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Filelfo’s Sphortias: Imitation as Resistance

Filelfo’s Sphortias: Imitation as Resistance

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Venice, and Sforza directs his attention there as the city prepares to

resist. Neptune sends aid to the Venetians by Xooding the Po, but

Sforza remains unmoved and is visited by the ghost of Visconti, who

tells him he will prevail. The forty-four day siege of Piacenza occupies

book 3. Sforza repeatedly attempts to minimize the suVering of the

citizens, who defend their city bravely, but many atrocities are committed after the city falls until Sforza succeeds in restoring order. In

book 4 Carlo Gonzaga, one of Sforza’s chief lieutenants, falls in love

with a married Piacenzan woman named Lyda, who Wrst resists, then

succumbs to his advances. The Milanese and Venetian leaders, meanwhile, attempt to seal a secret pact, but the people of Milan refuse

to ratify it; next the Venetians consider allying themselves with

Sforza, then reject this option, and battle is joined again.80

All of this plays out through constant reference to the Aeneid. As

Robin notes, there is a signiWcant connection between the two poems

in terms of basic plot: like Aeneas, Sforza came as a foreigner to a new

land, married the sovereign’s daughter (Bianca Maria Visconti),

conquered the people who were already there, and established a

new dynasty.81 The resemblances go regularly to individual scenes

as well: Jupiter, for example, guarantees the future glory of Sforza

(fos. 2r–3v) just as he did for Aeneas (Aen. 1. 223 V).82 The careful

reader, however, notes that comparisons between the two poems

quickly begin working to Sforza’s disadvantage. For example, at a

crucial point at the beginning of Aeneas’s enterprise (Aen. 2. 776–89),

his wife Creusa encourages him and directs his attention from Troy

to the new project he is to undertake. Likewise Bianca Maria (or

rather, Athena in the guise of Bianca Maria) encourages Sforza to

establish his kingdom on the Po (fos. 3v–4r), but with one key

diVerence: Sforza had withdrawn by himself deep within his home

and was in despair, thereby appearing weaker than his Virgilian

counterpart. Suitably emboldened by his wife, however, Sforza



80 Fuller plot summaries, with somewhat diVerent emphases, may be found in

Rosmini, Vita, 158–68.

81 Robin, Filelfo in Milan, 62.

82 Bottari, ‘La ‘‘Sphortias’’ ’, 486 n. 99. References are to the copy of the poem in

Milan, Biblioteca Ambrosiana, H97 sup., no. 2 in the survey of MSS (Appendix 1,

below), and will be placed in the text.



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encourages his troops in an address (fos. 4r–5v) that is clearly modelled

on Aeneas’s ‘o socii . . .’ speech (Aen. 1. 198–207, ‘o comrades’), his

famous exhortation to his troops after they have been blown ashore

in Carthage. Verbal parallels link the speeches closely together until

Sforza begins expounding on the ‘sedes . . . quietae’ (‘a peaceful settlement’) that his troops can look forward to: ‘Non vobis villae, non

rura, nec oppida vicis j Innumeris deerunt, non praedae, prata, nec

aurum.’ (‘You will not lack homes, nor lands, nor towns in countless

districts, nor booty, Welds, nor gold.’) It becomes clear that Sforza is

using material gain to motivate his troops, which undercuts the

reference to pietas in the Wrst line of his speech and suggests that

Filelfo saw his protagonist here in relation to the hero of Aeneid 2,

who likewise oscillates between a pietas he does not understand and

adherence to the old Homeric value code that linked self-worth to

material possessions. This suspicion grows when we consider how

Filelfo describes Sforza in a simile found near the end of book 1:

Sed lupus ut pecudes nunc has nunc opprimit illas,

Quem stimulat vaesana fames praedaeque libido,

Sic hostile furens agmen funditque necatque

Tantus amor pugnae, tantum fervebat in armis.

But as a wolf who seizes now this livestock, now that, whom insane hunger

and passion for booty goads forth, thus a mad love for battle was so great

that the hostile army was routed and slain, so great was the fervor in

arms. (fo. 14v; cf. Aen. 9. 59 V., 339 V.)



Comparison to a wolf driven by insane lust for booty is hardly

Xattering, especially when we recall that in De morali disciplina,

Filelfo criticizes Virgil’s protagonist at the end of the Aeneid in

precisely these terms for being ‘furiis accensus et irae’ (‘aXame with

rage—his wrath was terrible—’, Aen. 12. 946). Thus Sforza is confronting the shortcomings of Aeneas, as they were understood by

those who could see them in early modern Italy.

