Ugo Foscolo Biography


(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Niccolò Ugo Foscolo was born to parents of mixed heritage; his mother, Diamantina Spaty, was Greek, while his father, Andrea Foscolo, was Venetian. When Foscolo was ten years old, his father died. He and his mother then moved to Venice, where he stayed until 1797, during which time he began to attend political and literary gatherings such as those of the Countess Isabella Teotochi. In this period, he developed an admiration for the revolutionary doctrines of Jean- Jacques Rousseau, Vittorio Alfieri, and Robespierre while attending classes taught by Melchiorre Cesarotti at Padua University.

In 1797, because of his political ideas, Foscolo was forced to flee to Bologna, where he received the nomination of honorary lieutenant for the French army in Italy. He performed this role as a strict republican until the infamous Treaty of Campoformio, which caused Foscolo to hate Bonaparte so much that he moved to Milan, where he lived from 1797 to 1815. In Milan, Foscolo made the acquaintance of Vincenzo Monti and Giuseppe Parini, and he also pursued love affairs with Teresa Pickler, Isabella Roncioni, and the Countess Antonietta Fagnani Arese.

When, in 1798, the second coalition of the Austrians and Russians reconquered northern Italy from Napoleon (who was at that time in Egypt), Foscolo fought against this action under General Jean-Étienne Championnet, but his open aspiration for Italian independence provoked great hostility from the French....

(The entire section is 539 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Although his poetry resists categorization, Ugo Foscolo (FAWS-koh-loh) is generally considered the most important voice of Romanticism in Italian literature and certainly one of the greatest lyric poets in Italian since Petrarch. Foscolo was born in 1778, the first child of Andrea Foscolo, a Venetian doctor, and Diamantina Spathis, the daughter of a Greek tailor. He was baptized Niccolò but later adopted the name Ugo. When his father was offered the position of director of the hospital at Spalato in Italy, the family (a sister was born in 1780 and a brother in 1781; another brother would be born in 1787) moved there in 1784.

After his father died in October, 1788, Foscolo was sent to live with his mother’s family on the island of Zante, where he had been born, until his mother established herself in Venice in 1792. During this time he attended the school of San Cipriano in nearby Murano. One of the leading literary salons of Venice in the 1790’s was that of Isabella Teotochi (1760-1836), which the young Foscolo began attending in 1795; he commenced an affair with the older woman that eventually led to her divorce from Carlo Antonio Marin in 1796. Her subsequent marriage to an Italian nobleman instead of to Foscolo precipitated a serious depression and physical deterioration in the young man. The betrayal he felt is reflected in his novel, Last Letters of Jacopo Ortis, an autobiographical novel patterned after Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Sorrows of Young Werther (1774).

After recovering from his depression, Foscolo began an ambitious plan to revitalize Italian literature. Most of the writing of this period has not survived, but the verse tragedy Tieste was successfully produced at Venice’s Sant’Angelo Theater on January 4, 1797. Later the same year the Venetian republic surrendered...

(The entire section is 753 words.)