Venice in Poetry – Progress post 3

In the two previous blogposts we analyzed two greats poems composed of thousands of verses in search of references of Venice. To obtain the text and explore it, we used a Digital Humanities approach, consisting in a R script able to dig in the mole of words and to search for the keywords we are interested in.

However, around 1525 with the rediscovery of the Rerum Vulgarium Fragmenta by Francesco Petrarca and the influence of Pietro Bembo, the style and objective of poetry radically changed: the subject was not anymore war and paladins, but rather it was accentuated the love, passion and beauty thematic. Moreover, as medieval courts and patronage gradually disappeared, there was no time anymore to compose long epic poems, and the most used composition became the sonnet.

So, the two poems already analyzed represent the summit of Italian medieval epic literature with no successive equals and there is no use in studying minor works. Instead, we’ll report and examine some other meaningful poems who were composed about Venice itself.

The first poem
The first author we present is the Neapolitan poet and humanist Jacopo Sannazaro (1457-1530), courtier of Frederick of Aragon, king of Naples. Jacopo wrote an epigram in Latin about Venice, which was later translated by Joseph Addison:

Quis Venetae miracula proferat urbis,
Una instar magni quae simul Orbis habet?
Salve Italûm Regina, altae pulcherrima Romae
Aemula, quae terris, quae dominaris aquis!
Tu tibi vel Reges cives facis; O Decus, O Lux
Ausoniae, per quam libera turba sumus,
Per quam Barbaries nobis non imperat, & Sol
Exoriens nostro clarius orbe nitet!
Nec Tu semper eris, que septem amplecteris arces,
Nec Tu, quae mediis aemula surgis aquis.
Venetia stands with Endless Beauties crown’d,
And as a World within her self is found.
Hail Queen of Italy! for Years to come
The mighty Rival of Immortal Rome!
Nations and Seas are in thy States enroll’d,
And Kings among thy Citizens are told.
Ausonia’s brightest Ornament! by Thee
She sits a Sov’raign, Unenslav’d and Free;
By Thee, the rude Barbarian chas’d away,
The Rising Sun chears with a purer Ray
Our Western World, and doubly gilds the Day.
Thou too shalt fall by Time or barb’rous Foes,
Whose circling Walls the Sev’n fam’d Hills enclose;
And Thou, whose Rival Tow’rs Invade the Skies,
And, from amidst the Waves, with equal Glory rise.

Venice is in this epigram saluted as the queen of Italy, capable of keeping up in arms with Rome. Note the reference to Ausonia, the ancient Greek name for lower Italy, extended poetically to all Italy, which is said to be free thanks to Venice, who chased away the barbarians. This may be a reference of the war of the Venetian League who chased Charles VIII away from southern Italy, as we saw in the Orlando Furioso.

The second poem
The second poem we present is attributed to the Florentine Giovanni della Casa (1503-1556), literate, writer, poet and archbishop. After the first studies in Bologna and Florence, Giovanni started an ecclesiastic career in Rome, where he was nominated Papal nuncio of Venice. He was attributed a sonnet in honor of Venice, later translated by Felicia Hemans.

Sopra la città di Venezia

Questi palazzi e queste logge, or colte
D’ostro, di marmo, e di figure elette;
Fur poche e basse case insieme accolte,
Diserti lidi, e povere isolette.

Ma genti ardite, d’ogni vizio sciolte,
Premeano il mar con picciole barchette;
Che qui, non per domar provincie molte,
Ma fuggir servitù, s’eran ristrette.

Non era ambizion ne’ petti loro;
Ma ’l mentire aborrian più che la morte;
Nè vi regnava ingorda fame d’oro.

Se ’l Ciel v’ha dato più beata sorte,
Non sien quelle virtù, che tanto onoro,
Da le nove ricchezze oppresse e morte.


These marble domes, by wealth and genius graced,
With sculptured forms, bright hues, and Parian stone,
Were once rude cabins midst a lonely waste,
Wild shores of solitude, and isles unknown.

Pure from each vice, ’t was here a venturous train
Fearless in fragile barks explored the sea;
Not theirs a wish to conquer or to reign,
They sought these island precincts—to be free.

Ne’er in their souls ambition’s flame arose,
No dream of avarice broke their calm repose;
Fraud, more than death, abhorred each artless breast:

O, now, since fortune gilds their brightening day,
Let not those virtues languish and decay,
O’erwhelmed by luxury, and by wealth oppressed!

The current wealth and richness of Venice’s houses of the first two verses is compared in the next to lines to the situation at the time of the first settlements on the island: few and poor shelters packed together, since there wasn’t much space on the small islands.
But few pure and strong-willed people, seeking liberty rather than land domination, took the sea with their boats. Now that those times are over and Venice has become strong and rich, the poet hopes the new condition won’t affect the original virtues of the first men.

The leading thematic of both texts is the celebration of Venice, in particular its strength and beauty. Although the first author equally praises both past and present Venice, the second is more enthusiastic about the Venice of the foundation, while expressing some concern about the vices of the present.

Translations of poems from all Italy, section Venice