115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Making Visible What Wasn't: Portraying Female Friendship in the Epic

Adriana Guarro, UCLA

My paper examines the theme of female friendship in Margherita Sarrocchi's Scanderbeide (1623), one of the first five epics authored by an Italian woman writer in the 17th century. More specifically, my paper analyzes how she makes visible the bond between two female protagonists by both following and breaking away from earlier epic traditions.    


In comparison to its male counterpart, the study of female friendship in Italian Renaissance texts has been largely relegated to footnotes or is dismissed in broad, overarching statements, such as Ulrich Langer’s claim that “female friendship in French and Italian literature before the seventeenth century and in moral philosophy is highly infrequent.”[1] This is especially true when surveying the secondary literature on the theme of friendship in Renaissance epics-- much has been written about the prevalence of male bonds in Ariosto and Tasso for example, but scholarship on the presence of female friendship is missing. The focus of my paper is to give visibility to the representation of female friendship in one of the five heroic epic poems authored by a woman writer, specifically the Scanderbeide (1623) by Margherita Sarrocchi.  

What is remarkable about the female friendship Sarrocchi depicts is that it contains traits of both classical and Christian notions of friendship, the first of its kind to occur between two women in a heroic epic. The friendship between Sarrocchi’s two female protagonists, Silveria and Rosmonda, pervades the second half of the poem, as the two convert to Christianity together, remain devoted to one another, and stand by each other’s side to combat the Saracens. Though Sarrocchi gives more narrative space to a female friendship than her male epic predecessors, the friends’ bond does not endure, and the relationship ends tragically with the death of Silveria (in similar manner to Homer’s Achilles and Patroclus or Virgil’s Nisus and Euryalus). Additionally, like the bonds of Ariosto’s Bradamante and Melissa or Tasso’s Clorinda and Erminia, the friendship of Silveria and Rosmonda is interrupted by the intervention of a male character, Sarrocchi’s Vaconte, which in turn becomes the more prioritized relationship of Rosmonda’s life. My paper will therefore examine how Sarrocchi follows distinct literary traditions in portraying an epic friendship, but breaks away from said models by placing female protagonists at the forefront.  While on the one hand, Sarrocchi adheres to a path set by her male predecessors, on the other she modifies it to make prominent what hadn’t been clearly evident before.

[1] Ulrich Langer, Perfect Friendship: Studies in Literature and Moral Philosophy from Boccaccio to Corneille, (Geneva: Librarie Droz, 1994), 117.

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