Humanist topographies: the classical poetics of place in Renaissance Italy

Lay Summary 

Today we think of a text as something available everywhere simultaneously, but in ancient Greece and Rome, before the print revolution, poetic texts were intimately linked with locality. The poets of classical antiquity invested places such as mountains, valleys, and springs with symbolic power, and closely intertwined their poetic projects with the places of their lives. Yet how the classical tradition of literary place evolved over time has not been adequately studied. The humanist poets of Renaissance Italy imitated this close link between poetry and place in the classical tradition. Humanists were at the forefront of the rediscovery of classical antiquity that was central to the social and cultural transformations of the Renaissance. They wrote in classically influenced Latin, sought out manuscripts of classical authors, explored ancient ruins, and produced works inspired by classical models. Place was a crucial aspect of the humanist revival of antiquity, especially in regions with a classical history, such as Italy. Classical poetry had special authority to define and reimagine places, while places, in turn, served as emblems of the poetic work: indeed, the Latin word 'locus' and the ancient Greek word 'topos' can equally denote a place on a map or a passage in a book. The creation of a sense of place was thus occurring on the written page as well as in the changing cityscapes and countryside of Renaissance Italy. As humanist authors and the rulers of cities attempted to create new Renaissance places, both through building projects and literary imagination, they engaged in dialogue with classical ideas of place. Renaissance Latin poetry has been underexamined in favour of the period's more famous vernacular poetry.


Luke Roman proposes that Renaissance Latin poetry can provide fresh insight into our understanding of humanism; that humanist poetic place-descriptions are not remote and artificial so much as vitally implicated in civic self-definition, the renewal of classical eloquence, and the emerging ideologies of Renaissance cities. The major outcome of this work will be a monograph for Oxford U. Press. The project will begin with a synthetic account of the poetics of place in ancient Greece and Rome (8th C BC - 2nd C AD). It will then examine the representation of place in Italian humanist poetry, focusing on several figures: Angelo Poliziano (1454-94) and Cristoforo Landino (1424-98) of Florence; Giovanni Pontano (1429-1503) and Jacopo Sannazaro (1458-1530) of Naples; and Blosio Palladio and Egidio Gallo, both of whom wrote Latin poems (1511-12) about Agostino Chigi's suburban villa in Rome. Finally, it will comment on how the emergence of print media in the early modern period transformed the very concept of the "place" of literature by examining Pietro Bembo, Desiderius Erasmus, and Thomas More. It will also produce a translation of Pontano's previously untranslated poetic works with commentary and introduction (under contract, Harvard U. Press), which will symbiotically support the monograph that studies the significance of his works.


Graduate students will be involved in all phases of the monograph and translated volume. Through this project, they will gain expertise in a promising area of future research, and participate in conferences, publication, and MUN's professional development programs. The study will be the first systematic examination of the classical tradition of poetic place in Italian humanist Latin poetry. Through a strategy of open-access publication, presentation at national and international conferences, enhanced pedagogy, and organization of events open to the broader community, it will increase awareness of the value of Renaissance Latin poetry and significance of the classical tradition in the Italian Renaissance.


Adapted from

Social Sciences And Humanities Research Council
Newfoundland and Labrador
Start date 
1 Jan 2017
End date 
31 Dec 2022