Floridoro: A Chivalric Romance.
The Other Voice in Early Modern Europe. Ed. Valeria Finucci. Trans. Julia M. Kisacky. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2006. xxx + 494 pp. index. append. bibl. $75 (cl), $29 (pbk). ISBN: 0-226-25677-4 (cl), 0-226-25678-2 (pbk).
Margherita Sarrocchi. Scanderbeide: The Heroic Deeds of George Scanderbeg, King of Epirus.
The Other Voice in Early Modern Europe. Ed. and trans. Rinaldina Russell. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2006. xxx + 462 pp. index. append. gloss. bibl. $75 (cl), $29 (pbk). ISBN: 0-226-73507-9 (cl), 0-226-73508-7 (pbk).
Marie-Madeleine Lafayette. Zayde: A Spanish Romance.
The Other Voice in Early Modern Europe. Ed. and trans. Nicholas D. Paige. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2006. xxx + 210 pp. illus. bibl. $45 (cl), $18 (pbk). ISBN: 0-226-46851-8 (cl), 0-226-46852-6 (pbk).
While women lyric poets of early modern Italy have long occupied a respectable position in the Italian literary canon, women's heroic and chivalric poetry is less well-known. Two of three new publications of The Chicago University Press's Other Voice series mark a significant step in illuminating Italian women's interpretations and adaptations of this masculine genre par excellence.
Moderata Fonte's Floridoro, first published in 1581, appeared the same year as Tasso's Gerusalemme liberata. The poem by Fonte (pen-name of Modesta Pozzo, 1555-92, an upper-class Venetian) "represents the first sustained effort on the part of a woman writer to pen a Renaissance epic romance on the model of Ariosto and Boiardo" (22). Thirteen cantos comprise this work, perhaps sent to press unfinished so as not to follow too late the 1579 marriage of the Venetian Bianca Cappello and Francesco de' Medici, to whom Floridoro is dedicated. The poem is set in ancient Greece, and its purported protagonist, the fictional Floridoro--together with his destined mate Celsidea--are the forebears of the founders of Venice, while the descendents of another main character, Risamante, will become the Medici.
The comprehensive and engaging introduction of Floridoro by Valeria Finucci, also editor of the Italian version (Tredici canti di Floridoro, 1995), gives a complete background, not only in historical and literary terms but also with regard to gender and the role of women, to this remarkable work, examining its convergences with and divergences from tradition. As Finucci points out, of the various intertwining narrative threads in the poem, it is a cast of female characters, not Floridoro, that takes center stage. First there is Risamante, a warrior woman in the Ariostean tradition, who fights for her inheritance of an Armenian kingdom. Her identical twin sister Biondaura emblematizes a more courtly and subdued model of femininity. In a twist on the Circe archetype, the enchantress Circetta, daughter of Ulysses and Circe, is a virgin aiming to help others with her magical powers. An eloquent praise of the worth of women, modeled after the beginning of canto 20 of Ariosto's Orlando furioso, comes early in Fonte's text, at the beginning of canto 4.
Julia Kisacky's prose translation deftly evokes the original poetry's rhythm and syntax. The notes give succinct but adequate references to elements of the classical and Renaissance epic traditions, to works by other women writers, and to Fonte's other publications, in particular the polemical treatise Il merito delle donne (The Worth of Women, 1600) for which she is primarily known today. (This text was edited and translated for the Other Voice series by Virginia Cox, 1997). In addition to the wealth of bibliographical information furnished, an appendix provides aptly chosen excerpts in Italian from six of the thirteen cantos. The result is a thorough, informative, and enticing treatment of this epic poem.
Unlike Moderata Fonte, Margherita Sarrocchi was a noted public figure in her time and had ties to many important poets and scientists. As Rinaldina Russell explains in her edition and translation of Sarrocchi's Scanderbeide, although this "first historical epic authored by a woman" (1) may have been neglected by posterity, Sarrocchi was admired by contemporaries as a donna illustre. Born in Naples ca. 1560 and educated in Rome, she was a protegee of the Colonna family, exchanged verse with Tasso, corresponded with Galileo, disputed with Giambattista Marino about poetry, and was a member of the Accademia degli Umoristi and later the Accademia degli Ordinati.
