Fame with Tongue

(Lingua verius quam calamo celebrem)


The Gift of the Gab

Kate Robinson

NB For footnotes see publication



1431: Lorenzo Valla writes: Philosophy 'is like a soldier or a tribune under the command of oratory, the queen', De Voluptate

1469: Desiderius Erasmus born

1480: Giulio Camillo born

1488: Erasmus begins work on Antibarbari

1506-9: Erasmus in Italy; meets Camillo, among others; Good Friday Speech, Rome (1509)

1516: Publication of Erasmus's translation of the New Testament

1520: Antibarbari published

1527: Erasmus's letter to Vergara regarding the paganism of the 'Ciceronians'

1528: Publication of Ciceronianus

1530: Camillo meets King of France who gives him funds for the Theatre

1531-2: Zwichem's letters to Erasmus regarding Camillo - these are read and kept by Erasmus's secretary Gilbertus Cognatus; Camillo's Trattato dell'Imitazione circulates Paris and Padua in manuscript

1535: Erasmus's letter to Johann Coler in which Camillo is mentioned


Erasmus's Ciceronianus, a satire published in 1528, created a furore from Paris to Rome. It sparked bitter responses and put Erasmus in a spotlight of condemnation. Ciceronianus, raises several questions that are difficult to answer. There are questions of identity; of reality versus fiction; and, crucially, about paganism. The character of one of the central characters of the book, Nosoponus, for example, is said by some to be based on Christophe de Longueil, a Northerner, while others say he is based on the Italian Cardinal Bembo. The identity of a subsidiary character, who orates a pivotal speech, described at length in Ciceronianus, is also questionable. Levi believes that the speech in question was on The Day of the Parasceve, or Good Friday, on the 6th of April, 1509, in the presence of Pope Julius II. Many commentators suggest that the orator was Cardinal Tommaso Inghirami of Volterra (1470 - 1516), a Vatican librarian. This paper puts the case instead for Giulio Camillo Delminio (?1480-1544) whose secret plans for a model of the cosmos are a complex fusion of Christian and pagan motifs.

Born in Friuli, Giulio Camillo studied at the University of Padua and taught at the University of Bologna, as well as in Venice and Paris. Funded by François 1er, he devoted much energy developing his ideas, secretly, for what he termed a 'Theatre', the arrangement of which he finally divulged three months before he died. The description of Camillo's 'Theatre' in L'idea del Theatro (Florence: 1550), in common with all of Camillo's other texts, was published posthumously. Broadly speaking, Camillo was a natural philosopher in the same tradition as other northern Italian thinkers, such as, for example, Pietro d'Abano (ca. 1310), and Giovanni Pontano (1426-1503). He fuses a vision that is rooted in the body of man with a conception of the planets and stars, with the influence of the 'heavenly streams' that animate the universe with the atomic structure of the world. However, there are two aspects of Camillo's worldview, expressed in L'idea del Theatro that particularly mark him out. Firstly: his reliance on the visual sign as a conveyor of meaning. Secondly: the heliocentrism that is implicit in his metaphysical picture.

Of course it may be that certain characters and events in Ciceronianus were not actually based on any particular real occurrence or specific person but were composites, or fantasies, made up by Erasmus to make a point. Nevertheless, in a book a good third of which is explicitly concerned with an unambiguous, contemporary account of the literary and oratorical luminaries of the moment - with 'naming and shaming'- it does seem worthwhile to consider the hidden identity of those at its very core.

The paper begins with a précis of Ciceronianus itself, with particular emphasis on the section regarding the Good Friday speech in which Camillo is named. Next, the identity of the orator who gave the speech is discussed. Trattato dell' Imitazione, Camillo's response to Ciceronianus, is examined. Lastly the paper looks at the idea of paganism with regard to Ciceronianus, Erasmus and Camillo. Before any of this, however, an attempt is made briefly to put the idea of what was meant by 'Ciceronianism' in context.

