On Tuesday 22 November 2016, at The Old Library, in Pembroke College, University of Cambridge, was held a symposium about antiquarian books and an exploration of Scanderbeg’s place in European history and literature, organised by the Anglo-Albanian Association (AAA).
The symposium included an exhibition of antiquarian books from Patricia Nugee’s unique collection of sixteenth-, seventeenth- and eighteenth-century books on Scanderbeg, and explored Scanderbeg’s place in European history and literature.
Gjergi Kastrioti Skanderbeu (1405-1468), was called Iskender Bey by the Ottomans (later westernised as Scanderbeg, meaning ‘Lord Alexander’) in reference to his military abilities which the Turks thought reminiscent of Alexander the Great. Between 1443 and his death in 1468 he was celebrated for leading a series of highly successful campaigns against superior Ottoman forces. Albania’s independence day is known as Dita e Flamurit (Day of the Flag) because the flag of Albania is derived from Scanderbeg’s personal arms.
Books, poems, plays and operas about Scanderbeg began appearing early in the 16th century. The first book, published in Rome c.1510, was Marinus Barletius’ Historia de vita et gestis Scanderbegi, Epirotarum Principis (History of the Life and Deeds of Scanderbeg, Prince of Epirus). Translations appeared in French, English, German, Swedish, Portuguese and Spanish in the following years, many of which were on display during the symposium. Pembroke alumnus Edmund Spenser wrote a sonnet in praise of him in 1596. Three plays featuring him were performed on the London stage in the mid eighteenth-century.
Lord Chris Smith opened the event and Stephen Nash, Pembroke alumnus and ambassador to Albania 1998-1999, introduced the speakers. Miss Patricia Nugee gave an introduction to the history of her unique book collection.
David Abulafia, Professor of Mediterranean History at Cambridge University, Papathomas Professorial Fellow of Gonville and Caius College, and author of The Great Sea: A Human History of the Mediterranean spoke on ‘The era of Scanderbeg’.
Vito Bianchi, professor at Università degli Studi, Bari, and author of Otranto 1480: Il sultano, la strage, la conquista, (Editori Laterza, Roma-Bari 2016), spoke on ‘After Scanderbeg: the Ottomans between Albania and Italy’.
Dr Louise Marshall’s paper was entitled Three eighteenth-century plays about Scanderbeg: whose story are they telling? She lectures in Restoration and Eighteenth-Century literature at Aberystwyth University, and is the author of National Myth and Imperial Fantasy: Representations of Britishness on the Early Eighteenth-Century Stage (Palgrave, 2008).
The Anglo-Albanian Association was founded in 1912 with the aim of championing Albania’s independence, and has evolved since. Today they organise events such as guest lectures on Albanian history, culture and music, book launches and screenings of films. You can find more information on their website.
A co-founder and early supporter, both as Treasurer and Joint Honorary Secretary was Edith Durham, who was a foreign correspondent, traveller, artist, photographer and anthropologist of the Balkans. At the symposium her great-nephew, Pembroke Fellow Dr James Hickson, displayed her Insignia of Grand Officer of the Order of Skanderbeg (1930).
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