The Hellespont

Image of The Hellespont. A hilly horizon with blue water below and blue sky above

Contributor: Catriona Seth

Location: Turkey

Description: The name ‘Dardanelles’ might make you think of a busy shipping canal or of the site of a deadly first World War campaign. The ‘Hellespont’, which refers to the same body of water, might lead you to Hero and Leander’s sad story, recounted in classical sources, but also revived by Christopher Marlowe in (1598) or by Leigh Hunt in 1819. Both terms refer to a single strait. At its narrowest—where its currents are extremely strong—it is 1.2 kilometres across. Whilst it was made famous in myth and in history for tragic deaths, the site is also important for having offered Byron an occasion to accomplish a seemingly heroic act—swimming safely across—and use this as an occasion for self-publicity which tells us something about how he viewed himself as an individual and as an author.

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Memorial to Giustiniana Wynne in Angelo Quirini’s Garden

 

Contributors: Rotraud von Kulessa and Catriona Seth

Location: Unknown (probably destroyed), Italy

Description: Giustiniana Wynne (1737-1791) was a true cosmopolitan from the moment of her birth in Venice, to a ‘Greek’ local woman (born in Lefkos) and an English baronet. The list of her friends and lovers reads like a Who’s Who of the republic of letters from her ‘caro Memmo’, the Venetian patrician Andrea Memmo (1729-1793) who was her first love in the 1750s, to the young William Beckford (1760-1844) when he was touring Europe, 30 years later. She was briefly betrothed to the wealthy French Fermier-Général La Poupelinière (1693-1762). The adventurer Giacomo Casanova (1725-1798) recounts in his Memoirs how he failed to help her abort an illegitimate child but tricked her into having sex with him. She married the elderly Austrian ambassador to the Serenissima, Count Orsini von Rosenberg (1691-1765) and once widowed spent much of her time during her final years with Senator Angelo Quirini (1721-1796). Her literary collaborator was sometime government spy Bartolomeo Benincasa (1746-1816). She entertained the poets Melchiore Cesarotti (1730-1808) who reviewed her 1788 novel Les Morlaques, and Ippolito Pindemonte. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and Leopold Mozart are amongst those who refer to her in their letters.

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Narcissa’s Tomb

Image of a stone plaque on Narcissa's tomb.

Contributor: Catriona Seth

Location: Jardin des Plantes, Montpellier, France

Description: The poet Edward Young’s The Complaint: or Night-Thoughts on Life, Death & Immortality, published between 1742 and 1745 entranced readers throughout Europe. Whilst a fairly accurate German version was produced quite rapidly, the first French book-length translation only came out in 1769—it was a free adaptation by Le Tourneur and would be widely reprinted over the years. From Rousseau to Robespierre and Germaine de Staël to Bonaparte, whatever their social status or political sensibilities, the chattering classes read Les Nuits.

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A real picture from the fictional Corinne’s gallery

 

Location: Private Collection

Contributor: Catriona Seth

Description: The heroine of Germaine de Staël’s Corinne, ou l’Italie (1807) is a poet and improviser who displays great sensitivity to the arts. She takes the Scottish aristocrat who falls in love with her, Oswald, Lord Nelvil, around the monuments of Rome. She also shows him her own paintings and statues in her villa at Tivoli. Her collection was probably imagined on the basis of Angelica Kauffmann’s, which the novelist had seen. Continue reading “A real picture from the fictional Corinne’s gallery”

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