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Seminar Latin: Classical Reception in Florence in the 15th century: Historiography, Exempla, Typology


Admission requirements

This class can be taken in fulfilment of the requirements of both the MA and the Research MA program in Classics and Ancient Civilizations (track Classics), with differential requirements.
Admission requirements for other students: a BA degree in Classics obtained from a university in the Netherlands, or a comparable qualification obtained from a university outside the Netherlands. Moreover, students with an international degree have to contact the coordinator of studies to check admissibility.


The city of Florence is one of the most important centres during the Italian Renaissance. Many factors helped it to gain this prominent position in Italy: the political and military successes; the patronage of the Medici family; the veneration of Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio as the ‘three crowns’ of Italian literature, and many more.

Ancient Rome played a crucial part in 15th century Florence in many ways. The city considered itself to be the intellectual heir of ancient Rome; several versions of its foundation were used to symbolize its antiquity and its cultural and political heritage (three optional founding fathers were available: republican Sulla, Caesar, Charlemagne). The city shape was even considered to mirror the topography of ancient Rome. The seminar will be dedicated to important aspects of the classical tradition in Florentine humanism and connect it to the cultural and political discourses of the time. Such a take can be connected to recent research on the ‘quest for an appropriate past’, i.e. the shaping of ancient history according to local needs and interests.

Three major fields will be in the centre of our interest: historiography, historical exempla and typology.

1) Florentine historiography and its take on classical Roman history. Pride of place will be given to Leonardo Bruni’s History of the Florentine People, available in bilingual edition in the I Tatti Renaissance Library-series; but we will also look at other texts, e.g. Angelo Poliziano’s Conjuration of the Pazzi and eventually a historical epos about Charlemagne. We will concentrate on het way how ancient intertexts were used, and which rhetorical and narrative strategies helped to shape the image of an idealized Florence and its de facto-rulers, the Medici.
2) Exemplary figures. Often, the exempla were connected to a broader debate about Florence’s republican traditions vs. a more monarchical stystem elsewhere. The debate between the Florentine and Roman humanist Poggio Bracciolini and the Roman Biondo Flavio on het excellence of Scipio and Caesar will be considered, but we will also investigate the importance of Cicero as an exemplary figure.
3) Typology: this is the broadest category of all. Typological strategies (with typus and antitypus) can include living people (Lorenzo de’ Medici as new Augustus or Maecenas), het own literary past (Dante as the new Homer; Petrarch as the new Horace), but also the city as such (Florence as the new Rome). We will investigate how this kind of typology (following the rhetorical scheme of ‘A is the new B’) was connected to the general interest in the rebirth of antiquity in Renaissane humanism.

Texts to be read will mostly be prose (historiography, letters, treatises, commentaries), but also include poetical texts (elegy and eventually epos).

Course objectives


  • Introduction to of the phenomenon of classical reception in early modern times;

  • Introduction to the cultural context of fifteent-century Florence (a major spot of the early Renaissance);

  • Broadening knowledge of and insight in the (rhetorical, political, even ideological…) use of classical exempla;

  • Broadening insight in the importance of ancient Rome (both as a city and as an intellectual concept) for early modern Europe;

  • Developping concepts about intertextuality (from purely literary to extratextual contexts).


  • Reading: enlaring experience wiiht reading non-classical Latin texts; reading Latin texts partly without commentaries or modern auxiliaries;

  • Research: learning to formulate a complex research question independently;

  • Critical assessment of secondary literature;

  • Oral presentation: the oral presentation will give a clear and well-argued interpretation of a specific text passage, making effective use of a handout and/or PowerPoint;

  • Written presentation: the paper will offer a clear and well-structured presentation of original research;

  • Active participation and preparation: the student demonstrates involvement in the topic by asking well-informed and constructive questions and making contributions to the collective progress, on the basis of antecedent independent preparation.


The timetable is available on the Classics and Ancient Civilizations website.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

  • Research

Course Load

Total course load: 10 ec x 28 hours= 280 hours:

  • Lectures: 36 hours;

  • Preparation: 12 x 6 hours = 72 hours;

  • Preparation of presentation: 40 hours;

  • Preparation of translation exam: 32 hours;

  • Preparation and writing of paper: 100 hours.

Assessment method

  • written research paper, Research MA students will additionally write a proposal for a (fictitious) conference;

  • oral presentation (with handout), Research MA students will eventually be assigned more complex themes for their presentations;

  • translation exam.


The final mark for the course is established by determination of the weighted average:

  • paper 50%;

  • presentation: 25%;

  • translation 25%.

All elements have to be passed with at least a 5.5 – compensation of an unsatisfactory mark for one of the assessments is not possible.
For Research MA students, the mark for the proposal will be 1/5 of the mark of the paper).


An unsufficient mark any of the assessmentsmust be re-done. The resit of the oral presentation will eventually take place in front of the teachter only.

Exam review

Students will be invited to discuss their paper and the other results for the seminar (oral presentation and exam) individually with the teacher, as soon as the results have been published.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • Distribution of handouts etc.;

  • Communication wit participants.

Reading list

The texts to be read in class will be made available in a reader.
General books on the topic will be made available on a special shelf in the Library when the class starts.

A good anthology of sources for a first orientation is:

  • S.U. Baldassari/A. Saiber (eds.), Images of Quattrocento Florence. Selected Writings in Literature, History, and Art. New Haven and London 2000.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about registration in uSis is available in English and Dutch.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Dr. C.H. (Christoph) Pieper