Italian Poetry in the 13th and Early 14th Century Part I

Widely diffused throughout the age, especially in the Italy northern, is poetry of a didactic-allegorical nature, which, although interesting as a document of the time, has no essential historical development. The best example is the Tesoretto by B. Latini, which is accompanied by the French Tresor by the same author. This poem continues, in the age of Dante and immediately after, in the Fiore, attributed by some to Dante himself, in the Intelligenza, of disputed attribution, in the poems of Francesco da Barberino, in the Doctrinal of Italy Alighieri, in the Acerba di Cecco of Ascoli.

Other literary forms, on the other hand, have much greater historical importance, and above all lyric, so much so that commonly and traditionally one can see the backbone of the entire early Italian literature in the development of lyric. Poetry follows two parallel paths from the beginning. A tradition focuses on topics (according to Dante’s terminology) such as weapons, righteousness, love. This tradition rejects the real or transfigures it in the very act of assuming it and consequently elects a poetic language far from the everyday and spoken language, an ‘illustrious’ language, for a highly serious, ‘tragic’ poetry according to the medieval and Dante tripartition (tragedy, elegy, comedy). It is precisely in this vein that Italian poetry will tend above all to converge. But alongside this tradition and often in contrast, sometimes parodic, with it, a literature is also affirmed entirely aimed at the terrestrial, at the expression and exaltation of passions, even the lowest, through a language lexically and syntactically spoken, open to dialect, to jargon, to individual inspiration, a language suitable for ‘comic’ poetry. There is no clear dividing line between ‘comic’ and ‘tragic’ poetry; even ‘comic’ poetry obeys precise stylistic criteria, has a canon of themes that recur in all European literatures (think of the precedent, out of Italy, of goliardic poetry) and consist of the playful exaltation of wine, of entertainment, carnal pleasures. The apparent immediacy and anti-literary nature of the expression make a poem of this kind spread to large classes, even uncultivated ones, and assume the appearance and forms of anonymous, popular poetry. It then happens that these originally learned themes and modes of poetry are felt as fresh expressions of the popular soul, and subjected as such to further literary elaboration by later art poets.

According to MYSTERYAROUND, Italian poetry is thus traversed, at least up to the sixteenth century, by a not popular but popular trend, parallel to the other trend, which we could call courtly. The most salient expressions of the latter are represented, from the 13th to the 16th century, by the Sicilian School, by Guittone and the Guittonians, by the stilnovists, by F. Petrarca and then by the 15th-16th century Petrarchism. At the origins of the other trend is the famous contrast (datable between 1230 and 1250) attributed to Cielo d’Alcamo, which is echoed, from Tuscany and Bologna, by anonymous popular-looking poems, also in dialogue; but Rustico di Filippo, in the second half of the century, could write about thirty playful or realistic sonnets, and as many serious ones, faithful to the courtly Provencal-Sicilian-Guittonian tradition. The popular style reaches its artistic peak in Cecco Angiolieri and in a fairly large group of poets between the 13th and 14th centuries. (to them we can approach the delicate Folgore da San Gimignano, which however has a physiognomy all its own), to which a polemical intention against the Stil novo, considered as too abstruse and far from life, is not extraneous; it continues in the second half of the fourteenth century, with some pages by F. Sacchetti and A. Pucci, and in the following century with Burchiello, in some aspects by L. Pulci; and culminates in the sixteenth century with F. Berni.

The Sicilian School (which flourished between 1230 and 1270 approximately) was the first to oppose Provençal literature, which it was also inspired by, a consciously original development. The Sicilian vulgar, purged of those rhymes, seems for a moment to place itself as a national language; Dante will in fact recognize the common, non-municipal literary language already implemented by the Sicilian School. But for this reason it was necessary that the Sicilian and Tuscan vulgar, which soon after took its place as the predominant vulgar, were stripped of their excessively local peculiarities. The main subject of the Sicilian School is deduced from the illustrious Provençal lyric: love, understood as a relationship of ideal vassalage of the poet towards his woman; one and the other without individual face and soul, almost conventional figures of attitudes and feelings that are not necessarily more authentic.

Italian Poetry in the 13th and Early 14th Century 1