Steven Botterill

title.none: Berisso, La Raccolta Dei Poeti Perugini del Vat. Barberiniano Lat. 4036 (Steven Botterill)

identifier.other: baj9928.0203.012 02.03.12

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Steven Botterill, University of California at Berkeley,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2002

identifier.citation: Berisso, Marco. La Raccolta Dei Poeti Perugini del Vat. Barberiniano Lat. 4036: Storia della Tradizione e Cultura Poetica di una Scuola Trecentesca. Studi CLXXXIX. Firenze: Leo S. Olschki, 2000. Pp. v, 350. 75000 L. ISBN: 8-822-24863-5.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 02.03.12

Berisso, Marco. La Raccolta Dei Poeti Perugini del Vat. Barberiniano Lat. 4036: Storia della Tradizione e Cultura Poetica di una Scuola Trecentesca. Studi CLXXXIX. Firenze: Leo S. Olschki, 2000. Pp. v, 350. 75000 L. ISBN: 8-822-24863-5.

Reviewed by:

Steven Botterill
University of California at Berkeley

The manuscript studied in Marco Berisso's dense but consistently compelling book has long been of interest to a select few scholars of fourteenth-century Italian lyric poetry. Although it includes examples of the work of writers as celebrated as Dante and Cavalcanti, by far the greater part of Vat. Barberiniano Lat. 4036 is given over to what remains the sole surviving document of the activity of a number of otherwise obscure poets writing in Perugia in the middle decades of the fourteenth century. Most of the texts attributed to these poets -- chief among them Cecco Nuccoli, Marino Ceccoli, Neri Moscoli, and Gilio Lelli -- can be identified as belonging to the genre known as poesia giocosa (or comico-realistica), customarily defined as a consciously parodic response to the linguistic and thematic conventions of "serious" love poetry (poesia aulica) as those had been inherited from the troubadour poetry of Provence and established in Italy by the scuola siciliana (c. 1220-50) and its thirteenth- and fourteenth-century successors (some of whom are also represented in Vat. Barberiniano Lat. 4036): Guittone d'Arezzo, Guinizzelli, Cavalcanti, Dante, the dolce stil novo poets, Cino da Pistoia, and ultimately the Perugians' contemporary Petrarch.

The language of poesia giocosa is richly inclusive and often unusually complex; its formal dexterity and stylistic verve can be dazzling; its lexical range is enormously and sometimes bafflingly wide; and, as a result, its decipherment and interpretation continue to pose severe challenges to modern scholarship -- challenges whose severity is redoubled, in the case of Vat. Barberiniano Lat. 4036, both by the absence of other witnesses to the textual tradition of the Perugian poets' work (or of any other substantial contextualizing evidence) and by the manuscript's origins in the region of Perugia itself, linguistically and culturally (though not, of course, geographically) distant from the Florentine heartland of both poesia aulica and poesia giocosa. A final detail which has also, especially in the last two decades, helped to renew interest in the manuscript (at least on the margins of medieval Italianist scholarship) is the fact that, while the dominant theme of the Perugians' poetry is -- not altogether unexpectedly -- love, the love evoked in both the serious and the comic writing of several of their number (especially Nuccoli and Ceccoli) is that of one man for another.

Vat. Barberiniano Lat. 4036 thus offers unusually fertile ground to specialists in a number of disciplines: as well as strictly literary critics (that sadly endangered species!), codicologists, philologists, dialectologists, sociolinguists, literary historians, analysts of genre, reception theorists, and historians of sexuality could all find valuable material for their researches here. Yet, although extracts from the manuscript were first edited -- and edited well -- by Leone Allacci as long ago as 1661, the critical history of its text has been chequered at best. Various nineteenth- and twentieth-century editors published selections, often confined to (what they saw as) the "comic" sonnets, usually concentrating on Nuccoli and Ceccoli (in part, at least, for reasons hinted at above), occasionally extending their interest to some of the other Perugians, but consistently, and strangely, ignoring the figure responsible for the largest individual contribution to the manuscript, Neri Moscoli. Mario Marti's 1956 anthology, Poeti giocosi del tempo di Dante (Milan: Rizzoli), at least included the entire known output (as preserved in Vat. Barberiniano Lat. 4036) of Ceccoli, Nuccoli, and Moscoli, as well as seventeen tenzoni involving other poets; but, because he was editing a collection of poesia giocosa and not Vat. Barberiniano Lat. 4036 as such, he understandably ignored the rest of the manuscript. Despite this narrowness of focus, and despite some blatantly unconvincing textual readings and some extraordinarily misguided critical interpretations (particularly of texts apparently involving the expression of homoerotic feeling or desire), Marti's remained the standard edition of the Perugian poets until 1996-97, when Franco Mancini published his two volumes of Poeti perugini del Trecento (Perugia: Guerra). Even this, although it includes the vast majority of the texts in Vat. Barberiniano Lat. 4036, and is edited with a philological acumen and a critical sensitivity that are alike superior to Marti's, is not a definitive edition of the entire manuscript (several texts are omitted, presumably as not being Perugian); and so, for all its undoubted merits as an edition of those texts that it does present, even Mancini's work does not, as it were, tell the whole story about Vat. Barberiniano Lat. 4036.

