Humanism in the vernacular
In the second half of the 15th century, also as a result of the Council of Ferrara-Florence, which recalls in Italy many Greek scholars (including Giorgio Gemisto Pletone and Cardinal Bessarione), and the fall of Byzantium into the hands of the Turks, Greek studies have their flowering in Italy. However, they perhaps influence philosophy more than literature. And in fact, the very rich active balance of Humanism in the history of thought and of the human spirit in general does not correspond to its properly poetic, generally modest, results. The whole enormous humanistic production, in fact, is recommended for other reasons than for those of poetry. Remarkable are some lively pages by P. Bracciolini, who is also the most fortunate discoverer of ancient codices, and by ES Piccolomini (who became pope with the name of Pius II).
Along the course of the 15th century, and especially in the second half of the century, the effort to emulate Latin with the vernacular becomes more and more conscious. An essential characteristic of the age is the concomitant progress of Latin imitation, in prose and verse, and that of the great fourteenth century artists (Dante, Petrarca, Boccaccio). Of no great importance that of Dante, too far from the new literary and moral ideals; instead the imitations of Petrarch proliferate, significantly those of the erudite Triumphs, in which the vulgar-Latin contest was more declared, but also of the Canzoniere (we only mention G. de ‘Conti); however, the Petrarchian modules are generally mixed displays of classical erudition, necessary for the fifteenth century to give dignity to the apparent tenuousness of the model. The intellectualistic element prevails in these Petrarchists; in fact, they especially appreciate Petrarch’s wisdom of style, which they exasperate to the most complicated artifice. These are the characteristics of the Petrarchism of the second half of the fifteenth century (A. Tebaldeo, the Cariteo, above all Serafino Aquilano). MM Boiardo’s lyric (Amorum libri) occupies a place unto itself, although it too is literally exemplified on Petrarch and the Latins.
According to TRAVELATIONARY.COM, another essential and general characteristic of the age is the assumption, by refined art poets, of popular forms and motifs. Just think of how, at the court of Lorenzo the Magnificent, the political and literary heart of Italy, A. Poliziano re-elaborates ballads and respects, resumes the ways of sacred representation and, changing the subject from religious to profane, transforms it into his Orpheus on show for the Gonzaga court; and Lorenzo himself offers, with his Nencia da Barberino, the masterpiece of this skilful reassumption of popular ways.
At another culturally very active court, the Aragonese one in Naples, Italy Sannazzaro dedicated himself to the remaking of popular farces, of popular lies (called gliommeri). All this is only apparently at odds with the current classification of literature in the vernacular. What is essential is the consideration that in the same great writers now mentioned the assumption of popular ways is closely linked with the assumption of ways derived from the classics, Latin and Italian: it is an imitation, double in the models, unique in the motive, through the which those writers gain their originality.
In the second half of the fifteenth century, that process of vulgar linguistic unification for all literary domains came to maturity, also favored by the invention of the press, and above all for prose, which had long been a fait accompli for high lyric ‘Humanism, by relegating the vulgar to practical uses and artistically undemanding scriptures, had delayed. And this unification-ennobling occurs first in the mirror of Latin, with the heavy introduction into the vernacular of Latin constructs and words, then, deliberately, on the basis of the Tuscan and, in fact, of the Florentine. The guide is Boccaccio, in whose pages the men of the Renaissance, as well as the language models, found an ideal of life reflected. Visible in the Salerno Masuccio, the greatest of the fifteenth-century storytellers, the effort to adapt, despite his numerous meridionalisms, to the Boccaccio linguistic narrative model; an effort that was fully successful in Sannazzaro, in which the process of progressive Tuscanization is clearly identifiable. The process will be concluded, as we shall see, by Bembo.
The chivalric literature of the fifteenth century
Since the end of the 13th century. the literature of chivalry, both directly from French books and and above all through the Franco-Italian poems, had acclimatized in Tuscany, giving rise to a rich flowering of novels and poems, in prose and octaves, especially of Carolingian subject, which thicken along the course of the 14th and 15th centuries. We recall, in prose, only the Royals of France and the petty Guerin of Andrea da Barberino, and in verse the anonymous poems Orlando and Spagna.. The chivalrous poem represents a form particularly congenial to the spirits of the time, despite the chivalrous matter itself being the most alien to the classical world. Italian literature begins when the cavalry, as a social institution, was already dead. In Dante the chivalry is already nostalgia, and for him it represents a historical reality of the past that he thought should and perhaps could still return. Petrarch as a poet ignores chivalry, extraneous to classicism. Boccaccio, as he initiates in his early works the restoration of the chivalric world in an area of high literature, so he creates, in the Decameron, the bourgeois, ‘modern’ epic of chivalry, in the sense that it sees some human qualities of the chivalrous world feasible even in the new social climate. The fourteenth-sixteenth century poets, on the other hand, place the knights and their ideals in the enchanting and illusory distance of fairy tales, to be enjoyed only as such.
A man not devoid of culture, but far from the refinement of Poliziano or Lorenzo, L. Pulci in his Morgante enjoys reprising Orlando in a comic key. A much deeper poet was Boiardo, who in Orlando in love gave life to a poem in which the world of valor and love, considered as emanations of each other, has fallen into the halo of beautiful folk tales.