Often, to be sure, Sforza takes on positive colouring from his

intertextual associations with Aeneas; indeed, he can even appear

more pius than Aeneas himself, as in the scene at the end of book 2

where Sforza is preparing to attack Piacenza. This scene has two

Virgilian subtexts: Wrst, the prayer to Jupiter in Aen. 5. 687–92,

where Aeneas asks Jupiter to destroy his Xeet if he deserves such a



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punishment, and then Aeneas’s encounter with the shade of his

father at the end of book 6, where Anchises encourages him with a

vision of all that will be accomplished through his actions. When

Sforza prays, he asks to take onto himself any necessary judgement so

that his comrades might be spared, which if anything makes Aeneas

look a little petulant in comparison. The shade Sforza encounters is

that of his father-in-law, Filippo Maria Visconti, whose encouragement is similar to that of Anchises, but this vision is then compared

to a visit by the Virgin Mary, suggesting that the pietas of Sforza the

Christian is greater than that of the pagan Aeneas.

As we move through the capture of Piacenza, we continue to see

the positive side of Sforza, but Filelfo qualiWes and nuances this

picture by raising a series of disturbing questions.83 Within the Wrst

few lines of book 3, we are told that Sforza is gentle by nature

(‘mitissimus’) and reluctant (‘invitus’) to take the city, which seems

to leave him in a favourable light until we are told that the gods are

opposed to what he is doing (‘superis damnantibus ipsis’). As he

sends his troops into battle, he tells them two things: all the booty

they might want will be theirs for the taking on this day (‘Hic erit ille

dies qui vos opibusque bonisque omnibus accumulet’, fo. 37r), but

they should not loot indiscriminately (‘in praeda nihil admiscere

profanum’, fo. 37r). This sounds like reasonable advice from a good

commander, until we hear from Sforza’s Venetian counterpart:

Odit enim deus ipse viros quicunque rapina

Ducuntur, praedeque inhiant aliena petentes

At iustisque probisque favet.

For God Himself hates whichever men are led by plunder and gasp in

pursuit of someone else’s goods, but he looks favorably on those who are

just and upright. (fo. 39r)



A short time later, Sforza’s cavalry heads into battle with cries of

‘praeda, praeda’ (‘booty, booty’, fo. 40v), a motivation whose ironic

contrast with that of Aeneas and his men is obvious.84 Our doubts



83 My analysis of book 3 depends heavily on Robin, Filelfo in Milan, 56–81,

although I have chosen to emphasize some diVerent aspects from those cited by Robin.

84 As Lene Waage Petersen has observed, irony is an eVective way to undercut

the encomiastic thrust of Renaissance epic (‘Il poeta creatore del Principe: Ironia



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grow when Carlo Gonzaga, Sforza’s chief lieutenant, is restrained by

Venus, who tells him ‘Tantum parce nefas manibus patrare cruentis’

(‘refrain from carrying through so great a crime with bloody hands’,

fo. 41r). The suggestion that the destruction of Piacenza is a ‘crime’ is

made again less than twenty lines later by the omniscient narrator

(‘superi facinus prohibete nefandum’, ‘the gods forbid such an unspeakable crime’, fo. 41v). When we compare the Piacenzans, Wghting

for their country and their families, to Sforza’s troops, motivated by

greed (fo. 45v), our hesitation grows, especially since ‘furor’ (‘rage’),

‘ira’ (‘anger’), and ‘rabies’ (‘madness’), the negative value-words

from the Aeneid, are associated with the Milanese (fo. 45v). After

the city falls, Sforza’s troops give in completely to their emotions,

raping, deWling, and pillaging indiscriminately (fo. 46r). This stimulates an outburst from the narrator, who twice refers to the sacking of

the city as an ‘impietas’ (‘impiety’), another pregnant word in Virgil’s

moral vocabulary. To be sure, Filelfo has taken pains to dissociate

Sforza from all this, making him a force of pietas who grieves at what

his men have done (fo. 46v). But we cannot help but wonder: is a

commander not responsible for what those under him do? The book

ends on a curious minor key, with Sforza insisting (in opposition to

the omniscient narrator) that the Piacenzans are guilty (‘nocentes’,

fo. 48v) and deserve what has happened to them, repeating that there

is plenty of praeda for everyone, and pleading for restraint, not

because it is right, but because the gods are stronger than people

and do not allow us to indulge our desires freely:

