For Petrarch’s Africa
, in which we find the 16 gods mentioned in the Syphax palace episode in Book III, please refer to these on-line resources.
The Latin is here: http://petrarch.petersadlon.com/read_Africa.html?s=3
A convenient English translation, hereafter Ellis, of Books I – IV (inconveniently without the corresponding Latin nor line numbers; the 16 gods begins top of page 46): https://baylor-ir.tdl.org/bitstream/han ... sequence=1
Because of the close spelling between the Roman author and the Visconti humanist (and indeed one is the Italian of the Latin), Martianus Capella will henceforth be referred to as Capella, while Marziano will remain the same.
Before jumping into Petrarch’s Palace of Syphax as an echo of Capella’s Etruscan-derived 16 regions of the sky, I would like to address the fundamental problem of whether we can even count that number in the ekphrasis, for at least one scholar, Jane Chance, notes just 14:
The catalogue of the gods in the Africa to which Bersuire refers appears in a description of the palace of Syphax, covered with precious stones representing the planets and zodiacal signs (3.111-35) and with gilded bas reliefs of fourteen ‘gods and heroes’ (3.138-39) (as in Ovid Metamorphoses 2.1-18, the description of the Palace of the Sun) and other creatures such as Pegasus, the fauns, and the satyrs….(Jane Chance, Medieval Mythography, Vol. 2: From the Schools of Chartres to the Court of Avignon, 1177-1350. 2000: 346).
Below I will cite the Latin text lines for 16 gods, so whence this 14? The Bersuire she refers to was a fellow prelate in Avignon (d. 1362), with whom Petrarch shared at least an epitome of his chapter in the Africa
Although Bersuire borrows from the third Vatican mythographer, Fulgentius, Mitologiae, the Ovide Moralise, Petrarch, Isidore, and the first two Vatican mythographers (1.127; 2.48), for the graphic detail used in his visual depictions of the gods his source is Petrarch, as Bersuire acknowledged in the same prologue to the Ovidius [Ovidius Moralizatus]:
Because I was nowhere able to find either written accounts or pictorial representations of the images of the gods set forth in an orderly manner, I had to consult that eminent teacher Francis Petrarch….(ibid, 344-45)
Chance further notes:
The sources for Petrarch’s catalogue are almost certainly Isidore’s Etymologiae 8.11 (a copy of which he acquired in Avignon(Martianus Capella’s De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii (or else Remigius of Auxerre’s commentary on Capella, because the marriage of Mercury and Philology is mentioned in 3.179-80, and the third Vatican mythographer, or else the mythography’s short version, the Libellus. (ibid, 345)
In a fairly famous bit of detective work, Seznec (1953: 170-178) has shown the Third Vatican Mythographer to be an obscure 13th century cleric from London named Alexander Neckam, or sometimes just Alberic(us). Chance’s own sources lead us to Pepin’s The Vatican Mythographers
, from which work we learn:
By the fourteenth century the [Third Vatican Mythographer] was called Scintillarium poetarum, or simply Poetarius. Indeed, Petrarch owned a manuscript of it and referred it as ‘Poetarius Albrici.’ (Third Vatican Mythographer, 13, in Ronald E. Pepin, The Vatican Mythographers, 2008: 9)
There follow fourteen detailed chapters on these gods, goddesses and heroes of classical mythology: Saturn, Cybele, Jupiter, Juno, Neptune, Pluto, Proserpina, Apollo, Mercury, Pallas, Venus, Bacchus, Hercules, Perseus…The book closes with a chapter on the twelve signs of the zodiac, recounting mainly how each was created and placed in the heavens.(ibid, 10)
And there we have it: The detail of fourteen gods comes from the Third Vatican Mythographer (hereafter TVM) - one of Petrarch’s own sources for his Africa
; Chance must have misreported that detail as also the same number employed by Petrarch.
