Gabriele D'Annunzio and war rhetoric in the Canti della guerra latina.
In the period following Italian unification, Francesco De Sanctis stressed the civil responsibility of writers. According to De Sanctis, an intellectual must not remain in an ivory tower, but must interact with the surrounding reality, and assume responsibility for culture and society. The message was fully understood by Giosue Carducci, who during his lifetime was strongly engaged socially and politically. In a similar vein the so-called "generation of 1914," i.e., writers born around the 1880s such as F. T. Marinetti or Giovanni Papini, who had studied the sociologists Vilfredo Pareto and Gaetano Mosca, felt the urge to contribute to the direction of the nation. Yet, before them, the idea of socio-political engagement had probably reached its peak with the words and deeds of Gabriele D'Annunzio.
In addition to recognizing him as a writer, history remembers D'Annunzio as the founder of both modern political style and discourse (Alatri; Barberi Squarotti, "D'Annunzio scrittore 'politico'"; De Felice; De Felice and Gibellini; Ledeen; Perfetti, "D'Annunzio, ovvero la politica come poesia"). D'Annunzio initiated his political career as a member of parliament in 1897, and concluded it with the occupation of the city of Fiume (in Croatian, Rijeka) on the Dalmatian coast, where he, as a reaction to the humiliating treaty of Versailles, established a corporatist state under his leadership after the First World War (12 September 1919 to 18 January 1921). However, regardless of his activity, and with the exception of the constitution of the state of Fiume ("Carta del Carnaro"), D'Annunzio never wrote an explicit political programme. (1) A glaring example of his rather apolitical attitude is the way he suddenly changed his political position in the parliament from the Right to the Left. As an explanation he simply declared himself to be "beyond right and left" and instead "going towards life" (Andreoli, Il vivere 306-12; Ledeen 6; Woodhouse 163-93). Nevertheless, it is possible to identify a solid thread in D'Annunzio's politics: namely, his 1 unquestionable love for the fatherland. Like many others in the pre-First World War years, D'Annunzio was a nationalist dreaming of a strong, imperialistic Italy that would have importance on the international level (Gentile 86-94; Perfetti, Il movimento nazionalista in Italia). He expressed these aspirations in different pre-war writings. These political articles are collected in Armata d'Italia (1888), the first militaristic poems are now in Odi navali (1893), and the poems about the Italian-Turkish war in Libya (January 1912) are in Merope, also entitled Canzoni della gesta d'oltremare (1911-1912).
When the First World War began in August 1914, Italy was nominally allied with the Central Powers. However, after a period of neutrality, it finally entered the war on 23 May 1915 as an ally of France and the United Kingdom. During the neutrality stage, many intellectuals were in favour of the country's participation in the war with France (Isnenghi). Immediately when the war broke out, D'Annunzio also began to promote Italy's alliance with France and the country's intervention against Austria-Hungary. (2) In May 1915 he returned to Italy from France, and during the so-called "maggio radioso" (Radiant May, 220 May 1915), he delivered various speeches that are included in the collection entitled Per la piu grande Italia. Furthermore, both before and during the war, he wrote several poems and rhythmic prose pieces that are now in the collection entitled Canti della guerra latina. (3)
2. Canti della guerra latina
Initially entitled Gli inni sacri della guerra giusta, the aforementioned collection was retitled Asterope when it was included in the larger poetic collection Laudi del cielo, del mare, della terra e degli eroi in his Edizione dell'opera omnia in 1932. Like the other four volumes of the cycle--Maia, Electra, Alcyone, Merope--Asterope (or Sterope) took the name of one the Pleiades, specifically the one who, according to one version of the legend, married Mars. However, he finally decided to change the title to Canti della guerra latina. Canti contains 18 works of lyric poetry and rhythmic prose, the first two of which are in French. D'Annunzio wrote them all between 1914 and 1918, and thus they are his last poems (Andreoli, "Canti" 1331-32). (4)
As the titles of the collection well indicate, the first poems were written in order to urge Italy's participation in the First World War, while the later ones glorify the conflict in order to sustain the country's willingness to fight. Therefore, these are celebratory poems with a persuasive intention. Before they were collected in a single volume in 1933, most had been published between November 1915 and November 1918 in the leading Italian newspaper Il Corriere della Sera, which, after a short period of neutrality, favoured Italy's intervention in the war. (5) According to Mario Isnenghi, the fact that the Italian press constantly published D'Annunzio's writings made him the country's semiofficial war orator, who significantly influenced the opinion of the middle-class reading public that was supposed to lead the country (106).
Inspired by the theory of the so-called new rhetoric, my aim in this article is to analyse D'Annunzio's war rhetoric in Canti della guerra latina (Lo Cascio; Meyer; Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca; Perelman). I shall concentrate on the way in which D'Annunzio represents himself as orator; the enemy and the war; and the kind of rhetorical strategy he uses in order to persuade the reader about the justice and necessity of the conflict.
