Italian Epic and the Renaissance of Cartography
Stephen P. McCormick is Associate Professor of French and Italian at Washington and Lee University and holds a PhD from the University of Oregon. His current research interests include Franco-Italian and Tuscan epic, and medieval and early modern cartography. He also works in Digital Humanities and is the developer and co-editor of the Huon d’Auvergne Digital Archive, an international collaborative project funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Through this project he is editing the first modern edition of the Franco-Italian epic Huon d’Auvergne. His recent publications explore Digital Humanities in medieval studies and cartographic debate in Franco-Italian epic.
This project explores the intersection of epic literature with Italian cartographic production during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. During this span of time, Franco-Italian and Tuscan epic texts build upon Old French themes and develop an increasingly spatial dimension in which heroes venture beyond the epic sites of Europe to access merchant spaces in the East. Italian readers eagerly read epics to travel vicariously from the safety of home, a sentiment famously expressed in Ariosto’s third satire: with his copy of Ptolemy he could safely see more of the world with maps (sicuro in su le carte) than traveling on ships (più che sui legni). Countering increasing concern for more empirically grounded testimony, this epic spatial dimension continues to draw from the narrative potential of medieval cartography. The project investigates the new destinations of epic heroes and suggests that Italian epic does not break clean from medieval spatial protocols but retains a dual narrative force in which space reads both pragmatically (point A to B) and allegorically (interior, reflective voyage). This approach bridges epic scholarship and cartography studies and explores the mechanisms through which epic words and cartographic contours mutually shape one another.