Niccolò Perotti

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Perotti in the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam Liber Chronicarum of 1493

Niccolò Perotti, also Perotto or Nicolaus Perottus (1429 – 14 December 1480) was an Italian humanist and the author of one of the first modern Latin school grammars.

Born in Sassoferrato (near Fano), Marche, Perotti studied with Vittorino da Feltre in Mantua in 1443, then in Ferrara with Guarino.[1] He also studied at the University of Padua.[2] At the age of eighteen he spent some time in the household of the Englishman William Grey, later Lord High Treasurer, who was travelling in Italy and was a student of Guarino.[3] He transcribed texts for Grey and accompanied him to Rome when he moved there.[4] He was a secretary of Cardinal Basilius Bessarion in 1447, and wrote a biography of him in 1472.[5]

From 1451 to 1453 he taught rhetoric and poetry at the University of Bologna.[6] In 1452 he was made Poet Laureate in Bologna by the Emperor Frederick III, as acknowledgment of the speech of welcome he had composed. In 1455 he became secretary to Pope Callixtus III. In 1456 he was ordained, and from 1458 he was Archbishop of Siponto. Occasionally he officiated also as papal governor in Viterbo (1464–69), Spoleto (1471–2) and Perugia (1474–77).[7] He also travelled on diplomatic missions to Naples and Germany.[8] On behalf of Pope Nicholas V he translated Polybius' Roman History, for which the Pope paid him five hundred ducats.

He wrote a Latin school grammar, Rudimenta Grammatices (printed by Pannartz and Sweynheim in 1473), one of the earliest and most popular Renaissance Latin grammars, which attempted to exclude many words and constructions of medieval, rather than classical, origin. Described by Erasmus as 'accurate, yet not pedantic',[9] it became a bestseller of its day, going through 117 printings and selling 59,000 copies in Italy, Spain, Germany, France and the Low Countries by the end of the century; a further 12,000 copies of Bernardus Perger's adaptation of the work, Grammatica Nova, were also sold.[10] With Pomponio Leto, he produced a version of the poet Martial's Epigrammaton in the 1470s. A book on Martial, Cornu Copiae – part commentary, part dictionary – which was completed by Perotti in 1478 and printed after his death, in 1489, was another bestseller.[11] One commentator calls it "a massive encyclopedia of the classical world. Every verse, indeed every word of Martial's text was a hook on which Perotti hung a densely woven tissue of linguistic, historical and cultural knowledge".[12] It was dedicated to the condottiere Federico III da Montefeltro.

He was also something of a controversialist and openly criticised Domizio Calderini for his work on Martial. He was involved in Lorenzo Valla's dispute with the writer Poggio Bracciolini, and in 1453 he sent an assassin to murder Poggio, then Chancellor of Florence. When the attempt failed and the Florentine government protested, he was forced by Bessarion, his employer, to write an apology to Poggio.[13]

Perotti was so incensed by the number of errors in Giovanni Andrea Bussi's printed edition of Pliny's Natural History that he wrote to the Pope asking him to set up a board of learned correctors (such as himself) who would scrutinise every text before it could be printed.[14] This has been described as the first call for censorship of the press.[15] He himself was later accused by another scholar of introducing 275 serious errors in the text when he produced his own version of the work.[16]

A collection of fables by Phaedrus, not known from any other source, was discovered by Perotti in a manuscript which is now lost. Perotti's version has been preserved in the Vatican Library and is known as "Perotti's Appendix".[17]

Together with the Florentine bookseller Vespasiano da Bisticci, he collected books for the Papal library. He died in Sassoferrato on 14 December 1480.[18][19]


