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Hermes' Lyre

Hermes' Lyre: Italian Poetic Self-Commentary from Dante to Tommaso Campanella

  • Book Info
    Hermes' Lyre
    Book Description:

    From the mysterious glosses by 'EK' in the poetry of Edmund Spenser, to the self-commentary in Vladimir Nabokov'sPale Fire, readers of literature have been fascinated by the comments, addenda, and footnotes added by authors to their own work. In this insightful and original work, Sherry Roush investigates poets' motivations for writing glosses. She argues that self-commentary differs fundamentally from standard commentary, and that it does not necessarily impose an authoritative reading, determine the poem's significance, or furnish factual autobiographical information. Rather, self-commentary presents an intriguing ulterior poetic dimension and adds to the inherent tension of the text.

    Roush focuses her study on three pairs of authors, each representing a distinct historical-contextual period: Dante and Boccaccio in the early Italian self-commentative tradition, Lorenzo de' Medici and Girolamo Benivieni in high Renaissance Florence, and Giordano Bruno and Tommaso Campanella at the turn of the seventeenth century. Through numerous examples, Roush highlights the non-linear development of this mixed genre, and shows how poetic self-commentaries respond to unique literary, historical, and political exigencies, and offer keys to understanding the underlying poetic message. This seminal study will be of particular value to scholars interested in poetry, hermeneutics, autobiography, and Renaissance studies.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7571-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface: The Lyre of Hermes
    (pp. vii-2)
  4. Introduction. Beyond Explication: Poets and Their Own Commentaries
    (pp. 3-22)

    When commentators gloss a poetic text, they typically do so in order to make the poetry more accessible. Standard commentaries have predominantly utilitarian purposes. Commentators may define obscure terms, note literary allusions, explain the verses’ moral or ideological import, or make any of a number of other, largely pedagogical contributions. While commentators can have multiple and varying intentions, one widely shared aim is to mediate between their own readership and the oftentimes temporally and culturally remote context of the poem’s composition. As reader needs shift over the course of time, commentators respond by reviewing, revising, and writing explications that supersede...

  5. Part One. Dante and Boccaccio:: The Emergence of Italian Poetic Self-Commentary

    • 1 ‘You might call it something of a commentary’: Defining Terms in Dante’s Vita Nuova and Convivio
      (pp. 25-51)

      Dante is the touchstone for any study of Italian poetic self-commentary. In fact, one could go so far as to say that Dante is thet first theorist of the unique mixed genre. He develops his thought both descriptively and by example in theVita Nuova— Dante’s story of his love for Beatrice — and theConviviothe unfinished banquet of his glossed philosophical canzoni. Dante’s way of composing these works suggests that the whole form — the poetry, together with the self-commentary — becomes vehicle for poetic expression.

      In fact, few issues could be of more central concern to...

    • 2 ‘Only the ploughshare aided by many clever talents cleaves the soil of poetry’: Boccaccio’s Earthly Vision of the Text and the Requisites for Its Interpretation
      (pp. 52-68)

      In his numerous and varied works, Giovanni Boccaccio testifies to remarkably broad scope of commentative and exegetical strategies. These include, but are certainly not limited to, forms of proems and conclusions by the author, glosses, rubrics, expositions of works by others, interpretive tangents by the narrative’s protagonists, and narratorial frames that effectively comment on embedded texts. A plethora of recent critical studies has addressed some aspects Boccaccio’s emphasis on the text’s undeniable call for commentary and understanding.¹ In this chapter I concentrate once again on poetic self-commentary, especially as Boccaccio presents it in hisTeseida delle nozze d’Emilia(The Book...

  6. Part Two. Poetic Self-Commentary Reborn in Quattrocento Florence

    • 3 ‘Know Thyself’: Self-knowledge and New Life in Lorenzo de’ Medici’s Commentary on My Sonnets
      (pp. 71-95)

      Lorenzo de’ Medici the Magnificent (1449-1492) experiments in various ways to determine how best to present his poetry to a reading public. He juxtaposes some of his lyrics with the poetry of certain Stilnovisti and of Dante and Petrarca in hisRaccolta aragonese(1474-75).² The diffusion of hisCanzonieremight also suggest that Lorenzo had joined in the burgeoning vogue of Petrarchism. In this work he carefully ordered more than two hundred of his lyric poems, while excluding some of his most vibrant lauds and other religious compositions. But giving an organic unity to theCanzonieredoes not seem to...

    • 4 ‘Distorted in contrary senses’: Girolamo Benivieni’s Self-Commentative Reformation
      (pp. 96-116)

      In the shadows of the Magnificent’s limelight was a rigorous self-commentator of a much different sort, the poet Girolamo Benivieni. Not only did Benivieni append a self-exegetical apparatus to his youthful love poems, he also repeated the procedure for his eclogues and wrote a Christian canzone with his own self-commentary in response to an earlier Platonic canzone of his on which Pico della Mirandola had expounded. In Benivieni’s case, however, self-commentary turns out to embody a very different intent and function than those previously considered. In this chapter I examine Benivieni’s notable emphasis onre-forminghis lyrics and on his...

  7. Part Three. Poetic Self-Commentary at the End of the Renaissance

    • 5 ‘It is neither formed nor form’: Reading Beyond the Lines of Bruno’s Dialogic Self-Commentary, the Heroic Frenzies
      (pp. 119-133)

      Consistent with his belief that everything is in All, the form of Bruno’s works also frequently combines poetry, prose, ideograms or other emblems or illustrations, and tables or lists. In other words, Bruno was a rigorous experimenter of literary and philosophical mixed forms and mixed genres.¹ In this chapter I consider the work that adheres most closely to the poetic/self-commentative form and intent of the epistemological current I have been tracing thus far, that is, hisEroici furori[The Heroic Frenzies].²

      Bruno’s work presents a series of ten dialogues, divided into two parts of five dialogues each, in which the...

    • 6 ‘Did we not prophesy in Your name?’: Settimontano Squilla as the Apocalyptic Seventh Trumpet in Tommaso Campanella’s Vatic Project
      (pp. 134-152)

      Tommaso Campanella’sScelta di alcune poesie filosofiche di Settimontano Squilla cavate da’ suo’ libri detti‘La Cantica’con l’esposizione[Selection of Some Philosophical Poems by Settimontano Squilla Taken from his Books Called ‘The Canticle’ with the Exposition] (1622) represents the final example of the Italian Renaissance poetic self-commentaries. In this work, Campanella struggles to retain a Renaissance interpretative sensibility during a period of changing expectations for commentary as Cartesian rationality and the new sciences emerge. In particular, he emphasizes an appreciation for the great proximity of the poetic and hermeneutic spheres. Only in this particularly intriguing and sophisticated example of...

    • 7 Invocation, Interpretation, Inspiration
      (pp. 153-162)

      T. S. Eliot’s comments on poetic style could not be more true where poetic self-commentary is concerned. Self-commentary does indeed persist after the Renaissance. However, there is a palpable sense that after this period it no longer dwells within the poetic sphere. In positing a point from which to observe the poetry objectively, self-interpretation is cut off from that poetic sphere. It no longer attempts to radiate a truth from within, but rather reflects upon it. Medieval and Renaissance poetic self-commentaries intuit poetry’s radical status as interlocutor in a peculiar dialogue with an other voice. The kind of poetic self-commentary...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 163-216)
  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 217-238)
  10. Index
    (pp. 239-249)