Giosuè Carducci

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(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Giosuè Carducci was born to Dr. Michele Carducci and Ildegonda Celli in Val di Castello, a small town near Viareggio, in Tuscany. Carducci’s father was greatly affected by the patriotism which would lead to the Risorgimento. An active Carbonaro (a member of a secret society seeking the unification of Italy), he was confined for a year in Volterra because of his participation in the Revolution of 1831. When Carducci was three, his family moved to Bolgheri, in the wild and desolate Maremma region south of Pisa. Maremma, with its Etruscan tombs, became the emotional landscape of Carducci’s later poetry, appearing in such poems as “Idillio maremmano” (“Maremma Idyll”) and “Traversando la Maremma Toscano” (“Crossing the Tuscan Maremma”). Carducci’s mother reared him on the tragedies of Vittorio Alfieri, a writer in the French neoclassical style who had sought to revive the national spirit of Italy. For his part, Carducci’s father attempted to impart to his son his own fervent enthusiasm for the writings of Manzoni, but Carducci, always an independent thinker, never acquired a taste for Manzoni. The boy was also taught Latin by his father and delighted in the works of Vergil and other ancient authors. He avidly read Roman history and anything dealing with the French Revolution. His first verse, satirical in nature, was written in 1846.

In 1848, the Carduccis were obliged to move when the attempt at independence failed. The threat of violence became too great for Carducci’s father, and the family relocated first to Laiatico, then to Florence. Carducci went to religious schools until 1852, and was influenced by his rhetoric teacher, Father Geremia Barsottini, who had translated into prose all the odes of Horace. The boy became further impassioned in the cause of Italian reunification and discovered the works of Ugo Foscolo and Giuseppe Mazzini. After completing his education, Carducci followed his wandering father to Celle on Mount Amiata but soon after won a scholarship to the Normal School of Pisa. In 1855, he published his first book, L’arpa del populo, an anthology, and a year later he received his doctoral degree and a certification for teaching. He took a position as a rhetoric teacher in a secondary school at the ginnasio in San Miniato al Tedesco.

With several friends, among them Giuseppe Chiarini, Carducci founded a literary society, Amici Pedanti, a group that was essentially anti-Romantic and anti-Catholic. They believed that Italy’s only hope for the future was in the revival of the classical, pagan spirit of the ancient world, which was emphasized as still existing in the Italian land and blood. Such opinions naturally provoked violent objections, both from Romantics and from those who favored the status quo. Carducci freely and ferociously responded in prose to the attacks many times. His first collection of poetry, Rime, appeared in July, 1857.

Although Carducci won a competition for the chair of Greek in a secondary school in Arezzo, the granducal government did not approve his appointment, so, in 1857, he returned to Florence and eked out a living by giving private lessons. In November, his depression became worse when his brother Dante killed himself for unknown reasons. A year later, Carducci’s father died, and Carducci became the head of his impoverished family. In 1858, he moved his mother and brother Walfredo into a very poor house in Florence, continuing his private lessons and editing the texts of the Bibliotechina Diamante of publisher Gaspare Barbèra. Together with Barbèra, he founded a short-lived periodical, Il poliziano. Despite his financial situation, Carducci married Elvira Menicucci in March, 1859.

With the union of Tuscany and Italy, Carducci’s fortunes turned for the better. First, he was offered the chair of Greek in the secondary school of Pistoia, where he remained for nearly a year; then, the minister of education, Terenzio Mamiani, appointed him to the chair of Italian...

(The entire section is 1,846 words.)