3. The Elected People
The First World War marked a turning point in both D'Annunzio's life and his literary production. On the one hand, the gunshots in Sarajevo offered an opportunity for the indebted dandy, who had been forced to move to France in order to escape his creditors in 1910, not only to return to the beloved fatherland, but also to change his life. With the outbreak of the war D'Annunzio bid farewell to the pre-war "vita leggera," when he was famous most of all for his love affairs and luxurious life-style, and prepared to become a national hero, the spiritual guide of the country, Il Vate of the Italians. (6)
Right after the declaration of war, Luigi Albertini, D'Annunzio's close friend and editor in chief of Il Corriere della Sera, asked him to write an article in support of Italy's neutrality. Instead, on 13 August D'Annunzio published in Le Figaro a poem entitled "L'Ode pour la resurrection latine," in 11 parts and 231 verses that grandiosely initiated his interventionist campaign; curiously, the following day the poem was also published in Il Corriere della Sera marking a change in the newspaper's attitude towards the conflict (Woodhouse 273). (7)
Regardless of his nationalistic convictions, it is nevertheless appropriate to ask to what extent his desire to consolidate a sort of cult of personality incited D'Annunzio to engage in political life. In "L'Ode pour la resurrection latine," which is also the first poem of Canti, D'Annunzio explicitly verbalizes the transformation the war provoked in him: "Je ne suis plus en terre d'exil, / je ne suis plus l'etranger a la face bleme, / je ne suis plus le banni sans arme ni laurier. / Un prodige soudain me transfigure, / une vertu maternelle / me souleve et me porte" (strophe 1). Likewise, he specifies his role as interpreter of the fervent vocation of the French and Italian peoples: "Je suis une offrande d'amour, / je suis un cri vers l'aurore, / je suis un clairon de rescousse / aux levres de la race elue" (strophe 1). Thus, before the formation of the interventionist coalition in Italy in September, D'Annunzio appropriated for himself a leading position in it by volunteering to God: "Me voici. Envoyez-moi, Seigneur" (strophe 2).
On the other hand, as Raffaella Bertazzoli has indicated, Merope first and then Canti marked a change in D'Annunzio's production. Instead of using literary invention in which he juxtaposes great but often imaginary endeavours to the misery of the "terza Italia," or escapes to future utopias from the antiheroic world of Umberto I, D'Annunzio finally focuses in his war poetry on present reality, on the ultimate heroic moment for the fatherland that the war represents to him (Bertazzoli 253). Nevertheless, Italy's cultural and military history does occupy an important position in Canti. In addition to being a mosaic of quotations of his previous texts, Canti, as well as his other interventionist writings, combines different ideological and political traditions of the country (Isnenghi 106-07). Unlike in his previous works, however, D'Annunzio here demonstrates no nostalgia. Instead, history and tradition are overtly exploited to stress Italy's special role in the world. In terms of rhetorical analysis, Italy's great past serves as the authority to which D'Annunzio appeals in order to sustain his point of view. (8) As the poems of Canti were all published first in II Corriere della sera, the primary readership to whom they were targeted was therefore the cultivated middle class that could both understand and appreciate his erudite rhetoric.
In addition to references to Michelangelo, Garibaldi or the Risorgimento, a special position in D'Annunzio's rhetoric is reserved for Dante. Among the Italian poets of the twentieth century, D'Annunzio, perhaps better than anyone else, was familiar with Dante's works. Consequently, his literary production is full of Dante's poetic motifs, direct quotes, terms and locutions, symbols and characters. Dante as a persona is present in D'Annunzio's works in the form of chastener or pilgrim. Often he appears with characteristics that derive from the Christian tradition, such as purifier, mediator, liberator or comforter (Balducci; De Michelis 34-35; Di Poppa Volture 249-56; Harmanmaa "L'immagine dell'inferno"; Scorrano 11-38; Valesio 87-114). Similarly in Canti, Dante has a dual role. On the one hand, several references to the poet stress the value of the Italian tradition, as in "Salmi per i nostri morti 1" (1918), in which D'Annunzio remembers Dante's statue in Trento as a symbol of the city's Italian character: "Mia nell'alpe e la citta che Dante cuopre" (strophe 46). On the other hand, Dante, and especially his Inferno, function as a vehicle in different analogies D'Annunzio creates in order to underscore horror and disgust. In "Per i combattenti" (1918), by using both Dante's terminology, and with a comparison to Inferno, he emphasizes how the neutralists have dishonoured the war:
Ma dall'immondo Barbaro la viva guerra sepolta fu come carogna truce, posta a marcire nella fogna buia, stivata nell'orrenda stiva, soffocata nel tossico fumante e rituffata nella lorda pozza come quell'ira che del fango ingozza nello Stige implacabile di Dante. (strophes 25-26)
Among the historical periods which D'Annunzio in one way or another references in his argumentation strategy, ancient Rome is especially important. The glorification of Roman history, placing the eternal city as a model for the arts and for social life and the idea of the Italians as its successors, culminated when Fascism adopted the cult of Rome, or romanita, to serve its ever more aggressive political goals. The popularity of ancient Rome had already experienced a sharp rise in the Risorgimento. Among others, Giuseppe Mazzini justified his nationalistic and imperialistic ideas about the Italian mission in the world by elevating the concepts of the Italians as heirs of all the values Rome represented and the significance of the urbe for Western civilization. Successively, in the young nation-state, the patriotic bourgeoisie began to use Rome metaphorically. The Roman Empire was considered to be a part of Italy's national history, and the sole period of cultural domination and prosperity before the Renaissance. The symbol of Rome went hand in hand with patriotic feelings and it was particularly cherished by those who dreamed of a strong, united and imperialistic Italy (Arthurs; Canfora, Ideologie del classicismo; Cracco Ruggini and Cracco; La Penna; Treves; Visser).
As John Woodhouse has revealed, as early as 1895 D'Annunzio planned to write a poetic prose piece about the magnificence of the Latin race beyond which "there is only barbarism" (274). He never finished the volume, but the myth of Rome is constantly present in D'Annunzio's writings (Cagnetta; Canfora, "Sull'ideologia del classicismo dannunziano"; Luti). In his interventionist campaign and in Canti, the "Latin resurrection" is one of the main arguments with which D'Annunzio justifies the war. (9) In "Fluctibus et fatis" he writes about the extraordinary character of Latin culture that is "necessaire a la noblesse du monde, comme le rythme interieur a tout etre vivant" (842). Thus, D'Annunzio's war is in fact "une lutte de races" between the Latins and Teutons (840), a holy conflict between the elected people to whom belongs the role to lead civilization, and disgusting animal savagery: "Nous sommes les nobles, nous sommes les elus; / et nous ecraserons la horde hideuse" ("L'Ode pour la resurrection latine," verses 211-12). (10)
Rome is usually present in the poems in an abstract form of "spirit" or "idea." In the last poem entitled "Cantico per la vittoria," published a day after the armistice on 12 November 1918, the locution "the poem of Rome" is the metaphor of the Roman heritage in the city of Dubrovnik (in Italian, Ragusa) on the Dalmatian coast that, according to D'Annunzio, belonged to Italy: "o Ragusa; / e tu bevi il carme di Roma" (strophe 17).
