Sophonisba in Early Modern Literature

Nordic Journal of Renaissance Studies 20 • 2023

Samuel Agbamu
Petrarch's Sophonisba between Antiquity and Modernity

This article traces developments in representations of Sophonisba between antiquity and early modernity. In particular, the article considers how Petrarch's representation of the Carthaginian woman can illuminate an important moment in the development of modern discourses of "race". After outlining the ancient sources available to Petrarch, the article hones in on Sophonisba in Petrarch's De viris illustribus, the Africa, and Triumphus Cupidinis, and how she relates to Dido and Cleopatra. The article takes Mantegna's "A Woman Drinking" as a pivotal moment in the reception of Sophonisba during the early Re-naissance between her story in Petrarch's texts and later dramatic representations.
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Nina Hugot
L'éloquence de Sophonisbe, de Saint-Gelais à Montreux (1556-1601)

Sophonisbe is particularly present in French sixteenth-century tragedy. Although her story fits easily into the tragic aesthetics of that time, this figure presents a singularity: Sophonisbe is an eloquent queen, who uses her rhetoric and manages to divert two kings from their alliance with Rome. In Saint-Gelais and Mermet, a fascination for the queen's speech appears; however in Montchrestien and Montreux, interest in the queen's eloquence diminishes, while, for the characters, it is increasingly associated with manipulation – as if a woman's eloquence should not be given too much space on the theatrical stage.
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Christian Høgel
Erofili – an Egyptian Sofonisba from Crete

The models of Georgios Chortatsis's play Erofili, written around 1590, were to a large extent Italian plays written a few generations earlier. Main plot elements were adopted from the Orbecche (1541) by Giovanni Battista Giraldi, with a tragic love story involving a princess and her secret marriage, whereas two of Chortatsis's choral odes included adapted translations from choral odes from Trissino's Sofonisba (published 1524). It is the aim of the present article to show that Chortatsis's choice of an African scene, Egypt as opposed to Persia in Orbecche, as well as new themes - not least meritocratic values and the social importance of rich and poor - can also be tied to themes in Trissino's historical drama Sofonisba. The present article therefore argues that Chortatsis was inspired by this play not only in the two choral odes, a connection that has been noted in earlier scholarship, but also more generally, in combining the family drama of the Orbecche with more societal values, which Chortatsis may have found inspiration for in Trissino's historical drama.
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Jan Bloemendal & James A. Parente, Jr.
The Historicization of Desire: Sophonisba in Early Modern Dutch Drama

In the Low Countries of the 1620s, the Sophonisba story was dramatized by the Haarlem poet Govert van der Eembd and the Antwerp painter and poet Guilliam van Nieuwelandt. Each of these rhetoricians made his own contribution to the theme, by treating the story of Sophonisba, Syphax and Masinissa as either a romance or as an historical drama about the establishment of Roman power in Africa. Drawing on Greco-Roman sources as well as early modern dramas and prose narratives, both writers used the material in varying degrees to explore sexual desire, political behaviour, and the ethos of empire. This article also assesses the place of these two Dutch plays in the literary history of early modern Europe.
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Guðrún Kristinsdóttir-Urfalino
La Fierté d'Empire: Sophonisbe (1663) de Pierre Corneille

In his Sophonisbe, Pierre Corneille makes the protagonist the grounds for political and moral reflection by exploring the implications of her pride in choosing death over dishonor. To do this, Corneille articulates two poetic processes: the leitmotif of jealousy which underlines the two dimensions of this passion as both individual and political, and the invention of a character, Éryxe, who, by comparison and contrast, highlights the dark side of the glory of Sophonisbe. The play thus indicates a possible detachment with regard to political greatness.
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Beth Cortese
Love and War: Court Politics in Nathaniel Lee's Sophonisba, or Hannibal's Overthrow (1676)

Nathaniel Lee's Sophonisba, or Hannibal's Overthrow (1676) translates the themes of love, war, and divided loyalty from the original narrative of the Carthaginian political martyr Sophonisba into the context of the tensions in Charles II's Court. Massinissa's difficult position of divided political and romantic allegiance exhibited through his unpopular love for Sophonisba, engages with questions of authority, government, and political and religious allegiance that dominated Charles II's reign. In particular, the influence of Charles II's French mistress Louise de Kéroualle—to whom Lee's tragedy is dedicated—whose loyalty was cause for concern because of her ties to Louis XIV's Court.
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Sofie Kluge
The Second Sophonisba: Figurality and Counter-factuality in Calderón's The Second Scipio

The Spanish dramatist Pedro Calderón de la Barca (1600-1681) never engaged directly with the figure of Sophonisba. However, in his late play about the elder Africanus' Spanish campaign he exploited the Golden Age conflation of the different Scipios into a single, polysemous 'Roman commander' figure to suggest a number of thought-provoking parallels not only between two historical events and locations but also, I argue, between the play's "beautiful African" – Arminda – and Sophonisba. The outcome of this intriguing procedure, relying on figural historiography, is a history play about the Roman siege on Carthago Nova in 209 BC that is simultaneously a counterfactual history play re-writing the events that transpired in Carthago in 203 BE. Thus, I argue that The Second Scipio suggests an alternative Sophonisba story where virtuous action secures a happy ending, imparting a useful lesson of kingship to its royal audience.
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Ritchie Robertson
Lohenstein's Sophonisbe: A Vindication of the Heroine

Lohenstein's Sophonisbe (1680) stands out for the exoticism with which the racial and, above all, cultural difference of Carthage is displayed, with the help of Lohenstein's copious and erudite notes. The heroine has been much criticized for her desperate measures, particularly her readiness to sacrifice one of her sons to propitiate the gods. However, Lohenstein represents this as voluntary and heroic self-sacrifice. All Sophonisbe's actions, though sometimes seemingly inconsistent, are explained by her patriotism. Her final suicide is a heroic act by the standards of such Roman exemplars as Cato the Younger.
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Enrico Zucchi
A Fickle Power-crazed Seductress: Misogyny and Republicanism in Late Seventeenth-century Venetian Representation of Sophonisba

Sophonisba was a sort of cult figure in sixteenth-century Venetian literature since the publication of Trissino's tragedy, in which she appears a heroine of liberty, ready to sacrifice everything in order to be kept in Rome as a slave. The long afterlife of Trissino's Sofonisba undergoes a drastic change in the second half of the seventeenth-century Venice, when theatric plays and novels began to shape her as a very different character: in that framework the Carthaginian noblewoman suddenly becomes a fickle seductress and a power-crazed woman. This article addresses the political and aesthetical reasons that lie behind this upheaval.
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