Alberti's Theater Play "Philodoxus" (1424)

The following is an older analysis, made March 2009 at ... ... philodoxus
... in post 6.
I didn't change anything (just some writing errors), but it might be of value to have it here.

hi Ross,

we spend some time reading and analyzing the Philodoxus of Alberti ... ... umento.pdf

... and I would say, not totally without success.

... :-) ... however, if a reader wishes to understand the following, he better takes the care to read the text (see link above)


Point 1: The text has 20 scenes (plus an introduction)
Point 2: The text has 20 figures or persons (plus the imaginative author Lepidus in the introduction)

The counting of the "figures" is a matter of discussion ... the appearing figures don't have the same action level. In Alberti's introduction he only notes 15 figures... but we found 20:

11 figures are real actors - 2 minor roles between them (Phimia + Alithia)
4 are parents - they don't really appear, they just exist as a name
5 are no-words actors, very small roles, it's insecure, if they really appear at the stage, some of them even don't have a name.

As this may be, the 20 figures seem to present an organized pattern with some mathematical symmetry:

6 persons are three pairs of lovers, which either will marry or are already married:

* Polydoxus will marry Doxia ; "I love glory" and "Glory", the positive heroes
To Philodoxos belong his father "Argos" and his mother "Minerva"

* Fortunius will marry Phimia ; "Luck", the adopted sun of Tychia (Fortuna) and Fama ; negative
To Fortunius belong his father with the meaning "Tyranny" and his mother with the meaning "Arrogance"

* Phroneus detects his earlier wife Mnimia ; Phroneus is an "autobiobiographical element of Alberti" and Mnimia presents "Memory"

(this altogether are already 10 persons)

A fourth pair are Chronos (Father Time) and Tychia (Fortuna) - as contrasts.
Both have accompanying persons: Chronos has 2 servants and a daughter and Tychia has 3 servants

* Chronos
* an "attendant, used as bailiff" - silent figure
* Calilogo, the "beautiful speaker", used as a writer - silent figure
* Alithia, the "Veritas" (truth), the daughter - has 4 sentences in the text

* Tychia
* Diotonus, a freed slave of Tychia - deeply involved in Fortunius' plans
* Dynastes, still a slave of Tychia - deeply involved in Fortunius' plans
* Volipedia, "Flying Feet" - send from Tychia with the mission to come back without success

In the Tychia-group it's easy to decipher, who the 3 partners are: The wheel of Fortune has four figures. Diotonus seems to be the ascending figure (with some incomplete wealth), Dynastes is the descending figure and the unlucky bottom figure is with irony given as "Flying Feet" completed with a "mission without success".
Similar one has to see the three accompanying figures of Father Time: Punishment, which comes with the time in the role of the bailiff, the collection of passed time through documents by Calilogo, and Veritas, which as "truth" with the time comes to the surface.

This together are further 8 persons.

2 minor figures are still remaining. One is Climarchus, the barber (a silent figure), who own's a house next to the house of Doxia and the other is an anonymous trumpeter (also silent in the text) in the final scene of the whole work.

10 + 8 + 2 = 20 persons


So 20 scenes meet 20 persons (or ideas). When there is some intention in this "accident", then Alberti had (probably) a scheme to order in a certain way scenes with persons with the natural result, that the 20 persons or "ideas" would develop a sequence, as we know it from the usual Tarot games - in this case a row from 1-20.


So it's the question, if the original intention of Alberti is reconstructable. I'll try it soon, but first we shall look at two interesting passages in the text:

Scene IV (at the beginning) - Philodoxos declares: "My journey is like a triumphal procession ..." and then follows a rather optimistic series of joyful exclamations, which ends with the disturbing detection, that competitor Fortunius is also in the game around Doxia.

Scene VI (in the middle of action) - Phroneus tries a trick with Fortunius and it works: he tells of an African "parade, which you would have called a triumphal procession. There were trumpets, chariots, horses, lions, panthers and - in short - remarkable and innumerable things, which it's certainly worth the effort to see" and Fortunius is up and away ... the friend Polydoxos has opportunity to enter the house of Doxia unseen.

So there is no doubt ... Alberti is with his work near to the idea of "triumphal processions" and the idea, that we have here an object of "triumphal processions for small theatres" is not very strange in the context.


So let's try the reconstruction of the sequence of the 20 persons or "ideas".

