Benedetto Varchi and the Social Dimensions of Language

by Michael T. Ward
Benedetto Varchi and the Social Dimensions of Language
Michael T. Ward
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Benedetto Varchi and the Social Dimensions of Language

t is well known that popular participation in the literary and lin- guistic undertakings of Cinquecento Italy was severely restricted by the schism between educated and uneducated classes. As the cen- tury progressed, acceptable standards for written production were more narrowly defined, and the intellectual atmosphere became steadily less open to diversity. The most well-received figures of Ital- ian letters during the later sixteenth and seventeenth centuries pre- ferred a style and lexicon often substantially different from those of the common language. This elitist attitude is seen also in the debates composing the Questione della lingua-a controversy which, despite its designation, dealt essentially with extralinguistic issues. During the Cinquecento, theorists embroiled in the disputes over language use were concerned almost exclusively with the definition and reg- ulation of a refined medium suitable for employment in serious func- tions and capable of contributing to excellence of expression. Appre- ciation for the usage of ordinary speakers is rare in the philological disquisitions of this period. Even adherents to "naturalism" in lin- guistic affairs-including those who advocated the employment of unembellished Florentine-in general speak only vaguely of popular habits, failing to demonstrate any real familiarity with the practice of lower strata.

Nevertheless, there exists one Cinquecento language text that stands out for its attention to colloquial speech. This document is Benedet to Varchi's L'Ercolano ovvero Agli A1 beri: Dialogo nel quale si ragiona generalmente delle lingue e in particolare della fioren tina e della toscana (1570).Examination of two significant sections of this extensive dialogue reveals the author's appreciation for living usage, and his notable awareness of common linguistic practice in Florence. As we shall see, Varchi violates his own dicta regarding worthy sub- jects of discussion, enumerating a series of words and expressions found principally among those not usually granted such consider- ation. While this author is undeniably an elitist in matters of culture, VARCHIAND LANGUAGE 177

his attention to popular habits goes far beyond the generalities ex- pressed by other Questione theorists.

The most coherent overview of sixteenth-century considerations on sociolinguistic stratification is provided by Sozzi (Aspetti 35-99). He outlines the sharp division between learned and unschooled levels-a bifurcation producing cultural deprivation of the latter group--and affirms that Cinquecento awareness of vertical variation was at best ill-defined.' Following a brief treatment of Ercolano's pur- ported focus on spoken, rather than written usage (87-91), Sozzi con- cludes that,

democrazia linguistics, per il Varchi, e-oltre che, come per molti dei

discettatori, l'uso prosastico rispetto a quello poetic-l'uso parlato ri-

spetto allluso scritto; uso popolare, al quale si volge di preferenza (certo

anche per vanto municipale] la sua considerazione; popolarita cui basta

la natura, in assenza di cultura: ma vuol essere una natura non mal-

creata, villana o turpe, ma da persone istintivamente orientate a civilta.

While these observations are indeed accurate, the failure to take into consideration certain relevant passages of Varchi's dialogue provides only an incomplete picture. Other commentaries on this theorist's approach to the language of uncultured groups likewise offer a partial view (for example, those of Manacorda 1146-471, Labande-Jeanroy [180-961, Pirotti [116-241, Izzo [4-51, Migliorini ["Questione" 37- 381, and Vitale [Questione 90-941).

Ercolano, completed between 1560 and 1565, is a remarkably com- prehensive text. It offers a compendium of Cinquecento linguistic ideology, addressing a range of topics relating to both language history and contemporary practice. In its claims regarding the dominant role of Tuscan usage, this treatise constitutes an exhaustive response to the "Italianist" and "Courtly" conceptions of the standard language. As a result of Varchi's early immersion in the Florentine doctrine of language naturalism, and subsequent adoption of Bemboesque imita- tio, his views represent a compromise between contrasting positions. On one hand, adherence to vernacular classicism required reliance on Tuscan models from preceding centuries. On the other hand, how- ever, belief in the primacy of his native dialect called for openness to forms as yet unsanctioned by literary use.

In the attempt to reconcile these contradictory tendencies, Varchi postulates a separation between what has been calledlingua and stile (Vitale, Questione 91), or natura and arte (Vitale, Premessa x)-a divergence which, nonetheless, allowed for a significant mutual influ- ence between the two modes. Varchi's attempts to mollify a rigor- ously classicist approach focused on the innovations of which the contemporary language was capable, and he was drawn to stress such possibilities throughout the exposition of his dialogue. It is in this em- phasis that one can see most clearly our author's pro-Florentine po- sition, a stance which incorporates, as Vitale says, "la nozione di una regolarita e di una perfezione linguistica come dati immanenti nel sistema della lingua, anzichk come risultato di una sua sublimazione artistica" (Questione 72). The significance of Varchi's contribution, and his noteworthy attention to the spoken language, afforded him considerable fame and lasting influence (cf. Faithful1 300 and 300, n. 2).

