In more recent scholarship, beside the image of Iacopone da Todi as a genuine, learned poet, who is aware of all the challenges of poetic discourse associated with the transmission of a spiritual message, another image has emerged—that of an intellectual of his day who pondered not only the matter and form he was creating, but also the place he could find in literary history. This notion of Iacopone Todi as involved in political, stylistic, and literary concerns helps to highlight the authorial dignity of the poet and to extend the definition of the intellectual through that of the author in the literary and modern sense of the word. The creative project of the Laude resides in an attempt to combine love of literature and love of God; literary innovation is part of his spiritual quest. The Laude demonstrate an intellectual journey based on the permanent oscillation between presence in the world and absence from it. The relation to the world which, somewhat ironically, lies somewhere between involvement and detachment. Within this opposition, the prophetic laude certainly are the “literary demonstration” of Iacopone’s involvement in the religious and civil society of his day. From a similar point of view, in terms of readership and reception, the laudario acquires important pedagogical and didactic relevance that need to be emphasized. According to Iacopone, an individual’s perfection is not merely achieved by the relation of the inner self to itself, but also by the ability to face worldly realities. This perfection is not the outcome of pure instinct, but rather of an enlightening intellectual process. Thus, the poet considers the Laude as the site of the development of a pedagogic action, or even of a pedagogic project, which is integral to genuine “spiritual guidance.”
Although the most attentive Iacopone scholarship has made undoubted progress in the last few decades, Iacopone da Todi’s complex figure (Giacomo di Benedetto – Iacobus Benedicti o Benedictoli) is still being evaluated, according to a paradigm comprising an inextricable, sometimes rather confused, bond between biographical motifs and themes concerning his collection’s religious and socio-political statements. Iacopone’s handling of Saint Francis of Assisi, the only saint and the subject matter of two poems, together with an examination of his “Franciscan” thought will definitively clarify—in a long sequence of biblical, liturgical, historical, literary, and moral motifs—the mystical register of a transformative union between God and mankind, while also measuring the exemplarity of Christian life on the background of Christ’s advent. This is the fundamental trait of Iacopone’s poetry, his most important poetic and theological undertaking. This collection’s originality consists in its irreducible, unnegotiable quality, not in humanity’s ability to attain the unknowable God, but rather in God becoming “pellegrino penato”, “anguished pilgrim”, in an obsessive, refined, and reiterated request for love addressed to his beloved human beings. Being a brilliant expression of Franciscanism at its origins, Iacopone’s poetic production identifies the principal reason for a new mystical language, in which the lexicon of ineffability finds adequate and suitable words to repeat—by inversion—how human beings are “Love’s love”. This idea of Iacopone’s poems develops in an itinerary that is conducted in the innermost living movements of the soul, and that transpire in both his classical and his more innovative figurative representations. Iacopone’s highly developed spiritual lexicon transfers in the knowledgeable and keen use of a poetic art that reveals a valuable theological knowledge.
This paper discusses instances of image and performance in Iacopone’s laudario. With a focus on imagery and image, it examines Iacopone’s work as an expression of a Franciscan ideology, aware of the significant role of image in preaching to medieval illiterate audience. Within this perspective, lauda 87, Un arbore è da Deo plantato, reflects a variety of performative strategies. In addition to its textual form, its meaning is also displayed in a painting that reduces the content to a few subheadings, accompanying correspondent scenes, relying mainly on what can be perceived by mere sight. The painting’s performative features communicated the same meaning, otherwise expressed in the lauda in 134 verses.
In Iacopone’s inverted logic, rather than an impediment, disease becomes a vehicle for the elevation of the soul to God. The litany of supplications in Lauda 81, “O Signor, per cortesia, mandame la malsanìa,” reveals the poet’s antipathy for his body as the chief obstacle for its union with the divine. In the battle waged by the mystic to achieve an ecstatic marriage of humanity with godliness, the body is the enemy of the soul, and the two entities (body and soul) are called to combat each other to the death. In this paradoxical framework, health becomes sickness or damnation and malady is salus, at once good physical well-being and spiritual salvation. The “wound” is the physical metaphor for the suffering of the soul; the word occurs five times in the poem and sixty-six times in the whole collection, thereby creating a powerful image for the diseased body begging for salvation. The monologic structure of the poem turn the poem into a prayer, while its linguistic and conceptual excesses offer a typical example of the poet’s esmesuranza.
