Year of Publication

2013

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

College

Arts and Sciences

Department

History

First Advisor

Dr. Gretchen Starr-LeBeau

Abstract

The present study investigates the verbal strategies of self-presentation that humanist scholars employed in contests of honor during the early fifteenth century. The focus of this study is George of Trebizond (1395-1472/3), a Cretan scholar who emigrated to Italy in 1416, taught in Venice, Vicenza, and elsewhere, served as an apostolic secretary in Rome, and composed the first major humanist treatise on rhetoric, his Rhetoricorum libri quinque, in 1433/34. Trebizond feuded with many prominent humanists during his career, including Guarino of Verona (1374-1460) and Poggio Bracciolini (1380-1459). His quarrels with both men illustrate how humanist conflicts were the sites upon which Quattrocento scholars won or lost honor via literary activities designed to appeal to a public audience of peers and patrons. Humanists wrote to denigrate publicly their competitors, casting them as ignorant and morally corrupt, and to praise themselves as eloquent and virtuous. Although Renaissance scholarship has long acknowledged the humanist pursuit of glory, the linguistic means by which humanists contested honor remains understudied. The present study contends that Quattrocento contests of honor were conducted using standard sets of oppositional categories, themes, and literary models. Additionally, I argue that an analysis of the linguistic strategies of self-presentation provides a more complex and complete picture of Quattrocento humanism and of individual humanists as historical figures.

Following an introductory discussion of George of Trebizond and Quattrocento humanism in Chapter One, the next three chapters of this dissertation address individual themes evident in Trebizond’s correspondence. Chapter Two examines the anti-Greek language that dominated Trebizond’s dispute with Guarino in 1437. Chapter Three explores the language of restraint and rational self-control in Trebizond’s feud with Poggio between 1452 and 1453. Chapter Four evaluates humanist concepts of masculinity in Trebizond’s feuds with both men. Chapter Five steps back from a deep thematic reading of Trebizond’s correspondence to consider invective as a literary genre that was a preferred vehicle for humanist self-presentation. This final chapter studies two additional feuds, between Guarino and Niccolò Niccoli, and Poggio and Lorenzo Valla, to understand better Trebizond’s experiences as a reflection of the broader culture of which he was a part.

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