This book is the culmination of many years dedicated to the study of Brunetto Latino (the preferred spelling) and his more famous pupil. The text is divided into two parts, 'Praxis' and 'Theory' (ordered according to Brunetto's own modus operandi) followed by some 200 pages of appendices giving transcriptions from primary source documents, many never before published, alongside selections from Latino's volgarizzamenti and literary works. Despite its reduncancies and some unclear passages, the book generally reads well and contains moments of virtuosity and insight.
The notion of twice-writing implied in the title is elucidated throughout the course of the book. The metaphor of a palimspest recurs frequently in this context. Chancery documents were produced in duplicate; documents and epistolaria were used historiographically by later chroniclers; ancient authorities were reshaped for contemporary poetic or political purposes. Latino translated and rewrote Cicero, his version in turn being retold by Dante. Finally, Latino rewrote his own texts: Li Livres dou Tresor became Il Tesoro, and his Ciceronian Rettorica translation was first made in Italian and later remade in French.
Part I sketches what can be determined about Latino's life against the background of political history, reconstructing the period 1250-1294 based on extant documents and including those written by Latino himself. Occupying the politically sensitive positions of notary or chancellor, Latino was charged with drafting documents which helped shape these events. During years for which no written testimony survives, his activities are conjectured. The most surprising of these hypotheses is the possibility that during 1270-84 Latino may have been involved in secret diplomacy with Popes Gregory X and Nicholas III and the Greek emperor in conspiring against the oppressive reign of Charles of Anjou. Latino's family members were bankers in Messina: it would have been to their advantage to help promulgate the Sicilian revolt. The otherwise unidentified 'Accardo Latino' or 'L' named in these covert dealings may have been a code name for Brunetto himself. This overview is also useful for understanding the historical matrix from which emerged Dante's Comedy, a work which may also be read as coming out of the tradition of tenzoni of 'paper wars' waged between Guelf and Ghibelline poets.
Bolton Holloway argues for Latino's inclusion in the literary canon, yet admits that he lacked Dante's poetic muse. Although he was not an original writer, he was nonetheless a great vulgarizzatore (206). His choice of the vernacular over Latin reflects his Republicanism. His theoretical texts are not without political and cultural significance. A strong point of this book is its willingness to discuss these unappreciated late medieval texts within their larger historical and literary contexts.
The book presents some intriguing evidence to indicate Latino's role as book producer at a scriptorium in Arras manned by exiled Florentine Guelfs. The existence of such a scriptorium would help explain certain manuscripts which exhibit mixed French and Italian characteristic. This subject could profitably be explored in a future study.
Bolton Holloway addresses questions of attribution to establish Latino's literary corpus, although the argument that Latino did indeed write Il Fiore e vita dei filosafi seems unconvincing. This text appears in a Bolognese script manuscript which contains one tenzone attributed to Brunetto Latino and Provenšal lyrics in a late hand. Even if the commissioning and ownership of the manuscript by Latino could be proved beyond a doubt, it remains unclear to me why such data should indicate that he was the author of the text. Near contemporary attributions can be faulty, and it is not unusual to find a single text by one poet inserted in the work of another, especially when the latter is a compilation.
The book's Herculean marshalling of written evidence is marred at times by too much reliance on speculation. Lacking more evidence, can we ever really ascertain Latino's activities for a particular period, which luxury codex was produced as a gift for whom, which manuscript was owned by Latino himself or which was read and copied by Dante? While surviving evidence may be tantalizing, such problems must await future discoveries to remove all mystery. Others may never find a solution.
Part II is a discussion of Latino's translations and texts amply illustrated by transcribed passages within the text and supported by fuller transcriptions in Appendix II. This section ably demonstrates that the roots of fifteenth-century Humanism go very deep: Latino is shown as a proto-Salutati. One could have wished, however, for a more thorough analysis of the texts themselves. Part II also explores the cultural contexts in which Latino worked with respect to his intellectual development. For instance, Latino acquired knowledge of Aristotelian concepts at Alfonso the Learned's court and later transmitted them to his students.
The book often insists upon or alludes to Latino's role as teacher of Guido Cavalcanti, Dante and Francesco da Barberino, but this topic could have been better developed. The Sommetta is said to offer clues to Latino's pedagogical practices. although these too could have been examined in more depth. Latino's teaching capacity is illustrated mainly with autograph colophons signed 'maestro', manuscripts in university bookhand which speak of him dictating to his students, manuscript illuminations, Inferno 15 and early commentators of the Comedy.
Bolton Holloway rightly points out that Latino's influence on later writers demands a better knowledge of his work. The historical evidence in Li Livres dou Tresor was mined by Giovanni Villani to write his Chronica- '[T]he form of the Vita Nuova may have been Latino's suggestion' (291). Il Tesoretto, a dream vision poem written in exile, provided the impetus for Dante's Comedy. Latino's translation of Catiline's speech in Sallust influenced Ulysses' speech in Dante, and from Latino's notarial documents Dante could have learned about the actual historical roles played by Guido Guerra, Jacopo Rusticucci, Tegghiaio Aldobrandi degli Adimari, Farinata and Ugolino.
The first appendix features a gold mine of diplomatic transcriptions of archival documents pertinent to Latino. These are given without translations, but preceded by a short summary of the content. The appendices conclude with a valuable finding of medieval exemplars of Latino's works and his holographs. It includes attributions, related manuscripts and those which are now untraceable. An essential bibliography is given in the preface, but the majority of the works cited appear in the endnotes for each chapter and within the appendices.