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Apostolo Zeno and the tre corone: old heroes for the new stage.

Abstract: This paper focuses on the opera librettist Apostolo Zeno and his indebtedness to the tre corone of Italian literature, Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio. While Zeno has been studied primarily in his function as opera reformer and as the operatic predecessor of Pietro Metastasio, his theoretical and practical investment in Italian literary culture--and more specifically how his investment in Italian literary culture fed the aesthetics of his eighteenth-century libretto production--has remained largely unexplored. This paper traces Zeno's investment in the tre corone, focusing primarily on two of his libretti: La Griselda (1701) and Scipione nelle Spagne (1710). Zeno's La Griselda evidences a metamorphosis of Boccaccio and Petrarch's patient Griselda character into a constant heroine fit for the eighteenth-century stage; Scipione nelle Spagne engages with Dante's depiction of Cato at the base of Purgatorio, transforming Dante's figuration of a Stoic hero into an ethos of eighteenth-century Neostoicism.

Keywords: Opera reform, libretto, adaptation, Arcadian Academy, Neostoicism.


Apostolo Zeno stands today as a poster boy of eighteenth-century opera reform, as a precursor to Pietro Metastasio and his heroic dramas, and as a figurehead of the proverbial literary buon gusto that was espoused by the widespread and widely spreading Arcadian Academy. (1) Zeno's contemporaries, particularly Arcadian figures like Giovan Mario Crescimbeni and Lodovico Muratori, upheld him as a model of dramatic good taste and moral elevation. (2) In the later part of the century critics and theorists bestowed him with the title of reformer --one who initiated a change in the topography of opera, steering theatrical spectacles toward an enlightened (or pre-Enlightenment) ethos (Freeman 1968: 333). Charles Burney, in his General History of Music, depicted Zeno and Metastasio as saviors of Italian drama: "... as the art of singing and dramatic composition improved," he argued, "music took the lead, and poetry and decoration became of less consequence, till the judgment of Apostolo Zeno, and the genius of Metastasio, lifted lyric poetry far above its usual level" (517). Jean Jacques Rousseau crowned the reforming Italian librettists with titles from French tragedy, deeming Zeno the Corneille of Italy and Metastasio, accordingly, the Racine of Italy (350). Zeno's dramas were indeed a moderate departure from seventeenth-century spectacles: he generally adhered to one main plot line per libretto, and steeped his texts in what Nathaniel Burt deemed a "moralizing rigidity" (167), an aesthetic that upheld the virtue of virtue itself. His characters stood as paradigms of nobility: many were kings or queens, emperors or empresses, but even more crucial was their profound nobility of spirit. All his heroes, from the loftiest emperors to the most humble shepherd, exhibited exemplary virtue and greatness of character. (3) This predilection for nobility is apparent already from his earliest operas, first in the Siconian royalty of Gli inganni felici (1695), then in the mythical Frank King Pharamond in Faramondo (1698), and in the emperor Lucius Verus in Lucio Vero, Imperatore di Roma (1700). After Zeno accepted an invitation in 1717 from Emperor Charles VI to act as imperial poet in Vienna, his dramas became even more elevated and more invested in noble themes. As Robert Freeman (1981: 28-9) and Elena Sala di Felice discuss, Zeno's move from Italian public stages to the private stage of the imperial court in Vienna allowed him to delve further into Arcadian austerity, and even further away from the supposedly vulgar baroque elements of operas past; attentive to the exigencies of courtly life, Zeno doused his Viennese operas in themes that reflected the nobility of the Habsburg line of Charles VI. In his later years Zeno produced seventeen sacred oratorios, dedicating them ultimately to Charles VI and Elizabeth Christine, "religiosissimi augusti" (Poesie sacre drammatiche 9).

Scholarship on Zeno today, particularly in Anglo-American circles, focuses almost exclusively on his role as opera reformer: he is figured as the first major practitioner of Arcadian operatic reform in Italy, and, subsequently, throughout the European continent. (4) Yet Zeno's literary activity and reach beyond the opera stage have been largely overlooked, and his investment in Italy's literary past--both in his erudition and in his opera libretti--begs closer examination. Indeed, just as Zeno strove to infuse his dramas with exemplary characters and noble themes, he also subscribed to a rebirth of exemplary and noble literature of Italy's past. This paper explores Zeno's understanding of and commitment to Italy's three medieval crowns, Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio--that is, how these three exemplary figures of Italian literature informed Zeno's literary-theatrical practice, how their characters appeared (in adapted form) on Zeno's page, and how their different conceptions of style and genre influenced Zeno's own notions of reform and literary production. I first examine Zeno's opera La Griselda (1701) (5) in relation to Boccaccio's last novella (Decameron X.10) and Petrarch's Latin rewrite (De insigni obedientia et fide uxoris.

