ITALIAN LITERATURE

Influence of the Bible

As in other European cultures, the Bible became known to the Italian literary and cultural world through the Latin Vulgate, which was extensively studied in medieval times and, to a lesser extent, in the humanist period of the 15th–16th centuries. Fragmentary translations of the Bible into Italian, based on the Vulgate, were made in the 13th century. Translations in an entirely separate category were those made by Jews from Hebrew into *Judeo-Italian, written in Hebrew characters. These translations lacked literary or aesthetic value, and were used exclusively by Jews, although they may also have been known to gentiles during the 12th and 13th centuries. They are important for the study of the history of Italian dialects and the phonetics of the Italian language: among them are the translations of the Psalms, Song of Songs, Amos, Jonah, and Habakkuk. Two examples of translation into Italian from the Vulgate are the Splanamento de li Proverbi di Salomone, written by Gherardo Pateg (early 13th century), and the Cantico delle creature, a free adaptation of Psalm 148 by St. Francis of Assisi. Written in rhythmic prose, the latter constitutes the earliest document of authentic Italian poetry. The piecemeal translations were collected at the end of the 14th century under the title Biblia volgare; but the exact development from anonymous and fragmentary manuscripts to the Biblia volgare – containing the entire Old and New Testaments and a portion of the Apocrypha – has yet to be explored.

With the advent of Bible criticism, non-Jews, too, began to translate the Bible into Italian from the original tongues (see *Bible, Translations). The work of A. Brucioli and G. Marmochini is representative of Renaissance Bible translation, but the process was abruptly checked by the Counter-Reformation, which prohibited study of the Bible in the vernacular. A translation which continues to enjoy great popularity is that by the Protestant G. Diodati (1607). In a much delayed reaction, the Catholic Church decided more than 150 years later to distribute Archbishop Martini's version (1776–81), which was popular up to the late 19th century. During the Renaissance, Jews also set themselves to making Bible translations in a good literary style. The best-known Jewish translations were those by David min-ha-Tappuḥim (David de *Pomis; Ecclesiastes, Venice, 1571) and Ezechia da Rieti (Proverbs, Venice, 1617).

BIBLICAL THEMES

Italian literature's unique relationship to the Greco-Roman world long restricted the Bible's role in the experience and expression – aesthetic, philosophical, and moral – of Italian writers. Most authors and men of culture were educated along classical lines, which excluded a study of the Bible as literature. *Dante Alighieri, Italy's greatest poet, was a solitary exception. He had a rich and highly original relationship with the Bible, which was one of the two principal sources of his poetry, the other being Vergil's Aeneid. Through the Vulgate, Dante acquired a biblical style and infused his Divine Comedy with biblical expressions, images, and linguistic patterns. Dante placed the heroes of Israel – the patriarchs, the Hebrew kings, the prophets, Judith, and the Maccabees – in heaven, and made them symbolize and exemplify faith, valor, and humility. Dante believed that the Hebrew Bible was the primary evidence of Divine revelation, teaching faith in one God, and that the Old Testament's authority had not been diminished by the New Testament. During the 14th century, biblical influence can be detected in biographical works and in tales of a moral and didactic type, as well as in religious and mystical literature. This literature, which was only of marginal importance, was mainly inspired by the Psalms, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes.

The earliest plays on biblical themes, all anonymous, were written in the 15th century, and are a direct continuation of the sacra rappresentazione of medieval religious drama. Works of this kind include rappresentazioni such as Caino e Abele, Abramo e Agar, Abramo e Isaac, La regina Ester, and Nabuccodonosor. The Florentine playwright Feo Belcari derived much of his inspiration from these plays. His drama, La rappresentazione di Abramo e Isaac (1449), is an attempt at a realistic recreation of the episode of the *Akedah. After the era of humanism and the Renaissance, it was not until the beginning of the Baroque period, when the Aristotelian principles of unity of time and place in tragedy had been abandoned, that Italian writers returned to the Bible. Under the impact of the didactic and ethical demands of the Counter-Reformation, the Bible became a rich source of inspiration. Baroque writers tended to express their religious emotions in drama or music. Biblical figures and events provided suitable literary material. From the 17th century onward, this trend was particularly evident in Italian drama, which served as a model for the French dramatist, *Racine. Heroism and tragic faith now replaced the old epic and Greek tragedy. Torquato Tasso was the author of Gerusalemme liberata (1581), an epic poem dealing with the Crusaders who sacrificed their lives for a religious ideal. After La reina Ester by the Genoese poet Ansaldo Cebà (1615), the foremost Italian tragedian inspired by biblical themes was Frederico della Valle, who dramatized Judith (1628) and Esther (1628). Della Valle had many imitators and followers who combined in their works Baroque taste and the didactic aims of the Jesuits. The favorite biblical characters dramatized in Italy during the 17th and 18th centuries were Joash, king of Judah, David, Saul, Rachel, "mother of the Maccabees," and Judith. Another favorite character, John, appeared in Giovanni di Giscala by A. Varano (1754). Pietro Metastasio also treated biblical subjects in his melodramas La morte di Abele (1732) and Gioas, Re di Giuda (1735), which combine tender music with the conflict between good and evil, as understood by Baroque and Arcadian writers. A fundamental turning point in the conception of biblical tragedy may be seen in the Saul (1782) of Vittorio Alfieri, who also wrote the ponderous Abele (1796). With characteristic pre-Romantic taste, Alfieri invests Saul's battles and death with the defiant grandeur of an individual who tries to impose his will on friend and enemy alike, even when his own doom has been sealed by divine decree. In the 19th century, the Bible was a source of inspiration for some of the Italian Romantics. However, these writers sought in the Bible the new ideas of human freedom and the principles of absolute justice rather than epic greatness and heroism. Tragic episodes in the Bible were now associated with the historic tragedy of the Jewish people, sometimes punished and persecuted because of their sins, sometimes redeemed. The fate of biblical Israel was identified with that of the Italian nation, downtrodden and oppressed because of its reluctance to revolt and free itself. This trend is exemplified in La terra dei morti, a poem by Giuseppe Giusti, where Ezekiel's vision of the dry bones is satirically applied to the situation of 19th-century Italy. Even more than in tragedy, poetry, and prose, biblical influence was dominant in Italian opera, reaching a peak in Giuseppe Verdi's Nabucco (1842). Following the unification of Italy, the Bible – a source of inspiration for 700 years – ceased to influence Italian writers to any significant extent. The legacy of the Bible was at best seen in a biblical style of writing and in a richly evocative lyrical expression – prophetic pathos on the one hand, and an absence of rhetoric on the other. However, two novels, both centered on the biblical character of King David, deserve mention for the stature of their authors: Il pianto del figlio di Lais (1945) by Riccardo Bacchelli and Davide: romanzo (1976) by Carlo Coccioli (this latter based on a reading of the Bible in Hebrew).