There was, however, yet another reason for our scholar to empha- size the richness of spoken Florentine: his involvement in the dispute between Annibal Caro and Lodovico Castelvetr~.~

This controversy began with the composition in 1553 of Caro's canzone in praise of the French monarchy, "Venite all'ombra de' gran gigli d'oro." Castel- vetro responded privately, censuring, inter alia, the poet's inclusion of non-Tuscan elements and of others not present in canonical texts. Despite Castelvetro's request for secrecy, Caro learned of the criti- cism and wrote the Apologia degli academici di Banchi di Roma (not published until 1558)' to which Castelvetro would reply in his Ragione d'alcune cose segnate nella canzone d'Anniba1 Caro: Venite a l'ombra de gran gigli d'oro (1559). At the heart of Caro's argument is an emphasis on the spoken nature of Tuscan and on the need to utilize this medium for enrichment of the literary dialect. The sim- ilarity in perspective between Caro's treatise and Ercolano is conso- nant with Varchi's having thoroughly reviewed the apology prior to its publication (Manacorda 128). Ercolano makes several specific ref- erences to the author's wish to support his friend and the truth which Caro's exposition contains (see especially 126-31). Having taken a stand against the restrictive approach espoused by Castelvetro, our theorist is given another motivation to underscore the multifaceted nature of Florentine and the utility of adherence to living usage.3

Two subdivisions of Ercolano are particularly useful for the eval- uation of Varchi's views on vertical language variation. The first sec- tion to be mentioned could justifiably be termed the "theoretical" half of our author's commentary on sociolinguistic diversity: "Ques- ito Ottavo: Da chi si debbano imparare a favellare le lingue, o dal volgo, o da' maestri, o dagli scrittori" (1 19-31). The conclusion to this chapter sums up the author's defense both of linguistic inclusiveness in general, and of Varchi's own amalgam of classicist and naturalist positions:

Ma conchiudiamo oggimai che le lingue si debbono imparare a favel- lare, da coloro che naturalmente le favellano, e dai maestri ancora,

quando se ne potessero avere . . .,leggendo ancora di quegli scrittori dl

mano in mano, i quali sono riputati migliori. (131)

The other subdivision to be considered can be seen as the "prac- tical" side of Varchi's exposition. Here we are treated to an extensive listing of Florentine verbs relating to the action of speaking, including many phrases beginning with fare, dare, stare, and dire (33-62).4 It is with this miscellany that Varchi responds to a request made by his companion, the Count Cesare Ercolano, who professes to be unfamil- iar with Tuscan practice and desirous of increasing his linguistic knowledge (33). The enumeration is not given a separate heading. Nevertheless, it serves to separate the author's discussion of six "Du- bitazioni"' from his responses to ten "Quesiti," all queries posed by the Bolognese Count. Varchi makes no reference to any direct con- nection between "Quesito Ottavo" and his corpus of speech terms. I believe, however, that this listing is intended to support the conclu- sion cited above. That is, it provides proof of the expressive capabil- ities of living language, and thus of the possibility of interaction be- tween colloquial and literary dialects.

Varchi strongly insists on the need for immersion in spoken lan- guage. Such close contact is an absolute requirement because the lex- ical stock is unstable, with new words continuously being introduced and others lost (50). In addition, it is impossible for the full richness of Florentine to be contained in written sources. Instead, Varchi states, terms such as those he explains to his companion are found only among speakers who employ them naturally in daily communi- cation: that is, "[ill Senato e '1 pop010 Fiorentino" (59). These details of language use are understood, he continues-and more importantly, utilized-

non dico da' fattori de' barbieri e de' calzolai, ma da' ciabattini e da' fer- ravecchi . . .; e non e si tristo artigiano dentro a quelle mura che voi ve- dete (eil medesimo dico de' foresi e de' contadini] il quale non sappia di questi motti e riboboli per lo senno a mente le centinaia, e ogni giorno, anzi a ciascuna ora e bene spesso, non accorgendosene, non ne dica qualcuno. (59)

Our author makes reference to the existence of countless popular aph- orisms, noting that he composed, and then burned, a collection of such sayings.6 He also comments that if his servant overheard the present exposition, she would be greatly surprised that her master concerned himself with such extremely common things (58-59).

A similar respect for the dictates of living usage marks Varchi's at-

titude toward the language of writing. As has been pointed out by al-

most all those who comment on Varchi's views (e.g., Labande-Jeanroy 189-93, Izzo 4-5, Migliorini, Storia 356-57), our scholar takes pains to distinguish spoken from written media (insisting, for example, that "[llo scrivere non e della sostanza delle lingue, ma cosa accidentale" [65]). There are many declarations throughout Ercolano that the work's principal subject matter is oral language; when pressed for de- tails on style, Varchi replies with protestations such as, "[ilo v'ho detto che voglio ragionare oggi del favellare e non dello scrivere" (123), and "perch6 queste cose appartengono a110 scrivere e non a1 favellare, vogliomi riserbare a dichiararle un'altra volta" (124). Nevertheless, Varchi the Humanist letterato cannot help straying into "forbidden territory."' He asserts that it is impossible for anyone to write per- fectly in a language which he has not learned natively, or from those who speak it naturally. Mastery of writing without immersion in real speech could occur only if there were such an abundance of literature that all aspects of the medium were recorded-and this, he recog- nizes, is impossible (121-22).

It is in this affirmation of the value in attending to contemporary spoken practice that one can see most clearly Varchi's divergence from the teachings of Bembo (cf. Bruni 73-76). Count Ercolano cites the Cardinal's pronouncement (contained in Book I of the Prose) that being born in Florence was in reality a hindrance to proficiency in the literary t~ngue.~

To this Varchi replies that Bembo's declaration, made some forty years earlier, represents merely a reaction against a previous neglect of the language in que~tion.~

He affirms that the advantage held by Florentines in utilization of the standard tongue is obvious, observing that the hidden force of popularusage whichBern- bo postulated must surely affect to a much greater degree those not in possession of the prestige dialect (124-25).

