For citation:

Toporova A.V. The “Strange” and the “Familiar” in Italian Descriptions of Pilgrimages to the Holy Land (14th–15th Centuries). Studia Litterarum, 2020, vol. 5, no 2, pp. 88–101. (In Russ.)

DOI: 10.22455/2500-4247-2020-5-2-88-101

Author: A.V. Toporova
Information about the author:

Anna V. Toporova, DSc in Philology, Leading Research Fellow, A.M. Gorky Institute of World Literature of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Povarskaya 25 a, 121069 Moscow, Russia; Professor, Russian State University for the Humanities, Chayanova 15, 125047 Moscow, Russia.

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Received: February 25, 2019
Published: June 25, 2020
Issue: 2020 Vol. 5, №2
Department: World Literature
Pages: 88-101

UDK: 821.131.1
BBK: 83.3(4Ита)4
Keywords: descriptions of journeys, medieval pilgrimage, the pilgrims’ diaries, the genre of mirabilia, Niccolò da Poggibonsi “Libro d’Oltramare”.


Starting from the mid-14th century, pilgrimage became a popular activity in Italy, the social status of the individuals participating in this activity suddenly became more varied. Many of the pilgrims kept diaries of their journeys — a genre that became very popular. Thanks to these journeys, the closed world of the medieval man began to expand, and his traditional worldview changed, incorporating a lot of new information. This information had to be understood and classified, and often a reliable method of classification was comparison of the new and the familiar. For this reason, pilgrims paid attention, first and foremost, to things that differed from what they were used to and that they perceived as strange, incomprehensible, and miraculous. Here their descriptions often approached the genre of the mirabilia. One can identify two opposite trends in these depictions of a new world and its realities: rejection and fear, on the one hand, and interest and curiosity on the other. Each author takes a different approach to new information: some considered every unfamiliar phenomenon to be a miracle and described it in corresponding terms, often adding “picturesque” and usually farfetched details along the way. Others adopted a “realistic” and quasi-scholarly style of description, refraining from embellishing their accounts with invented details. The relative share and modality of such descriptions changed over time: whereas emphasis was placed in the Middle Ages on depicting places from the Bible and on spiritual edification, pilgrims’ diaries became increasingly bent on entertaining readers.


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