The Image of the Jew

Jews and Judaism play a comparatively minor part in Italian literature. The relatively small number of Italian Jews throughout the ages and the classical ties of Italian literature and culture explain the limited role of Jews in Italian intellectual life, particularly during the golden age of Italian literature.

DANTE AND BOCCACCIO

Dante's only allusion to Jews is in his Divine Comedy, where he refers to Christianity's origin in the Jewish people. As for the "historical" Jews living after the triumph of Christianity, Dante praised them as exemplary people who, unlike the Christians of his time, remained loyal to their God. Only occasionally do Jews appear as central figures in the Italian prose and fiction of the later Middle Ages. Giovanni *Boccaccio portrayed them sympathetically in two famous stories, demonstrating his tolerant approach to the controversies between the three great religions and using his Jewish heroes to deride the moral corruption of the Catholic Church. Boccaccio's exotic Jew reveals the greatness of the human mind and plays a positive role in the writer's human comedy. The Jew also appears in the early 15th-century version of the *Wandering Jew tale. Here he is a wholly sympathetic character, contrasting markedly with the tragic, guilt-ridden figure of the later German tradition.

MEDIEVAL AND RENAISSANCE STEREOTYPES

A very different attitude is displayed by the 14th century Florentine Franco Sacchetti in his Trecento novelle. In the five stories introducing Jewish characters, all the religious prejudice of the medieval Church is brought into play. The Jew is a moneylender, merchant, or swindler whose sole aim is the corruption of the true Christian. It is therefore legitimate to injure and trick him and to rejoice at his humiliation. A similar approach characterizes Ser Giovanni Fiorentino's late 14th-century story of Giannetto in the collection Il Pecorone. The Jewish villain's greed and his hatred of Christians lead him to devise a cruel scheme to tear the flesh from a living body. This story was adapted by the English translator William Painter in his Palace of Pleasure (1566), a favorite source for many Elizabethan dramatists. According to some scholars, this was the original source of *Shakespeare's Shylock in The Merchant of Venice. There were also popular, stereotyped Jews in many anonymous Italian stories of the 15th century, most of which had a didactic and moralizing aim. However, a few of these stories present the Jew as a figure of integrity and pride, commanding respect rather than scorn. With the advent of humanism and the Renaissance, the standardized description of the Jew as merchant and usurer sank to the level of folk-literature. The Jew now figured only in satire and comedy, which gradually blended with the comic stereotype of Italian Renaissance writers. Such was the case with Pietro Aretino, who introduced Jewish secondhand dealers in his comedies La cortigiana (1526) and Il Marescalco (1533). A Jewish scoundrel, sorcerer, and fortune-teller appears in the comedy Il negromante (1520) by Ludovico Ariosto. The intention, however, is not to mock the Jew as a Jew, but to construct a broad satire on human folly victimized by shrewd impostors. In the development of the commedia dell' arte, the Jewish moneylender is one of the many comic characters of the Pulcinella and Harlequin type. The best known of these are the character of Manovello (Immanuel) the Jew, and the comic descriptions of ghetto Jews in Amfiparnaso (1597) and Veglie di Siena (1604) by the Modena composer Orazio Vecchi.

