contributor.author: William Caferro

title.none: Dale, Lewin, Osheim, eds., Chronicling History (William Caferro)

identifier.other: baj9928.0812.002 08.12.02

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: William Caferro, Vanderbilt University, william.p.caferro@Vanderbilt.Edu

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2008

identifier.citation: Dale, Sharon, Alison Williams Lewin, Duane J Osheim, eds. Chronicling History: Chroniclers and Historians in Medieval and Renaissance Italy. University Park, PA: Penn State Press, 2007. Pp. 352. $85 978-0-271-03225-2. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 08.12.02

Dale, Sharon, Alison Williams Lewin, Duane J Osheim, eds. Chronicling History: Chroniclers and Historians in Medieval and Renaissance Italy. University Park, PA: Penn State Press, 2007. Pp. 352. $85 978-0-271-03225-2. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

William Caferro
Vanderbilt University
william.p.caferro@Vanderbilt.Edu

Although generations of historians have mined Italian chronicles for factual information, there have been few modern attempts to systematically study them. This volume is therefore very welcome and very valuable. The editors bring together essays that examine a wide range of sources, from the earliest annals to humanist histories. The material runs temporally from the eleventh to the fifteenth century and is taken both from well-known cities such as Florence and Venice and from less studied centers such as Lucca and Padua. Each essay is of high quality. Together they form the basis for a much-needed comparative study of the Italian civic tradition.

There are eleven essays, arranged in roughly chronological order. Each is followed by a translation taken from the documents. Edward Coleman begins with a fine study of the early Lombard city annals in their socio-political context. The piece is well placed at the start of the book because it provides an overview of the whole Italian annals and chronicle writing tradition, carefully distinguishing between the two. Coleman dismisses the scholarly tendency to treat the annals as "scattered notes" (2) and shows, by means of meticulous comparison, the correspondences and common themes in the works of Lombard writers. Each pays close attention to natural phenomena, political events and, above all, wars. Coleman sees the emphasis on war as evidence of strong civic pride in the Lombard cities. The writers nevertheless drew selectively from available information, revealing in the process their biases.

Graham Loud follows with a comparative study of three extant accounts of twelfth-century Norman Sicily. The first is a narrative in biographical form by the abbot Alexander of Telese (1136), the second is a chronicle by Falco of Benevento and the last is a history based on classical models (notably Sallust) by Hugo Falcundus. The works reveal the range and sophistication of the southern Italian tradition. John Dotson's essay moves the discussion to the city of Genoa and the rich tradition of historical writing there. He focuses primarily on the illustrious eleventh-century writer Caffaro di Rustico, a judge, consul, ambassador and admiral, who participated in many of the events he described. Caffaro's well-known annals provide an excellent source on the First Crusade. But his work was official history, sanctioned by the Genoese government. This was true of all Genoese annalists and chronicle writers. Dotson nevertheless shows considerable differences in style and substance between Caffaro and the work of writers of the thirteenth century. The latter produced histories that were more inclusive and balanced.

Alison Williams Lewin skillfully explicates the very complicated chronicle of Salimbene de Adam, a thirteenth-century Franciscan friar from Parma. Salimbene recorded not only the events of his day, but his personal habits and developments within his order. Lewin does well separating the stands of Salimbene's thought, which was strongly influenced by the millennial views of Joachim da Fiore. Paula Clarke takes on perhaps the most well-known chronicle tradition, that of Giovanni, Matteo and Filippo Villani of Florence. Clarke focuses primarily on Giovanni, author of the "first serious vernacular history" of Florence. Clarke examines both contemporary (Dante) and classical influences (Livy) on Giovanni, as well as his use of earlier sources. Clarke notes shifts in emphasis in the chronicle when Giovanni's brother, Matteo took it over. Matteo placed less emphasis on divine providence and more on human agency. Matteo son, Filippo, who assumed responsibility for the chronicle in 1363, abruptly ended it in 1364. Preferring to devote himself to more humanistic historical trends coming into vogue in the city.

Duane Osheim's offers a fascinating contrast to the fourteenth-century Florentine tradition in his study of Giovanni Sercambi of Lucca. Unlike the Villanis, Sercambi's contemporary chronicle was less structured and more quirky. He gave much space, however, to discussion of "liberty," a term familiar to students of Florence. Sercambi interpreted the word in various ways, as freedom from external influence as well as internal political tranquility (160). Sharon Dale's essay adds further perspective, from the point of view of two fourteenth-century Lombard chronicles, by Azario and Galvanno Fiamma. As in Genoa, the men worked for the state. Nevertheless, Dale adroitly shows divergences, including with respect to the Villanis and the Florentine tradition. John Melville-Jones's essay brings the Venetian tradition into the discussion. Melville-Jones takes the long view, tracing Venetian historical writing from the seventh century (John the Deacon) to the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries (Antonio Morosini). Venetian writers produced both official histories and private ones. But they were invariably from the noble class, not, as in other places, from the middle or priestly class. The emphasis of their work was thus on issues of interest to the upper class.

Benjamin Kohl' s masterful essay shifts the direction toward humanist history. Kohl examines the tradition at Padua, specifically the works of Giovanni Conversini and Pier Paolo Vergerio. He argues against "Whig" tendencies to view humanist history as a "modern" form. He stresses instead the propagandistic inclinations of the two writers, who in different ways promoted the virtues of the Carrara family, for whom they worked. Gary Ianziti's essay picks up this theme with regard to Florence and the humanist history of Leonardo Bruni. Ianziti offers a new reading of Bruni's well-known History of the Florentine People. He interprets is not as reframing the fourteenth-century chronicle tradition, but as developing a wholly new paradigm for telling Florentine History, which included a propagandistic angle. Bruni gave favorable coverage to the Albizzi regime, which had commissioned the work. The History was thus intended for a more specific audience than traditionally believed.

The collection ends with Nicoletta Pellegrino's essay on the work of the humanist Flavio Biondo. It is a fitting conclusion, as Biondo wrote from a pan-Italian perspective. Pellegrino devotes the majority of her essay to Biondo's Decades, a work on Rome, where he passed much of his career. Pellegrino emphasizes Biondo's sensitivity to language and etymologies. The essay is, however, somewhat diffuse and not always easy to follow.

The strength of the book is the close readings that the authors give their sources. This is done in several ways: by juxtaposing contemporary texts within a single civic tradition, looking at texts over time and comparing writings from different cities. Gary Ianziti's close reading of Bruni in terms the Villani allows him to show how Bruni rewrote and reinterpreted episodes covered by the earlier chroniclers to reflect the political realities of this own day. Duane Osheim's explication of Sercambi's changing use of the term liberty should be required reading for all students of Florentine political history.

The diversity of approaches makes for a compelling volume. The editors do a good job in the introduction of situating the essays in terms of each other and in terms of the traditions they represent. This is no small task. The diversity willy-nilly raises still further questions. One wonders, for example, about language. Melville-Jones points out the persistence of Latin in the Venetian tradition into the fifteenth century, as well as the use at various times of French (Marino da Canal) and the Italian vernacular. The Tuscan writers Villani and Sercambi wrote in the vernacular, while their Lombard counterpart, Azario, wrote in Latin. Is there greater significance to this? One also wonders about the chronicle traditions of other smaller cities such as Siena or Mantua, for which much evidence survives. Despite advocating a broad approach to the sources, the reality is that the book deals mostly with the big cities. Venice, Florence, Genoa and Milan garner the most attention.

These questions are nevertheless evidence of the engaging nature of the book. The collection is an excellent one, from which scholars will greatly profit.