Leonardo Bruni's De Militia.

A note on
redimicula / ridimicla

Tondo della Tomba di Leonardo Bruni (B. Rossellino)- Firenze, Santa Croce

Among the manuscripts of the Burgess Collection in the Library of the University of Oregon 1, in Eugene, there are two works of Leonardo Bruni: the translation of Plato's Phaedon and the treatise De militia.


De militia.

Eugene (Oregon), Knight Library, Burgess Collection MS. 36.
Paper, sec. XV1 (1440), ff. IX,10 (of index, numbered separately), 200, XI'.

This manuscript -- where Bruni's De militia is copied -- is a codex written by a single hand, in littera antiqua, with strong reminiscences of the Italian Gothic and thus with several abbreviations. Nonetheless, Ms. Burgess 36 is clearly written and hence very readable. The codex was bound in parchment in the 1600's. It measures mm. 280 x 210. As mentioned, the numeration indicates 200 folios of text. Folio 170 is blank and is ruled both horizontally and vertically on each side. Gatherings: 110—2010, with catchword in the lower center of last folio of the quire. Again as mentioned, at the very beginning of the manuscript there are 9 blank pages, followed by a comprehensive index of 10 separately numbered folios written by two hands, and different from the hand that wrote the texts. At the end there are 11 more blank folios.The measure of the written space is mm. 190 x 107 ca., therefore the Ms. has wide marginal spaces. There are 39 lines in each folio. The space between the lines is mm. 5 ca. The manuscript is punctuated with a fair accuracy. We can observe the signs of pause -- short (·), long (·/) and full (/·) -- the question mark (/.), and the sign of paragraph, in red or blue, followed by a capital letter. The paragraph sign and the capital letter, from folio 4r to the end of Bruni's treatise, are both outdented:

Burgess MS 36, folio 5v

The De militia of the Burgess Collection is part of a humanistic compilation that contains, in addition to this work by Bruni (ff. 1r-10r), the entire Epitome by Lucius Annaeus Florus (11r-54r), Plutarch's Epistle (54r-54v), political and military orations from Livy's Ab Urbe condita (55r-169v), and some excerpts from Flavius Josephus (171r-200v). It seem apparent then that Bruni's De militia was not only presented as a political and patriotic treatise, but also as an example of a rhetorical work. Moreover, the fact that Bruni's treatise is the very first in this rhetorical anthology, it is an indication of the importance that it was attributed to it from this point of view 2. Perhaps it was the desire of the unknown compiler - and perhaps of Bruni himself - to see the De militia as a scholastic book on rhetoric, as it had been the case (and it will continue to be until the end of the 1600's) for the Epitome of Lucius Annaeus Florus.

Charles C. Bayley who published a critical edition of Bruni's De militia some forty years ago 3 was not aware of the Burgess Collection manuscript.

This large manuscript - that includes De militia - was written in 1440 4, four years before Bruni's death. It is difficult to say whether the manuscript, probably of north Italian origin (Milano?, Pavia?), has been written with the knowledge and approval of Bruni himself. The writer shows a medieval tendency in his writing. He writes autoritatem, pretestati, fondo, conta 5, cathena 6, incedere for incidere7, deprendi. Yet, after the first mihi that he writes as mij, 8 and after the first nihil, written according the classic spelling that by now had become universal under the push of humanists, the writer follows that precise intention of Bruni, namely to write these two words always with the c, michi and nichil 9. In addition diphthongs do not appear in the manuscript. Of course, this too was Bruni's practice.

The title of Burgess Ms. 36 does not have the subscription or dedication that is found in earlier manuscripts. Bruni had originally dedicated his work to Rinaldo degli Albizzi, but Rinaldo degli Albizzi's name doesn't appear in Burgess Ms. 36. The title, written on top of folio 1r in yellowish or ochre ink, is simply: Leonardo Aretini de militia. It might be of some interest to mention that this yellowish or ochre ink is used, in Ms. 36, for titles until folio 54. Then beginning with Livy's Ab Urbe condita, the titles and rubrics are written with red ink.