That, instead, is what Marco Berisso has set out to do. What he offers, however, is not an edition but a study: a description and analysis of this particular manuscript as an entity, rather than new (and hopefully improved) versions of some or all of the texts that it contains. To that end, he begins not with the authors but with the copyist. The first section of his book, "Il manoscritto" (1-158), opens with the question "Che tipo di copista e' il copista del Barberiniano 4036?" (1-30), and attempts to answer it through a detailed and fascinating analysis of the manuscript's punctuation. He goes on to consider the process through which the manuscript was assembled ("Come e' stato pensato B?", 31-44), and then uses the insight gained from this preliminary analysis as the basis for his description of the sections dedicated to individual authors (Marino Ceccoli and Neri Moscoli), to sonnets by other Perugians, and to canzoni (45-55, 55-98, 98-106, and 106-12, respectively). He then passes in review what little is known (or can be deduced) about the biographies of the Perugian poets represented in Vat. Barberiniano Lat. 4036 (112-26) and the evidence for the cultural level of the manuscript's progenitor(s) offered by its treatment of well-known non-Perugian authors like Dante and Cavalcanti (126-47). All this enables him to end the section with a set of "alcune ipotesi conclusive sul perche' e' stato assemblato B" (147-58).

In his second section, "Attraverso gli epigonismi lirici della poesia perugina" (159-249), Berisso uses the same basic approach, seeing his texts not in isolation or as mere critical specimens but as part of an organic entity constituted by Vat. Barberiniano Lat. 4036 as a whole, to help trace the relationship between the Perugian poets and their predecessors and contemporaries in both poesia giocosa and poesia aulica. Starting from the conventional wisdom that dismisses the Perugians as mere "epigoni" of their poetic betters (159-62), Berisso undertakes an unprecedentedly sympathetic study of the allegedly least interesting of the group, Moscoli (163-208), a bold attempt to define the whole group's "pratiche di pluristilismo" (208-35), and three case-studies of poems by Ceccoli, Nuccoli, and Lelli (235-49). The resulting description of the principal stylistic characteristics of the Perugians' poetry is by far the most thorough and convincing ever presented, and will be of great value not only to readers of these poets and students of this particular manuscript, but to anyone interested in the practice of the lyric in Trecento Italy.

The book's final section, "Una 'chiave' per lo stile comico dei poeti perugini" (251-322), zeroes in on the perennially controversial affiliation of the Perugian poets, especially Cecco Nuccoli, with poesia giocosa as normally understood. Berisso here offers a fresh and in many ways plausible reading of Nuccoli's most perplexing sonnet, "Andando per via nova e per via maggio," as well as close and equally plausible readings of several tenzoni involving Nuccoli, Moscoli, and other less well-known figures, all in pursuit of his claim that the traditional categorization of this poetry needs to be rethought in the light of a more accurate understanding both of medieval literary culture (and the manuscripts in which it is conveyed to us) and of the ways in which language and experience intersect in the construction of poetry. A brief but useful study of "la tecnica dei sonetti nei poeti perugini" (323-35) and an exhaustive bibliography (337-48) -- reflecting, no doubt, and very helpfully, the book's origins in a doctoral dissertation -- conclude the volume.

For anyone interested in this particular manuscript or in the Perugian poets, Berisso's work will be self-recommending; it makes obsolete much of what has gone before and opens up a multitude of exciting new prospects for research and criticism. But, if anything, it can be still more heartily recommended to those who have not yet made the acquaintance of mid fourteenth-century Perugia and the wonderfully rewarding, yet often overlooked, poetry produced there by writers like Moscoli, Ceccoli, and, above all, Nuccoli. Berisso's sharp philological eye and sensitive critical understanding provide an excellent introduction to an entire literary culture.