One tell-tale sign that Petrarch did rely on the TVM is that he retained Perseus (versus, say, Hercules), but I believe there was an additional reason for that choice to be explained below. Petrarch also removes Pluto and Proserpina to a lower band of figures from the celestial ones that appear about the zodiac and necessarily comes up with his own list since he must get to a total of 16 at all events. Why Petrarch chose to impose an approximation of the Etruscan 16 gods order on this Numidian palace, I believe, is “ethnological” in Cicero’s sense, in that when discussing haruspicy, soothsaying and the like he tends to group the “primitive” religious practices away from the Roman (again, see his De. div
. 2.50). The Punic/Numidian are like the Etruscan then, in sharing an archetypal “primitive mindset”, however Greco-Roman in appearance the palace hall’s decoration. Consider Laelius’s first words to Syphax that come right after the ekphrasis:
All these things were with different methods and in wondrous order engraved, plunging from the kingdom of the gods to the lowest center of the earth. Laelius, examining all this, saw nothing cheaper than purest gold. He trod on what was considered dear. Then at length, having come to the end of the great hall, he met the king. The king rose from his proud throne and kindly sought his guest’s embrace. They then sat down. Next Laelius began to speak in a calm voice: “Greatest king, whom Chance deems worthy of so great a friend that the Sun, looking down at everything as it returns from the Indian shore while it seeks its Hesperian bed, does not see, has not seen, and, unless I am mistaken, will not see; hear me lest my words pass through inattentive ears! Scipio, greatest and most famous in the great world, commands that you be well! If ever anything is holy and faithful, if faith is genuine, if the cultivation of honor endures among the nations, these are most greatly so in a single people, and a single man of that people has their essence. Rome is the world’s head, and Scipio is her greatest general. Nor, truly, do I spin lies. Now, king, he demands your friendship. You have seen the ways of Punic hearts, how shaky is their loyalty. Believe me, if Fortune gave them a favorable outcome to this war–may the God of gods prevent it–the condition of your kingdom would be much worse, and your life would be exposed to many dangers. No spirit of love but terror alone keeps them back. But the Romans have no truer skill than the keeping of faith. (Book IIII, tr. Ellis 2007: 49-50)
Scipio/Rome – an imperium sine fine
(“empire without end”, from India to Spain – like the British idiom that the sun never set on her Empire) - commands
like a god. The Punic/Numidian culture, by contrast, is subject to Chance and Fortune (like the Etruscan notion of fortune implied with the 16 regions of the sky, usually associated with the fortune-telling of lightning strikes). Moreover, Scipio-Rome is more associated with the sun/Apollo, and as such deals out destinies to others (what Apollo is doing when Mercury and Virtue find him in Capella: “the impending vicissitudes of the ages….the fortunes of cities and nations, of all their kings, and of the entire human race” 1.11; Stahl p. 9). Rome has been allotted a greater destiny due to the association with the sun: “As a single part of the clear sky shines brighter than the rest, so mighty Rome beams over Italy herself. As the sun conquers the shining stars with its rays, so Scipio excels all others” (ibid, p. 68).
Laelius takes up the rest of Book III relating the history of Rome (as part of his pitch to Syphax to ally with Rome), ending on the Brutus-Lucretia story (the Brutus who set up the Republic, following the rape of a Lucretia who killed herself). Book IV begins with Syphax’s response: "I see how great is the difference between the base and the high and how Rome’s destiny surpasses all others. I also understand what your virtuous lady wanted in death–that chaste Dido should not keep all such fame for herself alone" (ibid, p. 65).
This is just one of the explicit references to Dido in Petrarch’s Africa
, but noteworthy that it is the first name from Syphax’s lips in this scene of the 16 gods. It may have even been the TVM that lead Petrarch to the Dido background, in connection with the gods, particularly Juno:
Also, Vergil introduces Aeneas’s bride offering sacrifice at the founding of Carthage: ‘to fruit-bearing Ceres and Phoebus and Father Lyaeus.’ But above all she sacrifices to Juno. [She sacrifices] to Ceres, of course, so that she might grant fruitfulness to the crops; to Phoebus because he presides over divine omens by which cities are ruled, as we have said above; to Lyaeus, that I, Bacchus, who is rightly the god of freedom of cities, as we shall teach in the following passages….If other gods are invoked during the first offerings of cities it pertains to a private cause, as in that same place we read: “Before all to Juno, whose care is for the bonds of matrimony.” Although thus is represented as a benefit to the commonwealth, it was also the special cause of Dido….So, now about to marry, Dido first appeases Ceres, who cures marriage because of the ravishing of her daughter; Apollo, who is without a wife; Liber who could not marry the girl he had seduced, as we read. Thus she procures the favor of Juno. (Third Vatican Mythographer, 13, in Ronald E. Pepin, The Vatican Mythographers, 2008: 291).