LATER PORTRAYALS

The last stage in the comic description of the Jew is marked by the many stereotypes of Roman ghetto Jews in the comic folk poems written in the 17th-century Roman dialect. G. Berneri's Meo Patacca (1695) is the most famous example of this genre. These poems, partly in the tradition of Italian folk theater and partly in that of refined comedy, contain many words borrowed from the Roman variant of Judeo-Italian. The last appearance of the Jew in Roman dialect poetry is the description of Jews and ghetto life in the 50 or more sonnets by the Roman poet Giuseppe Gioacchino Belli. But here, a worn and stereotyped theme is enlivened by penetrating social and anti-ecclesiastical criticism. In contrast to comedy, satire, and popular literature, the refined poetry and belles lettres of the Renaissance and Baroque periods lack Jewish themes. Despite the legendary exchange of sonnets between Petrarch and the Jewish poetess Giustina *Levi-Perotti, the Jew finds no place in the poetry, epic, tragedy, or prose of Ariosto, Matteo Boiardo, and Pulci, nor in Baroque and Arcadian poetry, idylls, and pastoral studies (Favole pastorali). The one writer to provide an exception to this rule was P.F. Frugoni, in whose Il cane di Diogene (1687) the reader finds a Jew who is a strange combination of ritual slaughterer, physician, and sorcerer. Frugoni was a writer far in advance of his time, and his descriptions of a strange and marvelous, but nevertheless believable, world match anything to be found in modern literature. The beginning of Romanticism and national awakening brought about in Italy by the French Revolution sparked a parallel literary revolution. Once modern Italian literature had liberated itself from the classical tradition, writers also began to show interest in the wretched condition of the Jew – bereft of rights, persecuted, the victim of blind prejudice. Some of the greatest Italian poets and authors of the 19th century, such as Vittorio Alfieri, Ugo Foscolo, Giacomo Leopardi, and A. Manzoni, expressed their sympathy for the Jews, took up their cause, and looked upon them as comrades in the struggle against Church despotism and for national liberation and social and economic improvement. The Jew now became a useful subject for polemics in the struggle for civil rights, individual liberty, and freedom of speech. This sympathetic attitude, however, did not give rise to any notable literary works. The real extent of the Jewish tragedy was beyond the comprehension of these writers, who dealt mainly with biblical episodes in which the leitmotifs were freedom and epic heroism. The Jew was never subjected to a searching and universal analysis. The few attempts by authors such as the 19th-century Ippolito Nievo, who wrote the tedious (and unpublished) historical novel Emmanuel, and the playwright Achille Torelli, who wrote the drama L'Israelita (1841), were unsuccessful. At the same time, the polemical press and the publications of Italy's national liberation movement – primarily through its chief philosopher, Giuseppe Mazzini – were inspired by such general ideas in Judaism as its concept of Divine Unity, its moral values, and its democratic social outlook.

THE 20TH CENTURY

In the 20th century neither Italian prose writers nor poets showed any particular interest in the Jews and their fate. This may be explained by the exiguity of the Jewish nucleus in Italy, the nonexistence of a "Jewish problem" from the unification of Italy until the Fascist persecution, and the scant knowledge of the Old Testament characteristic of Catholic countries. Works like those of Thomas *Mann, inspired by the story of Joseph, would be inconceivable in Italian literature. Only in recent years, in the wake of the tragedy of European Jewry and the birth of the State of Israel, have a few works on such themes appeared, especially documentaries and histories. Great poets of the early 20th century such as Carducci, Pascoli, and D'Annunzio (the last having a Jewish character in his Più che l'amore), and major prose writers like Verga and Fogazzaro, have at best shown only casual and marginal interest in Jewish problems. Nor has it been usual for Jewish writers to face Judaism as a separate issue. In some cases, the Jew was chosen as a subject for literary and poetic discussion. One notable exponent of this trend is Luigi Pirandello, whose story Il presepe depicts a Jew who marries a non-Jewish girl. Un goj, one of Pirandello's short stories, also concerns a Jew. On a lesser plane, Giovanni Papini often presents a biased or distorted picture of Jews and Judaism, as in Storia di Cristo (1921), Gog (1931), and Lettere… del papa Celestino VI (1947). For his part, Alfredo Panzini in his novel Viaggio con la giovane ebrea (1935) dwells on the issue of the patriotism of the Jews in their countries of birth in lengthy and somewhat ambiguous dissertations. In the interwar period two novels appeared which dealt with a specific Jewish theme: Schemagn Israel (1924), by Luigi di San Giusto, the tragic story of a Jewish family of Trieste during World War I; and Ebrei (1930), by Mario Puccini, the tale of a Jewish family in Ancona during the same period. Jewish themes are also used more or less directly in novels such as La nave degli eroi (1927) by Clarice Tartufari, Kaddish (1930) by Guido Milanesi, Lilith (1934) and Il paradiso perduto (1935) by Salvatore Gotta, as well as Mamma (1959; reprinted in 1961) by Virgilio Brocchi. The end of World War II saw the publication of R.M. Angelis' novel, Panche gialle (1945), which tells of the plight of German Jews in 1933. Among works which have drawn inspiration from the Bible are Giuda (1922) by F.V. Ratti; Giobbe, uomo solo (1955) by G.B. Angioletti; Giuda (1917) and Rosa di Sion (1918), by Enrico Pea, whose story Lisetta (1946) also contains Jewish characters; and two plays by Diego Fabbri, Processo a Gesù (1953), and Inquisizione (1950). Jews and episodes from Jewish life also appear in and Il mulino del Po (1938–40) by Riccardo Bacchelli. Among the works of Marino Moretti is the novella Tre sorelle (in the collection Cinquanta Novelle, 1962), a revision of Le sorelle Nunes (1948). Jewish characters and events connected with Jews are referred to, not always with sympathy or understanding, in various works by Curzio Malaparte (Kurt Erich Suckert) like the quasi-documentary novels Kaputt (1944) and La pelle (1949). Many works of a documentary character were published in the immediate postwar period. Jewish episodes and characters are also found in Cortile a Cleopatra (1931) and Ballata Levantina (1961) by Fausta Cialente, as well as in Giuseppe Borgese's novels Rubé (1921), I vivi e i morti (1923, 1951) and his drama Lazzaro (1925), and in A. Gatti's Ilia ed Alberto (1931).

