Sunday, 30 August 2015

Friday, 20 February 2015

And also...

Cornerstone Books - 27 New St., Plymouth 

Also: how has it taken me so long to get back to blogging? I’m not entirely sure. I’ve been busy, and then I got out of the habit. I’ve missed it though, and would like to get back to bookish madness. You’ll have noticed that in the Books I’d Like to Own category on the sidebar, Enciclopedia virgiliana no longer appears. I wonder why? I know. Because now I have my own copy! I’ll blog about that, I hope. Soon. I also want to blog a review of Prue Shaw’s new book on Dante, as well as post a few more reviews.

Robey and Hainsworth, Dante: A Very Short Introduction (OUP, 2015)

The lastest offering in OUP’s highly successful series ‘A Very Short Introduction’ is dedicated to Dante, perhaps one of the most widely recognized names of all of medieval literature. Rather appropriately it appears with another volume released the same week, Love: A Very Short Introduction. Perhaps they could be read as companion volumes, for love is one of the central themes in the Comedy, a term of constant engagement in Dante’s writing life. It is surprising that it has taken until now for Dante to appear in the VSI catalogue, which represents a kind of canon of authors, of ideas, of urgent and important questions. But a most welcome addition it is. The authors, David Robey and Peter Hainsworth, are two Italianists, medievalists, and Dantisti well known in the United Kingdom and beyond. Robey, for example, has devoted considerable energies to the computer analysis of poetry, and is the author of a fascinating monograph with OUP entitled Sound and Structure in the Divine Comedy (2000). Hainsworth was a Fellow and Tutor in Italian at Lady Margaret Hall for many years, and will probably be best known to readers for his book on Petrarch: Petrarch the Poet: An Introduction to the Rerum vulgarium fragmenta (Routledge, 1988, and now reissued in the ‘Routledge Revivals’ series). He has a very finely-tuned ear, and is, in many ways, a scholar of the old school, whose rigorous attention to the text, to the word, as a reader and as a translator, renders him urgently modern.

To write any of the Short Introductions must be a daunting task, but to write one on Dante seems to me particularly terrifying. The format requires clarity and compression, in equal measure (much like Dante, actually). The volume unfolds in an introduction and then six chapters: Autobiography; Truth; Writing; Humanity; Politics; and God. The book, then, sets Dante into a context, and emphasizes the importance of Dante as a character in his own work; ‘Writing’ is a lovely treatment of what Dante wrote, and in the case of the Comedyhow he wrote. ‘Humanity’ draws attention to the human, the fact that the whole Comedy is teeming with humans, and how frequently the poem explores, engages with, and is nourished by, the humanity of those figures. This leads on to human interactions, humans exercising power together, in ‘Politics’, a chapter that also draws attention to Dante’s own activities as a politician. Read the final chapter, ‘God’. Several ‘Boxes’ also illustrate particular aspects, such as ‘Dante’s hendecasyllable’ as well as three more giving the moral systems of each cantica. Nine illustrations also accompany the text, drawn from various sources, from the medieval (MS Holk. misc. 48), to the Renaissance (Botticelli’s illustration to Par 30), to the modern: Benigni reciting Dante in Piazza Santa Croce, with a statue of Dante dramatically towering over him, like the Giants in Inf 31.

The ‘Very Short Introductions’ are now, in a way, a genre unto themselves, with their own momentum, their own rationale, their own audience. As such, this is an excellent ‘Short Introduction’ to Dante, with a wealth of finely observed detail, coupled with judiciously executed broad brush-strokes. As an invitation to read more Dante, and read him more carefully, more deeply, I think it will succeed.

