Open main menu
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

the Monalisationes of the middle ages. A third novelist was Giovanni Sercambi of Lucca, who after 1374 wrote a book, in imitation of Boccaccio, about a party of people who were supposed to fly from a plague and to go travelling about in different Italian cities, stopping here and there telling stories. Later, but important, names are those of Massuccio Salernitano (Tommaso Guardato), who wrote the Novellino, and Antonio Cornazzano whose Proverbii became extremely popular.

It has already been said that the Chronicles formerly believed to have been of the 13th century are now regarded as forgeries of later times. At the end of the 13th century, however, we find a chronicle by Dino Compagni, which, notwithstanding the unfavourable opinion of it entertained The chroniclers. especially by some German writers, is in all probability authentic. Little is known about the life of Compagni. Noble by birth, he was democratic in feeling, and was a supporter of the new ordinances of Giano della Bella. As prior and gonfalonier of justice he always had the public welfare at heart. When Charles of Valois, the nominee of Boniface VIII., was expected in Florence, Compagni, foreseeing the evils of civil discord, assembled a number of citizens in the church of San Giovanni, and tried to quiet their excited spirits. His chronicle relates the events that came under his own notice from 1280 to 1312. It bears the stamp of a strong subjectivity. The narrative is constantly personal. It often rises to the finest dramatic style. A strong patriotic feeling and an exalted desire for what is right pervade the book. Compagni is more an historian than a chronicler, because he looks for the reasons of events, and makes profound reflections on them. According to our judgment he is one of the most important authorities for that period of Florentine history, notwithstanding the not insignificant mistakes in fact which are to be found in his writings. On the contrary, Giovanni Villani, born in 1300, was more of a chronicler than an historian. He relates the events up to 1347. The journeys that he made in Italy and France, and the information thus acquired, account for the fact that his chronicle, called by him Istorie fiorentine, comprises events that occurred all over Europe. What specially distinguishes the work of Villani is that he speaks at length, not only of events in politics and war, but also of the stipends of public officials, of the sums of money used for paying soldiers and for public festivals, and of many other things of which the knowledge is very valuable. With such an abundance of information it is not to be wondered at that Villani’s narrative is often encumbered with fables and errors, particularly when he speaks of things that happened before his own time. Matteo was the brother of Giovanni Villani, and continued the chronicle up to 1363. It was again continued by Filippo Villani. Gino Capponi, author of the Commentari dell’ acquisto di Pisa and of the narration of the Tumulto dei ciompi, belonged to both the 14th and the 15th centuries.

The Divina Commedia is ascetic in its conception, and in a good many points of its execution. To a large extent similar is the genius of Petrarch; yet neither Petrarch nor Dante could be classified among the pure ascetics of their time. But many other writers come under this Ascetic writers. head. St Catherine of Siena’s mysticism was political. She was a really extraordinary woman, who aspired to bring back the Church of Rome to evangelical virtue, and who has left a collection of letters written in a high and lofty tone to all kinds of people, including popes. She joins hands on the one side with Jacopone of Todi, on the other with Savonarola. Hers is the strongest, clearest, most exalted religious utterance that made itself heard in Italy in the 14th century. It is not to be thought that precise ideas of reformation entered into her head, but the want of a great moral reform was felt in her heart. And she spoke indeed ex abundantia cordis. Anyhow the daughter of Jacopo Benincasa must take her place among those who from afar off prepared the way for the religious movement which took effect, especially in Germany and England, in the 16th century.

Another Sienese, Giovanni Colombini, founder of the order of Jesuati, preached poverty by precept and example, going back to the religious idea of St Francis of Assisi. His letters are among the most remarkable in the category of ascetic works in the 14th century. Passavanti, in his Specchio della vera penitenza, attached instruction to narrative. Cavalca translated from the Latin the Vite dei santi padri. Rivalta left behind him many sermons, and Franco Sacchetti (the famous novelist) many discourses. On the whole, there is no doubt that one of the most important productions of the Italian spirit of the 14th century was the religious literature.

In direct antithesis with this is a kind of literature which has a strong popular element. Humorous poetry, the poetry of laughter and jest, which as we saw was largely developed in the 13th century, was carried on in the 14th by Bindo Bonichi, Arrigo di Castruccio, Cecco Nuccoli, Comic poetry. Andrea Orgagna, Filippo de’ Bardi, Adriano de’ Rossi, Antonio Pucci and other lesser writers. Orgagna was specially comic; Bonichi was comic with a satirical and moral purpose. Antonio Pucci was superior to all of them for the variety of his production. He put into triplets the chronicle of Giovanni Villani (Centiloquio), and wrote many historical poems called Serventesi, many comic poems, and not a few epico-popular compositions on various subjects. A little poem of his in seven cantos treats of the war between the Florentines and the Pisans from 1362 to 1365. Other poems drawn from a legendary source celebrate the Reina d’ Oriente, Apollonio di Tiro, the Bel Gherardino, &c. These poems, meant to be recited to the people, are the remote ancestors of the romantic epic, which was developed in the 16th century, and the first representatives of which were Boiardo and Ariosto.

Many poets of the 14th century have left us political works. Of these Fazio degli Uberti, the author of Dittamondo, who wrote a Serventese to the lords and people of Italy, a poem on Rome, a fierce invective against Charles IV. of Luxemburg, deserves notice, and Francesco di Political and amatory poetry. Vannozzo, Frate Stoppa and Matteo Frescobaldi. It may be said in general that following the example of Petrarch many writers devoted themselves to patriotic poetry. From this period also dates that literary phenomenon known under the name of Petrarchism. The Petrarchists, or those who sang of love, imitating Petrarch’s manner, were found already in the 14th century. But others treated the same subject with more originality, in a manner that might be called semi-popular. Such were the Ballate of Ser Giovanni Fiorentino, of Franco Sacchetti, of Niccolò Soldanieri, of Guido and Bindo Donati. Ballate were poems sung to dancing, and we have Histories
in verse.
very many songs for music of the 14th century. We have already stated that Antonio Pucci versified Villani’s Chronicle. This instance of versified history is not unique, and it is evidently connected with the precisely similar phenomenon offered by the “vulgar Latin” literature. It is enough to notice a chronicle of Arezzo in terza rima by Gorello de’ Sinigardi, and the history, also in terza rima, of the journey of Pope Alexander III. to Venice by Pier de’ Natali. Besides this, every kind of subject, whether history, tragedy or husbandry, was treated in verse. Neri di Landocio wrote a life of St Catherine; Jacopo Gradenigo put the gospels into triplets; Paganino Bonafede in the Tesoro dei rustici gave many precepts in agriculture, beginning that kind of Georgic poetry which was fully developed later by Alamanni in his Coltivazione, by Girolamo Baruffaldi in the Canapajo, by Rucellai in the Api, by Bartolommeo Lorenzi in the Coltivazione dei monti, by Giambattista Spolverini in the Coltivazione del riso, &c.

There cannot have been an entire absence of dramatic literature in Italy in the 14th century, but traces of it are wanting, although we find them again in great abundance in the 15th century. The 14th century had, however, one drama unique of its kind. In the sixty years (1250 to 1310) which Drama. ran from the death of the emperor Frederick II. to the expedition of Henry VII., no emperor had come into Italy. In the north of Italy, Ezzelino da Romano, with the title of imperial vicar, had taken possession of almost the whole of the March of Treviso, and threatened Lombardy. The popes proclaimed a crusade against him, and, crushed by it, the Ezzelini fell. Padua then began to breathe again, and took to extending its dominion.