Jane Everson – Charlemagne in Modena: Literature and Life

The conference held at the Accademia nazionale di Scienze, Lettere e Arti di Modena on January 18 and 19 brought together scholars of the Italian Carolingian narrative tradition and focussed especially on the figure of Luigi Pulci and Il Morgante maggiore. Pulci claims that the stories of Charlemagne have been ‘male intesa e scritta peggio’ (poorly understood and badly written) and it is his intention to rescue Charlemagne from this neglect and produce a worthy account. This claim, and indeed many aspects of Pulci’s poetic output, has often proved puzzling and controversial. It has also often meant that Pulci’s great poem has been neglected by critics who have tended to focus, especially in recent years, on the narratives of Boiardo and Ariosto. It is thus good to welcome a forthcoming set of essays from Brepols devoted to Luigi Pulci.

Pulci was a Florentine, and his poem is profoundly marked by Florentine linguistic usage, so the venue of the conference in Modena may seem strange. But the Accademia holds a unique copy of the first extant edition of the Morgante (1481), which has been digitised to be made widely available. Several of the papers paid attention to the somewhat mysterious history of the early editions of Il Morgante including a discussion by Lorenz Böninger, using historial and archive sources to posit that the first printing of Il Morgante took place as early as 1477, and the exciting discovery, by Neil Harris, of two hitherto unknown editions of the poem. Other studies devoted attention to the complexities of Pulci’s language, while the character of Malagigi was the subject of three complementary studies. The relationship of Pulci’s poem to preceding narratives about the battle of Rencesvals, discussed by Cristina Montagnani, remains, as her title explained, still an open question.

Papers were delivered by three of the contributors to the Charlemagne in Italy volume. The literary links of a Charlemagne narrative to Modena are nicely supported by a historical document from the time of Charlemagne, dated September 782, addressed to the Bishop of Modena and granting legal immunity and tax exemptions to the church of Modena. The document is held in the archives of the cathedral, which also displays, above one of the side entrances, very early evidence of the penetration of Arthurian narratives into Italy (early 12th century), thus making an early fusion of the two cycles that is so characteristic of the later major Italian Carolingian narratives.


Featured image © Archivio storico diocesano di Modena-Nonantola