Poliziano was born Angelo Ambrogini in the Tuscan town of Montepulciano, the Latin name of which, Mons Politianus, was the source of the appellation by which the poet is known. His father, Benedetto Ambrogini, a capable bourgeois jurist, was murdered for championing the cause of Piero de’ Medici in Montepulciano, whereupon the ten-year-old Poliziano was sent to Florence to seek consolation in his studies. He studied Latin under Cristoforo Landino, who was remarkable for instilling in his pupil the notion that the Tuscan vernacular was in no way inferior to Latin and that, like Latin, it ought to be subject to rules of grammar and rhetoric. Poliziano studied Greek under Giovanni Argyropulos, Andronicus Callistos, Demetrius Chalcondyles, and Marsilio Ficino; and he also studied Hebrew. At sixteen, he began writing epigrams in Greek; at seventeen, he was writing essays on Greek versification; and at eighteen, he published an edition of Catullus. By 1473, Poliziano was in the service of Lorenzo de’ Medici, the ruler of Florence and the chief patron of the arts in Italy. To provide Poliziano with an income, Lorenzo appointed him secular prior of the College of San Giovanni. Poliziano obtained the degree of Doctor of Civil Law, took clerical orders, and was appointed to the canonry of the Cathedral of Florence. In 1475, Lorenzo made him tutor to his sons Piero (who succeeded his father for a brief time) and Giovanni (later Pope Leo X), but his wife, Clarice Orsini, who was pious and conventional, preferred a religious education for her sons rather than the secular one Poliziano offered, and she lobbied for his removal as tutor.
Following the tradition set by Pulci, who wrote a tribute in octaves to Lorenzo’s tournament held in 1469, Poliziano wrote a celebration of the tournament of Lorenzo’s brother Giuliano, held on January 28, 1475, in honor of the latter’s beloved, Simonetta Cattaneo, the wife of Marco Vespucci. The undertaking, however, was ill-starred. First, Simonetta died (April 26, 1476), and she had to be changed from the heroine of book 1 of the...
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