contributor.author: Peter D. Diehl

title.none: Carson (ed.), Barbarossa in Italy

identifier.other: baj9928.9603.005 96.03.05

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Peter D. Diehl

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1996

identifier.citation: Carson, Thomas \ ed. \ tr. Barbarossa In Italy. New York: Italica Press, 1994. Pp. lxxxviii, 153. $14.5. ISBN: ISBN 0-934977-30-5.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: Bryn Mawr Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 96.03.05

Carson, Thomas \ ed. \ tr. Barbarossa In Italy. New York: Italica Press, 1994. Pp. lxxxviii, 153. $14.5. ISBN: ISBN 0-934977-30-5.

Reviewed by:

Peter D. Diehl

Barbarossa in Italy is a translation of an anonymous epic poem about Frederick Barbarossa's first two expeditions into Italy. The translator has set himself a twofold challenge with this work: first, to render the Latin hexameters of the original accurately into readable English verse, and second, to present the translation accessibly to a broad audience. On the whole, he succeeds. Carson describes medieval Latin historical epics as "an undeservedly neglected art form" (ix) and argues extensively in his introduction for the artistic value of such epics (xxxvi-lxvii). He also suggests that historians as well as literary scholars should give more attention to texts like this one. This translation will no doubt prompt English- speaking historians to do so. As an historian, I shall no doubt privilege the historical dimensions of the text over its literary qualities in this review, but I shall provide an amateur assessment of the literary qualities of the text and Carson's translation.

The text that Carson entitlesBarbarossa in Italy bears no title in the sole manuscript in which it survives, Vatican Ottobon. lat 1463. (A facsimile of fol. 81r of the manuscript, which contains the opening of the poem, is reproduced as a frontispiece to the book). Its discoverer, Ernesto Monaci, called his edition Gesta di Federico I in Italia.1 The most recent editor of the text, Irene Schmale-Ott, entitled the work the Carmen de gestis Frederici I. imperatoris in Lombardia.2 The text, which breaks off incomplete after line 3343, is divided into five books. Its author remains unknown, but his intimate knowledge of and partisanship for the city of Bergamo reveals his home. The poet finds his hero in Frederick Barbarossa and his chief villain in the city of Milan. He writes appropriately in heroic hexameter verse. Much of the language comes from classical Latin poetry, and especially two war poems, Vergil's Aeneid and Lucan's Pharsalia.3 Carson argues in the introduction (xlii-xlv) that the poet's use of these materials is not slavish, but selective and to good effect. Furthermore, the Roman imperial grandeur conveyed by the Aeneid and thePharsalia sheds some imperial luster on Frederick himself, a point which Carson (xliii) could have developed further.4

The poem opens by describing the subjugation of several Lombard cities by Milan (1-2) and the appearance of a new champion of the oppressed:

Duke Frederick then took up the reins of power, / Elected by the nod of kindly heaven. / He was pious and unequaled as a soldier / And descended from an ancient line of kings. / A wondrous legacy of strength and wisdom / Was biform nature's double gift to him. (p. 3 ll. 54-60)

If the work were complete, it would probably have a sixth book and end with the fall of Milan in 1162, but in its present form it stops midway through a battle at Carcano (a castle between Milan and Como) in 1160. Carson suggests that the poet's affiliation with Bergamo may have led him to abandon the work in 1166 when Bergamo defected from its allegiance to the emperor, or alternatively, the scribe who copied the sole extant manuscript may have left the work unfinished (xxviii-xxix). The poem thus covers Barbarossa's first journey to Italy in 1155, when he first encountered the north Italian communes and their pretensions to autonomy, and his second expedition to chastise Milan and her allies from 1158 on.

Carson's translation aims for a difficult balance between literal exactness and the artistic license required to render the work in readable iambic pentameter, line-for-line with the original. He often succeeds through a degree of compression, as, for example with the opening of Book V:

Nescius interea pacis fideique solute / Mittit ab Emilia Fredericus Mediolanum / Legatos, qui iussa ferant placidamque salutem / Civibus et moneant, ut pacis federa servent. / Quos simul effrenis media videt urbe iuventus / Invisi populo recitantes iussa tiranni, / Indignata fremit, . . . .5

Carson renders this as:

From Emilia Frederick sent Milan his legates, / since he was unaware the peace was broken. / They brought her friendly greetings and his orders / And counseled her to keep the treaty's terms. / When rowdy youths saw the legates in the city, / Proclaiming orders from the hated tyrant, / They roared with indignation. (98 ll. 2773-78).

This rendering sacrifices little in essential meaning even though it omits some of the words in the Latin. Milan personified takes the place of the citizens to whom the legates bring their greetings, while the populus to whom they proclaim these orders is omitted.6 Carson thus succeeds in preserving the flow of the narrative, or indeed in streamlining it a bit. This streamlining will no doubt make this translation more accessible to a broad audience, including undergraduate history students among others.

