Friday, 30 September 2016

Book Reviews, by Ivo Banac(1979) - JCS 20


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Journal of Croatian Studies, XX, 1979, – Annual Review of the Croatian Academy of America, Inc. New York, N.Y., Electronic edition by Studia Croatica, by permission. All rights reserved by the Croatian Academy of America.
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ETUDES LITTERAIRES SLAVO-ROMANES. By Riccardo Picchio. Studia Historica et Philologica, VI. Sectio Slavoromanica, number 3. (Florence: Lisosa Editrice, 1978. Pp. 207.) L. 9,000.

Better than any other contemporary Slavicist, Professor Riccardo Picchio represents a splendid and increasingly necessary return to an earlier universalist approach in Slavic studies. Fully equipped to research every Slavic national culture—no mean achievement in itself he has devoted more than three decades of fertile academic work to literary and cultural histories of the Slavic peoples, and he has trained some of the most original younger specialists in this field, first in Italy and more recently in the United States. His scholarly activities are an indispensable antidote to the smattering conceits, ahistorical presentism, narrowness, and general neglect of non-Russian Slavic literary traditions that characterize a considerable portion of North American Slavistic research. Moreover, he has never overlooked the European-wide dimension of Slavic cultural and literary activity: some of his most important work was done in the area of cultural relations and contacts between the Slavic peoples and their Western neighbors, especially the Romance vicinity, with emphasis on the Italians.

This collection of articles consists of Picchio's most recent studies in Slavic-Romance literary ties. Written almost exclusively in the 1970's, the essays are marvelously lucid, concise, and erudite. Several are of particular value to specialists in the field of Croatian literary and cultural history and will be noted herein.

Students of Croatian historiography will welcome Picchio's exposition of the works of Giovan Mario Filelfo (1426—1480), the first Renaissance author to write on Dubrovnik's past. The son of Francesco Filelfo, a famous Italian humanist, and Theodora, a daughter of the Byzantine scholar John Chrysoloras, Giovan Mario probably became interested in Dubrovnik because his younger brother Senofonte spent the last ten years of his life there (1460—1470) working as a chancellor of this patrician and mercantile republic.

Evidently, to judge from the contents of Giovan Mario's poem Ragusaeis and his Historia de origine atque rebus egregie gestis urbis Ragusae, both extant in Latin and Italian in the manuscript collection of the Biblioteca Palatina in Parma, Senofonte passed little of his knowledge of Dubrovnik's history to his elder brother. Giovan Mario's works were typical Renaissance products, concerned more with flourishing rhetorical incantations in support of glorious and ancient origins of contemporary dynasts and states than with critical or even truthful historical narratives. Thus the founder of Dubrovnik is Rago, a prince of Scythian royal blood. Filelfo invented this figure for strictly onomatopoeic reasons. Humanist conventions and the Latin and Italian names of Dubrovnik (Rhagusium, Ragusa) determined the "founder"'s name.

Professor Picchio convincingly shows that Giovan Mario benefitted from Senofonte's earlier information on Dubrovnik's legal customs. But the correctness of some of Filelfo's passages was not sufficient to compensate for the frivolity of the entire work—this despite fairly charming explanations of certain characteristic Ragusan institutions. For example, Rago chose not to marry and passed his political prerogatives to Dubrovnik's ruling Senate, which in the absence of Rago's first-born legitimately assumed the right of primogeniture on behalf of a republican order, but without violating the monarchical principle. Similarly, Filelfo provided mythological explanations of Dubrovnik's state independence and sympathetically commented on its defense against the Venetians and the Turks. The Senate, however, was not satisfied with these gestures. Fifty ducats rewarded to Filelfo in February 1475 were quickly withdrawn after the senators acquainted themselves with the contents. Level-headed patricians concluded that Filelfo's text was unrelated to Ragusan realities.

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