Matteo Palmieri’s City of Life: The Original Idea of Three Opportunities for Salvation
International Journal of Literature and Arts
Volume 2, Issue 6, November 2014, Pages: 230-239
Received: Nov. 17, 2014; Accepted: Nov. 28, 2014; Published: Dec. 15, 2014
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Alessandra Mita Ferraro, Free researcher, Florence, Varese, Italy
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The Anglo-Saxon world has always devoted special attention to the Florentine humanist Matteo Palmieri (1406-1475). The Città di vita (The City of Life) represents the last, great creative effort of Palmieri, the moment when he was, to quote Marsilius Ficinus, a theological poet. Palmieri was aware of the heterodoxy of his poem and did not circulate it widely to avoid accusations of heresy. He, therefore, left the final reviewed copy (the Laurenziano manuscript) to the Proconsul of the Art of Judges and Notaries. This paper provides a brief summary of the City of life, a discussion of its sources (notably Origen), and an outline of Palmieri’s theological outlook, before presenting new findings based on the recently published Modena manuscript. This manuscript offers a unique chance to further investigate Palmieri’s theological outlook with the original idea of three opportunities for salvation. In addition, the Modena manuscript provides new elements to be analyzed considering that the three circulating manuscripts (Magliabechiano, Ambrosiano, and Barberiniano Latino) never mention Dati’s commentary. There are reasons to think that the Modena manuscript circulated in Florence after Palmieri’s death and therefore this is an additional relevant piece in the fascinating, yet still hazy-edged mosaic that is the knowledge and the history of the tercet poem by Matteo Palmieri.
Italian Studies, Renaissance Studies, Italian Literature, Renaissance Humanism, Renaissance Florence, Renaissance Philosophy, Renaissance Literature, Origen
To cite this article
Alessandra Mita Ferraro, Matteo Palmieri’s City of Life: The Original Idea of Three Opportunities for Salvation, International Journal of Literature and Arts. Vol. 2, No. 6, 2014, pp. 230-239. doi: 10.11648/j.ijla.20140206.12
For an accurate reconstruction of Palmieri's life, works, and historical context, see: A. Mita Ferraro, Matteo Palmieri. Una biografia intellettuale, Genova 2005, which also includes a detailed bibliography. For further reference see B. Cumbo, La Città di vita di Matteo Palmieri. Ipotesi su una fonte quattrocentesca per gli affreschi di Michelangelo nella volta Sistina, Palermo 2006; A. Mita Ferraro, «Senza aver penne non si può volare». Un ‘sommario’ della Città di Vita di Matteo Palmieri, Firenze 2012.
P. O. Kristeller, Iter Italicum, 6 vols, London-Leiden 1963-1997.
H. Baron, The Crisis of the Early Italian Renaissance: Civic Humanism and Republican Liberty in an Age of Classicism and Tyranny, Princeton 1955, and In Search of Florentine Civic Humanism: Essays on the Transition from Medieval to Modern Thought, 2 vols, Princeton 1988.
G.. M. Carpetto, The Humanism of Matteo Palmieri, Roma 1984.
R. J. Palermino, ‘Palmieri's Città di Vita: More Evidence of Renaissance Platonism’, Bibliothèque d’Humanisme et Renaissance, XLIV, 1982, pp. 601-604.
M. Palmieri, Libro del poema chiamato ‘Città di vita’, composto da Matteo Palmieri Florentino, Transcribed from the Laurentian MS XL 53 and Compared with the Magliabechiano II ii 41, ed. M. Rooke, 2 vols, Northampton (Mass.) 1927-1928.
A. Della Torre, Storia della Accademia platonica di Firenze, Firenze 1902, repr. Torino 1968, p. 492.
A. M. Bandini, Catalogus codicum latinorum Bibliothecae Mediceae Laurentianae, vol. 5 (‘Italicos scriptores exibens’), Firenze 1774-7, pp. 81-82; also with slight differences in Palmieri, Libro del poema, ed. Rooke, vol. 2, p. 261; M. Martelli, Letteratura fiorentina del Quattrocento. Il filtro degli anni Sessanta, Firenze 1996, pp. 256-257.
