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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 Five


Divided WorldImagining Ireland(s) at the Time of the Reformation

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

If stories do not tell the truth, neither, probably, does history, and even less so in Italian, since Italian, as we said in the Introduction, does not distinguish between the two. Both are storia. More importantly, however, both are language-games and, like all games but especially, as this chapter will confirm, those favoured by humanists, language-games are played to be won, and winners take all. The truth is theirs for the taking. Unless, that is, there is someone who knows better, someone who can deliver the Truth from on high.

‘If you want the truth not to be hidden from you, turn the whole (hi)story upside down: that the Greeks were routed, and that Troy the victor was, and Penelope a whore’: so says St John the Evangelist, speaking on the moon to Prince Astolfo, who has gone thither to retrieve the lost wits of his lunatic cousin Orlando and who, as a bonus, receives advice from his saintly guide about the true meaning of life. I know what I am talking about, St John hastens to add, ‘for in your world I too was a writer’.1 The truth, in other words, is that all writers lie. But it is in fact a deceptive ← 171 | 172 → kind of truth. If it is indeed the case that all writers lie, but if...

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