Lorenzo Braccesi, Poesia e memoria: Nuove proiezioni dell' antico. Rome: 'L'Erma' di Bretschneider, 1995. Pp. ix + 197. ISBN 88-7062-884- 1. L45 000.
André F. Basson
Niagara Falls, Canada
It is not unusual for a period of intense political upheaval in a country's history to produce great art and literature. Italy experienced such a period between 1821 when the country was still made up of eight separate states, and 1870 when Rome was established as the capital of a unified Italy. During this period, which is also known as the Risorgimento, Italian literature reached new heights thanks to the work of figures such as Ugo Foscolo (1778-1827), Alessandro Manzoni (1785-1873), and Giacomo Leopardi (1798-1837), to name but a few. Even the post-Risorgimento period was not devoid of great literary achievement. Here should be mentioned the names of at least three poets, Giosuè Carducci (1835-1907), Giovanni Pascoli (1855-1912) and Gabriele D'Annunzio (1863-1938). Following in the footsteps of his previous book, titled Proiezioni dell' antico (Bologna 1982), Lorenzo Braccesi's Poesia e memoria: nuove proiezioni dell' antico aims to examine the influence of classical (Greek and Roman) literature on some of the works of these important literary figures. As such, its interest for the classical scholar is, unfortunately, limited to the area of the history of the classical tradition. Perhaps in line with the current trendiness of the word in European intellectual circles,[] Braccesi's use of the term memoria suggests a more historical approach. Indeed, he is not so much interested in the poet's use of literary allusion, but in the manner in which the latter manipulates, changes, and distorts his sources and thus significantly alters the historical memory.
The first and major part of the book (pp. 1-120) carries the title L'Incidenza del messaggio and investigates the effect of the message. Chapter 1 (pp. 3-12), titled Antiromanità neoclassica and subtitled con Foscolo sulla nave delle Muse (an allusion to Foscolo's poem 'Inno alla nave delle Muse') briefly addresses two thematic strands in Foscolo's poetry, his anti-Roman and anti- Christian bias, and concludes that the former shaped the latter. Foscolo's condemnation of the Augustan regime on the grounds that it betrayed the ideals of the Republic must be read against the background of contemporary political events in Italy under the rule of Napoleon. Foscolo idealized the Greek world (Classical, Hellenistic and Byzantine) and its legacy as the true source of the literary renaissance that occurred during the Italian Rinascimento. In his 'Inno alla nave delle Muse', Foscolo celebrates the arrival in Italy of the Greek muses who came to Italy, so he claims, not after the fall of Troy, but one thousand six hundred years later, after the fall of Byzantium. Braccesi points out that this voyage from East to West in Foscolo's 'Inno alla nave delle Muse' duplicates that of the eagle in the sixth canto of Dante's 'Paradiso'. One major difference, however, concerns the value attached by the two poets to the role of Christianity. Whereas Dante celebrates the contribution of Christianity to the transformation of the Roman Empire into the Holy Roman Empire, Foscolo sees only a decline that resulted in the fall not only of the Western Roman Empire but also of the Byzantine Empire. In both cases, he lays much of the blame at the door of Christianity and Rome's betrayal of the Homeric gods whom he believes the Romans had simply taken over from the Greeks and romanized. Not surprisingly, Foscolo cannot appreciate the Vergil in whose poetry Medieval culture found allusions to Christ. By the same token, he rejects the Augustus whose principate, so it was claimed, inaugurated a new period in history which, through divine providence, coincided with the birth of Christ.
