9 December 2018

Teofilo Folengo – poet

Style of writer’s verses took its name from the dumpling


A portrait of Teofilo Folengo by Girolamo Romanino, owned by the Uffizi museum in Florence
A portrait of Teofilo Folengo by Girolamo Romanino,
owned by the Uffizi museum in Florence
Teofilo Folengo, who is remembered as one of the principal Italian ‘macaronic’ poets, died on this day in 1544 in the monastery of Santa Croce in Campese, a district of Bassano del Grappa in the Veneto.

Folengo published, under the pseudonym Merlin Cocaio, a macaronic narrative poem entitled Baldo, which was a humorous send up of ancient epic and Renaissance chivalric romance.

Writing in verse that mixed vernacular language with Latin became known as macaronic verse, the word deriving from the Latin macaronicus and the Italian maccarone, which meant dumpling, fare mixed crudely from different ingredients that at the time was regarded as a coarse, peasant food. It is presumed to be the origin of the modern Italian word maccheroni.

Folengo was a runaway Benedictine monk who satirised the monastic life using an invented, comic language that blended Latin with various Italian dialects.

Born Girolamo Folengo in 1491 in Cipada, a village near Mantua, he entered the Benedictine order as a young man taking the name Teofilo. He lived in monasteries in Brescia, Mantua and Padua, where he produced Latin verse written in the Virgilian style.

The cover of a book of macaronic verse by Folengo under his pseudonym
The cover of a book of macaronic verse
by Folengo under his pseudonym 
But he left the order to travel around the country with a young woman, Girolama Dieda. They often experienced great poverty as Folengo had no money apart from what he earned through writing.

For a few years he lived as a hermit near Sorrento, but he was readmitted to the Benedictine order in 1534 and remained in it, continuing to write, until his death.

Out of all his poetry, Baldo is considered to be his masterpiece and it has been republished five times. Full of satire and humour it describes the adventures of Baldo, who is supposed to be a descendant of the cousin of the medieval epic hero Roland. Baldo suffers imprisonment, battles with authority, pirates, witches and demons, and goes on a journey to the underworld.

The poem blended Latin with various Italian dialects in hexameter verse. The first English version, translated by Ann Mullaney, was published in 2007.

The term macaronic is still used to describe literature where the mixing of languages has a humorous or satirical effect. It is believed to have originated in Padua in the late 15th century, after the comic poem, Macaronea, by Tifi Odasi was published in about 1488, satirising the broken Latin used by doctors and officials to communicate with ordinary people.

Folengo once described his own verses as ‘a gross, rude and rustic mixture of flour, cheese and butter.’

Many modern Italian authors, including Umberto Eco and Dario Fo, have continued to use macaronic text.

The Palazzo Ducale in Mantua was the seat of the Gonzagas
The Palazzo Ducale in Mantua was the seat of the Gonzagas
Travel tip:

Cipada near Mantua, where Teofilo Folengo was born, was a village on the banks of a lake, but it no longer exists, having become part of the industrial area of Mantua. A main street, Strada Cipata, is the only reference to it that remains. On the other side of the lake is the historic area of Mantua, where the Palazzo Ducale, the seat of the Gonzaga family between 1328 and 1707, can be found.

Hotels in Mantua by Hotels.com

The former monastery of Santa Croce in Campese, where Folengo died
The former monastery of Santa Croce
in Campese, where Folengo died
Travel tip:

The monastery of Santa Croce, where Teofilo Folengo died, is in Via IV Novembre in Campese, a district of Bassano del Grappa on the banks of the Brenta Canal. The monastery dates back to 1124 and for centuries was the most important religious centre in the area around the Brenta. There is a monument to Teofilo Folengo in the monastery, which is now used as a church. Close by is a square named after the poet, Piazza Teofilo Folengo.

Hotels in Bassano del Grappa from TripAdvisor

More reading:

Giosuè Carducci - the poet who became the first Italian to win a Nobel Prize in literature

Why Torquato Tasso is known as Italy's greatest Renaissance poet

How Dario Fo's work denounced crime, corruption and racism

Also on this day:

1920: The birth of politician Carlo Azeglio Ciampi

1920: The birth of Bruno Ruffo, Italy's first motorcycling world champion

1946: The birth - near Vicenza - of Indian politician Sonia Gandhi


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