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Roberta Morosini, ed.: Boccaccio geografo. Un viaggio nel Mediterraneo tra le citta, i giardini e ... il "mondo" di Giovanni Boccaccio.

Roberta Morosini, ed. Boccaccio geografo. Un viaggio nel Mediterraneo tra le citta, i giardini e ... il "mondo" di Giovanni Boccaccio. Firenze: Pagliai, 2010.

As Roberta Morosini notes in her extensive introduction to this collection of essays, the task of her nine contributors is to analyze the narrative modalities whereby Boccaccio describes geographical space within his various works, with emphasis on the cities, lands and gardens of both the Orient and Occident, as well as the islands and peoples of the farthest reaches of the Mediterranean and beyond. However, in reconstructing Boccaccio's views of the physical world and its exotic peoples, the volume must perforce set an even grander task for itself, that of describing the revolutions in geography and cartography that took place in fourteenth-century Europe. Even readers unfamiliar with Boccaccio might find much to appreciate in the volume's many descriptions of late medieval travel literature by numerous other authors, as well as in the thirty-one color reproductions of medieval maps and other illustrations from a variety of manuscripts that are included at the end of the book.

As Morosini notes, Boccaccio had access at a young age to a rich collection of maps and accounts of voyages while he was associated with the Angevin court of Naples. He did not read these works with the mindset of an historian or cartographer who might be inclined to regard the places described therein merely as potential backdrops for narrative situations, but rather as a "narratore interessato" who populates "spazi sociali" with characters who interact with the spaces around them as much as with one other (24). As several of the contributing authors affirm, Boccaccio flourished at a time in which a variety of historical events such as the Mongol invasions and the rediscovery of the Canary Islands, combined with accounts of contacts between Christendom and the denizens of the near and far East, served to excite interest in a kind of geography that could move beyond the medieval parameters of symbolism and fantastic ruminations on the unknown. Moreover, scholarly knowledge of ancient geographical texts was increasing. In this atmosphere of renewed fascination for the physical world, Boccaccio firmly allied himself with an incipient current of geographical realism that tended to reject or even parody the fantastic descriptions of distant places to be found in many contemporary romances, maps, and travel accounts.

The first essay, "Fantasia e misura nella imago mundi: note sull'eredita cartografica e sulla rappresentazione dell'ecumene nel basso medioevo," is by Andrea Cantile, whom Morosini acknowledges as her collaborator for the text as a whole; indeed Cantile's essay is also correlated with the volume's sumptuous array of color maps. Cantile's contribution does not discuss Boccaccio. Instead, it serves as an essential introduction to the subsequent articles, since it summarizes the phases of development of world views in the West from classical times through the late Middle Ages, with emphasis on the schemes of Cosmas Indicopleustes, Macrobius, Augustine and Isidore of Seville, as well as descriptions of the pervasive trifaria orbis divisio, or T-O map, in which the known lands are represented in the shape of a T surrounded by the orb of the oceans, and the innovative portolano charts that eschewed portrayals of fabulous beings and marvels in favor of practical information for navigators and traders. Cantile's capsule summary and maps provide a wealth of historical detail that should prove useful to any student of medieval thought.

In the next chapter, Claude Cazale Berard offers an updated version of an essay that has already appeared elsewhere: "I1 giardino di Fiammetta. Una quete amorosa sulle sponde del Mediterraneo." Berard traces Fiammetta's garden in the Filocolo back to its origins among the paradisiacal gardens of the ancient cosmogonies and the Roman hortus conclusus, describing Boccaccio's shift from the encyclopedic didacticism of earlier medieval gardens to the autonomous awareness of classical civilization that characterizes humanism. She also dwells on the various other gardens of the Filocolo with their symbolic flowers and tales of trial and seduction, concluding that Boccaccio describes therein a world of limitless possibilities for achieving desires, in part through his combination of contrasting sources (classical, biblical, romance) in order to arrive at a "sublimazione dei dati della realta antropologica," a mythologizing of the quotidian through the application of "magia verbale" (62).

