Letter 1: Giambattista Scita to Aldus

Giambattista Scita, after some silence from Aldus, writes him this letter, the earliest known correspondence to the printer, using a nickname not otherwise attested: “Cato.” 

Docto et erudito iuveni D. M. Alto Catoni amico primario

{1} Salvus sis, iucundissime Cato. His proximis diebus salutationem tuo nomine factam, etsi tuas litteras desiderabam magis, libenter accepi. Hac etiam cognovi te non immemorem nostri. Quare his te plurimum resaluto sic frequenter salutaturus, si ad me aliquando scripseris. Ad te aliquid darem de gymnasio, si quid hic novi scribendum esset. Hoc saltem scito nobis bene esse et principem nostrum disputationibus tanquam palaestra exerceri. Tu si quid istic, vel de te, vel de dominis tuis meisque, et praesertim an adhuc firmatus sit princeps Albertus, ad me scribas velim. Sed me interim ut soles amabis. Commendato me plurimum magnificae dominae Katerinae dominae meae, itidem principi Alberto Leonelloque. Vale et me ames. Papiae. Die 5 novem. 1483.


To the learned and cultured young master Altus Cato, a first-rate friend,

{1} I hope you are well, most delightful Cato. I happily received the greeting made a few days ago in your name, although I was hoping for your letters even more. I recognized by this that you still think of me. Therefore, I greet you back with this letter, and will be speaking to you much more often, if you ever write to me. I would send you something about school, if there were anything new to write. In any case, know this, that things are well with us and our Prince is trained in disputation as if he were learning to wrestle. Please write if you have anything on your end, regarding either yourself, or your masters and mine, and especially as to whether Prince Alberto is strong yet. In the meantime, though, please keep on loving me. Please speak well of me to magnificent mistress Catarina, my mistress, as well as to princes Alberto and Leonello. Farewell, and love me. November 5, 1483, Pavia

Notes to the Translation:

Altus Cato: According to Nolhac, this is the only occurrence of “Cato” as a name associated with Aldus. As a nickname, Cato could either refer to Cato Uticensis, which would cast Aldus as a stubborn political actor, or Cato the elder, which would characterize Aldus as traditionalist, or perhaps even a prude (cf. the use of “Catones” by writers of “obscene” poetry as described in Amy Richlin’s Garden of Priapus). The use of altus “high” as a substitution for “Aldus,” might lead one to assume the latter.

Amico primario: Giambattista Scita, sometimes spelled Scytha, was a poet and orator from Feltre, a town near Venice. Pico della Mirandola mentions him as a guest at his house in 1483 and praises his eloquence and Greek learning in a fragmentary letter addressed to Ermolao Barbaro. The only complete surviving work attributed to Scita is a prefatory poem addressed to Leonardo Crasso at the beginning of Crasso’s edition of the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, a highly wrought dream narrative published originally by Aldus in 1499.

Wrestle: The use of the two words, “gymnasium” and “palaestra” to refer to a school belongs to a tradition of discussing paedagogy that stretches back to 5th century Athens, where philosophy and physical exercise were conducted together. By the Roman period, however, the architectural forms of these institutions were miniaturized and located within the domestic sphere, and, while it is possible that smaller scale private athletic contests were held in these spaces, they began to simply be used as philosophical libraries (cf. Cicero Ad Atticum 1.10 in which palaestra and gymnasium both refer to the same room). Scita’s reference here seems to reflect this Roman usage, and probably refers to a school of rhetoric.

Your masters and mine: Without more information about Scita’s life, it is hard to tell whether this refers to two separate sets of masters or whether or not he Manutius had the same patrons. The admonition that Aldus speak well of him to Caterina, the current ruler of Carpi whom he also calls domina, does not resolve this problem. The comment could either suggest a desire to be included in that circle, or a past association.

Caterina…Alberto…Leonello: See Letter 4