In Chapter 2, 'Il sacrificio di Leonida', subtitled 'con Leopardi alle Termopile' (pp. 13-45), Braccesi examines the influence of Greek literary models on Leopardi's 'All' Italia'. He is particularly interested in the way in which Leopardi made the Spartan concept of arete or virtue an important theme of the poem and sought to celebrate the idea that in their defeat at Thermopylae the brave Spartan soldiers actually became victors. Braccesi traces the poet's idea that the Spartans who died at Thermopylae gave up their lives for a cause that was not their own, to an elegy of Tyrtaeus (fr. 10 W., 3-7) and suggests that Leopardi may also have remembered the many Italians who died serving in Napoleon's military campaigns. Braccesi also discovers the influence of Simonides' funerary epigram for the fallen Spartans at Thermopylae in Leopardi's poem. The epigram is only extant in Herodotus (7.228.2) and in later authors, including Cicero. But when, in his correspondence, Leopardi admits to knowing this epigram, it is only Cicero he mentions by name. Herodotus' Athenian background clearly disqualifies him in Leopardi's mind as worthy of mention. In the rest of this chapter, Braccesi shows how Leopardi's pro-Spartan bias prompts him to use the ancient literary sources available to him very selectively. The author is quite adept at identifying the poet's ancient sources and recognizing instances where one account has been contaminated by another in the poet's memory. More unusual is Leopardi's treatment of Simonides' encomium on the Spartan heroes of Thermopylae. Only nine lines of the original poem have been preserved in Diodorus (11.11.6). In a letter to the poet Vincenzo Monti (1754-1828) to whom he dedicated his poem, Leopardi indicated that his mimesis of the ancient (fragmentary) text will not only include the lines that have been preserved but also, and especially, those that are no longer extant. In fact, Leopardi's aim is not so much to imitate but to recreate. In doing so, he appears to have borrowed a number of details from Herodotus, but especially from Diodorus (who was prejudiced in favour of Sparta and thus particularly attractive as a source to Leopardi) and Trogus Justinus, that emphasize the fearlessness of the Spartan soldiers. These include a nocturnal attack launched by the Spartans on the enemy camp on the eve of the famous battle (lines 109-118). The whole scene contains strong visual elements. For example, the way Leopardi describes it strongly resembles the portrayal on the famous mosaic discovered at Pompeii of Darius' flight after his defeat at Ipsus. Braccesi points out that Leopardi was familiar with the Horatian principle according to which poetry should emulate painting (ut pictura poesis). But it was none other than Simonides who, according to Plutarch (Mor. 346), first claimed that poetry should portray a picture in words. Thus Leopardi's attempt to reconstruct Simonides' poem also includes an important aspect of the ancient poet's literary aesthetics.
In a third chapter (pp. 47-63), which carries the title, 'Il suicidio di Bruto: con Leopardi a Filippi', Braccesi turns his attention to Leopardi's 'Bruto minore'. Perhaps reflecting his own unhappy life, Leopardi portrays Brutus as a deeply disillusioned champion of virtue whose decision to commit suicide after the battle of Philippi is brought on by the bitter realization that his lifelong pursuit of virtue has been in vain. The theme of the vanquished being victorious is also exemplified in the life of Brutus in so far as his tragic death had, according to Leopardi, as a direct consequence, the invasion by Alaric and his barbarian hordes, and the fall of imperial Rome more than four centuries later. Among Leopardi's ancient sources, Braccesi focuses on some which the poet does not mention in his correspondence, namely Horace Carm. 2.7 and Epod. 16. Although there is still no absolute consensus regarding the date of the latter poem's composition, Braccesi is convinced that Leopardi thought it to be the day after the battle of Philippi. The author identifies a number of verbal and thematic correspondences between the original text and Leopardi's poem. He is not interested in how recognizable these were to Leopardi's readers and therefore ignores the question of their effect or the literary meaning created by them. What matters to him is only the extent of similarity between the modern poem and its classical source. For example, the theme of a primeval Golden Age is found in both Horace (in Epod. 6) and in Leopardi's 'Bruto minore'. In both cases, it is contrasted with the present in which virtue has been corrupted. But, as Braccesi points out, the two poets differ as to the best way in which the person who is still morally pure may escape such circumstances. While Horace believes in escaping to the mythical lands of the blessed that lie over the ocean, Leopardi -- via the character of Brutus -- recommends suicide. The relationship between the two poems is somewhat more complex, despite the obvious straightforward similarities. Brutus in Leopardi's poem is not an ancient figure that has simply been placed in a modern context, but a modern figure that has been placed in an ancient context (by Leopardi), almost as if he were the alter ego of the poet of Epod. 6.
