On this dog day of summer, we thought we’d relieve the heat with a little canine levity in the Cotsen Children’s Library. It’s not a children’s book, but it could be considered a forerunner of fictional animal autobiographies like Edward A. Kendall’s Keeper’s Travels in Search of His Master (1799) or Anna Sewell’s better known Black Beauty.
The above image is from Il Moretto del Pittoni: narrazione encomiastica serio-faceta della dignissime perogative che in lui si attrovavano (In Venezia : Presso Leonardo Pittoni, MDCCXIII ). Which is a mouthful of 18th-century Venetian. Very (very) roughly translated, the title is:”The Moretto Pittoni: The most Serious-facetious Laudatory Narration that is My Worthy Perogative to Find for Him. This half-serious encomium (an extensive celebratory and eulogizing biography of a person or thing) narrates the life and death of Moretto, the venerable dog of the author Giovanni Battista Pittoni and his publisher/father Leonardo Pittoni.
Most of the text is in Venetian, but the opening poetry of praise on the frontispiece (and the lengthy closing “epigraphe”) are in Latin.
The story opens with Moretto being found and then taken home to the young author. It follows him through his adventures as a young pup and the tricks he performed in his youth. But the life of Moretto takes a turn for the worse, unfortunately, when he finds himself in a confrontation with the dreaded family cat:
As a result of this episode, the poor dog is blinded. But much to the chagrin of his enemy this means the family treats him even better. Moretto is fed the best doggy meals while the cat looks on enviously:
But nothing can hold back Moretto! Despite his blindness he continues on in his virtuous life.
A well respected member of the dog community:
And a courageous defender of his home from the traditional enemy:
The latter part of the book mostly deals Moretto’s old age and dignified infirmity. As the wise and aged canine reaches his golden years, he can no longer return to his bed without a little assistance:
Alas! At the almost impossibly ripe old age of 25, Moretto succumbs to his rheumatism:
For a relatively short book (72 pages), the story of Moretto’s life is bursting with 171 references and comparisons to classical thinkers and figures like Socrates, Boethius, Ovid, Seneca, etc (citations at page 68 and 69); a purposeful exaggeration of the encomium form. Though I think it is clear that the Pittonis loved their dog and mourned his loss (they published a book about his life after all), I can’t help but appreciate their sense of humor in creating a facetious and over-the-top tribute to a family pet.
Thanks to John Bidwell, Astor Curator and Department Head of Printed Books and Bindings at the Morgan Library, for helping with the translation of the text. Any errors are mine alone.
P.S. Can anyone take a guess as to Moretto’s breed?