In addition to the cultural heritage, and in harmony with the nineteenthcentury tradition, Rome also served D'Annunzio as a model of imperialism and aggressive foreign policy. In "L'Ode pour la resurrection latine," Rome is the stimulus that inspires the poet, the first-person narrator, to urge Italy to combat. When the poet understands his mission as promulgator of the Latin renaissance, he hears the horses of the Dioskouri neighing, which is to be understood as a symbol of the country's unrestrained will to fight: "Et j'entends les chevaux des Dioscures hennir" (v. 42). Successively, he hears the steps of the goddess Victory on the pavement of the ruins of the ancient city of Ostia. The poet turns to Victory to get help and strength to deliver his message: "o Vierge, accompagne mon message, affermis ma voix!" (v. 84). Instead, in "Per la gloria," published in II Corriere della Sera in December 1915, the analogy with the Roman past serves to arouse the wrath of a historical defeat: "Ma tu fa, Dio d'Italia, che al tuo cenno / gittiam nelle bilance lor cortesi / un ferro ancor temibile, che pesi / piu della spada barbara di Brenno" (strophe 40). (11)
4. About "the Old People"
What Isnenghi calls "the intellectual use of the war" as a remedy to collective and individual pathologies was widespread in pre-First World War Europe. In Italy the idea of war as the solution to socio-political problems was particularly cherished by those who were disappointed with unification and the political life of the country. In interventionist writings, this so-called internal enemy was composed, first, of all the neutralists who opposed Italy's involvement in the conflict and successively of the defeatists, who were ready to accept the humiliating treaty of Versailles (Isnenghi 107; Wohl). For D'Annunzio too, the enemy is primarily internal. In the rhetorical context in which Canti is to be located, Italy's government and the neutralists are the chief constraint that prevents the realization of the war. When representing the internal enemy, D'Annunzio polemically relies on both moral and physical concepts such as ignominy, fear, cunning, and animalism. Still, most of all, the enemy within is labelled as "the old people." As the war turns into a battle between the generations, D'Annunzio's position is similar to that of the pre-war interventionist coalition in which the most active groups, especially Papini, were those who claimed to represent "the Italian youth" and "the younger generations." They considered the war as an opportunity to destroy the unheroic Giolittian regime, cast away the restrictions of bourgeois existence and open the way towards an ill-defined but radically different future (Wohl 168). (12)
In "La tres amere Adriatique" (25 April 1915) D'Annunzio overtly blames the political class for poor rule since unification, thanks to which Italy was still a second-class international power:
L'Italie, en verite, apres cinquante ans de malheurs, d'erreurs et d'efforts, mal gouvernee par des vieillards fourbes ou ineptes qui n'etaient que les restes des temps serviles ou bien les charbons etaient du petit feu de la petite revolution, l'Italie n'a pas encore montre au monde ce qu 'elle est reellement.
(848; italics in original)
In "L'Ode pour la resurrection latine," D'Annunzio points to the enemy who are people "vetu d'ignominie e de paix," characterized by "l'astuce et la peur," "vaches baveuses, / [qui] ruminaient le mensonge" (strophe 4). (13) Thus, Italy is "corrompue et polluee par les mains des vieillards" (strophe 4). In "Per la gloria" (1918) the "blandi parassiti" and "i delicati porci" (strophe 25) who murmur in "un mercato immondo" (strophe 24) persuade Italy to ignore war and the enemy's threat and wish to conserve the country as the innocent and inoffensive "Italietta" of the old, lazy and cowardly people: "Serbati a noi, serbati a noi perfetta / pe' lunghi ozii che a noi fara la pace / candida. Non ti giova il dado audace / trarre. Ma dormi su' tuoi lauri e aspetta" (strophe 33). In "Cantico per l'ottava della vittoria" (1918), written after the armistice, the defeatists are present with "il sogghigno dei vigliacchi" (strophe 2). The Poet invokes the personified Truth (Verita) to create the ode against the Italian government: "O domatrice di fuochi, foggiami tu quest'ode / e scagliala verso Roma; che la mia mano prode / mi trema e condurla non posso" (strophe 3).
5. The Dalmatian Ladies
For both D'Annunzio and many other interventionists, one of the main nationalistic, political, ideological, cultural and to some extent economic rationales of the war consisted in assuring Italy a prominent role in international politics and in annexing the so-called terre irredente. (14) The territorial advantages, together with national aggrandizement, were also the main reasons for the Prime Minister Antonio Salandra and the foreign minister Sidney Sonnino, supported by King Vittorio Emanuele III, to involve Italy in the conflict against Austria. (15)
Similarly, in D'Annunzio's rhetoric, the chief political argument was to seize territories in Istria and on the Dalmatian coast, "de reconquerir avec la sante de son poumon gauche," as he put it in "Fluctibus et fatis" (840). (16) In "La tres amere Adriatique" he supports his claims by reference to the supposed geographical continuity between the Alps and the Adriatic Sea, established by the divine will and human justice:
C'est que la possession de l'Adriatique, puisqu'on peut dire que l'Adriatique est le fils des Alpes et presque la continuation creuse de la plaine du Po. Elle nous appartient par droit divin et par droit humain: par Dieu qui fagonne les figures terrestres de maniere que chaque race y reconnaisse sa destinee, et par l'homme qui multiplie la beaute des rivages en y dressant les monuments de sa noblesse et en y gravant les signes de ses plus hauts espoirs.