Non et enim vitam nostro deducere voto

Arbitrioque datur, nam sunt humana perenni

Curae cuncta deo, cuius ne nostra benignam

Culpa repellat opem longe caveamus oportet.



e interpretazione in ‘‘Orlando Furioso’’ ’, in Marianne Pade, Lene Waage Petersen, and

Daniela Quarta (eds.), La corte di Ferrara e il suo mecenatismo 1441–1598 (Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanums Forlag, and Modena: ISR-Ferrara/Edizione Panini,

1990), 195–211, esp. 203–6. Colin Burrow notes perceptively that irony like this is

heightened by the author’s awareness that the signorie of northern Italy look small

and insigniWcant next to the Roman Empire, in which Virgil’s authority rested; see

‘Virgils, from Dante to Milton’, in Charles Martindale (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Virgil (Cambridge: CUP, 1997), 85.



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For it is not permitted to lead our life according to our own desire and will,

for everything human is of constant concern to God. It is Wtting that we take

great care lest our guilt drive oV His helpful aid. (fo. 48v)



In this Wnal speech, Sforza addresses his troops in the Wrst person

plural, making himself one with them. In the end, then, he is a Xawed

leader, bound to his troops and their ‘impietas’ at the same time as he

grieves at their excesses; our sympathies in turn are not with him, but

with the Piacenzans, victims of ‘nefas’ (‘crime’) and its unspeakable

horrors.

A careful reading of book 4 Wnds it, too, resistant to the sort of

oversimplistic analysis that has bedevilled much previous interpretation of the Sphortias. Here we Wnd one of the most memorable

sections of the poem, Carlo Gonzaga’s love aVair with a Piacenzan

woman named Lyda, and this section is closely bound to book 4 of

the Aeneid at every level.85 Diana Robin, however, points out that

Filelfo has departed from Virgil in one crucial way: the character who

falls in love is not the protagonist, but his chief lieutenant.86 As we

saw earlier, Petrarca adopted the same strategy in his Africa, making

not Scipio, but his right-hand man, the lover. Filelfo presumably

followed Petrarca because he, too, did not want his new Aeneas to be

tainted by association with what they both saw as a major Xaw in the

old one. This change reXects positively on Sforza, but when Filelfo

returns to him in the poem, he does something that is a little more

diYcult to interpret. Sforza is a special object of concern to Athena,

and when Filelfo wants to say that he Wghts bravely, he writes, ‘nec

enim metus opprimit ullus j Quem probitasque deusque nova pietate

tuetur’ (‘for neither did any fear overwhelm the one whom both

strength of character and God protect with a new piety’, fo. 57r).

What does it mean to be infused with a new pietas? That after all that

went wrong at the sack of Piacenza, Sforza will Wnd new ways to

do what he should? Or more generally, that pietas is not something

that one possesses perfectly, but a quality that one can gain, lose, and

then regain? Filelfo does not answer questions like these directly, but

85 This section of the Sphortias has been analysed in some detail by Zabughin

(Vergilio, 298–9), who has pointed out some parallels between this part of the

Sphortias and Aeneid 4.

86 Robin, Filelfo in Milan, 62.



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one thing is clear: if Sforza were a perfect model of praiseworthy

action, his pietas would not need to be renewed.

As we would expect in a Virgilian poem, pietas and its cognates

play an important role in the moral structure of the poem, but they

are intertwined with another value-word, utilitas (‘usefulness’),

which also requires discussion. In a letter to Piero de’ Medici, Filelfo

listed ‘l’utilitate pecuniaria per la necessitate de la nostra vita’ (‘what

is Wnancially useful, for what is necessary for our life’) as one of only

three things that are really ‘carissime e necessarie’ (‘dear to us, and

necessary’),87 and when the word Wrst takes centre stage in the

Sphortias (fos. 6v, 8v), it suggests by extension the material resources

by which governments are preserved. At Wrst blush it might seem

that poetry should be made of grander stuV, and in fact passages

like these have led some critics to complain that, in the Sphortias,

everything is reduced to the mercantile level.88 In fact, however, the

Wrst books of the poem function as an extended meditation on the

true nature of utilitas. When Sforza is oVered the city of Pavia, for

example, he hesitates:

Sed nec ita Franciscus adhuc se maximus heros

Constituit facilem, pulchro ut praeferret honesto

Utile sordidulum, nam non est utile factu

Censendum, quidquid rationi pugnat honestae.

