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Plato and his Readers in Sixteenth-Century Italy

(This was an individual project funded for nine months by the Leverhulme Trust and led by Dr Maude Vanhaelen.)

This project will provide the first history of all translations of, and commentaries on, Plato produced in Italy between 1500 and 1600, a substantial corpus of Platonic literature which has been almost entirely neglected by modern scholarship. My project will provide a census of all relevant texts (translations of Plato; commentaries on Plato; philosophical and religious treatises, compilations and anthologies mentioning Plato in their title). The chronological framework will be roughly 1500-1600, from Diacceto’s first attempt to introduce Plato into the University curriculum to Tarquinia Molza’s Plato translations (completed before 1617). I will also provide a global account of the textual circulation of Plato, focusing on spatial dissemination of texts around the main centres of productions (Rome, Florence, Venice, Padua), institutional contexts (universities, courts, academies) and readership (non-Latinate vs. Latinate). My objective is to identify who commissioned Platonic works, who read them, and what Platonic doctrines were of interest. By adopting this new perspective—that of textual circulation and readership—I will show that a direct transmission of Plato occurred in the 16th century around a new set of cultural, religious and political ideas (such as the reform of university teaching, Counter-reformation, political/ideological appropriation of culture). This is a point that has not been fully appreciated by modern scholarship, which tends to see 16th-century Platonism as a vague and nebulous repetition of 15th-century ideas: it is true that Ficino’s Latin versions of Plato (completed in the second half of the 15th century) remained the standard translations in the 16th century. However, there also occurred another reception of Plato’s dialogues, which partly drew on Ficino’s heritage and partly developed independently from it. Studying this chapter in the history of the Platonic tradition will enable us to understand more clearly the various contexts in which Plato was read in 16th-century Italy.