Leonardo Bruni

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Leonardo Bruni (or Leonardo Aretino) (c. 1370 – March 9, 1444) was an Italian humanist, historian and statesman, who was chancellor of Florence. He has been called the first modern historian.

Contents

Biography

Born in Arezzo, Tuscany, Bruni was the leading pupil of Coluccio Salutati and succeeded him as chancellor from 1410 to 1411 and again from 1427 to the end of his life. Bruni's time in office was not as precarious a time for Florence as a few years earlier; nonetheless, it was still seriously entangled in interminable warfare. Bruni, as chancellor, a position that held no political power, did not lead the city to nearly the extent of first the Albizzi family and then the Medici family, both oligarchies who dominated Florence during his time in office. Bruni has been identified by Arthur Field (see below) as a plotter against Cosimo de Medici in 1437. Bruni died in 1444 and was succeeded in office by Carlo Marsuppini.

Significance

Bruni's most notable work is History of the Florentine People, which has been called the first modern history book.[1] Bruni was the first historian to write using the three-period view of history: Antiquity, Middle Ages, and Modern. The dates Bruni used to define the periods are not exactly what modern historians use today, but he laid the conceptual groundwork for a tripartite division of history. While it probably was not Bruni's intention to secularize history, the three period view of history is unquestionably secular and for that Bruni has been called the first modern historian.[1] The foundation of Bruni's conception can be found with Petrarch, who distinguished the classical period from later cultural decline, or tenebrae (literally "darkness"). Bruni argued that Italy had revived in recent centuries and could therefore be described as entering a new age.

One of Bruni's most famous works is New Cicero, a biography of the Roman statesman Cicero. It was Bruni who used the phrase studia humanitatis, meaning the study of human endeavors, as distinct from those of theology and metaphysics, which is where the term humanists comes from.

As a humanist Bruni was essential in translating into Latin many works of Plato and Aristotle. Bruni's translations of Aristotle's Politics and Nicomachean Ethics, as well as the pseudo-Aristotelean Economics, were widely distributed in manuscript and in print. His use of Aelius Aristides' Panathenicus (Panegyric to Athens) to buttress his republican theses in the Panegyric to the City of Florence (c. 1401) was instrumental in bringing the Greek historian to the attention of Renaissance political philosophers (see Hans Baron's The Crisis of the Early Italian Renaissance for details). He also wrote a short treatise in Greek on the Florentine constitution.[2]

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