  1. ^ Herbert Jaumann, Handbuch Gelehrtenkultur der frühen Neuzeit, Walter de Gruyter (2004), page 501.
  2. ^ Paul F. Grendler, The Universities of the Italian Renaissance, JHU Press (2002), page 37.
  3. ^ Denys Hay, Renaissance Essays, Continuum International Publishing (1998), page 194.
  4. ^ Joseph Burney Trapp, "The humanist book", in Lotte Hellinga, Joseph Burney Trapp, The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain, Cambridge University Press (1999), page 297.
  5. ^ Herbert Jaumann, Handbuch Gelehrtenkultur der frühen Neuzeit, Walter de Gruyter (2004), page 501.
  6. ^ Paul F. Grendler, The Universities of the Italian Renaissance, JHU Press (2002), page 217.
  7. ^ Peter G. Bietenholz, Thomas Brian Deutscher, Contemporaries of Erasmus: A Biographical Register of the Renaissance and Reformation, (University of Toronto Press, 2003), page 68; Herbert Jaumann, Handbuch Gelehrtenkultur der frühen Neuzeit, Walter de Gruyter (2004), page 501.
  8. ^ Egmont Lee, Sixtus IV and men of letters (Ed. di Storia e Letteratura, 1970), page 88.
  9. ^ Kristian Jensen, The humanist reform of Latin and Latin teaching', in Jill Kraye, The Cambridge Companion to Renaissance Humanism, page 68.
  10. ^ Michael Milway, 'Forgotten Best-Sellers from the Dawn of the Reformation', in Robert James Bast, Heiko Augustinus Oberman, Andrew Colin Gow, Continuity and Change: The Harvest of Late Medieval and Reformation History, Brill Publishing (2000), page 135.
  11. ^ Robin Raybould, An Introduction to the Symbolic Literature of the Renaissance, Trafford Publishing (2005), page 157.
  12. ^ Brian W. Ogilvie, The Science of Describing: Natural History in Renaissance Europe, University of Chicago Press (2006), page 118.
  13. ^ John Monfasani, George of Trebizond: A Biography and a Study of His Rhetoric and Logic, Brill Publishing, 1976, page 122.
  14. ^ Martin Davies, "Humanism in script and print in the fifteenth century", in Jill Kraye, The Cambridge Companion to Renaissance Humanism, page 57.
  15. ^ John Monfasani, "The First Call for Press Censorship: Niccol Perotti, Giovanni Andrea Bussi, Antonio Moreto and the Editing of Pliny's Natural History", Renaissance Quarterly, 41 (1988):1–31.
  16. ^ Anthony Grafton, 'Conflict and Harmony in the Collegium Gellianum' in Holford-Strevens and Vardi, The Worlds of Aulus Gellius, Oxford University Press (2004), page 335; Elizabeth L. Eisenstein, The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe, Cambridge University Press 2005, page 351.
  17. ^ Laura Gibbs (ed), Aesop's Fables, Oxford University Press (2002), Introduction page xxi.
  18. ^ Ronnie H. Terpening, Lodovico Dolce, Renaissance Man of Letters, University of Toronto Press (1997), page 230.
  19. ^ "Umbrian School, circa 1480". Retrieved 14 December 2021.

Further reading[edit]

  • I rapporti tra Niccolò Perotti e Sassoferrato – tre nuove lettere e una vicenda sconosciuta, Dario Cingolani, Istituto Internazionale di Studi Piceni, Sassoferrato, 1999 Perugia
  • I reliquiari donati da Niccolò Perotti a Sassoferrato, G. Barucca, Studi umanistici piceni, XII (1992), pag. 9–46
  • Dove morì Mons. Perotti?, G. Battelli, Atti e memorie della Regia Deputazione di storia patria per le provincie delle Marche, serie VII, vol. I, Ancona, 1946, pp. 147–149.
  • La Trebisonda del Perotti (una lettera a papa Niccolò V), S. Boldrini, Maia, 36 (1984), pp. 71–83
  • La patria del Perotti, S. Boldrini, Studi umanistici piceni, VI (1986), pp. 9–17
  • Vecchi e nuovi elementi nella biografia di Niccolò Perotti, A. Greco, Studi umanistici piceni, I (1981), pp. 77–91
  • ''Studi sul Cornu copiae di Niccolò Perotti, F. Stok, ETS, Pisa, 2002.