6 February 2023

6 February

Ugo Foscolo – poet

Revolutionary who expressed his feelings in verse

Writer Ugo Foscolo was born Niccolò Foscolo on this day in 1778 on the island of Zakynthos, now part of Greece, but then part of the Republic of Venice.  Foscolo went on to become a revolutionary who wrote poetry and novels that reflected the feelings of many Italians during the turbulent years of the French revolution, the Napoleonic Wars and Austrian rule. His talent was probably not sufficiently appreciated until after his death, but he is particularly remembered for his book of poems, Dei Sepolchri - Of the Sepulchres.  After the death of his father, Andrea, who was an impoverished Venetian nobleman, the family moved back to live in Venice.  Foscolo went on to study at Padova University and by 1797 had begun to write under the name Ugo Foscolo.  While at University he took part in political discussions about the future of Venice and was shocked when Napoleon handed it over to the Austrians in 1797.  He denounced this action in his novel Ultime lettere di Jacopo Ortis - The Last Letters of Jacopo Ortis.  Foscolo moved to Milan where he published a book of sonnets. Still putting his faith in Napoleon, he decided to serve as a volunteer in the French army.  Read more…


Beatrice Cenci - Roman heroine

Aristocrat's daughter executed for murder of abusive father

Beatrice Cenci, the daughter of an aristocrat whose execution for the murder of her abusive father became a legendary story in Roman history, was born on this day in 1577 in the family's palace off the Via Arenula, not far from what is now the Ponte Garibaldi in the Regola district.  Cenci's short life ended with her beheading in front of Castel Sant'Angelo on 11 September 1599, with most of the onlookers convinced that an injustice had taken place.  Her father, Francesco Cenci, had a reputation for violent and immoral behaviour that was widely known and had often been found guilty of serious crimes in the papal court. Yet where ordinary citizens were routinely sentenced to death for similar or even lesser offences, he was invariably given only a short prison sentence and frequently bought his way out of jail.  Romans appalled at this two-tier system of justice turned Beatrice into a symbol of resistance against the arrogance of the aristocracy and her story has been preserved not only in local legend but in many works of literature.  In the early 19th century, Percy Bysshe Shelley, who was living in Italy, was so moved by her story that he turned it into a drama in verse entitled The Cenci: A Tragedy in Five Acts.  Read more…


1783 Calabria Earthquakes

Series of powerful tremors killed at least 35,000

The Calabrian peninsula of southwest Italy was waking up to the unfolding horror of a sequence of five deadly earthquakes on this day in 1783.  A major tremor destroyed the town of Oppido Mamertina in what is now the province of Reggio Calabria on 5 February, killing almost 1,200 residents, followed by another just after midnight on 6 February, setting off a tsunami that claimed still more lives.   The effects of the first quake  - which has been classified at an estimated 7.0 on the Richter magnitude scale - were felt over a much wider area, however, with countless land and rockslides.  The whole of the island of Sicily is said to have shaken.  In total, it is thought some 180 villages were effectively destroyed, with far more buildings reduced to rubble than remained standing. The city of Messina, on the northeast tip of Sicily, was seriously hit and many casualties were reported there also.  The city’s mediaeval Duomo was badly damaged, while a tsunami caused the walls of the harbour to collapse.  This first shock was thought to have claimed in the region of 25,000 lives across the large area affected as buildings simply collapsed.  Read more…


Amintore Fanfani - politician

Former prime minister who proposed "third way"

Amintore Fanfani, a long-serving politician who was six times Italy’s prime minister and had a vision of an Italy run by a powerful centre-left alliance of his own Christian Democrat party and the socialists, was born on this day in 1908.  A controversial figure in that he began his political career as a member of Mussolini’s National Fascist Party, he went on to be regarded as a formidable force in Italian politics, in which he was active for more than 60 years, admired for his longevity and his energy but also for his principles.  Throughout his career, or at least the post-War part of it, he was committed to finding a “third way” between collective communism and the free market and became a major influence on centre-left politicians not only in Italy but in other parts of the world.  The American president John F Kennedy, whose friendship he valued, told colleagues that it was reading Fanfani’s book, Catholicism, Protestantism and Capitalism, that persuaded him to dedicate his life to politics. They last met in Washington in November 1963, just two weeks before Kennedy was assassinated.   Although he opposed communism, Fanfani’s position was generally in favour of socio-economic intervention by the state and against unfettered free-market capitalism.  Read more…


Girolamo Benivieni – poet

Follower of Plato, Dante and Savonarola

The poet Girolamo Benivieni, who turned Marsilio Ficino’s translation of Plato’s Symposium into verse, was born on this day in 1453 in Florence.  His poem was to influence other writers during the Renaissance and some who came later.  As a member of the Florentine Medici circle, Benivieni was a friend of the Renaissance humanists Ficino, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola and Angelo Poliziano, commonly known as Politian.  Ficino translated Plato’s Symposium in about 1474 and wrote his own commentary on the work.  Benivieni summarised Ficino’s work in the poem De lo amore celeste - Of Heavenly Love. These verses then became the subject of a commentary by Pico della Mirandola.  As a result of all these works, Platonism reached such writers as Pietro Bembo and Baldassare Castiglione and the English poet, Edmund Spencer.  Benivieni later fell under the spell of Girolamo Savonarola, the fiery religious reformer, and he rewrote some of his earlier sensual poetry as a result. He also translated a treatise by Savonarola into Italian, Della semplicitĂ  della vita cristiana - On the Simplicity of the Christian life - and he wrote some religious poetry of his own.  Read more…

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