The issue of Ciceronianism is complex and broad-ranging; a debate that had rolled on for centuries, an ancient stylistic and ecclesiastical question. There were several strands to the argument: was Cicero the paragon of literary virtue or was that honour due to another? If he was a paragon, should we aim to emulate or imitate him or should we instead try to forge our own style? Was it in fact possible to create a literary style without reference to previous authors? And if it was necessary to refer to an earlier author then should that author be Cicero?

The debate became further complicated by the perceived lack of style of the authors of the New Testament. For the philologists, translators, commentators and critics whose job it was to deal in words, this question of style was paramount. And yet to be seen to align oneself overly with stylistics -particularly the sophisticated manner of Cicero - rather than to appreciate the writings of the New Testament as given and inspired by God, was seen as a victory of style over content and therefore worthy of derogation and ridicule: Ciceronianism became an open battle-field for irony versus piety.

By the early part of the sixteenth century, as the use of Latin and the vernacular in the universities vied for dominance, the issue of Ciceronianism got knottier still. Some of the so-called 'Ciceronians', for example Christophe de Longueil who is mentioned at length in the Ciceronianus, were said to adhere to such a strict regard for Cicero that they aimed to imitate his every word and turn of phrase. Italy, as the homeland of Latin, and particularly the Roman Academy, was seen (justifiably or not) as the greenhouse of this particular strand of literary fanaticism. Cardinal Bembo, papal secretary to Leo X, was considered to be at the heart of Ciceronianism in Rome; his creed can be seen in a reply he sent to Pico on the subject: 'firstly, we must imitate the best models [i.e. the models of Cicero]; secondly, our aim must be to rival them; and, thirdly, in rivaling them, we must endeavour to surpass them'. However, by as early as 1513, Bembo had already dropped the idea of one single model to imitate. Still others took a far more moderate view. As Levi says, 'The term 'Ciceronian'…covered a wide range of opinion and practice, and many a 'Ciceronian' was by no means as rigid and doctrinaire as [the] extremists caricatured by Erasmus'. Ciceronianus, with its disparaging depiction of a 'Ciceronian' in action, did much to enflame the dispute. The very term 'Ciceronianism' can be dated to the time of the publication of Erasmus's work.

Ciceronianus, itself, relates the imaginary conversation of the 'Ciceronian' Nosoponus (or Mr. Workmad), with Bulephorus (Mr. Counsellor) and Hypologus (his Back-up). Bulephorus aims to direct Nosoponus away from his narrow obsession with Cicero, in which endeavour of course, at length, he succeeds. The book can be divided, roughly, into three parts. In the first section, Bulephorus and Hypologus spy Nosoponus coming towards them, looking ill, 'more like a ghost than a human being'. They decide to collude together to try to make him feel better, to cure him of his wasting Ciceronian disease, his 'zelodulea, his 'style-addiction''. They engage him in conversation and Bulephorus himself pretends to be an adherent of Cicero and to share Nosoponus's infatuation, so that he will be allowed to become 'an initiate in the same mysteries'. Nosoponus explains the lengths to which he goes to imbibe the full essence of his master: pictures of Cicero all over his house; not allowing himself to read anything but Cicero's works; leading a life of abstinence 'to prevent any gross substance from invading the seat of the limpid mind'. He has prepared lexicons of the author's characteristic expressions and phrases in alphabetical order big enough that 'Two strong pack-horses with proper saddles could hardly carry [them] on their backs'. The tone of this first section is light and bantering: it is a comedy.

