The Thinking of Speaking
Issue #10 July / August 2014
Word on the Streets
Italian Greats
by Sofia Ozols
July / August 2014 | 

The streets of Parleremo are named after famous writers for the language of each quarter. This is where we take a quick look at why they famous.
Corso Dante

Dante Alighieri
1265 - 1321

Durante degli Alighieri was not only a major Italian poet of the Middle Ages but also one of the most recognized names in Italian literature. He was the author of "The Divine Comedy" which is considered to be the greatest literary work in the Italian language as well as a world masterpiece.

• 1280 Detto D'Amore
• 1295 La Vita Nuova
• 1305 De Vulgari Eloquentia
• 1307 The Convivio
• 1320 Egloge
• 1321 La Commedia
• Letter to Can Grande
• Letter to the Florentines

Dante, as he became to be called, was born in Florence, Italy. The actual date of his birth is unknown, but he is believed to have been born in 1265. His mother died before he was ten years old, and his father remarried, giving him a half-brother, Francesco, and a half-sister, Tana, from that union. Dante himself was promised in marriage to Gemma di Manetto Donati, who was the daughter of the powerful Donati family, when he was only 12. He had fallen in love with another girl, Beatrice Portinari, without even talking to her, at the age of nine, but still had to marry Gemma. It is doubtful he even ever spoke much with Beatrice, instead having a more "courtly" form of love. During his life, he wrote several sonnets to Beatrice, but for Gemma, he wrote none. He eventually had four children by Gemma - Jacopo, Antonia, Giovanni and Pietro - although others claimed to be his.

Little is actually known about Dante's education, but he probably either attended a school that was part of a church or studied at home. One of the things he studied is Tuscan poetry and he developed an interest in the classical Latin poets like Ovid, Cicero, and Virgil. When he was 18, he met other scholars like Guido Cavalcanti, Lapo Gianni, Cino da Pistoia and Brunetto Latini, the last of these of whom would become Dante's guardian when his father died. Together, they became the leaders of the Dolce Stil Novo ("sweet new style"), which is what the literary movement of their time came to be called.

Beatrice died unexpectedly in 1290 and five years later, Dante published Vita Nuova ("The New Life"), which is about his love for her. He then started to become more involved in philosophy and politics.

In Italy, there were two rival political parties, the Guelphs and the Ghibellines, which supported the papal party and the Holy Roman emperors respectively, and this rivalry came to affect most Florentines of the time. Dante's family had loyalties to the Guelphs, and he fought in the battle of Campaldino in 1289. He then served as an escort to Charles Martel of Anjou, the eldest son of king Charles II of Naples, in 1924. He held various other posts, such as pharmacist (a law issued in 1295 required all nobles who aspired to public office had to be enrolled in one of the Corporazioni delle Arti e dei Mestieri ["Corporations of the Arts and Crafts"]).

After defeating the Ghibellines, the Guelphs split into two factions: the White Guelphs, who wanted more freedom from Rome and to whom Dante was a part of, and the Black Guelphs, who supported the Pope. After a few more years of fighting, the Black Guelphs took control. Dante was punished for his involvement and exiled for two years to Rome, as well as being forced to pay a large fine in 1302. When he refused to pay, the exile became permanent, and he even faced the threat of death if he attempted to return to Florence.

This was probably the best thing to happen to his career as a writer, as he started travelling and writing. It was during this time that he developed his great work, The Divine Comedy, which would reflect much of what he felt about his life. It describes his own journey through Inferno (Hell), Purgatorio (Purgatory), and Paradiso (Paradise) and his guides are his great loves, first being the Roman poet Virgil and then Beatrice. So great was this work that it is still considered a major work of literature today, over 700 years later.

In 1304, he began his Latin treatise (a formal and systematic written discourse) "De Vulgari Eloquentia" ("The Eloquent Vernacular"), through which he put forth his ideas for Italian. It became very influential, despite remaining unfinished.

When Florence was forced by the military officer controlling the town to grant amnesty to all those in exile in 135, Dante refused to return, for it required public penance as well as paying a large fine. In 1318, Prince Guido Novello da Polenta invited Dante to Ravenna, the capital city of the Province of Ravenna in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, and he accepted. It was during a return to Ravenna from a trip that he died in 1321 at the age of 56. He was buried there at the Church of San Pier Maggiore and a tomb was erected for him in 1483 by Bernardo Bembo, praetor of Venice.

Via Calvino

Italo Calvino
(15 October 1923 – 19 September 1985)

Italo Calvino was an Italian journalist and writer of short stories and novels. He was born in Santiago de Las Vegas, Cuba, in 1923, to Italian parents who returned to Italy two years later. They settled in San Remo on the Ligurian coast and Calvino's father started teaching at the University of Turin. Calvino attended preparatory school before entering that same university in 1941. While there, he studied Agriculture Faculty to please his parents, but he was also reading anti-Fascist works by Eugenio Montale, Cesare Pavese, Elio Vittorini, Johan Huizinga, and Pisacane. He also studied the physics works of Werner Heisenberg, Max Planck, and Albert Einstein.

In 1943, Calvino transferred to the University of Florence and continued his studies. During that year, the Allied Forces invaded Italy, the dictator Benito Mussolini was removed from power, and King Victor Emmanuel III had him arrested. He was rescued when the Germans invaded Liguria and set up him in a puppet Republic there. Calvino dropped out and joined the Italian resistance army, fighting the Germans and Italian fascists until they were finally defeated in 1945.