There are two subsections of "Quesito Ottavo" which seem de- signed specifically to emphasize the dangers of relying solely on writ- ten practice. One passage describes the flawed nature of Cinquecento Latin (122-23). Varchi affirms here that a resuscitated Cicero or Sal- lust would hardly recognize even his own works if read aloud by a sixteenth-century Latinist, such is our modern ignorance regarding the Roman tongue's spoken nature. Among particular Latin features no longer well understood, he includes syllable quantity, aspiration (denoted by h), the circumflex accent, open and closed e and o, and pronunciation of the digraphs ti (before vowel) and ph. As for Latin syntax, Varchi remarks, "e possibile che nel volere variare le clausole e tramutare le parole per cagione del numero, si scrivano oggi cose in quel tempo ridicole" (123).

The other passage germane to this context is that which adduces details of the dispute involving Caro and Castelvetro (126-31). Varchi's remarks here make patent the degree to which his desire for liberty of expression was in accord with the posture adopted by his friend. He quotes from Caro's challenge to Castelvetro (see Caro 21 8), stating that these words sum up all that Varchi himself has been say- ing on the topic of living language (126-27):

[Pler fare una profession tale [that of language expert], non basta che voi ne sappiate le voci solamente, ne la proprieta di ciascuna d'esse, che bi- sogna sapere anco in che guisa s'accozzano insieme, e certi altri minuz- zoli, . . . i quali non si trovano nel vostro Cibaldone, ni: anco in su i buoni libri talvolta. L'osservazion degli autori e necessaria, ma non ogni cosa v' e dentro; . . . e di pih momento . . . l'avere avuto monna Sandra per balia, maestro Pippo per pedante, la Loggia per iscuola, Fiesole per villa, aver girato pih volte il coro di Santa Riparata, seduto molte sere sotto '1 tetto de' Pisani, praticato molto tempo, per dio, fino in Gual- fonda, per sapere la natura d'essa. (127)

Count Ercolano notes that Castelvetro relied on Bembo, who had maintained that mastery of the prestige dialect required neither Flo- rentine birth nor contact with native speakers. To this our critic re- plies that Castelvetro was in truth referring to writing, and that in any case his citation of the Cardinal's opinion shows that it is actually Bembo who is in error. Taking the same point of attack as had Ca- stelvetro, Varchi upbraids Caro's opponent for the employment of certain incorrect constructions (for him, those not in accord with pop- ular Florentine), and supports Caro's contention that Plato himself believed in the salutary effects of association with commoners. Varchi's companion, the Count, observes that the ridiculousness of Castelvetro's remarks might suggest that they were made in jest, or were designed to permit Varchi easy rebuttal. All of those terms used by Caro and censured by Castelvetro, Varchi states, are found com- monly in Florentine speech, and are thus worthy of use. Criticisms of Caro's language would never have been made if Castelvetro had had sufficient experience among the "feccia del popolazzo fiorentino" (127).

"Quesito Ottavo" posits a multilevel division of Florentine lin- guistic practice predicated on degree of education. Reaffirming the primacy of usage,1° Varchi subdivides it into that appropriate to speech and that characteristic of writing. The latter, Varchi states, will be discussed on another occasion (121). Spoken usage is itself par- titioned into universale and particolare: the former consists of those words and expressions found among all who were born or raised in Florence, while the latter comprises three distinct subgroups. Leaving aside, as Varchi says, the "infima plebe e la feccia del popolazzo, della quale non intendiamo di ragionare" (1 19), particular usage consists of that of letterati, that of non idioti, and that of idioti. The letterati

are those who have learned Latin and/or Greek in addition to their native tongue; the non idioti have mastered no foreign language but speak their own correctly; while theidioti cannot adequately employ even the native system (theirs, we read, is really "misuso"). Those of the intermediate group, non idioti, have acquired good linguistic hab- its through one or more of three sets of circumstances: "natura" (birth in a household where worthy speech prevailed), "fortuna" (dealings with those of the upper strata), and "industria" (mastery of polished Tuscan through study). While letterati, guided by theory, make lin- guistic selections based on their knowledge of acceptable standards, non idioti are not privileged to such information and rely on practice alone (1 19-20]."

Varchi further specifies that, in reality, "uso particolare" could be termed "uso comune," since it includes the practices of the entire city. That is, the idioti possess all knowledge of the "plebe"; the non idioti know all that the idioti and the "plebe" have learned; and the letterati demonstrate mastery of all that known to the three lower classes. Excepted from this common knowledge is vocabulary rele- vant to various arts and professions, which does not affect linguistic practice as a whole. Varchi chooses not to discuss the "usi cattivi" [or "abusi") typical of idioti, and asserts that "il vero e buon uso sia principalmente quello de' letterati, e secondariamente quello de' non idioti" (120-21). Our author shares Bembo's contempt for those ex- pert in the Classical languages but ignorant in their own [see Bembo 79). Such individuals, Varchi states-including many in the clergy and the legal profession-must be considered idioti in the present context (120). This remark, like other seeming asides [as above), in all likelihood is aimed at reemphasizing the need for contact between literary and spoken dialects.

Varchi's continual insistence on the primacy of colloquial practice may seem at odds with his definition of good language as that found among the two highest social classes. Nonetheless, it appears that for him, increased educational achievement correlates with an ability to manipulate a greater variety of linguistic resources. Members of the lower strata are seen to rely on an abundance of expressive elements not requiring artistic embellishment. Because of the richness and in- herent beauty of the Florentine tongue, such popular resources are not to be ignored by noble speakers.12 The latter will possess not only the treasures of unenhanced language, but also those more polished us- ages appropriate to literary and artistic endeavors. For Varchi, it is in- dispensable that educated individuals gain mastery of a full range of expressive techniques, and be able to utilize all means conducive to the achievement of their communicative goals.

