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Classics and Heterodox Ideas in Celio Secondo Curione’s Prefatory Letters

Olivia Montepaone

Università degli Studi di Milano

Celio Secondo Curione (1503-1569) was amongst the leaders of the so-called ‘Italian Heretical Movement’: as a heterodox thinker he published several works of wide success in Europe, such as especially the Pasquillus ecstaticus, translated and published in many languages, and immediately included in the Index Librorum Prohibitorum. Curione was first and foremost a humanist with a solid classical background: after he was forced to leave Italy in 1542, he acquired great fame as a scholar in Switzerland, where he became professor at the University of Lausanne (1542-1546) and later at the University of Basel (1546-1569). Curione has been studied mostly by historians (e.g. KUTTER 1955, CANTIMORI 2009), for his role in the Reformation and the heretical movement in Italy and Switzerland; recently he has come back at the center of scholarly interest not only as a radical thinker (DALMAS 2017; CORDIBELLA G. – PRANDI E. 2018; MEVOLI 2019), but also with regard to his contributions as a humanist (MONTECALVO 2018). 

In Switzerland, soon a wide network of students developed around Curione: as a humanist Curione believed in the importance of education as a means towards freedom of thought, at the center of his pedagogy were the classical languages (mainly Latin and Greek but also Hebrew: cf. De liberis pie christianeque educandi) and generally the ancient authors, and during his lessons he read and commented ancient texts in a traditional rhetorical fashion (cf. De omni artificio disserendi atque tractandi summa). Curione also published many theoretical works on pedagogy (cf. De liberis, Schola sive de perfecto grammatico, Synopsis de ratione docendi). Complementary to the teaching activity was the production of critical editions of classical texts: Curione worked on a great number of ancient authors such as Seneca, Livy, Juvenal, Aristotle and Sallust, and his emendations are still mentioned in modern critical apparatuses (cf. particularly the edition of Seneca’s Apocolocyntosis of 1557). 

A very interesting trait of Curione’s activity as a professor and classical scholar is that among his students were many radical thinkers (especially several polish noblemen) who became involved in the diffusion of heterodox ideas. These students often appear in Curione’s critical editions as dedicatees: the prefatory letters of Curione’s editions – almost entirely disregarded by scholars – are in fact an interesting and significant proof of the close connection between Curione’s erudite/pedagogical pursuits and his heterodox predication. 

The purpose of this paper is to illustrate through a selection of passages from Curione’s prefatory letters (particularly the prefatory letter to the edition of Livy, T. Livii Patavini latinae historiae principis decades tres cum dimidia, Basileae 1549) the strict – and perhaps indissoluble – bond between the two aspects, in an effort to reconnect the two sides of Curione, the humanist and the heretic, too often treated separately in scholarly research. This will also allow to reflect on the relevance of dedication letters as paraliterary texts, showing how complex and wide-ranging they could become. Far from being a simple introduction to the works of an ancient author, Curione’s letters – which do not appear in the ciceronian collection Coelii Secundi Curionis selectarum epistularum libri duo (1553) published by Curione himself, but are tied exclusively to the edition of the classical text – touch on delicate religious and ethical matters sometimes in a very subtle way, sometimes more clearly and strongly, drawing on the exemplum offered by ancient literature to forward liberal thought. 

Session/Panel Title

The World of Neo-Latin: Epistolography

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