Page:EB1911 - Volume 14.djvu/932

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899
ITALIAN LITERATURE


and who had listened to the story of the wickedness of Macaire and the misfortunes of Blanciflor, another jongleur would sing of the terrors of the Babilonia Infernale and the blessedness of the Gerusalemme celeste, and the singers of religious poetry vied with those of the Chansons de Geste.

In the south of Italy, on the other hand, the love-song prevailed, of which we have an interesting specimen in the Contrasto attributed to Ciullo d’ Alcamo, about which modern Italian critics have much exercised themselves. This “contrasto” (dispute) between a man and a woman South
Italy.
in Sicilian dialect certainly must not be considered as the most ancient or as the only southern poem of a popular kind. It belongs without doubt to the time of the emperor Frederick II., and is important as a proof that there existed a popular poetry independent of literary poetry. The Contrasto of Ciullo d’Alcamo is the most remarkable relic of a kind of poetry that has perished or which perhaps was smothered by the ancient Sicilian literature. Its distinguishing point was its possessing all the opposite qualities to the poetry of the rhymers of what we shall call the Sicilian school. Vigorous in the expression of feelings, it seems to come from a real sentiment. The conceits, which are sometimes most bold and very coarse, show that it proceeded from the lowest grades of society. Everything is original in Ciullo’s Contrasto. Conventionality has no place in it. It is marked by the sensuality characteristic of the people of the South.

The reverse of all this happened in the Siculo-Provençal school, at the head of which was Frederick II. Imitation was the fundamental characteristic of this school, to which belonged Enzio, king of Sardinia, Pier delle Vigne, Inghilfredi, Guido and Odo delle Colonne, Jacopo Siculo-Provençal School. d’ Aquino, Rugieri Pugliese, Giacomo da Lentino, Arrigo Testa and others. These rhymers never moved a step beyond the ideas of chivalry; they had no originality; they did not sing of what they felt in their heart; they abhorred the true and the real. They only aimed at copying as closely as they could the poetry of the Provençal troubadours.[1] The art of the Siculo-Provençal school was born decrepit, and there were many reasons for this—first, because the chivalrous spirit, from which the poetry of the troubadours was derived, was now old and on its death-bed; next, because the Provençal art itself, which the Sicilians took as their model, was in its decadence. It may seem strange, but it is true, that when the emperor Frederick II., a philosopher, a statesman, a very original legislator, took to writing poetry, he could only copy and amuse himself with absolute puerilities. His art, like that of all the other poets of his court, was wholly conventional, mechanical, affected. It was completely wanting in what constitutes poetry—ideality, feeling, sentiment, inspiration. The Italians have had great disputes among themselves about the original form of the poems of the Sicilian school, that is to say, whether they were written in Sicilian dialect, or in that language which Dante called “volgare, illustre, aulico, cortigiano.” But the critics of most authority hold that the primitive form of these poems was the Sicilian dialect, modified for literary purposes with the help of Provençal and Latin; the theory of the “lingua illustre” has been almost entirely rejected, since we cannot say on what rules it could have been founded, when literature was in its infancy trying its feet, and lisping its first words. The Sicilian certainly, in accordance with a tendency common to all dialects, in passing from the spoken to the written form, must have gained in dignity; but this was not enough to create the so-called “lingua illustre,” which was upheld by Perticari and others on grounds rather political than literary.

In the 13th century a mighty religious movement took place in Italy, of which the rise of the two great orders of Saint Francis and Saint Dominic was at once the cause and the effect. Around Francis of Assisi a legend has grown up in which naturally the imaginative element prevails. Religious lyric poetry in Umbria. Yet from some points in it we seem to be able to infer that its hero had a strong feeling for nature, and a heart open to the most lively impressions. Many poems are attributed to him. The legend relates that in the eighteenth year of his penance, when almost rapt in ecstasy, he dictated the Cantico del Sole. Even if this hymn be really his, it cannot be considered as a poetical work, being written in a kind of prose simply marked by assonances. As for the other poems, which for a long time were believed to be by Saint Francis, their spuriousness is now generally recognized. The true poet who represented in all its strength and breadth the religious feeling that had made special progress in Umbria was Jacopo dei Benedetti of Todi, known as Jacopone. The story is that sorrow at the sudden death of his wife had disordered his mind, and that, having sold all he possessed and given it to the poor, he covered himself with rags, and took pleasure in being laughed at, and followed by a crowd of people who mocked him and called after him “Jacopone, Jacopone.” We do not know whether this be true. What we do know is that a vehement passion must have stirred his heart and maintained a despotic hold over him, the passion of divine love. Under its influence Jacopone went on raving for years and years, subjecting himself to the severest sufferings, and giving vent to his religious intoxication in his poems. There is no art in him, there is not the slightest indication of deliberate effort; there is only feeling, a feeling that absorbed him, fascinated him, penetrated him through and through. His poetry was all inside him, and burst out, not so much in words as in sighs, in groans, in cries that often seem really to come from a monomaniac. But Jacopone was a mystic, who from his hermit’s cell looked out into the world and specially watched the papacy, scourging with his words Celestine V. and Boniface VIII. He was put in prison and laden with chains, but his spirit lifted itself up to God, and that was enough for him. The same feeling that prompted him to pour out in song ecstasies of divine love, and to despise and trample on himself, moved him to reprove those who forsook the heavenly road, whether they were popes, prelates or monks. In Jacopone there was a strong originality, and in the period of the origins of Italian literature he was one of the most characteristic writers.

The religious movement in Umbria was followed by another literary phenomenon, that of the religious drama. In 1258 an old hermit, Raniero Fasani, leaving the cavern in which he had lived for many years, suddenly appeared at Perugia. These were very sad times for Italy. The The religious drama. quarrels in the cities, the factions of the Ghibellines and the Guelphs, the interdicts and excommunications issued by the popes, the reprisals of the imperial party, the cruelty and tyranny of the nobles, the plagues and famines, kept the people in constant agitation, and spread abroad mysterious fears. The commotion was increased in Perugia by Fasani, who represented himself as sent by God to disclose mysterious visions, and to announce to the world terrible visitations. Under the influence of fear there were formed “Compagnie di Disciplinanti,” who, for a penance, scourged themselves till they drew blood, and sang “Laudi” in dialogue in their confraternities. These “Laudi,” closely connected with the liturgy, were the first example of the drama in the vulgar tongue of Italy. They were written in the Umbrian dialect, in verses of eight syllables, and of course they have not any artistic value. Their development, however, was rapid. As early as the end of the same 13th century we have the Devozioni del Giovedì e Venerdì Santo, which have some dramatic elements in them, though they are still connected with the liturgical office. Then we have the representation di un Monaco che andò al servizio di Dio (“of a monk who entered the service of God”), in which there is already an approach to the definite form which this kind of literary work assumed in the following centuries.

In the 13th century Tuscany was peculiarly circumstanced both as regards its literary condition and its political life. The Tuscans spoke a dialect which most closely resembled the mother-tongue, Latin—one which afterwards became almost exclusively the language of literature, Tuscan poetry. and which was already regarded at the end of the 13th century

as surpassing the others; “Lingua Tusca magis apta est ad

  1. See Gaspary, Die sicilianische Dichterschule des 13ten Jahrhunderts (Berlin, 1878).