Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Cosimo Piovasco di Rondò

Cosimo Piovasco di Rondò (koh-ZEE-moh peeoh-VAHS-koh dee rohn-DOH), who is twelve years old at the narrative’s outset. He is the eldest son in the Piovasco family and successor as baron of the Ombrosa estate. Cosimo is energetic and determined, an idealist who insists on acting on his principles. the central figure in the story, he sets the main action going when he refuses to eat a meal of snails prepared by his sister. Sent from the table, he climbs into a holm oak on his family’s estate and vows never to descend from the trees. Cosimo eventually develops instincts and senses different from other humans as a result of living in the wild and having to be ever watchful and alert. This vigilance becomes “his natural state, as if his eyes had to embrace a horizon wide enough to understand all.” Despite his arboreal life, he becomes studious and well read in the philosophy of the Enlightenment; as a reader as well as a tree dweller, he acquires, virtually and literally, a bird’s-eye view of his era.

Biaggio Piovasco di Rondò

Biaggio Piovasco di Rondò (bee-AHJ-jee-oh), Cosimo’s brother, eight years old at the outset of the action. He narrates the tales of Cosimo’s extraordinary life. Though at first regarded by Cosimo as weak because of his failure to resist their father, Biaggio is a close friend and confidant to Cosimo. Biaggio takes his brother food and supplies when needed and keeps Cosimo informed of events that Cosimo cannot observe. Throughout the narrative, Biaggio maintains an attitude of wonder and awe at his brother’s exploits.

Violante (Viola) Ondariva

Violante (Viola) Ondariva (veeoh-LAHN-teh on-dah-REE-vah), a neighbor to the...

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The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

All of the characters in Calvino’s novel are eccentric. The plainest and most conventional of them is Biaggio, the narrator. Biaggio profits handsomely from his brother Cosimo’s life in the trees, for he becomes heir to the estate; nevertheless, Biaggio clearly regrets his own comparatively plain life, though he recognizes that he never would have been able to make a similar choice. Biaggio is, like many, successful by the world’s standards but conscious of what might have been.

The boys’ father, Arminio, the elder baron, has as his great ambition the regaining of his lapsed title, Duke of Ombrosa. His obsession with “genealogies and successions and family rivalries and alliances” contrasts markedly with Cosimo’s nonchalance. Cavilier Carrega, Arminio’s illegitimate brother, is only too well aware that though he lives amid Ombrosa’s luxury none of its wealth will ever belong to him. He relies upon deceit (going so far as to steal food from the family table) and smuggling as revenge against his fate.

Arminio supports the Austrian monarchy, and this makes him conservative to the point of being politically reactionary. His wife, Corradina di Rondò, whose father, Konrad von Kurtewitz, commanded the troops which occupied the Genoese Republic, is a strange combination of the maternal and the military. Battista di Rondò, Cosimo’s sister, inherits her mother’s flair for the dramatic. She is given to spiteful scenes and retaliations. Cosimo’s refusal to eat the snail soup she has prepared causes him to be sent from the table and provokes his escape to the trees. It is not Battista’s snails but his family’s aristocratic shallowness which Cosimo actually rejects.


(Great Characters in Literature)

Calvino, Italo. The Uses of Literature, 1986.

Carter, Albert Howard. Italo Calvino: Metamorphoses of Fantasy, 1987.

Eco, Umberto. Travels in Hyper Reality: Essays, 1986. Edited by Helen Wolff and Kurt Wolff.

Olken, I.T. With Pleated Eye and Garnet Wing: Symmetries of Italo Calvino, 1984.

Perosa, Sergio. “The Heirs of Calvino and the Eco Effect,” in The New York Times Book Review. XCII (August 16, 1987), p. 1.