Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
On Sepulchres, written in 1806, is also known as Of Tombs, On Tombs, or The Sepulchres. The poem is addressed to Ugo Foscolo’s friend Ippolito Pindemonte, a wealthy, prominent traveler who had translated Homer’s Odyssey (c. 725 b.c.e.). Pindemonte wrote a poem on tombs before Foscolo, but abandoned it to write an epistle responding to his friend’s superior verse. Pindemonte inspired On Sepulchres by complaining about a Napoleonic government decree regarding interments, which stated that cemeteries should be set some distance away from inhabited areas, that tombstones should follow a uniform design, and that the living should be banned from visiting graves. Like Pindemonte, Foscolo found the decree unreasonable.
Foscolo explored many of the subjects in On Sepulchres in previous, shorter sonnets and odes, forms Foscolo found too limiting. Foscolo wrote that his “hymn” was composed in the style of the Greeks, using the rhetorical device of question and response to give the poem structure. His purpose is political, and he attempts to reach the heart rather than the mind to awaken Italian reverence for its fallen heroes. He treats his subject with a lofty, epic, heroic, and lyrical tone and a civil, moral, and educational spirit.
Throughout the poem, his theme is that the living and the dead are united in immortal love, and that tombs communicate the past to the living. Some critics claim the poem says that death is but another country after life, but Foscolo chooses the word “sepulchre” carefully, as the term “cemetery” had Christian connotations he...
(The entire section is 688 words.)
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Bibliography (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Brose, Margaret. “Ugo Foscolo and Giacomo Leopardi: Italy’s Classical Romantics.” In A Companion to European Romanticism, edited by Michael Ferber. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2005. An analysis of the works of Foscolo and poet Leopardi, placing them within the broader context of European Romanticism.
Cambon, Glauco. Ugo Foscolo: Poet of Exile. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1980. Discusses On Sepulchres in passing, but provides a wealth of information on Ippolito Pindemonte’s friendship with Foscolo, including a discussion of the two friends writing poems on the same subject—the decree on tombs. Also discussed is the historical setting that helped shape Foscolo’s poem.
Carsaniga, Giovanni. “Foscolo.” In The Cambridge History of Italian Literature, edited by Peter Brand and Lino Pertile. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996. Includes discussion of On Sepulchres and Foscolo’s other works.
Cippico, Antonio. “The Poetry of Ugo Foscolo.” In Proceedings of the British Academy, 1924-1925. Vol. 11. London: British Academy Press, 1927. First placing the poem in historical and literary contexts, Cippico evaluates the work’s religious and political nature, emphasizing and explaining in detail the poem’s classical allusions.
Foscolo, Ugo. On Sepulchres: An Ode to Ippolito Pindemonte. Translated by Thomas C. Bergin. Bethany, Minn.: Bethany Press, 1971. Contains both Italian and English texts of the poem on facing pages. Also features historical background, explanatory notes, and comments on translating the poem into English.
Lindon, John. “Englishing Foscolo’s Sepolcri.” Italianist 28, no. 1 (2008): 162-176. Lindon discusses various English translations of On Sepulchres, arguing that these translations are not easily understandable and fail to capture the deeper meaning of the poem. He provides his own translation in the article.
Radcliff-Umstead, Douglas. Ugo Foscolo. New York: Twayne, 1970. This literary biography discusses Foscolo’s place in the Romantic movement, comparing the poet with other authors and musicians of the era. Considers Foscolo’s interest in and use of classical myth, music, and Italian history and poetic traditions. Describes Foscolo’s poetic style and imagery, compares On Sepulchres with other Foscolo poems, and briefly evaluates Foscolo’s critical reception. The explication of On Sepulchres is extensive and indispensable.