt, Georg, Enea Silvio Piccolomini als Papst Pius der sweite undsein Zeitalter (3 vols., 18571863; reprinted Berlin, 1967). A more abbreviated account of Aeneas's career, albeit concentrating on his activities on the papal throne, is provided by R. J. Mitchell, The laurels and the tiara: Pope Pius II 1458–1464 (London, 1962).

4 The former judgement is addressed by Partner, Peter, Renaissance Rome 1500–1559 (Berkeley, 1976), p. 14 and D'Amico, John F., Renaissance humanism in papal Rome (Baltimore, 1983), p. 8; the latter may be found in Brann, Noel L., ‘Humanism in Germany’, in Rabil, A. Jr, (ed.), Renaissance humanism: foundations, forms and legacy (3 vols.; Philadelphia, 1988), II, 126–7 and Rado L. Lencek, ‘Humanism in the Slavic cultural tradition’, in ibid. II, 348–9.

5 For example, his political ideas receive no attention from Baron, Hans, The crisis of the early Italian renaissance (2nd edn; Princeton, 1966); Seigel, Jerrold, Rhetoric and philosophy in renaissance humanism: the union of eloquence and wisdom, Petrarch to Valla (Princeton, 1968); Skinner, Quentin, The foundations of modem political thought (2 vols.; Cambridge, 1978); Baron, Hans, In search of Florentine civic humanism: essays on the transition from medieval to modem thought (2 vols.; Princeton, 1988); Skinner, Quentin, ‘Political philosophy’, in Schmitt, C. B. and Skinner, Q. (eds.), The Cambridge history of renaissance philosophy (Cambridge, 1988), pp. 408–30; and Tuck, Richard, ‘Humanism and political thought’, in Goodman, A. and MacKay, A. (eds.), The impact of humanism on western Europe (London, 1990), pp. 4365.

6 See Lewis, Ewart, Medieval political ideas (London, 1954), pp. 157–8 and passim; Toews, John B., ‘The view of empire in Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini (Pope Pius II)’, Traditio, XXIV (1968), 471–87; Schmidinger, Heinrich, Romana regia potestas: Stoats- und Reichsdenken bei Engelbert von Admont und Enea Silvio Piccolomini (Basel and Stuttgart, 1978); and Luscombe, David, ‘The state of nature and the origin of the state’, in Kretzmann, N., Kenny, A. and Pinborg, J. (eds.), The Cambridge history of later medieval philosophy (Cambridge, 1982), pp. 763–4. Even this interpretation is not entirely uniform, however; for instance, Piccolomini's work is not cited at all in Burns, J. H. (ed.), The Cambridge history of medieval political thought (Cambridge, 1988).

7 This was the judgement of Voigt's seminal study and it has persisted into the present century; see Joachimsen, Paul, ‘Der Humanismus und die Entwicklung des deutschen Geistes’, Deutsche Vierteljahrsschrift für Literaturwissenschaft, VIII (1930), 435.

8 Rowe, John Gordon, ‘The tragedy of Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini (Pope Pius II): an interpretation’, Church History, XXX (09 1961), 290–3; and Toews, , ‘The view of empire in Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini’, 472–4 and passim.

9 This is stated most forcefully, of course, by Hans Baron in The crisis of the early Italian renaissance. For elaboration and defence of the basic hypothesis, see Pocock, J. G. A., The Machiavellian Moment: Florentine political thought and the Atlantic republican tradition (Princeton, 1975), esp. pp. 4980 and Baron, , In search of Florentine civic humanism, esp. II, 194211.

10 For example, Kristeller, Paul O., ‘The moral thought of renaissance humanism’, in Renaissance thought II: papers on humanism and the arts (New York, 1965), pp. 46–7 and passim; Kristeller, Paul O., Renaissance thought and its sources (ed.) Mooney, M. (New York, 1979), pp. 243–4 and passim; Seigel, Jerrold E., ‘“Civic humanism” or Ciceronian rhetoric? The culture of Petrarch and Bruni’, Past and Present, XXXIV (1966), 348; and Seigel, Rhetoric and philosophy in renaissance humanism.

11 See the survey by Rabil, Albert Jr, of the major contributions to the debate: ‘The significance of “civic humanism” in the interpretation of the Italian renaissance’, in Rabil, (ed.), Renaissance humanism, pp. 141–74.

12 Tuck, , ‘Humanism and political thought’, pp. 5163; Baron, , In search of Florentine civic humanism, I, 113–33; Seigel, , Philosophy and rhetoric in renaissance humanism, pp. 34.