Even though the Dalmatian coast physically belongs to the Balkan region, its history was nevertheless Latin ("Le Ciment romain" 856). For this reason Italy's geographical and spiritual unification would be fulfilled only with the annexation of the areas that once were the Emperor Augustus's 12th region, and of which the Italian monuments are evidence ("La tres amere Adriatique," 851). In addition to historical reasons, D'Annunzio details Italy's role as saviour in the region during times of political turbulence. Indeed, only Italy (with her conquest of Dalmatia) was able to offer a geopolitical solution to the territorial claims of the different Yugoslavian nations inside the Austrian-Hungarian Empire: "Elle [L'Italie] seule, en cette heure miraculeuse, a dans son poing la clef de fer qui ouvrira la porte etincelante de l'Avenir aux nations jougoslaves regenerees, reconciliees et federees" ("Le ciment romain," 854).
In the highly allusive Canti, the geopolitical reasons often fade away, but they are crucial topics in two poems. In "Salmi per i nostri morti 1" (1915), published in November 1915, by the end of the first and rather unfortunate year of the war, D'Annunzio explicitly declares: "Mie tutte le citta del mio linguaggio, tutte le rive delle mie vestigia. Mando segni e portenti in mezzo ad esse" (strophe 47). Expelling the enemy from Italian territory becomes the rationale of the war: "E tu dicevi: 'Io trionfero. Io rompero il nemico nella mia terra e io lo calchero sopra i miei monti. Io spartiro le Giudicarie, misurero la valle dell'Isonzo, riscolpiro le rosse Dolomiti'" (strophe 45). In the last poem of Canti, "Cantico per l'ottava della vittoria," published for the first time in II Corriere della Sera on 12 November 1918, a day after the armistice, some strophes are dedicated to the Dalmatian cities that Italy wished to annex. In the emotional images D'Annunzio personifies the cities as beautiful women who implicitly await Italian male heroes to rescue them, whereas references to Italian architecture, art and analogies with Venice make it clear to the reader that the cities are in fact Italian:
E le citta di Dalmazia si scingono sul mare cantando dai bei veroni veneti, bionde e chiare nell'ambra di Vettor Carpaccio. (strophe 10) E Zara e la prima, [...] tutta bella al davanzale della sua Riva Vecchia, ridorata come quando Venezia si rispecchia nell'oro sciolta dal caligo. (strophe 11) O Trau, mia dolce donna, tu che sei tra le donne dalmate la piu dorata! Sei nelle tue colonne come il fuoco nell'alabastro. (strophe 14)
At the end of the war, the peace treaty of Versailles signed in June 1919 was a disappointment to Italy, which did not get the territories she had claimed and that were promised to her in the treaty of London--including the aforementioned Dalmatian cities. By foreseeing the difficulties in the peace treaty already in "La preghiera di Sernaglia," published in Il Corriere della Sera on 24 October 1918, D'Annunzio presents the atrocious image of the personified and "mutilated Victory." In the famous slogan that became popular after the war, especially among the Italian irredentists and nationalists, the potential national trauma is metaphorically represented by the physical pain of "smashed knees" and "clipped wings":
Vittoria nostra, non sarai mutilata. Nessuno puo frangerti i ginocchi ne tarparti le penne. Dove corri? dove sali?
6. Livestock and Sexual Orgy
The First World War also marked a substantial change in the way D'Annunzio represented warfare. Like his contemporary Giovanni Pascoli in "La favola del disarmo" (1906), D'Annunzio, too, in his previous works, had stressed cruelty, slaughter and rape as constitutive elements of war. In the poem "Il sangue de le vergini" (1894) he depicts an imaginary war as a primordial outburst of a death instinct and will to conquest, an exercise of absolute violence without any logical reason or ethical motivation, a mere stage of humans' perennial cruelty ("Il sangue de le vergini"; Barberi Squarotti, "Le immagini della guerra" 195201; Pascoli). The incentive for the hostilities between the two peoples is the sinister hatred bequeathed from father to son: "L'odio per cui feroci / tutti gli esseri pugnano, l'odio grande e immortale / che arde il sangue de gli uomini, mettea ne' loro cigli / un foco. Ed era l'odio il terribile male / che avean da i primi padri ereditato i figli" ("Il sangue de le vergini," vv. 153-157).
After the imaginary conflicts, the real war entered D'Annunzio's literary production with Merope (1911-1912). In this collection of epic poems, D'Annunzio reports real events in the Libyan war that are often taken from newspapers. Thanks to many details, including the names of actual Italian soldiers, the poems bear resemblance to a war documentary (Barberi Squarotti, "Le immagini della guerra," 203). Similar to "Il sangue de le vergini," the constitutive elements of war in Merope are hatred, revenge and violence. In "Canzone dei Dardanelli" (1912) D'Annunzio dedicates several verses to the cruelty of the enemy who has "crucified" the captured Italian soldiers, "cut their bodies with an axe," "turned them in black clot," "impaled the living ones with the skin of the chest pulled down like a red apron," "stitched their eyelids with needle and twine" or "buried them in sand up to the neck" (vv. 160-75). The detailed description transforms the enemy's brutality into the true rationale of warfare and ultimately serves to arouse in the Italians the paramount hatred that is "midolla della vendetta," and the pre-condition of fighting (vv. 175-76). (17)
The bittersweet revenge that "ride ne' denti suoi di giovin lupo" makes killing the enemy easy and exculpatory ("Canzone dei Dardanelli," vv. 152-153). In "Canzone della Diana" (1911), in order to further justify their merciless shooting, D'Annunzio represents the Turks not as humans but as mere dogs, and for this reason a stray shot turns into a cardinal sin:
Occhio alla mira ferma, o cristiani. Solo chi sbaglia il colpo e peccatore. Vi sovvenga! Non uomini ma cani. Per secoli e per secoli d'orrore, vi sovvenga! Dilaniano i feriti, sgozzan gli inermi, corrono all'odore dei cadaveri, i corpi seppelliti dissotterrano, mutilano i morti, scempiano i morti. Straziano i feriti, gli inermi, i prigionieri, i nostri morti! (vv. 157-166; Barberi Squarotti, "Le immagini della guerra" 205)
In "Fluctibus et fatis" D'Annunzio still stresses the need for the same hatred towards a repressive and threatening enemy: "Et celui-la meme ne manqua aucune occasion d'enseigner et d'exciter la haine necessaire contre l'ennemi invaincu qui toujours nous serre du cote gauche, du cote du Coeur, et ne nous permet de respire qu'avec un seul poumon" (838). The enemy is infamous and aggressive, cruel and covetous (840). The "homme teuton" (842) is constantly pushed by evil to expand toward Italy: "Une malefaim perpetuelle les pousse de leurs plaines sablonneuses et de leurs forets glacees vers nos vignobles, nos vergers, nos cites claires, nos golfes tiedes" (841). For this reason the Italians have the obligation to fight him in a war that is a "supreme combat" for the existence and freedom of the Italian race: "il s'agit de combatto le combat supreme contre une menace imminente de servitude et d'extermination" (840).
