03.12.01, Cachey, Petrarch's Guide to the Holy Land

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Stephen Lamia

The Medieval Review baj9928.0312.001


Petrarch, Francis. Cachey, Theodore J., ed. and trans.. Petrarch's Guide to the Holy Land: Itenerary to the Sepulcher of our Lord Jesus Christ. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2002. Pp. ix, 235. ISBN: 0-268-03873-2.

Reviewed by:
Stephen Lamia
Dowling College

In a slim volume of 235 pages, Theodore J. Cachey, Jr. has provided the reader with a rich, comprehensive, and engaging presentation of an example of Petrarch's writings in the genre of travel literature that heretofore has received very little critical attention. The work in question, Petrarch's Guide to the Holy Land, with its putative subtitle Itinerary to the Sepulcher of Our Lord Jesus Christ, was composed by the Italian humanist over three days between March and April 1358. It assumes the format of an epistle written to his friend, Giovanni Mandelli, who was about to undertake a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Mandelli, a prominent administrative and military individual at the Visconti Court in Milan, had invited Petrarch to accompany him on his sojourn, but the latter, fearful of perishing in a storm at sea-- a disaster which nearly befell him as a child -- understandably declined. A brief itinerary was instead composed to serve as a vicarious substitute for the author's real presence. Having given this encapsulated background to the work's inception, I shall proceed to outline the impressive contents Cachey has assembled.

The volume begins with an annotated Introduction-- there are no less that 120 endnotes included here -- subdivided into six discrete units, each of which draws upon and amplifies material from the previous one. Thus we proceed from Italian Literary History of Travel to Petrarch and Travel, thence to the Early Reception of the Itinerarium and forward to the Modern Reception of the Itinerarium. Cachey then interweaves his evidence backward in time to Earliest Reception: Mandelli and Boccaccio, and concludes with a sharp focus on Petrarch's Itinerarium as a prolegomenon to the actual text.

It is within this first unit that we are instructed about the lacuna in the genre of Italian travel literature. Cachey argues that Italy's national and cultural identity privileged writing and literary culture over other types of prose; travel literature was thus relegated to a less exalted category. The inferior status cast upon this genre can also be explained against the political climate of Europe at that time. As we know, Italy was a fragmented entity and therefore not as unified as many of its neighbors -- France, Spain, Portugal, and England -- who themselves embarked upon energetic colonial expansion. This latter phenomenon naturally begat an abundance of travel literature, since so many of their delegations' destinations were exotic, foreign, and strange to the indigenous population. We then realize that Petrarch's Itinerarium is as much about sightseeing within Italy as it is about points of interest in the Levant. It is this former point that imparts weight to the work, since through it Petrarch bestows upon Italy a cultural patrimony that supersedes its regional provincialism. What made our author such an expert on travel within the Italian peninsula was the straightforward fact that he was so widely-traveled and possessed the most sophisticated knowledge in the field of cartography in his time, a fact which Cachey subsequently reveals to us in sections two and six.

In the third and fourth parts of the Introduction, Cachey discusses the reception of the work. In the early phase, we learn that over forty copies survive, including one translation into the Tuscan vernacular, dated to the beginning of the fifteenth century, which in turn made its way into the Neapolitan vernacular sometime before 1500. As Cachey informs us, the Florentines lauded the work as an exemplar of humanistic travel, since Petrarch cites so many places of interest from the classical past. The Neapolitans, on the other hand, capitalized on his mention of their numerous local and prestigious sights -- natural, archaeological, literary, and classical -- as a way of aggrandizing their distinct native identity. For the modern section, Cachey emphasizes the activity undertaken by the eighteenth-century scholar Girolamo Tiraboschi who published between 1787- 94 his second, revised edition of Storia della letteratura italiana, a fifteen-volume compilation which included the Itinerarium among travel literature, thus revealing an Enlightenment attitude towards Petrarch's pioneering efforts into this literary genre. Tiraboschi actually refers to Petrarch --though I paraphrase --as an erudite voyager who recorded for posterity distinguished observations and vivid descriptions.

The penultimate subdivision of the Introduction deals with the two essential individuals who were directly affected by the Itinerarium itself, Giovanni Mandelli and Giovanni Boccaccio. The former, the intended recipient of the manuscript, was a close friend of the author; they shared the same political orbit in Milan, that of the Visconti court. However, Petrarch stridently views their bond as transcending that of their shared political venue. It is also here that we learn of Mandelli's involvement at the occupation of Novara in 1358, suggesting that he never undertook the supposed pilgrimage to the Holy Land. This ultimately leads us to the surprising and somewhat humorous conclusion that the sojourn turned out to be virtual for both men. If the relationship between Petrarch and Mandelli may be characterized as a friendship, that of Petrarch and Boccaccio may be considered that of mentor and disciple as evidenced by the latter's De Montibus, a geographical study, which cites the Itinerarium in its Epilogue.

