Lorenzo Valla (1406- 1457)


The Life of Lorenzo Valla
Lorenzo Valla was born in Rome and was an Italian Renaissance humanist and philosopher. He was educated in Rome and learned Latin and Greek from professors such as humanist and modern historian, Leonardo Bruni, as well as Italian historian, Giovanni Aurispa. In 1431, Valla became a priest and shortly thereafter became a professor exploring and lecturing at many different universities across northern Italy.
In 1433, Valla was appointed King Alfonso V of Aragon’s private royal Latin secretary and historian in Naples. During his tenure, Valla criticized the works of “Boethius (for his viewpoint), Aristotle (for his 'barbarisms,' among other things), and Cicero (for his prose style)” (2). Alfonso V defended Valla against the attacks on his public statements about theology and the religion. Valla’s statements were found heretical by the Inquisition for his refusal to believe that the Apostles' Creed was composed by the 12 Apostles, and consequently Valla narrowly avoided being burned at the stake.
Valla enticed many literary and theological disputes and his life seemed caught up amongst adversity and controversy. He appeared as a “vain, jealous and quarrelsome man” (4), but he also possessed many qualities of an elegant humanist with his eloquent outspoken words and acute critical skills.
Lorenzo Valla knew Greek and Latin well and was chosen by Pope Nicholas V to translate Herodotus and Thucydides into Latin. His earliest works poignantly reflect his enthusiasm for the new humanist learning, that sought to reform language and education. Valla’s entrance into the Roman Curia has been justly called "the triumph of humanism over orthodoxy and tradition" (5).

The Works Of Lorenzo Valla
The works of Lorenzo Valla were mainly focused on the Latin language and the on going process of refinement. Although Valla had managed to acquire a large number of enemies, his applications of the Latin language were renown. “It has long been recognized that the influence of Valla played a special role in Erasmus’ intellectual development. As early as 1489 Erasmus was praising Valla as the restorer of Latin eloquence to an unconvinced Cornelius Gerard. Erasmus was so much taken with Valla’s magnum opus, the Elegance of the Latin Language, that he prepared two abridgements[….]” (1). One of Lorenzo Valla's best known works is, De falso credita et ementita Constantini donatione declamatio, however his prize masterpiece was, Elegantiae linguae latinae.
Donation of Constantine
Donation of Constantine

-De falso credita et ementita Constantini donatione declamatio
In this work Valla proved that the long suspected “Donation of Constantine” was a fraud. Lorenzo Valla concluded that the syntax used was more characteristic of the 4th century. It is important to note that Valla was not the only person to accuse the Donation of Constantine to be fake; Reginald Pecocke and Bishop of Chichester both independently came to the same conclusion as Valla.

- De Voluptate
Argued in favor of an Epicurean outlook.
Lorenzo Valla Fore-Edge Painting
Lorenzo Valla Fore-Edge Painting

- Elegantiae linguae latinae
It flowed naturally from his previous writing, crystallizing his humanist belief that the perfected study of language could restore the full historical significance of words as guides to thought and as vehicles for shared human discourse. In this way the past might be illumined and the human condition enriched.” (3)

- De professione religiosorum
For this work he was tried and acquitted for heresy.
- Repastinatio


Valla’s multidisciplinary focus and his philological efforts in the Latin language reveal his critical, yet skeptical, approach to his studies. Valla set the stage for historians to follow by arguing that a text must be viewed within the cultural and historical context in which it was written to truly understand it. Rather than taking an ipse dixit approach, Valla sowed the seeds for the new logic that would arise in 1500 by applying his critical lens to and finding fault with the, then dominant, Aristotelian thought. He argued against Aristotelianism that the acquisition of knowledge cannot be purely philosophical and theoretical but that its bases are common sense and experiment. Valla’s work in the refinement of Latin set the stage for philologists to follow such as Angelo Poliziano and later, the infamous Dutch humanist, Desiderius Erasmus. Erasmus would later claim that in Valla’s work the Italian had, "refuted the stupidities of the barbarians… saved half-buried letters from extinction… restored Italy to her ancient splendor of eloquence… forced even the learned to express themselves henceforth with more circumspection."(6, 7)

1) Bently, Jerry H. "Biblical Philology and Christian Humanism: Lorenzo Valla and Erasmus as Scholars of the Gospels ." The Sixteenth Century Journal, Vol. 8, No. 2, Humanism in the Early Sixteenth Century , 1977: 28.

2) Biography.com. Lorenzo Valla. http://www.biography.com/articles/Lorenzo-Valla-9514728 (accessed February 15, 2010).

3) "Lorenzo Valla." The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. February 21, 2008.

4) Lorenzo Valla. http://www.1911encyclopedia.org/Lorenzo_Valla (accessed February 15, 2010).

5) Lorenzo Valla. http://encyclopedia.stateuniversity.com/pages/13749/Lorenzo-Valla.html (accessed February 15, 2010).

6) Smitha, Frank E. Lorenzo Valla and the Donation of Constantine . 2009. http://macrohistory.org/h3/valla.htm (accessed February 21, 2010).

7) Nauta, Lodi. Lorenzo Valla (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). 2009. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/lorenzo-valla/ (accessed February 22, 2010).

Images Source
http://images.google.com/imgrseimgurl=http://www.umass.edu/wsp/images/valla.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.umass.edu/wsp/philology/gallery/valla. (accessed Feburary 21, 2010).

2010. http://media.photobucket.com/image/Donation%20of%20Constantine/ (accessed February 21, 2010).