The Medieval Review 11.12.13

Lorenzini, Simona. La corrispondenza bucolica tra Giovanni Boccaccio e Checco di Meletto Rossi, L'egloga di Giovanni del Virgilio ad Albertino Mussato. Quaderni di "Rinascimento. Florence: Leo S. Olschki Editore, 2011. Pp. 244. . . 27 EUR. 978-88-222-6065-9.

Reviewed by:

Janet Smarr
University of California, San Diego

Lorenzini's volume, an edition and commentary on the eclogues exchanged between Giovanni Boccaccio and Checco di Meletto Rossi plus one sent by Giovanni del Virgilio to Albertino Mussato, offers a solid contribution to the history of pastoral and to the cultural developments of fourteenth-century Italy. Lorenzini develops the suggestion by Enrico Carrara that the fourteenth-century revival of bucolics began with a series of examples, all close to each other in time, which he labeled "epistolary eclogues." That is, rather than seeing the eclogue as a dramatic form within itself, writers saw it as part of a dramatic exchange with other writers. This piece of pastoral history began with Dante's use of the eclogue form to reply to a verse epistle from Giovanni del Virgilio, who then replied in kind. Del Virgilio later (in 1327) tried to repeat the exercise with Albertino Mussato; Mussato, however, failed to respond. Boccaccio, aware early on of Dante's and del Virgilio's eclogues, which he had copied into his Zibaldone Laurenziano, invited Checco di Meletto Rossi in 1347 to undertake a similar exchange. Each of them wrote two bucolics; although there has been some debate about whether Checco's second poem was intended to be part of this exchange, Lorenzini argues reasonably that it was. After its initial flourish, this epistolary use of the eclogue was quickly set aside once Petrarch and Boccaccio had each produced a bucolicum carmen based on Vergil's model. The poems by Dante, Giovanni del Virgilio, Boccaccio, and Checco, when remembered at all, tended to be published separately with the works of each author rather than together as the originally conceived exchange. Lorenzini's edition seeks to correct this lapse by providing the texts of Boccaccio and Checco's exchange and del Virgilio's initiated exchange (a single poem but not well known), with a lengthy introduction. Dante's correspondence with Giovanni del Virgilio is not in similar need of a modern edition.

Lorenzini's edition also seeks to correct the texts of these poems previously based on a single autograph manuscript by Boccaccio, by looking as well at two slightly later manuscripts both closely copied from a missing source again by Boccaccio and mentioned in the list of his books willed to the Santo Spirito library. As Lorenzini points out, Boccaccio was unique first of all in combining the writing of eclogues with writing about the eclogue genre (in his letter to Fra Martino da Signa), and on top of that compiling the first collection of bucolic verse. His Zibaldone Laurenziano included Dante's eclogue, Giovanni del Virgilio's to Dante and to Mussato, Boccaccio's to Checco and Checco's first response, and a partial version of Petrarch's "Argus." The later manuscript added the bucolica of Petrarch and Boccaccio. Lorenzini describes all three manuscripts as well as providing an annotated list of other manuscript and printed editions of these poems. The volume even offers photographs of six manuscript pages.

The texts are accompanied by three types of notes: textual variants, indications of borrowings (not only from Vergil but also from other classical, late classical, and Christian writers), and interpretive explanations, although, because of scholarship already provided by Giuseppe Albini and G.B. Pichi, there is much less of this third type for del Virgilio's poem. Lorenzini has tracked down many brief phrases to their sources, giving us a glimpse of the poetry that each writer had in mind while composing these eclogues. The sources, even when Vergilian, are not necessarily bucolic at all, although obviously Vergil's eclogues are the major provider of vocabulary. Lorenzini indicates where the writers introduced medieval or even invented word forms.

The long introduction offers detailed and comparative stylistic analyses of the three poets and also comparative observations with regard to Dante's and Petrarch's bucolic verse. She notes, for example, that Boccaccio's less regular use of allegory approaches Vergil's model more closely than did Petrarch's pervasive allegorization, and that Petrarch, in his bucolic writing, was thinking of Vergil's epic diction. She shows how Boccaccio's reworking of phrases from Vergil or Dante often involved amplificatio while Checco's borrowings remained more mechanical. Besides revealing personal differences, Lorenzini's analyses suggest that even within the brief time span of these poems, we can see developments, such as Boccaccio's progressive shift towards increasingly classical writing. She discusses at length the changes from his second poem to Checco to its revision as the third eclogue of his Buccolicum carmen. The study, based on the author's dissertation, is clearly written, although with its detailed verbal analyses and untranslated passages in Latin, it is a book for scholars rather than for students. Anyone serious about the history of pastoral, or about Boccaccio's engagement with the genre, will find this volume useful and rewarding.