12.06.37, Fossati, ed., Arrigo da Settimello, Elegia

Main Article Content

Ronald Witt

The Medieval Review 12.06.37

Fossati, Clara. Arrigo da Settimello, Elegia. Edizione Nazionale dei Testi Mediolatini. Florence: Edizioni del Galluzzo, 2011. Pp. lxxxiii, 101. ISBN: 978-88-8450-430-2.

Reviewed by:
Ronald Witt
Duke University

Clara Fossati's edition of Arrigo da Settimello's Elegia is the most recent publication in the collection Edizione nazionale dei testi mediolatini founded by Claudio Leonardi. Fossati's edition, like preceding volumes in this series known to me, adheres to the highest standards of textual criticism and the accompanying introduction provides an excellent analysis of the stylistic characteristics of Arrigo's work and the panoply of sources on which he drew.

Fossati's edition is in fact the third modern edition of the Elegia. It was first published by Aristide Marigo in 1926 and again by Giovanni Cremaschi in 1949. Marigo's edition was based on fifteen early manuscripts of the popular work to which Cremaschi added another three. Cremaschi also consulted two Trecento volgare translations, one of which, Riccardiana 1338, had been edited by E. Bonventura as "Arrigo da Settimello e l'Elegia de diversitate fortunae et philosophiae consolatione," Studi medievali 4 (1912-13), 110-192. Whereas all of manuscripts used for Marigo's and Cremaschi's editions came from Italian libraries, Fossati based her edition on the ten earliest manuscripts, all dated to the thirteenth century, four of which are found in Italy. Despite the different character of her manuscript base, however, Fossati's text, apart from changes in punctuation, offers only twenty-seven new readings compared with Cremaschi's edition.

Fossati's introduction adds no new details about Arrigo's life, almost all of which derive from the text itself, but her acute analysis of the text makes it almost certain that the work was composed between 1192 and 1193. She also takes a stand on the thorny question of whether the puzzling commiato (IV, 131-54) is directed to three, two, or to one person. She convincingly argues that Longepres (232-37), Florentinus (242) and presul Florentinus (247-48) mentioned in that order in the text are three different individuals.

Perhaps the greatest contribution of the introduction to our understanding of the creation of the Elegia is the author's exhaustive detailing of the multiple sources on which the poet drew for his work. Most impressive is that along with biblical, pagan, and early Christian texts, Arrigo drew heavily on French and Anglo-French authors of the late-eleventh and twelfth century, including Hildebert of Lavardin, Matthew of Vendôme, Alan of Lille, Nigel Wireker, Walter Map, Walter of England, and the Carmina burana.

Essentially didactic in nature, the poem is divided into four parts. The first consists of Arrigo's highly emotional complaint of his unhappiness and of invectives again the cruelty of the destiny that afflicts him. In the second part Fortuna responds to Arrigo, chiding him for his failure to understand that she is by nature inconstant and unjust. The third part opens with the appearance of Philosophy, who calmly offers the poet historical examples of others similarly struck down by Fortune and bitterly inveighs against the evil that dominates in contemporary society. In the last part Philosophy instructs Arrigo to employ his reason to discern the difference between good and evil and to conduct himself virtuously in all his actions.

The extraordinary character of the Elegia only becomes evident when seen against the background of the literary production of the Italian kingdom entirely devoted as it is to military and civil poetry that preceded it. For one thing, as Fossati shows, in composing 1: 187-208 Enrico was heavily influenced by a poem in langue d'oïl entitled Narcisse, written about 1170. Although the Elegia as a whole is didactic in nature, these verses and the verses immediately preceding them (1:177-208) constitute the first Latin lyric poetry that survives for the Kingdom of Italy since the tenth-century O admirable Veneris idolum and O Roma nobilis. It will be the last until Lovato dei Lovati's poetic Latin epistles written in 1267/68.

More significant for the literary history of the medieval Kingdom is the fact that Arrigo is the only author in the twelfth century to draw on or even allude to the great French medieval Latin poets. Furthermore, these French Latin authors would re-emerge again only after 1277, in Stefanardo da Vimercate's De controversia hominis et fortunae, a work highly influenced by Arrigo's Elegia.

Had Arrigo come to know these works when travelling in transalpine Europe? The poet never mentions such travel. Rather, it is likely that Arrigo read these authors in Bologna, where he tells us that he studied and where transalpine influence in the twelfth century was significant. By the second half of the twelfth century Bologna had become a major destination for French and Anglo-French teachers and students. Stephen of Tournai, a product of the school of Orleans, was in Bologna between 1145 and 1150 and wrote a poem about the city, Quoddam figmentum Bononia metrice. One of his fellow students was Richard Barre, who later became archdeacon of Lisieux. The Anglo- Norman Peter of Blois came to Bologna in the 1150s for several years of legal study, and his countryman Gervase of Tilbury followed him early in the next decade. Not only did Walter of Châtillon study at Bologna early in the 1170s, but in 1174, on his way north from Rome, he gave a lecture consisting of forty stanzas of poetry before the assembled legal faculty. Other French and Anglo-Norman scholars known to have spent extensive time in the city in the 1170s and 1180s include Heraclius, professor of canon law and later Archbishop of Caesarea, Geoffrey of Vinsauf, and the grammar master, canonist, and theologian Robert Blund.

If, as seems likely, Enrico found the French and Anglo-French authors circulating in Bologna in his student days, why does he seem to have been the only poet to have been inspired by their influence? As previously mentioned, moreover, his poetry appears without stylistic influence until the last quarter of the thirteenth century. With the exception of perhaps a dozen short poems devoted to civic and military affairs found in the growing number of communal histories, the first surviving major poem after Arrigo's was Ugo of Genoa's account of Genoa's victory over the armies of Frederick II, Historia de victoria quam Genuenees ex Friderico II retulerunt (1245). Arrigo's Elegia would become common reading in grammar schools of the Kingdom but probably not until the fourteenth century when intellectual tastes had broadened considerably.

Clara Fossati is to be congratulated for having produced an excellent edition and translation of this extraordinary work.

Article Details

Author Biography

Ronald Witt

Duke University