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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.
G. R. Lomer, ed. The Student’s Course in Literature.

Lectures on the World’s Best Literature: Italian Literature

By Arthur Livingston (1883–1944)

The Renaissance: 1374–1545


THE PERIOD of culture which Dante concluded was concerned pre-eminently with ethics and moral philosophy. The age which Petrarch initiated was dominated by philological science. The consequences resulting from this new direction of thought were profound. Petrarch’s discovery of an ancient world far different from that known to the preceding generations suddenly revealed to Italy its real origins, and gave new vitality to the Italian inheritance of pride in Rome. Men became conscious of the time that had elapsed since the fall of the Roman Empire, and of the inferiority which Neo-Latin culture showed in those fields where classic civilization was at its best. An impulse of exaltation, difficult for us to imagine, ran through Italians when the riches of the classic world of their ancestors were exposed to their gaze by Petrarch and his followers.

These were the joyous days of the booklovers. The monasteries were ransacked; the dusty libraries of ignorant noblemen were rummaged through; merchants traveled to all the limits of the known world to find some manuscript of a Latin writer or a Greek poet, and the arrival of such a treasure-trove in the stores of Florence or Venice would be hailed almost as a public event. Love of the new literature bound all the scholars of Europe into the closest ties of friendship and affection. The possession of a rare volume, the deciphering of a better text, the discovery of a new meaning were then capable of giving a man a worldwide fame.

Mediæval philosophy had thought beyond the range of the facts in its possession. The study of Latin and Greek now came to supply an immense fund of new knowledge, and, as this knowledge was assimilated, little by little new views of man and of his place in the world became diffused. In the years between the death of Petrarch and the birth of Tasso a great feat was accomplished: scholars, by cataloguing and analyzing the works of old, brought to bear upon all the situations that arise in life whatever the ancients had thought or written or done concerning them. The newly invented printing-press came to distribute this learning throughout the whole reading world. To this day, when we would study some classic author, we are obliged to consult the work of the early “Humanists,” as the scholars of this period came to be called, because of the excellence and thoroughness of their labor and the love and enthusiasm with which their work was done.

The intense study of philology had, however, defects as well as virtues. On the one hand, it familiarized people with the methods of criticism and with the accurate use of historical sources. It also tended to stimulate original thinking in many ways. Such events as the Protestant Reformation, the Catholic Counter-Reform, the Copernican system of astronomy, the philosophy of Giordano Bruno, would not have been possible without the long years of research in classic lore that preceded them. Each of these phases of Renaissance life is to a large extent the outgrowth of philological pursuits. On the other hand, learning may be one of the least stimulating of occupations. It is easier to memorize than to think and to create; patience and industry are commoner virtues than originality and vision. The great men of this period are surrounded by a host of vain pedants and learned scalawags, far more interested in repeating what they had learned than in welcoming new ideas. In general, the Renaissance laid too much stress upon erudition and memory; it gave a value too absolute to all that the ancients had written. One may even say that the age of Michaelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci was quite as subservient to prejudice and accepted authority as the age of Giotto and Dante had been. It was certainly more slavish to social and ethical convention.

Italian literature and the related sciences of language and æsthetics show these defects conspicuously. The Humanists turned Latin, which had been a living tongue in the Middle Ages, into the “dead language” which the schoolboy now abhors. They applied the same attitude even to the vernacular Italian, and developed the theory of classic purism which held that Italians should ever write as Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio had written. In lyric poetry the early followers of Petrarch imitated the singer of Laura’s praises because they loved his work, because they were enraptured by the richness and novelty of his characteristic moods; but the later followers turned this imitation first into a fad and then into an obligation. Most of the lyric poetry between 1400 and 1600 is a weak echo of things that Petrarch had done and done better. This doctrine of imitation came to invent a theoretical justification for itself based on the ‘Poetics’ of Aristotle. In this way the artistic process was considered as twofold: it concerned “form” and “substance.” By “substance” was meant what we call plot (“favola”) while “form” came more and more exclusively to mean metaphorical ornament. Plots were of different kinds: tragic, comic, epic, lyric. Each kind had its “ideal form,” made concrete in some work of classical antiquity. The business of the writer was to compose close imitations of the manner and substance of the classic works, and to beautify his artificial plot with figures of speech taken from Petrarch perhaps, or even invented by himself, and with as many classic allusions as possible.

Meanwhile a profound change had been taking place in the social life of Italy. The Communes, passing through the throes of industrial republicanism, gradually came into the hands of clever politicians, who by their wealth and sagacity established themselves as tyrants. Milan passed from the Visconti, who had befriended Petrarch, into the power of Lodovico il Moro. The Medici came to the front in Florence; the Estensi at Ferrara; the Gonzaga at Mantua. The Papacy itself became the spoils of intrigue—as witness the astounding careers of the Borgia. Only in Venice did the principle of popular liberty, the opposite of the “unius imperium,” hold its own, unless we think of Genoa, Lucca, and certain of the Alpine cities, which still cowered in relative independence under some of the greater states. Italian literature in the Renaissance centres around these tyrannical courts; the majority of the great authors are courtiers. It reflects the elegance, the luxury, the refinement, the learning, the slavishness, of these great centres of intelligent, hypocritical, licentious life.

Thus the great contributions to civilization that appear in Italian literature of this period depend partly upon the revival of classical learning and partly upon the aristocratic character assumed by society. Briefly, these contributions are the recovery and the assimilation of classical antiquity; the development of philological science; the perfection of æsthetics as a department of logic; the codification of the laws of good manners and social usage; the theory of idealistic love as an aspect of this latter; and that materialistic conception of politics which believes in the independence of statecraft and ethics. Each of these phases of the intellectual and social life of the age deserves a brief comment.

Classical Scholarship

Great names stand out in each of these connections: among the Humanists we may choose as types Coluccio Salutati (1331–1406), who consolidated the work of Petrarch by establishing, in his numerous letters, the critical attitude toward antiquity and classical literature; Lorenzo Valla (1407–1457), distinguished in the origins of modern legal, philosophical, and historical criticism, but especially by his application of philological methods to the documentary history of ecclesiastical institutions, for it was Valla who first assailed the spurious “donation of Constantine”; Marsilio Ficino (1433–1499), the first great modern interpreter of Plato and propagator of Platonic ideas; Leonardo Bruni (1370–1444), one of the first to elaborate the science of history as something wider than mere chronology; Poggio Bracciolini (1380–1459), the renewer of classic stoicism; Giovanni Pontano (1426–1503), one of the most successful of the authors of the Renaissance in Latin poetry. These men originated most of the tendencies which receive a more elegant exploitation from the scholars of the next century such as Aldo Manuzio (1450–1515), the most famous of the editors of the Renaissance; Battista Spagnuoli Mantovano (1448–1516), perhaps the greatest of the modern Latin poets; Marco Girolamo Vida (1485–c. 1566), author of the ‘Christias,’ which is reckoned among the precursors of ‘Paradise Lost’; Girolamo Fracastoro (d. 1553), who typified for the next generations the ideal scholar in science equipped with good letters; and Pietro Bembo (1470–1547), one of the most perfect courtiers, or as we would say, “gentlemen,” of the age.

Origins of Modern Philology

From 1500 on, the literature of philology is vast. The problem that most interested scholars was the Latin origin of the Italian and Provençal vernaculars. This dependence was at once recognized, the modifications of the classic Latin being erroneously regarded as due to the Germanic invasions. The beauty of Latin literature, was attributed to the fixity of its language. Could the modern languages be brought under the same fixed grammatical laws? With regard to Italian, which of the dialects of Italy had greatest prospects in this respect? Without doubt the greatest mind devoted to the solution of these questions was that of Lodovico Castelvetro (c. 1505–1571), who brought modern philology to a higher point than was again attained before Friedrich Diez in the nineteenth century. The concept of scientifically phonetic spelling was evolved by Gian Giorgio Trissino (1478–1550), who edited for the first time the ‘De vulgari eloquentia’ of Dante, and was one of the first to use the term “Italian language,” hitherto spoken of as “the vulgar tongue” or as “Tuscan.” The most delightful, and in view of the eminence of the author, the most influential treatise in this field was the ‘Prose della volgar lingua’ of Pietro Bembo. The soundest discussion of the question of the Italian language was probably given by Machiavelli, whose ideas are known to us only through references made to them by Lodovico Martelli (‘Risposta’ to Trissino, 1524).