As mentioned, it is my contention that the theoretical pronounce- ments contained in "Quesito Ottavo" find their practical counterpart in Varchi's listing of synonyms for favellare. When this latter section opens, the Count asks that, before they begin a new series of discus- sions, his companion tell him all the verbs (together with compounds and derivatives) which correspond to the act of speaking:

[Alncora che di lontano o propriamente o per translazione apparten- gono,e quelli massimamente i quali, come vostri propri, piu nella bocca del volgo fiorentino, o nell'uso degli scrittori burlevoli si ritrovano, che ne1 parlare degli scienziati o ne' libri degli autori nobili, senza guardare che vi paressero o bassi, o plebei. (33)

Varchi responds that he cannot recount all existing terms, for they are almost innumerable, but promises Ercolano that he will soon be overwhelmed by the abundance of Florentine vocabulary to be dem- onstrated. In his extensive list (covering almost thirty pages in the 1859 edition [here, of double columns], and more than one hundred in that of 1804 [1 :87-1931) Varchi furnishes nearly a thousand items, many consisting of more than one word. In addition, he provides spec- ification of the particular social groups within which certain ele- ments are most commonly employed. Moreover, we are informed of the alleged origins of some terms listed if they have arisen under par- ticularly noteworthy circumstances.

Varchi's exposition is remarkably detailed and does indeed reflect the abundance on which he insists. Because Ercolano's collection of synonyms is so heterogeneous in nature, attempts to summarize its contents would be of doubtful usefulness. A glance at two represen- tative passages will more effectively facilitate an appreciation of Varchi's technique. The first selection demonstrates our author's typ- ical provision of multiple expressive possibilities for one situation or communicative function. It shows in addition a characteristically smooth transition between related concepts. Here, while the overall subject is one interlocutor's response to the perceived intent of an- other, Varchi furnishes different means of expression to suit the vary- ing nuances conveyed:

Quando uno dice cose non verisimili, se gli risponde: Elle sono parole da donne, o da sera, cib 6da veglia; o veramente: elle son favole e no- velle. Quando uno dice sue novelle per far credere alcuna cosa, se gli risponde: Elle sono parole; leparole non empiono il corpo; dove biso- gnano i fatti, le parole non bastano; tu hai buon dire tuj tu saresti buono a predicare a' porri; e in altre guise cotali. A uno che si sia in- capato una qualche cosa, e quanto piu si cerca di sgannarlo, tanto piu vlingrossa su, e risponde di voler fare e dire, s'usa: Egli B entrato nel gi-

gante. Chi ha detto o fatto alcuna cosa in quel mod0 appunto che noi disideravamo, si chiama aver dipinto o fattola a pennello. D1uno che fa castellucci in aria: Egli si becca il cervello, osi da di monte Morello nel capo. D'uno che colle parole o col fatti si sia fatto scorgere, si dice: Egli ha chiarito il popolo. (61)

A second passage evinces our theorist's recognition that, at times, ex- emplification is more effective than mere explanation. Furthermore, for one as intrigued by the communicative process as is Varchi, it can be more satisfying:

Far le none non pub dichiararsi se non con piu parole come per cagion d'esempio: se alcuno dubitando che chi che sia no1 voglia richiedere in prestanza del suo cavallo, i1 quale egli prestare non gli vonebbe, comin- ciasse, prevenendolo, a dolersi con esso lui che il suo cavallo fosse sfer- rato o pigliasse l'erba o avesse male a un pie, e colui rispondesse: Non accade che tu mi faccia o suoni questa nona. (52)

We have seen that, in theory, Varchi discounts the language of the lowest classes he defines. Yet his synonyms of favellare include terms said to be used by idioti and members of the "plebe," as well as items found among various specialized subgroups of the volgo. The inclu- sion of a certain number of these popular expressions does not repre- sent a true contradiction in the text. Instead, their presence demon- strates the overwhelming interest Varchi had in all aspects of living language. It can be argued that proof of the utility of immersion in common Florentine speech did not really require the citation of such a plethora of terms as Ercolano provides. What we find in this section, as in other parts of the dialogue, are the observations of one fascinated by the expressive capabilities of his native tongue.13

Following is a sample of those items which Varchi characterizes as employed within particular social groups (a total of 44 such expres- sions are included in the pages considered here). These are arranged by the categories to which our theorist ascribes them;14 the gloss in parentheses is a translation (and at times condensation] of that which he himself gives. The elements enumerated consist primarily of ver- bal phrases, although other parts of speech appear as well. As can be seen, these words and expressions are restricted to no single semantic field. One limitation imposed, however, is that of social acceptability. When discussing techniques of verbal jousting, for example, Varchi omits "motti o sporchi o disonesti che a questo proposito dicono tutto '1 giorno i plebei" (48). Subsequently, he professes to have deleted el- ements "che, o per non potersi onestamente nominare, o per essere irreligiosi, non intendiamo di voler raccontare" (49).

I1 volgo (ilpopolo): alla sbracata (nonchalantly; 57), andare a Piacenzalalla Piacentina (to flatter; 371, essere via la, via lala' confiteminilal pollo pestolall'olio santo (to be gravely ill; 51), fare a' morsila' calcila' capelli (to fight; 48), farla bollire e ma1 cuocere (to fail in earnest attempts; 56), sottrarrelcavare di bocca (to extract in- formation slyly; 46), lo stefanolla trippa (for lo stomaco) (stomach; 42), un unguent0 da cancheri (covetous individual; 44).

Idioti: fradicio (for fracido) (vexed; 54), gramuffa (for grammatica) (correctness; 5 7).

Villani: aver posto in sodo (to have decided firmly; 48).