We’ll have a reason to return to Dido, but without further ado, on to the 16 gods – I just wanted to provide the proper context with which to understand their appearance in Petrarch’s Africa.
They are a more “primitive” ruler’s representations of the gods in his palace, and depict fate (hence the zodiac), unlike the cocksure power of Roman faith in its own destiny.
The 16 gods and the line they are so named in the Latin text:
174 Frater iunior
(Apollo's younger brother, Mercury)
179 nova sponsa
(Mercury’s new wife, Philology)
(Mars - this genitive is used also by Ovid, Met
.6.70 and Vir. Aen
200 Iovis soror
(Jupiter’s sister, Juno)
(boy = Cupid: puer alatus nec acutis plena sagittis
= “This boy was winged, full of sharp arrows” on Venus’s lap)
(“Last is mother Cybele” – then come the underworld gods, clearly separated from those of the heavens).
Complicating the compilation is that some of the primary gods are surrounded by a host of their attributes, associated monsters, etc. (e.g. Apollo’s slain python) making the overall number of entities seem larger. If one adopts the reasonable criteria, however, of counting the primary gods and their spouses, siblings or children in this long passage, then one derives precisely 16 gods.
Of Petrarch’s particular list of gods, we might ask: of all the demigod sons of Jupiter, why Perseus (instead, for instance, the more famous Hercules)? His appearance in the TVM may have pointed the way, but as I previously noted, the Hercules/Cacus episode was a place-marker for the geographical origins of the Romans, particularly the Aventine Hill mentioned in Marziano, Perseus too has strong geographical connections. Similarly to how Marziano’s suit of Phoenixes is a phonetic word-play reference to Phoenicia (also previously discussed), Perseus is associated with North Africa, simply due to his own mythological acts occurring there. The context again is that Syphax’s palace, despite the Greco-Roman gods, is a Numidian palace, and much closer in culture to Carthage (itself “Romanized” as sacred to Juno, not anthropologically correct as “Tanit” or any other Phoenician god we now know today), that would allow Perseus to act as a sort of a tutelary (demi)god of the region. Scipio’s Second Punic War campaign was first successful in Spain before crossing over to North Africa; Spain, in turn, is often itself poetically referred to as “Hesperis”, as one of Perseus’s first labors was to seek out the Greae, sisters of the Gorgons, to demand the whereabouts of the Hesperides, the nymphs of the West tending Hera's orchard (the Hesperides being in Spain or North Africa, depending on your poetic source). So associated with Spain were the Hesperides that Basinio da Parma named his neo-Latin epic Hesperis
(1455), that recounts the battles and mythic tales of Sigismondo Malatesta versus Alfonso V of Naples (King of Aragon), even though the theatre of war was in Italy, not in Spain (it was merely a roundabout way of referring to the foe as Spanish, originally from Aragon). Also connecting Perseus with North Africa, after killing Medusa, is his proceeding to visit King Atlas who had refused him hospitality; in revenge Perseus turned him to stone with Medusa’s head – the resulting Atlas mountains are in North Africa
. Perseus also visits Aethiopia and of course saves Cassiopeia there by killing the monster Cetus. Just as Hercules clears Italy from monsters, so Perseus in North Africa. Even the TVM essentially points out Perseus’s special connection to North Africa: "14. They say Perseus also was among the sons of Jove. The truth is that he was a very rich king of Asia. It is said that he was winged because he traversed many regions in his ship and he conquered Africa
in war" (327).
Petrarch’s own words to describe Perseus in the ekphrasis match the illustrations in the Vatican Reg. Lat. 1290 manuscript, based on the TVM:
"Near [Philology] stands the scandal of the Gorgon sisters. Perseus, severing the snake-haired head with his fraternal sword, with neck turned back and fixed on his mirror. Here too are the old man [Atlas] turned to stone; the monster born from blood, a winged steed; and the sacred font of the nurturing Muses" (Ellis, 47).