Heralded by the description of the Good Friday speech, the second part of the book turns serious. Bulephorus turns the table on Nosoponus; now he is 'in earnest'. In several long speeches, Bulephorus gives forth on his theory that to be a Ciceronian is to be basically un-Christian: it is inappropriate for a pious Christian to be over-concerned with using Ciceronian language to discuss Christian themes; it has become the norm to value Classical allusions over Biblical ones, that to ape Cicero is to 'behave like a fool'. Ciceronianism is, in short:

…paganism, believe me, Nosoponus, sheer paganism…


The third part of Ciceronianus, is devoted to a long discussion between the three main protagonists of who should be considered Ciceronian, and who should not. The characters trawl through Europe in a sweeping critical literary overview. An example can be seen in the treatment of Guillaume Budé, the great scholar of the French court, secretary to François 1er and instigator of the Bibliothéque Nationale. Erasmus and Budé's relationship had begun around 1516 and their correspondence over a decade shows a true engagement and meeting of minds. The apogée of Erasmus's professed respect for Budé can be seen in a letter to Étienne Poncher, Bishop of Paris, in 1517, in which he calls him 'most certainly the glory of France'. However, in Ciceronianus, Budé is cited as being inferior to the printer Josse Bade as a failed Ciceronian, closely followed by a disparaged Jacques Lefèvre. This of course could be taken as a compliment, as there is no great accolade in being praised by Nosoponus, however Budé did not take it that way. A flurry of letters was written to Erasmus asking him to rethink his appraisal, but in the end it contributed to the rupture of Budé's and Erasmus's relationship.

Responses by scholars wounded by Erasmus's appraisal in the third part of Ciceronianus are later discussed. Before that, I would like to examine the Good Friday Speech in more detail. The character of Bulephorus describes an impressive oration that he witnessed in Rome in the presence of the Pope:

' I'll tell you a story - not a bit of hearsay, but something I saw with my own eyes, heard with my own ears. In Rome at the time the two men with the most distinguished reputation as speakers were Pietro Fedra and Camillo….Neither of them though, unless I'm mistaken was actually Roman by birth. Now a certain person had been appointed to speak on the death of Christ…in the presence of the pontiff himself. A few days before the event I received an invitation from the literary community to go and hear the speech. 'Be sure to be there,' they said. 'Now you will really hear how the language of Rome sounds in the mouth of a Roman.'

Bulephorus says there were 'rows of cardinals and bishops and, beside the common crowd, quite a number of scholars who were staying in Rome'. Eventually he begins to describe the speech itself, giving a long and unflattering description. At the end he says:

'In short, this Roman spoke so Romanly that I heard nothing about the death of Christ…The only thing he could be praised for was for speaking in Roman fashion and recalling something of Cicero. One could approve of a speech like this as being a demonstration of ability and intelligence if it were delivered by a schoolboy before his fellow pupils in class, but what connection, I ask you, did it have with such a day, such an audience, such a theme?'

Significantly, Bulephorus, asked for the name of the man whose speech on Good Friday in Rome that he has just described, says:

'…I prefer to leave the name to be inferred, as it is not my present purpose to cast aspersions on anyone's name. What I am doing is to point out an error that should be avoided, one that under the shadow of a mighty name leads a good many people astray these days. This is what concerns us, Nosoponus; the name of the man in my story does not matter….'

But of course it does matter! Ciceronianus is hinged on the Good Friday Speech. It comes at a pivotal point in the book, after which the tone and content changes from knock-about banter to critical deconstruction. Not to speak of the fact that casting aspersions on people's names is exactly what Bulephorus, Hypologus and Nosoponus then go on systematically to do. To reiterate Bulephorus's description:

'In Rome at the time the two men with the most distinguished reputation as speakers were Pietro Fedra and Camillo. Camillo was younger and in actuality the more powerful speaker but the older man had occupied the citadel first. Neither of them though, unless I'm mistaken was actually Roman by birth.'

Erasmus lived in Italy around 1506-9, staying in Rome and Venice, and in his letters, he talks about meeting both Fedra and Camillo in person. It is possible that Erasmus, as part of the Venetian circle that included Aldus Manutius, Aretin, Aleander, Titian and Serlio, would have known Camillo there: Erasmus lodged for a period at Aldus's house, in the Sestière San Polo, near where Camillo himself lived. However, apart from a series of letters that deal with Camillo's work on his 'Theatre' in Venice, Erasmus discusses both men in the context of Rome.