The De militia of Eugene is very closely related to Ms. 599 of Rome (Italy) Casanatense Library, which was probably the dedication copy. It has the same characteristic error of Archidamus 10 for Hippodamus. It is also consistent with the title of the Casanatense Ms., after the erasure that this manuscript underwent with the consequent elimination of the subscription. This happened as a result of Rinaldo degli Albizzi's expulsion from Florence in 1434 11.

The Burgess manuscript presents some variants, among which the traditional antonomastic poeta, or "the poet", for "our Homer", i. e. Virgil. This does not appear in any of the MSS. studied by Bayley. Still more interesting are the two similarly written - but not quite - redimicula of the text. Ms. Burgess 36, in fact, introduces two different readings: the first appears in its correct form redimicula, and the second as ridimicla. The Casanatense Library manuscript has the same reading, although its ridimicula is not apocopated. Bayley considered the Casanatense second reading as an error and, in his critical edition, changed it to redimicula. Bayley also informs us that the Casanatense manuscript was reviewed, perhaps by Bruni himself, but the presumed error escaped the reviewer 12. I have a different opinion. If it was Bruni to review the Casanatense manuscript, the fact that he did not amend the presumed erroneous ridimicula is a clear proof of his intention to spell that particular word in such a way.

The brief part of the De militia that interests us here hinges on the issue relating to gold ornaments worn by soldiers. According to some, golden ornaments have the effect to confer distinction and valor to the soldier. Bruni is opposed to this theory and tries to demonstrate the futile argument with the rhetorical use of the similitudo or simile. Ms. 36 of the Burgess Collection reads as follows:


[5r]....Putare autem uti splendor luciditasque auri magnam aliquam virtutis significationem contineat non magis tolera[5v]bile est quam si quis vestem illam senatoriam in allegorias vertere conetur, ut si late eius manice sint virtutis capaces dicat esse, sin arcte et breves abstinentiam parsimoniamque significare. Denique nichil est quod levissime in huiuscemodi significationes pertrahatur. Bipidem esse hominem multa significare potest. Idem fieret et si esse tripes.

[To think, however, that the splendor and brightness of gold imply any meaning of merit is no more acceptable than trying to make an allegory out of a senator's dress styles. If his sleaves are large, would mean that he is capable of great liberality; if they are tight and narrow, would mean that he follows abstinence and parsimony. In fact you could apply a lighthearted meaning in this manner to everything. The fact that man is two-legged can denote many things. And the same would be if he were three-legged.]


It is at this point that Bruni introduces the salsus in order to demolish that absurd argument. He does this by means of an interlocutor who asks about the two points (apices) and the two bands (redimicula) of the episcopal mitre hanging on the bishop's shoulders.


Quo in genere perquam urbane iocatum fuerat [read: "ferunt"] Lodovicum Marsilium, hominem cum extra doctrina tum sacrarum litterarum scientia omnium etatis nostre clarissimum, qui cum ab eo quereretur, apices illi duo episcopalis mitre quidnam significaret, ridens inquit, quia novum vetusque testamentum scrire episcopum oportet. Tum ille, recte quidem hoc, at quid redimicula post collum ob eadem mitra pendencia? Ridimicla, inquit, illa post tergata atque reiecta significant nec novum nec vetus episcopum scire testamentum. Ita doctissimus vir stulticiam vanitatemque rogantis lepida cavillatione delusit, quod et in auro militari esset merito faciendum.

[On this matter, there is an extremely witty jest by Luigi Marsili, a man very famous in our times both for his learning and his knowledge of all sacred letters. When someone asked him about the meaning of the two points on the bishop mitre, he answered, laughingly, that they meant that the bishop knows both the new and the old testament. "That is correct", his interlocutor said. "And what about the meaning of the bands hanging back from the neck of the same mitre?".
"Those ridimicla, he said, thrown in the back and rejected as they are, signify that the bishop knows neither the new nor the old testament". In this way the learned man made fun of the stupidity and the vanity of his inquisitor by a witty jest. The same should be said about the merit of gold to the military.]

