Measured Words: Computation and Writing in Renaissance Italy

By Arielle Saiber

© 2017

Measured Words explores the rich commerce between computation and writing that proliferated in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Italy. In this captivating and generously illustrated work, Arielle Saiber studies the relationship between number, shape, and the written word in the works of four exceptional thinkers of the time: Leon Battista Alberti, Luca Pacioli, Niccolò Tartaglia, and Giambattista Della Porta.

Although these Renaissance humanists came from different social classes and practised the mathematical and literary arts at varying levels of sophistication, they were all guided by a sense that there exist deep ontological and epistemological bonds between computational and verbal thinking and production. Their shared view that a network or continuity exists between the literary arts and mathematics yielded extraordinary results, from Alberti’s treatise on cryptography and Pacioli’s design calculations for the Roman alphabet to Tartaglia’s poetic solutions of cubic equations and Della Porta’s dramatic applications of geometry. Through lively, cogent analysis of these and other related texts of the period, Measured Words presents, literally and figuratively, brilliant examples of what interdisciplinary work can offer us.

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Product Details

  • Series: Toronto Italian Studies
  • World Rights
  • Page Count: 280 pages
  • Illustrations: 131
  • Dimensions: 6.0in x 1.0in x 9.0in
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  • AVAILABLE MAY 2021

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    ISBN 9781487541958
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Quick Overview

Measured Words brings together rarely discussed Renaissance thinkers to show both the commonalities within and the variety of the conversations between computation and writing.

Measured Words: Computation and Writing in Renaissance Italy

By Arielle Saiber

© 2017

Measured Words explores the rich commerce between computation and writing that proliferated in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Italy. In this captivating and generously illustrated work, Arielle Saiber studies the relationship between number, shape, and the written word in the works of four exceptional thinkers of the time: Leon Battista Alberti, Luca Pacioli, Niccolò Tartaglia, and Giambattista Della Porta.

Although these Renaissance humanists came from different social classes and practised the mathematical and literary arts at varying levels of sophistication, they were all guided by a sense that there exist deep ontological and epistemological bonds between computational and verbal thinking and production. Their shared view that a network or continuity exists between the literary arts and mathematics yielded extraordinary results, from Alberti’s treatise on cryptography and Pacioli’s design calculations for the Roman alphabet to Tartaglia’s poetic solutions of cubic equations and Della Porta’s dramatic applications of geometry. Through lively, cogent analysis of these and other related texts of the period, Measured Words presents, literally and figuratively, brilliant examples of what interdisciplinary work can offer us.

Continue Reading Read Less

Product Details

  • Series: Toronto Italian Studies
  • World Rights
  • Page Count: 280 pages
  • Illustrations: 131
  • Dimensions: 6.0in x 1.0in x 9.0in
  • Reviews

    "The author connects to mathematics in many fascinating ways. In addition to the superb analysis of four case studies – Alberti, Paciolo, Tartaglia, and Della Porta, the reader is treated to an assortment of images that help visualize the connection each Renaissance man imagined. Highly recommended."


    T. Timmons
    Choice Magazine vol 55:11:2018

    "Boldly and magisterially, Saiber bridges the gap between literary studies, Renaissance philosophy, the sciences of computus (of numbers and proportions or geometry in theory and practice), and the history of printing and type design. With her remarkable stamina to explore rarely studied 'difficult' texts, and with her admirable command of older and more recent scholarly literature on her topic, Saiber thereby demonstrates for instance the intimate relationship between the advent of printing and the designer’s task of mathematical proportions of letters – and the ensuing interdependent relationships between form and text."


    Sergius Kodera, New Design University
    Renaissance and Reformation

    "Together with her lively writing style, Saiber’s erudition, based on close reading of primary sources and a remarkable command of secondary literatures, make Measured Words a pleasure to read. Scholars will return to this book for research leads and for chapters to assign to their graduate and undergraduate students."


    Renzo Baldasso
    Renaissance Quarterly

    "Arielle Saiber has brought to this endlessly interesting book her deep knowledge of the history of mathematics, immersion in the literature of the Italian Renaissance, and crystal-clear writing style. Spanning two centuries, Saiber covers the Italian thinkers Leon Battista Alberti, Luca Pacioli, Niccolò Tartaglia, and Giambattista Della Porta. She illuminates their thinking and writing on computation; and she goes beyond that laudable aim to make important connections to the ways that computational thinking inflected their beliefs on language. As such the book is as much a unique examination of the four thinkers in question as it is a call for cross-disciplinary work in our world today."


    Christopher S. Celenza, Dean of Georgetown College, Professor, History and Classics, Georgetown University

    "Saiber opens the door to an entirely new understanding of four seminal Renaissance writers whose literary works are already well known to scholars and students of diverse disciplines. Measured Words is an illuminating study surrounding the relationship between mathematical computation and the ‘humanistic’ disciplines."


    Carla Mazzio, Associate Professor, Deptartment of English, SUNY, Buffalo

    Arielle Saiber has written an indispensable volume on a still overlooked aspect of the Italian Renaissance, namely the importance of the relationship of mathematics to the broadly literary aspects of Renaissance humanism. Richly illustrated, the book draws on Saiber’s meticulous study of the manuscripts and printed editions of these early mathematical work. From its arresting first sentence (‘There were computers in Renaissance Italy…’) to the final conclusion, the book grabs our attention, and Saiber herself, like the thinkers she writes about, both understands the mathematical complexities of her subject and is able to discuss them with admirable clarity and elegance. This is a major contribution to our knowledge of Renaissance mathematical writers.


    Martin McLaughlin, Professor of Italian, Magdalen College, Oxford University
  • Author Information

    Arielle Saiber is a professor of Romance Languages and Literatures at Bowdoin College.
  • Table of contents

    List of Figures
    Acknowledgments

    Introduction: Well-Versed Mathematics
    The Four / Beautiful Minds / With Measured Words

    Chapter One
    Cryptographica: Leon Battista Alberti’s De componendis Cifris (1466)
    Deciphering De Cifris / Writing in Code

    Chapter Two
    The Calculated Alphabet: Luca Pacioli’s “degno alphabeto Anticho” (1509)
    Prelude: Pacioli Portrait / The Nexus of the Divina proportione / Lettergons / Not All That Glitters Is Gold / Divine Characters

    Chapter Three
    Word Problems: Niccolò Tartaglia’s “Quando chel cubo” (1546)
    The Cubic Scandal / A Poetic Solution

    Chapter Four
    Hidden Curves: Giambattista Della Porta’s Elementorum curvilineorum libri tres (1601/10)
    The Vanishing Act / A Wave of the Hand

    Notes
    Bibliography
    Index

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