Carducci, Giosuè

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CARDUCCI, GIOSUÈ (1835–1907), Italy's most notable poet of the post-Risorgimento era and the first Italian to win the Nobel prize.

Giosuè Carducci's poems, essays, editorial activities, and an occasional excursion into political life expressed the bitter discontent of many intellectuals with the new Italy that had been created in 1860. Although he did not participate in the wars of national unification, Carducci was a supporter of the republican nationalist Giuseppe Mazzini, but in 1859 and 1860 he accepted the necessity of uniting behind the monarchy. The triumph of the house of Savoy over the popular forces of Mazzini and Giuseppe Garibaldi provided a harbinger of the compromises and political deal making of the new parliamentary political class that Carducci judged incapable of realizing the potential greatness of the new Italy. The age of poetry seemed to give way to the age of accountants' ledgers. During the 1860s Carducci returned to republicanism and to faith in a popular leader who could embody the aspirations of the people.

What particularly annoyed him were the efforts of the new Italy to find a modus vivendi with the Catholic Church. Carducci was a lifelong anticlerical who held the church responsible for Italy's cultural and political backwardness, and he was incensed by the decision of the new government to bow to the wishes of the French emperor Louis Napoleon by blocking Giuseppe Garibaldi's attempts to seize Rome. In one of his first poems from the collection Juvenilia (1859–1860), Carducci wrote of independence and love of liberty that were "highly contemptuous of the Holy and Catholic Idea of a Church fixed on the firm foundation / of servile Europe's humiliation" (p. 3). His most notorious poem, Hymn to Satan (1865) identified Satan with nature, reason, and the spirit of rebellion against the combined forces of the church and the reactionary state. His collections Levia gravia (1868; Light and heavy) and Giambi ed epodi (1867–1869; Iambs and epodes) hammered away at the failure of the new state to respond to the currents of patriotic sentiment that had been unleashed by the Risorgimento, the movement for the political unification of Italy.

Despite his youthful reputation as a rebel, the new liberal monarchy appointed Carducci to the chair of rhetoric at the University of Bologna in 1860, a post he would hold until 1904. Although he never accepted the wheeling and dealing of parliamentary life, Carducci's republicanism became increasingly muted during the 1870s. He ran for Parliament in 1876 but failed to take his seat on a technicality. His poetry also became less overtly political and more personal and historical over time. In 1878, on the occasion of a visit by Italy's royal couple, Umberto I and Queen Margherita, Carducci was so taken by Margherita that he dedicated one of the poems in the collection Odi barbari (Barbarous odes) to her. The Odi barbari, published in various editions from 1877 to 1889, was Carducci's most significant work. The poems were marked by a rejection of Romanticism, which Carducci judged a foreign import, in favor of a renewed classicism. Carducci's productivity declined after a stroke in 1885, but by then his reputation in Italy was established.

During the 1880s and 1890s Carducci's politics became increasingly nationalistic. He was a firm supporter of the Sicilian statesman Francesco Crispi, who tried to combine a degree of social and economic reform with strong personal government and a dose of imperialism. The disastrous end to Crispi's government in 1896, when Italy was defeated by the Ethiopians at Adwa, failed to shake Carducci's loyalty to the Sicilian leader. For many post-Risorgimento intellectuals, of which Carducci was representative, an aggressive foreign policy and strong government were shortcuts to great-power status. They held that failure resulted not from bad planning or misguided policies but from the incapacity of parliamentary government to focus the national will. Thus Carducci's politics fed the growing antiparliamentary tradition that manifested itself after 1900 in organizations like the Italian Nationalist Association.

See alsoAnticlericalism; Crispi, Francesco; Italy; Mazzini, Giuseppe; Nationalism.


Carducci, Giosuè. Carducci: A Selection of His Poems with Verse Translations, Notes, and Three Introductory Essays. Edited by G. L. Bickersteth. London, 1913.