Plebei: a brache calate (cowed [?I; 56)' aver qualcuno nel be1 di Romaldove si soffiano le nocelstoppato (not to be intimidated by someone; 60), Dh buone parole e friggi (What an empty promise!; 54), soppiattoni (secretive sorts; 46).

Infima plebe: accendere (to curse; 48).

Furbi: berlengo (dining table; 42), canzonare (to joke; 47).

Contadini: anfanare (to wander aimlessly; 44), rimorchiare (to la- ment amorously; 36).

At various points throughout the thirty pages here examined, Var- chi follows the terms he cites with commentary on the environments alleged to have given rise to such elements. These situations run the gamut of Florentine social and professional activities, making it ev- ident that Varchi heeded his own counsel: "[Lle lingue s'hanno a im- parare a favellare dal volgo, cio e dall'uso di coloro che le parlano" (12 1). The following listing includes only part of the 6 1 expressions identified by context in the section under consideration. As before, the explanations supplied translate (and sometimes condense) those given by our theorist.

The trades: cardarelscardassare < combers and carders (to speak ill of someone; 37), fare fascio di ogni erba < mowers or those who pre- pare fodder (to use no discretion; 52), lavare il capo a qualcuno < barbers (to speak ill of someone; 37), scozzonare < horse traders (to train someone; 38), tararnelfarne la tara < spice-sellers (to measure one's words; 49).

The home: aver rottoltagliato lo scilinguagnolo < custom of cut- ting the muscle under the tongue (to be talkative; 39), fare come la putta a1 lavatoio < those who prattle as they wash clothes (to chatter; 35), imboccare ([also] col cucchiaio v6to) < children's nurses (to train someone [or only to appear to do so]; 38)' traboccare il sacco < (grain) bags (to be out of patience; 39).

The criminal world: darelvender bossolletti < charlatans (to de- ceive; 55), dire le sue ragioni a' birri < prisoners protesting their in- nocence (to protest to those unable to help; 59-60), far ti ti < a mock- ing practice of imitating the trumpeting before a hanging (to mock someone by saying "ti ti"; 55-56), favellare colle mani < thugs (to give; 57).

Games: dar le trombe < card games (to put out maximum effort in arguing; 54), gridare tran trana < trumpet beginning races (to mock someone by saying "tran trana"; 62)' imbarberescare < those who care for "barberi" (palio horses) (to train someone; 38).

Children's pastimes: dir buon giuoco < children's fighting (to give up; 61), fare un cappellaccio/cappello ad alcuno < top-spinning (to put someone in his place; 45)' Piu su sta monna Luna < Florentine children's game (You're not fooling me!; 57).

Miscellaneous: cantare il vesprolil mattutino degli Ermini a qualcuno < Armenian monks in Florence who conducted services in their language (to rebuke and threaten someone; 59)' dare il pepelle spezie < a mocking gesture of adding spices to food (to mock some- one with a sprinkling gesture; 55)' dire il paternostro della bertuccia < ape's lip movement when excited (to curse; 61), fare qual- cuno Calandrinolil Grasso legnaiuolo < stories of great popularity (to deceive someone for the purpose of mockery; 50)' mandare all'Uccellatoio < a spot north of Florence (to mock someone; 36)' Noi non siam piu di maggio < the braying of donkeys in this month (Don't be stupid!; 58).

The inclusion of these elements in Ercolano attests eloquently to Varchi's awareness of linguistic differentiation on the social dimen- sion. Even disregarding such specific references, however, our au- thor's concern with the many facets of language is evident throughout the text of his dialogue.'' I offer five additional citations which show not only a notable appreciation for actual usage, but also the extent to which Varchi's linguistic studies were intertwined with other pur- suits. The passage below describes the environment in which certain rather restricted locutions were to be employed. That the focus here is the seat of Florentine power is not surprising, given that the best known work of this writer is the Storia fiorentina, commissioned by Cosimo I de' Medici in 1547 (or 1546; see Pirotti 30, n. 7). Noteworthy also is the concluding comment made by Count Ercolano.

[D]a questo [the verb aringare] fu chiamata in Firenze la Ringhiera, luogo dinanzi a1 palazzo, dove, quando entrava la Signoria, il podesta salito in bigoncia, che cosi si chiamava quel pulpit0 fatto a guisa di per- gamo, dentro il quale aringava, e' faceva un'orazione (che in quel tempo si chiamavano dicerie) a' Signori, da quella parte dove e il Marzocco,

o vero il lione indorato che ha sotto la lupa, a1 quale in quelli e in tutti gli altri giorni solenni si metteva e si mette la corona dell'oro.

CO.CES. Piacemi intendere cotesti particolari dei costumi e usanze di Firenze. (42)

A second passage testifies to Varchi's impressive talents as raconteur. In giving the origin of a popular Florentine expression (not included above), our author paints a vivid portrait of one segment of daily life. The concreteness and charm of this narration could not have failed to captivate a contemporary reader.

