Albert Russell Ascoli

Albert Russell Ascoli

Robert Lehman Visiting Professor
Petrarch's Old Age: Re-reading the 'Seniles'
2016 - 2017 (January-June)


Albert Russell Ascoli is Terrill Distinguished Professor of Italian Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, and currently serves as President of the Dante Society of America.  He is the author of three books, Ariosto’s Bitter Harmony (1987); Dante and the Making of a Modern Author (2008) and A Local Habitation and a Name: Imagining Histories in the Italian Renaissance (2011) and numerous essays, as well as co-editor of several books and journal issues, most recently The Cambridge Companion to Petrarch (with Unn Falkeid, 2015). In 2013 he was elected “Foreign Member” of the Istituto Lombardo Academia delle Scienze e delle Lettere.

Project Summary

During my time at I Tatti, I will be working on a number of ongoing projects, in various stages of completion, all of which, however, concern interactions between, on the one hand, formal experiments in various kinds of Renaissance writing (literary, historical, political, epistolary, and so on) and, on the other, attempts to engage, understand, represent, and transform the “natural” and the “real” through the written word.  Individual projects include the following: (1) a reading of Petrarch’s Letters of Old Age (Seniles) as an exasperated attempt to understand and to master in written form the experiences of physical decline, the death of loved ones, and the impending closure to an already-legendary literary career; (2) a revisionary exploration of Boccaccio’s Decameron, focusing on the complex interactions between philosophical “naturalism” (read: Epicureanism) and representational “realism”; and (3) a study, complementary to my prior work on Ariosto, of the dialogue between formal innovation, literary fantasy, and historical engagement in the first, 1516 edition of Orlando furioso and how that dialogue was extended and transformed in the final 1532 version.  Finally, and in part as an offshoot of these individual studies, I will be laying the groundwork for an exploration of the evolving status of writerly “credibility” from the 14th into the early 16th centuries, tracing intertwined trends toward the development of increasingly sophisticated techniques for representing various realities (natural, psychological, social, and so on) and of equally sophisticated methods for unmasking the limitations, uncertainties and infidelities of such techniques.  In particular I will focus on what I will argue is an emerging co-dependent relationship, at once specular and antagonist, between historical-political and literary writing.  In addition to the writers already mentioned, examples will be drawn from authors such as Alberti, Antonio di Tuccio Manetti, and Machiavelli.