Chapter 4 (pp. 65-84), 'Il discorso di Carlo: con Manzoni sulle Alpi', is devoted to the influence of Livy on Manzoni's Adelchi, a tragic drama written for the stage. Especially Hannibal's speech of encouragement to his soldiers after his Carthaginian army had reached the summit of the Alps, provided not only Napoleon with material when he addressed his soldiers during the first Italian campaign. In the Adelchi, another famous conqueror of Italy, namely Charlemagne, also makes use of it when he addresses his Frankish troops as they prepare to invade the country. Like Bellovesus, the commander of the Celtic invasion force in Livy Book 5, Charlemagne, too, more than a thousand years later, finds himself and his troops 'almost besieged' by the chain of high Alpine peaks and seeks to discover by some miracle a mountain path that will lead them into Italy. When he finds such a path, Charlemagne, like Hannibal, addresses his troops. Braccesi convincingly demonstrates that for Charlemagne's speech Manzoni drew on Livy's account of the speech given by Hannibal (21.30). What prompted Manzoni to make this connection, Braccesi claims, was the poet's 'memory' of the life of the greatest general of his time, namely Napoleon, especially the latter's speech to his troops on 27 March 1796. It is almost as if Livy's Hannibal served as a 'narratological model' or 'filter' for Manzoni's literary portrayal of Charlemagne. Braccesi also shows how in Manzoni two popular but at the same time antithetical themes of the Augustan period, namely the theme of the Alps as Italy's bulwark against foreign invasion (a theme rooted in Augustan political ideology) and the theme of the violators of this bulwark (a common theme in Livy) are harmonized (as they are also in Livy) to enhance the Augustan view of Italy as a land of great bounty.
A connection between Hannibal and Napoleon had already been made by Vincenzo Monti in his poem 'Per la liberazione d'Italia' and may also have inspired Manzoni, Braccesi claims in Chapter 5, 'Il modello napoleone: con Monti rileggendo il Cinque maggio' (pp. 85-93). Another example of Manzoni's literary memory is found in the ode which he wrote immediately after receiving the news of the death of Napoleon, the 'Cinque maggio'. Already in his poem, the 'Mascheroniana', Vincenzo Monti, had portrayed the Emperor as the new Alexander the Great. The same association reappears in Manzoni's ode. But here it is rendered explicit by the repeated application of a biblical allusion (siluit terra in conspectu eius 'the world was silent in his presence', Macc. 1.1-6), in different forms, to both Alexander the Great and Napoleon.
In Chapter 6, 'Il vate delle due Etrurie: con Carducci a Felsina e dintorni' (pp. 95-119), Braccesi turns to Carducci's fascination with the Etruscan civilization in Italy and its capital city, Felsina (Bologna), a fascination that was further nourished by the poet's conversations with eminent archaeologists and by meetings of the Deputazione di storia patria on which he served as secretary. The author is especially interested in the significance of the references to the presence of the Etruscans in the Po-valley in Carducci's poetry, notably in the poems 'Alle fonti del Clitumno', 'Fuori alla Certosa di Bologna' and 'Da Desenzano'. It would seem that Carducci was especially intrigued by the possibility that there existed a cultural unity among the Etruscan settlements on both sides of the Apennines long before the establishment of the Pax Romana. Carducci even seeks traces of an Etruscan presence in those parts of Italy that were first settled by the Terramaricoli and the Veneti. However, the poet's portrayal of the Etruscans in these three poems is far from consistent. In 'Alle fonti del Clitumno', they are very much a warlike nation, whereas in 'Fuori alla Certosa di Bologna' they are also founders of cities. But in the 'Da Desenzano', it is the latter characteristic that predominates. Braccesi mentions another example of Carducci's attempt to discover traces of Etruscan settlements in pre-Roman Italy. In 'Alla città di Ferrara', the poet refers to the city as Spina pelasga (line 40). According to Braccesi, pelasga here signifies either 'Greek' or 'Etruscan'. However, if the former is meant, then the poet's remark in the preceding lines that Diomedes turned Spina into a Greek city, would not make sense. Braccesi therefore concludes that the phrase should rather be taken as a reference to the city's Etruscan origins. Because he spent much of his childhood in Tuscany, Carducci even finds reason to claim that he himself is a distant descendant of the Etruscans. The connection established by his imagination between Tuscany and the Etruscans is also apparent in his description of Bologna, the city where he taught Italian literature for over 40 years, as tosca metropoli (on p. 195 of the national edition of Carducci: Opere, cited in Braccesi, p. 114, n. 39).
