Sannazaro, Jacopo 1458–1530 Italian Poet

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Sannazaro, Jacopo
1458–1530 Italian poet

Jacopo Sannazaro of Italy gained fame for his poetry in both Latin and Italian. He is best known for his works in the pastoral* style, especially his romance* Arcadia, which had a great influence on the development of the pastoral form.

Born to a noble Italian family, Sannazaro grew up in and around Naples in southern Italy. Early in his career, he composed verses in the style of the famous Italian poet Petrarch (1304–1374). He also wrote farces* for the court of the Duke of Calabria. In the 1490s he began writing poetry in Latin. Sannazaro spent the years from 1501 to 1504 in exile in France with Frederick of Aragon, the former king of Naples.

Sannazaro's Arcadia became one of the most popular books of the 1500s. It first appeared in print in an illegal copy in 1502, and two years later another version came out with two additional chapters. Arcadia tells the tale of Sincero, an unhappy lover from Naples who enters an ideal world of poetic shepherds (Arcadia). The text presents the life of Arcadia as an endless cycle of games, feasts, and songs. Eventually, the hero leaves the happy life of Arcadia and returns to his homeland, only to find that the woman he loved has died. This pattern of entering and then leaving a blissful rural world would influence most of the European pastorals that followed. It also reflects the period of exile Sannazaro experienced in his own life.

In his Latin epic* On Giving Birth by the Virgin (1526), Sannazaro applied the pastoral style to the story of Christ's birth. Influenced by the verse of the ancient Roman poet Virgil, this poem presents the birth of Christ from the viewpoint of the joyful shepherds. However, like Arcadia, this work also contains notes of sorrow and lament. One of the poem's most moving sections describes Mary at Christ's death, weeping bitterly at the foot of the cross.

(See alsoPastoral; Sidney, Philip. )

* pastoral

relating to the countryside; often used to draw a contrast between the innocence and serenity of rural life and the corruption and extravagance of court life

* romance

adventure story of the Middle Ages, the forerunner of the modern novel

* farce

light dramatic piece that features broad comedy, improbable situations, stereotyped characters, and exaggerated physical action

* epic

long poem about the adventures of a hero