Seniles XVII.iii); I then explore Zeno's adaptation of a Dantean figure in his 1710 opera Scipione nelle Spagne. These opera libretti evidence how Zeno's adaptation of medieval figures and tropes imbued the new, reform stage with old, medieval virtues, and appropriated the classics of the Italian vernacular for an elevated, exemplary era of opera production: Zeno's retrospective, corone-influenced reforms would ultimately feed theatrical conventions throughout the eighteenth century and beyond.

Griselda's Melodramatic Reform

Boccaccio's Decameron circulated in the eighteenth century in fragmented form, as readers considered many of the hundred tales to be either poorly written or morally unsuitable: Lodovico Muratori, for example, proclaimed that, "Nel Decamerone, o sia nelle cento Novelle (che per la Lingua, e per altre Virtu dello Stile sono un prezioso erario dell'Idioma nostro, ma per la materia sono altrettanto biasimevoli, e vergognose) truovasi un gran numero di voci, e locuzioni, che senza timore di farsi beffare, niuno a' nostri giorni, oserebbe adoperare ne' suoi ragionamenti, o scritti" (586). (6)

Critics of the period did, however, deem a number of novelle exemplary and morally outstanding: in 1739 Anton Federico Seghezzi, a student of Apostolo Zeno's, compiled twenty-eight of Boccaccio's novelle, completely eliminating Boccaccio's structure and framing. Seghezzi's Novelle ventotto served as a species of Boccaccio canon for much of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (Pizzamiglio 271). It is quite telling that the tale of Griselda appears in this collection: whereas Dioneo's introduction to the last novella of the last day of the Decameron explicitly warns against reading the story as an exemplum, eighteenth-century readers seem to have absorbed it precisely as such. Seghezzi omits any mention of Gualtiero's "matta bestialita," as well as Dioneo's warning against a reading of the tale as an exemplum. By eliminating these elements from the Griselda story, eighteenth-century scholars effaced much of the tale's ambiguity and flattened its message for a new, enlightened readership. (7)

Yet while the new Griselda for the eighteenth century may not have been Boccaccio's problematic, non-exemplary exemplum, she was also not quite Petrarch's Judeo-Christian allegory: seventeenth-and eighteenth-century sources discuss Griselda in terms of human leadership and virtue, bypassing any allegorical notion of Gualtiero as God and Griselda as a figura Christi. (8) Carlo Maria Maggi, whose tragedy Griselda di Saluzzo served as a model for the majority of theatrical Griseldas in the eighteenth century (Smarr 205), (9) names Griselda's "Heroica tolerantia" (III, 414) and likens her to Alcestis (from Euripidean tragedy) and Dido (from Virgilian epic); his Griselda is unequivocally a human martyr figure, and not a divine one. (10)

Zeno's introduction to his La Griselda is a maze of captatici benevolentiae and references to a cluster of literary texts. He writes:
   Non molto diversamente dal mio racconto narrano i fatti di
   Griselda, primieramente il Boccaccio nell'ultima Novella del suo
   Decameron; il Petrarca ne' suoi Opuscoli Latini; e Jacopo Filippo
   Foresti da Bergamo nel suo Supplemento alle Cronache. Paolo Mazzi,
   ed Ascanio Massimo ne formarono con tal nome due Tragicommedie, la
   prima stampata in Finale nel 1620; e l'altra in Bologna nel 1630:
   siccome Lione Allacci nella sua Drammaturgia riferisce. Questo
   stesso soggetto fu trattato ancora felicemente dal Signor Carlo
   Maria Maggi, dopo la di cui morte la pubblico nell'anno 1700, con
   l'altre sue Opere in cinque Tomi raccolte, il mio eruditissimo
   Signor Lodovico Antonio Muratori, dignitissimo Bibliotecario di
   S.A.S. di Modena, e per tutti i riguardi da me sempre riverito, e
   stimato. Per altra strada assai diversa da questi, io mi son
   portato allo sviluppo della mia favola; da me tessuta per mio solo
   diporto, non perche lode ne attenda, o per gareggiare con chi che
   sia nella maggioranza del merito. In essa ho proccurato di
   conformare all'argomento lo stile, maneggiando passioni tenere, e
   serbando ne' miei Attori caratteri di mezzana virtu, senza
   frammischiarvi alcuno di quegli avvenimenti strepitosi, ed eroici,
   che si ricercano nelle Storie piu illustri, e ne' piu grandi
   Teatri. (4)

