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Beheading the elegy: gender and genre on the scaffold of Bologna.

Abstract: This essay focuses on the interplay of gender and genre in a rarely discussed text, Elegia ch'uria giovane nobile in Bologna condotta alla Giustitia per cagion di'amore. Detta da lei prima che le fosse svelto il bel Capo dal Busto. The young female speaker directly addresses her city from the scaffold in Bologna, during the final moments of her life. Her ventriloquized voice is first appropriated and shaped by an anonymous writer, and then produced on paper by the editor, Alessandro Benacci. Issues of social, religious, cultural, economic and political nature converge in this sensationalized story, and are skillfully tailored to fit a popular lyric genre in the Renaissance: the elegy.

Keywords: Gender, genre, Bologna, Reformation, Counter-Reformation, material culture, Ippolita Passerotti, Lodovico Landinelli, Alessandro Benacci.


In 1587, the literato Lucio Guidotti wrote a letter to his patron, the illustrious Marc'Antonio Abagaro Ameno, where he described the execution of two young lovers, Ippolita Passerotti and Lodovico Landinelli, in the city of Bologna on January 3rd of the same year. The captivating letter is followed by several compositions written in Italian, Venetian and Latin, commemorating their death, which was profoundly mourned by the entire community ("c'ha commosse le lagrime di ogniuno"). (1) Guidotti explains that Ippolita was accused of poisoning her father in order to enjoy her lover, "godersi l'amante." Despite the "cronaca nera" nature of this event, the writer immediately turns to describing in complimentary terms the young woman's demeanor and manners on the scaffold, observing that her "old life" instantly resulted in a "new life" because of the many signs that she overtly showed of her repentance ("per li molti segni, che si viddero esteriori di pentimento"). Remarkably, on the night of the execution, rather than despairing, Ippolita wore a dark dress and bravely walked toward the scaffold that awaited her on the town square, where she met her death with a cheerful soul, "dogliente de' commessi falli, & sperava d'impetrar dalla singoiar benignita di N.S. Dio quella misericordia, che S. M. usa verso i penitenti. & con lieto animo sopporto di sottoporre il collo al colpo del Ferro, il quale, per darle morte, quivi era apprestato" (Guidotti). Many were present at the execution, and immediately after, followed her body to the hospital's mortuary, where she was changed into a white dress. Following a service in the Church of San Martino, she was taken to her father's open tomb, and was laid in his arms, much to the distress of all the mourners who were in attendance, "al quale posta come in braccio, diede materia di molto pianto a circostanti, che tanti erano in numero, che ebbero a caderne entro la Sepoltura" (Guidotti).

On that day, according to Guidotti, although justice was served, everybody was reminded of humankind's fragility and its penchant for sin, "Cosi ha avuto luogo la Giustizia in caso meritevole di morte. & si sono appagati gli huomini in piangere la fragilita humana pronta a cadere ne' peccati." Most importantly, Guidotti stresses the "gratification" that everybody felt undoubtedly because they recognized their own weaknesses and fragility. Finally he ends his letter by stating that he wishes to notify Abagaro Armeno of this event, and that he wants to send him the many poems written on this sad occasion that he happened to find, "Mando a V. S. alcune compositioni, che mi son capitate alle mani, in questo soggetto."

This tragic incident is similarly recounted in the chronicle, Cose notabili della citta di Bologna (1870), in which Ippolita Passerotti's courage and valor, "fermezza d'animo", are yet again utterly praised (Guidicini 150). Indeed, Ippolita's bravery and repentance at the scaffold produced an extraordinary collective impression that would soon after be expressed in poems written by the citizens of Bologna, some of which were recorded by Guidotti. In fact, according to the literary critic Francesco Saverio Quadrio, a poetic competition was initiated commemorating that event, and many poems were penned in order to lament the sad case, but also in order to celebrate the memory of the deceased father, the daughter, and even her lover (660). (2)

In his influential Della ragione e della storia di ogni poesia, Quadrio references this event in his discussion of the elegiac genre noting that a captivating elegy titled Elegia d'una giovane nobile in Bologna, condotta alla Giustitia per cagion d'amore. Detta da lei prima che le fosse svelto il bel Capo dal Busto was authored in Bologna after the lovers' execution, and was published in 1587 by Alessandro Benacci, the city's foremost printer. (3) According to Quadrio, this particular elegy, together with other publications concerning the event, was the result of the city's poetry competition (660). (4) He also provides some details about the circumstances that led to the lovers' tragic beheading, corroborating Guidotti's letter, explaining that Lodovico de Landinelli and Ippolita Passerotti were both burning from love, "ardendo scambievolmente tra loro d'amore" (660), but unable to marry because of her father's disapproval, as Ippolita was his superior, "superiore di condizione" (660). However, Ippolita was persuaded by Lodovico to poison her father, a murder that was immediately discovered, and that resulted in the young lovers' death sentence by decapitation, "al Ferro". They both accepted their fate with Christian sentiments, notes Quadrio, but it was the young woman's fearless, heroic and dignified manner that deeply moved and overwhelmed the whole community, and consequently launched the city-wide poetry competition (660).

