Il Guerrin Meschino

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Il Guerrin Meschino ("Wretched Guerrin") is an Italian prose chivalric romance with some elements of verisimilitude,[1] written by the Italian cantastorie, systematizer and translator from French Andrea da Barberino,[2] who completed it about 1410.[3]

The text in eight chapter-length books circulated widely in manuscript before its first printing, in Padua, in 1473. It was a late contribution to the "Matter of France"[4] that appealed to aristocratic audiences and their emulators among the upper bourgeoisie.[5] In a departure from Andrea's other known romances, there are no discernible French or Franco-Venetian sources for this narrative, which unfolds instead in the manner of a travel account. It draws for its details on a variety of predecessors, such as, for the oracular Tree of the Sun and the Moon, the Alexander romances, and—outside the romance tradition—on Dante's Divine Comedy, on the "natural history" found in medieval bestiaries, and on the legend of the Purgatory of St. Patrick and the cosmology of Ptolemy.[6] The quest involved is the rootless Guerrino's search for his lost parents. There is an undercutting element of deconstruction of chivalrous ideals apparent from the very title: Guerrino derives from guerra "war", but meschino means, "shabby, paltry, ignoble";[7] the hero, cast away as a babe sold by pirates and rebaptized by his foster father Meschino, the "unlucky", rises through his heroic efforts to his proper status as Guerr[i]ero, "warrior". At the end of his adventures Guerrino discovers that he is the son of Milone, Duke of Durazzo, who was himself the son of a Duke of Burgundy, so that Guerrino is of royal blood.[8]

Guerrino is the sole protagonist; other characters exist only insofar as they encounter him.

The far-ranging episodes create a fictional geography as seen from the Mediterranean world.[9] Guerrin's enchanted sojourn in the cave of the Sibyl bears parallels with the Germanic traditions of Tannhäuser. Prester John plays a role, offering Guerrin the signoria over half of all India, following a battle. Most of the challenges Guerrin faces, however, are moral rather than military, even where the supernatural character of the site is explicitly non-Christian, such as the sanctuary of the Trees of the Sun and Moon. Like Dante, he was granted a view of Purgatory, the Purgatorio di San Patrizio.

The work has had a checkered career under the scrutiny of the Church. Many modern editions reprint the bowdlerized Venetian edition of 1785, pubblicata con licenza dei superiori, which suppressed all mention of the Sibilla Apenninica sited in a grotto on Monte Sibilla in the Apennines,[10] substituting various Italian circumlocutions: Fata, Fatalcina, Ammaliatrice, Incantatrice, etc. An entire chapter, Book V, in which the Apennine Sibyl describes the other classical Sibyls, was completely suppressed. Astronomical references were also deleted by the censor. A critical text, based on Florentine Quattrocento manuscripts, was edited by Paola Moreno, and published in 2005.[11]

The work was so popular that it was translated for a Spanish audience by Alonso Hernández Alemán, as Guarino Mezquino; by the time it was printed in Castilian in 1512 it had received 21 printings in Italian.[12] It had staying power, too: the literary Venetian courtesan Tullia d'Aragona rendered it in epic verse, now "most chaste, all pure, all Christian," as Il Meschino, altramente detto il Guerrino (Venice 1560, 2nd ed. 1594), though the source she acknowledged to the reader was the perhaps more respectable Amadis de Gaula.[13] Mozart's librettist Lorenzo da Ponte was inspired by Il Guerrin Meschino as an adolescent.[14] In the 19th and 20th centuries, episodes from Il Guerrin Meschino have been adapted for the Italian stage, and even for children.[15]

Le Meravigliose avventure di Guerrin Meschino is a 1951 Italian film that takes its general tenor from the romance. Guerrin was adapted twice for the Italian comic books called fumetti, once in 1959 in 17 installments under the title Guerino detto il Meschino and again running in the Corriere dei Piccoli.[16] Guerin Sportivo, an Italian sport and satirical weekly magazine founded in 1912 in Turin, takes its title from the protagonist.


  • Il Guerrin meschino (Padua: Bartholomeo de Valdezoccho & Martin de Septem Arboribus, 1473)[17][18]
  • Guerino il Meschino (Bologna: Baldassarre Azzoguidi, 1475)[19]
  • Guerino il Meschino (Venice: Gerardo de Lisa, 1477)
  • Guerrino detto Meschino (Venice: Alexandro de Bindoni, 1512)
  • Guerrino detto il Meschino (Venice: 1567)
  • Guerino detto il Meschino (Venice: Tipografia Molinari, 1826)
  • Guerrino detto il Meschino (Naples: Ferdinando Bideri, 1893)
  • Guerrino detto il Meschino (Rome: Nuove edizioni romane, 1993)
  • Il Guerrin Meschino (Rome & Padua: critical edition, Antenore, 2005)