For a more detailed outline, see Mita Ferraro, Matteo Palmieri, pp. 356-359; Mita Ferraro, Senza aver penne, pp. 25-67.
‘Che cosa vuoi che io faccia? / Canta come fece Dante in terza rima, quanto ti ho riferito. / Inizia e Dio ti condurrà a buon fine’. Palmieri, Libro del poema, ed. Rooke, vol. 2, p. 262; Bandini, Catalogus, p. 83.
Palmieri, Città di vita, I.XV-LXVII, Firenze, Biblioteca Laurenziana, MS Pluteo, XL 53, fols 70r-77v. A digitized reproduction of this manuscript is available for consultation through the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana website at: (accessed November 2014). Cf. B. Soldati, ‘Giovanni Pontano e la confutazione del Pico’, in Id., La poesia astrologica nel Quattrocento, Firenze 1906, repr. 1986, p. 203.
Palmieri, Città di vita, III.XIV.15 and 24-48, fols 247r-249v. P. Cerchi, ‘Petrarca, Valerio Massimo e le concordanze storiche’, Rinascimento, XLII, 2002, pp. 31-65.
For further details on Palmieri’s theological outlook, see Mita Ferraro, Matteo Palmieri, pp. 375-419.
Palmieri, Città di vita, III.XXXIII.35-41, fol. 297v.
Palmieri, Città di vita, III.XXXIII.43-49, fols 297v-298r.
Palmieri, Città di vita, II.III.19, fol. 132r: cf. Virgil, Aeneid, VI.299-304. In addition, Palmieri, Città di vita, II.XV.43-44, fol. 251v: cf. with Aeneid, VI.605-607.
When Palmieri, in the chapter XXI of the first book of Città di vita, describes the influence coming from Venus, he also speaks about Love's properties in a way reminiscent of Seneca, Hyppolitus, 275-281.
Cf. Persius, Satira, VI.
The description of envy, in Palmieri, Città di vita, II.XXVI.51-55, is taken almost word by word from Ovid, Metamorphoses, II.775-781.
Palmieri’s discussion of rage, in Città di vita (II.XXV.46-49, fols 188v-190v), is clearly influenced by Statius, Thebaid, I.103-113.
Palmieri, Città di vita, III.XXII.40-43, fol. 269v. See also E. Garin, Medioevo e Rinascimento, Bari 1980, pp. 234-235. For further references to Latin authors, cf. E. Frizzi, ‘La Città di vita, poema inedito di Matteo Palmieri’, Il Propugnatore, XI, 1878, pp. 150-166.
Palmieri, Città di vita, I.XVIII.43-49, fol. 80r.
Palmieri, Città di vita, II.III.39-45 and 49, fol. 133r.
Palmieri, Vita civile, I.132, ed. G. Belloni, Firenze 1982, p. 40.
Palmieri, Vita civile, III.136, ed. Belloni, p. 132.
F. Pintor, La libreria di Cosimo de’ Medici nel 1418, Firenze 1902, pp. 8 and 13-14.
Mita Ferraro, Matteo Palmieri, p. 385; A. Dini Traversari, Ambrogio Traversari e i suoi tempi, Firenze 1912; Lorenzo Valla e l'umanesimo toscano: Traversari, Bruni, Marsuppini. Atti del Convegno del Comitato nazionale 6° centenario della nascita di Lorenzo Valla, Prato, 30 novembre 2007, ed. M. Regoliosi, Firenze 2010.
Dini Traversari, Ambrogio Traversari, p. 107.
Catalogo di manoscritti filosofici nelle biblioteche italiane, ed. D. Frioli and others, 2 vols, Firenze 1981, pp. 34-36; Kristeller, Iter Italicum, vol. I, p. 76.
The first printed edition of this text came out in 1605. Cf. H. Crouzel, Une controverse sur Origène a la Renaissance: Jean Pic de la Mirandole et Pierre Garcia, Paris 1977, p. 43; Kristeller, Iter Italicum, vol. I, p. 178; G. Pomaro, ‘Censimento dei manoscritti della Biblioteca di S. Maria Novella. Parte II: secc. XV-XVI’, Memorie domenicane, XIII, 1982, pp. 202-353.