The Scanderbeide was first published in 1606 with 11 cantos, and an expanded and modified twenty-three-canto version was published posthumously in 1623 (Sarrocchi died in 1617). The plot is loosely based on the 1443 quest by Gjon Castrioti, an Albanian chieftain, to regain territory in the Matia region controlled by the Ottoman Turks. The choice of this historical episode follows the Tassian model and its grounding in Counter-Reformation culture. The work is dense with plots and subplots, love intrigues, pastoral interludes, and battle scenes replete with severed body parts and gushing blood.
Russell's meticulous introduction gives indispensable biographical information as well as important historical and pseudohistorical contexts for various episodes in the poem, including the anachronistic appearance of Amerigo Vespucci as part of the Italian fleet. Like Finucci with Floridoro, Russell rightly underscores the complex reworking of stock epic female characters, in this case Rosmonda, the sultan's warrior daughter, and her sidekick, Silveria, a follower of Diana, whom she convinces to participate in battle against Christians and later, after her conversion, against the Turks. Despite Russell's explications, we are still left to wonder how to interpret Silveria's getting crushed by an elephant in battle, hardly the usual demise for a warrior-huntress. The "Cast of Main Characters" section and the glossary facilitate keeping track of characters, plots, and geographical locations.
The English prose translation, comprising all but five of the twenty-three cantos, is more functional than lyrical, but duly renders the vividness and intensity of the characters' adventures. The notes are copious and provide key references to the epic tradition, early modern warfare, medieval notions of love, and Renaissance political theory. Russell makes compelling connections between this poem and Lucrezia Marinella's L'Enrico overo Bisantio acquistato (1635) and suggests that Sarrocchi's work may have served as a model of "women's epic" for Marinella. The appendix of excerpts in Italian from four of the twenty-three cantos is a welcome section, although numbering each octave would have made for easier identification and comparison with the English translation. As a whole the volume is impressively rich and comprehensive.
If Fonte and Sarrocchi's poems are firsts, Marie-Madeleine Pioche de La Vergne's Zayde (1670-71) is a last. As Nicholas D. Paige puts it, the work is "the last great French romance" (13). Pioche de La Vergne, better known as Madame de Lafayette (1634-93), has had better luck with posterity than Fonte or Sarrocchi. Despite early questions about authorship, her Princesse de Cleves (1678) quickly brought her to literary fame and firmly entrenched her in the French literary canon as one of the creators of the modern novel. With the present volume, Zayde is now available in English translation for the first time since 1678.
Paige's lively introduction takes the reader into the rapidly evolving world of seventeenth-century French literary prose and convincingly argues that Zayde is both a relic of a faded genre and an innovative pastiche of romance. In this tale of love, betrayal, and mistaken identities set in tenth-century Spain and the Mediterranean, several characters of the Christian and Muslim worlds cross paths, often narrating their own adventures and sorrows before being suitably paired off. The superb translation makes accessible and enjoyable Lafayette's sometimes complex syntax and the idiosyncrasies of her prose. The judicious English rendering of litotes comes through well. For instance, at the conclusion of the story, before the heroine marries her beloved, Paige translates that Zayde "was not unreceptive to the merit of Consalve" (193). The notes are an excellent guide to key terms of the seventeenth-century French literary lexicon, such as inclination, esprit, and humeur.
Perhaps the only overstatement in the volume concerns the availability of Zayde in French today. Although Paige writes that the text is "relatively difficult to procure" (22), the Garnier edition of Lafayette's prose fiction, which he mentions, is an economical paperback edition usually found on the shelves of well-stocked French bookstores. This is not the case of Floridoro or Scanderbeide, which, like many of the texts in the Other Voice series, either have no modern edition in the original language or else have editions that are out of print or not readily obtainable in bookstores.
Still, the question of availability is central when considering these three latest publications of the Other Voice series, which are significant, indeed essential, scholarly contributions to the understanding of early modern European literature and culture. The quality, breadth, depth, and accessibility of these volumes may well result in these works having a wider audience in the Anglo-American university context than in their countries and languages of origin.
University of Oregon
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|Title Annotation:||women's heroic and chivalric poetry|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2007|
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