It is because the ‘Arcadia’ of Jacopo Sannazaro (1456–1530), in its various redactions, reflects so distinctively the struggles and progress of the constitution of the national language, that we cite him here. Though the work of Sannazaro, no less than that of Angelo Poliziano and Lorenzo the Magnificent, admirably reflects the many various moods and interests of this epoch of Italian culture. Sannazaro shows the development of the Aragonese environment at Naples, and Politian and Lorenzo de’ Medici that of Florence.

Literary Criticism

The Italian Renaissance dictated to the whole world the canons of literary criticism which prevailed practically unchallenged down to the Romanticism of the nineteenth century, and which survived in large part even that attack. The discussions grew in large part around the ‘Poetics’ of Aristotle, his analysis of the “kinds” or “genres” of poetry, and the rules governing the construction of each. Here again Castelvetro is to the fore, but not with the same isolated distinction he enjoys in philology. The classic theory of the epic poem and of the tragedy was worked out by Giambattista Giraldi Cinzio (1554), and by Trissino. In fact, their “regular” poems (such as the epic, ‘L’Italia liberata dai Goti,’ and the tragedy, ‘Sofonisba,’ by Trissino, and the tragedy, ‘Orbecche,’ by Giraldi) are rather to be considered as illustrations of an æsthetic theory than as works of art. These are the first applications of the principle of the dramatic unities, later rendered notorious by the French classic stage of the seventeenth century. The humanist Girolamo Vida has an important ‘De arte poetica’ in Latin; Francesco Patrizi (1529–1597), one more interesting still, which contains a lucid exposition of the theory of ornament as something added to and dependent on substance or plot. Because of the fact that the ‘Gerusalemme liberata’ is available to illustrate in brilliant form the poetic theories of Tasso, his ‘Dialoghi della poesia’ are perhaps the most instructive specimens of this type of literature that can be studied.

The Cult of Good Manners

The elegant courts of Italy, especially those of Florence, Ferrara, Urbino, and Mantua, brought social intercourse to the highest state of artistic conventionality that the world has ever known. Indeed, if Versailles and Vienna in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries could show more grandeur in the absolute, these later heirs of Italian courtliness—formed as they were largely under direct Italian tutelage—always lacked something of the ease and joviality that surrounded the Italian tyrants. Here again the theoretical literature is voluminous and fascinatingly curious, especially as regards the chivalrous code of honor, horsemanship, hunting, dueling, the education of women and young noblemen, amusements such as chess, and diplomatic and social formalities. We must cite, however, two masterpieces which have entered permanently into the literary heritage of the world. The ‘Cortegiano’ of Baldassare Castiglione (1478–1529) treats, with universal grasp, all the questions that concern the relationships of individuals in friendly social intercourse: conversation, dress, choice of friends, love, ethics, language, education, etiquette. But this great work is not only a book of precept: Castiglione has a notable power of characterization, and remarkable perception of interesting details of life, so that the ‘Cortegiano’ is both an essential document for the social history of the time and a fine specimen of urbane art, surpassing in this respect even the work of Pietro Bembo. The ‘Galateo’ of Cardinal Giovanni Della Casa (1503–1556) brings us down to the particulars of good manners: with a genial humor throughout, we learn from it how to eat and drink, how to avoid disgusting manners, how to dress, how to talk, how to entertain. The absolute simplicity and everyday necessity of the questions the ‘Galateo’ answers, together with the good-natured severity with which the author lays down and illustrates his rule, make of this book one of the most delightful and profitable pastimes conceivable, especially if it be read in one of the quaint older English translations that have been made of it.

Idealization of Love

Italian civilization has always been responsive to the ascetic elements in Catholic idealism: the worship of the Virgin, productive of so many beautiful manifestations of Italian sentiment in art, represents the eternal contradiction between the adoration of chastity and the charm of motherhood. Love of feminine beauty is one of the great and most ennobling phenomena of human life; yet a characteristic of Christian ethics has been the fear of this emotion, the attempt to glorify its suppression. One of the most persistent efforts of Italian culture in literature, philosophy, and art has been to reduce this paradox, to prove that love is not in conflict with the search after God, to demonstrate even that in love we are brought nearer to eternal goodness.

The age of Dante was intensely preoccupied with this question. The ‘Divine Comedy’ grows out of the conviction that human love is identical in its own sphere with divine love in its sphere—the two spheres touching at the point where the lover extends his benevolence from the immediate human object which inspired it upon all of God’s creatures and the universe as a whole. The “sweet new style” attacked the problem with a preparation in Christian dogma and a method borrowed from mediæval philosophy. The Renaissance returns to the same problem with the new ideas furnished by a resurrected Platonism. Thus some of the most beautiful things ever said of love and woman were said in the sixteenth century in Italy. Read the ‘Cortegiano’ of Castiglione, and the ‘Asolani’ dialogues of Bembo, or, from later in the century, the ‘Heroic Furies’ of Giordano Bruno; or for a startling parallel, compare a “vision of God” of Savonarola’s sermons with a vision of Love by Pico della Mirandola. The processes, even the moods, are identical: from a simple human experience of unselfish love, we arise, through successive concepts (Platonism) or successive revelations (Christianity) to a more or less approximate understanding of “reality,” of God, to a finite vision of infinite goodness, beauty, and power.

To be sure, many of the exponents of such idealism were unregenerate profligates, and some of its most interesting expressions were written by notorious women of the world (cf. ‘The Infinitudes of Love’ of Tullia d’Aragona). Indeed, what we know of the conditions of court life leads to the suspicion that the Platonism of the Renaissance was often little more than the public pose of a facile licentiousness. At any rate, the position of woman in society was not changed in the slightest: here we find, as at other times, the most savage operation of chivalric prejudices. It is erroneous to cite to the contrary the great number of “learned ladies” who flourished at this period: there was a Cassandra Fedele, a Veronica Franco, an Irene of Spilemberg, a Vittoria Colonna,—the immortal friend of Michaelangelo, the tender and delicate poetess of conjugal affection and religious yearnings,—a Gaspara Stampa, a Veronica Gambara. Such ladies were learned simply as the necessarily learned leaders in a society pre-eminently interested in philology and scholarship. The Platonism of the Renaissance was an ethical, at best an æsthetic, system, dealing exclusively with individual morals. It had no social outlook and no social effects.


More or less closely affiliated with this movement in courtly society was the cultivation of Petrarch’s poetry though the cult of Petrarch, as we have seen, rested to a large extent upon the false literary theories of the age. Everybody who pretended to any sort of education knew Petrarch’s ‘Canzoniere’ by heart, could identify and locate the faintest allusion to his work, and could complete any Petrarchian rhyme scheme the moment it was suggested. The first period of what is known as “Petrarchism” belongs to the end of the fifteenth century. The work of Antonio Tebaldeo (1463–1537) and of Serafino dall’ Aquila (1466–1500) shows an adaptation of Petrarch’s imagery and figures to the most diverse subject-matter and metres. The second period derives its name “Bembism” from Pietro Bembo who published his ‘Canzoniere’ in 1530. Bembo stimulated the adoration of Petrarch to its highest point, and strove to make the imitation of him a real imitation, in the sense that poets were to write of love in the manner of feeling and style of writing that appear in Petrarch’s work. This is the phase of Petrarchism that was so influential in France, England, and Spain, as well as in Italy itself. Here we find the origins of a false critical tradition concerning Petrarch; for the “Platonic” interpretation of the ‘Canzoniere’ is really based on the work of the Petrarchists of Bembo’s school. The so-called Platonic elements in Petrarch himself are to be regarded rather as echoes of the idealism of Dante’s time or of mediæval Provençal chivalric poetry. Bembo himself has in Italy a host of imitators, and it is apparent how far from an actual reflection of life Italian lyric poetry was drifting. In fact, nearly all Italian poetry up to the time of Foscolo, Parini, Monti, and Leopardi, is in one way or another Petrarchistic. We shall see a permanent crystallization of this trend in Tasso. The revolution in poetry operated later by Marino and the reaction started against the imitators of Marino by the ‘Arcadia’ rest upon a Tassonian foundation. The history of Italian poetry furnishes the most extreme illustration of the bad effects of the philological method which sprang from the revival of classical studies in Italy.