Michelina di Cesare comes next, with "I1 sapere geografico di Boccaccio tra tradizione e innovazione: l'Imago mundi di Paolino Veneto e Pietro Vesconte." Boccaccio's fascination for the new type of geographical vision presented by the Trecento cartographers Paolino and Vesconte provides a point of departure for a close study of their works, whose realistic views of the world reject both mythological references and biblical symbolism. Much of Di Cesare's study is devoted to a textual analysis of the works of these influential authors, in order to demonstrate that their texts descend from a common ancestor.

Boccaccio's humanistic dictionary of geography is described by Claudio Greppi in "I1 dizionario geografico di Boccaccio. Luoghi e paesaggi nel De montibus." Greppi demonstrates how Boccaccio's innovative methods for ordering geographical space in De montibus, silvis, nemoribus, fontibus, lacubus, fluminibus, stagnis seu paludibus et de diversis nominibus maris make this work a unique humanistic creation for its time, soon to be eclipsed by the dissemination of a Latin translation of Ptolemy's Geography in the fifteenth century.

Nicolo Budini Gattai provides "La percezione del mondo greco del XIV secolo tra incomprensioni culturali e topoi letterari," in which the sources of Boccaccio's knowledge of contemporary Greece are explored with special emphasis on his relationship with the Florentine Niccolo Acciaioli, who had lived in the Morea and had cultivated a low opinion of the Greeks, as well as on his pejorative treatment of Greeks and the Greek world in the tale of Alatiel (Decameron II, 7). Italian views of other ethnic groups are also the topic of Janet Levarie Smarr's "Altre razze ed altri spazi nel Decameron," an Italian translation of an article that the author has published elsewhere in English. Smarr treats the topic in three sections: non Christians in the West, non Christians in the East, and Christians in the East, ultimately concluding that Boccaccio tends to adhere to traditional medieval views of non Christians when he writes more scholarly works, whereas in the Decameron the reader encounters depictions of the Other that promote a critique of Christian habits and notions of justice.

The next essay is Luca Marcozzi's "Raccontare il viaggio: tra itineraria ultramarina e dimensione dell'immaginario." Marcozzi summarizes the types of travel literature that were prevalent in Boccaccio's time, in order to discover how the author transforms them into novelle. According to Marcozzi, journeys appear in forty Decameron novelle, and 163 different places are named. Boccaccio's interest in the geographical realism of merchant accounts and the portolani leads him to avoid the more fantastic accounts of such genres as the classical romance and popular travel literature, save when he wishes to parody them, as in the case of the tales of Alatiel and Frate Cipolla (VI, 10), whose sources and structures Marcozzi analyzes at length.

Roberta Morosini's own contribution to her anthology, "Napoli: spazi rappresentativi della memoria," describes how Boccaccio presents a "geografia della memoria" of the beloved city of his youth in his works, especially the Filocolo (181). Boccaccio's depiction of "spazi rappresentativi" includes both personal and literary memories, as Morosini shows in her examination of Virgil's influence on the Filocolo.

The concluding essay is by Theodore J. Cachey, "Petrarca, Boccaccio e le Isole Fortunate. Lo sguardo antropologico." The last term in the title pertains to European attitudes toward the languages, customs and religions of newly discovered cultures, a notion which is treated by both Petrarca in De vita solitaria and Boccaccio in De Canaria et de insulis reliquis noviter repertis in conjunction with the European rediscovery of the Canaries, then known as the Fortunate Isles, in the 1330s. Cachey demonstrates some essential differences between the ways in which the two authors regard the indigenous peoples of the islands: while Petrarca compares them unfavorably with other primitive solitary types, declaring them guided only by natural instinct, Boccaccio finds that their trustworthiness and lack of materialism place them in favorable contrast to Europeans. According to Cachey, Boccaccio's "sguardo antropologico" stands as a rhetorical precursor to later comparisons between idealized European behavior and that of the primitive Other, as exemplified by Montaigne.

As Morosini notes in the introduction, Boccaccio's journeys move through a space that is not only physical but cultural, filtered through the author's biographical and literary memories (9-10). In Boccaccio geografo, the reader is effectively led on a tour of the myriad ways in which Boccaccio's memories of places, both real and imagined, serve to orient his narrative and scholarly strategies during an age of growing fascination for the expanding limits of the world.

CHRISTOPHER NISSEN

Northern Illinois University
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Author:Nissen, Christopher
Publication:Italica
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 22, 2011
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