Note in the Reg.Lat. 1290 illustration Perseus is oddly shown winged, so Pegasus is not, but is shown as a half-horse which is how the equine is always depicted in astronomical manuscripts, which had a much more continuous history of illustration (notably the corpus of Aratea
). Closer even to Petrarch’s text, note how the Gorgon’s blood from which Pegasus was born is visually confused with the Helicon spring created by Pegasus’s hoof that fostered the Muses into being, thus collocating two different streams of liquid (“born from blood” and “font of the nurturing muses”; just an example of how muddled all of this was):
This Petrarchan background of Perseus aside, to sum up the demigod’s relevance in the Africa
: Perseus was appropriate to a North African king’s palace decorations of the gods as almost all Perseus’s major deeds take place there. Moreover, the Phoenician connection of the Carthaginians, also places them in the orbit of Persia, as the Phoenicians provided the fleet with which the Persians fought the Greeks under Xerxes. And back to phonetic nonsense, but one with an ancient pedigree, no less than Herodotus devises a son, Perses, from whom the Persians took their name (Herodotus, vii.61). If Petrarch’s Palace of Syphax was going to be recycled for a Trojan-descended Italian dynasty (the Visconti) it becomes obvious why Perseus was jettisoned and replaced by Hercules. Syphax, recounting his own country’s origins, notes Dido came not from Sidon (as in the Aeneid
) but from Tyre – thus tying her to a more obvious marker for what Phoenicia was known for: Tyrian purple
(famously used by Rome herself: the most senior Roman magistrates wore a toga praetexta
, a white toga edged with a stripe of Tyrian purple, triumphant generals the toga picta
of a solid Tyrian purple with a gold stripe. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tyrian_purple
Ultimately what leads us directly to Capella from Petrarch’s Africa
is of course the fact that Mercury has a spouse (nova sponsa
), as no other classical source has this. That she is not mentioned by name, Philology, is no basis for discounting her as Juno too, for example, is merely called Jupiter’s sister.
Much of what follows is derived to a large degree from the last chapter, “Laura as Novus Figura
”, in Aldo S. Bernardo’s Petrarch, Laura, and the Triumphs
(1974; which nonetheless covers all of his works, not just the trionfi). Bernardo’s thesis is that Petrarch first came to Capella early on, developing an early comedy (lost) called Phiologia Philostrati
(of which we nonetheless have some information), derived his idea for Syphax’s Palace’s fresco decorations also from Capella, and that the allegorical “new figure” of Laura was to some extent nothing less than a very learned interpretatio christiana
of Philology herself (classical learning combined with Christian doctrine, embodied in a novus figura
). Quite a thesis. My modest contribution is to identify the 16 gods in Petrarch’s Africa
– not identified by Bernardo, who only cares about the development of the Philology figure into Laura-Daphne; that development is what surely lead Marziano to including Daphne as a replacement for Philology in his own list of 16 heroum
, arguably key to the entire game. Bernardo’s primary documents for Petrarch's first work:
Petrarch’s Phiologia Philostratus
Bernardo begins by explaining, “There is evidence that from a very early age Petrarch had been intrigued by the possibility of personifying the general concept of learning or culture in a female figure” (170). He then goes over the scraps of information we have for the lost work of PP:
• Fam. II, 7.5
, Petrarch letter to Cardinal Giovanni Colonna: “You will remember in my Philology, which I wrote only to drive out your cares through entertainment [same sentiment echoed in Marziano’s prologue], what my Tranquillinus says: ‘the greater part of man dies waiting for something.’ And so it is.” (170). Bernardo states that it looks like the comedy may have been written for Cardinal Colonna, whose large extended family in Rome, many holding important positions in the Church, may have inherited the manuscript and thus circulated it among clerical circles (so perhaps Marziano was familiar with it via his participation in the Church, but my argument depends on nothing more than the Africa
• Fam. VII.16.6
. Petrarch letter to humanist Lapo di Castiglionchio, thanking him for an oration of Cicero but can’t send his PP: “I do not deny that at a somewhat tender age I wrote the comedy you request bearing the title of Philologia. Unfortunately it is located far from here, you will learn from our common friend who bears this letter [Boccaccio!] what my opinion of it is, and the degree to which I consider it worthy of the ears of learned men such as yours” (170-171).
