Phaethon's Children: The Este Court and Its Culture in Early Modern Ferrara

Phaethon's Children: The Este Court and Its Culture in Early Modern Ferrara

Phaethon's Children: The Este Court and Its Culture in Early Modern Ferrara

Phaethon's Children: The Este Court and Its Culture in Early Modern Ferrara

Synopsis

Phaethon’s Children: The Este Court and Its Culture in Early Modern Ferrara brings together essays that range across numerous disciplines to examine Ferrarese cultural production from approximately 1400 to 1598. Over these two centuries, the Estense city developed cultural practices, visual arts, music, and literature that bear a distinct Ferrarese imprint. This volume explores the range of materials that beckons researchers to Ferrara in the fields of literary studies, history, the history of visual arts and culture, musicology, anthropology, women’s studies, ethnic and religious studies, theater and performance history, and other specializations, materials that have played a primary role in the cultural and political history of Italy as well as Ferrara.

Excerpt

Dennis Looney

Ludovico Ariosto crafts a series of allusions in Orlando Furioso (1532) to suggest an oblique connection between his sometime patrons the Este family and a legendary figure from the earliest mists of time along the Po River valley, Phaethon. The classical story, most familiar from Ovid's Metamorphoses (1.750—2.339), has it that Phaethon, unconvinced that he was the child of a god, tricked his father, Apollo, into letting him drive the chariot of the sun as a test of Apollo's paternity. Unable to control the horses, Phaethon rode too close to the earth and scorched the planet before Jupiter knocked him out of the chariot with a deadly lightning bolt. He came crashing down to earth into the Po River near the future site of Estense Ferrara. In Ovid's version, Phaethon's sisters metamorphose into poplars as they mourn his death, their tears hardening into jewel-like drops of amber (2.340–366). His friend and cousin, Cycnus, while mourning is transformed into the first swan and thus assumes the archetypal role of the plaintive poet who laments the loss of one beloved (2.370–380). It is to this myth of Phaethon that Ariosto alludes in his genealogical review of the lords of Ferrara, the long-ruling House of Este (OF 3.34). But the Phaethon story affords the poet far more than the opportunity to connect the city of his patrons to divine and ancient events. With it Ariosto illuminates the darker side of poetic inspiration, a condition the poet himself assumes at certain moments in the poem. The myth of Phaethon allows the poet moreover to draw attention to the political and moral problem of overreaching one's station, and thus it enables him to allude to the Este family's difficulty in maintaining its precarious position in the shifting

Albert Russell Ascoli makes this argument in Ariosto's Bitter Harmony: Crisis and
Evasion in the Italian Renaissance
(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987), 341,
373, 388.

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