He continues, claiming that many elements of his libretto are not his invention, but rather are drawn from "la Storia": these include the tearful meeting between Griselda and her daughter Costanza, Costanza's supplication to Gualtiero in bringing Griselda to the castle as her servant, and Gualtiero's hardness that finally breaks in a tearful reunion with his rightful wife:
   Egli e in somma cosi copioso l'argomento che dalla Storia mi viene
   somministrato, che posso dire, non aver io in alcun de' miei Drammi
   posto meno di mia invenzione: cosicche ne meriti appena per questa
   Favola il titolo di Poeta; se pur e vero, che tale sia egli
   costituito dall'invenzione piu che dal verso. (4)

Zeno's defense of his libretto problematizes his relationship with his literary forefathers, beginning with Boccaccio and Petrarch, passing through a number of lesser-known works by lesser-known Renaissance authors, and arriving at Maggi's tragedy: Zeno claims both an affinity with their narratives ("Non molto diversamente dal mio racconto") and an ambiguous distance from them ("Per altra strada assai diversa da questi, io mi son portato allo sviluppo della mia favola"). The most jarring aspect of this defense is Zeno's recourse to "la Storia": he is clearly not referring to historical fact, as the story of Griselda is fictional, and his examples of "Storia" in his libretto for the most part deal with emotional expression and scenes of pathos. "La Storia" in this case must be in reference to elements that Zeno had drawn from other texts and other stories (such as those by Boccaccio and Petrarch)--and yet almost none of his examples of "la Storia" are present in any of the sources that he mentions, especially not in Petrarch or in Boccaccio. (11)

Zeno's libretto would become an immensely successful opera (Cross 150, Smarr 204), likely in part because of its conventional baroque web of mistaken identities and amorous matches and mismatches: the Griselda story--or, at least the shell of a Griselda story--serves as the premise for a love triangle between Griselda, Gualtiero, and Gualtiero's servant Ottone, and another love triangle between Gualtiero, Costanza, and Costanza's forlorn lover, Roberto. Zeno also reduces the temporal and spatial span of the original story, in accordance with Aristotelian unities of time and action: the libretto begins with Gualtiero's banishment of Griselda from the castle, and ends happily with the restoration of the rightful couples--Griselda with Gualtiero and Costanza with Roberto. (12) Zeno moves the action from Saluzzo to Sicily, in order to facilitate a "maggior nobilta della Scena" (5).

The links between Zeno's La Griselda and Boccaccio and Petrarch's fourteenth-century stories are tenuous. Zeno omits the moral ambiguity of Boccaccio's tale, depositing both Gualtiero and Griselda onto a stage of moral integrity and upstanding behavior. Whereas Boccaccio's Gualtiero is characterized by his beastliness, (13) Zeno's Gualtiero acts not as a sadistic tyrant, but rather as a leader attempting to appease his people--one whose tyranny is born of necessity and not pleasure. The libretto begins with Gualtiero's remorseful declaration:
   A voi
   Veder ch'empia il mio letto
   Donna tratta da' boschi,
   Donna avezza a trattar rustica vanga.
   Tal Griselda a me piacque;
   Tal la sdegnaste. Alfine
   Miro lei co' vostri occhi.
   Decretato e il ripudio; e voi ne siate
   Giudici, e spettatori. Or che la rendo
   Alle natie sue selve,
   Col vostro amor, quel del mio core emendo. (1.1,9)

   Gualtiero justifies his position to Griselda as well, stating that

   Il Re talvolta
   Dee servire a' vassalli; e seco stesso
   Per serbarne il dominio, esser tiranno. (1.2, 13)

