Visualizing Alberti's textual dismantling technique

Today, in the wake of 18th Century Romantic tradition, the activity of writers and artists coincides with the expression of creativity, with the research of originality and more often than not with the intentional rupture from the dictates of previous literary canons.

Instead, for Leon Battista Alberti, his contemporaries and many others before him, writing is re-writing what has been said or written previously. The invention of anything new does not exist if not only as the discovery, the taking apart and the putting together of fragments of bygone works that are called to give life to new literary text or ‘mosaics’.

Such a way of composing, however, does not exclude originality and creativity. As the bee goes from flower to flower collecting pollen to make honey - according to an ancient tradition already present in Seneca – or as the mosaic worker chooses fragments from other monuments to form the pattern of his own mosaic – according to an image created by Alberti – so the writer elaborates the complete patrimony of the past and uses his own intelligence, culture and sensibility to enrich his own work.

In order to understand Alberti it is necessary to unravel systematically all the fragments and distinguish between the clear quotations and the hidden suggestions, the playing on words as well as discover the personal contribution of the author.

The analysis of the work Hostis, the subject of the presentation, illustrates the ready application of this system. The text in question is taken from the collection of prose and Latin dialogues of the Intercenales (Dinner pieces) in more than one book, put together by Alberti before 1441 and destined for humorous readings in “between the various courses and drinks”.

The presentation allows visitors to reconstruct both the Medieval chronicle source from which Alberti was inspired and the classical authors that he elaborated (Livy, Cicero, Ennius, Virgil, Seneca and Plutarch) offering in this way the possibility of discovering a portion of his library and some of the texts he had read, of understanding the way he used the quotations or ‘tesserae’ present in his works as well as verifying the deep and innovative moral significance of the mosaic which he created.

Text analysis