Pietro Fedra was Tommaso Fedra Inghirami of Volterrra. Erasmus met and made friends with Fedra, by then a canon and Vatican librarian. Erasmus mentions him in a letter to Joost Vroye (or Jodocus Gaverius) dated 1st 1523. In this long letter, Erasmus mourns the recent loss of their common friend, Jan de Neve. He says that he is feeling very mortal and goes on to talk about the people of distinction he has known in his life, throughout Europe, and the relative times of their demise. Pietro Fedra, he says, was under fifty when he died. He says that Fedra had earned his nick-name by playing the part of Phaedra in Seneca's Hippolytus, in the piazza in front of the palace of Cardinal Raffaele of San Giorgio; that he was known as an authoritative orator. According to Erasmus, in fact, Fedra 'won more fame with tongue than with pen, for he was a wonderfully copious and effective speaker'.

In a letter written twelve years later, dated August 1535, when Erasmus was approaching his seventies, he describes his association with Giulio Camillo. This long letter, like the earlier one to Vroye, is autobiographical. Allen considers it to be a 'biographical document of some importance'. It was first published in answer to a pamphlet that had been circulated by Peter Cursius, a poet, titled, Petri Cursii Defensio pro Italia ad Erasmum Roterodamum. In the pamphlet Cursius had defended the 'innumerabiles Itali disertissimi' whose talents he thought bore comparison with those of Erasmus; among them he named Giulio Camillo. Erasmus says:

' Cum Petro Phaedra, cuius eloquentiam tum Roma pro Cicerone mirabatur, mihi fuit propinqua familiaritas, cum Iulio Camillo me nonnunquam eadem iunxit culcitra.'

It seems that Erasmus and Camillo were on very familiar terms, or at least that that is how Erasmus, in this late letter, now wanted to portray their relationship. Is it Erasmus's intention in mentioning Pietro Fedra and Camillo in the same sentence to refer back to their concurrence in Ciceronianus? Whatever Erasmus's agenda, it is an intriguing juxtaposition of names.

After the publication of Ciceronianus, Erasmus maintained a discreet observation on Camillo, as we can ascertain through a series of letters between Erasmus and a correspondent named Zwichem, dating from 1531 to 1532. Zwichem, or Viglius Zuichemus (1507-1577), as he was otherwise known, was a lawyer, initially a disciple of Alciati. He met Erasmus in 1531, presenting him with a ring with the signs of the zodiac, and subsequently struck up a correspondence, in which he often mentions their common regard for Alciati. Erasmus asked Zwichem to report to him on Giulio Camillo's work in Venice, and Zwichem was happy to oblige.

In the first of the Camillo letters, dated 28th March 1532, Zwichem talks about the fame of the 'Theatre', saying the Ciceronians in Venice 'were whispering I know not what about a certain Giulio Camillo'. He has heard that it is 'a work of amazing character', 'in which the things seen are shown no less clearly than anything which Cicero could say'. However, although Zwichem had not in fact met with Camillo at this point, he ends his letter to Erasmus saying disparagingly of Camillo: 'What more can I say? Your Nosoponus could tell it all.'

'Quid plura dicam? Omnia illi cum Nosopono tuo conueniunt.'

By the following June, Zwichem wrote to Erasmus again, saying that, now, he has met Camillo and seen the work. According to Zwichem, the Theatre is a 'wooden construction with many images and caskets all over the place' (Opus est ligneum multis imaginibus insignitum, multisque vndique capsules refertum ) divided into 'orders' and 'grades' (ordines et gradus). He says that Camillo has many names for the Theatre, sometimes calling it a 'mind and soul artistically wrought', or a 'window' (mentem et animum fabrefactum, aliquando fenestratum). Inside the Theatre, everything that the human mind can conceive is expressed by 'corporeal signs' (signis deinde quibusdam corporeis). It is because of this corporeal, or bodily gaze (presumably at the signs) that Camillo calls the work a Theatre. Zwichem says that the King of France is eager for the arrival of this 'magnificent work' (magnifico opere), but that he wants it to be translated into French, which is holding up proceedings.