Zeno's Griselda is also worlds away from the unquestioningly submissive heroine found in Boccaccio and Petrarch: the melodramatic protagonist laments her fate openly, both in soliloquys and in pleas to her husband, and waxes violent in her emotional expression. Receptive (or passive) obedience in Boccaccio and Petrarch becomes almost aggressive performativity in Zeno. (14) Her lament upon returning to her native woods evidences her tendency toward emotive outpourings:
   Se la dolce memoria
   Del perduto mio bene
   Bastasse a consolar l'alma dolente;
   Qui spererei conforto, ove col nome
   Del mio Gualtiero impressi,
   Mi ricordan diletti i tronchi istessi.
   Ma che? Nel rivedervi, o patrie selve,
   Ove nacque il mio foco,
   Cresce l'affanno; e qui spietato, e rio
   Mi condanna il destino
   A pascer di memorie il dolor mio. (II.5, 41)

She even utters huffy, righteous asides, such as her exclamation "Costui, quanto e importun!" (I.4, 17) to her new suitor Ottone's advances, and goes so far as to critique her husband, denouncing him as a "padre inumano" (II.7, 46). Boccaccio's (too) submissive Griselda would never have been so bold, and Petrarch's allegorical Griselda most certainly would not have dared to question her master and Lord. Zeno's Griselda is a melodramatic heroine--a role that by definition conflicts with the passive, obedient Griselda found in Boccaccio and Petrarch.

Still, Zeno's not-quite-Boccaccian, not-quite-Petrarchan heroine epitomizes late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century notions of exemplarity and virtue. Whereas Boccaccio and Petrarch's versions of the tale highlight Griselda's obedience (Kirkham 249ff), necessarily yoking her character and behavior to her husband, Zeno's libretto focuses on the protagonist's constancy as an absolute personal value, independent of external factors. She is indeed obedient, but her constancy extends beyond Gualtiero's demands, holding her steady even against the indecorous advances of a potential suitor. Zeno's text drips with constancy: the words costanza and costante appear throughout the text, and, most importantly, Griselda's daughter, Costanza, stands as a pure embodiment of the virtue itself--as both a product and double of the protagonist. (15) The doubled feminine constancy in Zeno's libretto speaks not to the allegory of constancy present in Petrarch's Griselda tale (Ginsberg 258), but rather points to a tradition of Neostoicism in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Neostoic thought, beginning with Justus Lipsius' text De Constantia (1584), conjoined classical Stoicism with Christian virtues; constancy, as evidenced by the aforementioned text, was key. (16) The edicts of Neostoicism informed seventeenth-century thought and fed the early sparks of the Enlightenment, promoting constancy as a buzzword and quintessential virtue, both in terms of personal steadfastness and collective socio-political strength. Constancy was an immensely popular trope in operas of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and was often framed as a battle between love and duty. Many libretto titles evidence this tendency: L'Artaxerse, ovvero L'Ormonda costante (Aurelio Aureli, 1669), Costanza e fortezza (J.J. Fux, 1723), and II trionfo dell'amore e della costanza (Francesco Ballerini, 1711). Zeno's female protagonists Griselda and Costanza emote, lament, and sigh as melodramatic heroines must do, but they are constant in their virtue and convictions, unmoved by the tides of love and desire; they inhabit a collective Neostoic feminine body, impassive in its Christian virtues. Zeno appropriates the Griselda character, a paradigm of (perhaps problematic) obedience in Boccaccio and Petrarch, and recasts her as a bifurcated, melodramatic, operatic, truly exemplary exemplum of eighteenth-century Neostoic constancy.

Zeno, Comedyphobe and Commediaphile

Comedy was a problem for Zeno: like his Arcadian colleagues, he generally viewed comedy as a vulgar, morally corrupting medium, populated with ignoble, unexemplary characters. (17) But Zeno could not discard the term comedy so easily, as evidenced by his letter to Antonio Vallisnieri in 1705: "Pure considero che questo nome e generico," he wrote, "e che non solamente significa rappresentazione di azione bassa e ridicola, ma che conviene anche agli argomenti piu alti e piu sublimi." He continued, stating that in fact Dante "chiamo Commedia la sua visione, e nondimeno v'introduce a favellare e Pontefici, e Imperatori, e Beati, e persino la stessa Divinita"(I.113). How could Zeno situate Dante's divine comedic voices in the eighteenth century, adrift in the sea of comic voices of the supposedly vulgar baroque stage? How did this complex understanding of comedy inform Zeno's libretto production?

