For the Sake of Learning is a splendid two-volume monument to Grafton’s career. Renaissancers are necromancers. Grafton is a master necromancer. Whereas Odysseus dug a trench, poured libations, and sacrificed sheep to speak with the dead, one trusts that Grafton's rites are more prosaic. Yet, possibly sometimes in his dreams, he panics like Odysseus and waves a sword at the horde of souls swarming from Erebus. His interlocutors—Joseph Scaliger, Politian, Battista Guarino, Gerolamo Cardano, Johannes Trithemius, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, Guillaume Budé, Justus Lipsius, Lorenzo Valla, Johannes Kepler, Leon Battista Alberti, Isaac Casaubon, Edward Gibbon, Jacques Hardouin-Mansart, Giambattista Vico, John Dee, Athanasius Kircher—are a striving, clamorous crowd. Unlike the singing poets in Dante’s “splendid school” (Inferno 4.94) or the smiling...

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