The tragedy of the Holocaust again placed the Jews in the center of literary interest. One of the most important novels of postwar Italy is La Storia (1974; History: a Novel, 1977) by Elsa Morante (whose mother was Jewish, but who did not show any signs of Jewish identity). In this ambitious novel, which explicitly attempted to renew the epic-popular tradition, some of the heroes and minor characters are Jews, or half-Jews, of Rome in the years of World War II and the postwar period. Roman Jews are also present in La parola ebreo (1997) by Rosetta Loy, an anamnesis of the antisemitic period in Italy, centered on the indifference of so many Christians. The sociologist Sabino Acquaviva himself tried his hand at the historical novel, with La ragazza del ghetto (1996), on a difficult love relation between a Jewess and a Catholic nobleman in the Venice of the 16th century.

Jews and Judaism are equally inconspicuous in Italian poetry, where they obtain no more than a passing reference. In one of her poems, "L'Apparizione" (1918), Ada Negri commemorated the war hero Roberto Sarfatti, son of Mussolini's biographer Margherita Sarfatti, who fell in World War I; but the choice of the theme was anything but deliberate. In contrast, "Dora Markus," a long poem by Eugenio Montale presents a specific Jewish motif. Similarly, the Nobel Prize winner Salvatore Quasimodo touches on Jewish subjects in the poems: "Il mio paese è l'Italia," "Auschwitz," "Alle fronde dei salici," and "Alla nuova luna." Others of his poems are inspired by the Book of Psalms. In Rossana Ombres' verse collection Le ciminiere di Casale (1962), the last group titled "Per una nuova sinagoga" is of Jewish interest. A few poems about Jews and the State of Israel were written by Diego Valeri (1887–1975) in 1967 and reprinted in his book Verità di uno (1970). In Poesie e prose (n.d.) by Egidio Meneghetti various poems in the Venetian dialect, especially "Lager," and "Bortolo e l'ebreeta," are concerned with Jewish motifs. So are "Isacco & Co.," "Ci avevo un gatto e se' chiamava Ajò," and other farcical sonnets in the Roman dialect by Trilussa (Carlo Alberto Salustri) and before him, by the poets G. Belli, whose sonnets contain many Jewish references; and Gigi Zanazzo.

The Jewish Contribution

Jews have spoken and written in Italian since the language began to evolve, yet the Jewish contribution to Italian literature has been limited. In medieval and even in modern times, Jews wrote in their own Judeo-Italian dialect and produced a literature, occasionally of poetic and aesthetic value, unknown to Italian authors and poets. Only recently have scholars begun to study this body of writing. The first text to be recorded in Judeo-Italian, which belongs to the Roman-Jewish-Italian koiné, is an elegy, probably written at the end of 12th century or beginning of 13th. The first Jew who made a significant contribution to Italian poetry was *Immanuel b. Solomon of Rome (14th century) who, apart from his substantial writing in Hebrew, produced poetry in Italian according to aesthetic principles of the dolce stil novo school. He was a friend of two famous poets, Cino da Pistoia and Bosone da Gubbio, with whom he exchanged sonnets. "Bisbidis" and "Sirventese del maestro di tutte le arti," two humorous poems in which he boasts of his aptitude for all crafts, are well known. In the 15th century, the Hebrew poet and philosopher Moses of Rieti wrote a treatise on science and metaphysics in central Italian and Hebrew letters, Filosofia naturale e fatti de Dio, which contains visions and allegories of great literary value.