He went back to the university in 1945 when the war ended. However, he did not continue studying science and entered the Faculty of Letters instead. This is when he started writing, beginning on a collection of stories based around his war experiences. These eventually formed his novel Il sentiero dei nidi di ragno ("The Path to the Nest of Spiders”), which was published in 1947. He was encouraged by his friend to write another novel, and he joined their publishing house, Enaudi.

Calvino was prolific during the 1950s, publishing a number of works on various subjects, including stories which mixed comedy and fantasy, such as Il visconte dimezzato ("The Cloven Viscount", 1952), Il barone rampante ("The Baron in the Trees", 1957), and Il cavaliere inesistente ("The Nonexistent Knight", 1959). His collection of 200 authentic folktales, taken from all regions of Italy and published as Fiabe Italiane ("Italian Folktales") in 1956, brought him a huge amount international recognition and established him as a significant literary figure.

After moving to Paris in the early 1960s, Calvino published La giornata d'uno scrutatore ("The Watcher") in 1963. He married an Argentinian woman, Esther "Chichita" Singer, who had been working for years as a translator for UNESCO, in 1964. He continued publishing many books, including La nuvola di smog ("Smog", 1965), Le cosmicomiche ("Cosmicomics", 1965), and Il castello dei destini incrociati ("The Castle of Crossed Destinies", 1969). During this time, Chichita gave birth to their only child, a daughter named Giovanna, in 1965.

Partial List of Works
• 1947 Il sentiero dei nidi di ragno (The Path to the Nest of Spiders)
• 1952 Il visconte dimezzato (The Cloven Viscount)
• 1952 La formica argentina (The Argentine Ant)
• 1956 Fiabe Italiane (Italian Folktales)
• 1957 Il barone rampante (The Baron in the Trees)
• 1957 La speculazione edilizia (A Plunge into Real Estate)
• 1959 Il cavaliere inesistente (The Nonexistent Knight)
• 1963 La giornata d'uno scrutatore (The Watcher)
• 1963 Marcovaldo ovvero le stagioni in città (Marcovaldo or the Seasons in the City)
• 1965 La nuvola di smog (Smog)
• 1965 Le cosmicomiche (Cosmicomics)
• 1967 Ti con zero (t zero)
• 1969 Il castello dei destini incrociati (The Castle of Crossed Destinies)
• 1970 Gli amori difficili (Difficult Loves)
• 1972 Le città invisibili (Invisible Cities)
• 1979 Se una notte d'inverno un viaggiatore (If on a winter's night a traveler)
• 1983 Palomar (Mr. Palomar)

Fiction collections
• 1949 Ultimo viene il corvo (The Crow Comes Last)
• 1960 I nostri antenati (Our Ancestors)
• 1986 Sotto il sole giaguaro (Under the Jaguar Sun)
• 1993 Prima che tu dica 'Pronto' (Numbers in the Dark and Other Stories)
• 1997 Tutte le cosmicomiche (The Complete Cosmicomics)

Essays and other writings
• 1970 Orlando Furioso di Ludovico Ariosto (Orlando Furioso by Ludovico Ariosto)
• 1974 Autobiografia di uno spettatore (Autobiography of a Spectator)
• 1980 Una pietra sopra: Discorsi di letteratura e società (The Uses of Literature)
• 1983 Racconti fantastici dell'ottocento (Fantastic Tales)
• 1983 Science et métaphore chez Galilée (Science and Metaphor in Galileo Galilei)
• 1984 Collezione di sabbia (Collection of Sand)
• 1988 Lezioni americane: Sei proposte per il prossimo millennio (Six Memos for the Next Millennium)
• 1988 Sulla fiaba (On the Fairy Tale)
• 1991 I libri degli altri. Lettere 1947–1981 (The Books of Others)
• 1991 Perché leggere i classici (Why Read the Classics?)

Autobiographical works
• 1954 L'entrata in guerra (Into the War)
• 1990 La strada di San Giovanni (The Road to San Giovanni)
• 1994 Eremita a Parigi. Pagine autobiografiche (Hermit in Paris)
• 1995 Album Calvino

• 1956 La panchina. Opera in un atto (The Bench: One-Act Opera)
• 1984 Un re in ascolto (A King Listens)

Calvino returned with his family to Rome in 1980, settling in a country house at Pinetta Roccamare. He was given an honorary membership of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters in the United States in 1975. Italo Calvino died on September 19, 1985, from a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 61.

Italo Calvino was one of Italy’s most celebrated writers, and during his lifetime, he produced over 40 works, including a few libretti (text intended for use in a musical work such as operas). His stories are known for their blend of fantasy and comedy to depict modern life.

Word on the Streets - Italian Greats
Writer: Sofia Ozols
Petey: Dante, Calvino
• "Dante Alighieri" From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia <>
• "Dante Biography" bio. <>
• "Italo Calvino" From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia <>
• "Italo Calvino" Famous Authors <>
• "Italica" Biography of Italo Calvino <>

All images are Copyright - CC BY-SA (Creative Commons Share Alike) by their respective owners, except for Petey, which is Public Domain (PD) or unless otherwise noted.


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