In Canti, the same brutal enemy is present in "L'Ode alla nazione serba" (1915). D'Annunzio wrote the poem after the complete annihilation of the Serbian army during the autumn of 1915 in a joint offensive by AustriaHungary, Germany and Bulgaria (Zoric). The defeat offered D'Annunzio an occasion to express once again his persistent loathing of Austria-Hungary, which he represents as a merciless executioner of innocent and defenceless civilians: "Il boia d'Asburgo, l'antico / uccisor d'infermi e d'inermi, / il mutilator di fanciulli / e di femmine" (vv. 22-25).
In Canti, as inMerope, the enemy is often depicted as an animal. In "Salmi per i nostri morti 1" this cruel animalism is first conveyed implicitly with the image of the enemy with prey in its teeth: "Tu spezzi le mascelle del nemico e gli fai gittar la preda di tra i denti" (strophe 23). Successively, D'Annunzio explicitly transforms the war into a battle between a herd of beasts and pure justice: "Condotte come mandre, spartite come branchi sono le sue schiere. Le tue son come sacrificii di giustizia, son come olocausti di purita, son come offerte da ardere interamente" (strophe 24). The most extensive representation of the external enemy is in "L'Ode pour la resurrection latine," in which he is colourfully depicted with the traditional connotations of barbarism. The Teutonic "Other" is likened to livestock, whose existence is scarred by sexual orgy and alcohol abuse. To make him further and concretely disgusting, D'Annunzio liberates his fantasy and completes the image with a rotting carcass that the stinking two-headed vulture, a parody of the two-headed eagle of Austria, vomits:
La force barbare nous appelle au combat sans merci. Comme la horde trainait dans ses chariots converts de peaux fraiches les concubines innombrables pour les rassasier de carnage et les enivrer d'hydromel, ainsi elle amene toutes les hontes derriere ses hommes comptes en betail a deux pieds, pour qu'ils couchent avec toutes dans leur sang epais qui est le rouge frere de la boue, tandis que le vautour a deux tetes, le maitre puant au double cou denude, pousse son cri lugubre et rejette la charogne mal digeree. (vv. 133-145) (18)
However, compared to both the previous war poems and the interventionist writings, in Canti D'Annunzio's war rhetoric changes radically. First of all, the enemy image is completely different from the one in Merope. In Canti, denigrating Austria-Hungary in such an unambiguous way as in "L'Ode" is an exception. Usually, D'Annunzio uses abstract terms such as "enemy," and most of all "barbarism," when it is not even clear whether he is referring to the internal or external enemy or to an intangible "cosmic force." As a matter of fact, in Canti, with the exception of "L'Ode" and "L'Ode alla nazione serba," he does not explicitly point out that the true physical enemy against whom the Italians fight is the Austro-Hungarian Empire. (19) On no other occasion does he disparage or accuse the real external enemy, Austria-Hungary, in the manner of modern war propaganda, of which he made ample use in Merope and the interventionist articles.
Second, the Italians do not feel hatred in the First World War. On the contrary, even before Italy's involvement in the war, D'Annunzio completely changed his stand, and in the speech in Quarto near Genova, he instead blesses those who abandon hatred: "Beati quelli che, avendo nel petto un odio radicato, se lo strapperanno con le loro proprie mani; e poi offeriranno la loro offerta" ("Orazione per la sagra dei Mille" 20). (20)
Last but not least, unlike in Merope, in which D'Annunzio offers a detailed description of the righteous and justified shooting of the enemy, the Italian soldiers do not kill in the First World War as reported and represented by the Canti. This substantial change found in D'Annunzio's portrayal of the enemy, or rather the lack of an enemy, is a consequence of the way D'Annunzio represents the nature of the war and its rationale in Canti. With few references to existing places, the First World War trenches, in fact, turn into a metaphysical and metatemporal space of pain and sorrow, disaster, death and sacrifice, which the Italian soldier reaches with a pure heart only to sacrifice himself. Regardless of the real territorial claims, in the poems of Canti, the First World War becomes a transcendental experience of purification and ultimately the gateway to resurrection and immortality.
