This paper presents a previously unedited text by one of the most distinguished—yet neglected—Latin writers of the Italian Renaissance, Ercole Strozzi (1471–1508), a poet and administrator in the court of Ferrara. (Monteforte; Wirtz) Under the Este Dukes, Ferrara became a major center of literary and artistic patronage. (Gardner, 1904; 1906) The Latin literary output of the court, however, has received insufficient scholarly scrutiny.
The text is a verse funeral elegy of Eleonora of Aragon (1450–1493), the first Duchess of Ferrara. Although Strozzi’s collected poems were printed in an Aldine edition of 1513 (with two subsequent reprints), this elegy did not appear in it, and has never been published. It survives as a single illuminated presentation manuscript preserved at the Biblioteca Marciana in Venice. (Kristeller, 242; Zorzanello, 251) Eleonora was a remarkable woman whose talents and indefatigable efforts on behalf of her husband, her children, and her state, won her accolades both at home and abroad. (Chiappini) She also served as a prototype for the remarkable careers of her two daughters, Isabella d’Este, and Beatrice d’Este, who are celebrated for their erudition and patronage of arts and letters. The elegy is a mirror of the Estense court and reveals to us how its members no doubt saw themselves, at the very peak of its temporal power and the height of its prestige as a center of cultural creativity. It is also important for the striking portrait it presents of Eleonora, who was often the de facto head of state, since her husband's duties as condottiere (mercenary general) and fondness for hunting and other recreations outside the capital frequently made him inaccessible.
The elegy is likely to be Strozzi’s first major poem presented to the court, and is arguably the most ambitious of the works of consolation offered to Duke Ercole I in the months following his wife’s passing. For the young Strozzi, the death of the Duchess proved to be a vehicle comparable to that of the Florentine noblewoman Albiera degli Albizi (d. 1473), who was eulogized in a similar fashion by Angelo Poliziano when he was roughly the same age. (Poliziano)
Strozzi chose to call his poem an epicedium, an ancient minor literary genre that had received attention in the two decades prior to its composition, due to the discovery and printing of the silver age Roman poet Statius, whose text includes several epicedia. Strozzi deftly adapts his ancient models (e.g., Statius and Propertius) and transcends his contemporary ones, including not only the funeral verses of Poliziano, but also the state funeral oration for Eleonora that was composed and delivered by Strozzi's mentor, the great humanist educator Battista Guarino. In the process Strozzi creates a new Latin literary genre, the Renaissance epicedium. It is a fine poem, full of both erudition and creativity, and as such is the first fruits of what would be Strozzi’s illustrious poetic career under the patronage of Lucrezia Borgia, the second Duchess of Ferrara.
- Chiappini, Luciano. 1956. Eleonora d'Aragona, prima duchessa di Ferrara. Rovigo: S.T.E.R.
- Gardner, Edmund Garratt. 1904. Dukes & poets in Ferrara. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co.
- ——. 1906. The King of Court Poets: A Study of the Work, Life and Times of Lodovico Ariosto. London: Archibald Constable and Company.
- Kristeller, Oskar. 1963 - 1997. Iter Italicum: A Finding List of Uncatalogued or Incompletely Catalogued Humanistic Manuscripts of the Renaissance in Italian and Other Libraries. Vol. II. London: Warburg Institute.
- Monteforte, Carmelo. 1899. Ercole Strozzi poeta ferrarese: la vita, le sue poesie latine e volgare con un sonetto inedito. Catania: Tipographia "la Sicilia".
- Poliziano, Angelo. 2003. Due poemetti Latini: Elegia a Bartolomeo Fonzio, epicedio di Albiera degli Albizi. Francesco Bausi, ed. Rome: Salerno Editrice.
- Wirtz, Maria. 1905. Ercole Strozzi: poeta ferrarese (1473-1508). Ferrara: Premiata Tipographia Sociale del Dott. G. Zuffi.
- Zorzanello, Pietro. Catalogo dei codici latini della biblioteca nazionale marciana di Venezia. 2 vols. Trezzano: Editrice Etimar S.r.l., 1981.