Despite seventeenth-century disinterest in or even distaste for Dante, (18) Zeno bought and discussed copies of Dante's works with bibliophilial fervor (Negri 40, Pietropaolo 216). He possessed multiple copies of the Commedia, was invested in publishing the Monarchia and Gian Giorgio Trissino's Italian translation of De vidgari eloquentia, and played a crucial role in the publication in 1700 of Dante's Epistle to Cangrande in the literary magazine La galleria di Minerva (Pietropaolo 216-18). In his letters Zeno provides detailed descriptions of seven of the fourteen Quattrocento editions of the Commedia, including the three oldest editions (from 1472) and the first edition with Cristoforo Landino's commentary, from 1481 (Pietropaolo 212). He also engages with perennial questions on Dante's language and style, and debates the genre of the Commedia--that is, how a seemingly epic text could be considered a comedy. In his epistolary discussions of the content of Dante's Commedia, Zeno references exclusively elevated personages and elevated passages from Purgatorio and Paradiso: he names Gherardo da Camino (who appears in the Convivio, and whom Dante names in Purgatorio 16 as "buon Gherardo") (I, 10-11); he refers to Ugo Capeto, who appears in Purgatorio 20 (I, 439); he mentions the passage in Purgatorio 33 that prophesizes the coming of a DUX (III, 320); and cites a "concetto" from Paradiso 18 (II, 322). Zeno also makes frequent mention of Dante's Monarchia. (19) In 1727, in a letter to his brother Pier Caterino, he discusses the shelf life of the Monarchia, cataloguing the very few editions of the work and mentioning an unpublished Italian translation by Marsilio Ficino. Zeno notes with quite a bit of remorse that he himself once possessed a codex of Ficino's translation of the Monarchia, but in his youth and poverty he sold it to Scipione Maffei, and now it costs too much for him to buy it back (II, 496-7, Pietropaolo 212). Thus a certain bias emerges from Zeno's writings on Dante: he is invested in Dante's works inasmuch as they express elevation, nobility, and, most importantly, exemplarity. He is clearly interested in the "argomenti piu alti e piu sublimi" and noble characters of Dante's writings--the Trecento literary ancestors of Zeno's own cast of exemplary heroes.

Zeno's drama Scipione nelle Spagne conveys notions of nobility that resonate with Dantean poetics and characterizations. Written originally in 1710 during the War of Spanish Succession, Zeno later adapted the opera to suit the imperial court in Vienna. Unlike other operatic versions of the Scipio Africanus story that emerged in the late Seicento and early Settecento, (20) Zeno places his "Scipione in Spain," and uses the location, to highlight the nobility of the Spanish spirit (and therefore the virtuous character of Charles III of Spain, the future Holy Roman Emperor and Zeno's future patron) (Negri 118, Ketterer 86ff). Scipione is the titular hero of the opera, but more important to the work is the constancy of another character, the Spaniard Luceio. The plot of the opera, very briefly, is as follows: Luceio, in the guise of a Roman, befriends Scipione. Scipione wants Luceio's woman, Sofonisba, and Luceio, valuing friendship over the ladies, gives her to Scipione. All ends well, of course, and Sofonisba, virtue still intact, is given back to Luceio. Luceio is, as Robert Ketterer convincingly argues, a Cato figure (93ff): impeccable in his loyalty and virtue, Luceio honors his bond with Scipione, even when such loyalty requires him to relinquish his beloved and, potentially, his own life. Luceio's virtue aligns with the story, found in Lucan's Pharsalia, of how Cato gave up his wife Marcia to his friend Hortensius in an act of absolute, unwavering loyalty (II.326-349).

Cato was a well-loved figure in the eighteenth century: an exceedingly virtuous stoic, he served as a model for the Neostoic ethos of the early part of the century. Settecento poets and librettists drew from ancient sources such as Cicero, Seneca, and Lucan when drafting their own versions and adaptations of the Roman hero, but they undoubtedly also had in mind Dante's Commedia: Cato is the first figure to appear at the base of Purgatorio, and, despite the grave sin of his suicide, he stands as a paradigm of freedom from tyranny, an unwavering champion of liberty, an upholder of divine, natural law (as opposed to the faulty laws of human tyrants), and an exemplum of all four cardinal virtues--prudence, fortitude, temperance, and justice. Divine law is absolute and unquestionable, as he expresses to Dante and Virgil:
   Ma se donna del ciel ti move e regge,
   come tu di', non c'e mestier lusinghe:
   bastisi ben che per lei mi richegge. (Purg. I, 91-93) (21)

