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A literary invention: the Etruscan myth in early Renaissance Florence

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Abstract:

The presence of the Etruscans in Italy was felt already during the Middle Ages through reminders in the landscape and architecture of central Italy and by the findings of antiquities. But despite of the lengthy and well known records describing the Etruscan wars with Rome that were penned by Livy, Virgil and Pliny the Elder, it was not until the efforts of Leonardo Bruni that the Etruscan past began to participate in political and cultural ideologies. This usage would reach a high point with the Medici dukes and grand dukes, who combined biblical and classical history into an effective and propagandistic display of Tuscan superiority.

Although the Etruscan myth in Florentine Renaissance has been studied extensively, a revision is needed for the rise of the myth of the political and cultural heritage of the Etruscans. This article shows that not historical sources, but literary imagination fathered the Etruscan myth. Giovanni Boccaccio, in his minor works of around 1340, is the first known non-classical author to use the word ‘Etruria’ and places this historic civilisation in modern Tuscany. This awareness seems absent in the works of, for example, Dante, but becomes fashionable thanks to authors like Bruni, to whom Boccaccio was a model author.

Keywords: Dante Alighieri; Etruscan myth; Florence; Giovanni Boccaccio; Renaissance; Tuscany; political ideology

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1477-4658.2010.00662.x

Affiliations: University of Amsterdam

Publication date: September 1, 2010

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