"Politian" redirects here. For the work by Edgar Allan Poe, see Politian (play).

Angelo Poliziano from a fresco painted by Renaissance artist Domenico Ghirlandaio in the Tornabuoni Chapel, Santa Maria Novella, Florence
Poliziano and Giuliano de' Medici, from a fresco painted by Renaissance artist Domenico Ghirlandaio in the Sassetti Chapel, Santa Trinita, Florence

Angelo Ambrogini (14 July 1454 – 24 September 1494), commonly known by his nickname Poliziano (Italian: [politˈtsjaːno]; anglicized as Politian; Latin: Politianus),[1] was an Italian classical scholar and poet of the Florentine Renaissance. His scholarship was instrumental in the divergence of Renaissance (or Humanist) Latin from medieval norms[2][3] and for developments in philology.[4] His nickname, Poliziano, by which he is chiefly identified to the present day, was derived from the Latin name of his birthplace, Montepulciano (Mons Politianus).

Poliziano's works include translations of passages from Homer's Iliad, an edition of the poetry of Catullus and commentaries on classical authors and literature. It was his classical scholarship that brought him the attention of the wealthy and powerful Medici family that ruled Florence. He served the Medici as a tutor to their children, and later as a close friend and political confidante. His later poetry, including La Giostra, glorified his patrons.

He used his didactic poem Manto, written in the 1480s, as an introduction to his lectures on Virgil.


Early life

Politian was born as Angelo Ambrogini in Montepulciano, in central Tuscany in 1454.[5] His father Benedetto, a jurist of good family and distinguished ability, was murdered by political antagonists for adopting the cause of Piero de' Medici in Montepulciano; this circumstance gave his eldest son, Angelo, a claim on the House of Medici.

At the age of ten, after the premature death of his father, Politian began his studies at Florence, as the guest of a cousin. There he learned the classical languages of Latin and Greek. From Marsilio Ficino he learned the rudiments of philosophy. At 13 he began to circulate Latin letters; at 17 he wrote essays in Greek versification; and at 18 he published an edition of Catullus. In 1470 he won the title of homericus adulescens by translating books II-V of the Iliad into Latin hexameters. Lorenzo de' Medici, the autocrat of Florence and the chief patron of learning in Italy at the time, took Politian into his household, made him the tutor of his children,[6] and secured him a distinguished post at the University of Florence. During this time, Poliziano lectured at the Platonic Academy under the leadership of Marsilio Ficino, at the Careggi Villa.

Adulthood and teaching

The annunciation of the angel to Zaccharia 1486–90. Marsilio Ficino (left), Cristoforo Landino (centre), Angelo Poliziano (third), and Demetrius Chalcondyles (far right)[7]

Among Politian's pupils could be numbered the chief students of Europe, the men who were destined to carry to their homes the spolia opima of Italian culture. He also educated students from Germany, England and Portugal.

It was the method of professors at that period to read the Greek and Latin authors with their class, dictating philological and critical notes, emending corrupt passages in the received texts, offering elucidations of the matter, and teaching laws, manners, religious and philosophical opinions of the ancients. Poliziano covered nearly the whole ground of classical literature during his tenure, and published the notes of his courses upon Ovid, Suetonius, Statius, Pliny the Younger, and Quintilian. He also undertook a recension of the text of Justinian II's Pandects and lectured about it. This recension influenced the Roman code.

Proposal to King John II of Portugal

Poliziano wrote a letter to John II of Portugal paying him a profound homage:

to render you thanks on behalf of all who belong to this century, which now favours of your quasi-divine merits, now boldly competing with ancient centuries and all Antiquity.

and considering his achievements to be of merit above Alexander the Great or Julius Caesar. He offered himself to write an epic work giving an account of John II's accomplishments in navigation and conquests. The king replied in a positive manner, in a letter of October 23, 1491, but delayed the commission. The epic work regarding Portuguese discoveries was only written almost one hundred years later by Luís de Camões. [8]

Final years

It is likely that Politian was homosexual, or at least had male lovers, and he never married.[9] Evidence includes denunciations of sodomy made to the Florentine authorities, poems and letters of contemporaries, allusions within his work (most notably the Orfeo) and the circumstances of his death. The last suggests he was killed by a fever (possibly resulting from Syphilis) which was exacerbated by standing under the windowsill of a boy he was infatuated with despite being ill.[10] He may also have been a lover of Pico della Mirandola.[11]

But it is just as likely that his death was precipitated by the loss of his friend and patron Lorenzo de' Medici in April 1492, Poliziano himself dying on 24 September 1494, just before the foreign invasion gathering in France swept over Italy.

