Salutati, Coluccio 1331–1406 Italian Intellectual and Politican

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Salutati, Coluccio
1331–1406 Italian intellectual and politican

Coluccio Salutati was the leading humanist* of his generation. An official in the city of Florence for more than 30 years, he helped make the city the center of the humanist movement.

Salutati was born in Stignano, a small village under the control of Florence. After receiving an education in Bologna, he held a series of positions in government—first in the region around Stignano and later in the cities of Rome and Lucca. In 1374 he became supervisor of election procedures in Florence, and a year later he assumed the post of chancellor, or head of state. Around the same time Salutati took office, Florence went to war with the papacy*. The new chancellor gained fame throughout Europe with a series of brilliant missive, public letters written in defense of Florence's cause. Salutati produced thousands of missive during his life, including some written just days before his death.

Salutati's fame as the author of the missive made him a leader of the humanist movement in Italy. Although his writing style was medieval*, it reflected humanist ideas in its use of examples from Greek and Roman sources. In addition, he made a strong case for humanist education by claiming that knowledge of history was essential for a political leader. In 1397 Salutati helped bring Manuel Chrysoloras, a Greek scholar and teacher, to Florence. The scholar's arrival played an important role in reintroducing Greek learning to western Europe. Salutati also made scholarly studies of a number of ancient texts. However, he did not follow the lead of earlier humanists, such as the Italian poet Petrarch. While Petrarch longed for the ancient world and showed no interest in history after the a.d. 100s, Salutati sought to trace historical and literary developments across the centuries between ancient times and his own.

Over the decades Salutati gathered around him a group of followers who became the leaders of the next generation of humanists in Italy. Toward the end of Salutati's life, however, these followers became critical of some of his views, which they found old-fashioned. For instance, Salutati tended to regard Christian wisdom as superior to pagan* culture and thought. He also argued that monarchy was the best form of government and rarely expressed republican* ideas in his writing. Salutati's influence declined, but his central role in developing Italian humanism and in establishing Florence as its capital has remained.

(See alsoGreek émigrés; Humanism. )

* humanist

Renaissance expert in the humanities (the languages, literature, history, and speech and writing techniques of ancient Greece and Rome)

* papacy

office and authority of the pope

* medieval

referring to the Middle Ages, a period that began around a.d. 400 and ended around 1400 in Italy and 1500 in the rest of Europe

* pagan

referring to ancient religions that worshiped many gods, or, more generally, to any non-Christian religion

* republican

refers to a form of Renaissance government dominated by leading merchants with limited participation by others