Landscape is so elusive. As we all know, most of what takes away the breath from the tourists nowadays and appears upon the millions of postcards was unappreciated until the age of Edmund Burke, with some help from Salvator Rosa, invented the Sublime; and the lecherous Wordsworth began to get excited by the hills as well as by the girls of Cumberland. So we mustn't be anachronistic.
Lake Garda was known to the last Cardinal Archbishop of Canterbury, Reginald Pole (we pronounce him Pool in order to confuse other people). By 1553 he had taken up residence in the Benedictine Abbey at Maguzzano, from which he conducted quite a bit of diplomatic activity and polished his Pro Ecclesiasticae Unitatis Defensione. And that Abbey (suppressed in the 1790s by the Buonapartists) is near the Lake now called Garda (originally known by its Latin name as Benacus) just where the main Roman road, the Via Gallica, linking the fifty or so miles between Verona and Brixia/Brescia, cuts close along its Southern shore. Here Catullus's Sirmio peninsular and the modern Desenzano are to be found. (Catullus must have known the road well.)
As a Renaissance humanist, Pole would most surely have been aware that the homeplace of Catullus was at nearby Sirmio, about which Catullus wrote his poem 31. If this poem is anything to go by, Catullus' own reactions to his surroundings were not exactly Burkean or Wordsworthian; nor did he share Turner's fascinatiion with Alpine scenery. Sirmio and its subalpine surroundings and the snows on Mount Baldo fire him with nothing so much as a desire to rest on his desiderato lecto. Probably this is all he meant by calling Sirmio and Garda ocelle and venusta. And what exactly was the pleasure in tacking back and forth across the lake in his (poem 4) phaselus? He talks about the laughter of the waves as Aeschylus long before had spoken of their gelasma; but I have noticed nothing suggesting the awed reverence which Romanticism was to show to dramatic landscape.
The exciting printing houses of Venice had rushed out texts of Catullus (1472; and the edition published by Aldus Pius Manutius in 1502 ... I did a post on him 5 February 2015). It is improbable that Pole did not know them. By the time he went to Garda himself, his urbane friend and fellow humanist Pietro Cardinal Bembo was dead and his carmina, which include a long poem about the Lake, were only just being published (edition in the Harvard di Tasso series). I like to think that Pole's pietas inclined him to purchase and read them hot from the press.
But the Lake Garda, and its rivers, which he met in those pages, was a countryside of gods and goddesses, of fauns and nymphs and mythology, the countryside of Ovid's Metamorphoses even more than of Vergil.
I think I do understand why mad, bad papa Caraffa so hated Pole and his gentle Renaissance literary culture. Philistine and hot-tempered popes are rarely a happy thing for the Church. It is probably just as well that Pole died peacefully in his bed in England and never lived to be investigated by the papal interrogators who awaited him in Rome.
And, as pope Paul IV, Caraffa was a very bad thing for English Catholicism. You might well call him the Godfather of Bloody Bess Tudor's Proddy Church of England. But that's another story, well told by Eamon Duffy.