In Zeno's Scipione nelle Spagne, Luceio, the Cato figure of the libretto, similarly invokes the absolutism of natural law. When Luceio reveals to Sofonisba that he, like Cato with his Marcia, must follow his duty and bequeath her to a friend, he invokes not only personal virtue, but actually divine order: "Decreta il cielo; e a noi soffrir conviene, / Io tuo non posso; esser non puoi tu mia." He reiterates this divinely ordained decree while highlighting his own constancy, "Vuol cosi '1 Ciel. Cosi 'l dover l'impone", and continues, "E questo il tuo destin. Questo e 'l mio impegno" (II.8, 40). Whereas the classical Cato was depicted as fiercely terrestrial in his Stoicism, (22) Zeno's constant Spaniard stands as a divinely informed, Dantean Cato--as both a champion of human constancy and an upholder of natural law. (23)

Dante's Christian take on Cato's stoic constancy speaks to the eighteenth-century brand of Neostoicism embraced by Charles VI and the Habsburg line: the Habsburgs upheld Neostoic constancy as a principal virtue, as evidenced by the motto of Charles VI, Constanter continet orbem. (24) Zeno translates Dante's Cato to eighteenth-century audiences, and in so doing recasts him as a Neostoic mirror of the constancy of Charles VI. This affinity that Zeno depicts between Charles VI and the Dantean Cato/Luceio figure is evident in Zeno's eventual dedication of Scipione nelle Spagne to Charles VI, as the dedication resonates with Dante's encomium of Cato in the Convivio: Dante writes, "O sacratissimo petto di Catone, chi presumera di te parlare? Certo maggiormente di te parlare non si puo che tacere" (4.5.16). Zeno, in his dedication, writes, "Eroica tromba / Al tuo Nome, Augusto Carlo? / Taccian gli altri. Egli a se stesso / Degna tromba e si gran Nome" (Poesie drammatiche, 94). In both addresses, speech (or song) is insufficient to express the men's profound nobility of character.

Zeno seems to eschew the "vulgar" comedic characters of the baroque stage in favor of the species of noble comedic hero found in Dante's Commedia. Zeno's elevated characters--his paradigms of virtue like Luceio--speak to the "argomenti piu alti e piu sublimi": they are a cast of fictional and historical "Pontefici, e Imperatori, e Beati" that encapsulate the virtues of Zeno's age. Zeno's conception of Dante's Commedia gave him a certain degree of license with his own work: the libretto, as he lamented, was a problematic and contentious medium (Lettere I, 121)--and yet if Dante could depict noble characters like Cato within the frame of his own problematic medium (that of a comedy), Zeno, too, could populate the pages of his libretti with virtuous heroes. Luceio is one such example.

Zeno's investment in the tre corone reached beyond mere bibliophilia: the works of Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio informed the characters and themes of Zeno's oeuvre, crowning a number of his literary-theatrical creations with the gravitas and nobility of the Italian literary Trecento--that is, the gravitas and nobility of the most exemplary, most virtuous heroes of that period. Yet rather than picking elements from the three crowns and transplanting them directly and literally onto seventeenth- and eighteenth-century stages, Zeno modified, adapted, and recast a number of fourteenth-century heroes, converting Boccaccio and Petrarch's patient Griselda into his own constant Griselda-Costanza duo, and Dante's Christian Stoic Cato into his own, eighteenth-century Neostoic Luceio. The updated Trecento heroes of Zeno's pages served to bolster the nobility of the Arcadian-era stage--to tout, a la Corneille, the virtue of constancy, and imbue the theater with moral exempla, all while rejecting the immoral, base, inconstant, comic characters of baroque opera's past. Opera reform for Zeno demanded retrospection, reverence for the crowned heroes of Italy's crowned past, and a recasting of such heroes in the constant, exemplary light of his own enlightening age.


(1) On the Arcadian Academy see Binni, Burt, Guaita, Tcharos, Toffanin.

(2) Harris (33-4) notes that Crescimbeni's praise of Zeno actually only applies to Zeno's earlier dramas that were, for the most part, pastoral. Once Zeno shifted more toward historic and heroic dramas in the early years of the eighteenth century his name disappeared from Crescimbeni's encomia.

(3) Seventeenth-century operatic heroes, to the contrary, were not always depicted as outstandingly virtuous: Giasone, from Giacinto Andrea Cicognini's opera Giasone (1649), expresses his fixation with carnal desire. Crescimbeni (140) consequently reads Giasone as the prototypical bad baroque melodrama.