Political Thought

The most splendid contribution of Italian culture to civilization during the Renaissance is found in the field of political thought. Niccolò Machiavelli (1469–1527) had one of the clearest minds that have existed. He was free from the pedantry which beset most men of his time, and he never allowed the pursuit of learning to cloud his perception of realities. In his youth he saw the tyranny of the Medici upset momentarily by Savonarola; he had direct contact, as secretary of the Florentine Republic, with the inner workings of political intrigue in his age, especially with the career of Cesare Borgia. He lived long enough to see his Republic again succumb to the Medici. His writings make a noble effort to penetrate behind the turmoil of events, to see the forces which actually determine conduct. He was thus one of the first to conceive of men not as playthings of blind chance, or of a capricious Providence bent on convincing them that worldly possessions are vain, but, to a large degree at least, in control of their own destinies. In this sense Machiavelli may be considered the founder of all the modern movements looking toward social betterment. He studies immediately the two most characteristic forms of society offered by the history that he knew: the industrial or mercantile republic, and the tyranny. His two great works, ‘The Discourses on Livy’ and ‘The Prince,’ deal respectively with these forms of government. How may each of these forms defend itself from its enemies, preserve its life from generation to generation, and grow? Machiavelli views the world as a conflict of such forces, among others, as the will to live, the thirst for wealth and power. These are the emotions which control men; the sense of justice, of gratitude, of generosity, is subordinate to these forces, now conditioning them, now utilized by them. It is this inferior rôle assigned to morality by Machiavelli that has enraged moralists against him in every age. Machiavelli’s answer, however, can hardly be gainsaid. He is attempting not to outline an ideal condition in which men ought to be living, but to predict the probable course of events in a world in which they actually exist. And the world in which he was living and consequently the world with which he deals was the world of Cesare Borgia, of Lodovico il Moro, of Catarina Sforza, of the League of Cambrai. To judge Machiavelli by his specific observations on isolated points of political ethics, such as the breaking of treaties and assassination, is to miss the large trend of his teaching, which is that states may be more wisely guided by an intelligent appreciation of facts than by an impractical adherence to fixed principles of ethics or traditional politics. Machiavelli is among the first to proclaim that a nation can endure only by guaranteeing life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (right of property, family integrity, leisure) impartially to all its citizens or subjects; that the power of law must be superior to the reign of privilege; that the strength of a state resides in the combined energies of its whole people (cf. Montesquieu); that a brilliant aristocracy cannot rest in security upon a degraded populace. A careful consideration of all Machiavelli’s work, especially a correction of the cynicism of ‘The Prince’ with the democratic fervor of the ‘Discourses on Livy,’ fully justifies the statement of De Sanctis that whenever a stone in the fabric of human tyranny crumbles, whenever a new step forward is taken toward human liberty, the ultimate source of the progress is to be sought in the influence of the great “Secretary” of Florence.

Machiavelli is the first in a triumvirate of great Italian thinkers: the second is Paolo Sarpi of the seventeenth century; the third is Giambattista Vico of the eighteenth. Adding to these Guglielmo Ferrero and Vincenzo Pareto of our own day, and supplementing the tradition of materialism, continued so powerfully by Francesco Giucciardini (1483–1540), with the idealistic political thought of Paolo Paruta (1540–1598), of Giovanni Botero (1533–1617), and of Muratori, Beccaria, Rosmini, and Gioberti of later dates, we get a splendid and fairly complete impression of the greatness of Italian civic life.

Personalities of the Italian Renaissance

In the preceding paragraphs we have referred in general to aspects of Italian literature in which that literature is at once pre-eminent and distinctive, and without which the whole history of the civilization of the world would have been different. This scant review, however, fails utterly to exhaust the richness of that period. In fact, we have as yet made no mention of the greatest literary genius of Europe at this time.

Lodovico Ariosto (1474–1533) is one of the most perfect representatives of Renaissance life in Italy. He was an official in the service of the Estensi of Ferrara. As a Humanist, he wrote many elegant Latin poems, several comedies in imitation of classic models, a considerable body of verse also on classic designs, and in his great work, the ‘Orlando Furioso,’ produced a masterpiece of classic allusion. By his elegance, his urbanity, his good humor, his general philosophy of life, his pursuit of art for art’s sake, he may be taken as typical of the lighter side of the courtly culture of his time. It is well to stress this lightness of touch of Ariosto; for the serious artistic purpose with which the ‘Roland Furious’ was written, its imposing rank in literary history, and the mass of polemic and erudition that has accumulated round it, tend to obscure the fact that in intent and essence it is a piece of genial humor. The legends of Charlemagne and King Arthur originated in France, but by a curious paradox in literary history, have found their only permanent home in Italy, where the Paladins of France have always been taken by the populace as wonderfully single-minded incarnations of human virtues, vices, and weaknesses, and the Knights of the Round Table, enjoying a more aristocratic and literary environment, as types of the virtues of chivalry.

Luigi Pulci (1432–1484) first turned the Roland material to comic purposes in his ‘Morgante Maggiore,’ where the characters of the giant Morgante, the ridiculous Margutte, and the devil Astaroth (this last an authority in theology) form the centre of the humorous development. Matteo Maria Boiardo (1434–1494), in his ‘Orlando Innamorato,’ threw the chivalric world of his day onto the background of the Breton legends, seeking his comic effects largely in human reactions to love. From this work and this method, Ariosto derives the impulse of his ‘Orlando Furioso.’ By a series of delightful episodes, Ariosto portrays love, in all its manifestations good and bad, though the title of the poem itself shows, in playful exaggeration, the author’s estimate of the general function of woman in relation to man’s happiness. The purpose of his work, however, expands to create a whole fantastic world of chivalry, with every detail brought to its perfect artistic finish. The distinctive qualities of the ‘Orlando Furioso’ appear in this æstheticism and in the gentle humor with which the author views his own artificial creation.

The same seriousness of artistic purpose and the same humorism distinguish Teofilo Folengo (1496–1544), who, under the pseudonym Merlin Cocai, raised to perfection the art of “maccheronic,” or Latinized Italian poetry. The ‘Baldus’ of Folengo has something of the savor of the humor of Brant, of Ulrich von Hutten, and in general of the Protestant satire of the Reformation. The question of its relation to Rabelais has never been entirely settled. In part it is a satire of the chivalric romance after the manner of ‘Don Quixote’; in part, of contemporary morals, notably in the clergy; in part—as, indeed, is true of all the “maccheronea”—of the Latinizing pedantry of the schools. There is a rich vein of scapegrace humor inborn in the Italian character. It breaks out in Boccaccio, in Sacchetti, in Machiavelli, and in Giordano Bruno, as well as in authors of every age. Folengo combines this spirit with an earnest sense of classic elegance. The ‘Baldus’ idealizes not only the vagabond but the respect for art in itself as well.

One of the most distinct personalities that have come down to us from this period is that of the sculptor Benvenuto Cellini (1500–1571), whose autobiography gives a clear impression of the energy, recklessness, æsthetic sensibility, amorality, and violence that appear, though in less compendious forms, all through the life of the Renaissance. This work, taken in connection with the prefaces to the tales of Matteo Bandello (1485–1561), the diaries of Marin Sanudo (1466–1535), the ‘Lives of the Painters, Sculptors, and Architects’ of Giorgio Vasari, and the works of Castiglione, Della Casa, and Bembo, previously mentioned, enables us to obtain a remarkable picture of the manners, customs, and character of this intensely active epoch of the world’s history. And such a picture is more true to reality than that formerly centered, especially by French criticism, around the figure of Pietro Aretino (1492–1556). For this master of slander and gossip, the confessed adventurer in letters, carried his æstheticism and amorality to acts of private life in no sense typical of his age. His reaction against traditional literary fashions was the result rather of perverse, though happy, intuition than of sound philosophy. And the Satanic glamour that romanticism has been pleased to throw about his character fades considerably in brilliancy when we consider the religious verses inspired by changing public attitudes toward the ecclesiastical problem.