The literary interest and production that this event instigated are remarkable. Indeed, Guidotti's letter and the Elegia are not the only texts that Benacci produced about these three deaths, which demonstrate his interest in the public affairs of his city. In 1587, Benacci also printed five more works that dealt with the decapitation of the two lovers: Il lagrimoso lamento della Mad.a Hippolita Passerotti Bolognese; Seconda parte delle rime raccolte nel compassionevole successo di due infelici amanti Hippolita, et Ludovico; Corona de ferro, e di veneno, et altre rime. Dell'Accademico Sfregiato. Nella morte d'Hippolita Passerotti. Al sig. Torquato Tasso; Stanze in materia della morte di Ludovico, e Hippolita amanti Bolognesi; and, Lamento e altre rime in morte di due amanti. Subsequently, three more slim volumes were published by other printers, revealing that the three deaths clearly inspired much public awareness and lyric creation, (5) while also engendering a romanticized myth. Quadrio himself documents that many other rime were published on this sad occasion in order to mourn the sad occurrence and commemorate the deceased (660). (6)

Elegia d'una giovane nobile in Bologna, ... Detta da lei

In this essay, I will primarily focus on Elegia d'una giovane nobile in Bologna in order to explore how issues of genre and gender intersect in this unique early-modern elegy, where the speaker and protagonist, Ippolita, directly addresses her city from the scaffold. Her voice is utterly ventriloquized: it is first appropriated and shaped by an anonymous writer, and then produced on paper by Benacci. (7) These two agents in particular defined her last living moments and words, turning them into a deep act of contrition and mea culpa highly shaped by clearly determined didactic purposes and Catholic beliefs. Indeed, social, religious, cultural and political themes converge in this sensationalized story, and are skillfully tailored to fit a popular lyric genre, the Renaissance elegy.

After describing how this text closely adheres to the elegiac tradition from mourning to acceptance and the performance of the female elegiac voice, I will show how a close reading and analysis of the text reveals how this elegy clearly plays into two agendas: that of its printer, Benacci, and that of the Counter-Reformation and its impact on literary culture. (8) I will then show how the social and cultural construct of a young noble woman on the city scaffold reflects early-modern gender assumptions in relation to lyric genres, in this case the elegy. (9)

As was mentioned, the Elegia is spoken in the borrowed voice of the young noble woman from Bologna, as its title clearly indicates, and thus lacks the name of its author. The caption itself is a clever, deliberate trope indicating that the elegy is "told," "detta" and thus, performed, rather than "written" by the young noble woman herself before she loses her head. The name of its author is not only anonymous, but it also becomes unnecessary. If we were to believe the title page, Ippolita narrated her desperate elegy in her final moments. (10) In fact, as in the genre's tradition, here too the length of the elegy corresponds to the remainder of the speaker's life, and the text ends with her own epitaph.

Written in terza rima, the text contains forty-seven tercets and one final verse, and is followed by two sonnets, one untitled and one that the young lady ostensibly wrote herself, titled "Sonetto dell'istessa"; this is followed by two short stanzas and concludes with a final sonnet describing her own funeral, "Sonetto nel funeral di lei", which commemorates the deceased Ippolita and comforts the weeping Bolognese citizens:
   Scolorosi, dall'empio Ferr'reciso,
   Il bel volto d'Hippolita, ma l'alma,
   Lieta volo alle Superne ruote.
   Itene (dunque) sanguinose note,
   Che se qui giace sanguinosa salma,
   Vive hor torsi lo spirto in Paradiso.

As was mentioned, the slim volume was published in Bologna in 1587 by the well-known poligono, printer, paper producer, and bookseller Alesssandro Benacci (1528-1591) who symbolically and lyrically fathered Ippolita into print, materially constructing and transmitting her voice as it literally left her body shortly before her head would be severed on the scaffold's block. Hence, the Elegia's young persona is a historical young woman, Ippolita Landinelli, who belonged to Bologna's nobility, as well as a woman whose female elegiac voice is first constructed, and then fashioned in print as the elegiac ego. (11) This production undoubtedly makes the elegy more compelling and touching, and at the same time more marketable because it is supposedly told simultaneously by Ippolita herself, and not by a Bolognese writer or citizen. (12) Furthermore, the ventriloquized voice of the elegy bestows upon it more authenticity and credibility, and situates it well within the tradition of its genre. The poems that follow are crafted as an epitaph, intentionally establishing the young noble woman's persona as the elegiac textual authority. Thus, genre and gender intersect on the scaffold of Bologna. Here, Ippolita had the chance to voice her final lament and perform her duty as a Catholic, repentant woman one last time before her decapitation.

Genre and Gender Intersections

The elegy, from the Greek elegeta, is a poetic genre that fundamentally means and expresses lament, complaint, and weeping. The elegiac mode conveys sadness, the misery of the human condition, and laments Love's miseries, such as unhappiness, despair, abandonment, and loneliness. It is distinguished by a melancholic tone, a deeply personal and autobiographical content, and characterized by pervasive self-reflections, where the speaking self is always at centre stage. According to Morton W. Bloomfield, the elegiac mode is "not a genre but a mode of approaching reality" (148), (13) which indeed reflects how Ippolita approaches her death. However, the elegy also expresses blame, whether directed against oneself or against a lover. Elegia d'una giovane nobile in Bologna can be characterized as a funeral elegy because it is a death lament that finds a final consolation in God. (14) Furthermore, it employs a regretful and prayer-like mode intended as a response to the harsh events that lead to the triple fatalities.