Fare le scalee di Santo Ambrogio significa dir ma1 d'uno in questo modo, e per questa cagione: Ragunavansi, non sono mille anni passati, la sera di state per pigliare il fresco una compagnia di giovani, non a' marmi in su le scalee di Santa Maria del Fiore, ma in su quelle della chiesa di Santo Ambrogio, non lungi dalla porta alla Croce, e quivi pas- sando il tempo e il caldo facevano lor cicalecci; ma quando alcuno di lor0 si partiva, cominciavano a leggere in sul suo libro e rinvenire se mai avea detto o fatto cosa alcuna biasimevole, e che non ne vendesse ogni bottega, e in somma a fare una ricerca sopra la sua vita; onde cia- scuno, perch2 non avessono a caratarlo, voleva esser l'ultimo a partirsi: e di qui nacque che quando uno si parte da alcuna compagnia e non vor- rebbe restar lor0 in bocca e fra' denti, usa dire: Non fate le scalee di Santo Ambrogio. (53)

The next selection addresses a topic frequently neglected even in more modern treatments of speech practice. While other testimony in Ercolano makes patent this theorist's attentiveness to the lexical choices made by those around him, we see here a striking observation on "fillers"-those interjections so useful in maintaining the flow of conversation:

Sogliono alcuni, quando favellano, usare a ogni pie sospinto, come oggi s'usa: sapete; in effetto; o vero in conclusione: altri dicono: che 8, che non 8, o l'ando e la stette: altri dalle, che le desti, o cesti e canestre; altri, scappati la mano; e alcuni, scasimodeo; e chi ancora, chiacchi bi- chiacchi. (58)

The last two citations I offer show the lengths to which Varchi will go in attempts to contexualize the expressions he mentions. Not only are we treated to a panorama of verbal resources, but also to descrip- tions of gestures which might accompany the words employed. The technique exemplified here adds impressive vitality to a disquisition which, in other hands, could easily lose its appeal. I believe, however, that the liveliness of such descriptions does not result merely from the calculated design of an accomplished rhetorician. Instead, we are witness to the passion of a dedicated student of language and custom:

Fare lima lima a uno e un mod0 d'uccellare in questa maniera: Chi vuole dileggiare uno, fregando l'indice della mano destra in sull'indice della sinistra verso il viso di colui, gli dice lima lima, aggiugnendovi tal volta mocceca o moccicone, o altra parola simile, come baggea, tem- pione, tempie grasse, tempie sucide, benche la plebe dice sudice. . . .

Solemo ancora, quando volemo essere intesi con cenni senza parlare, chiudere un occhio, il che si chiama far d'occhio, o vero fare l'occhio- lino. (53)

A final passage reflects Varchi's synthesis of scholarly and non- scholarly elements, a fusion evident throughout Ercolano. Given his expertise in Classic and vernacular studies, it is not surprising that Varchi should rely on both cultivated and colloquial sources in the execution of his communicative intent.16

Quando alcun uomo iroso, e col quale non si possa scherzare, e venuto, per la bizzarria sua nel contendere con chi che sia, in tanta collera e sma- nia che, girandogli la coccola, non sa o non puo piu parlare, e niente- dimeno vuol sopraffare l'avversario e mostrare che non lo stimi, egli, serrate ambo le pugna e messo il braccio sinistro in sulla snodatura del destro, alza il gomito verso il cielo e gli fa un manichetto; o veramente, posto il dito grosso tra l'indice e quello del mezzo, chiusi e ristretti in- sieme quegli altri, e disteso il braccio verso colui, gli fa, come dicono le donne, una castagna, aggiugnendo spesse volte: To', castrami questa; il quale atto, forse con minore onesta, ma certo con maggiore proprieta chiamo Dante, quando disse:

Alla fin delle sue parole il ladro

Le mani alzo con amendue le fiche; la qua1 cosa, second0 alcuni, volevano significare i Latini, quando di- cevanomedium unguem ostendere; e tal voltamedium digitum: il che pare che dimostri quello essere stato atto diverso. (60-61)

Regarding the global nature of the treatise under discussion here, Sozzi ("Polemiche" 99)has remarked: "L'Ercolano . . . e una specie di somma della trattatistica che sostiene la tesi dell'uso fiorentino parlato, vivo, attuale. Non dotato di molta originalita, il Varchi e un esauriente e garbato assimilatore e ordinatore di una copiosissima e ingarbugliata materia." Indeed, in most cases this text reflects more the author's intelligent manipulation of inherited material than rev- olutionary approaches or radically innovative thinking. Neverthe- less, while it is true that preceding authors of Italian language trea- tises had some vague awareness of sociolinguistic variation, their texts by no means reflect the detail characteristic of Ercolano. This will be made clear by a brief consideration of certain few specific pro- nouncements contained in linguistic dialogues composed before Varchi's text. l7

In Pietro Bembo's Prose della volgarlingua (121), it is the tacit ad- mission of vertical variation which leads Carlo Bembo to assert that worthy men do not judge excellence of writing based on the degree to which it might please the common people, "ma giudica a' dotti di qualunque secolo tanto ciascuno dover piacere, quanto egli scrive bene; che del popolo non fanno caso." Similarly, Federico Fregoso of Baldassarre Castiglione's I1 Cortegiano (68) believes that a common vicio of speech, even if found among a large segment of the populace, must not be adopted and employed by those of good judgment. In Gio- van Battista Gelli's Ragionamento . . .sopra le difficulta del mettere in regole la nostra lingua (306), the author is careful to segregate the variety spoken by "i nobili e veri cittadini fiorentini che hanno qual- che cognizione o di lingue o di scienzie" from that used among "i ple- bei e gli uomini che hanno cognizione di poche altre cose che di quelle che si convengono lor0 come animali."18

Discussion of sociocultural variability in linguistic matters, undif- ferentiated as to concrete manifestation, also occurs within the con- text of debates on "Courtly" speech. A reasonably thorough descrip- tion of this language variety (and the social variation hypothesized) can be gleaned from the words of Carlo Bembo and Giuliano de' Med- ici contained in Bembo's Prose, those of Niccolo Machiavelli in his Discorso o dialog0 intorno alla nostra lingua, and those of the char- acter Baldassarre Castiglione in Claudio Tolomei's Cesano. The Courtly tongue, employed among those of the higher social classes associated with a territory's governing body, is to be differentiated sharply from speech "che rimane in bocca del popolo, e non suole es- sere cosi tersa e cosi gentile" (Bembo 107). This elegant dialect, su- perior to any particular local variety, is reputed the only vernacular worthy of study and use in serious pursuits (Bembo 107; Machiavelli 237). Tolomei's character Castiglione finds the excellence of his pre- ferred medium in its rejection of all unseemly elements. The name (he states) derives from the tongue's having been first removed from the "puza del vulgare idioma" in the courts, demonstrating the extent to which art can refine nature's raw material (Tolomei 16-17). Even one opposed to the very concept of a Courtly vehicle shows that his motivation is not a desire for linguistic democracy: the educated are always separate from the vulgo, comments Tolomei's character Cesano, the literate being those who give esteem to a language (To- lomei 62).