RENAISSANCE AND BAROQUE WRITERS

Judah *Abrabanel's Dialoghi d'amore (1535) was an important contribution to scholarly philosophic prose. Although its unpolished style led some writers to suppose that the original was not written in Italian, the Dialoghi is a classic of Italian philosophic literature and greatly influenced 16th-century writing on Platonic love. The work was early translated into Spanish and French and widely emulated. The writer Bembo and the great philosophers Giordano Bruno and Baruch *Spinoza used the Dialoghi as a source from which they developed their own theories and systems. Leone da Sommi *Portaleone, who wrote the first treatise on stage production, enjoyed an important role in the history of Renaissance theater. His principal work on the subject is the Quattro dialoghi in materia di rappresentazione ("Four Dialogues on the Art of Staging"). Sommi also wrote plays (Le tre sorelle, "The Three Sisters," 1993) and epics which were often staged at the court of the dukes of Mantua. Another important work testifying to the activity of Italian Jews in the Renaissance is the Trattato dell'arte del ballo (1463; On the Practice of Art of Dancing, 1995) by *Guglielmo da Pesaro. Jewish poets, however, devoted most of their work to expounding their Jewish faith in classical Italian in order to widen an understanding of Judaism among the gentiles. These poets even attained some popularity in the gentile world at the time. Johanan (Elhanan) Mordecai Judah Alatrini, perhaps the same as Angelo Alatini (d. before 1611), wrote original poems and sonnets of religious inspiration, collected under the title L'Angelica Tromba (1628), and also translated into Italian the piyyut Barekhi Nafshi by R. Bahya b. Joseph. As Angelo Alatini, he wrote I Trionfi (1611), a pastoral fable in Arcadian style, with characters drawn from Latin mythology. Earlier, in the 16th century, Eliezer Mazliaḥ b. Avraham Cohen (Lazzaro da Viterbo, c. 1585) and Simone Massarani wrote devotional poetry, the latter publishing a rhymed translation of Judah Al-Ḥarizi's Mishlei Ḥakhamim (Motti di diversi saggi tradotti da lingua hebraea in volgare, Mantua 1592). The same Lazzaro da Viterbo (1585), Deborah Ascarelli (1601), Samuel b. Moses Castelnuovo (1609) translated poems and piyyutim from Hebrew, including a section of the poem Mikdash Me'at by *Moses of Rieti. Intended primarily for the Jewish public, the translations were sometimes written in Hebrew letters and in this case belong to Judeo-Italian rather than to Italian literature. At the end of the 16th century, but mainly in the 17th, scholarly works by Jewish authors were published in Venice. These treatises adhered to the style and conception of the Renaissance, as evidenced in Discorso intorno all'umana miseria e sopra il modo di fuggirla (Venice, 1572) by David (b. Isaac) de Pomis, and to early modern European thought, as the two treatises Socrate, ovvero dell'umano sapere (Venice, 1651) and Discorso circa il stato degli hebrei (Venice, 1638) by Simone (Simḥah) b. Isaac Luzzatto. The treatise by Leone Modena, Historia de' riti hebraici (Paris, 1637), a good example of the erudite literary style of the Italian Baroque, was widely published in Italy and abroad (in French, Dutch, Hebrew, and English translation). David de Pomis' Hebrew-Aramaic dictionary, Ẓemaḥ David (Venice, 1587), which contains Italian definitions, and Leone Modena's Hebrew-Italian dictionary, Galut Yehudah (Venice, 1612), constitute the first Italian works in Oriental studies. In the late Renaissance and during the 17th and 18th centuries, it became customary for Italian Jewish poets to share the style and the subjects of Baroque and Arcadian Italian poetry. Well versed in Italian culture, the principles of rhetoric, and the technique of verse composition, these Jewish writers were fluent in both Italian and Hebrew. Although they did not differ in style from their Italian contemporaries, the Jewish poets lacked their energy and talent but sometimes achieved excellent results. A long line of Jewish poets wrote sonnets, pastorals, occasional poems, canzonets, and madrigals. Poets were common among rabbis, intellectuals, and women, especially in the communities of northern Italy. In Rome, however, there were "poetic academies" and literary circles deeply influenced by Baroque and Arcadian Italian poetry. Judah b. Joseph *Moscato and Azariah De' *Rossi wrote elegies on the death of Princess Margaret of Savoy, and the Venetian poetess Sara Copia *Sullam composed original sonnets, her home becoming a center of cultural and poetic life in Venice. Leone Modena, the brothers Jacob and Emmanuel *Frances, and later Ephraim and Isaac *Luzzatto wrote many occasional poems in Italian. As the Baroque challenged poets to experiment in criticism and cunning poetic invention, it became a literary convention in the 17th century to write poems with double meanings, a technique in which Leone Modena excelled. He and his contemporary Baruch Luzzatto wrote plays; the former re-writing Solomon *Usque's drama Esther, (thus continuing a tradition of plays written for the occasion of Purim by Jewish Italian authors (for instance Mordehai Dato, mid-16th century, La storia di Purim io ve racconto, written in "ottava rima," i.e., in the poetic form made popular by Ariosto), and writing the pastoral epic Rachele e Giacobbe, which has been lost, Luzzatto composing the pastoral epic L'amor possente (1631). In honor of the rulers of their time, Deodato (Nethaneel) Segre (17th century) and Israel Benjamin Bassan (1701–1790) composed poems of praise. Segre wrote poems and a book praising the dukes of Savoy (1621), while Bassan composed a series of octaves in Italian and Hebrew in honor of Francis III, duke of Modena (1750), and a series of sonnets, La Corona estense, eulogizing the house of Este. Hezekiah Manoah Ḥayyim *Corcos (Tranquillo Vita Corcos) established an academy which taught the Arcadian poetic style. He trained his pupils to recite compositions in Italian on festive occasions, e.g., his Discorso (1710), in which he developed the story of Esther and Mordecai. Jacob Josef Saraval, Eliah Ḥayyim Morpurgo, and Benedetto Frizzi were among the outstanding figures of Italian Judaism who wrote Italian works of different kinds in a period when Hebrew was slowly replaced by Italian as the language of scholars. Actually, the European Enlightenment partially broke down the cultural synthesis characterizing the literary style and outlook of Italian Jews. By the end of the 18th century some Jewish poets and writers demonstrated their desire to take part in gentile culture and to be read by a larger public. This process reached its height in the 19th century, when specifically Jewish issues were absorbed in general human problems – the equality of peoples, freedom, and the process of national liberation. Italian Jews saw in this development an opportunity to improve their own inferior condition. It is noteworthy that important teachers of the Italian language and literature at the end of the century were Jewish: Isaac Azulai (alias Joseph Leontini, the son of the well-known H.J.D. *Azulai) was the private teacher of the princess of Prussia and wrote some Italian grammars in German; Filippo Sarchi, the son of Elia Morpurgo, had the chair of Italian in Vienna; the son of a convert to Protestantism, Giovanni (John) Florio (1553–1625) popularized Italian literature in England. But the apostate Lorenzo da Ponte (previously Emanuele *Conegliano), author of the three famous libretti for the Mozart operas Le nozze di Figaro, Don Giovanni, and Cosi fan tutte, is signally typical of the modern period. A brilliant adventurer who, like Casanova, exemplified the libertine, Da Ponte immigrated to the United States where he made the Italian language and literature popular.