7. The Holy Harvest
In the Canti (as in Merope earlier), D'Annunzio abandons the rhetorical dispositio of antithesis, realized often with a juxtaposition of Italy's glorious past, whether antiquity, medieval communes, the Renaissance or the Risorgimento, and the deplorable present time after unification (Bertazzoli 249). Instead, right after the first shots are fired, he represents the war as an epiphanic moment, a veritable occasion for the renaissance of the Latin people. At the beginning of "L'Ode pour la resurrection latine," D'Annunzio depicts the recent outbreak of war as an abstract, cosmic experience, both beautiful and horrifying: "Quelle horreur et quelle mort / et quelles beautes nouvelles / sont partout eparses dans la nuit?" (vv. 1-3) Successively, he stresses the idea of war as an occasion for a Latin rebirth with an analogy to agriculture, the basic activity humans must undertake in order to survive and a symbol of a new beginning. All of Part IX, the last section of "L'Ode," is dedicated to the image of war as harvest to which D'Annunzio invites the women. The fiercely fighting men on the frontline are compared to ears in the wind, whereas the fundamental elements of "bread" and "hunger" are metonymies of the new life that will begin in the battlefields:
Car, pour les Latins, c'est l'heure sainte / de la moisson et du combat. O femmes, / prenez les faucilles et moissonnez! / Appretez le pain nouveau / a la faim nouvelle! Vos hommes / frapperont fort, serres comme les epis, / dans la bataille, rang contre rang, / comme les bles drus sous le vent d'est.
(vv. 215-22) (21)
However, the sublimation of the war culminates with its representation as Christian sacrament. The reasons for exploiting religion in war propaganda are naturally manifold; according to Giorgio Barberi Squarotti, by doing so D'Annunzio had particularly in mind a Catholic readership. In an Italy where the political ideology and official war propaganda were mainly secular, and the Pope was strongly against the war, D'Annunzio's religious rhetoric served to convert in favour of war those Catholics who were still strongly connected with the pacifist Church (Barberi Squarotti, "Le immagini della guerra" 213).
On the other hand, across the Western world, the use of religious rhetoric in politics, hailing from the French revolution, had consolidated its position during the nineteenth century. Together with the nationalistic ethos, politics was transformed from rational planning and decision making into enthralling and fanatical passion peppered with religious pathos. The nation became the fatherland, and the fatherland became the new divinity of the modern world. The term "martyr," that until then had only had a religious connotation began to be used to indicate political values, human feelings and sacrifices (Chabod 3-83). In the penultimate strophe of "La Marseillaise," Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle sanctifies the fatherland: "Amour, sacre de la patrie / conduis, soutiens nos bras vengeurs." In Italy, some fifteen years later Ugo Foscolo ends his Dei sepolcri in a similar vein: "ove fia santo e lagrimato il sangue / per la patria versato" (vv. 293-94). Successively, in justifying his nationalist ideas, Giuseppe Mazzini made ample use of religious terminology that reflected his religious concept of nation, fatherland and politics in general (Mazzini).
By continuing the "religion of the Fatherland" indicated by Mazzini and the Risorgimento in D'Annunzio's political discourse, the distinction between the sacred and the profane often faded (Ledeen 8-9). In his war poems religious terminology and thematics entered for the first time in "Canzone del sangue" (1911), and successively in the rest of the poems in Merope. As a result, the colonial war in Libya against the Turks becomes a necessary, right and holy new crusade in which the Christian Italians are fighting against the Muslim Turks ("Canzone del sangue"; Barberi Squarotti, "Le immagini della guerra" 204-07).
The Christian religion is also a powerful rhetorical device in D'Annunzio's prose propaganda in favour of Italy's intervention in the First World War. In March 1915, the invitation to deliver the speech in Quarto, offered the exiled D'Annunzio the possibility to return to Italy with glory and dignity. In addition to initiating D'Annunzio's interventionist campaign in Italy, the speech revealed the main rhetorical strategies with which he would successively sublimate the war: the Christian elements run the gamut from biblical phrases to a blasphemous parody of the Sermon on the Mount, and the speech concludes grandiosely with nine blessings of D'Annunzio's own ("Orazione per la sagra dei Mille" 11-20; Woodhouse 288-89).
In Canti D'Annunzio's manipulation of the Christian religion reaches an indisputable peak. The poems are full of religious terminology, symbols, images and direct quotes from the Bible. Some of the poems are entitled "prayers" or "psalms," and some of them also follow the technique of the biblical psalms. When representing the soldiers' suffering, D'Annunzio finds analogies in the Bible. In "La preghiera di Doberdo," a wounded soldier is compared to Bartimaeus, the blind beggar of Jericho (strophe 34). The functional religious language transforms the war into a myth and collective sacrifice and, by using Christian symbols, D'Annunzio convinced his audience that Italy was participating in a holy expedition (Bertazzoli 260; Ledeen 9). (22)
The war is holy, "sacra guerra" ("Per i morti del mare," v. 2), because it is fought for the existence of the Italian race, for the sanctified fatherland and for Latin culture. The abstract enemy in the war becomes a blasphemous monster, who burns churches, breaks altars and profanes holy relics: "Hanno arsi i duomi di Dio dove battezzammo i nostri nati, portammo le nostre bare, prostrammo il nostro cuor tristo. // Hanno abbattuto i nostri altari, fonduto le nostre campane, contaminato le nostre reliquie, maculato le specie di Cristo" ("La preghiera di Sernaglia," strophes 29-30). Not only are many of the poems prayers directed to a merciful and protective God, but also, in order to justify the war, D'Annunzio appeals to God, who therefore becomes the supreme authority in his rhetoric: "Dio di gloria, tu fa questo giudizio / della gloria, tu giudica di noi / per la palma, considera gli eroi, / guarda alla fede e pesa il sacrificio" ("Per la gloria," strophe 4). As the war is the fulfilment of God's will, the "true God" is present where soldiers and civilians are suffering the most: "[...] e tutto armato di dolor t'avanzi / ed imprendi, nel giorno che t'e innanzi, / il taciturno tuo combattimento; // quivi e l'Iddio verace, / e sia lodato" ("Per i cittadini," vv. 4145).
