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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 Three


The Other WorldImagining Ireland in the Shadow of Dante

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

What was referred to in the previous chapter, flippantly perhaps, as ‘cross-examining God’ was a symptom of the characteristic Renaissance phenomenon of ‘seeking to establish a meaning outside the sacred’.1 Contrary to what was once held to be the case, the Renaissance was not a godless era, far from it,2 but what did certainly make the age different from the preceding ← 97 | 98 → ‘Dark Ages’ was the attempt, spearheaded by born-again Romans, to provide secular answers to the big questions of life, answers, that is, which were demonstrable by human reasoning – by language-games – and which, insofar as it was possible or necessary, sidelined the divine and the sacred. Fra Mauro’s solution to the question of the earthly paradise is a case in point. His caption shows him not to be entirely convinced of its existence:

The Paradise of Delights not only has a spiritual meaning but is a place located on earth, says Augustine in his work on Genesis, and also in his book on The City of God, and that place is very far from human settlement and knowledge, situated in the eastern parts, according to the teachings of the holy doctor Bede.3

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