The main model for the elegy, spoken by a feminine voice, is Ovid's Heroides, fifteen epistolary poems spoken by Roman and Greek heroines lamenting their lovers' neglect and abandonment. The Heroides' success as an intertextual source is undoubtedly due to the fact that Ovid skillfully ventriloquized the female voice. Furthermore, as Giuseppe Rosati points out, first, Ovid humanized his heroines by exploring their feminine psyches; second, he used a feminine language to better express the woman's lament; and finally, he skillfully presented the woman's unfortunate condition (Rosati 1989: 34-35). Ovid's work institutionalized the feminine voice, as it provided the power of speech to each of his heroines allowing them to express their own truths, without direct male mediation or agency. (15) In the Heroides, the male lover allows the woman to speak--thus, again, the distinct trait of the spoken voice, rather than the written word, emerges so that the transposition of a female elegiac ego may govern discourse. (16) In fact, the most direct intertextuality of the Elegia with the Heroides remains that they both embody the elegiac's genre practice of speaking in another character, and mostly, for another character. Moreover, as in the Heroides, here too the protagonist is portrayed as a victim of Love's passion and is bestowed an elegiac voice in order to express herself. Subsequently, in the Latin and vulgar literary traditions, the elegy is the form, genre and venue for the woman-persona to assume the role of protagonist-victim of Love's passion and folly. Ovid's Heroides also shows how the elegy's ideology became one of the main forms and venues destined to carry women's values and sensibility, particularly when in the grip of an unfortunate condition. Hence, the elegy is the perfect genre to convey Ippolita's final address to her city, but more importantly, to voice her present circumstances as a woman whose young life is about to end.

Andrea Comboni and Alessandra di Ricco traced the fortune of the elegy in the Italian lyric tradition, and noted that it was Leon Battista Alberti who, with his Mirtia, revived elegiac poetry in vulgar Italian from its Latin origins (vii). (17) In Bologna in particular, Filippo Ceffi's and Domenico da Montichello's translations of the Heroides, as well as the elegies written by Giovanni Filoteco Achillini in his Viridario, popularized the genre. (18) These texts were undoubtedly a model for the 1587 Elegia, not only because Bologna was the locus of cultural influence and elegy production, but also because these source texts stage catastrophic circumstances caused by love excesses as in Ippolita's case. (19)

An additional key model in the Italian elegy tradition is Giovanni Boccaccio's Elegia di Madonna Fiammetta, where the female protagonist tells the story of her unrequited love for Panfilo. (20) This is the first Italian work in prose explicitly titled "Elegia". (21) As Janet Levarie Smarr and other critics convincingly argue, the model for Boccaccio's Fiammetta was the Heroides, particularly the complaint of women betrayed by Love. (22) Unlike the Heroides though, in Boccaccio's Fiammetta and in the Elegia the epistolary format is missing, but both elegiac voices, Fiammetta and Ippolita, address themselves to an outside audience. Moreover, both seem to impart a moral lesson in order to warn women against illicit love and passion, as well as to persuade them to avoid their dreadful fate. In Fiammetta's case, abandonment, and in Ippolita's case, a much graver consequence: the death penalty. The Elegia is very compelling in this respect. As the victim of Lodovico's sweet persuasive manners and of his seduction, Ippolita not only speaks of, but also embodies an explicit deterrent to other women as she is in the process of being decapitated. She explains that she did not foresee her beloved's venom and the troubles that a mismatched love affair would cause:
   Non vidi no, fra si cara dolcezza,
   Il tuo velen nascosto e lo tuo sdegno,
   Che nel paterno sen fe tanta asprezza
   Perche priva di quel'almo sostegno
   Meraviglia non e ch'io gionta sia,
   A tanta pena, soto un empio legno (43-48).

Indeed, the elegy portrays the woman as a weak human being, incapable of fighting Love's assaults and temptations, who easily falls into man's ruses. Readers are to pity her accounts and sorrows, as well as to mourn Ippolita's death together with the citizens of Bologna.

The Elegia also embraces another aspect of the genre, which shows Love as a socially "irregular" relationship greatly plagued by an innate disparity between a woman and a man (Rosati 1992: 74). Without a doubt, Ippolita's and Lodovico's relationship was socially unbalanced and culturally unacceptable because Ippolita was nobile, a rank clearly stated on the title page, and thus, she was socially superior to Lodovico, as Quadrio was quick to point out (660). This "irregularity" is also to blame for the father's poisoning and death, as well as for the subsequent decapitation of the two young lovers. Indeed, Ippolita allowed her beloved to convince her to poison her father, so that they could be together, thus unmasking a power struggle that, as I will soon show, has provided the young woman with a strong and authoritative voice. She was after all caught between the two hierarchical authorities in her life: her father and her future husband.

Because of Ippolita's repentance, complete humility, courage, and undoubtedly her noble rank, the city is not horrified nor repelled by her past actions, rather it is compassionate and thoroughly overwhelmed by her composure, as attested by the poetic contest held in her honor. Furthermore, Ippolita no longer displays that illicit passion that compelled her to sin, nor any form of consideration for Lodovico. On the contrary, she barely mentions her past inappropriate, short-lived desire: "I falsi miei piaceri erranti, e brevi/ Cedano al duol immenso, e saldo in ch'io,/ Son caduta, e non ho chi me ne levi" (7-9). In fact, unlike the Heroides and the Fiammetta, which revolve around the lovers' relationship, as well as the woman's abandonment and ensuing despair, the Elegia's speaker has already put her relationship behind her and is ready to accept its deadly consequences. Her behavior on the scaffold is rational and exemplary, and certainly unconventional. Ippolita laments her bad luck, blames Lodovico, as well as Love and Fortune, and accuses her young desire, while at times taking full responsibility for her actions. Nonetheless, Ippolita's personal lament locates the speaker's voice at center stage as she truly becomes "the lamenting woman" of a well- established elegiac tradition. Indeed, she falls into the role of a female mourner who grieves her past actions that led to the present adverse consequences; her youth, and missed opportunities; all with grave excesses of the pathetic, countless allusions to death, and the prayers of a devout and repented Catholic.

