Giambattista Giraldi Cinthio was born in Ferrara in November, 1504. He received a humanistic education and studied medicine and philosophy at the University of Ferrara, where he received his degree in 1531. In that year, he became a lecturer in philosophy at the university, and in 1534, he was given a chair of philosophy. He published a book of Latin verse in 1537, and it was then that he first used his pen name Cinthio. He belonged to the Ferrarese Academy of the Elevati, and he succeeded its most illustrious academician, Celio Calcagnini, in the chair of rhetoric at the university when the latter died in 1541. Giraldi Cinthio was also a member of the Academy of the Filareti, which was founded in 1554, some years after the closing of the Elevati.
The years between 1541 and 1563, which roughly coincide with those of the Council of Trent, were the years of Giraldi Cinthio’s greatest literary activity. At the university, he taught the poetics of Horace and Aristotle and at the same time wrote and produced his first tragedy, Orbecche, in 1541. The play was performed in Giraldi Cinthio’s house on a special stage constructed for this purpose. It was sponsored by, among others, law students at the university and was attended by Giraldi Cinthio’s patron, Duke Ercole II d’Este, courtiers, and literati. The play was repeated at least twice that same year and soon was performed in other Italian cities and, in French translation, for the king of France. Following the success of Giraldi Cinthio’s first tragedy, Duke Ercole commissioned him to write two plays on historical themes, Didone, which had a public reading in 1541, and Cleopatra, which was finished by 1543 and performed in June of 1555, if not before. After this experience, Giraldi Cinthio returned to fictitious plots, the most famous of which, after Orbecche, was Altile, written to be performed on the occasion of the visit of Pope Paul III to Ferrara in April, 1543, but canceled because of the death, the morning of the scheduled performance, of Flaminio Ariosti, the young actor who was to have played the part of the heroine. With Altile, which had been performed by 1545, Giraldi Cinthio departed definitively from traditional tragedy with an unhappy ending. Altile is what Giraldi Cinthio in his critical writing calls “mixed” tragedy, or tragicomedy: It is characterized by a plot that ends negatively for the evil characters and positively for the good.
In 1545, Giraldi Cinthio produced and published his satyr play Egle, with which he intended to reinvent the genre know to him through Euripides’ Kyklps (c. 421
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