What can an individual text, and the way in which it was written, tell us about the society in which it was created? The answer to this question is often, "quite a lot." Samantha Kelly's new work on the Cronaca di Partenope (or elsewhere, Parthenope) does a wonderful job of addressing this question and in the process, teaching the reader about the role the Kingdom of Naples played in the world of mid-fourteenth century Italy. Kelly's work performs many functions here: she provides a critical edition of the first vernacular chronicle of Naples, a text which formerly lacked rigorous scholarly attention; she offers background on the extant manuscripts and their various traditions; and she orients the work by examining the rich cultural, political, and literary backdrop in which it was produced.
One of the most valuable contributions of Kelly's book is her persuasive argumentation concerning the parameters of the Cronaca or more simply, what is included in the Cronaca and what is not. Kelly contends that the Cronaca di Partenope was written in the years between 1348 and 1350 by one author, Bartolomeo Caracciolo-Carafa, a member of an established Neapolitan family who worked at the treasury of the Angevins, the French dynasty who ruled Naples from the late 1260s until the 1360s. Caracciolo-Carafa's work traces the history of Naples from its founding in "pagan antiquity," (56) through the "sacred era" (67) after the arrival of Christianity to Naples, until the author's own time, the "royal era," (74) which dates from the arrival of the Normans in eleventh century until the reign of Joanna of Anjou in the later fourteenth century. According to Kelly, this was the first account of exclusively Neapolitan history to appear in over four hundred years, and the first history of Naples (and one of the first substantial texts) ever produced in the local vernacular.
This work, as Kelly defines it, is therefore of great importance for the study of southern Italian historic and linguistic identity. Prior to Kelly's edition, the Cronaca was understood not as a single text, but rather a four-part collection of works on Neapolitan history. These four parts never circulated together as a whole, either in manuscript or printed form, and as Kelly argues (17-21), their grouping under the title Cronaca di Partenope was the result of incomplete scholarship, which in turn led to confusion about when and by whom the Cronaca was written. Indeed, when I first encountered the Cronaca some fifteen years ago in a manuscript Kelly lists in her book (New York, Morgan Library, M801), it was labeled simply as "Villani. Cronaca di Parthenope." The Cronaca was frequently attributed to the famous Florentine historian Giovanni Villani because, in most of the extant manuscripts, Caracciolo-Carafa's work circulated alongside excerpts from Villani's Nouva Cronica. Portions of Villani's text had been modified and expanded to feature events from Naples and the surrounding southern Italian territories, and the excerpts, which Kelly collectively calls the Southernized Villani were introduced into the Cronaca narrative in some versions. Kelly's clear and well-annotated edition refocuses attention on the text as it was created by Caracciolo-Carafa, detaches it from the three other works previously grouped along with it, and signals where and how portions of the Southernized Villani were inserted into the original narrative.
Kelly supports her redefinition of the Cronaca tradition by sifting through the jumbled historiography and taking the reader step-by-step through the manuscript and early printed editions. She divides the nineteen known copies of the text into two groups, A and B. The group A text precedes that found in the group B manuscripts, which feature, among other traits, a greater intrusion of Villani excerpts into the Caracciolo-Carafa narrative. Her base manuscript, MS 973 from the Morgan Library in New York, was unknown to previous scholars of the Cronaca, but was chosen as the foundation for the edition because it is among the earliest (c. 1438) and most complete of the extant copies, and contains a relatively uncorrupted rendering of the group A text.
By freeing the Cronaca from the constraints of its previous designation as a four-part collection, Kelly has enabled scholars to pose new questions about how and why this innovative vernacular text was produced as it was. Her own contextualization of the work is done in a series of introductory essays as well as in the historical notes which accompany each of the Cronaca's chapters. Kelly examines a wide range of factors that contributed to the choices made by Caracciolo-Carafa when he wrote his history, including the author's social standing, his political affiliations, and the sources he used when constructing his narrative.
Of particular interest is Kelly's analysis of the internal politics at play between the members of well-established Neapolitan families and those whose arrival in Naples was more recent. The most surprising and telling element of this dynamic, wholly supported when reading through the Cronaca, is that members of the Neapolitan upper-class were generally supportive of Angevin rule because the French provided avenues for advancement in the government and administration of the Kingdom which had been denied to local families under previous régimes. The wide circulation and proliferation of copies of the Cronaca in the years after its creation attest to an acceptance of these views among other members of the Neapolitan élite. That local aristocrats would have welcomed "foreign" rule in their own territory prompts larger questions about whether this was the case in other Mediterranean locales, like Cyprus, the Morea, and parts of the Levant, where the French had also taken the reigns of government in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.
Kelly also brings attention to the Kingdom of Naples as an important cultural center, a position that is normally reserved for the northern Italian cities of Florence and Venice. Through the lens of the Cronaca and the references to classical texts found within it, we are reminded that the court of Joanna's grandfather, Robert of Naples, hosted both Petrarch and Boccaccio, and that classical learning flourished in the city during his reign. Although we can see that Caracciolo-Carafa relied on earlier sources for his work, he was also confident enough in his writing to tailor both the sources and his original material to fit his vision of Naples as a noble city, worthy of a history of its own.
Despite the modest claims put forth in its title, Samantha Kelly's new work is much more than an introduction to this important vernacular text. In an amazingly nuanced fashion, Kelly brings attention to the history of the Cronaca and to the various forces at work in Naples when it was written. I finished the book wanting more, not because Kelly had not done enough, but because her edition invited many new avenues of inquiry concerning the Cronaca which I hope will now be taken up by those interested in municipal historiography, Mediterranean culture, Italian linguistics, and numerous other topics that the Cronaca can now help us to understand.