Clearly, the elegy is a lyric genre that perfectly intersects with gender issues, especially when it is spoken by a ventriloquized female voice. Canonical writers such as Ovid and Boccaccio established the elegy as a highly gendered construct in whose tradition, by definition, the female discourse is assumed in order to lament a woman's condition. The elegy then became a perfect literary venue for women in mourning. In the case of our Elegia, this is even more accurate because, as mentioned, it is "told" ("detta") by the young noble woman herself, as the title itself stresses, unlike Ovid's or Boccaccio's texts whose authorships are not disguised. Her voice was supposedly heard and shortly after written down by a writer who remains anonymous for obvious reasons. Hence, there is undeniably a great correlation between the male fabrication of the female voice, the performance of the sinful, albeit penitent young woman, and the gendered nature of this elegy.

As was mentioned, Harvey's definition of the ventriloquized text, and her compelling analysis prove a useful starting point for discussing the intersection of genre and gender. (23) Furthermore, as she has convincingly demonstrated, the elegy is "the paradigmatic ventriloquized text" (Harvey 1992: 140). In the case of the Elegia, Ippolita's mea culpa reflect deep-rooted patriarchal authoritative concerns over the control of the female body and voice. Since she had already gravely sinned, and was publicly incriminated, the patriarchal civil and religious authorities of the city were called on to establish consequences that fit the crime. If, as Harvey explains, in the Ovidian model of the Renaissance elegy and its variations, female sexuality and its consequences are deeply implicated in the complaint (Harvey 1992: 140), in Bologna, the consequences were directly exhibited onto the scaffold. They were experienced, not only by two lovers, but also by their community and the readers who were urged to witness the public execution. However, while the lament becomes a visual and grotesque materialization of Ippolita's sexuality, its voice remains authoritative and forceful throughout the narration of her final moments. Without her voice in fact, there could be no communal mourning and no public expiation, two crucial functions performed by the poem.

Despite Ippolita's lack of respect for social norms, her duties and familial responsibilities to obey her father's wishes, the Elegia casts Ippolita as the "victim" in and of the relationship. In fact, she is not herself blamed. Rather, it is Love, her misdirected "desire", her young age, and of course, Lodovico's trickery that are found responsible for the murder, and are chastised for the three deaths. The elegy and the sonnets that follow, I would argue, embody the city's recognition of her role as victim, rather than focusing on her role as perpetrator. After all, she did poison her father. Thus, she became worthy of the city's forgiveness, and the reputation of a Bolognese noble family is saved. Finally, she is portrayed as the innocent prey of a malicious man, his passion and fury, whose actions deprived her of a father, and sent her to the scaffold: "Perche priva di quel'almo sostegno,/ Meraviglia non e ch'io gionta sia,/ A tanta pena, sotto un empio legno" (46-48).

Ippolita is also portrayed as a strong woman, filled with regret but with no fear, who is now ready to meet her death. Remarkably, despite the love story and the patricide, she remains the only protagonist of her elegy, seldom mentioning Lodovico and her father. She instead carves a space for the feminine, and the scaffold becomes the locus of its performance. Her voice concentrates its narrative on the elaboration of her own remorse and her "mea culpas," and she presents herself as ready to meet her creator with open arms: "Non ho punto il voler dal tuo diverso,/ Ne mi duol anco questa amara sorte/ Perche ho gia il cor in te mio ben converso" (136-138). Hence, the scaffold of Bologna becomes a symbolic stage as the space for a woman to tell her story, confess her sins, show remorse, ask for forgiveness, and accept her punishment, all the while being paraded next to the horrifying beheading block: "La carne inferma in me par che si stempre,/ Fra Ceppo, Laccio, e Ferro, in ch'ella e avvinta" (73- 75). The "morte al ferro" becomes even more emblematic because her decapitation not only deprived the woman of her life, but also of her tongue, thus, her capacity to speak is eradicated. Once her lament is told and heard on the public scaffold, her elegy is beheaded as well.

However, it is remarkable that typical gender assumptions related to women's beauty are missing from this text. Indeed, any physical descriptions of the young noble woman are absent, with absolutely no adjectives used to describe her, with the exception of "bel capo" on the title page. On the contrary, the text focuses on portraying Ippolita's inner strength and as a perfect exemplum of female repentance and humility. Furthermore, throughout the elegy, her voice exhibits attributes usually restricted to men, such as strength, courage, dignity, and valor.


Alessandro Benacci

Benacci was undoubtedly the primary agent in this elegy's materialization. The year 1587 was a very industrious year for the Bologna publisher, as he became the official printer, "tipografo camerale", of the city's episcopate and municipality, publishing all of their official legal proceedings. (24) Despite the censorship, he had a unique niche and considerable share of the printing market, both religious and secular, and managed to publish a wide variety of products such as bans, descriptions of civil events, and literary and historical books. (25) Throughout his career, he used three typographical marks. The one illustrated on the title page of the Elegia is an intricate mark featuring some ornamental scroll work, garlands, and an oval frame surrounded by two naked figures, two hybrids, two heads and two masks. The oval is also framed by a Latin inscription that reads: "Fluctibus et fremitu assurgens Benace Marino", which is a quote from Virgil's Georgica, Book II (See Illustration 1). Benace is Lake Garda's Latin name, Benacus, and is of course reminiscent of the printer's last name, Benacci. Indisputably this mark befits the Elegia, because the picture inside the oval depicts a shipwreck in stormy waters. Stormy is indeed the Elegia's subject, as trouble was lurking in the horizon of Ippolita's life, as she herself states in the very first tercet: "Hor pur sen vola all'occidente il giorno/ Della mia vita, e innanzi tempo oscuro,/ Si rende il Ciel che mi si volge intorno" (1-3).