But Sforza, the greatest hero, still was not so readily disposed to prefer

shabby utility to honourable virtue, for whatever is in conXict with virtuous

reason should not in fact be considered useful. (fo. 22r)



Here it seems that what is truly ‘useful’ is what serves ‘honourable

virtue’, not what is ‘shabby’, a judgement that is conWrmed a little

later by Athena; indeed, the oscillation between these two approaches

gives intellectual drama to the Wrst four books of the poem. This

drama reaches its peak at the end of book 4, when two Venetian

speakers give contradictory characterizations of Sforza. Francesco

Foscaro speaks ‘vocibus . . . piis’ (‘in pious words’, fo. 62r) to urge a

peaceful, open alliance with Sforza, whom he presents as ‘pius’

(‘pious’); he argues that since one’s self interest is ultimately served

87 Qtd. in Garin, ‘L’opera’, 545.

88 See e.g. Zabughin, Vergilio, 297; and Garin, ‘L’opera’, 545.



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by not appearing greedy and bellicose, true ‘utilitas’ merges with

‘pietas’ (fos. 62r–3r). Ermolao Donato counters these arguments

(fos. 63v–5r): Sforza, he claims, is driven by greed and ambition

and is totally untrustworthy; ‘utilitas’ and ‘honestum’ (‘what is

honorable’) are diVerent things, with the former being that which

preserves power and the latter an artiWcial social construct (‘Mos

hominum tantum vel lex deWnit honestum j Utilitas urbes auget

regnumque tuetur’, ‘Only human custom or law deWnes what is

honourable; utility makes cities grow and preserves the state’, fo.

64).89 Which picture is accurate? Humanist rhetoricians loved to

argue both sides of a question, and being able to see human aVairs

as debatable was one of the most tangible beneWts of a humanist

education in the early modern period.90 But if the real-life Sforza was

expecting unequivocal praise, this technique was not designed to give

it to him, and it is worth noting as well that the last word here goes to

the unXattering analysis of his character.

By 1463 Filelfo had Wnished and disseminated the next four

books.91 In book 5, Sforza recalls Carlo Gonzaga from his aVair

with Lyda, and in spite of the defection of Bartolommeo Colleone,

he continues to prevail: Bianca Maria rallies his troops at Cremona,

and he defeats the Venetian navy under Andrea Quirino. At the

beginning of book 6, the Venetians consider what to do and decide to

Wght on until peace can be established on favourable terms. The

battle is joined again, with Neptune and Pluto bringing aid to the

Venetians and Jupiter sending Mars and Minerva to help Sforza.

Giacomo and Francesco Piccinino withdraw their support at the

crucial moment, which keeps Sforza from a deWnitive victory. In

book 7 the Florentines attempt, unsuccessfully, to persuade the

89 The locus classicus for the discussion of these points is book 2 of De oYciis,

where Cicero argues that expediency never conXicts with what is morally right and

that one must keep one’s word and deal honourably with everyone at all times. This

conclusion was generally accepted until Machiavelli argued in The Prince that a wise

ruler will be guided by expediency and will wish to appear honourable but not

necessarily to be such. See Quentin Skinner and Russell Price’s edn. and tr. of The

Prince (Cambridge: CUP, 1988), 54–63 (chs. 15–18); and Quentin Skinner, Machiavelli

(New York: Hill & Wang, 1981), 34–44. Filelfo, who also knew Cicero well, is thus

anticipating some of the points that Machiavelli would develop some sixty years later.

I am grateful to Letizia Panizza for bringing this point to my attention.

90 Kahn, Rhetoric, Prudence, and Skepticism.

91 Bottari, ‘La ‘‘Sphortias’’ ’, 464–7.



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Venetians to make peace. The book continues with a description of

the battle for Caravaggio, including the games held by Sforza’s troops

during a lull in the Wghting. Book 8 presents the Venetian games

and the debates that follow, which conclude with the decision to try

to placate the Florentines, sow enmity towards their leader among

the Milanese, and persuade Sforza himself to defect. The battle

resumes, with Sforza prevailing again but the reader who does not

know the history of the period left wondering whether the Venetian

treachery will succeed (it did).92

The general trajectory of books 5–8 raises Sforza above those

around him. He recalls Carlo Gonzaga by reminding him of the

proper relationship between reason and passion (‘ratio dominetur

anhaelis j Motibus, imperio cedat malesana libido’, ‘let reason rule

over panting passions, let insane lust yield to authority’, fo. 66r), and

a short time later he succeeds in doing what he could not do at

Piacenza and extinguishes the Xames of greed and blood-lust in his

soldiers before they do irrevocable damage (fo. 68v). At the end of

book 5 Bianca Maria rallies the Milanese troops in a section that is

closely linked to the aristeia of Camilla in book 11 of the Aeneid, but

with one key diVerence: Camilla is deWned by words with negative

value force in Virgil’s world (‘furens acrique accensa dolore’, ‘raging

and inXamed with keen indignation’, l. 709) and destroyed by lust for

booty, but Bianca Maria speaks ‘placido . . . ore’ (‘with calm countenance’, fo. 72v) and reason retains control. The naval disaster with

