Humanism and Empire: Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini, Cicero and the Imperial Ideal
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The paper argues that the De ortu et auctoritate imperii Romani of Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini (1446) has been unjustifiably ignored by historians of quattrocento humanist political thought simply because of its adherence to the ideal of universal imperial government. At present, when De ortu is addressed at all, it is considered merely as an anachronistic product of a `medieval' mentality. It is shown, however, that Aeneas, by working within a demonstrably Ciceronian framework, actually articulates a philosophically coherent defence of a single universal empire by exploiting a conceptual ambiguity in Cicero's own presentation of the foundations of social and political association. Aeneas suggests that Cicero's account of the communal nature of human beings, so far from sanctioning republican civic institutions, actually justifies the imposition of universal empire. A study of Piccolomini's political thought thus points to a greater diversity within the political viewpoints associated with humanism than current scholarship on the subject acknowledges. Moreover, it reveals the level of philosophical sophistication to which renaissance defences of empire could aspire.
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