Benacci skillfully captures the young woman's lament as well as his city's mourning, thereby crafting a communal expression of grief where the sense of loss is shared by all members of the city. Furthermore, he produced and marketed a very unique product, whose audience is not only clearly defined, but also already built-in as the city of Bologna. Thus, it appears that he met all expectations of genre, gender, and reception with this unique elegy, while thoroughly capitalizing on and benefiting from the city's poetic competition.

Italy's religious, historical, and cultural climate was also a determining factor in the production of the Elegia, as it was published at a critical time while the Counter-Reformation was under way. The Council of Trent, which met over a span of eighteen years from 1545 to 1563, was deeply involved in the printing business, especially when gender was in question, as Diana Robin and other scholars have shown. (26) The first Indexes of prohibited books were instituted in Italy as early as 1545. (27) These were designed to censor works deemed to contain ideas against the Church. (28) I would argue that Benacci positioned his Elegia auspiciously within the Post-Tridentine's new agenda and objectives, whereby a young woman was publicly punished for her illicit relationship and for her father's murder. Furthermore, the lesson herein imparted was invaluable, as she sincerely repented and asked for forgiveness. She repeatedly offered herself in prayer to God, and thus, became a moral example for other young ladies. The citizens and the religious and political leaders of Bologna benefited as well because they embodied great Catholic attributes, such as compassion and forgiveness, but also took a strong stand against crimes of passion. Moreover, the decapitation spectacle and the city's emotional support, and embracing of its young citizen, were exemplary instances of a perfect Catholic sense of duty. The touching, commemorative elegy in Ippolita's honor became the materialization in print of this exemplary behavior. Rather than focusing on her sexual and capital sins, her lack of obedience and subordination, it was the young woman's courage, honor, and repentance that materialized into a teachable moment. Her grandiose gesture of eagerly offering her life to God was transformed into a moral lesson meant to placate Benacci's fears of Post-Tridentine censorial policies: (29)
   Ecco Signor che gionta a mortal Varco,
   A te mi volgo unica eterna luce
   E col tuo brazzo, aspra procella varco.
   Sia tu mia fida scorta, e sia mio Duce (85-88).

Indeed, Bologna was one of the towns targeted by the Roman censors for close scrutiny. In 1576, the city's inquisitor received instructions to prevent the publication of, among others, books or stories about "love". In Rome, they were already being destroyed, and printers were no longer allowed to publish them. (30) Benacci, as Bologna's official printer, was undoubtedly well aware of the Roman censorial prohibitions and of its index of forbidden topics. On the other hand, the publication of this elegy provided him not only an opportunity to capitalize on a well-known tragic event and its Christian, redemptory undertones, but also to increase his business by printing booklets in various genres that dealt with a well-known tragedy that profoundly touched his city. Furthermore, Benacci's materialization of Ippolita's voice, albeit ventriloquized, greatly benefited from Bolognese culture. By the end of the century, the city had a well-established tradition of female literary and spiritual achievements. Scholars have already called attention to the prominence of Bologna's female artistic and literary production, well steeped in Catholic spirituality. (31) Bologna, for example, saw the composition and publication of the first poetic collection by a woman, and became a center for accomplished female voices, including the nun-poet Girolama Castellani. (32)

The Elegy

Elegia d'una giovane nobile in Bologna is composed of six main themes that focus on the sin, the details of Ippolita's life and the father's murder, the moment of regret, followed by repentance and begging for forgiveness, and finally, the acceptance of her own death. It begins with a beautiful mythic image that portrays the young woman at the end of her life. Accordingly, the elegiac ego establishes a mournful tone in painful and tearful language in order to address her current disgraceful predicament: "Veggio Orione, e veggio il fredo Arturo,/ Che a mezza state, apportan ghiacci, e nevi,/ Al mio seren gia si tranquillo, e puro" (4-6). The coldness is a premonition of her impending death. Ippolita's sin is openly and candidly confessed without hesitation and without embarrassment, establishing the scaffold in the town square as a powerful symbol of the confessional:
   Hebbi spene tall'hor pari al desio
   Di potermi godere eterna pace,
   (Ahi) che paterno amor posi in oblio.
   Et ebra e ingorda d'un piacer fallace,
   Vera honesta recisi dal bel nome,
   Et arsi il cor d'indegna, e iniqua face (10-15).

The elegy rapidly increases its intensity, as we soon find out that the speaker is about to die, her head severed from her body: "son d'altrui man da me disgiunta" (27), and her body already pallid: "Questa mia spoglia a poco a poco imbianca" (33). However, although the elegist is at the very end of her life, her voice remains strong and persuasive, and has yet to reveal her dramatic truths.

