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"Versi d'amore e prose di romanzi": The Reception of Occitan Narrative Genres in Italy

From: Tenso
Volume 28, Numbers 1-2, Spring-Fall 2013
pp. 18-32 | 10.1353/ten.2013.0010

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

One of the better known cantos of the Divine Comedy, from the Occitanist's point of view, is Purgatorio 26 where Dante meets Arnaut Daniel, who is introduced by Guido Guinizzelli as "miglior fabbro del parlare materno," who "Versi d'amore e prose di romanzi / soverchiò tutti" (ll. 117-119; 'surpassed them all in verses of love and tales of romance'). These lines have led to some discussion about whether Dante was attributing hitherto unknown prose works to Arnaut, but they are generally taken to mean that Arnaut surpassed all other authors, both lyric poets and writers of romance, and that these romances were, as already suggested by Francesco da Buti in his commentary to the Commedia (1385-95), "in lingua francesca," in French. This passage appears to echo De vulgari eloquentia where Dante claims that prior to the development of Italian poetry, Romance literature consisted of verse in Occitan and prose in French because "Allegat ergo pro se lingua oïl quod propter sui faciliorum ac delectabiliorum vulgaritatem quic quid redactum sive inventum est ad vulgare prosaicum" (I.x.2-3) ('the language of oïl adduces on its own behalf the fact that, because of the greater facility and pleasing quality of its vernacular style, everything that is recounted or invented in vernacular prose belongs to it'), while "Pro se vero argumentatur alia, scilicet oc, quod vulgares eloquentes in ea primitus poetati sunt tanquam in perfectiori dulciorique loquela" ('The second part, the language of oc, argues in its own favour that eloquent writers in the vernacular first composed poems in this sweeter and more perfect language'). Dante's view could well derive from the similar statement made by Raimon Vidal in his Razos de trobar that "La parladura francesca val mais et [es] plus avinenz a far romanz et pasturellas, mas cella de Lemosin val mais per far vers et cansos et sirventes" ('the French tongue is better and more suitable for romances and pastourelles, but the Limousin one is better for poetry and songs and sirventes,' Marshall 6). He may even have been familiar with the Razos in the version transmitted by the manuscript now in the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana in Florence, Pluteus 41. 42, part of which also contains Occitan chansonnier P. Whatever the case, Dante's view no doubt reflects what must have been common opinion at the time rather than a true comment on what texts were really available and, indeed, I would agree with Hollander that "Dante is cavalierly unconcerned, at least publicly, with French poetry," though he does quote poems by Thibaut de Champagne ("Rex Navarre") and Gace Brulé in the De vulgari eloquentia. Trouvère poetry was not unknown in Italy as proven by the French section of troubadour chansonnier D (Modena, Biblioteca estense α. R. 4.4 = French chansonnier H) and the Zagreb French chansonnier (Metropolitan Library MR 92), which was probably copied at Padua.

It was, however, the French narrative tradition that was better known in Italy, judging by the catalogues of the libraries of the Gonzagas in Mantua, for instance, or the Dukes of Milan, or the Este family, that list many copies of romances and epic poems (see the studies by such scholars as Rajna, Braghirolli, Meyer, Paris, Novati and Thomas). So popular was this kind of literature that it led to the formation of a native literary genre, the so-called Franco-Venetian or Franco-Italian epic, written in a mixture of French and the Veneto vernacular. This, of course, is the same part of Northern Italy in which many of the great troubadour chansonniers were assembled, so it is easy to see how the theory that French was more suitable for narrative texts and Occitan for lyric poetry came to be. Nevertheless, just as a certain amount of trouvère poetry circulated in this area, so too did some narrative texts in Occitan.

In what follows, I will briefly examine two examples of such works: the romance of Jaufre and the Novas del papagai, hopefully to point to those aspects of the narrative genres that seem to have been of particular interest to Italian audiences and which in turn may shed light on the criteria adopted...


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