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Two Faces of Marko Marulić: A Dual Attitude to the Ancient Heritage / Branko Jozić

Marulić is a writer at the watershed of ages and worlds, inhabiting a world of divergent cultural and social tendencies. Two traditions, the Christian and the Ancient, jointly underpin his work. Hence with respect to the ancient heritage, there is a clear discordance in his work: the frequently stated rejection of antiquity is at odds with the places where he enjoins and practices a positive attitude to the ancient world. Thus from the oeuvre as a whole two apparently opposed Marulićs emerge. On the one hand we can find a Marulić who recommends the reading of the books of the pagan writers, adopting and internalising anything in them that can lead to a virtuous life. He himself from his youth read, acquired and made extracts from them. He avidly collected and explained ancient epigraphs, worked on mythological themes in his poetic works (which greatly outnumber those based on religious topics). Even when he formally renounces the Muses and Apollo, he cannot do without the »poetic vanities«, even in the handling of Christian themes. He ornaments his poems, enhancing them with deliberate or unconscious reminiscences of antiquity, using the terminology and stereotyped expressions of Classical poetry. This is the Marulić who adores antiquity and for whom »ancient and exalted poets« have canonical value.
On the other hand there is the Marulić who programmatically rejects Graeco-Roman antiquity, who expresses open hostility to the poetic inventions and saws of the pagans, who asks his readers totally to disassociate themselves from the inutile pleasure of the reading of such works, who enjoins silence about the acuity of the philosophers, contempt for their madness and the reading of only what shows us the path to immortality. 
From the times of the apostles, via the apologetes and the early church fathers, the confusing and paradoxical attitude to the pagan and to the ancient literary heritage had been a constant, ranging from total withdrawal from all that is pagan, to concessions and the quotation of classical authors (in the text, for the sake of illustration, some thoughts of Augustine, St Jerome and Basil the Great are quoted). In the Renaissance the idolisation of Antiquity was additionally stressed, and this, as it were, cult of Antiquity, gave rise to fierce contention, even to the opinion that Christians must not only not read ancient writers and poets, but should even burn their works in public. As well as the stances of the 5th Lateran Council and Pope Pius II against the pagan heritage, the reactions of Giovanni Dominici, Bernard of Siena, Girolamo Savanarola, Benedetto Accolti, Erasmus and Marulić himself are cited. 
The conclusion concerning the reasons why Marulić fought shy of the classical heritage is drawn from his own words. He is reacting to a very widespread and in his opinion deleterious phenomenon: many admire the ancient worshippers of false gods and, captivated by the vacuous eloquence of the pagan poets, relish invented stories more than the doctrine of truth; they think that nothing can be believed that the human mind itself cannot investigate and, adds Marulić, hardened in their perversion even make mock of Christian belief. What is more, he warns, some church scholars have abandoned the gospels and are dealing with unimportant things: they philosophise or sing poetic inventions instead of exploring what would contribute to the salvation of souls. 
Was this viewpoint of his a reaction to a kind of almost imposed fashion – according to which everything coloured with Antiquity is advanced and an inclination to the Classics an expression of elitism – is not easy to answer. Certainly Marulić valued the acuity and wisdom of the pagans, the polish of their speech and the mellifluousness of their poems. But, sub specie aeternitatis and of salvation he does not see their usefulness, and thus calls for »pagan foolishness« to be cast aside, the wisdom that we are taught not by man but by God to be adopted. 
From all this it can be concluded that Marulić was not exclusively a religious writer, as he is understood to be in the receptive stereotype. Rather, a complex personality is reflected from his oeuvre: a European intellectual of wide horizons, a real representative of humanism, an outstanding connoisseur and admirer of the writing of Ancient classics. In reception and emission he communicates with the European cultural community; in his creative work he respects its taste and adapts himself to the poetic postulates of the age, and endeavours to suffuse the Biblical revelation and Christian spirituality with ancient wisdom and poetics. He incorporates elements of the ancient heritage into his works without any fears that the exalted Biblical themes will be contaminated with the profane and pagan poetic superstructure. However, he does state his opinion resolutely and unambiguously concerning phenomena that he considers to be a distortion of the equilibrium, to be exaggerated and dangerous antiquisation, inversion of the scale of values and replacement of the essential by the dispensable. He specifically rejects such a tradition as an artefact of the pre-Christian religion, he privileges content over form, truth over revealed truth, the eternal and the divine over the earthly and transient, the salvation of the soul to the acquisition of vain poetic fame, divine wisdom concealed in the mystery, revealed in the Gospel and incarnated in Christ to human ingenuity. The duality of Marulić noted can be understood only in the light of an endeavour to establish a balance and for a hierarchy of values in the perspective of eternal bliss.

Abstract: Jozić, B. Two Faces of Marko Marulić: A Dual Attitude to the Ancient Heritage. // Colloquia Maruliana 23(2014), 210-211.