Thursday, 1 December 2011

Clemintina Piazza on autobiography

Bocaccio, Petrach and the changing nature of the literature of the self between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance

Clemintina Piazza (University of Oxford)

The last session of the term has been devoted to the role of the Self in the biographical and/or autobiographical writings of Dante, Petrarch and Bocaccio. Clemintina Piazza has offered a comprehensive overview of the different stands towards the Self in the writings of these three well known authors, focusing in Bocaccio's reluctance to write openly about himself but leaving traces of his biography in his works.

After a quick review of the methodological approach to the concept of the Self in the Middle Ages and the genres of biography and autobiography, Clemintina has gone back to the trobadours and trouvères to explain the raising interest in the lives of the poets and the circumstances of the composition of a literary work. About hundred years after these trobadours and trouvères wrote their poems, a genre of "poets' lives" appeared, in which some biographical notices about the creators were provided before the literary composition itself started, despite not being trustworthy because of the chronological distance and the literary nature of most of these "biographies".

However, in spite of this growing interest in the poetic persona, Dante states in his Convivio that it should be avoided writing about oneself or any other person, because of the unavoidability of partiality and diffamation. But he makes two exceptions that correspond with his own "biographical" writings, if by "biographical writings" we understand his Comedia and Vita Nuova. In both works Dante shows a conception of his "autobiographical" experience as a path of perfection that drives to God, therefore, as an exemplary topic. This moral aim is what justifies writing about the self, so that Dante's works should be considered rather philosophical writings about life and the Self than reflections of his autobiography.

On the other hand, Bocaccio would adopt the extreme stand of the story-teller and decide to write strictly fictions, that is, to make use of his imagination and not to write about himself. This does not mean that there are not traces of his self in his writings, but he conceals it under different literary forms, which are what interest him most, so that the personal component of the experience disappears. However, his biographical works are an exception to this, as we learn as much about the writer as about the object of the work. In this case, Clementina has suggested that this is due to the role Dante and Petrarch played in Bocaccio's literary concept, so that he cannot avoid getting personal when he writes about authors that have influenced him so much. In fact, Bocaccio would have tried to define with both biographies the place of Petrarch and Dante in the literary world of his time.

Finally, Petrarch tackles the problem of the self directly, letting the moral intention of biographical writing defended by Dante fade in favour of a properly personal analysis of the self. His Secretum is a work that speaks about his life, which is a life devoted to creating literature. However, a problem arises if we consider that the Secretum seems to have been a private writing, a kind of guide to his life and writings, which the author did not intend to make public. In any case it was made available after his death and received well by readers, so that it proves that there was a place for the reflection on the self without a proper moral meaning at the time too.

During the Q&A turn more interesting topics were treated, such as for example the target reader of these writings, the inspiration of any writing, the exemplary role of biography and autobiography and the rhetorical devices related to both genres. Hispanists commented on the pseudo-autobiographical Libro de Buen Amor and the doubts on its exemplarity, as well as the XVth century "revival" of biographies with the Generaciones y semblanzas by Fernán Pérez de Guzmán. Boscán's cancionero was mentioned too as an example of credible autobiographical poetic writing, as well as the custom of writing about their lives of nuns in Spanish monasteries during the Golden Age, as part of their reflections. The relation of biography and autobiography with saints' lives was discussed too, as a possible source of the exemplary value Dante conceeded to biographical writing and also to Petrarch's self analysis. Unfortunately, there was no time left to pose more questions, but it was a very good way to end the term.

Thank you very much to Clemintina Piazza for such an interesting talk and to all of you for attending today's session. Do not forget that the next session will take place in the second week of Hilary Term, that is on the 26th of January. Keep up-to-date by visiting the I3MS website or subscribing to our RSS or newsletter.

Happy vacation and holidays!

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Gemma Pellisa on sentimental romance

How to Please the enamorada generació. The Catalan Versions of Roman de Lancelot du Lac and Paris et Vienne

Gemma Pellisa (Universitat de Barcelona)

Today's session was a rather private one, with less attendants than usual but not due to a lack of interest in what our speaker had to tell us, but due to the mid-term Oxonian flu, better known as "work and health are not compatible under certain weather conditions typical of November" (we hope you get well soon, D.!). We would like to thank Gemma Pellisa for accepting our invitation to the I3MS and come all the way from London to give her interesting paper on the Catalan translations of the French romances Roman de Lancelot du Lac and Paris et Vienne. Gemma is working on the revision of the generic conception of sentimental romance and, as part of her research, she is enjoying a short stay of four months at the Warburg Institute.