Now these two discordant readings (redimicula / ridimicla) at only half a line one from the other, invite our serious attention. I believe that the diversity of these two readings found in both the Burgess and the Casanatense MSS. — and perhaps also in other manuscripts as, for instance, Vat. Palat. Lat. 1598, which originally had ridimicula, and then later someone converted the first "i" to an "e" — is attributable to the original from which these manuscripts derive. It seems also logical to believe that this was the intention of Bruni himself.

In fact here, in the rhetorical economy of the passage in which the two readings appear, the point is that of using a jest for a very precise scope. The jester who jokes in an exquisite "urbane" 13 manner is the Augustinian friar Luigi Marsili (1342-1394), a man of great doctrine and profoundly learned in both pagan and Christian letters and philosophy. He is interrogated first on the meaning of the two points, or horns, the cornua14 of the episcopal mitre, and then on the meaning of the two decorated bands - precisely the redimicula - attached at the bottom of the mitre's posterior horn and falling back on the bishop's shoulders. As we saw, the answer to the second question is realized through a witty expedient. In the brief and effective passage transcribed above, the iocus put in the mouth of the sharp and learned Augustinian friar is in perfect compliance with Cicero's rhetorical precepts regarding the genus iocandi. So that Bruni's sentence not only puts into practice the tenets of instantaneity, brevity, and surprise spelled out by Cicero in De oratore ( as Bayley pointed out)15, but it also underscores the use of technical means in order to arrive at the desired effect. Among these technical means there are the various cases of dicacitas or biting wit, paranomasia or a slight variation of the letters in one or more words, etc 16. Here, in our case, the point is to apply a slight variation in the letters of redimicula that would allow the association of a different meaning. This different meaning - as the text says - serves to destroy the stupidity and the vanity of the inquisitor. Thus a ridi-micla 17 wich, literally, serves to ridicule and to negate the meaning that was earlier conferred to the cornua of the mitre 18. With the logic result of destroying the absurd opinion of those who believe that golden adornments give special valor to the soldier wearing them. Such an argument - Bruni says - doesn't merit a serious confutation.

At this juncture, perhaps a further point can be made. A close look at redimicula and ridimicla of the Burgess manuscript reveals that the two terms not only are spelled differently, but that they also have - what I would like to call - a diacritical mark on them. In Burgess 36 they appear as redimícula and ridímicla (5v). It must be aknowledged, however, that throughout the manuscript the "í" is frequently - but not always - marked by a long stroke or a acute accent. As we recall, this was also the practice used by Niccolò Niccoli and other scribes in his entourage. But the fact the the writer of our manuscript marked the two similar terms differently, at only five words distance one from the other, should be taken as an indication of a semantic difference between them. And, of course, this takes us back to, and confirms Cicero's paranomasia we mentioned above.

Burgess Collection MS 36 - folio 5v
University of Oregon, Burgess Collection, MS 36
Click on the image to see it in context

In conclusion, it is obvious that the correct redimicula is to be retained as first term. This was the term used by the Marsili's interlocutor. The second term, too, must be taken as correct, and its form ridimicla should be given in a new critical edition. In fact, at this point of its development, Bruni's writing has the precise scope of 'dressing' the discourse with the Ciceronian salsus in order to discredit the absurd opinion we saw above. Changing ridimicla to redimicula, as Bayley did, has the effect of taking away all the flavor that the author intended to give to his text.

© Gino Casagrande


1.. For the history of the Burgess Collection, see P. D. Morrison and R. B. Mofif, The Eadward S. Collection, in Imprint: Oregon, 4, 1 (1978), pp. 3-13.

2. C. C. Bayley has eminetly pointed out the rhetorical aspect and construction of De militia. See C. C. Bayley, War and Society in Renaissance Florence, The "De militia" of Leonardo Bruni, University of Toronto Press [Toronto], 1961.
The practice of copying the De militia in manuscripts in which were also copied classical works dealing in some way with Rhetoric was not new. Just one year after De militia was written, Flavio Biondo — who was in Milan in1422 — copied it in the same manuscript in which he also copied Cicero's Brutus. Afterwards Bruni's work had a a good fortune in Milan and was copied many times. See M. Ferrari, La «littera antiqua» à Milan, 1417-1439, in Renaissance- und Humanistenhandschriften, München 1988, pp. 13-29

3. These notes have been written in 1982. They are published now in English with a few substantial changes. For a critical edition of Bruni's De militia, see the preceding note. It may be appropriate to mention that an English translation of Bruni's De militia by Gordon Griffiths has been available since 1987. It can be found in The Humanism of Leonardo Bruni: Selected Texts, Translated and introduced by Gordon Griffiths, James Hankins and David Thomson, Binghamton, New York 1987, pp. 107-111, and pp. 127-145.