First we have a series of persons, which appear only in one scene in the text (7 - 16 - 17 - 18 - 20). It seems natural to give these scenes to them, as there is no alternative. In consequence Tychia can have only 19 (cause she appears first in 16 and 16-18 are already gone). By this Chronos could only have 14 or 15 (he appears in 14 ... 15 seems to be not elegant). Giving Chronos the 14, Alithia - as belonging to the Chronos group - could have only 16.
Now the Tychia group has 18-19, but couldn't have for the other two members 17-16. It's more logical to give them 2-3 (mirror position to 18-19) and this place is ideal, cause the relevant figures, Diotonus + Dextrinus, have there their greatest scenes. The barber has chances to appear in scene 1 + 6 or 10, but 1 is prefered, cause he is the partner (so also mirror position) to the trumpeter (20) and to the other neighbour to Doxia (as it is also Diotonus - number 2).
Now we have the 3 pairs left and the 4 parents.
Mnimia has in the pair group (Memory) a special function. She is discovered by her husband in scene 13 ... that's her scene. Scene 12, in which Mnimia is also present, is dominated by the crime of Fortunius (Fortunius is called in this scene by the name of his father Thrasis ... so this is a parent scene, Fortunius commits the crime of his father). And then the solution of this inner riddle (4-13) solves with:

4-6 the three male lovers
7-8 two female lovers
9-12 the 4 parent figures
13 Mnimia as the surprizing 3rd women

So we have totally:

1: Climarchus, the barber (left neighbour to Doxia) - is given only by the scene background (3 houses), the scene is dominated by Phroneus
2: Diotinus, the freedman of Tychia (Tychia-group) (right neighbour to Doxia) - promises to help Philodoxos
3: Dynastes, the slave of Tychia (Tychia group) - tries to arrange that Fortunius gets Doxia
4: Philodoxos (pair - male) - on a triumphal march
5: Fortunius (pair male) - disturbs the good hopes of Philodoxos)
6: Phroneus (pair male) - tricks Fortunius to visit another triumphal march
7: Phimia (pair-female) - only scene with Phimia (Fame), she cares for the good name and the reputation
8: Doxia (pair female) - Philodoxos declares his love to Doxiain a monolog
9: Argos (parent - father Philodoxos) - Philodoxos spies the talking of the slaves (Argos has 100 eyes)
10: Minerva (parent - mother Philodoxos) - Philodoxos shows further details of his character
11: Autadia (parent - mother Fortunius) - Fortunius shows his arrogance
12: Thraso (parent - father Fortunius) - Fortunius makes his crime, he robs Phimia)
13: Mnimia (pair female)
14: (Chronos - Chronos-group) - 1st appearance of Chronos
15: (Alithia - Chronos-group) - Alithia is called here by her real identity: daughter of Chronos, guarded by Mnimia
16: Bailiff - Chronos-group - only scene with him, in search for the criminal
17: Calilogus - Chronos-group - only scene with him, documents the criminal case
18: Volipedia - Tychia-group - only scene with him, attempts to keep Fortunius away
19: (Tychia - Tychia group) - last appearance of Tychia, she's successful to excuse Fortunius
20: Trumpeter - only scene with him, successful and lucky finish

As far I can see it, this makes sense ... .-) ... but anybody might try another and possibly better solution.



Why has the figure Phroneus autobiographic details? About Alberti ...
In 1421 at the age of 17, he was back in Bologna, studying canon and civil law at the university. His father died the same year, and at this point his fortunes began to worsen. The substantial inheritance his father had arranged for his natural sons was challenged, and Battista's health broke, his doctors told him, under the stress of excessive study of the law. Worse afflictions followed, including loss of memory and a morbid visual sensitivity, and he gave up law for physics and mathematics (which must have included optics). ... &ct=result
In the Philodoxos, made 1424, which means 3 years after Alberti's sickness in 1421, Phroneus finds his earlier wife Mnimia (meaning "Memory") after he had divorced 3 years ago. Part of the sickness in the year 1421 was "the loss of memory".
I think, that in the order of the scenes Mnimia is sorted intentionally after the parents cause her special function (Memory), cause memory involves the idea "knowing the parents".

BARBER (begin)

The barber at position 1 is somewhat curious ... I think, that Burchiello, the poet barber in Florence might have played a role in this context. In his early time in Florence Alberti might have been in his shop (although this should have been late than 1424). Grenerally one has to reflect, that this is a revised version of the Philodoxos, possibly refined and repaired around 1436.

Perhaps the "barber" signals, that position 1 is the position of the poet and in the text the scene is dominated by a monolog of Phroneus (the alter ego of Alberti, which means "the author").

This is the description of the stage (which naturally stands at the beginning in scene 1)
A street in Rome, with three doors: in the center, an elegant one, with columns, leading to Doxia's house; to the left, a half ruined door to Ditonus' house, next to which is a statue of Pluto; and to the right, a third door leading to Climarchus the barber's establishment
TRUMPETER (finish)

The trumpeter in the finishing scene ... he has a logical function there, nothing surprizing, the show is over ... Considering this very concrete feature, we might reflect the appearance of trumpets in the Trionfi card series, starting perhaps with the 14 Bembo cards, which has the Judgment card at the highest position.

Actors in the theatre close the curtain at the finish of the game, and then they reappear before the curtain to get the applause ... independently, if the piece was a tragedy with many dead persons or a comedy. So the dead persons come back to life again ... as on the judgment card.

