112th Annual Conference - Riverside Convention Center, California
Friday, October 31 - Sunday, November 2, 2014

This page is about the 2014 conference. For 2015 conference info, go to PAMLA 2015.

From Orpheus to Hecate: Magic, Music, and Love in Parthenophil and Parthenophe

Sarah Iovan, Rock Valley College

Petrarchan poetry uses music to tie love and magic together and emphasize tensions between carnality and spirituality. Barnabe Barnes provides an explicit example of this in his sonnet sequence Parthenophil and Parthenophe. Parthenophil includes a series of songs that begin as Orphic magic but descend into demonic ritual. These shifts engage debates surrounding the theological status of natural magic to reflect on the problems of unregulated desire and complicate our understanding of Petrarchan neo-Platonic spirituality.

Proposal: 

Threads connecting magic, music, and love run throughout early modern literature. While critics frequently explore two of these elements at a time (in all possible combinations), there is a great deal more work to be done on the ways that all three are woven together. Petrarchan poetry frequently uses musical imagery to tie love and magic together in a system of neo-Platonic correspondences that emphasize the tensions between carnality and spirituality. Barnabe Barnes provides an explicit example of this in his sonnet sequence Parthenophil and Parthenophe. The sequence culminates on a triple sestina outlining a demonic ritual ending in Parthenophe's rape. That final poem has received some critical attention but has not been examined within the larger context of the sequence. In context, the magical rape is the only logical conclusion to the sequence. From the very beginning Parthenophil integrates madrigals, odes and sestinas into  musical interludes. These interludes begin as Orphic songs calling on the gods to lend their divine essence to his suit, but when those fail to persuade his lady he shifts  to gradually more coercive forms of magic. Parthenophil's characterization of Parthenophe shifts as the magic he employs becomes more and more transgressive; at first he sees her as a reflection of Divine beauty, but as his spells continue to fail he shifts to accusing her of witchcraft. These shifts engage debates surrounding the theological status of natural magic to reflect on the problems of unregulated desire and complicate our understanding of Petrarchan neo-Platonic spirituality. While the explicit violence in Barnes's sequence stands alone in the English Petrarchan tradition, at the same time Parthenophil and Parthenophe can shed light on more orthodox sequences, especially those which contain songs, by comparing the traditional opposition between soul and body in three different but closely related arenas at the same time.