Unlike these two figures, Salomone *Fiorentino and Samuel *Romanelli reveal in their poems and other writings a balance between loyalty to Judaism and active participation in Italian cultural life. Fiorentino wrote sonnets, elegies, and many epic poems (part of his collected poems first appeared in 1801) and won recognition for his style and adherence to the classical tradition, which he infused with new meaning. In many of his poems, Fiorentino was inspired by the Bible and displayed a profound religious feeling. He was the first to translate the Sephardi liturgy into literary Italian (Basle, 1802). Like Fiorentino, Romanelli wrote hymns and songs of praise (Raccolta di inni e di lodi, Mantua, 1807) and translated his own plays into Italian from the Hebrew original (Maḥazeh Shadai or Illusione felice, ossia visione sentimentale, and Alot ha-Minḥah, translation appeared with Hebrew original, Vienna, 1793). Romanelli translated Solomon ibn *Gabirol's Keter Malkhut into Italian, as well as prayers and piyyutim. Many of Romanelli's poems were lost or have remained in manuscript.

THE 19TH AND 20TH CENTURIES

During the 19th century Jewish writers and scholars increasingly participated in the struggle of the Italian Risorgimento. This participation necessarily brought about a dichotomy between the author's Jewish identity and the new ideals of the Risorgimento that laid claim to their entire personality. Graziadio Isaia *Ascoli, the greatest 19th-century Italian philologist and pupil of Isaac *Reggio and Samuel David *Luzzatto, was one of the prominent Jewish scholars of traditional Jewish background who were firmly established in Italian culture, but did not become alienated from Judaism. Others who also straddled two cultures, but who gradually lost their Jewish identity, were the Italian literary scholar, Alessandro (d') *Ancona, the philologists Salomone *Morpurgo and Adolfo *Mussafia, the critics Eugenio *Camerini and Tullo *Massarani, and Erminia Foà Fusinato (1834–1876), who was active as a poet, literary critic, and educator. These subordinated their Jewishness in order to identify completely with Italy's culture and liberalism at the time of her national unification. On the other hand, Graziadio David *Levi was opposed to the loss of Jewish identity, even though he had fought with Mazzini and was later an enthusiastic follower of Garibaldi. A versatile writer, Levi wrote plays, essays, poems, criticism, and hymns. He attempted a synthesis of Jewish and European culture by identifying the essence of Judaism with the principles of 19th-century European liberalism: faith in one God; belief in absolute political justice, entailing national liberation; belief in the unity of mankind expressed in social equality; and the fraternity of nations. Extraordinarily perceptive, Levi sensed the danger of German antisemitism, foreseeing its dire consequences, and also predicted the unification of Europe.

After Italian unification (1870), Jewish authors began writing novels, then an undeveloped genre in Italy. Enrico *Castelnuovo introduced an element of social concern in addition to the usual preoccupation with the romantic and decadent. In his novel I Moncalvo (1908), he depicts a Jewish family that has grown rich and, as some members of the family are absorbed into the upper class, the problems resulting from their abandonment of Jewish principles. Although not as prolific as Castelnuovo, Alberto *Cantoni was more original. In a series of short stories and in the novel L'illustrissimo (which appeared posthumously in 1906), he combined interesting stylistic experiments with a particular sense of humor which, besides the comic and ludicrous, expressed the absurdity of life and the validity of imagination. His themes and stylistic experiments presage the drama of Pirandello, who regarded Cantoni as his teacher. Jewish contributions to poetry were meager during the period of the Risorgimento and were devoted to spreading the ideals of the national liberation movement. Giuseppe *Revere wrote a subtle collection of poems and was also well known for his historical dramas Lorenzino de' Medici (1839) and I piagnoni e gli arrabbiati (1843). A distinguished representative of the bourgeois theater of the 1890s and early 20th century, Sabatino *Lopez wrote over 70 plays and long dominated Italian drama. Lopez, who had a talent for lucid expression, based his work on the "comic" in human life and remained faithful to the tradition of classical Italian drama derived from Goldoni's comedies. Aldo de *Benedetti, who composed a few sentimental comedies and became known between 1930 and 1938, can be regarded as an epigone of Lopez.

LITERATURE OF CONFLICT

Immediately before and after World War I, Jewish writers expressed a different attitude toward Judaism. Their former faith in Italy's liberation had been undermined at the time that Italian Jews first caught a glimpse of Jewish life abroad. But the depiction of Jewish life in novels remained in the sphere of folklore and impressionism, where old customs and the warmth of Jewish family life were affectionately described. This exotic treatment of Jewish life was aimed at arousing the interest of gentiles without making any ideological or even aesthetic claims. Characteristic of this genre are the novels Dall' East End al… Cantico dei Cantici (1910) by Guglielmo Lattes; Israel, Rachele al fonte (1923) by E.D. Colonna; Shylock senza maschera ("Shylock Unmasked," 1924) by Graziadio Foà; and Yom ha-Kippurim (1925) and Beati misericordes (1930) by the Zionist author Giuseppe *Morpurgo. In Yom ha-Kippurim Morpurgo depicts the crisis of a traditional Jew attracted to liberal western society and raises the issues of mixed marriage and assimilation. The poet Angiolo *Orvieto attempted a different approach to the problem by declaring himself to be simultaneously Italian and Jewish. In addition to his extensive activity as founder and editor of the best Italian literary organs of the early 20th century, he often expressed this dual loyalty. In Il vento di Siòn (1928), his main verse collection, Orvieto appears in the guise of a 16th-century Jewish poet who tries in vain to combine his love for Zion and the Jewish people with his love for the beauty of Italy and his native Florence.