The fate of Zwichem's letters is interesting. Erasmus's secretary at this time was Gilbertus Cognatus. Cognatus kept a copy of the letters from Zwichem and was later to pass them off as his own. Many years later, in a letter to Giovanni Metello in 1558, Cognatus used Zwichem's description of the wonderful Theatre in an imagined first-hand account. For Cognatus to bother to keep a copy of the letter for twenty-five years suggests that in private, Erasmus had shown a great deal of interest in Giulio Camillo. But perhaps the most surprising of all the references to Camillo by Erasmus is in a letter to Zwichem dated 5th July 1532. In this, Erasmus discusses Camillo's Theatre, no less, in terms of it being able to excite as great a 'tragedy in study' as that which 'Luther produced in religion'.

'… vereor ne molitores isti non leuiorem trageoediam excitent in studiis quam Lutherus excitauit in religione… '

The publication of the Ciceronianus, in 1528, came two years before Camillo's invitation to France by François 1st. According to Liruti, Camillo's eighteenth century biographer, Lazare de Baïf, François's ambassador in Venice, had met Camillo there, some time in 1529, and would presumably have alerted François to Camillo's work. Though, ironically, it may well have been Ciceronianus itself that helped to bring Camillo to the attention of the King.

The third part of Ciceronianus sent waves of scandal throughout Europe, sparking furious responses. One of the most vitriolic was Jules-César Scaliger's scathing Oratio Pro. M.Tullio Cicerone Contra Des. Erasmum (Paris, 1531) in which he accuses Erasmus as culpable of nothing less than parricide, in defaming 'Our Father of Letters'. Étiene Dolet's angry Erasmianus was published in 1535 and there were also works from Ortensio Lando and Gaudenzio Merula, among others. Camillo's much more gentle Trattato dell'Imitazione circulated Paris and Padua in manuscript.

Camillo's response, in the Trattato begins with an exhortation to Erasmus:

'What shall I say of you, Erasmus, man of so much knowledge and virtue…not only… eloquent, but also of good judgement?'

Camillo makes it clear that while his and Erasmus's views on imitation are different, they are not at odds. Erasmus advocates imitation based on equivalence of style, while Camillo recommends an imitation stemming from a judgement of, and identification with, the nature of the imitated. He reinforces this point, saying:

'I do not believe it can be possible ever to imitate an author's nature, only the judgement proceeding there from.'

The idea of judgement is central to the piece. Only from right judgement can correct decisions be made as regard to the best use of language, stemming from this central core of identification with an author's sense of literary correctness. Later, Camillo goes on to say:

' …my advice would be to fabricate, be it by artifice…[language]…of our own of equal beauty… transforming it through composition as does the bee…'

Camillo's tone is mellifluous; he aims to coax and please, and urges Erasmus to change his opinion:

'Turn, oh unique genius, change your style, and you yourself will be content to say the opposite of what you have written, if, as I believe, you feel the opposite.'

In Camillo's opinion, there was once a golden age of language, or more specifically a 'golden century', and this was the century of Cicero. Language, like the rising and the setting of the sun, has a beginning, a zenith and decline, and it seems only sensible, in the light of this, to look to the 'most perfect time' for guidance for the creation of new language. This is not to say that every word and phrase must originate from here, as after all new concepts and new inventions require the creation of new words to describe them. Nevertheless, the guiding principles that informed the underlying structure of the language represented by the golden century should be adopted to achieve the best approximation not only for good style but also for the best sense of meaning. However this is not to say that a new author should slavishly copy the old. Camillo makes the comparison between language and an ancient edifice. If an architect wanted to make a new building from old bricks, he would need to dismantle the old building and recreate it to his own design, using his own sense of judgement. This sense of judgement can be informed by the sense of beauty or balance of an old master, and yet the building itself will be wholly new because it has been re-constructed through the agency of a new vision. Rhetorical flourishes of the old style will still be visible, just as an architectural piece of cornice work, or a sculpture, may retain its form as an intact reminder of the old work, but still the overall work will be a new formation.

