BARLEZIO, Marino Historia del Magnanimo, et Valoroso Signor Georgio Castrioto

Venice, Fabio & Agostino Zoppini, 1580


8vo, ff. [12], 403, [1], several ll. within gathering CCC misbound; final blank. Roman and Italic letter, printer’s woodcut device on title, floriated and historiated initials. Printing privilege on final recto. Small tear to blank upper margin of title page. A good, clean copy in half vellum over boards c. 1700, early nineteenth-century green and red morocco gilt labels to spine; remains of ties, early ms. marks to front pastedown.

Later edition in Italian of Marin Barleti’s Historia de vita et gestis Scanderbegi (1508-1510) by Pietro Rocca, first printed in 1554. Barleti’s work was widely read and translated in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Marin Barleti (ca. 1450-ca. 1512-13) was a historian and Catholic priest from Shkodra, in Albania. After surviving the siege of Shkodra in 1478, as we learn from De obsidione Scodrensi (1504), he moved to Italy and spent the rest of his life between Rome and Venice. He wrote a lives of the Popes (Compendium vitarum summorum pontificum), but was better known for his extensive History of Scanderbeg, in thirteen books, dedicated to Don Ferrante Castrioti, Scanderbeg’s grandchild. The work is the first biography of the famous Albanian hero George Castrioti, called Scanderbeg (1405-1468), who defended Albania against the Turks, and occupies an important place in the histories of the Ottoman Empire.

The dedicatory letter is written by Francesco Rocca to the venetian Paolo Contarini in 1568. Focusing on religious and military oratory, including Scanderbeg’s, it portrays Scanderbeg as the model Christian soldier. After a prologue recalling Pyrrhus and Alexander the Great’s exploits, the biography falls into two main parts, separated by a second preface: the wars against Murad II (1404-51) and Mehmed II (1432-81), books 1-6 and 7-13, respectively. The general is chronological. Some books have individual themes, for example book one provides background information on Albanian history, book five is about the Turkish occupation, the 10th concerns Scanderbeg’s expedition to Italy, the 11th his death.

The history starts with Scanderbeg’s childhood, when he was taken hostage with his brothers by the Ottoman Sultan, at whose court he received an excellent education. Becoming the Sultan’s favourite, he was assigned important tasks. However, in 1443 Scanderbeg led the military campaign that drove the Turks from Albania with the support of Venice, Hungary and Alfonso V, King of Naples. He maintained Albania’s independence for 25 years, but after his death opposition to the Turks collapsed.

In Scanderbeg’s heroic biography there are many affinities with the story of Alexander the Great who defeated the Persians, for instance dreams and omens predicting the destiny of the hero. Although based on the witness of knights close to Scanderbeg and official documents from Venice’s archives, details may have been made up by Barleti, at least in part, such as the tale of Voisava’s dream, the harangues of Scanderbeg to the soldiers on the eve of battle and the letters he exchanges with the Sultan and Wladislav of Hungary. Barleti embraces the typical features of ancient epics, representing battle scenes, sieges, duels, embassies, celebrations and funerals which invite comparison with Plutarch and Herodotus, Homer, Vergil and Livy – as Francesco Pall has demonstrated (“Marino Barlezio: uno storico umanista”, 1938).

USTC 812338; Edit16 4239; BM STC IT, p. 72; Göllner, 1719. Adams, Blackmer and Brunet list only previous editions.
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