Date of Degree

5-2019

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Comparative Literature

Advisor

Eugenia Paulicelli

Committee Members

Monica Calabritto

Martin Elsky

Subject Categories

Comparative Literature | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Italian Literature | Medieval Studies

Keywords

Travel Narratives, Poggio Bracciolini, Niccolò De Conti, Odorico da Pordenone, India recognita

Abstract

This dissertation examines textual, bodily depictions in two western European, medieval and late-medieval travel accounts, which describe the eastern travels of the Venetian merchant Niccolò de’ Conti and those of the Franciscan friar Odorico da Pordenone. My analysis show how a connection between the characterizations of the body and the process of identity definition is forged and sustained in these texts.

Through a cultural-studies perspective, my work focuses specifically on depictions of the body in Poggio Bracciolini’s account of the travels of Niccolò de’ Conti and in the text of a vernacular rendition of Odorico da Pordenone’s Relatio, the Libro delle nuove strane e meravigliose cose. These narratives’ bodily depictions constitute a textual nexus that lends itself to an investigation of the affirmation of a western European Christian identity, both through its opposition to that of the eastern “others” and also through a process of gendering; textual bodily depictions become a lens for the interpretation of the text, bearing witness to the instability of the very concept of identity itself. A close reading of both narratives is informed by a theoretical approach that stems from recent contributions in the field of cultural studies and postcolonial studies, such as those of Geraldine Heng, Kathleen Biddick, Carmen Nocentelli and Stanley F.Kruger, which have been particularly inspiring.

While the introduction provides the necessary historical background for an analysis of the encounter between Bracciolini and Niccolò de’ Conti, Chapter I analyzes the function of de’ Conti’s travel narrative as “cultural intermediary” (a term borrowed from Natalie Rothman”s Brokering Empire: Trans Imperial Subjects Between Venice and Istanbul). In addition, the chapter situates Bracciolini’s appropriation of de’ Conti’s account in the context of past, as well as recent, scholarship on humanism. The shifting relationship between oral witnesses and classical authorities continues to be investigated in Chapter II, where the influence of de’ Conti’s narrative on contemporary cartography is briefly analyzed. Chapter III introduces a close reading of de’ Conti’s narrative in light of the erotic vein displayed by Bracciolini’s writing. It also presents the analysis of the body as a locus where the emergence of issues of race and identity can best be located. Chapter IV continues to focus on sexualized descriptions of the body, within a reading of the Libro delle nuove strane e meravigliose cose, a mid XIVth-century vernacular rendition of the Relatio of Odorico da Pordenone. The additional material present in the vernacular rendition proves significant for the analysis of bodily depictions, which emerge, once again, as textual focal points and allows for a juxtaposition of the Libro with de’ Conti’s narrative, despite the difference in periodization.

The focus on medieval travel narratives as texts exposing the bodily quality of self-definition delineates a direction of analysis for future endeavors. The present research represents an initial step towards the shaping of an alternative taxonomy within the composite genre of medieval European travel writings, built around instances of embodiment as privileged sites of differentiation.

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