The monologue often reaches intense moments of anguish, as in the following verses, where the speaker reflects on her own tragic lament: "Empio crudele; e dispietato stile,/ Fia di questo mio tragico lamento/ Hor che il verno sormontava al verde Aprile" (37-39). In particular, she mourns her young age, as she is barely twenty-five, "Hor che nel quinto lustro a pena giunta" (5), which should have been an enjoyable moment of celebration and delight, of exuberance and promises. Instead, the Spring of life is for her bitterly regretful and gloomy. She is deprived of all hope: "Speme humana ben sei falace e torta" (54). She also reflects with deliberate calm on the promises that Love had made her about the many moments of joy and tranquility that would follow, "Ove son l'hore si tranquille e liete,/ Ch'amor promesse a questa vita stanca/ Quando m'awolse in si pregiata rete?" (28-29). Indeed, in her final moments, Ippolita realizes that Love made many empty promises. We also learn the minute and intimate details of her life as a reminder of one of the genre's purposes, which is to stir compassion and lead the reader to identify with the elegist. Hence, we are invited to get to know the young woman and learn how she dealt with the travails caused by Love. However, in this particular elegy we realize that this is not fiction. Rather, it is the reality experienced by a historical figure, and the words spoken by her ventriloquized voice give us real-life goose bumps, as if we personally knew her. Accordingly, knowing her personally is to suffer Love's sorrows alongside her, as well as participating in her horrific, imminent death.

Yet, we are also touched by the stoicism with which she admits that she lost the right path in order to follow a blind and wicked love, "Accio la dritta via scorga al tuo regno" (111). Her own admission and the candor that transpires win us over even further, just like she had won her own community and its compassion. Again, she asks for forgiveness but also begs the Lord to be kind toward her bitter sorrow, rather than to look only at her grave mistake and sin:
   Non rimirar l'error e quel periglio,
   In cui cieca caduta, offesi tanto,
   La tua bonta, degna d'eterno esiglio
   Ma mira in me, Signor l'amaro pianto,
   Che sorge dal piu interno per dolore,
   C'ho del comesso fallo empio cotanto,
   Perdona (ahime) Signor, perdona al core,
   Che troppo folle oso, contro ogni legge,
   Seguir Forme d'un cieco, e infido amore (112-120).

Her propensity to blame her blind and malicious love is again a reference to one of the genre's traditional topoi: the feminine heart is too weak to stave off Love's assaults. Moreover, the sincerity and dignity she demonstrates in this confession touches the city and the readers, and corresponds to another function of this genre, which is to create a safe space for the distressed woman to lament and "say her truth."

While her elegiac voice is strong, acquiescent and stoic, it moves everybody else to weep and to mourn for her. Indeed, her repentance provides her with much calm and serenity, attributes that are often reiterated and that prompt the public to forget and forgive her sin. Because she has left the furor of love behind, the poem is never overpowered by rage or tumult.

Since the beginning, repentance is crucial, as in the following verses where Ippolita's lament acquires an intense elegiac tone: "I falsi miei piaceri erranti, e brevi/ Cedano al duol immenso, e saldo in ch'io,/ Son caduta, e non ho chi me ne levi" (7-9). Her brief, pleasurable moments are but a vague relic that gives way to eternal grief. She resigns herself, and with courage and acquiescence, she faces the harsh reality before her. These are the elegy's most dramatic tercets. With great composure, she acknowledges that her death is the only just and dignified end, as the punishment fits the crime:
   Perche s'io muoio, muoio, & e ben degno,
   Chi altrui uccise, uccisa, & ella sia,
   A cio del mal tocchi la pena il segno.
   Hor questo e quel che il mio destino invia,
   Anzitempo all'occaso, & e ancor giusto,
   Che alla colpa sia ugual la pena mia (64-69).

Thus, from beginning to end, the Elegia is a lament focused on divulging the naked truth of the scaffold with intricate details in order to display Ippolita's truth. It also diverts the town square witnesses from the ugliness and chaos of the sin, to the beauty and order of God's mercy. Ippolita directs her eloquent prayer to God, and asks him to shepherd her towards eternal light:
   Ecco Signor che gionta a mortal Varco,
   A te mi volgo unica eterna luce,
   E col tuo brazzo, aspra procella Varco.
   Sia tu mia fida scorta, e sia mio Duce,
   Poiche mia secca spoglia d'humor priva,
   Da se stessa al suo mal si riconduce (85-90).

Weaving across images of Christian ardor, the speaker increases her spiritual fervor. One can infer that she has already transcended the scaffold and commenced her journey toward God. And while her body weakens more and more, her voice increases its pitch and grip, as in the following similitude where as a pilgrim who at night thinks about the road ahead, so she rejoices at the thought that her soul will soon join its creator: "Perche qual Pelegrin ch'a notte alberga,/ E pensa del camin quanto gl'avanza,/ Pens'io che tosto a te quest'alma s'erga" (97-99).

Throughout, the elegy's crucial repetitive patterns of prayer culminate in moments of deep devotion in which Ippolita asks for absolution, solicits clemency for her crime and assistance for the difficult path that awaits her: "Perdona, e mi soccorra perche il calle,/ Troppo e sassoso ed erto a quella vita,/ Stammi tu al fianco, & fammi di te spalle" (124-126). She often conveys lessons about divine love and God himself: "Ma ogni van pensier da te discaccia,/ Anima, che si fiera incontro a D I O,/ Fosti, e il suo ver amor hor stringe e abbraccia" (79-81). The elegy then intensifies in religious images, and assumes more and more the characteristics of a prayer for forgiveness:
   Perdona (ahime) Signor, perdona al core, (118)
   Perdona, e col perdon guida e protegge, (121)
   Perdona, e mi soccorra perche il calle, (124)

Indeed, Ippolita's heart and soul are already turned to God. Her cruel destiny no longer troubles her, once again confirming her courage and dignity: "Non ho punto il voler dal tuo diverso,/ Ne mi duol anco questa amara sorte/ Perche ho gia il cor in te mio ben converso" (135-138).

Finally, she is ready to accept and meet her end, as long as the Lord grants her eternal life. In her final verses she cries:
   Vengo Signor, vengo costante e forte
   Figlia di Gette, alla mortai ferita,
   Fra tanti occhi che piangon la morte.
   Donami tu percio eterna vita (139-142).

