Sigonio, Carlo
(ca. 1522-1584)
   Italian humanist and historian. A native of Modena, he taught humanistic subjects there and at Venice before moving to the University of Padua in 1560 and then to the University of Bologna (1563-1584). He made his literary rep-utation by his lectures and publications on Aristotle's Rhetoric and Poetics. His greatest importance, however, was as a historian of an-cient Rome. Beginning during the 1550s with a series of editions and commentaries on Roman inscriptions and Livy's history, during the following decade he published historical studies showing how the aristocratic families of the republican period had gradually been forced to share power with the plebeians. Sigonio then turned to the history of the later Roman empire and the Middle Ages, subjects that were far more contentious because they dealt with the early history of the Christian church. His De regno Italiae / On the Kingdom of Italy (1574 and 1580) and De occidentali imperio / On the Eastern Empire (1574) were the earliest general survey of the history of Italy from Roman times to the 12th century. He moved next to the history of the ancient Hebrews and the history of the church.
   Sigonio's works dealing with the historical development of the church and the papacy proved highly sensitive, for he used local city archives and other newly available sources that led to new conclu-sions and did not harmonize with traditional historical accounts. For example, in explaining the rise of papal political authority in Italy, he omitted any mention of the document known as the Donation of Constantine, no doubt because he knew that Lorenzo Valla had shown it to be a forgery. Since the papacy still used this document to justify its political claims, ecclesiastical censors in Rome sharply criticized his work. Sigonio came under pressure to include specific reference to the Donation and to revise other sections of his history of Italy that traced papal power in Italy to grants given by Charle-magne and his successor Louis the Pious. He had based his account on surviving medieval documents, but his conclusions were unac-ceptable in Rome because they confirmed Protestant charges that the popes had usurped the secular political authority they claimed over all of Christendom. The censors accused him not just of historical er-ror but also of false doctrine, since the church taught that all political authority had been transferred by Christ to his successor, St. Peter, and by Peter to each of his successors as bishop of Rome, down to the present in unbroken line.
   In the end, Sigonio's later historical works were not placed on the In-dex of Forbidden Books. But he was faulted for not hewing to the post-Reformation party line and embracing the whole traditional history, even the parts that were mythical. Though his books were not forbid-den and he was not directly penalized, it was not permissible to reprint them in any part of Italy until the 18th century, though they were eagerly reprinted and even translated under Protestant auspices in Ger-many. Siginio was one of the last great critical humanists of the Italian Renaissance, for his troubles made it clear that even for a scholar who went out of his way to compliment the papacy on every possible occa-sion, free exercise of critical judgment was not allowed. The censors demanded total conformity to the official historical account.

Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. . 2004.

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