The motif of war as Christ's renewed sacrifice in each wounded soldier is also to be found in other war poets, such as Vittorio Locchi, Clemente Rebora and Giuseppe Ungaretti (Barberi Squarotti, "Le immagini della guerra" 213). By comparing the war to the birth of Jesus Christ, D'Annunzio emphasizes the idea of "advent," a new and undoubtedly glorious era in Italy's history that will begin in the trenches. (23) The holiness of the war culminates in "Il Rinato" (1918), in which D'Annunzio describes the rebirth of Christ amidst the horrors in the trenches as a promise of a new and better world in which "the light will hinder the darkness":
S'ebbe nativita nella trincea cava il Figliuol dell'uomo; e solo quivi, messo in fasce da piaghe, si giacea. (strophe 5) [...] E sanguinava in fasce; ed il rossore si dilatava come immenso raggio, sicche tutti i ghiacciai parvero aurore, tutte le nevi parvero il messaggio dei di prossimi, l'ombra fu promessa di luce, il buio fu di luce ostaggio. (strophes 9-10)
8. Towards Immortality
Regardless of its holiness, D'Annunzio's war is nevertheless devastating and horrible. In "Per la gloria" (1915), he dedicates several stanzas to the sacrifices of the civilians (strophes 17-20); in "Per i cittadini" (1918) the first person narrator shows the interlocutor the trenches full of suffering:
ecco t'appare piu vicina dei sogni la trincea tetra, la penosa bolgia, tra maceria e steccaia il fango imputridito le piaghe non fasciate i morti non sepolti / gli smorti volti dei vivi senza sonno fitti nel limo sino all'anguinaia. (strophe 2)
Instead of hiding blood, D'Annunzio continually emphasizes the constant presence of death in the war. In "La canzone del Quarnaro" (1918) in order to arouse courage and to challenge death, he glorifies it as merry company: "Siamo trenta d'una sorte, / e trentuno con la morte. / EIA, l'ultima! / Alala!" (strophe 1). (24) Yet this kind of profanation is an exception, as usually D'Annunzio encompasses death with an aura of sanctity.
According to Raffaella Bertazzoli, D'Annunzio discovered the idea of the "beautiful death" on the battlefield in Nietzsche's Zarathustra (Bertazzoli 259). In "Salmi per i nostri morti 1" he indeed compares the brightness of death to a victory: "Una corona brilla sopra esse, come sopra la chioma delle vergini. Il sorriso precede la prodezza, e riappare dopo l'agonia. La morte e chiara come una vittoria" (strophe 25). Dying on a battlefield in the holy war for the sanctified fatherland also means the sanctification of the victims: "E allora udita fu dall'alto una voce senza carne, che diceva: 'Beati i morti.' Fu intesa una voce annunziare: 'Beati quelli che per te morranno'" (strophe 50). Finally, dying in war is the gateway to immortality, as the dead ones are promised resurrection: "Senza sudarii tu, senza lenzuoli, / li seppellisci ed io li dissotterro./ Rifioriranno ai tuoi novelli soli, / alla nuova stagione ch'io disserro" ("Il rinato" vv. 52-55). As the victims pantheistically meld in soil, water and wind, they become part of the holy fatherland:
Ma presi erano nella terra, tenuti erano dalla terra, profondati in essa, intrisi con essa, carname con zolle, ossame con selci.
E morivano. E come i corpi loro formavano il tuo corpo, cosi gli spiriti loro facevano il tuo fiato, o Patria, il tuo fiato possente.
("Salmi per i nostri morti 1," strophes 36-37)
Thus, dying on the battlefield is the only right way to die. (25) It was also the way D'Annunzio himself wanted to die in order to be liberated from the prison of the body and to become one with the beloved fatherland:
Son nel carcere dell'ossa, nei lacci delle vene, e non diffuso nei venti, nelle acque, nelle arene, in tutte le tue creature. Con una meravigliosa gioia tesi le mani a rapir la morte. E sempre diceva ella: "Domani." ("Cantico per l'ottava della vittoria," strophes 27-28) (26)
D'Annunzio has been described as the founder of modern political discourse, which he was able to refine as a member of parliament, an interventionist and as commandant in Fiume. In answer to the challenges of the emerging mass society and the democratic system, he transformed political actions into dramatic ones in which people actively participated. Consequently, his political discourse was most of all geared to arouse enthusiasm; instead of a rational analysis of social problems, it was melodramatic and poetic, based on myths and symbols rather than on facts. By speaking directly to the people, posing questions, and asking for their participation, D'Annunzio made the crowd an active part of his speeches (Barberi Squarotti "D'Annunzio scrittore 'politico'"; Ledeen 8-9, 202; Leso 736-41; Perfetti, "D'Annunzio, ovvero la politica come poesia").
Similarly, in Canti della guerra latina the aestheticization of war was perfected. In harmony with D'Annunzio's political rhetoric, the Canti are emotional, allusive, metaphorical and evocative. To justify the war D'Annunzio used an ample spectrum of rhetorical devices that vary from the myth of Rome to the Christian religion, from barbarian threat to youthful revolution. Thanks to this rhetorical variety, the poems appealed to different social groups in Italy, sealing the political success of the author.
D'Annunzio coveted a civilizing mission that, together with his love of his country, led him to politics. His speeches in favour of Italy's intervention during the "maggio radioso" aroused great enthusiasm in the audience (Woodhouse 288-94). Furthermore, the fact that he was also a valiant war hero undoubtedly consolidated his popularity. By his deeds, D'Annunzio showed that his boldness was something more than mere rhetoric, and in this way he bridged the gulf between intellectuals and the masses.
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(1) Giorgio Barberi Squarotti has rightly stated that politics in D'Annunzio's writings is never reasoning or analysis, but always literary "invention." For D'Annunzio, politics is only an occasion to experiment with a different kind of writing (Barberi Squarotti, "D'Annunzio scrittore 'politico'" 320-21).
(2) In addition to the two first poems of Canti, D'Annunzio wrote three articles in favour of Italy's intervention. The articles, published in France, are: "Fluctibus et fatis," published in Le Journal of 30 September 1914; "La tres amere Adriatique," published 25 April 1915, in Le Figaro, and "Le ciment romain," published in La Petite Gironde 30 April 1915, (Woodhouse 286). The articles are analysed also by Tosi (129-30).
