Category: Felix Fabri (page 1 of 2)

The Book of the Wanderings of Felix Fabri: Trent

Fabri and his party rode on horses from the village of Nova to Trent on April 21st during the year of his second pilgrimage. They stayed the night and left after Mass and dinner on the 22nd to journey to Persa. In his account of their stay in Trent, Fabri writes about the structure of the city,  in terms of its geography, architecture, and demographics, characteristics of the German people, the religious history of Trent, and the instance of a flutist and singer entertaining his party at supper.

According to Fabri, Trent is “one of those very ancient cities which were founded in these mountains by the Trojans,” and therefore has a rich history (18). The river Adige, which serves as the boundary between Italy and Germany, “runs past its walls,” adding to  its qualifications for being what Fabri calls “in a most beautiful, airy and healthy position” (18). Within the city walls, Fabri notes that Trent is split into an upper city and a lower city “on account of the two races which inhabit it,” with Italians living in the upper city and Germans in the lower (18). Referring to Germans and Italians as races in this section shows that Fabri categorizes people and perceives a difference in their value in accordance with the language they speak or the broad sense of nationality they may adhere to. Fabri distinguishes the Germans and Italians from each other by commenting that “[t]hey are at variance both in language and habits of life, and seldom are at peace with one another; indeed, before our own times the city was often ruined sometimes by the Italians out of hatred for the Germans, and sometimes by the Germans out of hatred for the Italians” (18). From this, we note that language and culture are different between the two groups of people, and that they are as opposed in violence as in nationality. Their equal hatred of the other group, however, is a strong similarity between Germans and Italians in the city of Trent.

In speaking about the presence of Germans in Trent, Fabri highlights the shift in their population over time by noting that “[n]ot many years ago the Germans were but a few strangers in that city; now they are the burghers and rulers of the city,” further predicting that “[the] day will soon come-indeed, has virtually come” when the Duke of Innspruck will add Trent to “his dominions and to Germany” (18).  That Trent can shift from being ‘Italian’ to being ‘German’ so quickly and based on demographics rather than boundaries or territory demonstrates the loose sense of countries, nationality, and borders in the time of Fabri’s travels. Even though he describes the border between Italy and Germany as the river Adige, he has no qualms about absorbing Trent into Germany based on the demographic composition of the city. Fabri muses on why “the number of Germans there increases daily” and “why [the German] race should spread over other people’s countries instead of theirs spreading over [the Germans’],” which he admits that he “[has] never learned” (18). Fabri offers the possibilities that Germans flee Germany “on account of [Germany’s] poverty and sterility” or “on account of the fierceness of the Germans” that drives other peoples out of their own lands, but does not confirm either one, possibly because they go against his view of Germans being superior to all other ‘races’ (18).

Illustrating the religious history of Trent, Fabri writes that in 1475, “the holy child Simeon was martyred by the Jews with great torture” and that “[he himself] beheld [the Jews’] accursed bodies” (19). By labeling the Jews as evil torturers of holy children, Fabri shows his negative view of them. If the situation he writes about is similar to the story of the boy drowning in the cesspool in a Jewish neighborhood in England, it illustrates an inherent bias against Jews and will to blame them without knowing the full story. We would need more information about this occurrence to determine if the situations are similar.

While Fabri and his party were at supper, a flutist and singer entertained them. When his party was unsure whether to pay them or not, as it is a mortal sin “either to give or to receive money in such cases,” they asked Fabri to settle the question, which he did “not without fear” (19). By relying on Fabri, his party asserted his superior knowledge in what is sinful and what is not, although Fabri showed hesitation and an unusual self-doubt when he “searched the writing of learned casuists to see whether [he] had decided rightly” upon returning home (19-20).

The Book of Wanderings of Felix Fabri: Joppa

Felix Fabri has finally arrived in Joppa after a long sea voyage. It’s the fourth of July and the sun has just risen. Fabri describes the fish swimming “on top of the sea” and mentions that one fish looks like it has the face and ears of a dog (36). Fabri spends a lot of time in this passage focusing on describing his physical surroundings. He spends almost a whole page describing the way the ocean glistened, how the towers looked against the sky, the color of the land, the people, etc. His attention to detail is staggering, almost overwhelming at some points. Fabri also spends some time describing the people he sees. He calls the locals Saracens and seems to observe them almost as you would an animal. His tone is similar to that he used when describing the local Italians before.