Finally, in the last part of the Introduction, Cachey highlights important passages of the Itinerarium and provides the reader with expansive, informative comments and observations. The emergence of Petrarch's personality in his writing, or what Cachey refers to as "a portrait of the poet's soul" (19) is of special note here. The text explores the relationship between the poet and the world that he knows, and thus between the act of writing and the action of moving through space. It is in this section that Cachey develops further the notion of a virtual pilgrimage and how it is the ideal vehicle for Petrarch to exert his literary prowess (a mental exercise) over spatial movement (physical). Concomitantly, it presents to us his unusual knack of traveling while staying at home. One is reminded of the central character in Ann Tyler's tragicomic novel The Accidental Tourist. Petrarch himself extols this feat several times in the Itinerarium, as Cachey points out. There is also a lengthy discussion wherein our humanist author compares himself to that quintessential Homeric sojourner Ulysses. This parallel opens another, and more philological argument about the distinction between pilgrimage and travel, a topic that perhaps remains to be developed in a more critical edition, since it bears upon the alternative title of another copy today in Cremona, Itinerarium Domini Francisci Petrarche de Ianua Usque Ierusalem et Alexandriam.

In this section Cachey also includes material that makes Petrarch's work distinctly more modern than medieval in inclination. For instance, there is an extensive discussion of tourism in Italy which actually exceeds the description and enumeration of places in the Holy Land. Petrarch, in fact, may very well be a precursor to the Baedecker. One passage urges Mandelli to visit a church in Naples to see frescoes painted by Giotto, in contradistinction to praying at a saint's tomb. Petrarch and cartography are likewise discussed to shore up the distinction between pilgrimage literature and travel writing. His vivid geographical accounts far surpass medieval cosmological mappa mundi, resembling instead empirical portolan charts. Further, and so unlike any respectable medieval pilgrim would have done, Cachey claims that the author does not privilege visiting the Holy Sepulcher over the tomb of Alexander, another monument which he highlights.

After this exhaustive Introduction, Cachey provides the reader with two brief Appendixes. The first, Early Dissemination and Reception of the Itinerarium charts out the copying and circulation of Petrarch's work in both Latin and the vernacular from the late Trecento to the first decade of the sixteenth century. The second Appendix entitled Mandelli and Petrarch, Military and Court Life documents biographical material, in particular the professional curriculum vitae of Mandelli, as well as the political climate in northern Italy during the mid-fourteenth century.

Following the Appendixes is a short section entitled About the Text and Translation. Here Cachey concisely presents the more recent twentieth-century editions of the Itinerarium and reiterates that a critical edition is still lacking. He discusses the Cremona manuscript, which forms the basis for the present, and very first English edition.

Eleven sepia-toned illustrations precede the facsimile of Petrarch's travel guide; and they provide visual material relating to the humanist's words, though they are not part of the actual manuscript itself. Instead, Cachey has drawn upon a variety of sources to augment Petrarch's text. Among the images he includes is a visualization of the Petrarchan concept of Ulysses as Pilgrim from a fourteenth-century manuscript of Boethius's De consolatione philosophiae, four portolan charts of Italy, all taken from the same anonymous portolan atlas of around the 1550s, an engraving entitled The Grotto of Naples from a guide book dated 1775 by Carlo Ceccarini, and a painting, Virgil's Tomb by Joseph Wright of Derby of 1782. Besides this set of images, there is a frontispiece to the volume itself, and that is a color plate of the Incipit page to the manuscript with the predictable red rubrics, a cobalt blue initial "R" and flourishes of red and blue. The remainder of the ink is lampblack.

Finally, there is the text, transcription, and translation of the Itinerarium itself. In this facsimile, the manuscript is reproduced in its original size to provide the reader with an almost firsthand glimpse at the format Petrarch used for this writing. It is lucidly presented and most user- friendly. The facsimile page is on the left, the English translation on the right, with the transcription spanning the lower margins of both pages. It should be noted that because the Itinerarium was composed in the form of a letter from one friend to another, the current translation captures the conversational tone that such an intimate correspondence assumes -- an informal way of communicating that, by its very nature, reveals the author's personal side, or as Cachey has already and quite eloquently expressed the "portrait of the poet's soul."

To conclude, this volume provides a clear and distinct image of one of the central figures of Trecento Latin literature and thought. Cachey is to be commended for his fine scholarship and for reviving sonorously the voice of a supreme humanist.

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Stephen Lamia

Dowling College