Bernardo Segni was a prominent figure in the cultural landscape of Florence and an active participant in the Accademia Fiorentina in the 1540s and 1550s. He published several significant translations of and commentaries on Aristotelian works in the vernacular, attempting to match the sophistication of previous Latin interpretations, on which he heavily relied. He was also an active political figure and penned acute observations on the events of his time (and in particular on the role of Duke Cosimo) in his Istorie fiorentine, published only long after his death. He also prepared a translation of Sophocles’ Oedipus.
KeywordsHistorical Work Private Tutoring Lively Circle Political Assignment Silk Industry
Born into a rich merchant family with interests in the wool and silk industry (his father Lorenzo had also held office, both in the Florentine Republic, occasioned by the expulsion of the Medici, and in the Medicean government after 1530), Bernardo Segni enjoyed a fairly comfortable childhood (biography in Lupo Gentile 1905, 11–34; supplementary details in Lupo Gentile 1903; Ridolfi 1962, 511, n. 1; Baiocchi and Albonico 1994). He may have spent part of his early years in Aquila, involved in one of the branches of the family business, but returned to Florence by 1520. We know little about his education, although he may have studied with Francesco Verino, a professor of philosophy at the University of Pisa (1497–1525) and later (1541) a discussant of the Platonic theory of love in the Florentine Academy. In December 1526 he went to Venice together with Paolo Antonio Soderini, entertaining good relationships among others with Alessandro dei Pazzi, the ambassador of the Florentine Republic. By March 1527 he was in Padua, where he came to know (and possibly study with) Niccolò Leonico Tomeo, formerly a professor of philosophy who had recently taken up private tutoring. By the start of 1528 Segni was back in Florence, where he opposed the popularist Arrabbiati in favor of a more aristocratic form of government. From May to December 1528 he accompanied his father, who had been sent as ambassador to Ferrara, but then returned to Florence. In 1529 and 1530 his father’s financial affairs received several setbacks and in 1531 Bernardo married Costanza Ridolfi, partly to help the family situation through her dowry. The family’s finances improved somewhat after the return of the Medici in 1530, but after the death of his mother and father (in 1534 and 1535 respectively) Bernardo sought further economic stability by entering in the favor of the dukes. First under Alessandro and then under Cosimo de’ Medici, Bernardo held various offices, both in Florence and in other parts of the Duchy, including Anghiari. He also participated in the Accademia Fiorentina (Rilli 1700; Salvini 1717), where he was invited to give public and private lectures and which he served as consul (appointed 24 September 1542). At the same time he continued his political service: in December 1546 he was made part of the Senato dei Duecento; between December 1546 and March 1547 he was at the Roman court; until shortly before his death, Duke Cosimo continued to give him political assignments (in Cortona, Volterra, Anghiari, and elsewhere), allowing Segni to pass on a much-improved inheritance to his two surviving sons. He died in April 1558 and was buried in Santo Spirito in Florence.
Impact and Legacy
Bernardo belonged to a lively circle of Florentine youth who had a passion for literature and (at times) Greek; these included Gian Battista Strozzi, Roberto Strozzi, the Antinori family, several members of the Pazzi (especially important is the relationship with Alessandro Pazzi), the Capponi, the Soderini, and Donato Giannotti. He was in close contact with some of the best Hellenists of his time, including Pietro Vettori and Francesco Robortello, and although he was not himself an expert in Greek, he was capable of reading it and making sense of it.
Segni published translations of and commentaries on Aristotle’s Rhetoric and Poetics (Segni 1549a), Politics (Segni 1549b), and Nicomachean Ethics (Segni 1550), along with one of De anima that appeared posthumously (Segni 1583). He also wrote historical works, notably the Istorie fiorentine (Segni 1723a) and the Vita di Niccolò Capponi (Segni 1723b) in addition to his own Ricordanze.
Although it is his historical works that have caught the eye, Segni’s greatest achievement was as an interpreter and disseminator of Aristotle’s works in the vernacular (see Ridolfi 1962; Rolandi 1996; Langer 1999; Bionda 2001, 2002a, b, 2014, 2015; Blocker 2008; Lines 2013 and forthcoming). His publication in 1549–1550 of the four Aristotelian works listed above was the fruit of several years of labor and was the expression of one of the earliest cultural programs to offer a unified perspective of the Philosopher in the Italian language. He availed himself of a number of Latin models (including the commentaries of Donato Acciaiuoli and Jacques Lefèvre d’Étaples, the translations of Leonardo Bruni, Johannes Argyropoulos, and Francesco Robortello, the expertise and insights of Pier Vettori) and was not himself a philosopher or greatly original; nonetheless, he offered an intelligent synthesis of various interpretations that spoke to the cultural climate of Florence in the 1540s. In particular, he offered his fellow members of the Florentine Academy accessible translations and high-level commentary in a way that complemented the approaches of Benedetto Varchi and Giambattista Gelli. His Ethics commentary, for instance, makes numerous references to Dante and to Italian historical events (Rolandi 1996; Lines 2013). His commentary on the Politics is obsequious toward the Academy’s patron, Cosimo I (Toste 2011, 191–195; Lines forthcoming). Segni’s activity, however, must be seen within the context of the interest of other contemporary figures (including Sperone Speroni, Antonio Brucioli, Alessandro Piccolomini, and others) in encouraging the study of philosophy in the volgare, which had recently attained new status in Italy after the long debates on the questione della lingua.
Also of considerable interest are Segni’s historical works: the Vita di Niccolò Capponi (Lupo Gentile 1905, 36–47; Montevecchi 2004, 120–144) narrates the life and downfall of Segni’s maternal uncle, who was deposed as gonfaloniere in Florence in 1529. Its authenticity was questioned (Sanesi 1896), but the attribution now seems secure (Lupo Gentile 1904). The Istorie fiorentine, in XV books, were written between 1553 and 1558 and cover both Florentine and Europe-wide events from 1527 to 1555 (Cavalcanti 1723; Lupo Gentile 1905, 34–85; Fueter 1911, 86–87; Rossi 1941; Ridolfi 1960, 1963; von Albertini 1970, 329–34; Cochrane 1981, 278–82; Grassini 1982; Viroli 1992, 245–47; Baiocchi and Albonico 1994, 679–683; Piquet 2002; Capata 2009). Like the Vita, this work was not published until 1723, whereupon the Sacred Congregation in Rome in 1725 prohibited the Istorie “donec corrigantur,” in view of the work’s unflattering descriptions of some churchmen. The best edition so far is that of 1857, but there is as yet no critical edition. The Istorie were dismissed by Lupo Gentile as a highly derivative work, and others have observed their antimedicean sentiment, accompanied by scarce attention for constitutional issues (Baiocchi and Albonico 1994, 681–682) but have been better appreciated by others, particularly von Albertini and Viroli. They are a private expression of Segni’s unhappiness with Duke Cosimo, who is very much depicted as an Aristotelian tyrant (Genzano 2004; Lines forthcoming).
Other works of Segni including the Ricordanze and his translation of Sophocles’ Oedipus (first published in 1778) have received hardly any attention. It would be very helpful to know how these fit into his overall production.
Of fundamental importance for understanding Segni’s cultural activity is the climate of the Accademia Fiorentina and the role played within it by Cosimo. All of Segni’s works were published by Torrentino, the ducal printer, and they were clearly directed to a public that included that of the Accademia. Although the cultural dynamics within the Accademia are now fairly well understood, several aspects remain unclear, including what its relationship was exactly with scholars such as Vettori and Robortello, who taught at the university.
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