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Commentary on the Preface

This poem is one of the few statements by Alciato about his emblem book and has thus been subject to repeated discussion (see articles by Balavoine, Miedema, and Scholz in the Select Bibliography. The "emblem" is made in the festive season, so it is meant to entertain, yet it is not mere foolishness like nuts played with by boys, dice by older youths, or playing cards by grown men. The emblem poem is "hammered out" - a nice image that is quite contrary with its slight materiality - it is after all written on paper, though an "emblema" in the original Latin refers to carved relief or embossed surface. As a text (and a "text" is a woven object, from texo, to weave) it is superior to the external marks of livery or station stitched onto clothing and hats, perhaps because it is not all exterior. It is curious the poet argues that everyone be able to practice the art of writing "in silent marks" - perhaps he suggests we do this anyway (after all, one doesn't need to be learned scholar to affix a badge to a hat). While the Emperor (Charles V) might make gifts to Peutinger of coins and precious antiques, this gift is more modest, but (we may assume) more lasting than bronze.

Conrad Peutinger (1465-1547) was the town clerk of the city of Augsburg. He studied law in Padua and Bologna, and later became well known as a legal reformer. He was an imperial councillor to the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I. Like many humanist scholars, he applied his classical learning to the history of his own place. His collection of ancient inscriptions from Augsburg was a pioneering work. Besides Alciato, he was friends with Erasmus, Pirkheimer, Beatus Rhenanus, and other celebrated scholars of the day. That Alciato should dedicate his Emblems to him seems entirely appropriate. It's not clear exactly what role Peutinger played in the actual publication of the unauthorized 1531 edition. It does however seem likely that he had received the manuscript of the Emblems from Alciato, and went ahead and had them published locally, with illustrations by the artist Jorg Breu. Shortly after, in 1534, Alciato prepared a more official, authorized version. But he was not so annoyed with Peutinger that he ever removed the generous poem of dedication.

Last modified 21 November 1997