The concept: Economics of Poetry

The ‘Economics of Poetry’ encompasses the entire process of poetic production, from composition and physical realization to the formal presentation to the honorand – a process that was not predicated upon post-Romantic ideas of inspiration and originality, but rather upon the need to produce literary works in a timely fashion, often (though not exclusively) dependent upon the realities and exigencies of the contemporary political situation. The approach analyses the techniques authors employed and developed to reduce the effort of poetic composition, streamline its production, and facilitate its presentation when time was a crucial factor for success. To reveal the efficient techniques which authors employed to deliver their poems in a timely fashion, ‘economics of poetry’ focuses on a variety of works by the same author and the full context of their production. In so doing, the reuse and recycling of previous texts and rhetorical templates, or even the rededication of previously presented manuscripts emerges as a central and essential modus operandi which can be excused as the authors’ response to the strict dictates of fast production.

The concept of ‘economics of poetry’ has been developed and applied in a case study of the  Carmen ad Alexandrum VI, a Latin poem of praise which Pietro Lazzaroni, professor or rhetoric at Pavia (c. 1425-1500), dedicated to the Borgia-pope Alexander VI in 1497. Diplomatic correspondence suggests that the poet composed more than 2100 hexameter verses in about two months, fast enough to be handed over as a gift at the Curia on behalf of Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan. To meet the deadline imposed by the diplomatic context in which the Duke wanted to place Lazzaroni’s gift, the author drew heavily from previous works, recycling both textual and formal features. Relying on the impressive experience Lazzaroni had gained by successfully dedicating no less than 30 previous poems of praise, he reached a breathtaking speed of literary production that did not fail to meet his duke’s exigencies.pope
Studies of entire œuvres of panegyrical authors help us to better understand and compare techniques poets of praise applied to succeed in this field. Recent studies conducted on the works of Giovanni Michele Nagonio (c. 1450 – c. 1510) have revealed that contemporary authors applied surprisingly different techniques to this purpose. While Lazzaroni resorted to a rather formal mode of composition still indebted to the medieval artes poeticae, Nagonio succeeded in applying epic narratives in poems commissioned by his patron, pope Alexander VI. By combining a series of epic motifs, Nagonius had constructed a laudatory epyllion which, with a little metrical juggling, could accommodate any dedicatee. His recyclable narrative and techniques comparable to modern ‘copy and paste’ enabled him to quickly finish the sumptuous copies of dedication he presented to Maximilian I, Henry VII, Vladislav II and other rulers appearing in the shifting focus of Borgia policy.

With our two-day conference dedicated to the ‘Economics of Poetry’, we aimed at extending the chronological and geographical scope of this approach. We invited and invite scholars to also take the concept as an opportunity to reintroduce works that were previously discarded as mass production back into the academic discussion. Although contemporary authors, such as the notoriously prolific Gianmario Filelfo (1426-1480), afford a rich source for comparing other ‘economics of poetry’, this approach is by no means limited to the Italian Renaissance. The wealth of occasional panegyric Latin verse produced at courts, universities and other institutions across Europe, in the Americas or in Jesuit Asia suggests that other historical periods would also provide valuable case studies. The model can also be applied to vernacular literature. Any paper taking into consideration how the effort to finish literary texts and/or copies of dedication was reduced when time was a factor will make an inspiring contribution to ‘Economics of Poetry’.

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