After introducing the problematic of considering sentimental romance a genre as such, Gemma demonstrated how this consideration is based on a series of common characteristics that are not even fulfilled by every single text ascribed to this category. To support her thesis, she chose to analyse the rather enlightening examples of the Catalan translations of the French romances Roman de Lancelot du Lac and Paris et Vienne. The first one is a piece of Arthurian narrative full of action and chivalresque subjects which, when translated into Catalan, sacrifices all these defining characteristics in favour of a comprehensive development of the love story between Lancelot and Guinevere in the fashion of sentimental romance. The second title, which tells the love affair between Paris and Vienne, generates two different versions: a long one and a short one. The former does not alter the love matter, however, the latter avoids it completely, so that the story is reduced to a simple narration full of non erotic elements. Surprisingly enough, this was the most popular version of the work and was printed and widely distributed at the time.

On account of the above, our speaker concluded that the amorous plot was not definitive for the so-called sentimental romance, but that any topic was subject to be converted into sentimental prose. In her opinion, this is the result and most evident manifestation of a literary trend which favoured the topic of love above other possible motives, but did not constitute a proper genre because it spread to existing genres, influencing them but not resulting in something new. In favour of this interpretation, she argued that love was a common topic of debate at the court and courtly entertainment included analysis of various aspects of love, so that this taste for amorous matters existed at all levels among the target readers of the so-called sentimental romance.

The Q&A turn was devoted principally to the appropriateness of calling the Catalan adaptations of Roman de Lancelot du Lac and Paris et Vienne translations and the target readership of these works. The freedom of adaptation was analysed by comparing the Catalan translations with the Italian version of Cárcel de amor, and it was concluded that it was legitimate to adapt a foreign work to the local taste, above all if it had to be accepted in such a reductive circle as the court. With regard to the readership, there were some doubts on its gender-composition and the possible contrast between the audience of the more sentimental Tragèdia de Lançalot and the audience of the short version of Paris et Vienne, maybe more academic than courtly. It was not possible to come to any conclusion in sch a short time, but some interesting comparisons between reception of sentimental romances in Castille and Italy were made.

This was the last session on a Spanish topic of this term, so that the next -and last- one is devoted to Italianists and the development of autobiographical writing. See you there!

Friday, 4 November 2011

Jennifer Norris on Queenship

Mirrors for Queens: Writing Powerful Women in Medieval Castilian & Portuguese Historiography

Jennifer Norris (Lincoln College)

Hispanists take the lead this Michaelmas and Jennifer Norris has been the second speaker of this term with an interesting paper on the image of queens in Castilian historiography, more concretely, the Estoria de España by Alfonso X.

Among the different powerful women that are portrayed in this historiographical work, Jennifer chose Urraca I and Berenguela I to demonstrate how two queens in similar situations can receive a very different treatment depending on their relation towards power. By contrasting the pages of the Estoria de España devoted to both women, Jennifer made clear that Urraca I was considered a negative example of queenship, in spite of her reign having been a more or less successful and peaceful one, because of not having delegated power to the closest male appropiate candidate and having reigned for 17 years. On the other side, the behaviour of Berenguela I was considered exemplar, as she abdicated in favour of her son Fernando III after just three months in power. This contrasting attitude towards both queens affects hot only how they are portrayed, but also the structure of the written texts and when and how they are mentioned in subsequent chapters.

Urraca's comparison with Don Rodrigo was worth commenting, but the aspects that received more attention during the Q&A turn were thise related to the portrayal of Berenguela as an exemplar queen and mother. Her being described as "espejo" (mirror) for Castille and Aragon accounts for her exemplarity, while the legitimacy of her queenship and well exerted power was supported by her being who kinghted her son. Moreover, her description as a mother was linked to the allegorical figure of Lady Grammar, aside the Virgin's, and some interesting comments on current projects on queenship in Portugal followed.

In sum, other sucessful session of the I3MS. See you on week 6th!

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Amaranta Saguar García on on-line resources for Medievalists

On-line resources for Hispanists and Italianists working on the Middle Ages: the essentials

Amaranta Saguar García (Lady Margaret Hall)

This being a welcome session for old friends as well as newcomers, the I3MS decided to start with a more practical session on on-line resources for Hispanists and Italianists working on the Middle Ages. We thought it was the best thing to do after the long vacation, not to start with more intellectual topics such as those that will be the subject of the next sessions.

After introducing ourselves, that is, the current Standing Committee of the I3MS, the departure of one of the co-founders of the seminar, Florence Curtis (St Anne's College) had to be announced. As a result, Hispanists are slightly underrepresented at the I3MS, so that we need more MSt and DPhil students working on Medieval Iberia! Some more time was devoted to introductions, so that those present were able to talk a little bit about themselves, their current research and their expectations with regard to the I3MS. We feel lucky to have seen there many new faces, included two visiting students from the University of Salamanca (Spain).