The subject of Chapter 7, 'Il modello Alessandro: con Pascoli rileggendo La cetra di Achille' (pp. 121-34), is the composite strands of literary influence that are woven into Pascoli's portrait of Achilles in his poem 'Cetra di Achille'. In the poem, Achilles, accompanying himself on the cithara, sings of the fame of past heroes in an attempt to drown out the voices of nature that foretell his own death. The scene comes from Homer (Iliad 9.185-89), as Pascoli himself remarks in a note, but filtered through Plutarch who mentions Achilles' cithara in his Life of Alexander (15.7). In fact, Pascoli's Achilles in 'Cetra di Achille' (written in 1903), so Braccesi argues, manifests certain characteristics of the Alexander portrayed by the poet in the poems 'Gog e Magog' and 'Alexandros' (both written in 1895). These involve mainly a number of thematic similarities and verbal correspondences. Braccesi finally concludes that Achilles and Alexander, as they are portrayed in these three poems, actually represent a single heroic figure. The reason is not primarily the degree of contamination, but rather the reference to the cithara. He points out that the source for some of the details of Achilles' acquisition of this particular musical instrument as part of the war booty he received after the destruction of Thebes is indeed Homer's Iliad, but surprisingly also the Alexander Romance. Pascoli's familiarity with the latter confirms, at least as far as Braccesi is concerned, that his description of the death of Achilles was influenced by the legend of Alexander.
On page 135, Braccesi moves on to the second part of his book which is titled 'La forza del modello'. In the first chapter, 'La memoria troiana: Foscolo, Dionigi di Alicarnasso e Zacinto' (pp. 137-44), he returns to the work of the poet Foscolo, and in particular to his use of the classical legend of the union between Jupiter and Electra in the 'Sepolcri', in a section of the poem filled with autobiographical detail (especially lines 235-41 and 254f.). In a learned note, Foscolo identifies Apollodorus and George Tzetzes (the scholiast on Lycophron) as his only sources for the legend. But he does not mention Dionysius of Halicarnassus whom Braccesi maintains was another source. In support of his argument, Braccesi notes that Dionysius of Halicarnassus explicitly ties the legend to Zacynthus, the island on which Foscolo was born. In fact, Dionysius of Halicarnassus is the most important ancient source concerning the early history of the poet's island and the only one to mention its Trojan origins. Foscolo was often in the habit of deliberately misleading his reader regarding the identity of his sources, but Braccesi can offer no explanation why he chose to do so in the case of Dionysius of Halicarnassus in the 'Sepolcri'. It certainly was not necessary and does not contribute to rendering the text more intelligible.
In Chapter 2, 'La spiga recisa: Carducci, Erodoto e Robespierre' (pp. 145-53), Braccesi examines a central image at lines 53-60 of Carducci's poem, 'Per il LXVIII anniversario della proclamazione della Reppubblica Francese', written in 1870. In the poem, Carducci bemoans the betrayal of the republican ideals of the French Revolution that paved the way for Napoleon's rise to power and the establishment of imperial rule. Robespierre is portrayed as carrying out the purposes of historical necessity. Like a reaper with his scythe, he advances, cutting down every form of inequality and injustice he encounters. This image in Carducci contains a number of classical echoes, but Braccesi focuses on one source in particular, namely Herodotus. At 5.92, the Greek historian recounts how Thrasybulus, the tyrant of Miletus, in order to demontrate to Periander that to secure his position as tyrant of Corinth he should murder the most able and influential citizens of the city, entered a cornfield and proceeded to cut down with a scythe the tallest ears of wheat until the whole crop was ruined.
In Chapter 3, 'La cavalcata annibalica: Carducci, Livio e i Mauri immani' (pp. 155-58), Braccesi returns to Carducci's 'Alle fonti del Clitumno' to investigate the classical sources for the poet's description of Hannibal's unsuccessful attempt to capture Spoleto the day after his victory at Lake Trasimene. The primary literary source is Livy (22.9.1) whose account also inspired the inscription that immortalizes the event on the arch of the Porta Fuga in Spoleto. Carducci would also have been familiar with the latter after he visited Spoleto as a ministerial inspector in 1876. Particularly puzzling, however, is Carducci's description of the Mauri in Hannibal's army as immani ('huge'), since it is not found in either Livy or in the inscription. Braccesi ingeniously suggests that Carducci's memory may have been contaminated by a painting by Francesco Coghetti in the Teatro Nuovo di Spoleto depicting huge dark- skinned horsemen in full flight. This scene could have reminded him of Hasdrubal's Mauritanian cavalry who, in Livy 23.29.14, was put to flight by the Romans in Spain. Carducci, so Braccesi argues, identified the latter with the former and thus arrived at the notion of 'huge Mauritanians' (Mauri immani).
