‘Founders of Italian Literature’: Dante, Petrarch, and National Identity in Ugo Foscolo

Luzzi Joseph

in Dante in the Long Nineteenth Century

Published in print March 2012 | ISBN: 9780199584628
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191739095 | DOI:
‘Founders of Italian Literature’: Dante, Petrarch, and National Identity in Ugo Foscolo

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Ugo Foscolo produced a series of influential essays on Dante that illuminates the discrepancies between Italian and European approaches to the medieval poet. Whereas other authors labelled Dante the first ‘modern’ in order to link the concerns of their age to those of Dante's, Foscolo sought instead to preserve Dante's otherness. Rather than translate the meaning of the Commedia into a nineteenth-century idiom, Foscolo believed that inquiry into the historical milieu and overall strangeness of the Commedia offered the interpreter more than the increasingly subjective readings of the poem that had transformed Dante into a privileged model of the self in Romantic autobiography. This chapter considers how Foscolo's critique of the ‘autobiographical’ Dante circulating in the Romantic age involved his promotion of Petrarch as the primo modern (first modern) and his embrace of the poetic philology of Giambattista Vico. It shows that Foscolo's ‘anti-Romantic’ Dante helped create a tectonic shift in Dante studies that refocused the debates over the Commedia from the personal to the political realm. The chapter explores how Foscolo's comparison between Dante and Petrarch informs his views on italianità (Italian identity) as his nation took fraught steps toward a belated political unification that did not occur until decades after Foscolo's death.

Keywords: Dante; first modern; Commedia; self; Romantic autobiography; Giambattista Vico

Chapter.  6803 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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