In 2007, the bodies of Poliziano and Pico della Mirandola were exhumed from St. Mark's Basilica in Florence. Scientists under the supervision of Giorgio Gruppioni, a professor of anthropology from Bologna, used current testing techniques to study the men's lives and establish the causes of their deaths. A television documentary is being made of this research,[12] and it was announced that these forensic tests showed that both Poliziano and Pico della Mirandola likely died of arsenic poisoning. The chief suspect is Piero de' Medici, the successor of Lorenzo de' Medici and one-time ruler of Florence, but there are others.[13]


Poliziano was well known as a scholar, a professor, a critic, and a Latin poet in an age when the classics were still studied with assimilative curiosity, and not with the scientific industry of a later period. He was the representative of that age of scholarship in which students drew their ideal of life from antiquity. He was also known as an Italian poet, a contemporary of Ariosto.

At the same time he was busy as a translator from the Greek. His versions of Epictetus, Hippocrates, Galen, Plutarch's Eroticus and Plato's Charmides distinguished him as a writer. Of these learned labors, the most universally acceptable to the public of that time were a series of discursive essays on philology and criticism, first published in 1489 under the title of Miscellanea. They had an immediate and lasting effect, influencing the scholars of the next century.

Anthony Grafton writes that Poliziano's "conscious adoption of a new standard of accuracy and precision" enabled him "to prove that his scholarship was something new, something distinctly better than that of the previous generation":

By treating the study of antiquity as completely irrelevant to civic life and by suggesting that in any case only a tiny elite could study the ancient world with adequate rigor, Poliziano departed from the tradition of classical studies in Florence. Earlier Florentine humanists had studied the ancient world in order to become better men and citizens. Poliziano by contrast insisted above all on the need to understand the past in the light of every possibly relevant bit of evidence — and to scrap any belief about the past that did not rest on firm documentary foundations ... [But] when he set ancient works back into their historical context Poliziano eliminated whatever contemporary relevance they might have had.[14]


His Latin and Greek works include:

His principal Italian works are:

His philosophical works are:

English translations


  1. Kraye (1997) 192.
  2. Celenza (2009).
  3. For an interpretation of changes between classical and humanist Latin, and the controversy among Renaissance scholars, see: Moss (2003) 271.
  4. Daneloni (2001).
  5. His most extensive biography may be found in Orvieto (2009), others in: Nativel (1997) and Leuker (1997) 1–7.
  6.  Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Politian". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  7. Società editrice Fiorentina (1910) 81. "The admirable frescoes now to be seen are by Domenico Ghirlandaio : they were executed by order of John Tornabuoni and costed more than 1000 gold florins ... The patriarch Zachariah in the Temple : the four half-figures at left hand are the portraits of Agnolo Poliziano, Cristopher Landino, (in red cloak), Demetrius Calcondila, and Marsilio Ficino, (in purple robe)"
  8. Manuel Bernardes Branco (1879). Portugal e os Estrangeiros. Lisboa: Livraria de A.M.Pereira. pp. 415–417. (Translation of the latin by Teófilo Braga) "render-vos graças em nome de todos quantos pertencemos a este século, o qual agora, por favor dos vossos méritos quasi-divinos, ousa já denodadamente competir com os vetustos séculos e com toda a antiguidade."
  9. Strathern (1993).
  10. The account is set out in a letter by Antonio Spannocchi, writing in latin on 29 September 1494. Found in: Del Lungo (1897) 265f.
  11. The Ugly Renaissance, Lee, A., (2013), p.3
  12. "Medici writers exhumed in Italy", BBC News, 2007-07-28, retrieved 2007-07-28
  13. Moore, Malcolm (2008-02-07), Medici philosopher's mysterious death is solved, The Daily Telegraph (London), 7 Feb 2008, retrieved 2008-02-07
  14. Grafton (1994) 72f.


Further reading

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