The Decadence of Italian Classicism (1545–1800)

The rise of classical philology began in Europe an unsettling of all the established ideas of the Middle Ages. The Renaissance contrasted Christianity with Paganism; it revived mooted questions of philosophy; it suggested experimentation in all branches of science and life, in art, in morals, in politics. The outbreak of the Protestant revolt in Germany awakened in Italy both curiosity and alarm. The new ideas of individualistic religion won many important adherents, whom the Church itself was not ready to condemn offhand. However, before the danger of schism in which the sentiments of Italian national prestige were also compromised, Italy reacted with a constantly increasing violence. Italians remained within the Church, which set about cleaning its own house and taking adequate provision against further trouble. The triumph of the Counter-Reform in Italy was absolute. The closing of the Council of Trent and the establishment of the Inquisition signalize the almost complete surrender of free thinking to ecclesiastical supervision and regulation. Conformity in thought, in morals, and in public observances of every kind becomes the test of social good form. The Counter-Reform circumscribed definite boundaries around the fields open to cultivation by the Italian mind. The safer territories, accordingly,—philological erudition, archæology, conventional poetry on love or on subjects kindred to religion and traditional ethics—are overcultivated to the point of complete aridity. Originality of subject-matter is neither looked for nor appreciated, and literary art is restricted more and more tightly to ornamentation, to metaphor. However, though conformity is the great Italian virtue in this age, when the Italian has conformed he is otherwise quite free: this, therefore, is the epoch par excellence of licentiousness, garish magnificence, gossip, irresponsible individualism. The religious sentiment, moreover, is exhausted in ritualism. Scepticism and pessimism are its most conspicuous manifestations. One feels the potentiality of great poetry undeveloped in the mass of rhetorical exercises and academic disputes which characterize the Italian decadence, a great poetry of hopelessness and ennui.

The decadence of political life is equally impressive. The Italian tyrants, though extinguishing all traces of popular liberty, nevertheless were capable of sustaining Italian dignity, and, in a measure, Italian national spirit. During this period, however, they affiliate themselves more and more intimately with the Austro-Spanish Empire, and the Spanish mercenary becomes the controlling force in Italian politics. The Venetian Republic, enlarged but left helpless by the League of Cambrai, spending brilliantly her last energies against the Turks, and the House of Savoy in Piedmont, supported by a rich nobility, ultimately were left as the sole symbols of Italian political freedom and greatness.

The ‘Jerusalem Delivered’ of Torquato Tasso (1544–1595) is the great monument of transition from the Renaissance proper to the Decadence. It is the best expression of the religious ideals of the Counter-Reform, of the triumph of faith over death, over danger, over temptation. It has the vividly objective quality distinctive of the best Renaissance art, the familiar delicacy of erudite allusion, the superb finish of artistic elaboration. On the other hand, it is the only successful poem ever composed under rigid adherence to the canons of Renaissance criticism. Of these canons Tasso was oversensitively conscious, and as a result the whole concept of the ‘Jerusalem Delivered’ is rationally mechanical. Its plot was born dead. By the sheer greatness of his feeling Tasso is able to overcome the difficulties which his theory lays in his path. His poem is read and loved for none of the reasons outlined in his ‘Dialogues’ on epic poetry. In exterior characteristics, the style also partakes of the full Decadence. The metaphor, the conceits, the identification by word-play of things actually contrary, the intellectual shock produced by paradox and trope, these are the signs by which Tasso sets the fashion for all Italian poets of the next two centuries. The portion of this poem most admired during the following years is the episode of Armida, a passage of lurid brilliancy and vivid imagery. We find this quality, too, in his ‘Aminta,’ a pastoral drama, sensualistic, elegant, delicate almost to transparency. The ‘Pastor Fido’ of Battista Guarini (1538–1612) delighted with a similar languor the “précieuses” of France whom Molière ridiculed. To be sure, Molière had in mind not those creative geniuses to whom such moods represented a real experience, but those who showed merely the affectation of them.

Cavalier Marino and Arcadia. Paris, for that matter, was well acquainted with Giambattista Marino (1569–1625), who overshadows all other practitioners of the baroque art to which the French attached his name (“Marinism”) and which the Italians vilify under the term “Seicentismo” (“Seicento” = seventeenth century). He overshadows even Gabriele Chiabrera (1552–1638), who, in spite of a solemn pedantry, has left poems of both majesty and tenderness. The ‘Adonis’ of Marino intensified all the characteristic trend toward decadence noticeable in Tasso. He pushed the paradoxical metaphor to limits of ingeniousness hitherto unknown in order to express a truly remarkable sensuousness of dazzling splendor, the effect of which is heightened by all the restraints of veiled suggestion and melancholy languor. Among the host of his imitators a few stand out, such as Fulvio Testi (1593–1646), who tempered his “ingeniosity” with a sense of classic moderation, and who gave expression notably to a warm feeling of Italian nationalism.

Probably no age ever wrote so much in such a narrow circle of ideas. Yet few periods have set such store on originality, through an impulse which satisfied itself in literature and criticism by inventing as many additions as possible to the kinds of recognized literature (the kind being always identified by subject-matter such as “woodland poetry,” “moral sonnets,” “sea-side songs”), or by importing new metres from abroad or from antiquity, or by discovering more and more unheard-of metaphors. Towards the end of the seventeenth century (1690) the coterie of Christina of Sweden founded in Rome the academy of Arcadia to correct the bad taste of the Marinists. But Arcadia never ventured beyond a return to a fresher Petrarchism. Indeed, Petrarchism was more rigidly codified than ever before as regards both language, metaphor, metrics, and subject-matter. If anything, the intellectual outlook of poetry was made still narrower, and correctness and facility became the predominant ideals. Arcadia expresses, however, a new phase of chivalric idealism which has the advantage of being frank in its hypocrisies and more or less humorous in its view of itself.

Thinkers and Publicists. Perhaps it is natural that in a society which crowned the fatuous sonetteer, the real thinker should be harassed, persecuted, and destroyed. Giordano Bruno (1548–1600) found in the flames his reward for applying the Copernican system to speculative philosophy, for reviving a neglected pagan pantheism, for foreshadowing the modern conception of animism, and for defending the emancipation of intelligence with rich poetic fervor. Galileo Galilei (1564–1642), with a scientific genius as great as that of Leonardo da Vinci, developed a method far more certain, and definitely established experimental science with his experiments in dynamics, his invention of the telescope, his discovery of the moons of Jupiter, and his mathematical speculations on infinity. His greatest service to human liberation was in leading the Inquisition to condemn the hypotheses of Copernicus. Tommaso Campanella (1568–1639) expiated with twenty-nine years of prison his opposition to Spanish domination in Italy, his dream of an ideal theocratic republic in his remarkable ‘City of the Sun,’ and his attempt to find a rational theistic basis for Christianity. Paolo Sarpi (1552–1623), as attorney for the Venetian Republic against Paul V., first established the legal principles of copyright, marshaled the documentary and theoretical arguments for the independence of secular law from ecclesiastic control, and elaborated the principles of extradition. His ‘History of the Council of Trent’ is a masterpiece of liberal propaganda. Thanks to the strength of Venice, he escaped with a simple scratch from the dagger of a Jesuit. Poison may or may not have ended the career of Trajan Boccalini (1556–1613), the most original littérateur of his time. His ‘Dispatches from Parnassus’ are models of trenchant good-humored satire, which flouts the literary vanity of the decadence, fiercely assails the Spanish tyranny, affirms the ideals of conservative democracy, and fights classic traditionalism in political theory. Francesco Redi (1626–1698) had less trouble because he buried his revolutionary studies on parasites and the spontaneous generation of life in a flood of conventional and burlesque poetry. Giambattista Vico (1668–1744) was too poor to be conspicuous, too deep and involved to be understood. Furthermore, his development of the philosophy of the imagination (fantasia) in his ‘Scienza nuova’ occurred behind the shelter of a theory that history was controlled by a divine Providence. He is, however, the founder of anti-Aristotelian æsthetics and of modern comparative anthropology. With the Christian Socialism of Lodovico Antonio Muratori (1672–1750), the author of the monumental ‘Rerum Italicarum Scriptores,’ and with the treatise on ‘Crimes and Punishments’ of Cesare Beccaria (1738–1794), the critical writings of Gaspare Gozzi (1713–1786) and Giuseppe Baretti (1719–1789), we are already approaching the age of rejuvenated intelligence, middle-class reform, and revolution which resulted in the great upheaval in France and all Europe at the end of the eighteenth century.