  1. ^ "He consciously eliminated most magical and fantastic elements from his narrations", notes Gloria Allaire, "Portrayal of Muslims in Andrea da Barberino's Guerrino il Meschino", in John Victor Tolan, ed., Medieval Christian perceptions of Islam, 2000:243f; "where giants, exotic beasts or even otherworldly journeys occur, he couches them in naturalistic descriptions with real-world textures and dimensions"; the episode in the Sibyl's cave provides a notable exception.
  2. ^ Tommaso Di Carpegna Falconieri, William McCuaig, The man who believed he was king of France: a true medieval tale (2008), p. 152: "...Andrea da Barberino's Il Guerrin Meschino. This chivalric romance narrates the myriad adventures of young Guerrino as he wanders through West and East to discover who he is, living through incredible events and searching out oracles, sibyls and prophecies."
  3. ^ Fiorella Giacalone, Il corpo e la roccia: storie e simboli nel culto di Santa Rita (1996), p. 148: "Il “Guerrin Meschino” di Andrea da Barberino (1410) testimonia della popolarità della leggenda nursina..."
  4. ^ Guerrin is lightly tied to the Carolingian court through his lineage.
  5. ^ Records of ownership in manuscripts have been traced among prestigious Florentine families, the Visdomini, Salviati, Viviani, Davanzati, Galli, Benci, Doni, Bardi, Nasi and Orlandini by Allaire2000:244.
  6. ^ Allaire 2000:244ff.
  7. ^ The Diccionario de la Real Academia Española derives mezquino from hispano-arabic miskin: "falto de nobleza y espiritu. Desdichado, desgraciado e inféliz".
  8. ^ Falconieri & McCuaig, p. 152
  9. ^ F. Cardini, "Orizzonti geografici e orizzonti matici nel Guerrin Meschino" Temas medievales, 7 (1997:11-36); for Andrea's geography based in readings of Ptolemy: Heinrich Hawickhorst, "Über die Geographie bei Andrea de' Magnabotti", Romanische Forschungen 13 (1902:689-784)
  10. ^ For her history: L. Paolucci, La Sibilla appenninica (Florence: Olschki) 1967.
  11. ^ Paola Moreno, Il Guerrin Meschino. Edizione critica secondo l’antica vulgata fiorentina (Ed. Mauro Cursietti. Rome: Antenore, 2005).
  12. ^ Nieves Baranda, ed. La Corónica del noble Cavallero Guarino Mezquino (Madrid, 1992); Nieves Baranda, "El Guarino Mazquino [1527]", Edad de oro 21 (Madrid, 2002); the Seville 1527 edition has received a reader's guide by Karla P. Amozurrutia Nava, Guarino Mezquino: guía de lectura (2008: "Origen y estructua", 7).
  13. ^ Valeria Finucci, "Fonte and women's chivalric romances", in (Moderata Fonte) Finucci, ed. Floridoro: A Chivalric Romance, 2006:20f; the changes, significant of cultural drift towards post-Tridentine reserve and correctness in the intervening century and a half, are examined in John C. McLucas, "Renaissance Carolingian: Tullia d'Aragona's Il Meschino, altramente detto il Guerrino", Olifant 25.1 - 2 ( 2006:313 - 320)
  14. ^ Da Ponte describes his voracious reading in the family library at Ceneda, in his Memoirs. (Arthur Livingston, tr.) Memoirs of Lorenzo da Ponte, Part 1 (2000:7).
  15. ^ In Rome, "a novelty for me was the children's theater, that Teatro dei Piccoli where day after day all winter at five the marionettes entertain an audience of little people with such delightful performances as "Guerin Meschino,"... noted Elizabeth Hazelton Haight, Italy Old and New, 1922:20.
  16. ^ Details in Italian Wikipedia: Il Guerrin Meschino
  17. ^ G. C. Sansoni, ed., Studi di filologia Italiana, vol. 36 (Accademia della Crusca, 1978), p. 207: "...dalla rubrica iniziale il Guerrin Meschino di Andrea da Barberino... nell'edizione di Padova, Bartholomaeus de Valdezoccho e Martinus de Septem Arboribus, 21 aprile 1473, GW 1643."
  18. ^ Mauro Cursietti, ed., Il Guerrin Meschino: edizione critica secondo l'antica vulgata fiorentina (Padua: Antenore, 2005), p. 599: "...le prime due edizioni a stampa di Bartholomeo Valdezochio e Baldassarre Azzoguidi videro luce rispettivamente proprio a Padova e a Bologna."
  19. ^ Cursietti, p. 597: "La seconda edizione, quella bolognese di Baldassarre Azzoguidi, presenta invece la divisione tradizionale in otto libri e l'articolazione in 282 capitoli."

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