David Marsh

David Marsh

Lila Wallace Reader’s Digest Visiting Professor
Challenging the Chancellor: Bruni, Manetti, and Alberti
2023-2024 (January - March)


David Marsh received his B.A. at Yale in Greek and English, summa cum laude, in 1972; and his Ph.D. at Harvard in Comparative Literature in 1978. Professor of Italian at Rutgers University, he is a specialist in the classical tradition in Italy from Petrarch to Vico. His books include The Quattrocento Dialogue (1980), Lucian and the Latins (1998), Studies on Alberti and Petrarch (2012), The Experience of Exile in Italian Writers (2013), and Giannozzo Manetti: The Life of a Florentine Humanist (2019). He has also translated Alberti’s Dinner Pieces (1987), Vico’s New Science (1999), Petrarch’s Invectives (2003), an anthology of Renaissance Fables (2004), and Manetti’s Against the Jews and the Gentiles (2017). His revised English translation of Alberti’s Dinner Pieces will appear in 2024 as part of the I Tatti Renaissance Library series.

Project Summary

In the early Quattrocento, the humanist movement was dominated by the Florentine chancellor Leonardo Bruni (1370-1444), famed as a translator and historian; but his primacy was both acknowledged and challenged by two younger contemporaries, Leon Battista Alberti (1404-1472) and Giannozzo Manetti (1396-1459). Alberti dedicated Book 2 of his Dinner Pieces to Bruni, in which the themes of wealth and poverty imply a polemic against the notoriously avaricious chancellor. Manetti, in turn, revised Bruni’s translations of Aristotle before taking on the Greek New Testament and the Hebrew Psalms. Where Bruni had written a treatise De interpretatione recta (The Right Way to Translate) on translating Greek, Manetti now composed his Apologeticus (A Translator’s Defense) to justify his Latin version of the Hebrew Psalms. As Bruni’s literary executor, Manetti prepared a ninth book of his epistles, which includes the chancellor’s notorious rebuff of Leon Battista Alberti in 1442 for proposing a public competition in Italian poetry. My research examines the ways in which Alberti and Manetti respond to the literary achievements of the distinguished chancellor