Carducci wrote 'Alle Valchirie', 'Per i funerali di Elisabetta imperatrice regina' in September 1898 to honour the memory of the Empress Elisabeth (of Wittelsbach or Sissi as she was popularly called), the wife of the Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria. The poem describes the transfer of her body by the Valkyries to the island of Corcyra after her assassination. What is the meaning of the poet's statement at line 15 that close to Corcyra Achilles awaits the arrival of the deceased Empress? Was the poet alluding to the two large statues of Achilles Elisabeth had planned to have erected on the island, or he was trying to suggest that the Homeric hero awaited her arrival to transport her to the eternal rest of Elysium? In Chapter 4, 'L'imperatrice trasfigurata: Carducci, Achille ed Elisabeta' (pp. 159-69), Braccesi weighs the merit of each of the two possibilities. He finds support for the connection between Achilles and Elysium in Carducci's poem, 'Presso l'urna di Percy Bysshe Shelley' written in 1884, where another innocent victim of fate (Iphigeneia) joins the hero in the Land of the Blessed. Braccesi argues that Achilles in the poem in honour of the Empress Elisabeth was influenced by the poet's memory of Achilles in his earlier poem. That this is indeed the case, Braccesi believes, is confirmed by the fact that in both cases there are also references to figures from the Nibelungenlied. Finally, Braccesi also manages to discover a number of thematic echoes of Carducci's own 'A Neera' and of Foscolo's 'All' amica risanata' in 'Alle Valchirie' that suggest that the Empress' final destination was indeed Elysium.
The subject of the fifth chapter, 'La discendenza pelasgica: D'Annunzio, Ulisse e l'inno Alle Pleiadi' (pp. 171-79), is the exact meaning of the adjective pelasgo as it is applied to Ulysses at line 44 of D'Annunzio's poem 'Alle Pleiadi e ai Fati'. Braccesi first claims a semantic correspondence between pelasgo as it is used in this poem and the word nanos which ancient literary sources (notably Hellanicus of Lesbos and Lycophron) associate with the king of the Pelasgians who left Greece with his people and settled in Italy where they founded the city of Cortona. Both Theopompus (FgrHist. 115 F 354) and Lycophron (Alex. 805f.) mention Ulysses' connection with Cortona. But is there any evidence that D'Annunzio was familiar with any of these sources and derived his description of Ulysses as Re pelasgo from them? Braccesi answers in the affirmative and notes that the poet knew of the classical legend that associated Ulysses with Cortona. Support for his argument is found in a sonnet the poet wrote in honour of the city of Cortona (in the collection Città del silenzio). Braccesi convincingly demonstrates that the 'hero of Cortona' in this poem (lines 1-4) is to be identified with Ulysses, the Re pelasgo of 'Alle Pleiadi', especially because of the association by the poet's memory of both figures with Dante's Inferno.
The subject of the final chapter, 'La Nike bifronte: D'Annunzio, la vittoria e la morte' (pp. 181-88), is D'Annunzio's dependence on Carducci in the poem 'Canto augurale per la nazione eletta', especially in regard to the close connection between victory and death established by the poem's use of imagery. Braccesi examines a number of images associated with nike in Carducci's poetry and D'Annunzio's 'Canto augurale' to demonstrate the extent of the latter poet's indebtedness to the former. The fact that Carducci's nike in 'Alla vittoria' was inspired by the statue of Victory on the Capitolium of Brescia may have prompted D'Annunzio, who was keenly interested in archaeology, to draw on it for his portrayal of nike in the 'Canto augurale'. Braccesi also draws attention to another archaeological source of influence, one to which D'Annunzio had direct access, namely the statue (without wings) of Nike at Ostia. D'Annunzio was fascinated by its discovery and even recalled the event in the first lines of his poem 'Canzone d'oltremare' (lines 1-3).
[] Cf., for example, Paul Ricoeur, La mémoire, l'histoire, l'oubli (Paris 2000).