On the occasion of the fifth centenary of the death of Aldo Manuzio the Elder, as part of the series of meetings, workshops “Aldo Manuzio … Invitation to the reader at the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana to discover the world of Manuzio” keynote Amedeo Quondam. February 6, 2015.
Where does Aldo Manuzio come from? He is not a citizen of Venice: a Venetian by adoption. Aldo originates from the state of the Church, from the province south of Rome, from Ciociaria. He orginates from Bassiano, as for many years in his books says, as they used to do then, that this is his nation (in the old times: as a place of birth).
But where exactly is Bassiano? On the map you see that is on the edge of what is today the Pontina plain after reclaiming, but then, and until the twentieth century, it was a terrible swamp. The community of Bassiano, like other villages in this area are situated up on the hills away from the stench of the swamp : today Bassiamo is a good territory for curing high quality ham with great fragrances.
Bassiano was part of the Ducat of Sermoneta, feud of the Caetani Family and is still an Caetani enclave: wonderful places, out of time. This is an important finding in the future profile of Aldo, because Sermoneta was then, and remained for a long time, one of the most strong and stable Jewish settlement in the State of the Church and perhaps in Italy, so that someone thought that behind the passion of Aldo for Hebrew, behind the fixed idea that long pursued to study and give life also editions in Hebrew, there was a distant source to a Jewish family then converted. Born in Bassiano, in a province depressed state of the Church, in the mid-fifteenth century offers no particular perspectives to those who had any ambition, and even more so if we put these places in the geopolitical environment throughout Italy.
Aldo lives in the great crisis of Italian late fifteenth and early sixteenth century: the dramatic situation of this stage, and in particular the wars of Italy, are in the experiences of his life, in his work as a publisher in Venice. Twice he is forced to stop his activities, especially tragic is the suspension for three years between 1509 and 1512: this periodi s related to the wars of Italy, the League of Cambrai, at Agnadello (1509), when it seems that Venice is about to succumb and even Aldo flee elsewhere to seek safety and it will not be easy to go back to printing books.
But when was Aldo Manuzio born? We are here to celebrate the centenary of his death, but we would not be able to celebrate the birth, because the date is uncertain: perhaps between 1449 and 1452; and we know almost nothing of his family: only the father’s name was Antonio. All this means that Aldo is of modest family, who needs to leave memories and traces of its members, when still, then, were not active parish records for major events in the life of all.
This young man born in the countryside, in a suburb depressed state of the Church, must have been a young man of lively wit, that is noticed when he accomplishes its first formation, probably in the “little school” of the parish: probably the pastor, or someone else, recognized his skills and must have thought to send him to Rome to continue his studies.
A Ciociarian, like many others over the centuries find their way in Rome. For Aldo is the school, the new school that the modern culture of the humanists is raising everywhere, based on the cult of the classics, the Greek and Latin School from which will be born our grammar school. Aldo studies teaching from this school.
With a humorous detail, which corresponds to a custom widespread in the classical cultural tradition: Aldo also changes his name. That family name was Mannuccio or Mannucci (still widespread in central Italy), but it is not good for a teacher, a school teacher of Latin it absolutely must be translated, or renamed, in Latin. It is not difficult name, but care must be taken to avoid the cacophony of Mannuccius: too many double consonant, should simplify Manucius, although his handwriting is irregular, because in Latin suffix -cius can also be translated in -tius (and in the vulgor: Manucio, Manutio, Manuzio are equivalent).
Now that the professional name is found, now that the business card begins to take shape (Alus Manutius) it has to be decided what should be the connotative element of his origin: Bassianatis not very communicative and not too elegant (wonder where is this place), and Latinus is already more perspicuous, but generic (a nation wide, too wide).
Aldus Manutius Romanus: so it will be forever, with an option of the homeland acquired, of cultural nation. It is the strongest mark of Aldo’s proget, that will remain and he will sign himself as Roman also in Venice. He, the Ciociaro who came from the countryside, the citified, will tell the world with his books: “Civis Romanus sum”