Outside the Questione della lingua, interest in colloquial usage was exceptional but not unique. Various anthologies of Italian prov- erbs were compiled; among the best known are those of Antonio Cor- nazano (1503), Orlando Pescetti (1598), and Francesco Serdonati (un- published until 1873) (see Stephens 252-99). Furthermore, in addition to those who chose to write in dialect, certain Renaissance figures incorporated everyday elements in their literary works in or- der to enhance the presentation of popular themes. Perhaps the most famous example of such utilization is furnished by Luigi Pulci's Mor- gante, about which Varchi says, "vi sono per entro alcune sentenze non del tutto indegne e molti proverbi, e riboboli fiorentini assai pro- pri e non affatto spiacevoli" (21).Given Varchi's avid curiosity and broad learning, it is almost certain that he was also aware of other au- thors' attention to non-literary usage, and may have found in such writings confirmation of his own disco~eries.'~

Doubtless, however, our author considered the living, spoken word to be of primary sig- nificance. Ercolano shows clearly, as Faithful1 (237)says, "una specie di interesse scientific0 per i fenomeni linguistici, misto a1 puro gusto della parlata popolare in sC e per sC."

As is widely recognized, impartial consideration of sociolinguistic variation is a phenomenon of recent date. It would be absurd to claim that Varchi was immune to the aristocratic outlook of his fellow let- terati; Ercolano is very much the product of an intellectual embroiled in the generally non-linguistic preoccupations of the Questione della ling~a.~~~evertheless,

this treatise demonstrates an awareness of so- cial differentiation significantly greater than that reflected in other Cinquecento dialogues. As has been seen, two factors motivated our author's observations regarding this topic: a deep appreciation for spo- ken Florentine, and the desire to defend Caro. In exemplification of the treasures to be found in living speech, Varchi was unable to re- main within the boundaries he had established. Ercolano demon- strates with great clarity Varchi's admiration of language as an instru- ment of virtually infinite possibility.


'Nonetheless, referring to the topic of sociolinguistic variation, Sozzi (Aspetti 351 states, "se nella coscienza dei discettatori cinquecenteschi in generale esso fu soltanto


presenza oscura e indistinta, o implicita, tuttavia la riflessione linguistica cinque- centesca ne fu condizionata, non fosse altro. Der le intime contraddizioni in cui i di-

so, e della conseguente incapacita di formularlo con chiarezza in termini adeguati."

'Vitale [Questione 139) furnishes a bibliography relevant to the famous dispute be- tween Caro and Castelvetro; see also Jacomuzzi (9-24). Varchi's participation in this quarrel is discussed by the author himself (especially 13-14) and, more diffusely, by his opponent Castelvetro in the 1572 Correzione d'alcune cose nel dialog0 delle lingue di Benedetto Varchi (especially 204-12). A Cinquecento biographer states that with Caro, Varchi had maintained a "strettissima amicizia in fin da giouane" [Razzi prelim. page 94.

3Modern historians of linguistics disagree about the exact significance to Varchi's dialogue of the author's involvement with Caro. Manacorda [ 129, n. 1 ) and Vivaldi (89), for example, adduce testimony that the portion of Ercolano dedicated to the Questione della lingua was completed before Varchi's entrance into the Caro-Castelvetro contro- versy. Pirotti (1 16-24) and Vitale [Premessa viii-ix), however, assign to this debate a central role in the dialogue's composition. In any case, it is imperative that our author's defense of Caro be taken into consideration. As Pirotti (124, n. 1) states with regard to Ercolano, "benche l'attacco a1 Castelvetro nonvi prenda tanto risalto quanto sarebbe lecito prevedere, 6 condizionato strettamente dall'occasione che gli diede origine: chi da questa prescinde, non pub capirlo in tutti i suoi caratteri fondamentali." We must not forget that the first editions of this dialogue (1570, Florence and Venice) concluded the subtitle with the phrase, ". . .compost0 da lui sulla occasione della disputa occorsa tra'l commendator Caro, e M. Lodouico Casteluetro." On the history of Varchi's di- alogue (and the question of its bipartite nature), see also Bruni (78, n. 12).

4Surprisingly, Varchi's enumeration has received almost no attention from literary and linguistic historians. Labande-Jeanroy (1701, Bruni (56, n. 51, Izzo (41, and Migliorini ("Questione" 38 and Storia 357) mention these synonyms, with the last scholar remarking that the author's purpose was to show the richness of Italian, espe- cially that of spoken Florentine.

5These "Dubitazioni"-with two exceptions-take up themes discussed in identi- cal order in the De vulgari eloquentia (cf. Labande-Jeanroy 170).