Stagecraft and Opera. The modern concepts of the theatre and of the musical drama are Italian creations. The origins of the Italian stage go back to the Franciscan monks of the thirteenth century, whose “laude,” or “praises,” were dramatic imitations of the Passion in verse. The ponderous “mystères” which developed in France were not native to Italy. The “lauda” was a short, vigorous, spontaneously effective poem. It was this “lauda” which served as model for the elegant ‘Orfeo’ of Angelo Poliziano (1454–1494) and for the sacred plays (“rappresentazioni sacre”) of Lorenzo the Magnificent (1449–1492). These two men represent the best aspects of early Renaissance art: the fresh novelty of classic beauty combined with the simplicity of popular traditions. The study of the classic drama, tragedy and comedy, broke this line of development in Italy. The Italian tragedy of classic design shows nothing even passable before the ‘Merope’ of Scipione Maffei (1675–1775) and the plays of Vittorio Alfieri (1749–1803). The classic comedy is more fortunate. There are the ‘Mandragola’ of Machiavelli, the plays of Pietro Aretino, of Giambattista della Porta (1535–1615), the ‘Candelaio’ of Giordano Bruno. But beside the literary comedy a popular type was also developing: the “commedia dell’ arte,” or professional comedy, as opposed to amateur or society acting, finds its origins probably in the art of the mountebank, public storyteller, and charlatan, who, gradually developing a more and more elaborate advertisement for their wares, came to take over bodily the plots, characters, and scenery of the regular classic plays. This “commedia dell’ arte” always preserved the traditions of its haphazard parentage. It was extemporized, and its characters became fixed types (e.g., Pantaloon, Graziano the doctor) associated in Italy with regional and local satire (e.g., Venice, Bologna, Bergamo). The actors ransacked the collections of tales of Boccaccio, Sacchetti, Bandello, Masuccio, and others, for situations. They took over in a block the “pasquinades” or popular anti-papal satire of Rome. They imitated the poetry and manners of aristocratic society. It is difficult to find in the drama of to-day a situation, a witticism, a piece of stage business not known to the “commedia dell’ arte.” This comedy enlarged its vision in the seventeenth century by contact with the Spanish stage (e.g., Lope, Tirso, Montalvan, and others), and it borrowed the splendor of expensive stage setting from the court pageant and the melodrama in Italy. Molière derived his practice and his concept of our modern stage from this Italian comedy. The earliest plays of Carlo Goldoni (1707–1793) were actually written in this style. But Goldoni saw from the outset of his career the higher possibilities of the written play which should still remain faithful to the older comic tradition. Goldoni substitutes for the type personage a real character portrayal; he conceives of the stage as a picture of life. The significance of the “Goldonian reform” of the Italian stage is in Goldoni’s realization of this larger program. He is a master of realistic art, and of visualizing the life of his time in traits that are universal in appeal. Another attempt to give new vigor and direction to the “commedia dell’ arte” was made counter to Goldoni by Carlo Gozzi (1720–1806), whose delicious ‘Fiabe’ turn popular fairy-tales to the purposes of the stage.

The first musical drama (“melodrama” = opera), the work of Ottavio Rinuccini (1564–1621), librettist, and Jacopo Peri, composer, was produced in Florence in 1599. This simpler form of the court entertainment rapidly gained favor. Claudio Monteverdi and Francesco Cavalli soon brought dramatic musical composition to a level worthy of Paisiello, Gluck, and Mozart. The Italianate court at Vienna laid special stress on this form of art. There labored Apostolo Zeno (1668–1750) whose memory has been somewhat dimmed by that of Pietro Metastasio (1698–1782). The latter constructs his famous librettos around the canons of the classic drama, so there is little interest in his plots. His songs, however, have a sprightly humor and a delicacy of elegant sentimentality which have made them part of the folk-heritage of Italy.

Memoirs. A characteristic figure of all the Italian decadence is the adventurer of the Cagliostro type. He differs from the feudal bandit of the Renaissance, even from the atheistic galant, like Vannini, of the early seventeenth century. The memoirs of Giacomo Casanova, of Lorenzo Da Ponte, and, in a different vein, of Goldoni and Carlo Gozzi, give a vivid picture of Italian life, rich in anecdote, teeming with humor, and throwing around the eighteenth century the glamour of an enchanted world.

The Transition. In Vico, Baretti, the Gozzis, and Goldoni evidences of a sounder note in life and a healthier trend in literature are everywhere apparent. In Giuseppe Parini (1729–1799), Vittorio Alfieri (1749–1803), and Vincenzo Monti (1754–1826) we have men definitely transitional between the civilization which the French Revolution destroyed and that which modern Italy was to create. Parini’s modernness consists in his clear and hateful intuition of the evils of the old régime; his traditionalism, in his simple-hearted return to the ideals of family, country, and humanity, without any direct concession to the revolutionary spirit. There is something erudite and Arcadian about the honeyed melancholy of his ‘Odes,’ and something academic about the trenchant, biting satire in ‘Il Giorno.’ An aggressive nationalism and a hatred of all tyranny flame in the tragedies of Alfieri. These faint imitations of the French classic stage served largely as effective revolutionary propaganda, but attained only once to supreme art in ‘Saul,’ a depiction of mad despair arising from the sense of withdrawal from God. Monti was, in his youth, the most brilliant of the Arcadians. His conservative environment dictated his ‘Bassvilliana’ against the French revolutionists, whose immediate victory, however, he turned to invoke. Monti courted Napoleon in power, but reverted later to a defense of liberal republicanism in the ‘Mascheroniana.’ His final “volte-face” was in favor of the Austrian domination. His combination of genius with weakness of character makes him one of the most interesting figures of the Italian revolutionary period.

The Constitution of the National Literature (1797–1859)

The rise of Napoleon Bonaparte roused Italian nationalistic enthusiasm to the point of delirium; but a reaction equally extreme set in when it became apparent that Italy was only a detail in Napoleon’s vast schemes of empire, and that Italian unity and independence were not uppermost in his thoughts. His organization of Italy, sweeping away everything that was feudal and old, did nevertheless permit a certain consolidation of revolutionary forces. When the Restoration occurred in 1815, the old tyrants, subject to the Bourbons and Hapsburgs, and much diminished in wealth and grandeur if not in vice and ferocity, resumed thrones that were really insecure lids to so many volcanoes. A breach in the conservative ranks occurred when Charles Albert of Savoy went over to the revolution. The years of “Carbonarism” and intrigue brought the kingdom of Piedmont to the front as the champion of Italian independence. Austria was attacked unsuccessfully in 1848; the Franco-Italian victory of 1859 brought the nation into existence as “Italy”; Garibaldi’s campaign in the South in ’61, the Prusso-Italian campaign of ’66 in the North, and finally the capture of Rome from the Pope in ’71 complete the integration of Italy’s political unity, save for the outlying regions of unredeemed Italy, which formed the pretext of Italian intervention in the World War in 1915.

Modern Italian literature divides itself naturally thus into two periods: the period of the Resurrection (“Risorgimento”) or wars of independence (1797–1859), and the period of social integration in free united Italy (1859–1915).

