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Antonello Borra. Guittone d'Arezzo e le maschere del poeta. La lirica cortese tra ironia e palinodia.

Ravenna: Longo Editore, 2000.

The mystery of the Italian poetry of the Duecento might well find its epicenter in Guittone d'Arezzo. Antonello Borra's Guittone d'Arezzo e le maschere del poeta. La lirica cortese tra ironia e palinodia, gives today's reader a chance to see into that mystery. This elegant monograph on the thirteenth-century poet includes a history of the criticism up to the most recent Italian contributions, and a thoughtful and penetrating analysis of the full range of Guittone's output. It also ties together in a convincing way the two phases of Guittone's career, before and after his conversion, "concentrandosi sull'io lirico guittoniano e sull'ordinamento dei testi." While scholars have traditionally divided the career and opus of Guittone into two, in Professor Borra's study the two periods are treated integrally as profoundly interrelated phenomena.

In his "Introduction" Borra presents the detailed and potentially confusing manuscript history of Guittone's writings, taking care to indicate--with great terminological and linguistic accuracy--the editions that have been used by the diverse commentators, textual historians and critics. He notes that the modern period--in which "una vera e propria storia della critica guittoniana puo essere tracciata"--begins only in 1828 and that even then (in light of the blatant rejection of Guittone by De Sanctis), the task of setting the record straight for posterity would inevitably fall to the twentieth century and now the twenty-first. Those scholars cited and to whose contributions Borra now contributes, begin with Gianfranco Contini--who gave us "l'immagine dell'aretino cantor rectitudinis precursore del Dante morale," and include Margueron, Moleta, Picone and the very recent and highly regarded Lino Leonardi.

The first of four chapters, "Il corpus guittoniano" satisfies in detail the textual critic's need and the interpreter's desire to respond to the actual manuscripts, editions and biographical chronology. This scrutiny and respect for matters of ecdotica is absolutely required for one writing as prolifically and as early as Guittone. Inevitably there have been inconsistencies in editions as to the poems ascribed to Guittone that can actually be verified. The three major manuscripts in question--the Laurenziano Rediano IX, the Vaticano Latino 3793, and the Palatino 418--all divide Guittone's work biographically into the periods before and after he becomes a Frate, a bipartition which Borra esteems and sets out to investigate as an overall key to the work's greatness, its internal historicity, and its poetic and moral consistency.

Chapter II, "Le palinodie, la vergogna, lo sguardo sui passato," begins this assessment under the sign of the palinode, and selects the best known of all Guittone's poems, the moral canzone Ora parra s'eo savero cantare, to analyze the moral concerns of the Aretine poet circa 1265-66, by which time he has become a Frate Gaudente. The poem actively declares a change of life and a change in the mode of making poetry, and, writes Borra, presents "un veto e proprio manifesto programmatico di un impegno poetico futuro" (28). The placement of the canzone in the sequence of poems is seen to "riflettere un preciso intento storiografico" (29) that looks backward to the love poems and forward to the religious poems. The earlier mode is itself sinful and shameful, because its mistaken object of praise leads one to "traviamento morale" (31). Having accomplished its programmatic and life-changing assessment of the past, the poem can move on in the later strophes to project towards the future work. As he walks us through the salient intertextualities and points of rhetorical and moral emphasis of the later canzoni, Borra discusses the "risemantizzazione" of "Amor," which has its final dismissal as a former senhal and is now applied to the Virgin Mary (in three lines of number XXVII of the Egidi manuscript) and more generally to the way of moral rectitude. Reason requires that the Love which leads one away from God not be celebrated: "Chi e vile non diventa coraggioso, lo sciocco non rinsavisce, l'avido non si trasforma in generoso ne l'imbroglione in uomo leale e il folle in saggio, il misantropo in una persona affabile" (35). By poem XXIX, O vera vertu, vero amore--the longest of Guittone's canzoni--love is unequivocally "tutto cristiano." Borra carefully traces connecting devices of a narrative character that fill out the "storia personale" that lies just under the surface of the moral canzoni and which malte explicit the need to remember the sinful past as a means of maintaining "un'etica del sacrificio, della necessita della solferenza" (40). This palinodic awareness is never lost sight of and it allows the critic to make precious insights (for example, concerning the different positionings of the same poem in the Laurencian and the Egidi manuscripts). Such insights will no doubt be carried forward in future studies, by Prof. Borra and others who appreciate the great moment of Guittone, who is the first to grasp the foot contradiction in the rhetorical code of the "poesia cortese," which is to say the rift between "le forme in cui il linguaggio d'amore si esprime e la realta a cui ... fa riferimento" (42). There also exists, with reference to the moral sonnets, "un numero circoscritto di sonetti in cui l'io lirico prende espressamente la parola per giudicare il proprio passato" (43). The palinodic point remains true: that no sonnet and no canzone by Guittone remains indifferent to its possible points of reference to the whole.

