History, Rhetoric, and Proof by Carlo Ginzburg

By Carlo Ginzburg

Historian Carlo Ginzburg makes use of the celebration of his Menachem Stern Lectureship to provide a provocative and ordinarily fabulous exam of the relation among rhetoric and historiography. In 4 lectures, according to a variety of texts -- Aristotle's Poetics; humanist Lorenzo Valla's tract exposing the Donation of Constantine as a forgery; an early 18th-century Jesuit old account purporting to checklist the diatribe of a Mariana Island local opposed to Spanish rule; and Proust's remark on Flaubert's type -- he demonstrates that rhetoric, if accurately understood, is expounded not just to decoration yet to ancient figuring out and truth.

Ginzburg discovers a center flooring among the empiricist or positivist view of historical past, and the present postmodern tendency to treat any old account as only one between an infinity of attainable narratives, individual or measured now not by means of the normal of fact, yet via rhetorical ability. As an entire, those lectures stake out a place that either mediates and transcends warring factions within the present historiographical debate.

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13. " 14. See H. H. Gray, "Renaissance Humanism: the Pursuit of Eloquence" (1963), reprinted in Renaissance Essays, ed. P. O. Kristeller and P. P. Wiener (New York, 1968), pp. 199-216. 15. See Setz, Lorenzo Valias Schrift, pp. 46-47 (quotes Gray, without dealing with the accuracy of her remark). 16. On all this, see A, Perosa's lucid and learned essay, "L'edizione veneta di Quintiliano coi commenti del Valla, di Pomponio Leto e di Sulpizio da Veroli," in Miscellanea Augusto Campana (Padua, 1981), 2:575-610.

The debate about truth is one of the most important (in a sense, the most important) intellectual issues with which we are confronted; Momigliano's standpoint is convincing, and he proved his case very effectively. But the general framework of his argument is not so persuasive. " 3 9 Here and elsewhere Momigliano did not mention Aristotle's Rhetoric. Another passage from the same essay will clarify the reasons for this curiously missing reference: [A]ny question any historian asks about something which happened implies the possibility that what he thinks happened did not happen: therefore the historian not only has to make sense of the event but also has to make sure that it was an event.

Goldhagen, Hitler's Willing Executioners. Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust (New York, 1996). Lorenzo Valla on the "Donation of Constantine" Lorenzo Valla on the "Donation of Constantine" T he oration on the Donation of Constantine was written by Lorenzo Valla, the Italian humanist, in 1440, in his youth (he was born in Piacenza, c. 1407), under circumstances that seem clear: Valla's patron, Alphonse of Aragon, was fighting a war against the pope, Eugene IV, who had tried to undermine his accession to the throne of Naples.

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