The great poetic motive of the first period is the delusion of the national hope, to which great writers gave three characteristic answers. This delusion is expressed with deepest melancholy in the ‘Letters of Jacopo Ortis’ of Ugo Foscolo (1778–1827), with their conviction of the vanity of patriotism, erudition, pleasure, love, and even life. Foscolo sought an outlet from his despair in the study of Italy’s great past, in the cultivation of classic beauty, in immergence in art (‘l sepolcri,’ and ‘Le grazie’).

In some respects the Italian revolution took over the sensistic philosophy, the sceptical temper, the republicanism and socialism of the French Revolution. Giacomo Leopardi (1798–1837) has this background for his patriotic delusion. His melancholy and pessimism are hardly relieved by the backward look upon ancient glories; a deep sorrow, stimulated also by personal misfortunes, pervades all his spiritual life. The high ethical tone of his poetry comes from his refusal to seek vain or uncertain solace for despair: he is content with the unclouded vision of his own and mankind’s desolation in the world. In meeting life unflinchingly, in repaying natural and human injustice with contempt, he finds the real vindication of manhood.

But triumphant unity and independence rejected republicanism, socialism, and rationalistic philosophy, and passed the national destinies over to the middle classes, compromising at first, then affirming more emphatically the Catholic, Roman undercurrents of Italian civilization. Such is the significance of the powerful philosophical writings of Antonio Rosmini (1797–1855) and of Vincenzo Gioberti (1801–1855). It was Alessandro Manzoni (1785–1873) who in his philosophical, critical, historical, and literary work first and best summarizes the aspirations of modern Italy. To the fundamental delusion he gives the Catholic answer (“Cinque maggio,” “Irini sacri”), after having in his youth run the gamut of the rationalistic schools. His great romance, ‘The Betrothed’ (‘I Promessi Sposi’), establishes the working principles of the modern national theory of language, and propounds the sentiments and ideas of Catholic ethics and idealism.

The Literature of Patriotic Propaganda. Romanticism, which took so many forms in Europe, was in Italy strongly colored by the political situation. Giovanni Berchet (1783–1851), who, in his ‘Lettera semiseria di Grisostomo’ (1816), wrote the first important manifesto of Romanticism, was a great singer of martial Italy, though the standard-bearer of patriotic literature was Giuseppe Giusti (1809–1850), the author of virulent and smashing satires against Austria and the tyrants. It was no narrow nationalism, however, which stirred one of the greatest democrats and political thinkers of modern Europe, Giuseppe Mazzini (1805–1872). The romances of Francesco Guerrazzi (1804–1873), of Cesare Cantù (1804–1895), of Massimo d’Azeglio (1798–1866), and of Tommaso Grossi (1790–1853); the dramas of Giambattista Niccolini (1782–1861); the dramas and the famous memoirs (‘Le mie prigioni’) of Silvio Pellico (1789–1854); the poetry of Niccolò Tommaseo (1802–1874), and in Roman dialect, of Gian Gioacchino Belli (1791–1863); and the diversified literary and scholarly efforts of men like Cesare Balbo (1789–1853) and Terenzio Mamiani (1799–1885), while partaking to large extent of the general trends above described, serve particularly the fighting revolutionary spirit of the nation.

The Literature of United Italy (1859–1915)

The social task that confronted Italy after the successful wars for independence and unity was that of assimilating into a homogeneous national feeling the different regions for centuries separated from each other by different forms of government, social customs, languages, and cultural traditions. The common bonds between these regions have been the memory of Rome with its classic heritage and the Church with its Catholic idealism. The cultivation and strengthening of these forces of union have been the function of Italian literature in the last half century. In addition to this the regional spirit itself which has been released from artificial restraints and combined with one or another of the greater national tendencies, especially with the Catholic tradition, has enjoyed a florid and vigorous expression in art.

The noblest interpreter of Italian greatness in the past and of its hope for the future has been Giosuè Carducci (1835–1907). In fact, it is in his utilization of history to give value and meaning to the present and vigorous direction to aspiring effort, that the social significance of Carducci’s art lies. Volition is a constant aspect of the fairly narrow range of moods which he cultivates with a wonderful power of visualization and a sculpturesque precision.

This perception of classic environment and background is present also in the most powerful portion of the work of Gabriele D’Annunzio (1863–1938), though his art has a wider scope in all the branches of Italian sentiment and culture than any other modern writer. One of the most powerful interpreters of patriotic and imperialistic feelings, he has, especially in recent years, inclined more and more to Catholic mysticism, after passing through most of the decadent “-isms” (Ibsenism, Tolstoism, Nietzscheism) which became at one time or another the fashion in Paris and Rome. D’Annunzio is the great poet of sensation, expressed in forms of astounding ingenuity and novelty.

Antonio Fogazzaro (1842–1911), on the other hand, remains entirely within the limits of Catholic feeling, which he pushes to the heights of ecstatic fervor. His densely compact romances seek an adaptation of the Catholic temper to the changing conditions of modern life, pressing the most deeply felt lyrism from human delusions consoled and transmuted into eternal values by faith.

Regional Literature. The literature, which in Italy uses the so-called “naturalistic” method (i.e., detailed reproduction of life) presents a striking characteristic in comparison with similar art in other countries (e.g., Russia). It is the merciless portrayal of the life and sufferings of the poor, but executed by a comfortable middle class more or less hostile to proletarian revolutionary movements. It appeals almost exclusively to the sentiment of pity; it has none of the fire of social revolt. Thus its atmosphere is gloomy and depressing, and its social purpose unclear save in a society which sets high value upon pity and upon its active manifestation in charity. This is why the spiritual origins of regional Italian art are to be sought in Catholic idealism. Save in the poetry of Ada Negri, it is rare to find in contemporary Italian literature a serious artistic expression of revolutionary ideas.

In these conditions we may find the life of Sicily described by Giovanni Verga, Luigi Capuana, and Luigi Pirandello, who also portrays the Roman campagna; that of Naples, by Matilde Serao and Salvatore di Giacomo; of Sardinia, by Grazia Deledda and Francesco Pastonchi; of Rome, by Cesare Pascarella; of Tuscany, by Renato Fucini; of Lombardy, by Edmondo De Amicis; of Romagna, by Antonio Beltramelli; of Piedmont by Giuseppe Giacosa; of Venice, by Enrico Castelnuovo, Fogazzaro, and many others. Regional literature is worked frequently with consummate skill. It is attracting some of the most distinguished attention.

Though Giovanni Pascoli (1855–1912) is nourished by the classic tradition, even to the extent of captaining a revival of humanistic Latin poetry, it is in the simple poetry of nature, the depiction of humble life, the expression of tender sentiment, that he attains to a more universal interpretation of what we have called sentimentality, than is common in the strictly regional literature itself.

The Theatre. The stage in the nineteenth century long felt the influences of Goldoni and Alfieri. With Manzoni and romanticism the historical tragedy came into a popularity which it still retains. The greatest follower of the Goldoni tradition was Giacinto Gallina. An important cultivator of the historical drama was Pietro Cossa (1830–1881); among contemporaries we may mention Sem Benelli, D’Annunzio, Ettore Romagnoli. The best plays of the romantic tradition, as well as masterly studies of “Risorgimento” society, belong to Giacosa (‘Come le foglie’). The light humorous sketch of French design (Scribe, Labiche) was perfected by Paolo Ferrari (1822–1889) and Vittorio Bersezio, who created also many popular regional types. The Ibsenesque method reaped best results in Edoardo Butti (1876–1913), a powerful dramatist of ideas, Roberto Bracco, and Marco Praga. Bracco is perhaps of all the contemporaries the one most often acted abroad, though Dario Niccodemi, writing from Paris, is rapidly coming to the fore.

Prose. One of the greatest critics of modern Europe was Francesco de Sanctis (1818–1883), who reaped the full fruits of Vico’s æsthetic teachings. Benedetto Croce, working also in the Vichian tradition, is one of the most influential thinkers of the world in the field of æsthetics, criticism, and philosophy. Guglielmo Ferrero in his ‘Greatness and Decline of Rome,’ and in numberless journalistic activities of the most brilliant kind, shares with the sociologist Vilfredo Pareto the distinction of being followed with close attention throughout Europe.

