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ITALIAN LITERATURE


literam sive literaturam”: thus writes Antonio da Tempo of Padua, born about 1275. Being very little or not at all affected by the Germanic invasion, Tuscany was never subjected to the feudal system. It had fierce internal struggles, but they did not weaken its life; on the contrary, they rather gave it fresh vigour and strengthened it, and (especially after the final fall of the Hohenstaufens at the battle of Benevento in 1266) made it the first province of Italy. From 1266 onwards Florence was in a position to begin that movement of political reform which in 1282 resulted in the appointment of the Priori delle Arti, and the establishment of the Arti Minori. This was afterwards copied by Siena with the Magistrato dei Nove, by Lucca, by Pistoia, and by other Guelph cities in Tuscany with similar popular institutions. In this way the gilds had taken the government into their hands, and it was a time of both social and political prosperity. It was no wonder that literature also rose to an unlooked-for height. In Tuscany, too, there was some popular love poetry; there was a school of imitators of the Sicilians, their chief being Dante of Majano; but its literary originality took another line—that of humorous and satirical poetry. The entirely democratic form of government created a style of poetry which stood in the strongest antithesis to the medieval mystic and chivalrous style. Devout invocation of God or of a lady came from the cloister and the castle; in the streets of the cities everything that had gone before was treated with ridicule or biting sarcasm. Folgore of San Gimignano laughs when in his sonnets he tells a party of Sienese youths what are the occupations of every month in the year, or when he teaches a party of Florentine lads the pleasures of every day in the week. Cene della Chitarra laughs when he parodies Folgore’s sonnets. The sonnets of Rustico di Filippo are half fun and half satire; laughing and crying, joking and satire, are all to be found in Cecco Angiolieri of Siena, the oldest “humorist” we know, a far-off precursor of Rabelais, of Montaigne, of Jean Paul Richter, of Sydney Smith. But another kind of poetry also began in Tuscany. Guittone d’ Arezzo made art quit chivalrous for national motives, Provençal forms for Latin. He attempted political poetry, and, although his work is full of the strangest obscurities, he prepared the way for the Bolognese school. In the 13th century Bologna was the city of science, and philosophical poetry appeared there. Guido Guinicelli was the poet after the new fashion of the art. In him the ideas of chivalry are changed and enlarged; he sings of love and, together with it, of the nobility of the mind. The reigning thought in Guinicelli’s Canzoni is nothing external to his own subjectivity. His speculative mind, accustomed to wandering in the field of philosophy, transfuses its lucubrations into his art. Guinicelli’s poetry has some of the faults of the school of Guittone d’Arezzo: he reasons too much; he is wanting in imagination; his poetry is a product of the intellect rather than of the fancy and the heart. Nevertheless he marks a great development in the history of Italian art, especially because of his close connexion with Dante’s lyric poetry.

But before we come to Dante, certain other facts, not, however, unconnected with his history, must be noticed. In the 13th century, there were several poems in the allegorical style. One of these is by Brunetto Latini, who, it is well known, was attached by ties of strong affection Allegorical poetry. to Alighieri. His Tesoretto is a short poem, in seven-syllable verses, rhyming in couplets, in which the author professes to be lost in a wilderness and to meet with a lady, who is Nature, from whom he receives much instruction. We see here the vision, the allegory, the instruction with a moral object—three elements which we shall find again in the Divina Commedia. Francesco da Barberino, a learned lawyer who was secretary to bishops, a judge, a notary, wrote two little allegorical poems—the Documenti d’ amore and Del reggimento e dei costumi delle donne. Like the Tesoretto, these poems are of no value as works of art, but are, on the other hand, of importance in the history of manners. A fourth allegorical work was the Intelligenza, by some attributed to Dino Compagni, but probably not his, and only a version of French poems.

While the production of Italian poetry in the 13th century was abundant and varied, that of prose was scanty. The oldest specimen dates from 1231, and consists of short notices of entries and expenses by Mattasalà di Spinello dei Lambertini of Siena. In 1253 and 1260 Prose in 13th century. there are some commercial letters of other Sienese. But there is no sign of literary prose. Before we come to any, we meet with a phenomenon like that we noticed in regard to poetry. Here again we find a period of Italian literature in French. Halfway on in the century a certain Aldobrando or Aldobrandino (it is not known whether he was of Florence or of Siena) wrote a book for Beatrice of Savoy, countess of Provence, called Le Régime du corps. In 1267 Martino da Canale wrote in the same “langue d’oil” a chronicle of Venice. Rusticiano of Pisa, who was for a long while at the court of Edward I. of England, composed many chivalrous romances, derived from the Arthurian cycle, and subsequently wrote the travels of Marco Polo, which may perhaps have been dictated by the great traveller himself. And finally Brunetto Latini wrote his Tesoro in French.

Next in order to the original compositions in the langue d’oil come the translations or adaptations from the same. There are some moral narratives taken from religious legends; a romance of Julius Caesar; some short histories of ancient knights; the Tavola rotonda; translations of the Viaggi of Marco Polo and of the Tesoro of Latini. At the same time there appeared translations from Latin of moral and ascetic works, of histories and of treatises on rhetoric and oratory. Up to very recent times it was still possible to reckon as the most ancient works in Italian prose the Cronaca of Matteo Spinello da Giovenazzo, and the Cronaca of Ricordano Malespini. But now both of them have been shown to be forgeries of a much later time. Therefore the oldest prose writing is a scientific book—the Composizione del mondo by Ristoro d’ Arezzo, who lived about the middle of the 13th century. This work is a copious treatise on astronomy and geography. Ristoro was superior to the other writers of the time on these subjects, because he seems to have been a careful observer of natural phenomena, and consequently many of the things he relates were the result of his personal investigations. There is also another short treatise, De regimine rectoris, by Fra Paolino, a Minorite friar of Venice, who was probably bishop of Pozzuoli, and who also wrote a Latin chronicle. His treatise stands in close relation to that of Egidio Colonna, De regimine principum. It is written in the Venetian dialect.

The 13th century was very rich in tales. There is a collection called the Cento Novelle antiche, which contains stories drawn from Oriental, Greek and Trojan traditions, from ancient and medieval history, from the legends of Brittany, Provence and Italy, and from the Bible, from the local tradition of Italy as well as from histories of animals and old mythology. This book has a distant resemblance to the Spanish collection known as El Conde Lucanor. The peculiarity of the Italian book is that the stories are very short, and that they seem to be mere outlines to be filled in by the narrator as he goes along. Other prose novels were inserted by Francesco Barberino in his work Del reggimento e dei costumi delle donne, but they are of much less importance than the others. On the whole the Italian novels of the 13th century have little originality, and are only a faint reflection of the very rich legendary literature of France. Some attention should be paid to the Lettere of Fra Guittone d’Arezzo, who wrote many poems and also some letters in prose, the subjects of which are moral and religious. Love of antiquity, of the traditions of Rome and of its language, was so strong in Guittone that he tried to write Italian in a Latin style, and it turned out obscure, involved and altogether barbarous. He took as his special model Seneca, and hence his prose assumed a bombastic style, which, according to his views, was very artistic, but which in fact was alien to the true spirit of art, and resulted in the extravagant and grotesque.

2. The Spontaneous Development of Italian Literature.—In the year 1282, the year in which the new Florentine constitution