Fabri describes to us the preparations that are being made for his journey to the Holy Land. He’s waiting on the boat in which he arrived until he can meet with the Moorish lords of Joppa. He’s waiting with several of his traveling companions, as they cannot leave the boat until they are officially greeted and welcomed by the Moorish lords. However, the Moorish lords have yet to arrive and have sent their servants ahead of them to prepare the area. Fabri is quite intrigued by these servants (the same men he calls Saracen). However, he doesn’t portray them in a very flattering light. Instead, he uses descriptions and anecdotes that portray them as different and suspect.

When the Saracen servants first arrived, Fabri notes that they “skirmished with one another in sport, mounted on their mules, as if they were fighting” and ran frantically “to and fro” (36). His descriptions of the Saracens seem detached and almost condescending. He writes as if he is seeing some strange creature instead of a group of human beings. For example, at the end of the passage, Fabri begins telling an anecdote. He notices that the Saracens are going in and out of some caves above the seashore. Fabri writes that these are the caves into which he and his companions “will be driven” after the Saracens officially welcome them (36). He is puzzled by the behavior of the Saracens and says that he and his companions watched them go in and out “all day long” but they could not guess what was going on (36). That is, until “to the offense of our noses, we discovered; for they had defiled those places with ordure” (36). Now, Fabri is staying on a ship that is hundreds of feet from the shoreline. He observes the Saracens from afar, unable to approach them or even yell to them from his position on the ship. The likelihood of him being able to smell some offensive odor al the way from the shore is very low. Fabri, throughout his travel narrative, has consistently painted people he’s found foreign or different from himself in unflattering lights. This passage seems to be an extension of that.

The Book of the Wanderings of Felix Fabri: Ower

Felix Fabri describes his party’s journey through Ower, Italy in the account of his second pilgrimage to the Holy Land. In the account, Fabri writes that his party left the previous town, Feltre, in the evening of the 24th of A).pril, crossed a “great river” and passed through a “Venetian guard-house” before stopping for the night in Ower (19). They left Ower for Treviso, Italy after Mass on the 25th of April. Fabri’s account of Ower focuses on the geography around the town, the history of nearby castles and towns, and the festival of St. Mark’s Day. Additionally, the interaction between Fabri and his lords sheds light on their relationship from Fabri’s point of view.

The first thing that Fabri writes about the town of Ower is that it “lay at the foot of a delightful grassy hill,” which Fabri and his party decide to climb in order to see the Mediterranean (19). Fabri notes that the Mediterranean Sea is directly south of them at this point in their journey, beyond mountains and the “plain country” of Italy. In writing about the appearance of the Mediterranean on that day, Fabri highlights that the journey ahead of them is ominous, as most of the Mediterranean in their view is covered by a “lofty, thick black cloud, of the colour of darkling air (19). Their turning away from the ominous omen of the dark sea faces Fabri’s party towards more of the surrounding mountains that encircle the plain Ower is situated in.

In viewing the surrounding mountains, Fabri notes that they can see “many ancient castles in ruins,” and follows with a recounting of the history of the placement of the castles and other ruins (19). According to Fabri, the castles were built in the hills by Antenor the Trojan’s army to defend the city of Padua, which was located on the plain, from the people who lived beyond the surrounding Alps. Fabri highlights that the people who lived beyond the Alps “at that time were still savages, dwelling in the woods like wild beasts” (19).  Fabri’s syntax shows that he supports Antenor the Trojan over the people living beyond the Alps and also hints that the people who live beyond the Alps may no longer be the savages that he depicts them as. At this point, the reader may start to question how Fabri seems to know the history of many of the towns his party passes through, especially because he notes little interaction with the people of the towns.

Fabri’s interactions with his lords in the town of Ower paint him as the guide he is meant to be on this journey. When looking over the Mediterranean Sea, Fabri characterizes his lords as “delicately-nurtured youths” that could only imagine the “dangers which awaited them at sea,” which Fabri, the wizened guide, “was something cast down at the sight of it, albeit [he] had already had a good taste of its bitterness” (19). The syntax Fabri uses when describing his lords in particular both gives them an excuse for being so frightened of the sea and patronizes them a little, although it is probably completely warranted by their lack of experience with travel.

The Book of Wanderings of Felix Fabri: Venice

Felix Fabri describes Venice as a beautiful and wonderful city, full of old stone and great architecture. Fabri calls Venice, “the mistress of the Mediterranean, standing in wondrous fashion in the midst of the waters, with lofty towers, great churches, splendid houses and palaces” (21). He makes these observations as he and his traveling companions float along the Grand Canal. This section is much more descriptive than his other entries, implying that he has a greater appreciation for architecture than natural scenery such as mountains. Fabri also describes Venice as “famous, great, wealthy and noble” (21). His admiration for the city is quite obvious when compared to his previous descriptions, which lacked such enthusiasm. His previous descriptions differ in other ways as well. For example, he was previously more focused on the people he came across and the churches and festival days of the locals.

