A 1509 List of Euclid Aficionados: Antiquarianism and Early Science in Sixteenth-Century Venice

This paper examines one aspect of information management—the use of specialized list and diagrams—in early sixteenth-century Venice, at the time when the Republic is launching a great hydraulic project of farmland reclamation. The mathematicians and engineers associated with this program become increasingly aware of their technical know-how vis-à-vis the humanistic culture of their patrician employers; in a way, mathematical life emerges here as an intellectual gear system, or as part of an organic ‘territorial machine’ of reconnaissance and defense. My point of departure is a 1509 printed edition of Euclid, edited by Luca Pacioli, which contains an extraordinary and virtually unstudied document: the text of Pacioli’s own public lecture on mathematics that breaks off the treatise and offers a list of various personalities in attendance (30r—31v). As I propose, this list is a window into the intellectual friction provoked by the Venetian plans of urban renovation, while, in its alphabetical unfolding, it also serves as a paratextual aid, similar to Gessner’s edition of the Historia Animalium.

The first part of my paper looks at the 1509 list as a problem of information overload, while a second section explores at greater length some of the characteristics associated with the Venetian personalities present at the Euclid lecture. In particular, I expand the role of  a) Vettor Fausto, a naval architect who translated Aristotle’s Mechanics, b) Fra Giocondo, another architect identified as “antiquarian,” and c) Cristoforo Sabbadino, whose sophisticated scientific expertise bridges humanism and agricultural reclamation.