Reading Recommended

  • 1432–1484Luigi Pulci
  • 1473–1543Nicolaus Copernicus
  • 1474–1533Lodovico Ariosto
  • 1475–1564Michaelangelo
  • 1478–1529Baldassare Castiglione
  • 1493–1545Agnolo Firenzuola
  • 1500–1571Benvenuto Cellini
  • 1511–1574Giorgio Vasari
  • 1544–1595Torquato Tasso
  • 1548–1600Giordano Bruno
  • 1642–1707Vincenzo da Filicaia
  • 1707–1793Carlo Goldoni
  • 1729–1799Giuseppe Parini
  • 1749–1803Vittorio Alfieri
  • 1785–1873Alessandro Manzoni
  • 1789–1854Silvio Pellico
  • 1798–1837Giacomo Leopardi
  • 1798–1866Massimo Taparelli d’Azeglio
  • 1804–1895Cesare Cantù
  • 1805–1872Giuseppe Mazzini
  • 1807–1881Giovanni Ruffini
  • 1809–1850Giuseppe Giusti
  • 1812–1878Aleardo Aleardi
  • 1827–1917Pasquale Villari
  • 1835–1907Giosuè Carducci
  • 1840–1922Giovanni Verga
  • 1842–1911Antonio Fogazzaro
  • 1846–1908Edmondo De Amicis
  • 1855–1912Giovanni Pascoli
  • 1856–1927Matilde Serao
  • 1863–1938Gabriele D’Annunzio
  • 1866–1952Benedetto Croce
  • 1871–1942Guglielmo Ferrero
  • Chronology of Italian Literature after Petrarch

