Geschenktipps (nicht nur) zu Weihnachten

Pietro Delcorno (UniversitĂ  de Bologna)

Christopher De Hamel, Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts, London 2016. (available also in paperback edition (2018) and in Italian (2017) and German (2018) languages)

This is a truly fascinating journey in time, space, and colours. With a witty tone and a sharp eye for details, as well as a skilful ability as storyteller, Christopher De Hamel tells the readers about his own meetings with twelve astonishing manuscripts. The quality of these books is beyond any doubt, with authentic medieval wonders, such as the Book of Kells. However, what makes this volume so special is the author's ability to mix in an entertaining and engaging way the cultural and material aspects of these objects and their intricate and at time adventurous histories, from their production to their present location (it becomes also a virtual tour of some of the major libraries on Earth). The richness of the manuscripts' reproductions also makes it perfect for when one wants to wander into a different 'dimension' - or just smile discovering what an impact a Latin teacher in New Zealand had on the author by bringing a gramophone to class and having students listen to Carl Orff's Carmina Burana. Overall, De Hamel’s book is recommended for book lovers – yet also if one needs to convince someone else (or themselves) that the medieval period was all but a dark and dull age.

Domenico di Caleruega alle origini dellÂ’Ordine dei Predicatori. Le fonti del secolo XIII, a cura di G. Festa, A. Paravicini Bagliani, F. Santi, Florence 2021.

A good subtitle for this book could be: "St Dominic strikes back". Usually overshadowed by the fame of St Francis – the supernova of the sainthood's firmament – the story of Dominic of Caleruega (d. 1221) is usually little known, even by respectable medievalists. Yet, one wonders whether this is fair, especially when reading the account of sister Cecilia who writes how Dominic once preached to her and other nuns while plucking alive a little bird that had the insolence to disturb the sermon (well, the bird was presented and perceived as a devil in disguise). Any reader venturing into this impressive and fascinating collection of thirteenth-century hagiographical texts (edited in Latin with facing translations in Italian and accompanied by cutting-edge historical introductions) will quickly change their mind by following how the figure of Dominic as a saint and the memory of the origin of one of the main cultural and religious forces in late medieval Europe were gradually constructed and disseminated. A must-have in any serious library, the book is highly interesting for any scholar working on medieval saints, miracles, heresies, visions – and, of course, Dominicans.

François-Xavier Fauville, Le rhinocéros d'or: Histoires du Moyen Âge africain, Paris 2013. (available also in Italian (2017), German (2017), and English (2018); revised and expanded French edition printed in Paris 2022)

A perfect book for those who want to broaden their horizons and recover - not so much to history, but to our knowledge - the active role that large parts of Africa played in the medieval period. Composed by short and often compelling chapters, the whole results in a shimmering mosaic, made of caravans crossing deserts, the circulation of goods, ideas and information (true or legendary, such as the one about a place where gold grew and was harvested like carrots), extraordinary riches (real or mythical), and ruins that resurface sometimes reduced to faint or puzzling traces. What emerges clearly is the profound interconnection between the worlds to the north and south of the Sahara - and its economic and cultural importance - as well as the dynamism of the polities that, from Sudan to the Limpopo River, faced the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. To read this book means to renounce forever the illusion that the Middle Ages were only an Euro-Asian affair. In this respect, one can say that Fauville's volume is already a classic – which this year enjoyed a new and expanded edition.

Matteo Melchiorre, La via di Schenèr: Un’esplorazione storica nelle Alpi, Venice 2016. (reprinted in 2021)

A precious gem hidden behind an enigmatic title. Truly, the book is a sort of adventurous treasure hunt, through Alpine peaks and dusty local archives, to find out where was the path that for centuries connected the small town of Feltre (the north of the south, on the edge of the Venetian world) to the Primiero valley (the south of the north, where German miners settled and onion-shaped church towers were built). The outcome is a penetrating and exemplary micro-history of a borderland, where the authentic heroes include the mules that climbed up laden with iron or wine, skirting abyssal cliffs, but also a lover who - even in the midst of a winter storm - set out to celebrate Christmas at home, close to his beloved girlfriend. This exploration is made of mountain boots, on-site observations, historiographical hypotheses, centuries-old documents, even dreams and nocturnal visions - all masterfully recounted by Matteo Melchiorre who, not without self-irony, emerges as a sort of Dolomitic Indiana Jones - yet also as a stubborn bard of abandoned mountain places, from which the human tide has gradually receded, leaving only faint traces of a past that is actually still very close to us.

Nascita di una dittatura. Come la stampa di tutto il mondo racconto lÂ’avvento del fascismo, Roma 2022. (

Reading through the press of the time how the rise to power of Fascism in Italy was recounted in different parts of the world is both an alienating exercise - made of nightmares and illusions - and an instructive one. Exactly a century later, this careful selection of articles not only points out the extreme acumen of a few voices but it also highlights the perennial difficulty in reading contemporary phenomena, the extent of which cannot be fully grasped because one is prisoner of partisan interests or rigid ideological frameworks, or just mere stupidity. Overall, what emerges from this collective tale - an unconscious Greek tragedy chorus - is a (merciless) portrait of Italy, and Europe, in the early 1920s. Browsing through the articles - something that can be done in spare moments, piece by piece, even in a disorderly manner - it is striking how much the reference to the past – to ancient Rome, of course, but also to the Middle Ages and the Renaissance - was part of the way Fascism presented itself and was described to others. It is almost as if when speaking of Italy, journalists from all over the place were hypnotised by its past – and usually unable to grasp that, instead, it was the future that was emerging from there, a future that looked anything but rosy. Similarly, the relief that some articles express for the return of 'law and order' in Italy did not get that that would have enormous costs and consequences. All this is presented in a handy volume, filled with beautiful photographs, and with a stern Mussolini gazing out from the cover, pink in colour – a choice perhaps suggesting that, like the Giro d'Italia, this story belongs to the very fabric of the country.