Italian Literature – The Renaissance Part I


In the first decades of the sixteenth century, the vernacular reaches its full dignity as a literary language in the conscience of all; moreover, Latin could retain its prestige as long as the vernacular was considered a literally inferior idiom, and had necessarily to decline in the face of a language of equal dignity that had over it the immeasurable advantage of adapting naturally to modern sensibility and be understood by all. So that half a century will not pass, and the literary use of Latin, without disappearing, will cease to be one of the essential protagonists of our literary history. In the early sixteenth century, however, the regularization process, to which the two languages ​​had been subjected in parallel, reached its peak, and they are placed in a balance that at the time might have seemed solid and lasting. The refined and learned Bembo can be considered the greatest exponent of this balance. Petrarch’s Renaissance interpretation essentially dates back to him, as a master of spiritual and formal harmony: Petrarchism, which he reforms by purifying it of the superstructures of the last fifteenth century, and of which he gives in the Rhymes a much admired model, will become one of the essential phenomena of the century.

Apart from Ludovico Ariosto, whose lyrics are however far from reaching the poetic excellence of the Furioso, and from the few poems of Michelangelo, here and there powerful but historically not fertile, even the greatest among the sixteenth-century lyricists, such as A. Caro, M. Bandello, G. di Tarsia, L. Tansillo, B. Tasso, B. Rota, A. di Costanzo etc., and the large group of poets (V. Gambara, G. Stampa, V. Colonna etc.), and also the one who is perhaps the greatest of all, Della Casa (most famous for his Etiquette, a treatise in the spirit of the most valid Cortegiano di Castiglione), do not rise above the level of an illustrious craftsmanship. However Petrarchism is historically important because through it the poetic language is definitively consolidated.

Literary treatment and civil treatment

A fundamental theme of the Renaissance is the effort of virtue (understood as intellectual capacity and strenuous determination) to win luck (or chance, if you prefer), that is, of the individual to dominate history, a theme that has in N. Machiavelli the its most precise formulation. First, he considers politics as a science and separates it from morality. Beside him, F. Guicciardini is also dominated by a sense of the concrete, even though he believes that man does not dominate history and that his virtue consists only in taking advantage, if possible, of the circumstances that occur from moment to moment. His disenchanted cult of the particular is one of the extreme points of arrival of the Renaissance sense of the limit.

According to THEFREEGEOGRAPHY, the Counter-Reformation recommends a reconciliation between politics and morality, which many try to make (most of all, at the end of the 16th century, G. Botero). However, regardless of the historiographers-politicians, the fact remains that it would be difficult to see in the literary works of the time a reflection of the political and practical activity of their authors. In fact, the maximum expression of Renaissance literature is constituted by Ariosto ‘s Orlando furioso, a work characterized by the absolute lack of any didactic interest, alongside which we can include the Baldus by T. Folengo, in which, however, the joke definitely prevails.

The storytellers

Not as thick as that of the Petrarchist lyricists, but always remarkable, the ranks of short story writers, to which Machiavelli with his Belfagor also belongs. However, Boccaccio’s action on them, while essential, is not as leveling as that of Petrarch; in fact they obey, in addition to the Boccaccesco example, the taste of pleasantly narrating (Lasca), of becoming witnesses and painters of facts, men, customs of the time (Bandello), to the seduction of the fairy tale (G. Straparola) or of the adventure (again Bandello, the greatest of all), or they face refined stylistic experiences (A. Firenzuola); while G. Giraldi Cinzio, in a counter-reformist climate, tries to make the unscrupulous traditional short story serve moral purposes.

The conquest of genres

We continue to poetry in Latin (G. Cotta, A. Navagero, MA Flaminio, G. Vida, G. Fracastoro) or to alternate the two languages, as almost all the great writers of the early sixteenth century do; but the most important effort of the mature Renaissance was to acquire in the vernacular, one by one, all the literary genres of antiquity, and to identify their rules, starting with Aristotle’s Poetics, an almost unnoticed text until 1548. The conquest of genres is often a competition with ancient writings, and is manifested in translations, some of which are deservedly famous (the Aeneid by A. Caro; the Metamorphoses of GA dell’Anguillara; B. Davanzati in concision competition with Tacitus; A. Firenzuola remaking Apuleius); but especially in the original works.

Italian Literature - The Renaissance 1