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Chapter 6 Aristotle commentary and ethical behaviour: Bernardo Segni on friendship between unequals (Ethica d’Aristotile tradotta in lingua fwrentina et comentata, 1550) Ullrich Langer It is a commonplace to assert that in order to be virtuous, it is hardly sufficient to know what virtue is, and to discuss ethical behaviour: one must also behave ethically, Otherwise, Aristotle says, one is like the sick person who listens to the physician’s advice but fails to carry out his prescriptions (Nicomachean Ethics, 2.4, 1105M5-~17). The passage from ethical theorizing to ethical practice is one of the main concerns of certain Renaissance writers; moreover the general insistence in the early modern period on the cultivation of judgement and above all prudence is a sign of both the delicate nature of this passage and of its urgency.’ One area in which ethical theory opens to practice, or at least invites reflection on its application, would seem to be the commentary. Renaissance commentators on Aristotle or Cicero, when not attending simply to the verba, to the text itself, surely adduce contemporary examples, showing that what they are commenting on is indeed worth commenting on. This is what one would expect, especially from the various humanist commentators on the Nicomachean Ethics.” However, expectations for such relevant commentary are usually disappointed:’ the relative sparseness of commentary on sections of the text concerning the application of theory is disconcerting, as if the commentators were not aware of the irony implicit in theorizing about the insufficiency of theorizing. For example, Aristotle addresses the question of ethical behaviour (as opposed to discussion of ethics) relatively early in the second book, leading to the simile of the sick listening to advice but not following prescriptions: It is correct therefore to say that a man becomes just by doing just actions and temperate by doing temperate actions; and no one can have the remotest chance of becoming good without doing them. But the mass of mankind, instead of doing virtuous acts, have recourse to discussing virtue, and fancy that they are pursuing philosophy and that this will make them good men. (Nicomachean Ethics 2.4, 1105b9-15). Pier Vettori’s commentary on the second part of the passage is representative of the sober and apparently unselfconscious humanist glosses: They, then, doing none of the things from which these moral virtues are disposed, having set aside actions, giving themselves entirely over to conversations, and disputations about these objects of study, believe themselves, Aristotle says, to be philosophers, and believe that in this way they will become temperate, and possess great virtues.* It is true, of course, that the commentators do not think of their work as a sermo or a disputatio concerning ethical issues; especially the latter term may be associated with scholastic commentary and its systematic rehearsal of opinions pro and contra given positions.’ The very sobriety of some humanist commentary is, pemeps. a way of avoiding unnecessary philosophizing and a way of enabling a direct apprehension of the text and the moral message present in the elucidated text. However, if the commentary is not really a conversation about theory, then presumably the dialogue would be such a conversation. For example, Felice Figliueci’s De la filosofia morale libri died (1551) is a dialogue in Italian paraphrasing the Nicomachean Ethics, set up explicitly as a conversation punctuated by observations about the setting, the time of day, etc. The relevant passage in Aristotle is paraphrased in the following way: Ma sono bene assai, che non cercono di operare virtuosamente, e nandimeno: credono, essere huomini da bene, percioche attendono ad udire parole essai, & 4 discorrere, disputare, & ad apprendere li precetti di filosofia, & in questo modo credono poter esser detti filosofi, e cosi pensano doventare per questa via huomini da bene, attendendo solo 4 le parole, & 4 li precetti (72-3)° There is no suggestion that the participants in the dialogue are in danger of doing precisely what Aristotle deems insufficient, and there seems to be no attempt to distinguish clearly between Figliucci’s own dialogue and the sorts of discussion referred to in Aristotle. In other words, at a moment in the text of the Nicomachean Ethics, when the intersection of theory and practice is highlighted, the commentary itself does not seem to consider the intersection problematic, and does not see itself as enabling the application of Aristotle’s precetti. Usually commentaries or quaestiones on the Nicomachean Ethics, whether they are composed by scholastics (such as Thomas Aquinas and Johannes Versor, to a lesser extent John Buridan and John Major) or by humanists (such as Donato Acciaiuoli, Jacques Lefevre d’Etaples and Josse Clichtove, and Pier Vettori), do not appear to intend the act of commenting to stand for or imply an ethical act. There are suggestions in the commentaries that this or that is particularly well said by Aristotle, certain elements of the argument are objects of greater rhetorical emphasis than others, and the lexicon employed in paraphrasing the argument acquires vividness and variety in certain sixteenth-century commentators. By and large, however, the commentator can be assured of a neutral space in the drama of ethical practice. It is against this background that [ wish to look at a surprising and highly unusual instance of a commentator’s ‘involvement’ in the ethical argument being elucidated. This involvement is part of the commentary, and assumes a political situation, the prince’s court, which somewhat unexpectedly encourages the connection between theoretical reflection and practice, a connection which arises through the contingent and temporal process of exposition itself, rather than through a set of examples adduced to enable imitation. In the case I will be examining, the commentary at a crucial point becomes a narrative of a personal experience of the humanist commentator Bernardo Segni. The exposition of a particular difficulty in the text of Aristotle is not simply an elucidation of the logical steps constituting the argument or an elucidation of philological features of the Greek text, but instead a narrative of the way in which the exposition itself evolved. This narrative depends on the contingencies of the personal situation of the commentator, whose commentary changes over time, under the political pressures of his circle of powerful friends. Bernardo Segni’s Ethica d’Aristotile tradotta in lingua fiorentina et comentata was first published in Florence in 1550. It constitutes the first complete translation into [talian of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics; the 1550s also saw other such ‘vulgarizations’ of Aristotle, for example the paraphrase in Italian by Felice Figliucci, and a partial translation into French by Philippe LePlessis (Paris: Vascosan, 1553), improving on Nicole Oresme’s fourteenth-century translation. Segni (1504—58) translated other works of Aristotle (the Rhetoric, Poetics, Politics, De anima) and Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex. He is best known for his chronicles of Florence (Storie fiorentine, 1527-55, published in 1723). He was born to a family of merchants, studied letters and law, wied business without success, and entered the service of the Medici family. His translation work was completed during his activity at the court of the Medici. Indeed the translation of the Nicomachean Ethics is dedicated to Cosimo | (d. 1574), and the dedicatory letter makes clear immediately that Segni is acutely aware of the paradoxes of his situation. If Aristotle’s