On the other hand, a few of Carson's renderings are less exact or even questionable. One example comes in Book Three. Frederick has had a dream of Milan, personified as a woman and warning him to cease trying to conquer her. After he prays to God for guidance: "A voice from heaven thundered. . ." and ordered him to stay the course (67, l. 1921). The Latin reads "vox super intonat ingens."7 That is, a " great voice from above" not necessarily "a voice from heaven." Perhaps a more serious problem is Carson's use of "serf" to translate "colonus" (1, l. 18 and elsewhere). This rendering is possible, but since serfdom was increasingly rare in the Po Valley by the mid-twelfth century and since "colonus" appears in many classical texts from which the poet drew much of his vocabulary, simply translating "colonus" as "peasant" or "farmer" would avoid the connotation of unfreedom necessary with "serf." The poem provides much to the historian, as Carson points out. It normally conveys the sequence of actions accurately and corroborates other sources (Carson's notes indicate occasions where the poet compresses or confounds events). For certain events of the period, such as Arnold of Brescia's career (27-30), or Frederick's meeting with the scholars of Bologna in 1155, the poem constitutes a significant source in its own right. Carson goes so far as to say that the work "should have equal stature with the Gesta Frederici of Otto of Freising and his continuator, Rahewin." (xxx). As a factual narrative, then, the work is worthy of close attention. But, as Carson suggests, the poem "is a testament to the modes of thought and feeling of a sensitive and intelligent partisan of Frederick I and the society that he reflected" (xxxi). The reader gains a fuller appreciation of the civic patriotism and intramural and extramural rivalries that characterized the politics of the period, as well as the Italians' contradictory perceptions of the Germans. On the one hand, the poet idolizes Frederick, making him out as worthy of receiving divine messages, but on the other describes rumors among Frederick's foes of cannibalism as a pastime of German knights (63). One may also observe the constant negotiations that characterized relations between the emperor and his Italian subjects, as when Frederick grants the right to mint coins to Bergamo and Cremona during the preparations for his second expedition (55). Both cities had sought this privilege previously; now it secured their closer allegiance at a crucial moment. The poem as a whole conveys some idea of the conduct of medieval warfare as well: the frequent sieges and devastation of crops and the less frequent pitched battles. A military historian might wish that the poet's vocabulary depended less on classical sources in his description of siege engines and the like.

This translation would serve well as a source reading in surveys of medieval Italian history and perhaps as well in courses in medieval literature in translation. The translator's introduction and notes give much of the background that students would need to put the work into context. On the whole, the literary notes are perhaps stronger than the historical ones. Carson follows Peter Munz's theory of Frederick's "Grand Design," a plan to build a centralized kingdom around the nucleus of Burgundy, Switzerland, and northern Italy (xvii).8 Most scholars do not accept Munz's theory, for which there is little contemporary evidence. This quibble and a few others aside, one can recommend Barbarossa in Italy as a valuable addition to the few translated primary sources available in English for this vital period of medieval Italian history. Italica Press, the publisher, has packaged the translation in an attractive and relatively inexpensive trade paperback ($14.50). In sum, then, this translation makes a worthy contribution to the study of Frederick Barbarossa and of twelfth-century Italy.

1 Gesta di Federico I in Italia, ed. Ernesto Monaci. fonti per la storia di Italia 1. Rome 1883.
2 Carmen de gestis Frederici I. imperatoris in Lombardia, ed. Irene Schmale-Ott. Monumenta Germaniae Historica. Scriptores rerum Germanicarum in usum scholarum 62. Hannover: Hahn, 1965. Schmale-Ott's title does not reflect the poet's consistent use of the classical Liguria for Lombardy. All references to the Latin text will be drawn from this edition, henceforth Carmen.
3 Schmale-Ott's critical apparatus to the Carmen indicates borrowing also from Ovid and other poets, but these two poems predominate.
4 Frederick took deliberate actions to appropriate Romanitas to bolster his position as emperor, including the use of Roman law to a greater degree than any of his predecessors. See Robert L. Benson, "Political Renovatio: Two Models from Antiquity," in Robert L. Benson and Giles Constable, ed. with Carol D. Lanham, Renaissance and Renewal in the Twelfth Century (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press 1982) 339-86.
5 Carmen 91-92 ll. 2773-78.
6 The term populus did not yet have the sense it would acquire in Italy from around 1200, of an organized political faction within a city opposed to the magnates. Thus Carson is justified in omitting it.
7 Carmen 63 l. 1921.
8 See Peter Munz, Frederick Barbarossa: A Study in Medieval Politics, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1969, passim.