  • c. 1297–1357Jacopo Passavanti‘Specchio di vera penitenza’
  • c. 1310–c. 1370Fazio degli Uberti‘Dittamondo’, Lyrics
  • c. 1310–1388Antonio Pucci‘Centiloquio’
    Folk lyrics
  • c. 1330–c. 1400Franco SacchettiTales
  • 1331–1406Coluccio SalutatiLetters
  • 1347–1380Catherine of SienaLetters
  • fl. 1378Giovanni Fiorentino‘Il Pecorone’
  • c. 1346–1416Federigo Frezzi‘Il Quadriregio’
  • 1347–1424Giovanni SercambiTales
  • c. 1367–c. 1446Giovanni Gherardi da Prato‘Il paradiso degli Alberti’
  • 1369–1444Leonardo Bruni‘Historia Florentina’
  • 1380–1444Saint Bernardino da SienaSermons
  • 1380–1459Poggio Bracciolini‘Æsop’s Fables’
  • c. 1388–1446Leonardo Giustinian‘Canzonette’
  • 1392–1463Flavio Biondo‘Historiarum Decades’
  • 1398–1481Francesco FilelfoPhilosophy
  • 1404–1449Il BurchielloBurlesque poetry
  • 1404–1472Leone Battista Alberti‘Della famiglia’
  • 1407–1457Lorenzo VallaCriticism
    ‘Elegantiarum latinæ linguæ’
  • 1410–1484Feo BelcariLife of Saint Columbine
  • 1410–1475Masuccio SalernitanoTales
  • 1424–1504Cristoforo Landino‘Disputationes Camaldulenses’
  • 1429–1503Giovanni PontanoLatin poetry
  • 1432–1484Luigi Pulci‘Morgante Maggiore’
  • 1433–1499Marsilio Ficino‘Theologia Platonica’
  • 1436–1502Antonio Cammelli (Il Pistoia)Folk poetry
  • 1440/1–1494Matteo Maria Boiardo‘Orlando Innamorato’
  • 1448–1516Battista MantuanusLatin poetry
  • 1449–1492Lorenzo de’ Medici‘Canzoni’
    ‘Nencia da Barberino’
  • 1449/50–1515Aldo ManuzioEditor
  • c. 1450–1514Benedetto Cariteo (Gareth)‘Endimione’
  • 1452–1498Girolamo SavonarolaSermons
  • 1452–1519Leonardo da Vinci‘Della pittura’
    ‘Del moto e misura delle acque’
  • 1454–1494Angelo Poliziano‘Orfeo’
    ‘Stanze per la giostra’
  • 1458–1530Jacopo Sannazaro‘Arcadia’
  • 1463–1494Giovanni Pico della MirandolaPhilosophy
  • 1463–1537Antonio TebaldeoPoems
  • 1466–1500Serafino dall’Aquila CiminelliPoems
  • 1466–1536Marin SanudoDiaries
  • 1469–1527Niccolò MachiavelliPrince, Discourses on Livy
    ‘Mandragola, Storie fiorentine’
  • 1470–1547Pietro Bembo‘Canzoniere, Prose, Asolani’
  • 1474–1533Lodovico Ariosto‘Orlando Furioso,’ comedies, poems
  • 1475–1525Giovanni Rucellai‘Le api’
  • 1475–1564MichaelangeloSonnets
  • 1478–1529Baldassare Castiglione‘Il Cortegiano’
  • 1478–1550Giovanni Giorgio Trissino‘Il Castellano, Sofonisba, Italia liberata dai Goti’
  • 1478–1553Girolamo Fracastoro‘De Morbo gallico’
  • 1480–1557?Gianfrancesco Straparola‘The Nights’
  • 1483–1540Francesco Guicciardini‘Storia fiorentina, Storia d’Italia’
  • 1483–1552Paolo Giovio‘Elogia virorum illustrium’
  • 1485–1550Veronica GambaraPoetry
  • 1485–1561Matteo Bandello‘Novelle’
  • 1485–c. 1566Marco Girolamo Vida‘Christias, De arte poetica’
  • 1487–1564Bernardino Ochino‘The Tragedy’
  • 1492–1547Vittoria ColonnaPoetry, letters
  • 1492–1566Pietro Aretino‘Ragionamenti,’ comedies, poems
  • 1492–1573Donato Giannotti‘Della republica fiorentina’
  • 1493–1543Agnolo Firenzuola‘Asino d’oro, Ragionamenti d’amore’
  • 1493–1569Bernardo Tasso‘Amadigi,’ poetry
  • 1495–1556Luigi Alamanni‘Girone il cortese, La coltivazione’
  • 1496–1544Teofilo Folengo (Merlin Cocai)‘Baldus,’ Orlandino, Caos del Triperuno
  • 1497/8–1535Francesco BerniBurlesque poetry, ‘Orlando innamorato’
  • 1498–1563Giambattista Gelli‘Capricci del bottaio, Circe’
  • c. 1500–before 1551Pierangelo Manzolli‘Zodiacus vitæ’
  • 1500–1571Benvenuto CelliniAutobiography
  • 1500–1588Sperone SperoniDialogues, ‘Canace’
  • 1502?–1542Angelo Beolco (Il Ruzzante)‘Dialoghi in lingua rustica,’ Comedies
  • 1503–1556Giovanni Della Casa‘Il Galateo’
  • 1503–1565Benedetto Varchi‘L’Ercolano’
  • 1503–1584Anton Francesco Grazzini (Il Lasca)‘Cene,’ Comedies
  • 1504–1573Giambattista Giraldi Cinzio‘Ecatomithi’
    ‘Le Orbecche’
  • 1505–1571Lodovico Castelvetro‘Giunte alle prose del Bembo’
    Poetics and Philosophy
  • 1507–1566Annibal CaroTranslations from classics
    ‘Gli straccioni’
  • 1510–1568Luigi Tansillo‘Stanze’ and sonnets
    ‘La balia’
    ‘Il podere’
  • c. 1510–1571Andrea CalmoLetters
  • 1511–1574Giorgio VasariLives of Painters and Sculptors
  • 1514–1548Lorenzino de’ Medici‘Apologia’
  • c. 1523–c. 1554Gaspara StampaPoetry
  • 1529–1606Bernardo DavanzatiHistory
  • c. 1535–1615Giambattista della PortaComedies, science
  • 1538–1612Battista Guarini‘Pastor Fido’
  • 1540–1617Giovanni Botero‘Ragion di Stato’
    ‘Cause della grandezza delle città’
  • 1540–1589Lionardo Salviati‘Avvertimenti’ (grammar)
    ‘Il granchio’
  • 1540–1598Paolo Paruta‘Della perfezione della politica’
  • 1544–1595Torquato Tasso‘Gerusalemme liberata’
  • 1548–1600Giordano Bruno‘Dialoghi morali’
    ‘Il candelaio’
  • 1552–1623Paolo Sarpi‘Storia del Concilio tridentino’
  • 1552–1638Gabriello ChiabreraLyrics
  • 1556–1613Trajano Boccalini‘Iragguagli di Parnaso’
  • 1564–1642Galileo GalileiDialogues
  • 1565–1635Alessandro Tassoni‘La secchia rapita’
    ‘Pensieri diversi’
  • 1566–1645Francesco Bracciolini‘Lo scherno degli dei’
  • 1569–1625Giambattista Marino‘Adone,’ lyrics
  • c. 1575–1632Giambattista Basile‘Lo cunto de li cunti’
  • 1576–1631Caterino DavilaHistories
  • 1577–1644Guido BentivoglioHistories
  • 1593–1646Fulvio TestiLyrics
  • 1606–1664Lorenzo (Lippo) Lippi‘Il Malmantile racquistato’
  • 1607–1667Sforza PallavicinoPolemics, histories
  • 1608–1685Daniello BartoliHistory, criticism
  • 1615–1673Salvator RosaSatires
  • 1624–1694Paolo SegneriDoctrinal sermons
  • 1626–1698Francesco Redi‘Bacco in Toscana’
    Treatise on parasites
  • 1642–1707Vincenzo da FilicaiaLyrics
  • 1646–1704Benedetto MenziniPoetics, lyrics
  • 1660–1726Lodovico SergardiLyrics
  • 1644–1718Gianvincenzo GravinaTragedies, criticism
  • 1665–1727Pier Jacopo MartelliTragedies
    ‘versi martelliani’
  • 1668–1744Giambattista Vico‘Scienza nuova’
  • 1668–1750Apostolo ZenoMelodramas, scholarship
  • 1672–1750Lodovico Antonio Muratori‘Rerum Italicarum scriptores’
  • 1674–1735Niccolò Forteguerri‘Il Ricciardetto’
  • 1675–1755Scipione Maffei‘Merope’
  • 1676–1748Pietro Giannone‘Storia del regno di Napoli’
  • 1677–1749Antonio ContiTragedies, lyrics
  • 1692–1768Carlo Innocenzo FrugoniLyrics
  • 1698–1782Pietro MetastasioMelodramas
  • 1707–1793Carlo GoldoniComedies, memoirs
  • 1712–1764Francesco AlgarottiEssays, letters, dialogues
  • 1713–1786Gasparo Gozzi‘Osservatore’
  • 1718–1808Saverio Bettinelli‘Lettere virgiliane’
  • 1719–1789Giuseppe Baretti‘Frusta letteraria’
  • 1720–1806Carlo Gozzi‘Fiabe’
  • 1724–1803Giambattista Casti‘Memorie inutili’
    ‘Gli animali parlanti’
  • 1725–1798Giacomo Casanova‘Memoirs’
  • 1728–1797Pietro VerriPublicist
  • 1729–1799Giuseppe Parini‘Il giorno’
  • 1730–1808Melchiorre CesarottiTranslation of Ossian
  • 1731–1794Girolamo Tiraboschi‘Storia della letteratura italiana’
  • 1731–1813Carlo Denina‘Le rivoluzioni di Italia’
  • 1738–1794Cesare Beccaria‘I delitti e le pene’
  • 1740–1815Giovanni Meli‘Sicilian lyrics’
  • 1741–1816Alessandro VerriTranslation of Shakespeare
    ‘Le notti romane’
  • 1749–1803Vittorio Alfieri‘Saul, Mirra’
    ‘Il Misogallo’
  • 1749–1835Jacopo Vittorelli‘Anacreontics’
  • 1752–1788Gaetano Filangieri‘Scienza della legislazione’
  • 1753–1828Ippolito PindemonteLyrics
  • 1754–1828Vincenzo Monti‘Bassvilliana’
    Plays, ‘Caius Gracchus’
  • 1760–1828Antonio CesariCriticism
  • 1766–1837Carlo BottaHistory of the United States
  • 1770–1823Vincenzo Cuoco‘Rivoluzione di Napoli’
  • 1772–1832Pietro BurattiVenetian satires
  • 1774–1848Pietro GiordaniCriticism
  • 1775–1821Carlo PortaMilanese satires
  • 1775–1831Pietro CollettaHistory of Naples
  • 1778–1827Ugo Foscolo‘I sepolcri’
    ‘Le grazie’
    ‘Le ultime lettere di Jacopo Ortis’
  • 1782–1861Giambattista NiccoliniTragedies
  • 1783–1851Giovanni Berchet‘Lettera semiseria di Grisostomo’
    Ballades and lyrics
  • 1784–1858Carlo Troya‘Storia d’Italia’
  • 1785–1873Alessandro Manzoni‘I promessi sposi’
    ‘Inni sacri’
    Tragedies, letters, essays
  • 1789–1853Cesare Balbo‘Storia d’Italia’
  • 1789–1854Silvio Pellico‘Le mie prigioni’
    ‘Francesca da Rimini’
  • 1791–1853Tommaso Grossi‘Marco Visconti’
    Milanese satires
  • 1791–1863Gian Gioachino BelliRomanesque sonnets
  • 1797–1855Antonio RosminiPhilosophy
  • 1798–1837Giacomo LeopardiLyrics
  • 1798–1866Massimo Taparelli d’Azeglio‘Ettore Fieramosca’
    ‘Niccolò de’ Lapi’
  • 1799–1885Terenzio MamianiEssays, philosophy
  • 1801–1850Luigi CarrerBallades
  • 1801–1852Vincenzo Gioberti‘Primato civile degli Italiani’
    ‘Rinnovamento civile d’Italia’
  • 1802–1874Niccolò TommaseoPoetry
  • 1804–1873Francesco Domenico Guerrazzi‘Assedio di Firenze’
  • 1804–1895Cesare CantùHistory
  • 1805–1872Giuseppe MazziniPolitical criticism
  • 1806–1889Michele Amari‘The Sicilian Vespers’
  • 1809–1850Giuseppe GiustiSatires
  • 1812–1878Aleardo AleardiPoetry
  • 1814–1884Giovanni PratiPoetry
  • 1817–1883Francesco de SanctisCriticism
  • 1820–1888Giacomo ZanellaCriticism
  • 1822–1889Paolo FerrariComedies
  • 1825–1917Pasquale VillariHistory
  • 1826–1895Ruggero BonghiCriticism
  • 1830–1881Pietro CossaTragedies
  • 1831–1861Ippolito Nievo‘Confessioni d’un ottuagenario’
  • 1835–1907Giosuè CarducciPoetry
  • 1835–1914Alessandro D’AnconaLiterary History
  • 1840–1922Giovanni VergaNovels
  • 1842–1911Antonio FogazzaroNovels
  • 1843–1921Renato Fucini‘Le veglic di Neri’
    ‘All’aria aperta’
    Pisan sonnets
  • 1846–1908Edmondo De AmicisTravel
  • 1846–1918Salvatore FarinaNovels
  • 1847–1906Giuseppe GiacosaPlays
  • 1852–1897Giacinto GallinaComedies
  • 1855–1912Giovanni PascoliPoems
  • 1856–1927Matilde SeraoNovels
  • 1858–1940Cesare PascarellaRomanesque poems
  • 1860–1934Salvatore di GiacomoNeapolitan poems and plays
  • 1861–1943Roberto BraccoPlays
  • 1862–1929Marco PragaPlays
  • 1863–1938Gabriele D’AnnunzioPoems
  • 1866–1952Benedetto CroceÆsthetics
  • 1867–1936Luigi PirandelloNovels
  • 1868–1912Enrico Annibale ButtiPlays
  • 1871–1942Guglielmo FerreroHistory
  • 1871–1936Grazia DeleddaNovels