(4) See Freeman 1968; Freeman 1981, Chapter 1. There are scholarly works that explore Zeno from other angles. Domenico Pietropaolo, in Chapter 3 of his volume Dante Studies in the Age of Vico, discusses Zeno's interest in Dante.

(5) Zeno produced three versions of La Griselda, first in 1701 for a musical setting by Antonio Pollarolo, then for another by Francesco Conti (Vienna, 1725), and finally for his Poesie drammatiche (Venice, 1744). See Hill 55 n 6. For the purpose of this paper I use the 1744 version of the libretto.

(6) Muratori similarly criticized Moliere for the content of his work, deeming him "dannoso a' costumi" (586), and agrees with Adrien Baillet's condemnation of Moliere as "uno de' piu pericolosi nemici, che il Secolo, o sia il Mondo abbia svegliato contra la Chiesa di Dio" (597). On Muratori's position on Boccaccio and Moliere, see Bellina 288.

(7) On the ambiguities Boccaccio's final tale see Hollander 1997: 80-1,136ff; Marcus Chapter 6; Mazzotta 1986:122ff.

(8) As Petrarch himself comments at the end of his tale, "Hanc historiam stilo nunc alio retexere visum fuit, non tam ideo, ut matronas nostri temporis ad imitandam huius uxoris patientiam, que michi vix imitabilis videtur, quam ut legentes ad imitandam saltem femine constantiam excitarem, ut quod hec viro suo prestitit, hoc prestare Deo nostro audeant, qui licet (ut Iacobus ait Apostolus) intentator sit malorum, et ipse neminem temptet." See Petrarch XVII.3, 2248-2250. On Griselda and allegory see Cottino-Jones; see also Kirkham; Mazzotta 1986:123ff.

(9) For a complete list of adaptations of the Griselda tale see Morabito 241ff.

(10) Smarr argues that Maggi's characterizations of Gualtiero and Griselda problematize any notion of exemplarity in the story, much in line with Hollander's reading of Boccaccio's original problematization of the two figures in the novella. Smarr points to Maggi's political poetry and links his Griselda to his critique of corrupt power and his reading of Machiavelli (210-212). On Maggi's life and works see Cipollini 7ff.

(11) Cross argues that, "Zeno's approach to the central figure of Griselda is much the same as Boccaccio's: she is a stoic figure who has accepted her husband's harsh treatment for some ten years and shows few signs that the appearance of a rival and a suitor will affect her attitude in the slightest" (167). While Cross correctly identifies broad similarities between Boccaccio's and Zeno's Griseldas, he overestimates the affinities between the two works. Bellina claims that Zeno's libretto follows Maggi's play quite closely; however the two works truly only have a few elements in common. The staged timeframe of Zeno's libretto is certainly closer to Maggi's work than to any other version of the Griselda story: unlike earlier versions by Lope de Vega, Hans Sachs, and others, both Maggi and Zeno's plays begin at the end of Boccaccio's story. See Smarr 207. Certain scenes of pathos in Zeno also seem to draw from Maggi's depiction-for instance the reunion between Griselda and her daughter in the woods. Still, Zeno's characterizations of Gualtiero and Griselda differ greatly from Maggi's, as does his conception of the story's denouement.

(12) These changes speak to Smarr's argument that the raw material of the Griselda story did not make for very good theater: any theatrical adaptation of Boccaccio's last novella necessarily changed the pacing of the narrative and added material to transform the work into a suitable theatrical spectacle. See Smarr 204. See also Morabito 238; Muresu 20-22.

(13) On Gualtiero's character and the problem of magnanimity in relation to Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, see Goodwin; Kirkham 250; Mazzotta 1986: 126ff. Maggi's Gualtiero speaks to the sadism of Boccaccio's original Gualtiero: "E perche ognor sua sofferenza invitta / Vinse le mie speranze e i rigor mio, / Volli provar con le fierezze estreme / Quanto puo soffrendo un petto forte" (240), cit. Smarr 211.

(14) Kirkham (258) points to Griselda's use of the word onore in Boccaccio's novella as a nod to Aristotle and Aquinas; curiously, Zeno places the word onore in Griselda's mouth only once-as the very last word of the opera, uttered in unison by Griselda and Costanza.

(15) Goldoni, in his 1735 rewrite of the libretto, would change Costanza's name to Oronta. See Muresu 51-52.