Origen was accused of Pythagoreanism by Jerome in the first pages of his letter Ad Avitum. Such allegations are repeated in Contra Celsum (V.29) and in Commentary on St Matthew (XIII.1). However, Origen, in line with his method, proceeds by way of hypothesis and does not aim at achieving dogmatic certainty.
Origen, De Principiis, II, 8,3 and Homilies on Ezekiel, I,5.
Also see Origen’s Homilies on St Luke, XXV, 15.
‘Haec intelligenda sunt secundum huius poematis argumentum, scilicet quod animae sunt ex spiritibus qui in primo bello caelesti neque deum spexerunt neque sequuti sunt Luciferum sed medii steterunt et ideo reservantur in Elysiis campis et ad tempus infunduntur humanis corporibus cum ratione et appetitu et libero arbitrio ad dignoscendum utrum Deum sequi velint an Luciferum’. L. Dati, Commento alla ‘Città di Vita’, Firenze, Biblioteca Laurenziana, MS Pluteo, XL 53, fol. 29v (available for consultation through the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana website).
Dati, Commento alla ‘Città di Vita’, fol. 31r.
Palmieri, Città di vita, I.V.24-27, fol. 30r.
Justin, Apology I, (XLIII.2-7), and Apology II (VII.5-6).
Dati, Commento alla ‘Città di Vita’, fols 31v-32r.
Augustine too, despite his devastating critique of Origen in De civitate Dei (XI.23), allows that men can make up for the damage caused by the fallen Angel: cf. De civitate Dei (XXII.1) and Enchiridion (IX.29). For Peter Lombard’s opinion, see Sententiae (II.I, chapter 5).
‘Leave all hope behind you who enter / by your own fault into the third death /eternal punishment for damned souls’. Palmieri, Città di vita, II.II.1, fol. 127v.
Palmieri, Città di vita, I.XXV.42-46, fol. 101r. Here is Dati’s comment on this point (fol. 101v): ‘Sequitur ultima pars nostrae fidei quae est credere ipsum Christum deum iterum venturum esse cum gloria iudicare vivos et mortuos et sunt haec in fine symboli ubi dicit: “ad eius adventum omnes homines resurgere habent cum corporibus suis”’ (‘The last part of our faith consists in the belief that Christ himself shall come in all his glory to judge the living and the dead; and these words are to be found at the end of the Credo, where it is said: “all men shall be resurrected with their body”’). Later on Dati adds: ‘Haec dixit affirmans quod resurgere debent cum corporis suis’ (‘He said those words claiming that they must be resurrected with their own bodies’).
E.g. the idea of God as Light, a Platonic theme also present in Ps. Dionysius, Celestial Hierarchy, I.1-3, which is Palmieri’s source. The same image can also be found in Palmieri, Città di vita, I.III.1, fol. 21v and I.XIX.6-8, fol. 82v.
Ps. Dionysius, Celestial Hierarchy, III.2, p. 34.
‘Please clarify to me whether this obscure doctrine / is in line with what the Holy Church approves / or whether the Church itself reckons that it should be blamed and rejected’. Palmieri, Città di vita, I.IX.46, fol. 48v. I should mention in passing that a distorted reading of this and other chapters (in particular I.V) has fomented several legends about Palmieri: see Mita Ferraro, Matteo Palmieri, pp. 419-78, and Mita Ferraro, Senza aver penne, p. 16.
My reconstruction of the intellectual context is based on C. Vasoli, ‘Le “Accademie”. L’“Accademia Platonica”, l’“Accademia Romana”’ and P. Orvieto, ‘Cristoforo Landino e il culto di Dante, e Marsilio Ficino, e Giovanni Pico della Mirandola’, both in Storia della Letteratura Italiana - Il Quattrocento, ed. E. Malato, vol. 3, Roma 1996, pp. 78-79 and 320-349. Also see Soldati, Giovanni Pontano, and Crouzel, Une controverse.
Cumbo, La Città di vita, p. 11.
More on the circulation and fortune of the City of Life in Mita Ferraro, Matteo Palmieri, pp. 419-478, and Mita Ferraro, Senza aver penne, pp. 13-24.
