“…I also read that he rode for Vlad the Impaler. However things played out, this person was quite a character.” -CM

Portrait of Michael Marullus Tarchaniota by Sandro Botticelli
Portrait of Michael Marullus Tarchaniota by Sandro Botticelli

Was Marullus murdered?
Michael Tarchaniota Marullus was born to a family of Greek ancestry.His biography is rather obscure, he was born in either Constantinople or near the site of ancient Sparta in the Despotate of the Morea on the Peloponnese. His father was known as Manoli Marulo (Μανώλης Μάρουλλος) and his mother was Euphrosyne Tarchaneiotissa (Ευφροσύνη Ταρχανειώτισσα). Both were Greek exiles who had fled from Constantinople when it fell to the Turks in 1453, and Michael Marullus always proudly called himself a Greek.

“…he said he was born and spent his young childhood in Byzantium but when the Turks took it over his family relocated to slovenia and then later to ancona. but some other (contemporaries or biographers can’t remember) said he was too young to be born in Greek Byzantium.” – RE

The only substantial biography of Marullus is by Carol Kidwell. In Marullus, Soldier Poet of the Renaissance (London, 1989), she reveals the life of a soldier poet who roams exotic lands, composes poems at the borders of the Black Sea, and participates in a military campaign of Vlad the Impaler (the inspiration for Dracula). Yet Kidwell is not sensitive to the manipulative moves in Marullus’s “autobiographical” poems. These, and their implications, have been explored in more detail by Karl Enenkel in his chapter on the poet (see Die Erfindung des Menschen: Die Autobiographik des frühneuzeitlichen Humanismus von Petrarca bis Lipsius (Berlin, 2008), pp. 368–428). Enenkel argues that it is improbable that Marullus was born in Constantinople. On the contrary, he suggests that the poet was born after the city fell to the Sultan in 1453.

About his drowning
On 10 April 1500 after visiting with the humanist Raffaello Maffei in Volterra, he was riding in full armour to join the armed forces against Cesare Borgia when he drowned with his horse in the river Cecina near Volterra. (Wikipedia)

The Cecina River, near Voltaterra and Pisa
The supposed site of Marullus\’ drowning in the Cecina River, near Voltaterra and Pisa

He lost his life in 1499, or 1500, as he was attempting to pass the river Csecina, which runs by Volaterra, in Tuscany. Perceiving that his horse had plunged with his fore feet in such a manner that he could not disengage them again, he fell into a passion, and gave him the spur: but both his horse and himself fell; and, as his leg was engaged under the horse’s belly, there needed but little water to stifle him. (Chalmer Biography (1812)

Pierius Valerianus, who relates these circumstances, observes, that this poet blasphemed terribly just before his death, and immediately upon his fall discharged a thousand reproaches and curses against heaven. His impiety seems unquestionable; and it is imputed to this turn of mind, that he so much admired Lucretius. He gave a new edition of his poem, which is censured in Joseph Scaliger’s notes upon Catullus and he endeavoured to imitate him. He used to say, that “the rest of the poets were only to be read, but that Virgil and Lucretius were to be got by heart.” Hody, however, has collected a great many honourable testimonies to his merit, from the writings of able and learned critics at or near his time, while be has been equally undervalued by more modern writers. [vol. 21, p.397]

“Perhaps, ‘Better to have him drown here in the precincts of Volterra than for him to bring down the wrath of heaven upon us when we engage the Turk in the Holy land.’ “ -RE

Portrait of Pierius Valerianus, nome de plume of Giovan Pietro Bolzani, the humanist and writer who witnessed the drowning of Marullus
Portrait of Pierius Valerianus, nome de plume of Giovan Pietro Bolzani, the humanist and writer who witnessed the drowning of Marullus

“Marullus was never quite at home in Renaissance Italy. He insisted on identifying himself as Greek although he had been removed from Byzantium when he was still an infant (or, as some conjecture, that he was born in Italy and imagined a Byzantine origin. Perhaps he was clinging to his affluent Eastern identity as a defensive posture. He was clearly well-connected in Italy; to the courts and centers of political and cultural power.

To his credit, he was able to master Latin and make a name for himself as a poet in that language, worthy of notice among his peers. But all of that achievement was driven by a a person insecure by virtue of his dislocation from his family’s seat of power and his struggle for legitimacy. Perhaps he was a bastard, to boot?

Botticelli saw all of that and recorded it in his portrait. He looks like a hunted animal and not like a master of his universe. Think of all those portraits of the powerful elite. Just look at his plain black attire! He is clearly distinct from them.” -RE

His Literary Career

Image of a printed version of Marullus' Epigrams
Epigrams by Marullus

Marullus, Michael Tarchaniota, one of those learned Greeks who retired into Italy after the Turks had taken Constantinople, where he was born. It is said that it was not his zeal for the Christian religion, but the fear of slavery, which made him abandon his country; but if, according to Tiraboschi, he was brought into Italy in his infancy, this insinuation may be spared. He studied Greek and Latin at Venice, and philosophy at Padua; but for a subsistence was obliged to embrace the profession of arms, and served in the troop of horse under Nicholas Rhalla, a Spartan general. Rejoined the two professions of letters and arms, and would be no less a poet than a soldier: and, as he suspected that it would not be thought any extraordinary thing in him to be able to write Greek verses, he applied himself diligently to the study of Latin poetry, and acquired a good deal of reputation by his success in it. His Latin poems consist of four books of epigrams, and as many of hymns, which were published at Florence in 1197, 4to. He bad begun a poem on the education of a prince, which he did not finish: as much of it, however, as was found among his papers was published along with his epigrams and hymns; and this whole collection has passed through several editions. He appears to have had a poetical mistress, whom he frequently courts under the name of Neraea; but he married Alexandra Scala, a Florentine lady of high accomplishments, and had Politian for his rival, which may account for the contempt with which Politian speaks of his poetry. The critics are divided about his poems, some praising them highly, while others, as the two Scaligers, find great fault with them. Erasmus says, in his “Ciceronianus,” that the poems of Marullus would have been tolerable, if they had savoured less of Paganism: Marulli pauca legi, tolerabilia si minus haberent paganitatis. He created himself many enemies by censuring too freely the ancient Latin authors, for which he was equally freely censured by Floridus Sabinns and Politian.

Unsubstaniated and uninformed commentary
“…his taste for pagan writers, his “foreign” status as a Byzantine Greek elite, combined (perhaps) with a haughty character that is carried through in the Botticelli portrait, doomed Marullus (his Latin name) to derision and veiled disdain by his Roman crusader-partners. When his mount stumbled his oaths proved that his fate was divinely ordained.” -RE

“yes!! and pissing off Lorenzo de Medici didn’t help him at all. Now why why why didn’t the Vlad the Impaler alliance factor in? because that really should have worked in his favor. maybe he didn’t like the poetry.” -CM


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