Thursday, 26 December 2013

The Bodies of Italian Lyric

In 2011, under the direction of Lino Leonardi, the first part of a big project on the early vernacular Italian lyric was published as LirIO Corpus della lirica italiana delle origini su CD-ROM. 1. Dagli inizi al 1337 (Firenze: Edizioni del Galluzzo per la Fondazione Ezio Franchescini), in a series called Archivio Romanzo (as number 20), and Lirica europea (as number 4). It has the ISBN: 978-88-8450-415-9, and is on sale for €250. A short review will appear in the medieval studies journal Medium Ævum, but I thought it would be opportune to present the database in greater detail and discuss it in a slightly broader context. [The second part has just appeared, ‘Dagli inizi al 1400’, a cura di Lino Leonardi e di Alessio Decaria, Pär Larson, Giuseppe Marrani, Paolo Squillacioti, Archivio Romanzo, 25, ISBN: 978-88-8450-503-3. This includes everything that was in Part 1, and extends the inquiry to the year 1400. Can this means that a user must now buy a second part, which includes what s/he already has, to get from 1337 to 1400, and at a cost of €400? Surely this cannot be the case? — UPDATE: I have been informed that for those who have bought the first CD, SISMEL will reduce the cost of Vol. 2 by the cost of the first CD, meaning that for them, the second CD will cost €150]

Firstly, what is it? It is a database of the entire corpus of lyric poetry up to the year 1337, which the editors have considered is, with the death of Bindo Bonichi, the end of the ‘Dolce stil novo’. A work in prose, namely Dante’s Vita nova is included, given its influence. The idea is that it provides an extremely powerful tool for text searching, based on the best available editions. Indeed, as Leonardi says in the Preface:
L’obiettivo era — ed è — proporre di quella stagione fondativa una repertoriazione sistematica, opportuna e necessaria dopo le grandi edizioni portate a termine alla fine del secolo scorso, dal corpus duecentesco di Avalle alle rime di Dante di De Robertis. Una repertoriazione che consenta di mettere pienamente a frutto gli acquisti di tanti scavi in profondità, e di costituire nuovi strumenti e nuove fondamenta per la comprensione di un sistema letterario che è alle origini della cultura poetica europea moderna.
[The aim was, and is, to offer a systematic repertoire of that foundational period, now opportune and necessary after the completion in the last century of the great critical editions, from the thirteenth-century corpus by Avalle to Dante’s lyric poetry by De Robertis. A repertoire that allows us to make the most of what has been gained in many in-depth analyses, forming new tools and establishing new bases for the understanding of a literary system that is at the very origins of modern European poetry.]
So there’s a sense here that the philological endeavours of the last century have culminated, and indeed made possible, the building of these corpora. In other words, the better the quality of what goes in, the better the quality of what comes out, ‘allowing philologists to answer better the questions they have long been asking’ (in the words of Sheldon Pollock, ‘Future Philology? The Fate of a Soft Science in a Hard World’, Critical Inquiry 35 (2009), 931-961, at p. 949 n45). An important publication preceding the appearance of LirIO is known by the acronym CLPIO, or Concordanze della lingua poetica italiana delle origini, edited by D’Arco Silvio Avalle (numbered 25 in the series ‘Documenti di Filologia’) and published by Ricciardi in 1992. It is a remarkable work, a corpus of Duecento poetry, a beautifully detailed linguistic analysis, much material on scribal practice, an incipitario, and various indices (prepared by Lino Leonardi), all comprising pp. CCLXX + 870, with the ISBN: 88-7817-900-0. It is monumental, and for me offers an interesting contrast, as an ‘end-user’, with using the CD-ROM of LirIO. I should say that I love how CLPIO is set on the page and how it has been finished. [I should also say that I have recently come into possession of my own copy, from the library of a distinguished and late-lamented palaeographer, and I’m already finding using it regularly a thoroughly thrilling experience.]