6Bruni (56, n. 5) believes this anthology to have been assembled between 1537 and 1540, and destroyed perhaps in 1542. One eighteenth-century editor of Ercolano (Gio- vanni Bottari [Varchi, 1804 L'Ercolano 1: 11) laments the loss of the "Libro di passe- rotti," but hypothesizes the existence of Varchi's "Esposizione de' proverbi," allegedly utilized in compilation of the Crusca dictionary. The fourth edition of the Academy's Vocabolario lists a manuscript with this title, and suggests that such designation might in truth refer to the collection which Varchi supposedly burned (Accademia della Crusca 6:84 and 84, n. 314). I have been unable to examine a "Spoglio di vocaboli e modi di dire" included in Giuseppe Aiazzi and Lelio Arbib's 1841 Lezioni sul Dante e prose varie di Benedetto Varchi, la maggior parte inedite (Firenze: Societa Editrice delle Storie del Nardi e del Varchi).

'Emphasizing that Varchi's insistence on spoken usage responds to the trepidation with which he contradicted the views of his revered Bembo, Pirotti (118-21) goes so far as to assert that the true subject of the treatise is written, not oral language; Bruni (82, n. 141, however, convincingly refutes Pirotti's contention.

'In this famous passage, Carlo Bembo remarks, "viemmi talora in openione di cre- dere, che l'essere a questi tempi nato fiorentino, a ben volere fiorentino scrivere, non sia di molto vantaggio." The difficulty, he claims, lies in the lack of appreciation for the tongue on the part of its speakers, their refusal to study literary models because of this native mastery, and the involuntary intrusion into written usage of unaccept- able habits gained through colloquial conversation (Bembo 114).

'Here the author provides a telling biographical detail. In Varchi's boyhood, we read, he and a companion were severely reprimanded by their tutor, merely because they were discovered reading the vernacular works of Petrarch (124).

1°Varchi stresses throughout his text the importance of actual practice, maintain-

ing, for example, that "in tutte l'altre cose deve sempre prevalere e vincere la ragione,

eccetto che nelle lingue, nelle quali, quando l'uso e contrario alla ragione, o la ragione

all'uso, non la ragione, ma l'uso e quello che precedere e attendere si deve" (84).

"In an incomplete treatise written to Lelio Bonsi probably around 1550 (see Bruni

54, n. 11, Varchi describes only two varieties of speech (and, thus, of writing): that of

the unlearned and that of those possessing some education ("Discorso" 814). This dis-

course marks an earlier stage of Varchi's linguistic philosophy, in which adherence to

Bembo's views is much greater than we find in Ercolano (cf. Bruni 75-76, and Pirotti

117 and 117-18, n. 9).

12Cf. Bruni (83): "I vari strati dell'uso si dispongono l'uno sull'altro con diversi gradi

di importanza: va notato, pero, che anche gli anelli inferiori della catenanon sono messi

a1 bando ma vengono riconosciuti."

13Among Pirotti's listings of terms culled from Varchi's works, one contains "voci che paiono tolte di bocca a1 popolo, o addirittura alla plebe" (135), and another offers phrases with "[slapore popolaresco" (136). This critic concludes, "[pleccato che le pih di queste espressioni vive siano immerse in periodi vasti, lenti, paludosi, i quali ne sce- mano l'efficacia" (137).

14There is probably some overlap among the groups delineated. For example, while it appears clear that in Ercolano the designations volgo and popolo are synonymous, it is also possible that villani and plebei may both refer to one subgroup, or, on the contrary, for Varchi villanomay preserve the meaning of 'contadino.' Therefore, I have chosen to retain the author's own terminology.

''It is not surprising that Varchi's works should have been plundered by Crusca ac- ademicians in preparation of their Vocabolario (first edition, 1612) (Parodi 38, 46). In addition to our theorist's linguistic expertise and considerable renown, his views shaped to a large extent those of Leonardo Salviati, who was greatly influential in the compilation of the Crusca lexicon (see, Brown [passim], and Vitale, Oro 146-54). Bruni reminds us that material from Ercolano also made its way into a proverb collection which Salviati originally assembled (57, n. 5).

16varchi's wide-ranging and highly successful intellectual undertakings are enu- merated and evaluated most thoroughly by Manacorda and Pirotti.

"For a general view of the aristocratic positions adopted in these works-and a wealth of information only tangential to the present discussion-see Sozzi (Aspetti3599).

''There is an obvious similarity between this division and the more complex scheme devised by Varchi (as above). While these two theorists perceive an inherent beauty in the Florentine dialect, their variety of naturalism is not unbridled. For Gelli-and, it can be added, for Varchi as well-"l'indispensabile possesso naturale della lingua non deve eliminare l'educazione fornita dall'arte ma armonizzarsi con essa" (Vitale, Questione 86). Gelli's linguistic theories are examined by De Gaetano (especially 137-58), who documents the close friendship between Varchi and Gelli, and its later dissolution.

19Nonetheless, Varchi portrays himself as virtually a pioneer in attempts to pre- serve the heritage of spoken Florentine. During the recitation of verbs relating to speech, menti0n.i~ made of the large number of archaisms listed in Brunetto Latini's Pataffio,now no longer understood. To this a grieved Count Ercolano replies, "[mla se egli, come fate ora voi, dichiarati gli avesse, non sarebbe avvenuto questo" (50).

"While pointing out the folly of dogged adherence to Latin, Varchi says of those who denigrate the vernacular, "par lor0 per avventura cosa strana e non comportevole, l'avere a favellare se non con quelle medesime parole, almeno con quella stessa lingua colla quale favellano i trecconi e i pizzicagnoli" (161). Nevertheless, this openly egal- itarian spirit vis-a-vis the contest between Latin and the volgare does not carry over entirely into his view of the Italian tongue.


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