Pietro Bembo, the son of Venetian vice-doge and senator Bernardo Bembo and his wife, Elena Morosina, was born in Venice in 1470. Bembo acquired a more thorough knowledge of Tuscan than would have otherwise been possible, because his father, a member of Ficino’s Academy, took him to Florence when he was eight years old. Proud of the boy’s facility with languages, his father sent him to Messina to study under Constantine Lascaris in 1492. Bembo stayed in Sicily for two years, years of intense study which he fondly remembered all of his life. Later, he studied philosophy at Padua under Pietro Pomponazzi, for whom Bembo would later intercede to save him from condemnation by the Lateran Council.
In 1498, Bembo’s father went to Ferrara as Venetian coruler and took Pietro with him, hoping to acquaint him at long last with affairs of state. There he became intimate with Jacopo Sadoleto and Ercole Strozzi, and was appreciated by Duke Ercole of Ferrara. When Duke Ercole’s son and heir Alfonso married Lucrezia Borgia in 1502, Bembo became friendly with her as well, and there developed between the two of them a deep friendship that may or may not have been Platonic.
On leaving Ferrara, Bembo returned to Venice, where he helped the printer Aldus Manutius form a learned academy and, in 1501, prepared for him the text of Petrarch’s Canzoniere (wr. 1374, pb. 1470), as well as the first Aldine copy of La divina commedia (c. 1320; The Divine Comedy), published under the title Terza rima in 1502. Bembo and Aldus are credited with establishing the use of the apostrophe, the period, and the comma in modern printing.
Tall and handsome, witty and learned, a writer of verse in three languages (Italian, Latin, and Greek), Bembo was in his prime when he moved to Urbino in 1506. Until 1511, he was a member of the court circle of Urbino, which, under Duke Guidobaldo Montefeltro and his wife Elisabetta Gonzaga, rivaled Ferrara in social, artistic, and literary brilliance and which included such figures as the dramatist Bernardo Bibbiena, Giuliano de’ Medici, Ottaviano Fregoso (later doge of Genoa), Louis...
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