13 The dilemma posed by the very notion of a single, coherent definition of medieval or renaissance ‘Aristotelianism’ has engendered a growing body of literature; some of aspects of the problem are treated by Cranz, F. Edward, ‘Aristotelianism in medieval political theory: a study of the reception of the politics’ (Unpublished Ph.D. thesis, Harvard University, 1940); Schmitt, Charles B., Aristotle and the renaissance (Cambridge, Mass., 1983), pp. 1033; Grant, Edward, ‘Ways to interpret the terms “Aristotelian” and “Aristotelianism” in medieval and renaissance natural philosophy’, History of Science, XXV (1987), 335–58; and Nederman, Cary J., ‘Aristotle as authority: alternative aristotelian sources of late medieval political theory’, History of European ideas, VIII (1987), 3144.

14 Baron, , The crisis of the early Italian renaissance, p. 121.

15 The continuity of facets of Ciceronianism in medieval and Renaissance political thought has lately been stressed by Skinner, Quentin, ‘Ambrogio Lorenzetti: the artist as political philosopher’, Proceedings of the British Academy, LXXII (1986), 156; Nederman, Cary J., ‘Nature, sin and the origins of society: the Ciceronian tradition in medieval political thought’, Journal of the History of Ideas, XLIX (01 1988), 326; and Tuck, , ‘and political thought’, pp. 4850. This is not to deny all difference between Ciceronian thought in the middle ages and renaissance, as Tuck stresses (pp. 50–1), a subject which I address in a paper, ‘Reason, speech and the foundation of political society: conflicting Ciceronianisms in medieval and renaissance thought’, presented to the American Political Science Association, Washington, , DC, 09 1991.

16 Skinner, , The foundations of modem political thought, I, 88; also see Seigel, , Rhetoric and philosophy in renaissance humanism, p. 30. This is a position which Skinner himself has surrendered in favour of the view posited in ‘Ambrogio Lorenzetti.’

17 The text of the Pentalogus was edited by Pez, B., Thesaurus antecdotorum novissimus (Augsburg, 1721), III, 637744. On its dating and substance, see Hallauer, H. J., Der Pentalogus des Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini (Unpublished dissertation, University of Cologne, 1951).

18 We shall employ the text of De ortu et auctoritate imperii Romani edited by Wolkan, R., Der Briefwechsel des Eneas Silvius Piccolomini in Fontes rerum austriacarum, LXII (1912), 624. The text and a German translation are also available in Kallen, Gerhard, Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini als Publizist in der epistola De ortu et auctoritate imperii Romani (Cologne, 1939), pp. 52100.

19 Within the main twentieth-century discussions of De ortu, Cicero is accorded no special place among the sources upon which Aeneas relied, and his name often appears only in a list alongside other classical and Christian authorities. See Muesel, Alfred, Enea Silvio als Publicist (Breslau, 1905), pp. 36–8; Battaglia, Felice, ‘II pensiero politico di Enea Silvio Piccolomini’, in Enea Silvio Piccolomini e Francesco Patrizi: due politici senesi del quattrocento (Siena, 1936), pp. 9, 30, 44; Kallen, , Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini als Publizist, p. 29; and Schmidinger, , Romana regia potestas, p. 21. Toews, ‘The view of empire in Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini’, does not mention Cicero at all.

20 Bruni's status as the paradigmatic renaissance Ciceronian is championed especially by Baron, , In search of Florentine civic humanism, I, 121–3 and passim.

21 This tension has recently been highlighted by Walter Nicgorski, ‘Cicero on the functions and limits of Roman nationalism’, presented to the Second Conference of the International Society for the Study of European Ideas, Leuven, Belgium, September 1990. This paper will be integrated into a larger study of Cicero's political theory which Professor Nicgorski is presently completing.

22 A clear example has been documented by Nederman, Cary J., ‘Nature, justice and duty in the Defensor pads: Marsiglio of Padua's Ciceronian impulse’, Political Theory, XVIII (11 1990). 615–37.

23 The features of diis model are examined in depth by Lewis, , Medieval political ideas, pp. 430–66.

24 For a more extensive treatment of the following themes in Cicero, see Wood, Neal, Cicero's social and political thought: an introduction (Berkeley, 1988), pp. 7889.

25 Cicero, , De finibus, ed. Rackha, H. III (London, 1931), II.xiv.45.

26 Cicero, , De officiis, ed. Miller, W. (Cambridge, Mass., 1913), Liv.12.

27 Ibid. II.iii.12–iv.15.

28 Ibid. II.v.16.

29 Ibid. II.v.17.

30 Ibid. I.vii.20.

31 Ibid. III.v.21–2.

32 Ibid. III.v.23.

33 Ibid.

34 Ibid. II.xii.41.

35 Ibid. II.xii.41.

36 Ibid. II.xii.41–2.

37 Ibid. III.xvii.69.

38 Ibid. III.xvu.69.

39 Ibid. I.xli.149.

40 Ibid.

41 Ibid. I.xvii.53–8.

42 Ibid. III.xvii.69.

43 De ortu, p. 7. The phrasing of this statement is unmistakably Ciceronian in character; cf. De finibus, II. II.34.

44 These justifications included: the contemporaneity of Christ's birth and Augustus' rule; the anaology between God as the single ruler of the universe and the emperor as the single ruler of the earth; and the reliance of the unity of Christian faith upon the unity of political power. Perhaps the classic medieval defence of the Empire was offered by Dante, , De monarchal, trans. Schneider, H. W. (Indianapolis, 1949).