Eternal life is a promise that Ippolita expects as attested by a key word, "percio," therefore. Moreover, this very final verse illustrates her Catholic upbringing and belief in God's allmighty power in granting eternal life to the true faithful. Hence, in her elegy, the noble woman from Bologna becomes an exemplum to other Christian women. Her voice is ventriloquized not only to lament her destiny, but also in order to warn all young women about the dangers of Love, to deter them against disobeying their father, and from defying social rules. Otherwise, they will lose their head, not only figuratively, but also literally. The moral education of viewers and readers alike is both undertaken on the scaffold and in the text. Likewise, the Elegia provides the city with the opportunity to bestow forgiveness on one of its young noble daughters. Spoken in public, on the grandiose spectacle of the city's scaffold, this elegy is an eloquent document epitomizing genre expectations, gender performance, and religious concerns of Post-Tridentine climate and culture.

Bologna's mea culpa

Elegia d'una giovane nobile in Bologna is consistent with the long- established elegiac tradition that depicts the woman in unfortunate predicaments, inducing her to lament her misery and misfortunes related to Love's adversities and abandonment, and despair. As shown, the elegy is a gendered construct, where the woman is portrayed in profound emotional turmoil, yet with a forceful and persuasive voice. Not only does this voice mourn her current unfortunate state, it also warns other women against following Love's false allures, and against listening to an undeserving beloved, especially one beneath her rank who took advantage of her infatuation, and caused her father's death. Furthermore, the female voice performs and conveys the woman's role as innocent victim of her misplaced passion. Like Fiammetta, Ippolita is depicted as a vulnerable being because she has fallen victim to her lover's ploys. She joins her voice to those of other ill- fated women of the elegiac tradition. However, by deviating from the traditional elegy, the Elegia's main protagonist demonstrates absolute courage and strength, never loses her calm and does not give in to despair. She exemplifies perfect Christian behavior by admitting and confessing her sin, regretting it, and sincerely repenting for it. Hence, by completely and whole-heartedly turning to God--her true love and eternal light--she embodies the very essence of a Christian prayer. In the eyes of her compassionate community, the religious zeal displayed on the scaffold greatly overshadows her crime of passion, and thus, the young noble woman is absolved.

Moreover, Bologna turns into a grim locus of death where the beheading spectacle of two of its young citizens touches the whole community. The city in mourning similarly transforms itself into a site of prayer, and undergoes a cathartic journey of triple loss, sorrow, forgiveness, and ultimately, redemption. The community projects its regrets, desires, and even sins onto this spectacle, which in turn becomes a material expiation. Furthermore, the last verses of the elegy reveal a true Christian confession--a mea culpa proclamation and powerful prayer that are perfectly expended by the city.

In conclusion, this elegy underscores Benacci's printing entrepreneurship, his role and influence in Bologna, but mostly, his authority and clearly-defined, gendered agenda focused on publishing the many representations of the young lovers' story and public beheading. As a powerful print agent, Benacci participated in the development of taste, genre and popular culture, but also religious propaganda. He also provided his city an opportunity to show its literary talents through the poetic competition. He was responsible for transforming a tragic event and focusing instead on Ippolita's redemption and courage in meeting her death, and then shaping the circulation and reception of her voice. Benacci's all-encompassing niche as Bologna's publisher of public documents allowed him to package this elegy as a public text, a Counter-Reformation moralistic document that would serve the entire Bolognese community, and thus, make it particularly marketable and profitable. (33) After all, the Elegia is anonymous, and it is his name alone that is closely associated with it. (34) As Ippolita's ventriloquized voice illustrates, the relation of gender to literary genre is very close. (35) Despite the beheading, Elegia d'una giovane in Bologna detta da lei was not only told and performed, it was also written down in order to create the perfect venue to carry Ippolita's persuasive voice and her brave lament, well beyond the third of January 1587.

Notes (1) Lettera nella quale si descrive la morte di due amanti, successa in Bologna [double dagger] 3 Gennaio 1587. Et altre compositioni. There are no page numbers.

(2) He writes: "... ardendo scambievolmente tra loro d'amore", 660.

(3) I found this book in a volume called Novelle et lamenti et poesie di'amore it at the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris (Res Yd 608-620). It belonged to the Due de la Valliere (1708-1780), one of the greatest French bibliophiles of the eighteenth century.

(4) "la citta tutta commossa onde moltissime rime a gara uscirono a compiangere il Caso, e a celebrarne i Defunti".

(5) In the same year, the Bolognese printer Fausto Bonardo published Stanze di G.N. le quali narrano il miserabile fine di duoi amanti, and Stanze composte in lingua bergamasca nella morte di Ludovico, et Hippolita.

(6) "Ma la donzella principalmente con l'eroica intrepidezza, colla quale incontro il supplizio, la Citta tutta commossa; onde moltissime Rime a gara uscirono a compiangere il Caso, e a celebrarne i defunti".

(7) I use Elizabeth D. Harvey's definition of ventriloquism as the appropriation of the feminine voice in poetic constructs, and in particular in the elegy genre spoken by a woman's voice. See her Ventriloquized Voices: Feminist Theory and English Renaissance Texts.

(8) See Celeste M. Schenck, who argues that "since Classical times, the elegy has functioned as a ritual hymn of poetic consecration during the course of which a new poet presents himself as heir to the tradition", 21.

(9) For a compelling discussion on gender performance and the epistolary genre, see Meredith K. Ray, Writing Gender in Womenis Letter Collections of the Italian Renaissance.