The paper that followed dealt, as its own title conveys, with the essentials of computer resources for Medievalists. They were organised in three different groups, the first dealing with indispensable software and derivatives, the second with on-line bibliographical research and the third with linguistic issues.

In first place, Amaranta talked about typefaces specifically created to transcribe medieval texts. These fonts include a wide range of medieval special symbols and have been developed by two different projects: the MUFI-Project and the Junicode initiative. After that, she mentioned some transcription helps such as Transcript, but she moved very quickly to collation software, among which she highlighted CollateX as the most professional and Juxta as the most user-friendly. Finally, she described the different possibilities for bibliography management, not overlooking the utilities of modern text processors, but recommending the use of personal bibliographical software. This being usually very expensive, she recommended considering using Zotero, which is a free personal bibliography manager and can be used to gather bibliographical information from the Internet too, apart from helping to organise your fauvorites bookmarks.

The second section devoted to bibliographical research included search engines devoted almost exclusively to manuscripts (Manus, Calames and Philobiblon) and search engines that included printed old books (CERL Portal) and incunabula (ISTC, GW).

With regard to historical linguistics, Amaranta presented three corpora of old Spanish and Italian (two Spanish -CORDE and Corpus del Español- and one Italian) and the on-line Italian historical dictionary TLIO.

The paper ended with the promise of future sessions on more specific on-line resources, so that feel free to write to with your suggestions and ideas. For those who were not able to attend this session, Amaranta has made available over the Internet her slide presentation at her profile in Moreover, you will find a recording of the paper at the bottom of this entry, which is a novelty we have just introduced in the I3MS. We would like to start recording our sessions with the intention of creating a podcast, hopefully at the website of the University of Oxford. Please, let us know what you think about this new idea in the comments!

Paper author: Amaranta Saguar García.
Published under a CC license

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Emily-Kate Price on the Scuola Siciliana

Translation of a tradition? Re-appraising the link between the troubadours and the Scuola Siciliana

Emily-Kate Price (Magdalen College)

Despite being a MSt student, Emily Price dared to be the last speaker of I3MS this course year and delighted us with a very interesting talk about the relation of the Scuola Siciliana to the poetry of the trobadours, which has been the topic of her dissertation. The Scuola Siciliana shows certain differences to trobadour lyric with regard to its poetic purpose and the atmosphere from which it emerges: the Sicilian court was highly intellectual and form was regarded higher that content by its poets.

The Scuola Siciliana is the first manifestation of Italian poetry (1st half of the XIIth century) and shows a great influence of the poetry of the Trobadours. This influence can be explained not only by formal and thematic reasons, but is related to the circumstance that Italian was not a literary language at the time, so that it had to rely in authoritative models such as the troubadours to start forming their own literature. That is the reson why, despite depending so much on the models of the trobadours, some aspects are slightly changed in order to create a, Italian poetical identity different to the Occitan. Some of these were, for example, the phenomenology of love, the relation between love and death or the attitude towards authoritative sources. The new Italian current looked for factual poetry, instead of the personal introspective tendence of the trobadours. Moreover, they opted for clarification and univocity, in contrast to the ambiguity of trobadours.

This tendance reflects very well in translations of Occitan poems by poets of the Scuola Siciliana, which are not only translations but adaptations to and defenses of these new poetical principles. To prove this, Emily chose to analyse the translation that Giacomo da Lentini (1230s?) did of a poem by Folquet de Marselh, a late Occitan poet whose compositions start reflecting the crisis of trobadour poetry and the tensions between fin amor and poetical horizons, and quite close to the birth of the Scuola Siciliana. Apart from the above mentioned differences, Emily highlighted the similarities too and found a lot of what she called "compensations", that is, the repetition of words or ideas found in the Occitan poem which are not necessary in the translated version but which are introduced, in first place, to show the dependence from the original text; in second place, to dignify the composition through this dependence. In this sense, the function of trobadour poetry was to provide an already dignified literary form to the poets of the Scuola Siciliana, which they did not hesitate to manipulate and adapt to their personal taste.

The Q&A turn was full of remarks about similar proccesses in Spanish and Italian literature over the Middle Ages and theory of translation and of reception. At the end, we took farewell until the next term with some sparkling juice, but decided that some end-of-term drinks should be taking place some time in week 9. Therefore, keep visiting the blog for more information or suscribe to our newsletter!

Many thanks to all for coming and see you next Michaelmas term!
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