Drake, Richard. Byzantium for Rome: The Politics of Nostalgia in Umbertian Italy, 1878–1900. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1980.

Alexander De Grand

Giosuè Carducci

views updated May 23 2018

Giosuè Carducci

The Italian poet Giosuè Carducci (1835-1907) was awarded the 1906 Nobel Prize in literature. His gradual development from youthful revolutionary idealism to later acceptance of a conservative monarchy closely mirrors the course of 19th-century Italian history.

Born in the Tuscan village of Val di Castello, Giosuè Carducci spent his childhood traveling along the coastal plain, where his father was regional physician. Early studies in Florence, which afforded him a solid foundation in Latin and the Italian classics, prepared Carducci for the Teachers College of Pisa, from which he graduated in 1856. After several years of teaching and editing texts, Carducci was appointed to the prestigious chair in Italian literature at the University of Bologna, a post he held until 1904. During his years at Bologna, he participated fully in the intellectual life of his times as poet, critic, parliamentary deputy (1876), and senator (1890).

A powerfully built man whose prominent jaw accentuated an aggressive appearance, Carducci in his early writings proudly declared himself to be "a shield bearer of the classics," that is, a defender of traditional literary formation. In rejecting romanticism as a betrayal of the Italian artistic heritage and a servile imitation of foreign ideologies, Carducci's first poetry, Juvenilia (1850-1860) and Levia gravia (1861-1871), exalts nationalistic ideals of progress and freedom through satire directed against the political and clerical obstacles to the unification of Italy. Typical of this Risorgimento poetry is his Masonic, antipapal "Hymn to Satan" (1863), in which Satan personifies reason, progress, and rebellion against the oppressive force of religion. Only later, when national unity had been achieved, did Carducci evidence an appreciation for the religious traditions of his country.

The Giambi ed epodi (1867-1879) signals a new direction in Carducci's poetry. While still polemical and satirical, there emerges a freshness, a genuine tone which makes itself heard above "the bold verse which slaps the face" of the discredited past. The 32 poems of this collection champion the ideals of liberty against clerically imposed limitations, but they also reveal the initial traces of introspection and self-contemplation that characterize much of his mature writings. During this period Carducci began his first sympathetic studies of foreign romanticists (Hugo, Shelley, Heine, and others), whose works he had formerly rejected.

The 105 poems of Carducci's three-part Rime nuove (1861-1886; New Rhymes) develop more fully this intimate vein. These barely controlled expressions of his emotions are at times highly personal ("Ancient Lament," written on the death of his infant son) and are often delicately reminiscent of visions from his youth ("The Maremanno Idyl"). Several love poems, which suggest that Carducci frequently strayed beyond the boundaries of his marriage, afford the closest possible view of Carducci's inner self.

The Odi barbare (1873-1889; Barbarous Odes) constitutes his last major poetic achievement. "Barbarous" denotes the non-Italian meters employed in these verses, which are based on Greek and Latin models. This collection of 57 poems derives unity from its form, but its thematic content varies widely, from glorification of Rome's past ("The Springs of the River Clitumnus") to contemplative visions of the author's own experiences ("At the Station").

In addition to his poetry, Carducci made major contributions to literary criticism with several studies written largely during the first 10 years of his professorship in Bologna. His sound, if unsystematic, judgments are reflected in The Development of a National Literature, The Varying Fortunes of Dante, and Essay on Petrarch. Carducci died in 1907. A product of his times, he fulfilled his lofty conception of the civic mission of a poet—the expression and exaltation of the values of his people.

Further Reading

Relatively little scholarship in English has been dedicated to Carducci. Orlo Williams, Giosuè Carducci (1914), provides a general outline of his life and major writings. See also Ruth Shepard Phelps, Italian Silhouettes (1924), and S. Eugene Scalia, Carducci: His Critics and Translators in England and America, 1881-1932 (1937). □

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