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Fabulous Ireland- «Ibernia Fabulosa»

Imagining Ireland in Renaissance Italy

Eric Haywood

According to Petrarch, the Father of the Renaissance, Ireland was almost as well known to the Italians as Italy itself. Visiting Ireland from the comfort of their armchairs, his followers thus knew for a fact that the Irish ate their fathers and slept with their mothers, were welcoming and inhospitable, and were the best and the worst of Christians, and that Ireland was home to St Patrick’s Purgatory, where you could visit the otherworld, save your soul and your business, and locate your missing relatives.
This book examines Italian descriptions of Ireland in the context of the Renaissance rediscovery of ancient culture and reinvention of geography and historiography, the fashioning of the self and the other, and travel writing. The author argues that the intellectuals of the time were more interested in ‘truth for’ than in ‘truth about’ and that they imagined Ireland differently in different circumstances, populating it with their own fantasies, so that its otherness would pose no threat to their sense of self.
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Chapter One


Out of This World?Imagining Ireland with the Ancients

Authors and works discussed in this chapter (in chronological order):1

In 1458, shortly before ascending the throne of St Peter as Pope Pius II, Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini (1405–64) put the finishing touches to an innovative work On Europe [De Europa]. Focusing entirely on contemporary events and intermingling the exposition of what happened with the description of where it happened, the work was conceived as a journey which took its readers on a tour of Europe, starting in Hungary and proceeding through Greece, the Balkans, central Europe, northern Europe, Germany, France, the British Isles and the Iberian peninsula, before coming to a close in Italy. The idea of Europe it sought to put forward was also novel. More than just one of the world’s three known parts, Europe, in Aeneas’s estimation, was much closer to what many believe, or would like to believe, it is today: an identity. An identity shared by peoples living together in a common space, with a common destiny, and bearing a common, Christian and Roman, heritage. Not every people, though, was allowed to share in that identity. The opening sentence of the work makes that quite clear. ‘What was done’, Aeneas begins, ‘under Frederick, third emperor of that name, by Europeans and island-dwellers considered to be Christian, I will here record, for the sake of future generations, as briefly as possible and insofar as it is worth remembering and...

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