45 This does not mean, of course, that Piccolomini excludes God as either a proximate or an immediate cause of the Empire. De ortu contains some of the same religious justifications for Roman domination that one finds in the medieval tradition; and it also accepts (as did the medievals) that nature itself was ultimately beholden to God. Yet De ortu keeps the theological bases for the Roman empire conceptually distinct from the naturalistic ones.

46 Piccolomini, , De ortu, p. 7.

47 Cicero, , De inventione, ed. Hubbell, H. M. (Cambridge Mass., 1949), I.i.i–ii.3 and De oratore, ed. Sutton, E. W. and Rackham, H. (Cambridge, Mass., 1942), I.viii.33–4, I.ix.36.

48 Piccolomini, , De ortu, pp. 78.

49 Ibid. p. 8.

50 Ibid. p. 8.

51 Ibid. p. 8.

52 Ibid. p. 8. Aeneas expands upon the centrality of justice to the function of kingship in his letter of 1 June 1444 to Wilhelm von Stein: ‘Sed nesciunt hii stulti atque dementes, equitatem plus in principe locum habere quam rigorum. Quod si non juri scripto cesar nonnunquam obtemperet, satis est, quia sequitur equitatem, apud philosophos late descriptam…’ (Baca, A. R. [ed.], Selected letters of Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini [Northridge, Calif., 1969], p. 102.

53 Piccolomini, , De ortu, p. 8.

54 Ibid. p. 9.

55 Ibid. p. 8.

56 Ibid. pp. 8–9.

57 Ibid. p. 9.

58 Ibid. p. 9.

59 Ibid. pp. 9–10.

60 Ibid. pp. 10–13.

61 For example, at ibid. pp. 9, 10 and 13.

62 Ibid. p. 14.

63 Ibid. pp. 14–15.

64 Ibid. p. 15.

65 Ibid. p. 16.

66 The distance in this regard may be judged by the diametrical opposition of their judgements of the significance of Julius Caesar. For Cicero, Caesar was a hated tyrant, an enslaver of his people (De officiis, II.vii.23 and III.xxi.83–5); for Aeneas, Julius was the glorious founder of the imperial majesty of Rome, (De ortu, p. 10). For a full appreciation of the significance of the evaluation of Caesar's and Cicero's reputations in renaissance political thought, see Baron, , The crisis of the early Italian renaissance, pp. 94166 passim.

67 Piccolomini, , De ortu, p. 18.

68 Cicero, , De officiis, I.vii.22 and Definibus, II.xiv.45.

69 Piccolomini, , De ortu, p. 18.

70 Cicero, , De officiis, III v.25-vi.26.

71 Piccolomini, , De ortu, pp. 20 and 21. The formula is derived from Codex I.14.4.

72 Piccolomini, , De ortu, p. 20. This statement may be compared to his remarks in his letter to Wilhelm von Stein, 1 June 1444 (Baca [ed.], pp. 101–2).

73 See Kelley, Donald R., Foundations of modem historical scholarship (New York, 1970), pp. 1950.

74 Piccolomini, , De ortu, p. 20.

75 Kristeller, Paul O., ‘Humanism and moral philosophy’, in Rabil, (ed.), Renaissance humanism, II, 289. Similar views are cited by Rabil, , ‘The significance of ‘civic humanism’, in the interpretation of the Italian renaissance’ pp. 155–6.

76 In this way, ‘imperial’ humanism has detectable echoes in what John D'Amico has identified as the ‘Roman’ version of Ciceronianism, which constituted ‘the chief means of expressing Roman humanism's authoritarian and imperial associations…Roman humanists neglected the political side of Cicero's life and teachings…they preferred to look at Cicero as the great Latin stylist rather than as a politician and defender of the Republic’ (Renaissance humanism in papal Rome, pp. 126, 125).

77 Battaglia, , ‘II pensiero politico di Enea Silvio Piccolomini’, pp. 33–4 and passim.

78 Lewis, , Medieval political ideas, p. 465.

79 Toews, , ‘The view of empire in Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini’, p. 476 n. 17.

80 For the fourteenth-century background, see Canning, Joseph P., The political thought of Baldus de Ubaldus (Cambridge, 1987).

81 Rowe, , ‘The tragedy of Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini’, pp. 301–3.

82 This was indeed noted by Morrall, J. B., ‘Pius II: humanist and crusader’, History Today 01 1958), pp. 33–4.

* An earlier and abbreviated version of this paper was read at the Second Conference of the International Society for the Study of European Ideas, Leuven, Belgium, September 1990. The author wishes to thank Professor Walter Nicgorski for his helpful comments on that draft.

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