|Dante loses his paternity: the Italian language was born in SicilyA new confirmation of the origins of Italian heterodox undermines centuries of literary and cultural monopoly: the Sicilian poets widespread in Lombardy, before their presence in TuscanyNoemi Ghetti
Friday, June 14, 2013
http://babylonpost.globalist.it/The discovery of some poems of the Sicilian School in a Lombard library by the researcher Joseph Mascherpa brings to the fore the debate about the true origins of the Italian language. The theme is echoed by Cesare Segre in an article in the Corriere della Sera of 13 June, which underlines just how the ‘change of perspective’ in research is due to the sudden turn in recent times, of thirteenth-century manuscripts in places hitherto unsuspected .
One example is the discovery of at least four poems on the back of Sicilian scrolls bearing convictions of members of large Guelph families for violations of rules on tournaments. In those days, you know, notaries were often poets, and filled in the blank backs in this way, avoiding illegal notations in the margins of the records.
There are important fragments of poems, attributable among other authors such as Giacomo da Lentini, ‘the Notary’ founder of the Sicilian School, and even to Frederick II, the emperor-poet who was the genius patron of the arts. Occurring in the crucial decades 1270-1290, the transcript leads us to hypothesize the existence of a small songbook of poems of the Sicilian School, circulated in Lombardy in those years. It is in addition to the recent discovery of another mutilated manuscript, discovered by Luca Cadioli in the attic of a noble Milanese, which contains the only faithful translation from the French of Lancelot du lac, the classic novel about the loves of Lancelot and Guinevere, remembered by Francesca da Rimini in her caharacterization in Canto V of Dante’s Inferno.
Now as then, once again for us, “The book was condemned, and he who wrote it.” These findings sound like an endorsement of the original idea that our [Italian] language was born at the beginning of the thirteenth century by the revolt of the Sicilian poets against ecclesiastical Latin, developed in 2011 in my essay ‘The Shadow of Cavalcanti and Dante’ (L’Asino d’oro editions).
The transcripts of the Sicilians are especially interesting because they let us see in them glimpses of the original lyric language, so far lost except in a single case, which predate the Tuscanized versions by which we know them. It reconstructs for us, if we care to deduce it, the view of a secular literary culture, widespread in the thirteenth century in the Italian peninsula far beyond what the traditional scheme suggests.
It affects in this way a well-established historical reconstruction that makes the Tuscans, after the fall of the Swabians and the Ghibelline party in Benevento (1266), the sole heirs of Sicilian poetry. In fact, it immediately comes to mind that northern Italy welcomed the Cathars and troubadours on the run, in the aftermath of the fierce Albigensian Crusade which dispersed the civilization of neighboring Provence. And that in Northern Italy there persisted a widespread tradition of French ballads of love and adventure, happily reprised at the fifteenth-century University of Ferrara by Boiardo’s Orlando in Love, it was later reported in the Orlando Furioso of Ariosto, and was also the standard language of the Florentine Pietro Bembo, canonized as a Cardinal in 1524.
The reaction of the Church against the magnificent flowering secular language of the thirteenth century was in fact very hard: in February 1278 in the Arena of Verona a huge fire burned the last 166 Cathars, and in 1285 the Parisian philosopher Siger of Brabant was assassinated. Excommunicated and condemned to death, waiting for forgiveness in the papal curia of Orvieto, where he had fled after 1277, Bishop Tempier of Paris had judged heretical his evolution of Latin that had animated, with De Amore by Andrea Cappellano, the origins of poetry including the stilnovisti [New Stylists] Guinizzelli and Cavalcanti. The offense certainly did not go unnoticed in thestilnovisti environment. So the last decade of the thirteenth century saw the conversion of Dante’s love of woman to the love of God, which proceeds in stages from Vita Nova through the Convivio to the Divine Comedy. In 1300, in which the otherworldly journey of the Comedy is set, Dante’s exile from Florence was sealed, followed by the premature death of Cavalcanti.
In the sacred poem [the Divine Comedy] Federico II is condemned to Hell (Canto X) in a group of heretics, “that with the body make the soul mortal.” He is destined to be teacher and “first friend,” endowed with “loftiness of genius,” but “he had a disdain for” the faith. Pier delle Vigne, Sicilian poet and secretary to the emperor[Frederick II], is placed between the suicides, and tells Dante their drama, so convoluted, because the unforgivable sin of the Sicilians, in the eyes of Dante, is to have attempted a search for carnal love and passion, outside of religion, inventing a new language. Sordello of Goito, a troubadour who had found fortune in Provence and returned to Italy in 1269, of Mantuan origin like Virgil, is placed instead in Purgatory (CantoVI-VIII), like other poets of the thirteenth century.
The prejudice against Sicilians therefore has ancient roots, and a careful analysis of the texts of Dante and solutions that gradually imposed themselves in the secular ‘language issue’ show how, in spite of accepted theory, it originates from Dante himself. He was the most famous poet to establish himself as a ‘father’ of the modern Italian language, obscuring one hundred years of research of the love poetry from which it was born, with a systematic work of re-semanticization of the spiritual and Christian vernacular vocabulary of its origins. Even in the nineteenth century a sensitive critic, Francesco de Sanctis, demonstrates a certain deafness to the poets of the Sicilian School, and we had to wait until 2008 to have the first complete critical edition and commentary, in three volumes of Meridiani.
It is interesting as an aside to recognize, in the limited number of ‘outdated’ studies of the last century, like those of Bruno Nardi and Maria Corti, the original judgment of Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks about the thirteenth century and Dante. It is perhaps the most well-known essay on Canto X of the Inferno contained in the Notebooks (1931-32), with explicit distance from religion, and important messages in code intended for ‘”former friend” Togliatti.
Somewhat less well-known is Gramsci’s appreciation for Guido Cavalcanti. His words, which erect to the “highest exponent” the uprising in medieval theocratic thinking and conscious use of the vernacular instead of Latin and Virgil, were taken almost verbatim from Gianfranco Contini. For Gramsci, a fine linguist, the Comedy is “the medieval swan song,” and his work as a Latinization of the vernacular marks the crisis of the rebirth of the secular and the transition to Christian humanism. Read the Comedy “with love” is the attitude of “simpleton professors who make religions of some poet or writer, and celebrate strange philological rites.” Appreciate the aesthetic values, he writes from Iulca in a letter from prison in 1931, warning against uncritical transmission of the poem to your children; that does not mean you agree with its ideological content.