(10) Thus, rendering the other publications less authentic, whether rime, stanze, laments, or letters, because these merely commiserate her untimely death and are not spoken by her directly, as Elegia instead claims to do.

(11) For a discussion on the production of female authors in print, see Leah Chang, Into Print: The Production of Female Authorship in Early Modern France.

(12) The University of Oxford library indicates that the elegy's writer is Alessandro Benacci himself but I think this is a mistake because other libraries indicate that the author is unknown.

(13) Bloomfield also provides a concise history of the Greek and Latin elegy.

(14) See O. B. Hardison, Enduring Monument.

(15) Giuseppe Rosati, "L'elegia al femminile; le Heroides di Ovidio (e altre heroides)," 73.

(16) Rosati also shows how Ovid creates an ideology of "weakness", thus, according to him, the elegy is "la piu adatta ad accogliere la voce delle donne", 90-93.

(17) See also Guglielmo Gorni, "Atto di nascita d'un genere letterario: l'autografo dell'elegia 'Mirtini', and Comboni, "Le elegie di Giovanni Filoteo Achillini", in Li'elegia nella tradizione poetica italiana, 147-175.

(18) Achillini (1466-1538) crafted a long poem in octaves titled Il Viridario de Giovanne Philotheo Achillino Bolognese, Impresso in Bologna per Hieronimo di Plato Bolognese nel 1513, containing twelve elegies. In four of them, a female voice personifies Death, Love, and Fortune. Furthermore, Comboni points out that another book printed in Bologna in 1504 contains 16 love epistles, a form of elegy in its own right, and in three of these elegies, it is a female voice that narrates her misfortunes, further demonstrating the fortune of the elegy in Bologna and among its printers. Moreover, Silvia Longhi wrote on Achillini's Viridario and notes that here too its heroines are plagued by love excesses. See her "Lettere a Ippolito e a Teseo: La voce femminile nell'elegia".

(19) See Longhi, 388. Longhi also notes that in 1404, Vincenzo Calmeta (ca. 1460-1508) wrote a letter to Isabella d'Este in which he shared his theoretical views on the elegy in terza rima, claiming that it was a new courtly genre. Thus, the "ternario elegiaco" as he calls it, was well suited to express "flebili affetti e amorose lamentazioni", 389.

(20) Here too, Boccaccio ventriloquizes Fiammetta's voice, as Michael A. Calabrese points out in his "Feminism and the Packaging of Boccaccio's Fiammetta", 24.

(21) Stefano Carrai, "Appunti sulla preistoria dell'elegia volgare", in Lielegia nella tradizione poetical italiana, 13.

(22) Janet Levarie Smarr, Boccaccio and Fiammetta: the Narrator as Lover, 129-148, Marilyn Migiel, "Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375)", and Cesare Segre, "Struttura e registri nella Fiammetta", 134.

(23) See also her article "Ventriloquizing Sappho: Ovid, Donne, and the Erotics of the Feminine Voice".

(24) Alessandro Benacci started his business with his brother, Giovan Battista. His son Vittorio (1587-1629) inherited all of their commercial activities. See Dizionario dei tipografi e degli editori italiani. Il Cinquecento, 98.

(25) See La tipografia del '500 in Italia Biblioteca di Bibliografia Italiana, 116-159.

(26) Diana Robin, Publishing Women: Salons, The Press, and the Counter- Reformation in Sixteenth-Century Italy, 199-204. Robin explains how the Council of Trent's index of prohibited books affected the presses. See also Church, Censorship and Culture in Early Modern Italy, Gigliola Fragnito, ed., and Adrian Belton, trans., and Paul F. Grendler, Culture and Censorship in Late Renaissance Italy.

(27) See Grendler, The Roman Inquisition and the Venetian Press, 1540- 1605,

63-127. As Grendler notes, Paul IV's Index was the most detrimental to the presses because it was "the first Index to be promulgated unequivocally by the papacy in its capacity as spiritual leader of Catholic Christendom", 117.

(28) See William R. Estep, Retiaissance & Reformation, 278-281, and Giorgio Caravaie, Forbidden Prayer, 71-146.

(29) See Nicola Longo, "Fenomeni di censura nella letteratura italiana del Cinquecento", and Church, Censorship and Culture in Early Modern Italy, in particular Ugo Rozzo, "Italian Literature on the Index", 194-222.

(30) See Rozzo, 205.

(31) See Graziosi, "Due monache domenicane poetesse: una nota, una ignota e molte sullo sfondo," 164, and Babette Bohn, "Female Self-Portraiture in Early Modern Bologna", 239.

(32) Graziosi, 166-171. Castellani's poems were published in several anthologies, including the ground-breaking 1559 anthology Le rime diverse dialcune nobilissime e virtuosissime donne raccolte per M. Lodovico Domenichi.

(33) The geographical-cultural axis Ferrara-Bologna-Florence is an important aspect in the publication of this elegy because it was a genre very much en vogue at the Ferrara court, and thus, easily traceable to cultural exchanges facilitated by the new presses in these three cities. See Gaia Gentile, "Il capitolo in terza rima di Niccolo da Correggio: non solo elegia", 139.

(34) Virginia Cox shows how the demand for women-authored texts was high during the sixteenth century in Womenis Writing in Italy, 83.

(35) Barbara L. Estrin suggests interesting relations between genre and gender in her Laura: Uncovering Gender and Genre in Wyatt, Donne and Marvell.

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Gabriella Scarlatta

The University of Michigan-Dearborn
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