A feature of editorial activity in Italy over the past two decades (and more) has been the attention to electronic, searchable corpora, and there is no doubt that it is adding greatly to the control the reader and the specialist researcher has over the material, changing the kinds of questions it is now possible to ask, as well as improving the accuracy of the answers we get. Users of TLIO, the Tesoro della lingua italiana delle origini, which is published under the auspices of ‘L’Opera del Vocabolario Italiano’ (OVI), an institute of the ‘Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche’ (CNR), and based at the Accademia della Crusca, in Florence, will immediately recognize the enormous value of such material. LirIO can also to be placed into a wider context of a massive editorial effort to digitize and index the corpus of Troubadour poetry. It must also be placed in the context of the series ‘Edizione nazionale I canzonieri della lirica italiana delle Origini’ published with SISMEL, of the utmost importance in the study of the early Italian lyric. In the words of Antonelli and Rea, in a research paper entitled Il lessico delle emozioni nella lirica europea medievale e un nuovo database (available here), it is no exaggeration to state ‘che un uso sistematico dei database ora completati consentirà di riproporre in termini nuovi l’intera storia della lirica romanza, sia dal punto di vista semantico e ideologico che formale, posta anche la ricchezza dei dati che accompagnano le vere e proprie concordanze (schemi metrici, bibliografia, sviluppo cronologico delle singole forme, grafici, ecc.)’. See here for a contribution by Lino Leonardi entitled ‘Varianti, apparato, testo. La prospettiva ipertestuale delle Concordanze della lingua poetica italiana delle origini (CLPIO)’, which also provides valuable contextual material on LirIO.

So it can be stated firmly that those interested in the origins of vernacular Italian literature, and specifically its lyric poetry, now live in an era of what we could term ‘Big Data’. The subject of Big Data in Medieval Studies has received some highly stimulating commentary recently over on Bruce Holsinger’s beautiful blog Burnable Books (with a series of contributions by Martin Foys, Timothy Stinson, Bruce Holsinger, Deborah McGrady, Stephen G. Nichols, Elaine Treharne, and Alexandra Gillespie). The kinds of questions they have posed are pressing and important.

I’m not a techie, so I cannot get into the nitty gritty of back-ends and what runs the database, or XML markup and the like. The software that runs the database is called Gatto (the Italian word for cat). The software is being continually updated, which you can see on the OVI website. It is the software that runs TLIO online, but on the CD-ROM it only runs on a Windows platform. I have to say that this was rather a problem for me, as a Mac user, and I was not going to, and would not, pay the cost of another operating system on my Mac, even if with BootCamp I can run a parallel environment. It means I can only intermittently use it when I have access to a PC. I do not understand why it cannot run on a Mac, but my advice to those responsible would be to address this with the greatest of urgency. There is a larger question of future-proofing this resource. The answer lies, perhaps, in something web-based rather than on CD-ROM, which would make updates and corrections easier, and avoid platform limitations (like TLIO, for example).

The look and feel of the database is quite retro, it almost feels DOS-like, though I’m sure it’s much more up-to-date than that. I’d go as far as to say that the interface is a little forbidding, perhaps even a little severe for my taste. The user has great control over the search terms, what material is searched, and the output format for the search. It is a resource that requires lots of curiosity, but not the curiosity of a browser, but rather that of someone on the hunt for something, something specific. It does not lend itself to leafing through, since there is nothing to look at without doing a search. It is not a book and is not designed to look like one. One can of course read individual poems, but the interface is very spartan and does not encourage reading for pleasure in the way I might take down Poeti del Duecento for a few hours on a Sunday, or the way I browse CLPIO. This is not the fault of anyone, and given the extraordinary power and scope of the resource, my comments sound like cavils.

The value of this resource is clear to anyone who uses it. The kind of sensitivity to the lexicon of the early Italian lyric that is essential for any detailed critical, literary, and philological study is now immeasurably facilitated. All such studies will now be indebted to this resource, and the editors are to be congratulated on a marvellous project.

It is an immensely exciting time to be working in this field.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Dreams and books

Readers may have noticed that another item has been removed from the sidebar section listing the ‘Books I Dream of Owning’. That is Foster and Boyde’s Dante’s Lyric Poetry (Clarendon Press, 1967). I’d been slightly despairing of finding it, and had encountered some friends and colleagues who had their own copies, found for a song here and there, or given as gifts by retiring colleagues and the like (you know who you are). I’d received a note about a copy in an Italian bookshop, no dustjacket, with some pencil marks, for a whopping €800. Yes, you read that right, eight-hundred euro. That rather put me off, and had me worried about other sellers getting ideas. 