In many ways, Camillo and Erasmus in fact do not diverge in their opinions, but say much the same thing, each from a different perspective. And as Camillo says in the beginning with his exhortation to Erasmus, he assumes that Erasmus himself is a man of 'good judgement' who only needs a little encouragement to admit that they share the same opinion. Only towards the end of the piece does Camillo venture a little anger, saying that he is willing to draw his sword to defend his own opinions; but, even at this point, Erasmus is himself not mentioned by name, and the episode feels very 'tacked-on', a very muted, if not tongue-in-cheek, rhetorical flourish.

For Pigman, who has made a wide ranging assessment of all of the contemporary responses to Ciceronianus, it is Camillo's Dell' Imitazione that is 'the most important'. The form as much as the content of Camillo's reply is responsible for this. Pigman has posited Erasmus's Ciceronianus in terms of arguments about 'historical decorum'. 'Even if Erasmus' primary concern in writing the Ciceronianus is to expose renascent paganism disguising itself as Ciceronian classicism,' he says, '[Erasmus] does not rely on religious appeals. The force of his attack comes from his use of the universally accepted criterion of decorum…'. As Pigman points out, Camillo's response points to the 'internal contradiction' of Erasmus's position. This contradiction is 'between erecting adaptation to the demands of the present as the central standard for good style and ignoring the volgari as the languages of the present.' By answering Erasmus in Italian, rather than in Latin, and as the only contemporary author to do so, the political stance of Camillo's response is implicit.

Bolzoni on the other hand has interpreted Camillo's response as representative of his profound cosmic vision:

'Chez Camillo, l'exaltation de l'unité est profondement liée à une vision cyclique du mouvement cosmique. C'est bien pourquoi imiter Cicéron prend une signification qui va bien au-delà de la dimension littéraire: cela signifie savoir saisir un cycle vital à son moment culminant, cela implique la possibilité d'en reproduire artificiellement la beauté et la vigueur.'

Bolzoni says that the algebraic problem of the idea - that is to say the existence of the perfect model of literary beauty to which everything should refer and which in the last analysis is the only true criterion of the judgement of value - was the meat of earlier discussions on imitation instigated by Bembo. The royal way (voie royale) towards the perfect idea is the imitation of the perfect authors because in their texts, the idea is made incarnate (and is therefore made visible) in a manner markedly superior to the one (divided and imperfect) in which the idea is made manifest in the specific beings of nature. Bolzoni points out that even though Camillo is a man of letters, he does not seem, as was usually the tradition, to demand the superiority of letters over the figurative arts. Here, she says, his proximity and also his distance from Bembo's position can be measured. In the end, at the same moment that Camillo converges with Erasmus's opinion that it is impossible to imitate individual nature, he refuses to draw the same consequences. The problem is posed categorically in terms of rhetoric, or rather on a plan of the philosophy of rhetoric for which Camillo intends to posit a new and decisive key. This new and decisive key, which he has discovered, is in the form of a 'natural philosophy' (philosophie naturelle) based on topical rhetorical figures (la figure topique).

That Camillo wrote a response at all to the Ciceronianus is the strongest evidence that he was implicated personally in the work. Tommasso Inghirami, or Fedra, of course, was not in a position to clear his name, having been dead for twelve years before Erasmus even came to write the book. Despite Fedra's distinction as the 'Cicero of his generation', is it possible that Erasmus has mentioned him in the context of the orator of the Good Friday speech as a (conveniently dead) red herring?

