Basinio da Parma, Hesperis

In the August 2018, the LBI started the new “Basinio da Parma’s Hesperis” project, financed by the Austrian Science Foundation (FWF).

Florian Schaffenrath, Anna Gabriella Chisena, Marco Petolicchio, Simon Smets, Nikolaus Hölzl


The Hesperis, written by Basinio da Parma (1425–1457) in 1455, represents one of the most successful examples of heroic poetry with a historical orientation and can be considered the first post-Classical Age attempt to provide Italy with an official epos. In the work Basinio recounts, in epic form, the recent battles between his protector, the nobleman from Rimini Sigismondo Malatesta, and the rulers of the Kingdom of Naples Alfonso and Ferdinand of Aragon. The narrated historical episodes, all occurring between the years of 1448 and 1453, culminating with the victories of Sigismondo in Piombino and Vada, are transfigured into a large epic fresco in which all of the principle topoi of heroic poetry are introduced, drawing from the classical tradition. In the Hesperis, the author depicts Sigismondo as a true national hero, paid by Florentine government, in his effort to protect the nation against the Barbarian invaders represented by the Hiberi Afonso and Ferdinand of Aragon. The importance of the poem, made up of 13 books, goes well beyond the literary realm. Recounting the true historic episodes of Sigismondo in the epic style have brought the work to be cited, studied and analysed extensively by historiographers as a historical document, despite its poetic status. Furthermore, the work has also been keenly appreciated by historians of art and scholars of illuminated manuscripts. At the end of his work, in fact, Basinio describes the transformation of the Church of San Francesco in Rimini in the so-called “Tempio Malatestiano”, commissioned by Sigismondo in approximately 1450. The epic poem, therefore, along with the other best sellers produced for Malatesta’s court, the Astronomicon libri by the same author and the De re militari by Roberto Valturio, quickly assume a role of representation and propaganda: these works were assigned with the task of spreading the positive image of the lord. Sigismondo had the poem copied in official and beautifully illuminated manuscripts, which were often after carried out after the death of Basinio (1457). The Hesperis and the illustrations that accompanied it play a fundamental role in both the study of the figurative culture of Humanism and – more specifically – the history of costumes and the study of the cultural ideas of the Italian courts of the 15th century.

Basinio’s poem is only accessible today through an old 18th century edition (published by Lorenzo Drudi in 1794 and based on a single manuscript!), which is no longer viable in scientific terms and is altogether untrustworthy in textual terms. The aim of our project is to produce a modern critical edition (collating all the 12 manuscripts known today), the first English translation and an integral commentary for all thirteen books. Given the characteristics of the epic poem, our edition will be entirely digitalised and available online, thus providing a new point of contact between Neo-Latin humanistic philology and the digital humanities. The characteristics within the Hesperis, its multidisciplinary nature and the close relationship between the text and the accompanying iconography make an innovative approach possible, in which it will be possible for the user to switch directly from the critical text to digitized manuscripts, to the translation, or to the commentary section.