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Is Ireland Worth Bothering About? Classical Perceptions of Ireland Revisited in Renaissance Italy

Eric G. Haywood
International Journal of the Classical Tradition
Vol. 2, No. 4 (Spring, 1996), pp. 467-486
Published by: Springer
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/30222229
Page Count: 20
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Is Ireland Worth Bothering About? Classical Perceptions of Ireland Revisited in Renaissance Italy
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Abstract

Whereas in late medieval Italy, Ireland was viewed positively, Renaissance writers had little time for it. This changed attitude is ascribable to the rediscovery of ancient geographers, especially Strabo, for whom Ireland marked the end of the known world and was thus of no concern to the oikoumene, whilst at the same time guaranteeing, by its very position and savagery, the integrity of that Rome-centered world. This view continued to hold sway even after the discovery of the New World, which it also in fact helped to make sense of: the savages of the New World being "Irish-like," the edge of the oikoumene had not moved further out but simply got thicker, and its center was thus still in Rome. Only for a while in the mid-sixteenth century did Italians take any real interest in Ireland, producing two original descriptions of the country, both, however, in the name of that same oikoumene: one (negative) to prove the inevitability of Ireland's papally ordained submission to England, the other (positive) to depict the Irish as potential allies against the "anti-ecumenical" menace of Henry VIII. But the Irish were soon of little interest again, except for the (Horatian) entertainment value they provided.

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