The Battle of Lepanto: The Image of The Turk in Renaissance Neo-Latin Poetry

Thumbnail Image
Olinski, Timothy
Classical Reception , Renaissance , Humanism , Ottomans , Venice , Lepanto , Turks , Juan Latino
As the sixteenth century was drawing to a close, the Ottoman Empire made a grab for Venetian territory – in this case, Cyprus. This unprovoked attack set in motion a chain of events that resulted in one of the largest naval battles that the contemporary world had ever seen, Lepanto. The unexpected Western victory, after a long history of ever-worsening defeats, prompted an explosion of optimism, confidence, and Neo-Latin poetic composition. These works, produced in the immediate aftermath of the battle, reveal the newfound optimism and perceptions of the Venetians that penned them. Through classical allusions they denounced their enemy as barbarians, tyrants, deceivers, heretics, and even called for crusade efforts, making it clear to all that the Turks were no longer to be feared. While Lepanto itself has been the subject of a great deal of scholarship, there has been a noticeable absence of coverage regarding these celebratory poems. Some scholars look at Lepanto as a minor occurrence, as the Western powers involved failed to capitalize on the victory. This thesis is intended to challenge that view by looking beyond arguments grounded in direct material outcomes (such as territory won or lost). It is also intended to address that gap in the historiography to show that Lepanto had a much greater effect on European morale than previous victories. By drawing on the Neo-Latin poetry collected by Pietro Gherardi, as well as the Austrias Carmen of Juan Latino, we establish how the Turks were viewed by Venetians in that crucial window following the battle. Then, using Lepanto itself as a framing tool, the analysis conducted here compares the Venetian perceptions to those of contemporaries in the century before it. In doing this we establish that Western pessimism and fear was grounded in a record of ever-increasing failure to effectively combat the rising tide of Ottoman power. Lepanto, however, marks a flashpoint where that track-record dramatically reverses, and the specter of Ottoman invincibility was suddenly shattered irrevocably.
External DOI