1544, Venice: FRANCESCO MARCOLINI DA FORLI
This edition presents for the first time Alessandro Vellutello's commentary
on the poem, the first of two new commentaries to be published during the
16th century. Born in the Tuscan city of Lucca, Vellutello was active in
Venice during the early part of the century. Vellutello first made a name
for himself by publishing a commentary on Petrarch in 1525 and an edition
of Virgil's works in 1533. By the time he turned to Dante, the Petrarch
commentary had been twice reprinted and was well on its way to becoming
one of the great editorial successes of the period. A sign of the commentator's
stature: Vellutello dedicates his Dante to Pope Paul III (1534-1549), sometimes
known as "the last Renaissance pope" for his nepotism, his broad
culture and patronage of the arts and letters.
Vellutello's commentary is particularly noteworthy for its rebellion against
Pietro Bembo's literary authority. In his "Letter to the Readers,"
Vellutello does not demur from accusing Bembo (though without naming him)
of having provided corrupted texts of Petrarch and Dante to Aldus Manutius:
I have found the old manuscripts, but even more so, the more
modern printed editions to be extremely incorrect, and more than all the
others the one done by Aldus Manutius, which is held in such esteem by all;
for having it in his power, he [i.e., Pietro Bembo], calling it correction,
corrupted it nearly completely; and where he did not understand, he adjusted
it as he pleased and gave it (together with Petrarch, under the same pretense,
in the same bad shape) to Aldus to print, and Aldus, trusting in the authority
of the giver, printed both the one and the other text as they were given
to him. And from this Commedia there was born a great inconvenience,
since those who subsequently printed it with commentary, believing that
Aldus had used the same diligence in this edition as he used in Latin things
he published, left aside the texts upon which the commentaries had been
based and replaced them with the one produced by Aldus. ...
The inconsistency between text and commentary created by Bernardino Stagnino's
editions of Aldus' text with Landino's commentary [1512, 1520 and 1536]
was another major inconvenience which Vellutello's edition was designed
to overcome. Yet, while Vellutello's textual departures from the Bembo-Aldine
text are many, they do not go far enough to dethrone the Bembo-Aldine text
as the 16th-century vulgate.
Rebelling against Pietro Bembo on the one hand, Vellutello found himself
battling on the other against his great predecessor Cristoforo Landino,
whom he frequently criticizes and corrects. Vellutello's strict subordination
of the commentary to the text contrasts greatly with the digressive Landino.
And as a Tuscan from Lucca, it is significant that Vellutello observes the
linguistic situation of Florence with considerable detachment. In a rare
digression (Purgatorio XXIV) he rejects, from a Pisan and Lucchese
point of view, the supposed preeminence of the Florentine dialect. Against
Landino, Machiavelli and the Florentines, Vellutello champions the "Italian"
(vs. the Florentine) Dante, whose linguistic theory, according to one interpretation
of the poet's De vulgari eloquentia (On Eloquence in the Vernacular)
promoted a supra-regional "volgare illustre" (illustrious vernacular).
But attention to the language of Dante is not otherwise a particular strength
of Vellutello's commentary. In fact, it is perhaps his interest in the historical
background of the poem which represents his most significant contribution.
For example, he recognized in Giovanni Villani's Cronica, unpublished
at thetime, a necessary source for the interpretation of the poem. Generally,
Vellutello's references to historical sources reveal a broad knowledge of
and curiosity about medieval history which was exceptional among litterati
of his time.
Finally however, the Vellutello commentary illustrates how the Comedy
had become separated from any living literature which might have sought
inspiration in the poem. The editor presents the Comedy, as if from
a remote plateau, to an audience seeking general intellectual education
or perhaps simple diversion. The success of Vellutello's Dante commentary
was not as great as that of his Petrarch. Cannibalized in the Lyons editions
of Rovillé in the following decades,
it was reprinted independently only once, in 1554, although it will appear
together with Landino's commentary in the Sessa
imprints of 1564, 1578 and 1596.