which the book closes, in turn, is painted in starkly moralistic terms,

with ‘arrogance’ (‘fastus’) being assigned to the losing Venetians and

virtue (‘pietas’) linked to Sforza: ‘Sic hominum fastus divina potentia

fuerit j Flectere. sola potest pietas placare tonantem’ (‘It was thus the

power of the gods to deXect human arrogance. Piety alone is able to

appease the most-high’, fo. 81r).

But just when we think that Filelfo is settling into the laus Francisci

that would bring his poem in line with the dominant literary theory

of his day, he moves again to complicate the moral picture. At the

beginning of book 6, Filelfo repeats a Virgilian technique from his

description of the sack of Piacenza and presents the action from the

perspective of the losers as he shows the Venetians debating on what

92 Rosmini, Vita, 168–76, although again with slightly diVerent emphases.



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to do next. Our sympathies for the Venetians grow when it immediately

becomes clear that the Wrst speaker, Francesco Foscaro, is striving for

pietas just as vigorously as Sforza, for it takes great moral courage

indeed to stand up before one’s countrymen as he does and argue

that the gods have destroyed their Xeet to punish them for their

impiety and will continue to punish them until they act justly, which

he feels means making peace (fos. 81v–2r). Ermolao Donato, on the

other hand, begins from the same facts and urges precisely the

opposite course: the Xeet was destroyed through the human failure

of Andrea Quirino, and the gods often inXict adversity to guide

people to greater accomplishments, so the Venetians should stay

the course and Wght on (fos. 82v–3v). As the Wnal speaker, Nicolaus

Canalis, notes, ‘Disceptando patres fas est reperire quid ipsa j Causa

petit. verum argutis se premit elenchis’ (‘it is right for the leaders to

Wnd what the situation calls for by debating; the truth is expressed in

eloquent inquiry’; fo. 84r), but the truth that emerges from this

process is always probable at best, and right remains diYcult to

distinguish from wrong. The diYculty grows when Filelfo adds to

his description of Foscaro’s pietas an account of how the Milanese,

who are presumably the ‘good guys’ in this poem, use Canalis’s

rhetorical techniques to put the worst possible construction on

everything Sforza does:

At non Insubribus, quos dira cupido per omne

Exagitat, raptatque nefas, mens ulla decori

Ulla subest recti. nam quidquid fortiter actum

A duce Francisco, quidquid sapienter et alto

Consilio gestum praesentis nuncia veri

Fama refert, fatis tribuunt, temptantque malignis

Depravare dolis, vertentes omnia semper

Peiorem in partem. tanta est vaesania gentis.

But among the Milanese, who are thoroughly aroused by dreadful greed

and carried away by crime, no inclination towards what is right provides

a foundation for honourable behaviour. For Rumour, the messenger of

the truth at hand, reports whatever has been done bravely by Sforza, the

leader, and whatever has been dealt with wisely by the high council; always

twisting everything into a worse standpoint, they attribute it to the fates and

attempt to distort it with evil stratagems. So great is the madness of this

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To be sure, Sforza rises above his men, for in the end it is impossible to confuse those driven by greed, seized by criminality, and

lacking any understanding of what is right with a leader before whom

even Neptune and Pluto, moved by admiration, withdraw in battle

(fo. 94r). Yet time and again, Filelfo’s praise is qualiWed by the details

of his presentation. At the end of book 6, for example, Sforza is

betrayed by Giacomo and Francesco Picinnino, who withdraw from

battle at a key moment and deprive Sforza of a decisive victory (fos.

95v–7r). The text makes it clear that they are motivated by fear, greed,

and envy, and they appear ungrateful as well, for Sforza had shown

them clemency after past indiscretions. Yet they could not put aside

their old hatreds, for ‘tunc omnia coram j Opprobia ante oculos

quibus ipse paterque fuisset j Saepius aVectus’ (‘all the insults by

which he and his father had been aZicted again and again were

present before their eyes’, fo. 96v). This point changes our entire

perception of the situation, for what could have been portrayed as

simple treason is instead nuanced as revenge, with the suggestion

that Sforza is in part responsible for his own misfortunes.

