Music, Ethos and the Historical Past in Hektorović's Fishing and Fishermen's Conversations

  • Bojan Bujić


The Croatian Renaissance poet Petar Hektorović (1487-1572) included in his piscatorial poem Ribanje i ribarsko prigovaranje (Fishing and Fishermen's Conversations, Venice, 1568) texts of several songs sung to him by his allegedly real fishermen companions, and elsewhere in the same book published the melodies of two of the songs. Several Yugoslav scholars have tried to establish whether the melodies are folk songs of a type no longer extant in Dalmatia or whether, less likely, they represent corrupt versions of the parts of now lost madrigals. The present paper argues that instead of asking what the fishermen might have sung we should investigate why Hektorović makes them sing and what the act of singing stands for in the context of the poem. In order to off er satisfactory answers to these questions it was necessary to prepare the ground by discussing (a) the attitude to the act of singing in Poliziano's La favola d'Orfeo, Sanazzaro's Eclogues and Arcadia and in some of the 16th-century Florentine intermedi, and (b) Marsilio Ficino's accounts of the nature of poetic inspiration (furor divinus), the close association between music and poetry, and the ethical force of music. Against this background it is possible to see that Hektorović carefully constructs a context in which the fishermen appear as men in possession of moral virtue and as carriers of inherited wisdom originating in the by then lost idealized chivalric past. The context in which their singing is placed and the manner in which Hektorović as the narrator of his poem speculates on the nature of the fishermen's moral virtue betray his direct or indirect knowledge of Ficino's theory of musical ethics. A link is also established between Ficino's ideas about the nature of history and Hektorović's letter to Mikša Pelegrinović in which he speculates about the value and truth of historical knowledge. Hektorović's preoccupation with salvation and the need to uphold Christian moral principles is recognized as a theme shared by the literati of the Venetian cultural sphere. More than any other Italian state Venice was throughout the 16th century engaged in a prolonged war against the Turks and the fear of the destruction of Christian civilization became a theme often explored by the Venetian as well as the Dalmatian 16th-century authors. In Hektorović's case this theme acquires special significance since he himself had to shelter in Italy during one of the Turkish raids on the Dalmatian coast. The unique value of Hektorović's literary and philosophical thought lies in his ability to produce a synthesis between Renaissance theories of musical ethos and the folk-inspired tradition of his Slavonic ethnic background.


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How to Cite
BujićB. (1990). Music, Ethos and the Historical Past in Hektorović’s Fishing and Fishermen’s Conversations. Musicological Annual, 26(1), 17-28.