It was as orators rather than as writers that men like Fedra and Camillo won renown. As Erasmus himself said of Fedra, he '…really won more fame with tongue than with pen…'. Fedra's written literary output is not substantial. Camillo's work was all in manuscript at the time that Erasmus wrote the work in 1528. It was thanks to his agent, Girolamo Muzio, to Ludovico Dolce, the Marchese del Vasto and others that printed versions of Camillo's writings have survived at all. Camillo clearly was ambivalent about the power of print - an ambivalence that he shared with many others. But perhaps this is where we are given a real clue as to why Erasmus chose these two men at all to illustrate his text: it was that their very threat lay not so much in the written, or printed, as in their spoken word. Erasmus was scared of the power of their preaching.

'Philosophy,' wrote Lorenzo Valla (1407-57) in around 1430, 'is like a soldier or a tribune under the command of oratory, the queen.' Valla, whom Erasmus greatly admired, was instrumental in placing the idea of philosophy at the service of oratory and rhetoric, or the art of the word. Oratory, and orators, treated the question of ethics 'much more clearly, weightily, magnificently' than did 'the obscure, squalid and anaemic philosophers'. This ideal of eloquence was based on a belief in the persuasive power of the word: the very breath of the word itself an active agent of change.

As Lorch says '…the rhetor was not merely a teacher of rhetoric but a master of ars oratoria, or the art of speech, which …was intended to help man to explore, exploit, and control the magic power of the word.' It is significant, given the perceived importance of the orator's power and of the authority of speech, that in Camillo's response to the Ciceronianus, the Trattato dell' Imitazione, he writes at length about the definition of a sigh. He begins with the verb, sospirar, 'to sigh'; moving on to mandar sospiri, gittar sospiri: 'to give a sigh, to heave a sigh'; and then romper l'aere da presso coi sospiri 'to split the surrounding air with sighs'; and finally far coi sospiri tremar le cose opposte, far mover le frondi, crollare I boschi, 'to make things opposite tremble with (my) sighs, to move the leaves, to collapse the woods'. He is making a point about truth and metaphorical language, and suggests that the 'poet in this natural philosophy of illustrating topically would be wise to abandon things that are too far beyond the truth'. Like Erasmus, Camillo was aware of what Barker calls the 'metaphorical force' of language, a force that is able to give language a 'turn' , and the necessity of using it judiciously. Nevertheless, he gives us a graphic clue, here, as to the extent of power that an orator in action was expected to achieve. There was about an orator the mystique of a magus. The breath of his word effected miracles. It could move the woods.

Erasmus of course was by no means oblivious to the power of the word. But there was in Erasmus a tropism for the written, rather than the spoken word. It was in text itself, for him, that power resided. He may personally have had difficulty in expressing himself orally. As he mentions in a letter describing his meeting with William, Archbishop of Canterbury, in a social setting, he was 'a man of few words, and do not push myself forward'. He felt most at home in expressing oratio not in speech but in text. Even in his Adages, proverbs designed for spoken use, '…though Erasmus is purportedly training a 'speaker' or 'orator,' …the proverb seems most often to be found within the context of the written document'. But there was more to Erasmus's antipathy to what he termed 'Ciceronian' than can be accounted for even by his insecurity over the spoken word.

A year before the publication of the Ciceronianus, Erasmus had written to Francisco Vergara, professor at the University of Alcala:

'…No one denies that Cicero excelled in the art of speaking, although not every kind of eloquence suits particular persons or subjects. What does this odious boasting about the term Ciceronian mean? Let me whisper what I think in a few words. Under this pretence they hide their paganism, which is dearer to them than the glory of Christ….'

The letter to Vergara reveals that there is a subtext to the Ciceronianus: it may be seen as a handbook of those whom Erasmus considered tarred with the brush of paganism. If this was an underlying theme to Ciceronianus it would go some way to explain why the book aroused such fury and seemed to touch a raw nerve within the literary community. The idea of paganism itself, however, leads to many questions, most crucial of which is what precisely Erasmus meant by the term.