This paper examines certain aspects of the modern translations of Iacopone da Todi. We will examine two laudas translated into Polish – as they were published in 1985–1987, in Warsaw, by Father Salezy Kafel, in an anthology of mystical Franciscan writings (Antologia mistyków franciszkańskich) – and English (printed in Jacopone da Todi. Poet and Mytic – 1228–1306 by Evelyn Underhill. With a selection of spiritual songs translated by Mrs Theodore Beck).
The paper is interested in both updating the medieval language and categories and exploring how they are transmitted across space-time. To answer this question, I take a closer look at the English and Polish versions of two interconnected laudas: the translations carried out by Theodore Beck and Salezy Kafel. I focus particularly on the topos of speaking, an impossible act of expressing through words that, as scholars have acknowledged, applies to the mystical experience more generally. The issues related to an utterance of the mystical union with Love (God) are understanding, crying, and the difficulty of access this mystical experience. I also consider how these topoi are represented in Italian versions of Iacopone’s spiritual songs – following both older and more recent and philologically reviewed collections of the laudas by Iacopone da Todi published in Italy – and those translated into English and French. As I demonstrated in a previous paper devoted to Salezy’s anthology, the Polish texts are closely linked to these latter translations.
Despite the relatively few laude that he dedicates to the Virgin, Iacopone has made a lasting contribution to vernacular Marian literature, not only because he was among the first to eschew formal Latin composition, but due to the passionate immediacy of his verses which perfectly capture the popular fervor of devotion to Our Lady that characterized this period. Straightforward though his poems may seem, Iacopone manages to incorporate many elements of the rich Marian devotional and doctrinal tradition whilst also sounding a distinctive note of his own that combines elements of popular affective piety, courtliness, and the Franciscan sermo humilis. This chapter offers a reading of Iacopone’s Marian compositions within the broader context of the cult of the Virgin. I examine theological and doctrinal elements, such as his position on the burning issues of Mary’s preservation from original sin and her bodily assumption into Heaven; I consider how his poems compare in their style and imagery to Latin hymns and the vernacular laude of the confraternities; and I assess how his fervent devotion, especially to the Addolorata, fits into the piety of his and earlier times. In so doing, I shall seek to show how he remains faithful to the Marian tradition while offering innovative elements that will go on to influence future generations.
What does it mean to claim that Iacopone da Todi is “the most powerful personality in [Italian] literature before Dante Alighieri”? This chapter probes into Natalino Sapegno’s assertion (1959) by comparing the “personal” elements in the writings of Iacopone and Dante. Investigating the medieval dialectic between personality and authority, the chapter puts Iacopone in dialogue with scholarship on Dante’s self-authorising poetic project and the so-called ‘making of a modern author’ (Ascoli, 2008). In examining the two poets’ rhetorical strategies and their influence on the reception of their text and biography, the essay focuses on three main aspects: (i) the different strategies in curating and idealising their precarious material circumstances as captive or exile; (ii) their narrative reliance on the “psychological drama of conversion” (Leonardi, 2010) as a self-authorising tool; and lastly (iii) the extraordinary influence that Dante’s carefully managed autobiography has had on the reception of the text and biographies of Iacopone. In particular, the chapter argues that the most authentically idiosyncratic and errant aspects of Iacopone’s writing and lifestory have been normalised on the model of Dante’s own strategic self-authorising project. Comparing the different ways in which Iacopone and Dante established their respective “powerful personality” allows us to understand how paradoxically this project was achieved: despite, and because of, their intensely precarious biographical circumstances as outsiders.