Chapter III, "Alla corte di Amore," looks retrospectively at the love sonnets, beginning with the commentary of Pelaez on the first 118 sonnets in 1903. The organization by lyrical-narrative content of the sonnets has led Lino Leonardi to argue for the presence of here of a "canzoniere," an hypothesis which others have discounted. Borra steers a middle path, taking care to note the formal and stylistic continuties that link and order the sonnets. The lyrical "io" of Guittone is seen as both narrator and protagonist, at once suffering and bemoaning the pride and cruelty of the beautiful woman, to whom he remains constant, and distancing himself from that conventional love process by means of rhetoric. In this double sense, the "I" figure is said to be unreliable because engaging in fictions. From about sonnet 19 forward the reader is forced to suspect the honesty of the "I," also as it deceives itself. For example in sonnet 25, this "I" labels himself as one whose poetry ("trovare") is without value. In the twelve-sonnet tenzone with the woman whose senhal is "Gioia," she examines the genuineness of his sentiments and judges his real intent unworthy of her. Definitively rejected, the lover switches the senhal to "Noia" and admits he was only after sexual favors all along. The blunt language and rash sentiment of the concluding six "love" poems is aptly framed by Borra in terms of its irony, its refutation of the courtly code, and ultimately in its confirmation of Leonardi's hypothesis that the unified macrotext of the love sonnets sees a "riduzione dell'io-autore ad un puro io-personaggio." The "trattato" that follows is a didactic series (poems 87-110) in which Guittone critiques "la definizione pseudo-filosofica di amore" of Andrea Cappellano, offering instead an objective "hands-on" guide to loving and lovemaking. He acknowledges that woman too has her sexual appetites, concluding that rather than preserving her chastity the man must aim to preserve her respectability. Borra hones in on the humor of the trattato, also as concerns Guittone's genial distancing himself from an abstract literary code. He is thus able to persuasively conclude that the ostensible didactic ends of the trattato are false, and simply another of Guittone's masks.

The love canzoni (so called, though some do not deal with love) are also organized in terms of their content but do not parody the "maniera" of courtly love poetry; rather they engage it and elaborate upon it. There is at once a growing hortatory tone, notes Borra, which leads one to suspect and then conclude that we do not have here a story of reciprocated love, as has been traditionally seen. These canzoni evolve as it were to a point where the lyric "I" is overturned, and is no longer a servant of love but is its tyrant! In discussing canzone 15, which concerns Guittone's voluntary exile from Arezzo, a land seen to have fallen into moral decadence, Borra is able to track intratextual references to other canzoni. The separation from the homeland is "emblematic" of the poet's avoidance of evil; but also, by distancing himself from the woman, the love object, the poet distances himself from the evil within himself, and thus embarks on a purification of the soul. True love for Guittone, Borra observes, relies on this distance and thus suffering. Once again, as with the sonnets, the lyric "I is a "puro personaggio" but it has also evolved forward to the point where "giunge all'estremo di proiettare l'esperienza amorosa in una dimensione di assoluta irraggiungibilita" (73). this evolving voice ends up by defending women's honor. More faithful in love, woman is formed more nobly than man. thus in a Christian key, she is a model for man to emulate.

Chapter IV, "Gli orizzonti di riferimento," is divided into the sections: "Giacomo da Lentini e i Siciliani" and "I Trovatori." The first traces Guittone's debts to the Sicilian school; the canzone Se di voi, donna gente was in fact sent to Corrado da Sterleto, "feudatario di Federico II" and contains numerous references to Giacomo's Madonna, dir vo voglio. Of paramount importance is the pictorial and figurative language, the "similitudine della `pintura'" borrowed from Giacomo; but here the alliance ends, since the woman's beauty is no longer idealized but as the temptation to concupiscience. The non-parodical use of the Sicilian material by Guittone concerns his notion of service to the beloved, which must be absolute and not contradictory as he saw the Sicilian request of mercy to one not reachable to be. Thus once again we see Guittone's critique of the code of courtly love and his exposure of its limitations. A more complicated relation exists with the three troubadors that occupy the "status emblematico di auctoritates" for Guittone: Cadenet (who used the pseudonym Baguas), Peire Rogier and Peire Vidal. This obvious debt to poets whose amorous thematics he would surpass, again attests to the overall complexity of Guittone's poetry. So while on the one hand the Frate was responsible for "attacchi frontali ad alcuni dei massimi esponenti della fin' amors" (89), he also embraced their "culto della forma" in his own steady pursuit of the trobar clus. Cadenet is important for his poems on the woman being distant, and for a certain abstraction that appeals to the technically astute Aretine. Rogier "introduce il dialogo diretto con la donna all'interno del testo trasformando cosi la figura femminile, di solito muto destinatario della poesia, in un personaggio con una attiva funzione letteraria" (91). Richer still are the debts to Vidal, who Guittone cites in recognition of his "grande dirittura morale" (91). Despite Vidal's somewhat racy vida, the prominence of irony towards the bragadaccio of the troubadoric lyric in the work tends to introduce a genuine element of humility admired by Guittone.

In conclusion, Borra sees the change in life of Guittone as a move not only towards God but towards reality. There is no evasion of one's former self but an incorporation of the memories, the actual textual memories of the love poetry and political poetry, and of the sources cited, in all that follows. In this way, the poet's dual attitude--of satirical irony and of moral rectitude towards the abstractions of courtly love poetry--are fused into one voice, whose moral coherence and unity were planned out from the early career onward. The unity Borra argues for was prepared throughout the lire path of Guittone, whose "precisa volonta autoriale volta ad organizzare la propria produzione in macrostrutture" (97) was the rhetorical and poetical sign for the spiritual lire change to come.
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Author:Peterson, Thomas E.
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 2002
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