Fabri notes that they are staying in the inn of St. George and that he’s stayed there before. He calls the innkeepers by name, Master John and Mistress Margaret, as well as describing them in warm and friendly terms. Fabri writes that the inn is completely inhabited by German speakers, quipping that “no word of Italian was to be heard in the house” (22). Fabri informs the reader that he and his companions arrive at the inn by boat and had to hike up sixty-two steps with their luggage. He also goes on to list off all twelve of his traveling companions, their titles, and personality traits. In a very interesting section, Fabri spends a while describing the innkeepers’ dog, who by his account, loves all Germans and dislikes Italians.

Fabri’s description of the German-loving dog isn’t just fascinating, but it’s also very revealing. Fabri writes that the dog greets all Germans with “joy”, but “when Italians or Lombards, Gauls, Frenchmen, Slavonians, Greeks, or men of any other country except Germany […] he becomes so angry you would think he was gone mad” (22). Aside from it being impossible that a dog could know whether someone was German or not on sight alone, this reveals that Fabri has a very strong sense of nationalism and prides himself in being a German. He even goes on to say that this dog is proof that Germans and Italians will never agree, stating that “each nation has a hatred of the other rooted in its very nature” (22). Fabri goes on to insist that humans restrain their feelings of hatred with reason, but animals can’t deny their nature which includes a hatred for other countries. This particular view of nationalism is very aggressive and confrontational. While most other travel narratives define themselves and other people through religion, Fabri divides people based on where they are from. Fabri’s insistence that it is natural to hate people of other nationalities is a little bizarre, but helps explain his disdain for people living in the Italian countryside and Italians who can’t speak German. Maybe Fabri’s vehement nationalism stems from existing conflicts. It would be interesting to contextualize this information with the contemporary political climate.

The Book of the Wanderings of Felix Fabri: Valscian

Felix Fabri describes the town of Valscian, also known as In der Burg, in his second pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Fabri’s party rode through Valscian on their way from Trent, Italy to Spiteli, Italy, stopping only for a “short rest” in the town (17). The journey from Trent to Spiteli was only one day’s travel; they left Trent on the 22nd of April after Mass and arrived at Spiteli during the night. Most of Fabri’s account of Valscian is centered on the history of the town’s name and the geography of the surrounding area, with a focus on language.

Fabri describes Valscian as a “long, wide, and fertile valley” with inhabitants that speak both German and Italian (17). In his first mention of the town’s name, Fabri notes that it is only called Valscian in the “vulgar tongue,” which refers to and shows Fabri’s bias against the Italian language. When he finds a resident that speaks German, Fabri asks why Valscian is called as such, which highlights Fabri’s interest in language and the meaning and history behind the name. In telling the history of Valscian, the man from Valscian tells Fabri that the name ‘Valscian’ translates to ‘the dry valley’ and details how the valley had been filled with water in ancient times. The recounting of Valscian’s history reveals that there are iron rings to moor ships on the sides of the mountains surrounding the valley, which illustrates the level of water previously in it and how the culture and uses of the valley have changed over time. Fabri specifically writes that he gains a greater understanding of the local geography from the townsperson’s story, but words it in a way that makes it seem as if he is giving himself all of the credit for discovering this revolutionary fact that the townsperson just told him: “[f]rom this story [Fabri] was able to note that all the valleys in these mountains which trend towards the sea were once full of water, and were channels leading into the Mediterranean Sea, even as now happens in lands close to the sea, as [Fabri had] said before” (17).  By seeming to give himself the credit for making this connection, Fabri places himself above the townsperson in intellect or possibly just ignores the role of the townsperson in general to focus on himself. In the next sentence, Fabri writes that the “Germans call Valscian In der Burg,” reestablishing the role of Germany and the German people in his recount and in the identity of the town, even though Valscian is in Italy and should probably therefore be called by its Italian name (17-18). Including a brief statement about why Germans call the town In der Burg, Fabri reasserts his interest in the histories and names of places. Alternatively, it could be argued that Fabri is comparing the history and relevancy of each name, although the connotation of his descriptive phrase about the history of the German name In der Burg comes off as fairly neutral. From his added tangent of the reason behind Germans calling Valscian In der Burg, Fabri includes more geographic information about the Vascian: “there are two castles overlooking the town, and the town lies within the castle wall,” which highlights his interest in the physical and geographic aspects of location (18).

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