• Life of Petrarch
(De vita et moribus Domini Francisci Petracchi
), Bocaccio. “Boccaccio not only suggests Petrarch actually surpassed Terence in his comedy, but refers to it with the title of Philostratus
….justification for Boaccaccio’s use of this title may be found in the letter from Petrarch to Barbaro da Sulmona….alludes to his comedy as “Philologia Philostrati”…. (172). Bernardo notes Philostratus is “a man overcome and overthrown by love.”
Bernardo summarizes so far:
Putting together all these scanty facts about Petrarch’s comedy, certain significant conclusions can be reached. The title itself, Philologia Filostrati, suggests the combining of a rather learned subject with a love theme. It also reveals a third possible character in the play in addition to Philologia and Tranquillinus. This in turn suggests a possible threesome reflecting three perspectives, learning, loving and living [I would have preferred cupidity versus learning, with the contemplative life as the resolution….all of this echoed in the trionfi of Cupid versus Chastity). Finally, the verse cited in Fam. II.7.5 implies a moral-philosophic theme that had apparently attracted the attention of Petrarch’s closest and most influential friends. In all of this, there seems to be no evidence disproving our original assumption that the concept or character of Philologia was a borrowing or at least an echo of Capella Capella’s elaborate allegory of the wedding of Philology with the god, Mercury” (172).
On this famous ekphrasis in Book III, Bernardo restricts himself to merely noting “there is a moment in the Africa
when we see [Petrarch] describing in terms obviously taken from Capella the two partners of the famous ‘wedding’ …. It is the description of the palace of Sifax in Africa
III, vv87-264….” (173).
The main conflict in the Africa
is, again, the Numidian ally of Scipio, Massinissa, who has wavered in his commitment due to his love for the Carthaginian noble and now Numidian queen, Sophonisba, who had previously betrayed her husband Syphax in marrying Massinissa (and who had also previously persuaded Syphax to betray the Romans as well). A good summary of this dynamic in the Africa
Petrarch devotes the whole of Book 5 of the Africa to the Massinissa/Sophonisba episode. Having extracted Dido from the narrative of the Aeneid, Petrarch reinserts her by insistent verbal and narrative connections between Sophonisba and Dido: Sophonisba marries her lover in an illicit marriage; she betrays the memory of her first husband and feels guilty in nocturnal visions (Africa, 5.257-72; cf. Virgil, Aeneid 4.457-73); her actions arouse the power of Rumour; she threatens the Roman imperial mission; she commits suicide (Africa, 5.771-3; cf. Virgil, Aeneid 4.663-65); she curses the Scipio with the malediction of a lonely death before she dies.22 Some of these narrative parallels with Virgil’s Dido are underscored by very explicit verbal echoes. In all this Scipio plays the role not so much of Aeneas, but of the exegete of the Aeneid, wholly untouched by erotic passion.
Sophonisba plays the role of a very fully realised Dido, but one much more unequivocally and maliciously obstructive to the Roman imperial mission, and one whose destruction does nothing to stain the reputation of the Roman imperialist. The Dido narrative has been re-embedded in a narrative that overlays the Aeneid, but this time in such a way as wholly to justify the Roman response. So far from ending with any critique of the Aeneid or of Aeneas, the Africa ends with the imperial triumph of Scipio, followed by his captives. Second only to Scipio, at the end of the poem Massinissa, the coopted African who has made the right choices, is the biggest winner. On the way back to Rome the poet Ennius, who has accompanied the general Scipio, predicts Rome’s future greatness and predicts the laureation of the future Petrarch, who will sing the laureation of the victorious Scipio. (pp. 497-99 in Simpson, James, “Subjects of triumph and literary history: Dido and Petrarch in Petrarch's Trionfi and Africa.” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 35(3), 2005: 489-508)
Or in Marziano’s terms: Virtue (Scipio) over Riches (Dido, implied). In Petrarch’s trionfi, in the overcoming of sexual passions so thoroughly embodied in Scipio – a form of his famous “continence” – we find that in addition to his portrayal in Petrarch’s Africa
, the poet culminates the Triumph of Chastity by having Laura stop by Scipio’s place of exile (lines 163-168) and pick him up for the march to Rome where together they deposit laurel crowns at the Temple of Patrician Chastity. The virtus
of Roman culture, symbolized by Scipio, that Petrarch worked so hard to bring back to his own day through his own writings (’philologia
’) is thus figuratively married to his Christian female symbol (Philologia-cum-Daphne-Laura) and the conquering of Original Sin. Back to Bernardo’s premise, placed in the larger historical context of the project initiated even before Dante:
If indeed Petrarch’s Laura resembles Capella’s Philologia, as well as Ovid’s Daphne, Eve and Mary, then we do have a nova figura which goes beyond the donna angelicata of the stilnovisti. We should therefore not be bewildered by the paradise to which she leads her followers in the last Triumph. This was already implied in the very first Triumphs. (Bernardo, 184)]
One then sees an evolution in Petrarch’s works, where in his comedy Philologia
is set against Philostrati
(“overcome by love”), recognized within the Africa
’s Syphax ekphrasis among the gods but without overt Roman-Christianizing attributes (merely Mercury’s wife, not even mentioned by name there), and then fully realized as Laura-Daphne in both the canzoniere
, as an intermediary between the poet and God.