Mita Ferraro, Senza aver penne, p. 19.
S. Orlandi, Necrologio di S. Maria Novella, 2 vols, Firenze 1955, vol. 1, pp. XXVIII and 187-190, and vol. 2, pp. 305-315. See also: I. Taurisano, Il culto di Dante nell’Ordine Domenicano, Firenze 1917 (also in Memorie Domenicane, XXXIII,1916, pp. 29-30 and 44-46.
Bandini, Catalogus, p. 74; G. Richa, Notizie Istoriche delle Chiese fiorentine, 10 vols, Firenze 1754-1762, repr. Roma, 1989, vol. 1, p. 161; Palmieri, Libro del poema, ed. Rooke, vol. 1, p. XIII.
The description of the Laurenziano Pluteo MS is in I. G. Rao, Matteo Palmieri, ‘Città di vita’, in I luoghi della memoria scritta. I libri del silenzio. I libri del decoro. I libri della porpora, ed. G. Cavallo, Roma 1994. The drawings in this manuscript have been attributed to Francesco Botticini, see: L. Venturini, Francesco Botticini, Firenze 1994.
This codex was first mentioned in modern times by A. Zeno who used it as a case-study: see A. Zeno, ‘Matteo Palmieri’, Giornale de’ Letterati d’Italia, X, 1712, pp. 424-471; XI, 1712, pp. 289-292. Another copy, which I have not been able to view, is located among the Hamiltonian manuscripts of the Deutsche Staatsbibliothek in Berlin, and is based on the Magliabechiano and the Laurenziano Pluteo MSS: the earliest mention of this manuscript is in P. O. Kristeller, ‘Francesco da Diacceto and Florentine Platonism’, in Miscellanea Giovanni Mercati IV: Letteratura classica e umanistica (Studi e Testi), Roma 1946, pp. 260-304, repr. in The Sixteenth Century, Studies in Renaissance Thought and Letters, 4 vols, Roma 1969-1996, vol. 1, p. 328.
Frizzi, La Città di vita, pp. 140-167 (150); G. Bofitto, ‘L’eresia di Matteo Palmieri’, Giornale storico della letteratura italiana, XXXVII, 1901, pp. 1-69; M. Martelli, ‘Palmeriana’, Interpres, V, 1983-1984, pp. 277-301 (292-293).
The only existing mention of this manuscript is in Boffito, L’eresia di Matteo, p. 3: the author regards this as the most elegant copy of the Città di vita among those that have survived. This manuscript also bears traces of underlining in different inks, which highlight the moral content of some tercets. Cf. R. Cipriani, Codici miniati dell’Ambrosiana, Vicenza 1968, p. 50; Mita Ferraro, Matteo Palmieri, p. 367.
Cf. Kristeller, Iter Italicum, vol. 2, p. 464; Kristeller, ‘Francesco da Diacceto’, pp. 260-304. Also see Bibliografia retrospettiva dei fondi manoscritti della Biblioteca Vaticana, ed. M. Ceresa and M. Buonocore, 4 vols, Roma 1968-1994, vol. 4, p. 149.
Mita Ferraro, Senza aver penne, pp. 79-181.
Palmieri, Città di vita, Firenze, Biblioteca Laurenziana, MS Pluteo XL 53: the portrait is at fol. 303r.
[Property] of Luigi Fiacchi. I found this summary of Palmieri’s City of Life in 1815, in a poor state and with the cover pages badly torn. I bound it, and I kept the front page because it contains the date of Palmieri’s death as well as his portrait, although the latter is much faded. The summary was made by a Proconsul of the apothecaries’ guild, a contemporary of P[almieri], as evidenced by fols 32-33 which provide accurate information about the poem’.
F. D’Intino, Luigi Fiacchi, in Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani, 47 vols, Roma 1997, vol. 47, pp. 316-317.
Mita Ferraro, Matteo Palmieri, pp. 435-439.
Identifying the first reader of this codex appears impossible, as all the relevant documents concerning the guild went lost in the 16th-century flood.
‘La tracta come poeta. Et i poeti alchuna volta tractano cose per tessere et hornar lor opere che in verità non le sentono coll’animo’.
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