After the rise of Fascism, Jewish themes were seldom or only superficially treated. The cultural elite of Italian Jewry was prevented from producing noteworthy prose or poetry because of the superficial principles of aesthetics dictated by the Italian ministry of propaganda and its own isolation from the great European and American literary movements. The few Jewish works published depicted only a stereotyped Jewish character. In the novels Remo Maun, avvocato (1930) by A. Grego and Agenzia Abramo Lewis (1933) by Alfredo Segre, the Jew is shown as a vacillating character living the homeless life of an adventurer. Whether in the Levant or New York, the Jew is seen as exotic, strange, and cosmopolitan, and his ability to adapt to any given situation is thought to make up for his lack of a firm socio-cultural basis. Certain aspects of the Jewish character described in these two novels reappear in Italian Jewish fiction published after World War II. The once-popular novels of Guido *da Verona and Annie Vivanti *Chartres derived from the decadent atmosphere of the early 20th century and the literary "eroticism" prevalent after World War I. Annie Vivanti's best work, I Divoratori (Eng., The Devourers, 1910), deals with the problem of the child prodigy whose parents sacrifice themselves for the child's sometimes illusory talents. Da Verona's novels are hedonistic and erotic. Following D'Annunzio and using a rhetorical and inflated style, Da Verona criticized bourgeois marital conventions without, however, basing his criticism on serious analysis of the causes of the collapse of moral values in that society. The erotic novel's decline into cheap pornography is seen in the works of *Pitigrilli (pseudonym of Dino Segre), a Fascist informer, who became a Christian.

In contrast to this marginal literature, a group of writers and poets living in and around Trieste made an important contribution to contemporary Italian literature, suggestive in many ways of the Jewish contribution to Central European and German literature early in the century and between the World Wars. This group also left its mark outside of Italy and was able to transcend the limits of literary fashion because of its pan-European taste and talent for combining diverse and contradictory cultural elements. Foremost among the group's writers was Italo *Svevo (pseudonym of Ettore Schmitz). In his novel La coscienza di Zeno (1923; Confessions of Zeno, 1930) Svevo analyzed contemporary man, his meaningless life and the incongruity between his limitless aspirations and the limited means for fulfilling them. His techniques include the use of reminiscence, monologue, and psychological introspection, closely resembling those of James Joyce. Joyce was in fact influenced by Svevo, whom he met during his stay in Trieste after 1903. Umberto *Saba, one of Italy's outstanding contemporary poets, expressed the meaninglessness of existence, which for that very reason is rich in deep poetic truth. In some of Saba's poems and short stories there are allusions to his origin and to his experiences as a boy growing up among the Jews of Trieste: in one of them, the main character is Samuel David *Luzzatto, a relative of his mother. Drawing the logical and radical conclusions from the theories of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, the poet and philosopher Carlo *Michelstaedter anticipated the principal theses of existentialism in his La persuasione e la rettorica (1913), which appeared three years after his suicide. Michelstaedter's pessimistic theory, which enjoyed a new vogue after World War II, presents death as the only existential act in which man can attain truth and prove his freedom. The autobiographical novel Il segreto (1961) by Anònimo Triestino (pseudonym of Giorgio Voghera, 1908–1999), who was influenced by Svevo's style, centers on the mental problems of a Jewish adolescent whose inhibitions prevent him from revealing his love to a girl of his own age. The boy, intensely introverted, suffers in his relations with friends who are free from the mental anguish typical of a Jewish youth. Voghera is also the author of Quaderno d'Israele (1967), Gli anni della psicanalisi (1980), and Carcere a Giaffa (1985).

THE HOLOCAUST AND ITS AFTERMATH

A total change in the status and ideological stand of Italian Jewish authors took place during and after World War II. Contact with the ideological and aesthetic problems of world literature and the trauma of the Holocaust forced Jewish authors, as it did others, to break conventional frameworks. No longer could they be content with writing commercially oriented literature for the amusement of an old-fashioned reading public. The ideological fight against Fascism and the need actively to seek a total change in social values were now focal to the lives of those who in their youth were rejected and alienated from the literary world. Jewishness as a theme reappears, not as an ideological problem one must take a stand on or solve, but as a human experience lived through in childhood or during persecution and war. Three authors alienated from Judaism and Zionism were Giorgio *Bassani, Natalia *Ginzburg, and Primo *Levi, who combined Jewish family reminiscences and the problems of Jewish alienation in a gentile world with leftist political activity and aspirations. A distinction should be made between the partial Jewish concerns of these three writers and the works of Alberto *Moravia (pseudonym of A. Pincherle) and of Carlo *Levi, which are devoid of any reference to their Jewish origin and show no interest in Jews and Judaism. Moravia and Levi identified with the struggle against Fascism and with the revolutionary-leftist trend of European avant-garde literature before World War II. Moravia, reputedly the most popular contemporary Italian author (especially in English-speaking countries) regarded all manifestations of life as influenced by sensuality and sex. His characters, enveloped in an internal lie, clearly express modern man's alienation from his society and, in particular, his sense of estrangement in the relations between the sexes. The suffering caused by alienation is relieved only by the bitter truth of literary confession. Carlo Levi's Cristo si è fermato a Eboli (1945; Christ Stopped at Eboli, 1947) describes the horrifying desolation of the underdeveloped areas in southern Italy to which he was exiled by the Fascists. Unlike Moravia, Levi clings to the aesthetic theories of the Marxist left. In travel diaries written later, Levi preached social revolution and loyalty to the struggle of the proletariat against the existing regime. Bassani's principal work, Il giardino dei Finzi-Contini (1962; The Garden of the Finzi-Contini, 1965), is a lyrical description of Jewish life in an Italian provincial town before its destruction in World War II. Clinging to a noble and ancient tradition, his characters live on their reminiscences. They lack the strength to confront the cruel reality of persecution and are therefore doomed. Many of Bassani's novels and short stories have the Jewish society of his youth as background, but his identification with Judaism is only in the sphere of recollection. He has therefore rightly been called "Proust adapted to Jewish life." Like Bassani, Natalia Ginzburg also wrote about her Jewish home, after she had produced a number of novels influenced by Cesare Pavese. Ginzburg completely broke up the conventional structure of the novel. In her Lessico Famigliare (1963), she reconstructed her childhood and the atmosphere of her Jewish home by stressing the function of words and the special family language that united its members. Descriptions of childhood and the atmosphere of the Jewish Levant also inspired Fausta Cialente's novel Ballata Levantina (1961; The Levantines, 1962).