AUTHOR (the Fool)

There's a 21st person in the text, the imaginative author "Lepidus" ("Charming"), responsible for the introduction. He describes himself as "I am a demented wit and an ignorant sage" and he feels free enough to confess "not much time has gone by since I had a drink - I don't know if I drank too much, but you'll be able to tell how far I have exceeded the limits of drinking if I speak gibberish here before you ..."

Somehow he plays the Fool and Lepidus is a figure outside the actual game ... as the Fool in the Tarocchi game is taken out of competion.


In the context of Alberti's delivery of the Philodoxos to Leonello (still I haven't found a way to determine the date of first contact precisely, but I think around 1436/37) has to be considered the story of Ugolino Pisani, which is described by Angelo Decembrio ...
(really necessary to read, it's interesting)

... which also happened 1437.
Decembrio describes a man 30 (in 1437), gotten up in foppish costume, a peripatetic musician and entertainer, and a newly acclaimed literary talent. He was famous throughout Italy and abroad as a singer, comedian, and entertainer, Decembrio and other sources agree. At any rate, his status as a celebrity had already earned him some unflattering nicknames by the time he came to Ferrara.
So Ugolino is somethig like a popstar in his time. And Leonello probably had shown interest in this form of theatre, otherwise we wouldn't find two writers interested to get his attention (possibly this connects to the many weddings at the Ferrarese courts in this time, to which a small comedy about love and other related things would please well).
Ugolino and Alberti are in this time both in Bologna and it's interesting, how far in the social reality Bologna is from Ferrara (real distance maybe 25 km), that Alberti has this big difficulties to get in contact.
Ugolino at least gets a bad reception in Ferrara, he meets the full arrogance
of the court. The 14-years-old Tito Vespasiano Strozzi is taken to give him some education in the course of the audience, Ugolino has to suffer.

Ugolino has a "foppish costum" ... this also reminds "the Fool". If we think the author as the "Fool", possibly we find the true origin of this figure. In face of the high nobility the author had to show modesty and humilate himself ... perhaps that's the true background.


Inside Alberti's sequence the figure of "Father Time" has an unusual high position. This is repeated in the later Boiardo Tarocchi, when Time is presented by the Greek hero Nestor. Boiardo was too young in Alberti's time in Ferrara, but Boiardo's uncle Tito Vespasiano Strozzi was already present.

In the Tarocchi sequence the Hermit (="Father Time") and the Wheel of Fortune (both a contrasting pair) are usually close to each other and this is also shown in later art:


(17th century)


The motif reappears in the later Charles VI. Tarocchi


... reflecting our earlier talkings about the Charles VI. Tarot, I made the suggestion, that this deck was made for the young Lorenzo de Medici at about the year 1463 ... well, you prefered "around 1450".

Alberti in 1460 wrote a specific text for Lorenzo de Medici. The notebook says: "Short rhetorical handbook, dedicated to Lorenzo de Medici (the younger, then 11 years old), Trivia senatoria (Senatorial exercises)." In this time Alberti should have had contact. Also Alberti was friend to Toscanelli. In the context of the Charles VI card it was suggested, that the both astronomers at the moon card would present Regiomontanus and Toscanelli:



Mnimia (memory), the wife of Phroneus (= the alter ego of Alberti), is a little ugly. But it's she, who is the guardian of Alithia (Veritas = truth), just telling the maxime of Alberti, that true memory, even it tells and contains some unpleasant details, should be prefered against elegant lies and too much glory and fame and an untroubled surface.

Philodoxus describes Mnimia: "The reddish-haired, quarrelsome one, with a harsh expression, bulging eyes, sharp nose, pointed chin - the scrawny one? Golly, Phroneus, you've found a beautiful wife."

And Phroneus answers: "Well, she has a good character, if she's no beauty. And it's not easy to explain how comforting it is to have an ugly wife: her husband is the only man she doesn't hate, because nobody loves an ugly woman, and she frees a jealous man from suspicions."

... :-) ... well, somehow a true researcher, this Alberti.


Alberti tells about the early reception himself. He makes the point, that he in 1424 was cheated by a friend, who stole the incomplete manuscript and gave it to others without his permission and knowledge ... Alberti himself spread the story, that he found the text in an old codex. The work became an early success with the author name "Lepidus". This part of the story is confirmed by a letter between Panormita and Toscanelli in 1426.

With the letter of Alberti to Leonello Leon Battista tried to correct the earlier authorship of "Lepidus". Not totally successful ... the author Lepidus didn't die early.

The Philodoxus has survived in 21 manuscripts and two imprints - that's rather much and sounds like "a real great success" already before book printing arrived. It was the only humanistic comedy reprinted in Italy in the 16th century. It is said to have taken influence on the tragical comedy "Celestina", which had been a great literary success in Spain very late in 15th century.



In the Ferrarese theatre development in the 1430's should be also considered the occasional presence of Tito Livio Frulovisi ... #PPA231,M1
The figure "Veritas" was recently discussed in context of a Mantegna picture "Minerva etc." 1502, which was placed in the studiolo of Isabella d'Este ...
... starting at page 3 of the thread.

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