If Marziano is merely using the idea of a primordial arrangement (the Etruscan provenance of the idea of 16 gods), and adjusting it to his prince’s ethnogenic project, already laid out by Castelletto and Barzizza (and in abbreviated form at some point in the Visconti Hours), he does so by marking his game with Petrarch’s own standard: Daphne. Not only did the DSH depend on Petrarch and Capella, but I would also point out that even the very name of the 1438 iteration of this ethnogenic project, the Semideus
, may have been derived directly from Capella:
There is a space between earth and moon, and thus space is itself divided into partitions, but the upper section contains those whom they call demigods and who are generally known on Latin as Semones or Semidei. These have celestial souls and godlike minds and are born in human form for the good of the whole world (Capella 156, Stahl, p. 52).
Naturally Lombardy was lucky to be ruled by godlike minds (wink).
What Marziano has done, in the context of his heroum
, is restore Laura to her classical inspiration, Daphne, a choice undoubtedly made due to the Apollo pairing and primary Visconti impresa
of the dove/radiant sun, with Filippo’s increasing megalomania to self-identify with the sun, stimulated by Giangaleazzo’s own illuminated manuscripts and Anglus project. Christianity is merely implicit, but given Filippo’s own obsession with Petrarch, one didn’t need to explain what the ever recurrent symbol of Daphne meant. Daphne would thus lure the Duke to virtue, just as Laura had done for Petrarch (however empty this conceit in reality). Even in Pizan, Apollo plucks the victorious and sanctifying laurel directly from Daphne, so the nymph is presented in a honor-giving guise (not merely chastity):
Marziano describes her in the same terms, despite her placement in the suit of virginities: “And he established her as the distinction of Caesars and poets, and decreed to be decorated by her fronds as an emblem of perpetual and always green fame” (87). Virtually the exact sentiment in Apollo, as Marziano describes that god strictly in Petrarchan terms, Rome and poetry (which for him was essentially Laura): "…and on Mount Parnassus the Cirrhan ridge was dedicated to contemplation, from where he himself drew out the notice of the future. The locks of his head decorated with laurel, by both Caesarian and poetic law…." (45).
There is simply no denying Apollo and Daphne are conceived of as a pair in the DSH
. And that obscure if erudite reference to Cirrha in both Capella and Marziano, points to the reliance of the latter on the former, where Mercury and Virtue’s extended search for Apollo in finally leads them to where they find him in the same contemplative isolation:
At length they learned by rumor that the rock of Parnassus rejoiced in the presence of Phoebus, although from there too it was said that the he had later move to an Indian mountain's secret crag, shrouded in perpetual clouds. Yet Mercury and Virtue visited the Cirrhaean retreat.... (William Harris Stahl, Richard Johnson, Capella Capella and the Seven Liberal Arts, Vol. II: The Marriage of Philology and Mercury, 1977: 9)
Of the six Petrarchan gods replaced in the DSH - Saturn, Philology, Perseus, Vulcan, Pan, Cybele - it is fairly clear why Hercules replaces Perseus and Daphne replaces Philology (although this last, from the perspective of Petrarch’s oeuvre, is basically an equivalence). I’ll speculate in my next reply as to why Saturn, Vulcan, Pan and Cybele were replaced and by whom of the heroum