In book 7, Sforza takes a break from battle and orders a series of

athletic events modelled on book 5 of the Aeneid. His speech setting

up the games (fos. 103r–v) is based on Aen. 5. 45–71, which associates

the athletic events with religious rites and expresses the hope that the

gods will oversee a more prosperous future. Yet if war is to be a tool

for divine justice, it is hard to see why Sforza should be optimistic,

since the omniscient narrator has just said that most of the Milanese

are motivated by ‘utilitatis . . . species . . . inanis j Franciscive odium,

contempto iure deoque’ (‘the illusion of empty utility and hatred for

Sforza, in contempt for law and God’, fo. 102v). And as the Wrst

contest unfolds, we see what it is like to associate with people like

this. Aeneas’s games began with a ship race, but since Sforza’s men are

inland, this is not possible; instead, Filelfo moves the foot race from

the second contest in the Aeneid to the Wrst one in the Sphortias.

Sforza begins the foot race by making a speech that oVers a prize to

everyone, as Aeneas had in Aen. 5. 304–14, but he also insists that

there be no cheating. Of course the men do cheat, just as they did in

the Aeneid, and Sforza settles the dispute that arises in the same way

as Aeneas had, by distributing extra prizes. Sforza stands above all

this, like Aeneas, restoring order and rendering justice, but at this



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point Filelfo has taken a scene that reXects badly on Aeneas’s men and

transferred it to the Milanese, whose shortcomings again tarnish

Sforza at least a little by association.

Book 8 once more uses shifting perspective and indirect allusion to

complicate the praise of Sforza. As usual, things start out clearly

enough when Cosimo de’ Medici, a nominal ally of the Venetians,

delivers a stinging rebuke to the Venetians and leaves the Weld (fos.

115r–16v). His former allies are tarred with the Virgilian negative

value-words (‘execranda cupido . . . bacchatur’, ‘detested desire raves’;

‘trucis ira furoris’, ‘the anger of savage rage’, fo. 115v), while Sforza,

the putative enemy, is praised (‘probitatisque viri, iurisque piique j . . . me

causa monet’, ‘the cause of the man’s uprightness and the law and what

is pious warn me’, fos. 116r–v). But then Filelfo immediately juxtaposes

another perspective, that of Juno, who dashes to earth to aid her Venetians, motivated by envy that the descendants of Aeneas fared better than

the descendants of her Antenor, who settled near Venice (fo. 116v). Then

she recounts the recent victories of Sforza and exclaims, ‘non est, non est

ut longius atram j Perpetiar pestem per nostros serpere luctus’ (‘it is not

to be, it is not to be that I allow this black plague to creep any longer

through our grief’, fo. 117r). A short time later Francesco Barbaro urges

the Venetians to adopt a new course of action: placate the Florentines,

rouse the Milanese against their leader, and win Sforza to their side (fos.

119r–v). This will not be diYcult, he argues, because Sforza knows he is

hated by his own men and, as Barbaro puts it, because ‘mitius omni j

Illius ingenium caera solet esse sicana’ (‘his mind was generally softer

than all the beeswax in Sicily’; fo. 119v; see Figure 4, with the lines in

question beginning the page).

Filelfo continued to work sporadically on the poem—part of

book 9, the Wrst eighteen verses of book 10, and part of book 11

survive in one manuscript93—but our assessment of the Sphortias

93 Only Rome, Biblioteca Casanatense, 415 (C.III.9) contains anything past book 8,

but here book 9 (which was Wnished) lacks 417 verses, only the Wrst eighteen verses of

book 10 are present, and book 11 (which was also Wnished) lacks 532 verses (Giri, ‘Il

codice’, 433, with plot summary and speculation on what might have been contained in

the missing sections, 445–57). As Bottari has shown, Filelfo changed his plans several

times on how long he intended the poem to be: in May 1455 he announced sixteen

books to Piero de’ Medici, then mentioned the same number in a letter to Panormita in

June of 1456. However, in the same letter to Piero de’ Medici, he also alludes with a

certain trepidation to twenty-four or more books; by 1477, however, the number of

books has gone down to fourteen (‘La ‘‘Sphortias’’ ’, 467 n. 38).



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Filelfo’s Sphortias: Imitation as Resistance

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