Fortunately, a very reasonable bookseller in Montana (imagine) put his copy up for a what we’ll call a normal price, recognizing that it had no dustjacket, that there was a small water stain, etc. By no means a mint copy. However, in very good nick. I’m so happy to have this. The power and lucid brilliance of the commentary is wondrous, and as a translation it really has not dated. I’m always puzzled that OUP have never reprinted it.

The other addition to the crazy man library is the ‘edizione diplomatico-interpretativa’ of MS Hamilton 90 (Boccaccio’s autograph of the Decameron), edited by Charles S. Singleton and published by Johns Hopkins University Press in 1974. It’s quite an interesting volume and I’d been on the lookout for it for a while, and you do indeed see copies appearing, and sometimes not for crazy prices. But when I saw this one online for £2.50, I thought: this is a kind of craziness I can really get behind. In lovely condition, ex-library, usual stamps (as they say), but a good deal more than adequate as a study copy. I have already cited it in a footnote, so it has now earned its keep on the shelf. I think I’d rather like to have Singleton’s 1955 Laterza edition of the Decameron, and, again, you do see copies around, but I’ve been put off by them being ever so slightly pricy, and of course the enormous, exaggerated postage costs from Italy.

Now, back to (my) Boccaccio.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Boccaccio Baby!

It is possible that some of you may not have heard that, throughout this very year, the anniversary of the birth of Giovanni Boccaccio is being celebrated in Bacchanalian excess all over Europe. An enormous number of conferences have been organized, the proceedings of which will emerge over the next couple of years and will keep us going for some good while to come. It’s all very exciting, to be perfectly honest. I have saddled up a couple of times myself, giving a paper in Bologna in November of last year, on the Mannelli glosses to the Decameron, another paper in Binghamton, NY, on the catchwords in the Berlin autograph of the Decameron, and then another last week, which was great fun, on Boccaccio and Petrarch in the Rome conference Boccaccio in Europa. These have been very stimulating meetings, with a lot of fresh and interesting research. Of particular interest in Binghamton, for example, was the work presented by Marco Cursi on the evolution of Boccaccio’s handwriting and punctuation, as well as the fascinating head at the end of the Toledano autograph of the Comedìa. I’ll be heading to Manchester, for Locating Boccaccio in 2013, next month, to give a paper again on Mannelli. And then, hopefully, no-one will have to listen to me for at least a while more. But the anniversary seems to have concentrated the mind for Boccaccian studies, and there is such a lot of work being done and in the process of coming out. The ‘Events’ page on the website of the Casa del Boccaccio is like a veritable trending Twitter feed. There is a website dedicated to listing the conferences and exhibitions, here (the English version of which is not always updated as cleanly as it could be), while the Trenitalia website hosts a PDF with a list of everything that’s happening, presumably to help the conductors deal with the hoards of people moving around the peninsula. I know what you’re thinking: it’s like the Jubilee in 1300 all over again! And so it should be.

Apart from the conferences already mentioned above, there has been a very interesting gathering in Ferrara in November 2013 entitled Dentro l’officina di Boccaccio, with an excellent account provided by one of its participants, Angelo Eugenio Mecca on his blog. The proceedings are due to appear at the end of this year or at the beginning of 2014 with the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Collana “Studi e Testi”. Later in the year, the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana will host an exhibition of autograph manuscripts, which has occasioned a range of very important and exciting research by the best palaeographers and philologists around. There will also be a conference held between Florence and Certaldo, which will be, I suspect, ‘the big one’. 


As if this wasn’t enough, a brand new edition of the Decameron has been published, by Rizzoli in the BUR Classici series, with a newly edited text, prepared by Maurizio Fiorilla, an introduction and apparatus of notes by Amedeo Quondam, and introductions to each giornata by Giancarlo Alfano. And then there will be, with Cambridge University Press, Martin Eisner’s book Boccaccio and the Invention of Italian Literature: Dante, Petrarch, Cavalcanti, and the Authority of the Vernacular.

So this is a tremendously exciting year to be working on Boccaccio. Let’s hope we can all do him justice.


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