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.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Just say No, or On Being «colui che fece il gran rifiuto»

It is fair to say that most Catholics did not see this one coming. Benedict, it is true, had said in an interview with Peter Seewald that he could foresee circumstances in which a resignation was possible. But most people thought this would happen when the signs of old age and illness were much more visible. After all, the final years of John Paul II’s papacy were marked by severely debilitating illness. He cannot have been able to manage effectively in such a state.

The resignation of Pope Benedict XVI has led many to consider the rarity of precedents. The last time a pope abdicated was in an attempt to heal the schism in the Church, during the Council of Constance in 1415. The Council is not principally remembered as the stage for Gregory XII’s abdication (and resignations were not at all common in the Middle Ages). Instead, it is remembered as the first time voting took place along national blocks, in which some see a nascent ‘nation-state’ identity emerging. The strategy of resigning was successful. A single successor was elected, a Colonna who took the name Martin V, and, importantly, was universally recognized as pontiff.

The time before that was an interesting case, both for the character involved, the way he was elected, and the consequences of his abdication. With the benefit of hindsight, commentators now see Benedict’s two visits to the tomb of Celestine V in L’Aquila as significant. The picture above shows the pontiff in a gesture that was surely important: he lays his pallium on the tomb. The pallium is the symbol of papal power (the plenitudo pontificalis officii). Indeed, Benedict himself was responsible for changing the form of the pallium in 2008, so he intimately knew its significance and the power and tradition it represented. Taking it off in such a dramatic gesture was the intellectual, scholarly Benedict’s version of a press release.

Pietro da Morrone was a hermit, holy and fastidious in his asceticism, and a founder of a new order (named after him, the Celestines) under the Benedictine Rule. His election to the See was about as unlikely as one could imagine. It probably felt that way to his electors, too. Celestine V was the last pope elevated in a non-conclave election. Rival factions had created a stalemate and after two years an outcome was looking impossible. In desperation, the sick and dying Latino Malabranca, cardinal-nephew of Nicholas III, cried out that he elected Pietro da Morrone as pope. Since it meant no-one got their way, all agreed. There are accounts of Pietro being particularly reluctant, and effectively being forced to accept the throne. It was a disastrous papacy, he had no political or administrative experience, and was caught in a power struggle he barely understood. Fortunately, Cardinal Benedetto Caetani was on hand to offer advice. 

Celestine promptly issued a decree making it possible to resign, and he then...resigned. Benedict was elected his successor, took the name Boniface VIII. He was an immensely powerful and intelligent man. Knowing that the transition to a new papacy is delicate at the best of times, but would be much more complicated with a living pontiff emeritus, Boniface had Celestine captured and imprisoned, where he eventually died. This led to allegations of murder.

Many people have referred to Dante in the commentary on Benedict XVI and Celestine V, and it might be an idea to return briefly to the figure of Celestine in the Comedìa. Not least because this event is now something we share with Dante, who saw a papal abdication in his own lifetime.

Just as Dante enters Hell, he sees for the first time those souls suffering in eternal damnation. The canto opens with dramatic and violent descriptions,
Diverse lingue, orribili favelle,
parole di dolore, accenti d’ira,
voci alte e fioche, e suon di man con elle
facevano un tumulto, il qual s’aggira
sempre in quell’ aura sanza tempo tinta,
come la rena quando turbo spira.                      [Inf III 25–30]
Then he sees those angels who were neither rebellious nor faithful to God, but ‘per sé fuoro’. They are neither one nor the other, in a curious outside or not fully committed status, not standing for anything. Indeed, the canto is full of reserve when it comes to Dante engaging with those he meets. Apart from Caron, that is, those pertinent to the structure of the canto and its narrative architecture, nobody is actually named in this canto. They are not worth naming, ‘non ragioniam di lor, ma guarda e passa’, says Virgil. While watching this group following a flag (the contrappasso is that they must follow a flag they would never have cared about in life), Dante recognizes someone.
Poscia ch’io v’ebbi alcun riconosciuto,
vidi e conobbi l’ombra di colui
che fece per viltade il gran rifiuto.                   [Inf III 58–60]
Dante lexically inflected this passage with unusual and rare words, indicating how important it was. The expression ‘vidi e conobbi’ is unique in the Comedìa: it says the same thing twice, reinforcing the fame of this figure, and his recognizability. The lines are powerful because Dante pointedly does not name the figure he meets, but at the same time Dante is sure it is him and recognizes him immediately. Attributing ‘viltade’, cowardice, to him is another strong move: it is precisely the accusation levelled against Dante himself in Inf II 45 (‘l’anima tua è da viltade offesa’), and the opening lines of canto III has Virgil urge Dante on his journey with the words: ‘Qui si convien lasciare ogne sospetto; | ogne viltà convien che qui sia morta’ (ll. 14–15). The word viltade, then, means here cowardice or spinelessness. It is what you shouldn’t have, especially when you’re doing something important. The word ‘rifiuto’ is also quite rare in the Comedìa: it appears only once in the Inferno, and as a verb appears three more times in the Purgatorio (I 72; VI 133; XXIV 114). As a noun, which it is here, it occurs just once, and its rhyme position draws even more attention to its unusualness. The earliest readers of these lines identified this figure with Pope Celestine V, as does the rubric to the canto, rubrics which appear in the earliest and most authoritative manuscripts (Dante was not, however, responsible for them, according to Petrocchi). Curiously, not many illustrations go in for representing Celestine as the figure in question [see Brieger in Vol. 1, p. 120]. An exception is Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, MS Plut. 40, 7, f. 6r, where a pope is shown holding the banner, in a full frontal pose, completely nude. The manuscript is late fourteenth-century, and probably Florentine. (Brieger and Meiss describe these drawings as ‘passable’ [Vol. 1, p. 231]; on the MS see Roddewig, cat. no. 99, and Marisa Boschi Rotiroti, Codicologia trecentesca della Commedia, pp. 116–7, cat. 62, and p. 177, tav. 8, for an illustration of f. 108v). See Anna Maria Chiavacci Leonardi’s note on Vol. 1, p. 99, for a good summary of the issue and some bibliography.

In Inf XXVII, Guido da Montefeltro, guilty of fraudulent counsel, recalls the words of Boniface VIII, who refers to the two keys of St Peter, ‘che ’l mio antecessor non ebbe care’ (and the word antecessor is a hapax here). This is surely intended to drip with irony. Dante saw Boniface as a disaster for the papacy and for Christianity. For Dante, Celestine’s gran rifiuto paved the way for Boniface, and that is his real fault.

As the Conclave is about to be called, the importance of its decision is indeed onerous. Given the unique status of this Conclave, one idea might be to elect from outside the ranks of cardinals. I can think of some eminently suitable candidates: Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, for example. But I suspect that no such thing will happen. Whoever it will be, it is unlikely he will need to imprison the pontiff emeritus, though a living antecessor is indeed a hapax.


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