Valla & Kues

“Till in 1440 a philological scribbler (aka humanist scholar) named Lorenzo Valla, looking for some dirt on the papacy (his boss the king of Naples* was having a row with the Vatican about who ruled what), used his Latin smarts to point out that the language and terminology used in the hitherto-unquestioned document of the Donation of (Byzantine emperor) Constantine – which had conferred on the Roman pope secular authority over Europe – were […] bogus, and that the Donation was a fake, written fout hundred years after the supposed event. Which of course put the kibosh on the pope’s claim to temporal power. Everything curialhit the fan.
Valla only kept his head (literally) because he had a wellplaced cardinal pal, the influential Nicholas of Kues, who had the papal ear and smoothed things over. Nicholas was a kind of Vatikan ambassador-at-large, and the church’s chief egghead. In mid-fifteenth century, independently of Copernicus, he opined that the Earth turned on its axis and wasn’t the centre of the universe. Also that there might be other inhabited planets. He advocated experimental methods (such as dropping things to measure their speed of fall and noting their air resistance) two hundred years before Galileo. He talked about relativity five hundred years before
Mach and Einstein.

Alfonso von Aragon (Vallas Chef)
im Triumph mit seinem Hof 1452-58
Marmor, halbe Lebensgröße Castelnuovo, Neapel

Valla schrieb mit “De elegantia linguae latinae” 1444 das Standardwerk über die Lateinische Sprache und provozierte damit alle Kollegen. Eine Entschuldigung und ein Papstwechsel brachten ihm schließlich dennoch einen Job bei der Kurie in Rom ein..

Der Text der Konstantinischen Schenkung

Nicholas’s big hero was a guy he’d met (when they were students at Padua University – the MIT of the time), name of Paolo Toscanelli, whom Nicholas described as the best mathematician alive. But Toscanelli was more than that, as he was to prove. To start with, after graduation he went home to Florence and told an architect friend all about the new Arab perspective geometry he’d been studying. The friend (Filippo Brunelleschi) used the info to develop sturr like converging lines of sight and vanishing points, which excited an artist nicknamed Masaccio to kick off the whole of Renaissance at with his Trinity painting. Which was so realistic people thought they were looking at the scene through a hole in the wall.

By the time Toscanelli turned up at Nicholas of Kues’s funeral in 1464, he was also deeply into cartography. He jad read up on Marco Polo’s trip and used Polo’s data to work out the distance from Italy to Japan, which he then exaggerated to make his alternative route look better (that is, shorter by some ten thousand kilometers than it really was). At Kues’s funeral Toscanelli offered the map to an Italian sailor keen to get to Japan, where they said the roofs were made of gold. And for whom Toscanelli’s route west to Japan, across the Atlantic, with nothing in the way but water, was exciting enough to drum up the funds and go for it. On August 2, 1492, Columbus took his straight shot for Japan, headed for the biggest surprise in history.”

James Burke, Circles, p. 258f

Among the achievements of modern historical criticism Valla's work was a conspicuous pioneer. Its quality and its importance have often been exaggerated, and as often underestimated. It is some satisfaction to make it more generally available in the origi- [Page 3] nal text and translation, so that the reader may judge for himself. A critical appraisal would have to take into account that Nicholas Cusanus some seven years earlier in his De concordantia catholica covered part of the same ground even better than Valla did, and anticipated some of his arguments. But Valla's treatise is more exhaustive) is in more finished and effective literary form, and in effect established for the world generally the proof of the falsity of the Donation. Moreover, for the first time, he used effectively the method of studying the usage of words in the variations of their meaning and application, and other devices of internal criticism which are the tools of historical criticism to-day. So, while Valla's little book may seem slight beside later masterpieces of investigation and beside systematic treatises in larger fields, it is none the less a landmark in the rise of a new science.

Christopher B. Coleman

“Given the knockout stuff Mach did, it’s a pity he never gets the press Einstein does, because Mach was into relativity long before the Great Man. For Mach there were no absolutes, just frames of reference, because perception was all subjective. The fancy name for this school of thought was “Positivist”, and Mach is supposed to have founded it in Vienna. Which is why an interesig French thinker named Auguste Comte (who failed to commit suicide after jumping off a bridge, then married a hooker, then startet sociology) never gets teh press Mach does.[...] Mach got Positivism from Comte who got it from St. Simon who got it from Condillac whot got it from Locke, who ..”
James Burke, Circles, p.238

It was, you will remember, in July of 1498 that Lucrezia took a second husband in Alfonso of Aragon, the natural son of Alfonso II of Naples and nephew of Federigo, the reigning king. He was a handsome boy of seventeen at the time of his marriage-one year younger than Lucrezia-and, in honour of the event and in compliance with the Pope’s insistence, he was created by his uncle Duke of Biselli and Prince of Salerno. On every hand the marriage was said to be a love-match, and of it had been born, in November of 1499, the boy Roderigo.

On July 15, 1500, at about the third hour of the night, Alfonso was assaulted and grievously wounded-mortally, it was said at first-on the steps of St. Peter’s.

Burchard’s account of the affair is that the young prince was assailed by several assassins, who wounded him in the head, right arm, and knee. Leaving him, no doubt, for dead, they fled down the steps, at the foot of which some forty horsemen awaited them, who escorted them out of the city by the Pertusa Gate. The prince was residing in the palace of the Cardinal of Santa Maria in Portico, but so desperate was his condition that those who found him upon the steps of the Basilica bore him into the Vatican, where he was taken to a chamber of the Borgia Tower, whilst the Cardinal of Capua at once gave him absolution in articulo mortis.

The deed made a great stir in Rome, and was, of course, the subject of immediate gossip, and three days later Cesare issued an edict forbidding, under pain of death, any man from going armed between Sant’ Angelo and the Vatican.

Borgia Turm
Baldessare Peruzzi
Studies for Borgia tower of St. Peter ­ pen on white paper - Florence, Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe degli Uffizi