4. The date of 1440 was recorded by the scribe on folio 54r: Lvcii Annei Flori liber quartus et ultimus explicit Anno Domini MCCCCXXXX die xxviiii Jullij .

5. Already in medieval dictionaries there is a warning that this word should be written with u and not with o. Indeed "many are mistaken when they write" and confuse cuntor, cuntaris with contor, contaris which is used for inquirere. Cf. Uguccione da Pisa, Derivationes, s. v. See also Guillelmus Brito, Summa Britonis , edited by L. D. Daly and B. A. Daly, Padova 1975. s. v. cunctatio.

6. Cathena can be found already in medieval dictionaries.

7. It is not an error of transcription, The verb cedere was used already in late medieval age as a synonym of incedere. See William Brito, Summa, cit., under succedo.

8. Mij and niil is also the normal spelling used by Poggio Bracciolini. We know that in a letter Coluccio Salutati advises Poggio to use rather the forms michi and nichil.  Cf. Coluccio Salutati, Epistulae, ed. by F. Novati, Firenze 1893, Epist. VII, pp. 162-163. ee also B. L. Ulman, The Origin and Development of Humanistic Script, Roma 1960, p. 25.

9  The Burgess Collection Ms. De militia shows the second michi with an expunged c. However, it is quite possible che the expunging sign, which seems of a different ink, could have been written by a reader. It may be useful to note that the forms michi and nichil are also prevalent in other parts of the manuscript, in addition to the part dedicated to De militia.

10. In the Burgess manuscript the first occurrence of this name is Archidamtis. It is possible that the scribe may have taken the u of the manuscrit he was copying from for the syllable ti.

11.  Rinaldo degli Àlbizzi (stress on the A) was born into a powerful political Florentine family in 1370. When his father died in 1417, Rinaldo became the leader of that powerful and illustrious oligarchy. In order to diminish the political support of the lower class for the Medici, he tried to reduce the number of the Minor Arts, but with no success. However, in 1433 he succeeded to have Cosimo de' Medici first jailed and then sent into exile. But in the following year fortune changed. Rinaldo was banished from Florence and Cosimo was called back to the city. Rinaldo then moved with his family to Ancona where he died in 1442. Cfr. Enciclopedia Italiana di scienze, lettere ed arti..., Roma 1929-1932, vol. 2, pp. 207-208. See also C. C. Bayley, War and Society...., cit., p. 127ff and p. 362.

12.  See C. C. Bayley, War and Society...., cit., p. 362.

13.  For the Ciceronian concept of the terms urbanus and urbanitas and for their semantic evolution through the centuries, see E. Frank, De voce 'urbanitas' apud Ciceronem vi et usu, Berlino 1932. See also E. de Saint-Denis, Evolution sémantique de 'urbanus urbanitas', in Latomus, III (1939), pp. 5-24.

14. From the XI Century on the mitre was warn by bishops and other dignitaries with the two points over their temples. Hence the idea of cornua, or horns, seems to be very appropriate. Now, during Marsili's times, the use was to wear it with the points over the front and the nape. In addition the mitre had become much higher so that its two points had become real apices. Cf. L. Mortari, Enciclopedia Cattolica, Milano 1949-1954, s. v. mitra.

15. See C. C. Bayley, War and Society ..., cit., p. 325.  

16. Cicero, De Oratore, II 178, and II 256. 

17.  micla < micula is a diminutive of mica, with the meaning of parvum frustulum. See ThLL, s. v. micula.

18. For the various play of pronouns and demonstrative adjectives and for their humoristic and ironic effect in Ciceronian rhetoric, see A. Haury, L'Ironie et l'Humour chez Cicéron, Leiden 1955, p. 66 ff.

© 2003 - Gino Casagrande