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From the Sicilian school to the 16th century


Italian literature is greatly in debt to Sicily. It was here that in the aristocratic and refined Court of Frederick II of Swabia (1194-1250) poetry in the common tongue was first written.
Jurists, notaries, captains and officials gathered around the king and emperor and in the magna curia literature was cultivated as an escape from the daily round: they sang of “courtly love”, expressing the themes of Provençal lyrics in a new language. Here on the island people did not imitate the Troubadors, they emulated them, and in this way gave rise to the Sicilian School of poetry where the adjective Sicilian must not be interpreted in a strictly geographical sense as writers born elsewhere formed part of this school.

According to Dante, who had no difficulty in recognising that Frederick’s court took historical precedence in composing verse in ordinary language, the first of the Sicilians was Jacopo da Lentini (1210-1260), the ” Notaro” inventor of the sonnet, the school’s most original and important metric innovation. Even of of the most important was Cielo d’Alcamo, who in 1231-1250 wrote the dialogue “contrasto” Rosa fresca aulentissima, on a theme frequently treated in poetry using a common subject, that of the seducer seeking love and the girl who tries to resist but then desists, did not belong to this school although he was a contemporary.

The prime aspect of Humanistic culture was essentially philological. Humanistic philology and literature had many disciples in Sicily, notably Giovanni Aurispa and Antonio Beccadelli, known as the “Panormita”.The first one discovered important codexes: the Iliad, works by Aeschylus and Sophocles and the Palatine Anthology. The second one, instead, wrote the Hermafroditus (1425) in Latin, a collection of lively but often obscene epigrams. The Cinquecento (16th C.) in Sicily, was characterised by a modest literary output in the official language and by a more vital vernacular literature.

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