11. Books of Vernacular Literature

In a border country as Friuli one of the main aspects on the cultural level is the evidence of book multilingualism that outlines a reality made of meetings and exchanges.

For the late-medieval centuries the presence and circulation of vernacular books can often be only reconstructed thanks to marks, fragments, ‘rumours’. In the files corresponding to this section fragmentary evidences are prevailing, next to few luxurious codices. In a border country as Friuli one of the main aspects on the cultural level is the evidence of book multilingualism that outlines a reality made of meetings and exchanges: a reality certainly determined by its interlace with the different political and cultural phases due to the hegemonic presence of the patriarchy. In this sense an exemplary episode can be considered the meeting occurred in 1232 between the court of Frederick II of Swabia, a poet and courteous poetry promoter, and the court of his son, Henry VII of Germany, before the Bavarian patriarch Berthold of Andechs (Bertoldo di Andechs) in Aquileia, a venue that turns out to be political and literary milieu, providing the plausible presence of poets and minnesänger in their retinue. It is the same place where just a few years later, between 1234 and 1235, a German hand copies the end of the Swabish Landfriede, a fragment of the love song Resplendiente stella de albur by Giacomino Pugliese (ms Zürich, Zentralbibliothek, C 88, f. Iv), which is to be considered the oldest written witness of the Sicilian poetic school. Just a few decades before, under the patriarchy of Wolger (Folchero) von Erla (1204-1218), there had flowered the poetry of a Friulian canon, Tommasino da Cerclaria, who named himself Thomasin von Zerclaere in his work written in the winter 1215-1216 in Middle-High German with the title Der Wälsche Gast (‘The Romance guest’). Notwithstanding the weight of the relations with the Germanic world, on a literary level only a few written evidences of the transalpine language remain in Friuli for the concerned period. The brief and belated Provencal season is in Friuli to be referred to the person of Gregorio di Montelongo, the energetic patriarch who set out a political and cultural turning point since his arrival in Aquileia in 1252, with his looking at Rome and the Guelph issues after centuries of the Patriarchate’s alignment with the Ghibelline Germanic world. As to French books in Friuli, the major problem is to ascertain the time of their arrival. The small corpus of French texts nowadays present in libraries and archives of Friuli does not seem to be torn off the years they were produced. On the contrary that draws a varied linguistic complex: it includes texts produced in France, French texts copied in Italy with better or worse competence, either of literary or technical genre (see the Mascalcia by Giordano Ruffo di Calabria), as well as examples of the French-Venetan literature. All the examples presented in the catalogue [files X.2-X.5] configure the fortune of Oïl-language texts copied by Italian hands. It is difficult to assess what impact the presence of the French patriarchs Bertrant de Saint-Geniès (1334-1350) and Philippe dAlençon (1381-1387) had on the penetration of French language in Friuli. It is sure that the exchange between France and Friuli was not a one-way travel. Albeit on very different literary levels, some French books of Friulian authors as the Itinerarium by Odorico da Pordenone and the Compilatio historiarum totius Bibliae by Giovanni da Mortegliano are however witnesses of a cultural exchange. In the constellation of the thirteenth-century vernacular Italian texts kept in Friulian libraries, the albeit fragmentary witness of an exemplar of the Tavola Ritonda well evidences the duration of the chivalric romance fortune (file X.6). Nor less significant appear to be some poetical marks added on the blank spaces of official protocols. Long studies and debates have dealt with the presence of codices of Dante’s Commedia in Friuli, if not with the absolutely legendary presence in the region of Dante himself. In a land run by different linguistic vehicles, although Friuli has its own domestic language, it is not possible to identify fourteenth-fifteenth century evidences of a Friulian language with bookish features of a literary nature, in comparison with the conspicuous number of the same language used in practical papers. Once again we are forced to glance at fragmentary experiences to recreate the culture of the origins, matter of so many writings.

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