(3) For this essay I have used the edition of Biblioteca Italiana Zanichelli [BIZ], DVDROM for Windows.
(4) Until now Canti della guerra latina has not aroused much scholarly attention. The most important studies are the essay of. Barberi Squarotti, "Le immagini della guerra," in which some pages are dedicated to Canti, and Bertazzoli's article "Merope e Asterope. Testi lirici per la patria in armi." Also Costa and De Michelis dedicate a chapter to Canti.
(5) "Ode pour la resurrection latine" and "Sur une image de la France croisee peinte par Romaine Brooks," the poems that open the collection, were first published in the French newspaper Le Figaro on 13 August 1914 and on 5 May 1915, respectively (Andreoli and Lorenzini 1332, 1336; Costa 229).
(6) It is worth recalling that once Italy entered the war, D'Annunzio volunteered to serve on the frontlines at the age of 52, where his legendary endeavours made him undoubtedly one of the bravest men in the war. About D'Annunzio's life, see especially Andreoli, Il vivere inimitabile', Woodhouse.
(7) The poem was greatly appreciated by French writers, in particular by Maurice Barres, Romain Rolland, and Paul Adam (Tosi 24-25; Andreoli, "Canti della guerra latina" 1328).
(8) The choice of an authority in a persuasive text is crucial. To defend a certain opinion, the author needs to know which positions the public would accept, which positions must be defended and how these positions should be defended. In other words, the author must be aware of the public's innate "identity": their interests, values and beliefs (Lo Cascio; Perelman).
(9) The war offered an opportunity for France to redress the humiliating defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, and for Italy to gain international prestige and territories in the north.
(10) The same idea of the elected people is already present in the poem "Canto per la nazione eletta" (1899).
(11) Brennus, to whom D'Annunzio refers, was a chieftain of the Senones, who defeated the Romans at the Battle of Allia in 390 BC. In 387 BC he led an army of Cisalpine Gauls in the attack on Rome and captured most of the city. Brennus's sack of Rome was the only time the city was occupied by a non-Roman army before it fell to the Goths in 410.
(12) The Prime Minister of the Italian government during the neutrality period was Antonio Salandra (1853-1931). He was preceded by Giovanni Giolitti (1842-1928). All in all, the politicians of the period were born in the 1850s and even the 1840s. They were thus 10-20 years older than D'Annunzio, and 30-40 years older than Giovanni Papini (1881-1956), the most efficient propagator of the so-called generational thinking. After the war, the idea of the youth revolution became an essential element of Fascism (Wohl). The emphasis upon youth was also a very important theme in D'Annunzio's later politics (Ledeen 10).
(13) It is worth noting that D'Annunzio published "L'Ode" in August, right after the declaration of the war, and before the interventionist coalition was organized in September.
(14) These were territories in the north, northwest and northeast of Italy that were populated by Italian-speaking people or were connected to Italy by secular historical, linguistic or cultural ties.
(15) Instead, Giovanni Giolitti, the socialists and the Catholics opposed the intervention (Wohl 170).
(16) See also D'Annunzio's speech entitled, "Parole dette agli esuli dalmati ricevendo in dono il libro che afferma, dimostra e propugna l'italianita della Dalmazia, stampato in Genova" (7 May 1915), 31-34.
(17) The horrors are based on news articles of which some were published in Le Matin and Le Journal between 23 and 26 October 23 1911 (Andreoli and Lorenzini 1318).
(18) The image of a vomiting two-headed eagle is already present in "Canzone dei Dardanelli" (1912): "La schifilta dell'Aquila a due teste, / che rivomisce, come l'avvoltoio, / le carni dei cadaveri indigeste!" (vv. 73-75). The term "horde" with reference to the German and Austrian enemy appears already at the end of "Fluctibus et fatis" (843).
(19) However, for instance, in "Per la gloria" (1915) there is an implicit allusion to the Austrian-Hungarian Empire: "Duro nemico: in vento di Croazia / e polvere di guasto, afa d'incendio. / Ogni bellezza ei tiene in vilipendio" (strophe 29). Thus, the external enemy is still present in Canti even though in an abstract form.
(20) The "Orazione per la sagra dei Mille" (5.5.1915) is the famous speech D'Annunzio delivered in Quarto for the inauguration of the statue honouring Garibaldi's expedition, and with which he started his interventionist campaign in Italy.
(21) Some verses later D'Annunzio calls Victory a fierce harvester: "O Victoire, moissonneuse farouche" (v. 223). Soldiers are seeds for the new world: "Vous etes la semence d'un nuoveau monde" (v. 229). In "All'America in armi" (1918) there is the same image of war as harvest (strophes 9-10).
(22) The Christian religion is present so extensively that Giorgio Barberi Squarotti has rightly stated that in Canti the First World War is transformed into a true celebration of Christian religious rites (Barberi Squarotti 201, 211).
(23) A section of five poems in Canti, all published in January 1915, is indicatively entitled "Preghiera dell'avvento."
(24) Il Quarnaro, or Kvarner, is a bay in the northern Adriatic Sea, located between the Istrian peninsula and the northern Croatian littoral mainland. Since antiquity the Quarnaro has been considered the extreme limit of Italy's geographical territory. It is also mentioned by Dante: "Si come Pola presso del Carnaro, / che Italia chiude, e i suoi termini bagna." (Inferno 9.114). During the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century, the Quarnaro was one of the symbols used by both Italian and Slavic nationalists.
(25) About D'Annunzio's rather complicated idea of death, and about his constant death drive, see Harmanmaa "The Seduction of Thanatos."
(26) D'Annunzio repeated the same idea about "la morte mancata" in Il notturno. See Harmanmaa, "The Seduction of Thanatos."
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|Date:||Jan 1, 2015|
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