(16) Lipsius defines the term constantia as "the proper and immovable strength of the mind that is neither elated nor downcast by outward or fortuitous circumstances. Strength is a firmness implanted in the mind, not by opinion, but by judgement and right reason" (Oestreich 19). On Lipsius and constantia, see Oestreich 13ff; see also Dilthey 17, 439ff, 443ff. Numerous scholars have pointed to the presence of Neostoic themes in Corneille's dramas: his 1640 play Horace resonates particularly strongly with Lipsian Neostoicism, as McClure discusses. Considering Zeno's debt to Corneille and his designation of the Corneille of Italy, it is perhaps unsurprising that Zeno would delve into themes and virtues similar to those explored by the French dramatist.

(17) Zeno did not definitively discard comedy, and some of his compositions landed firmly in the realm of the comic. Even with his own Griselda he expressed enjoyment at the addition of comic elements: in a letter to Antonfrancesco Marmi in 1702, he wrote, "Ho letta la Griselda, e mi sono infinitamente piaciuti i ridicoli, che con tanta saviezza il Sig. Gigli vi ha aggiunti. I cangiamenti che per entro vi si son fatti, sono di si piccola conseguenza, che non mi hanno dato fastidio, ne me l'han fatta parer diversa da quella, ch'io prima la pubblicai" (I, 46); see also Freeman 1981: 15-16. My term comedyphobe is an intentionally provocative exaggeration that speaks to the image of Zeno as reformer and savior of Italian melodrama.

(18) On the debates on and critiques of Dante in the Seicento see Limentani, See also Caesar 35; Cosmo; Mambelli 39-42; Vallone II, 319ff. As Pietropaolo notes, Zeno's interest in Dante is unlike that of any critics of his time, as figures like Lodovico Muratori, Scipione Maffei, and Antonio Conti came to Dante later in life and not in northern Italy; Zeno was also one of the few scholars to have read Boccaccio's commentary on the Commedia. See his letter to Pier Caterino on August 22,1722 (II, 262), cit. Pietropaolo 216.

(19) As early as 1700 Zeno had borrowed and studied a copy of the Monarchia, a text that in his time had not yet been widely diffused. Lettere I, 42; see also Pietropaolo 212.

(20) Examples include Niccolo Minato's Scipione Africano (1664) and Antonio Salvi's Publio Cornelio Scipione (1726).

(21) On Dante's Cato see Auerbach; Hollander 1969:104-135; Mazzotta 1979: 165-210; Raimondi 65-94; Scott 69-84.

(22) A famous passage in Book IX of Lucan's Pharsalia depicts Cato as the only one among his men who refuses to consult the oracle: "Sortilegis egeant dubii semperque futuris / Casibus ancipites: me non oracula certum, / Sed mors certa facit. Pavido fortique cadendum est: / Hoc satis est dixisse Iovem" (IX, 581-586).

(23) There do not seem to be any significant parallels between Zeno's Scipione and Petrarch's Africa, aside from their shared indebtedness to the story of Scipio. It is unlikely that Zeno knew the Africa well, as there were very few manuscripts of the work circulating in his time, and no prints were available until the nineteenth century. Zeno only briefly mentions the history of the Africa in the Dissertazioni vossiane: "Espose in verso la guerra Cartaginese (Affrica) ... E opinione d'uomini dotti, che, se al Petrarca fosse stato noto il Poema di Silio Italico sopra la seconda guerra Cartaginese, egli non avria posta mano al lavoro del suo intorno allo stesso argomento. Infatti il vecchio Poggio ha '1 merito di averne portato in Italia il primo codice, trovato da lui con altri antichi autori in un monistero della Citta di Costanza, dove egli erasi trasferito in tempo di quel Concilio. Il Petrarca consegui in Roma per questa sua opera la laurea poetica nel 1341. La divise in IX. libri, i tre primi de' quali furono tradotti in ottava rima da Fabio Marretti, gentiluomo Sanese; ma questi nella prima stanza fa dire al Petrarca volgarizzato un grosso sproposito, applicando l'aggiunto di esausto al fonte Elicona, in luogo di applicarlo a se stesso, che di quelle acque poetiche era digiuno e assetato" (3). On the history of the Africa and a catalogue of manuscripts and prints, see Festa, XI-LXIV.

(24) On the Habsburgs' indebtedness to Lipsian Neostoicism, see Oestreich 100-101.

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Title Annotation:influence of Dante, Petrarch and Giovanni Boccaccio
Author:Raizen, Karen T.
Article Type:Critical essay
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Date:Dec 22, 2016
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