Primo Levi's work is of a different type. In Se questo e un uomo (1947; If This is a Man, 1959) and La Tregua (1963; The Reawakening, 1965) he relates his tragic experiences in a German extermination camp and the hardships of wandering across Russia and Central Europe on his return home. Levi's confrontation with Jewish life and Jewish solidarity is raised to a universal dimension, in which human emotion and understanding bridge the gap between people differing in culture and personality. In I sommersi e I salvati (1986; The Drowned and the Saved, 1988), more an essay than a novel, Levi goes back again to the Auschwitz experience, drawing pessimistic conclusions from an accurate and crude analysis: if these things happened once, they can happen again.

Centered on the years of the antisemitic persecutions are also The Parnas, A Scene from the Holocaust (1979) by the Italian-American psychiatrist Silvano Arieti, on the thrilling and tragic story of the lay leader of the Jewish community of Pisa; and Per violino solo by Aldo Zargani (1995; For Solo Violin. A Jewish Childhood in Fascist Italy, 2002), the vibrant memories of a "stolen childhood" told by a grandfather to his grandchild. Storie dell'Ottavo distretto (1986) is a collection of descriptions of Jewish characters of Budapest, the hometown of the authors, the brothers Giorgio and Nicola Pressburger. A sense of decay pervades all of these stories. The Jewish identity theme is important in Il principio della piramide (1989) by Roberto Vigevani (but published under the name Rude Masada), who wrote also Diario, sogni e allucinazioni di Mansholt Levy (1979), the sad and comic story of a young Jew from Chicago. Clara Sereni is the author of Il gioco dei regni (1993), on her extraordinary family to which belonged the Zionist leader Enzo *Sereni and the Communist leader Emilio Sereni, her father, both important intellectuals. Other novels dealing with the Jewish past are I giorni del mondo (1981) by Guido Artom, an account of the Jewry of Asti; Gli occhi colore del tempo (1995) by Sergio Astrologo, and Tutti I giorni di tua vita (1997) by Lia Levi. Con le peggiori intenzioni (2005) by Alessandro Piperno, a bestseller, breaks with the memorialistic gender based on the tragedy of the war, in that it describes a family of Roman Jewish merchants in the 1980s and 1990s, their excesses and their generosity.

Both before and after World War II, Jewish scholars again made important contributions to Italian literary criticism. A literary historian and a subtle critic, Attilio *Momigliano was sensitive to the most delicate nuances of poetry and brought deep psychological insight to his assessment of character motivation. Eugenio *Levi wrote essays on Italian drama and its history and contributed toward a greater understanding of European and American classics in Italy. He also wrote interesting essays on Zangwill, Svevo, and other Jewish writers. Giacomo *Debenedetti advocated a committed literature and breaking away from B. Croce's aesthetic patterns and academic theories. Alienated from Judaism, but persecuted as a Jew, Debenedetti left a moving document, Sedici Ottobre (1943), about the deportation of Roman Jews to concentration camps. In the academic world, outstanding literary scholars included Mario *Fubini, who specialized in the study of Italian literature of the 18th and 19th centuries; and Cesare Segre, who made an important contribution to the study of medieval Italian literature. Following the lead of G.L. Ascoli, the philologist Benvenuto *Terracini brought an original approach to the study of language problems. The new method he introduced into the investigation of Italian dialectology established Terracini as one of the greatest contemporary linguists.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

M. Steinschneider, in: Buonarroti, 5 (1870); idem, in: MGWJ, 42 (1898), 33ff.; 43 (1899), 32ff.; 44 (1900), 80ff. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: U. Cassuto, in: Festschrift A. Kaminka (1937), 129–41; G. Romano, Ebrei nella letteratura (1979); H.S. Hughes, Prisoners of Hope (1983); L. Gunzberg, Strangers at Home (1992); R. Speelman, in: Gli spazi della diversità (1995), 69–101.

[Joseph Baruch Sermoneta /

Giorgio Romano /

Alessandro Guetta (2nd ed.)]


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.