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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 Six


New WorldImagining Ireland in a New World

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

Giovio’s attempt to separate cosmography from history may not have worked out quite as he had hoped, but his instinct had been right. Cosmography was coming into its own and the demand was now growing for works which focused on the description of lands and their inhabitants with only ← 215 | 216 → minimal reference to historical events, or with history so potted that it lost any semblance of the truth and ‘good-forness’ it was meant to deliver. Seemingly what mattered most were now the bare facts, and with the world having changed beyond recognition – certainly beyond the recognition of those who still placed their faith in ancient Romans and Greeks (Africa and Asia disjoined for good, the Indies of the west emerging as a fourth continent, etc.) – and geography, thanks to the advances in cartography and to the testimonies of an ever-increasing number of eye-witnesses, having acquired the potential to become ever more Ptolemized (mimetic) and ever less Strabonified (moralisé), the balance could now shift and the paradox mentioned at the beginning of Chapter Two be resolved in favour of truth about instead of truth for. Yet what is surprising – or perhaps it is not – is just how imperious the latter continued to be. There was so much more to know in the world, but the need not to know, or to know only what mattered most, was...

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