Italian Literature in the Second Half of the 18th Century

Enlightenment literature

The second eighteenth century is dominated by the sensory and rationalistic philosophy that comes through French teaching (these are the years in which the Encyclopédie spread, two editions of which are also published in Italy). In this age, the need for an educational literature prevails, and in this perspective the Enlightenment literature stands as a direct reaction to Arcadia and to all literary expressions which, in addition to not having an educational function, lack that creative energy. which is typical of great literature and especially of poetry. The greatest literary critic of the time, G. Baretti, in his Literary Whip he wages a vehement battle against Arcadians, Petrarchists, ancient writers and slavish imitators of the ancient, rhetoricians, writers who are not ‘useful’ to civil life. But if everyone, with greater or lesser fighting impetus, agrees in this anti-traditionalist stance (from which the romantic rebellion will start), they do not agree on the instrument that the hoped-for new literature should use, namely say the language. Since, while the Venetian academy of the Granelleschi with the Gozzi brothers, the Milanese dei Trasformati, and Baretti (which belongs to both of them) advocate Tuscanism, the Milanese academy of the Pugni (and its organ, Il caffè) on the other hand, he violently renounces the Tuscan tradition with the Crusca. Such a position becomes thoughtful system in the Essay on the philosophy of languages by M. Cesarotti, who, fighting the Crusca and pedantry, hopes for a language open to the innovations imposed by the ever new things to be expressed, provided that the innovations do not repel the already consolidated linguistic structure.

According to THEFREEGEOGRAPHY, the properly poetic voice of the Italian Enlightenment is, however, that of G. Parini, who, unlike the writers of Il Caffè, fully accepts the literary tradition, especially the sixteenth century, to which he aspires to reconnect (Horace is his model ). With Parini, the same rigor presides over both the moral justification of literature and the pursuit of its expressive efficacy.


Parini is therefore also close to that tendency of poetics and taste that has taken on the name of neoclassicism. This tendency reacts to the anti-traditionalism of a large part of Enlightenment literature, with which it generally has educational intentions in common. Thoughts are and want to be new, but the verses with which they are expressed are intended to be ancient: this is the basic precept of neoclassicism, according to a formula by A. Chénier which was immediately accepted in Italy. The greatest lyricist of the period, G. Meli, who uses the Sicilian dialect, but not popularly, for realistic-romantic purposes, is not entirely foreign to the neoclassical trend, as soon after other writers in dialect, P. Buratti and above all the great C. Porta and GG Belli, but with the awareness of using a literary language, indeed the most illustrious, because the first, of Italian literary languages; and it is fully in the Arcadian-Enlightenment sphere. On the other hand, neoclassicism tends, always with figurative sensitivity, to the representation of beauty, especially that of the human body, understood as harmony: this is the tendency that is expressed in the sculpture of A. Canova, around which they can be said to gravitate. these writers, and also the one who is by far the greatest among them, U. Foscolo. Great neoclassical authors are V. Monti, in which, in addition to those of Dante and the Bible, resonances of English sepulchral poetry and Ossianic, that is, of forms of pre-romantic poetry, are clearly perceptible; and P. Giordani, who exercises, together with Monti, a true literary dictatorship.


As the 18th century progressed. the premonitory signs of the imminent romantic revolution are becoming more and more precise. In the optimism of the Enlightenment, in the serenity and in the neoclassical decorum, a more and more relevant vein of discontent gradually creeps in; to express it, new themes of poetry are chosen, mainly due to English and French influence; Arcadia inaugurates a new section, which will be called lugubrious; The fashion of sepulchral poetry in the footsteps of the English E. Young and T. Gray quickly imposed itself, which, moreover, the Italians often use for the expression of their moral and civil spirits (Roman Nights by A. Verri, brother of Pietro ; above all, then, the Tomb of Foscolo). Beside the sepulchral, ​​with this often confused, Bardita poetry (➔ bardo) or ossianic (➔ Ossian). In short, the fashion for a poem in various ways melancholy, considered testimony of a more modern and refined sensibility, is spreading. A myth that will soon be romantic begins to arise: the myth of poetry considered ‘naive’ outpouring of the soul. However, we always remain on the threshold of the new age. Typical in this regard is Italy Pindemonte, perhaps the most gifted of the pre-Romantic poets, while V. Alfieri occupies a place to himself, closely related to the German poets of Sturm und Drang and considered a proto-romantic, despite his loyalty to the most rigorous classicistic poetics.

Italian Literature in the Second Half of the 18th Century

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