Despite what he was later to say in Ciceronianus, Erasmus's involvement and fascination with pagan authors had begun early in his life. It was through his very appreciation of the gifts of the pagan that Erasmus was himself able to bring depth and colour to his Christianity. Erasmus was not alone in this of course. Pagan imagery and influence permeated culture from the new translations of pagan authors to pagan imagery in the visual arts. Painting and sculpture was awash with a sea of nymphs, fauns and satyrs. And there were subtle and powerful fusions of pagan with Christian theological motifs. Da Vinci's Virgin and Child with St. Anne (c.1508-10), for example, shows an image in which the positioning of the leg of the lamb across the knee of Jesus 'gives him the impression of a little hoof, like Pan, the spirit of awakened nature'. Michelangelo's famous sculpture of Moses depicts him with horns radiating from his head.

However this may be, Erasmus's position with regard to 'paganism' changes radically around 1528. There are many reasons for this that are outwith the scope of this work to address but I think that two principal causes for the alteration are represented in the figure of Giulio Camillo. Firstly, Erasmus's reputation was based on the printed word, and he viewed with suspicion those whose power lay in the spoken word; this was more than merely a difference in presentation, but crucial to the depth of persuasion which it was believed that an author or an orator could attain. Secondly, Erasmus was suspicious of developments in science, specifically the science propounded by Camillo. Camillo's image based system was a 'divine' philosophy: he was looking at the stars: an essential image of Camillo's Theatre, crucial to the idea of its spatial arrangement is Pan, the ancient god of the flocks. The magus in Erasmus believed profoundly in a philosophy based on the power of the word and he distrusted this vision of what he branded as a 'pagan' cosmology.

'What I call philosophy,' wrote Erasmus, 'is not a method of analysing first principles, matter, time, motion, infinity, but that wisdom which Solomon deemed more precious than all riches and on that account prayed God to give him above all else.' While he is explicit about what he thinks philosophy is not, Erasmus is gnomic about what it is. It is not a branch of thinking that deals in matter and measure and time, in the first principles of Plato, or Aristotle, or Pythagoras. It is not about the exterior, material world. The implication is that wisdom is an internal, spiritual attribute; that philosophy is secret, God-given, precious. For all his rationalism, at the heart of Erasmus's philosophy is a recognition that wisdom is granted, not grasped. Camillo and Erasmus shared this, at least, in common. And Erasmus's Adages, for example, - his great profusion and abundance of proverbs - was not so very far from what Camillo achieved in a visual and spatial sense with L'idea del Theatro. Where Erasmus created a bricolage of letters, Camillo intended a collage of imagery and myth. Where Erasmus intended to collate every known maxim throughout history, Camillo intended a visual scheme based on a mathematical structuring of language. While Erasmus translated, interpreted and expounded his numerous sources, Camillo synthesized disparate philosophies. This is not to say that Camillo matched Erasmus as the seemingly rational thinker of the age, but that he possessed other knowledge that Erasmus wanted to undermine.

While Camillo was not, like Erasmus, a political animal, this is not to say that he was unconcerned with power. Harnessing spiritual, temporal and personal power was precisely what Camillo cared about and travelled Europe to advocate. Camillo shows us what matters to him in L'idea del Theatro when he talks about the ability to predict the time of one's death, or a spiral of love setting everything in the universe in motion, or the transformation of spirit and matter. Illusion, appearance, dissimulation, signs, visions and eternity are what interest Camillo, as well as the skill, Prospero-like, to interpret and orchestrate the symbols and attributes of the world. It is here, I think, that we begin to find the root of Erasmus's charge of paganism. For along with preaching the power of transformation, Camillo also talked about practical steps of how it could be achieved and this, itself, was influenced by new developments in perspective and Camillo's understanding of the central position of the sun in the universe.


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