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Literary lion: Alfieri's Prince, Dante, and the romantic self.

Leggere, come io l'intendo, vuol dire profondamente pensare; pensare, vuol dire starsi; e starsi, vuol dir sopportare. (1)

Vittorio Alfieri wrote these words circa 1778, the year in which his former maitre-a-penser Voltaire died a celebrity in Paris. Although Voltaire does not appear in the epigraph, he haunts it. As opposed to the pleasure and cultivation inherent in Voltaire's notion of reading, Alfieri's statement introduces a concern with ethics and character that ignores the question of aesthetic appreciation and literary value. This journey from reading to endurance suggests Alfieri's tendency to translate literary pursuits into a quest for freedom and self-esteem if not survival. "Si esamini la storia," he continues, "e si vedra, che i popoli tutti ritornati di servitu in liberta, non lo furono gia per via di lumi e verita penetrate in ciascuno individuo; ma per un qualche entusiasmo saputo loro inspirare da alcuna mente illuminata, astuta, e focosa" (Principe 1: 8). For Voltaire, the term "enlightenment" entailed committing intellectual labor to cultural and political reform out of a nearly impersonal sense of moral obligation and social responsibility. In the above citation, however, Alfieri equates illuminato with a cult of personality that only genius can inspire. His rhetoric of fire, lightning, and laceration challenges the most self-consciously august and abiding metaphor of the siecle des lumieres, the light of truth, with a Machiavellian overture to mob psychology and republican cynicism. Fittingly, these words appear in Del principe e delle lettere, which claims that only individual talent, brute strength, or force of will--and not ideas--can effect social change. Alfieri arrived at this conclusion partly through a magnificent misreading of an author whom Voltaire sought to exclude from literary debate: Dante. (2)

In the lifetime of Voltaire (1697-1778), who pronounced famously in 1756 "nobody reads Dante anymore," only sixteen editions of the Commedia appeared, a figure nearly surpassed in the first decade of the nineteenth century alone. (3) In contrast with the early 1700s, the Commedia flourished in the period between the deaths of Voltaire and Alfieri (1778-1803). During this time, sixteen new editions of the text appeared in Europe, almost a third of which were published outside of Italy. (4) Landmark translations and critical studies of the Commedia in the 1780s and 1790s stimulated interest in the poem that would remain constant throughout the age of Romanticism. (5) The bourgeoning concern with Dante both contributed to and drew on the emergence of another eminently Romantic phenomenon: modern autobiography. Although the period's most sophisticated theoretical approaches to Dante's influence on questions of subjectivity appeared in Germany, the Commedia had the greatest impact on literary self-representation in Italy. (6) Several important new editions of Dante's text appeared in the Peninsula in the late eighteenth century, and the many biographical sketches or vite of Dante in these same works reflected the growing preoccupation with the poet's life. (7) Beyond mere antiquarian or philological curiosity, the biographical reconstruction of Dante's life became part of a fascinating dialogue between the study of the Commedia and contemporary attitudes toward the self. (8)

Nowhere is the presence of the Commedia in autobiographical discourse more prominent than in Alfieri. By examining Dante's influence on Alfieri's treatment of the relationship between literature, society, and the identity of the writer, this essay will chart how the rebirth of interest in Dante shaped the development of the autobiographical genre in Italy. I will first describe how Alfieri came to identify with Dante after rejecting the Enlightenment notion of the homme de lettres and several major assumptions associated with this term. My analysis will stress that, in polemical response to Voltaire and the philosophes, Alfieri's turn to Dante led him to center his autobiography on the theme of the writer's rejection of all cultural, political, and social ties in the name of the abstraction "literature." (9) Alfieri's impossibly high demands on poets, I will propose, stemmed from his belief in literature's historical vocation of remaking the world--a conviction, however quixotic, that would have great impact on the manner in which many of his Romantic successors understood the psychology and responsibilities of the creative writer. My goal will be to establish that Alfieri's desire for personal and public reform through literature led him to redefine certain key concepts of the Enlightenment--including genius, humanity, and literary taste--in terms that reveal Dante's influence. Alfieri's deeply personal reading of Dante would prove essential to his own construction of literary identity in the autobiographical Vita, whose relation to the critical and literary-historical principles of Del principe e delle tettere this essay will seek to illuminate.

Along with Rousseau and the early Goethe, Alfieri has assumed the status of a transitional and epochal pre-Romantic figure. (10) Born at the height of Enlightenment thought in 1749, Alfieri's early intellectual formation occured during the pro- and anti-philosophe debates of the 1760s and 1770s. Because of his self-imposed Parisian exile (1786-1792), he was also first-hand witness, early friend, and eventual enemy of the French Revolution. Finally, he lived long enough to be a contemporary of those young writers whom we now consider first-generation Romantics. (11) Given the many allusions Alfieri makes to Dante and their similarities in style and personality, the limited scope of the criticism on their relationship is surprising. (12)

Alfieri's relationship with Dante encompassed three distinct phases: reading (1771-1778), incorporation (1778-1790), and identification (1790-1803). (13) The principal event of Alfieri's reading stage was in 1776, when he composed an Estratto di Dante, in which he transcribed and annotated his favorite verses of the first twenty-two cantos of Inferno. During the period of incorporation, Alfieri wrote Del principe e delle lettere (1778-1786), whose numerous references to Dante will be examined below. The culmination of this second phase was in 1790, when Alfieri adapted the Ugolino episode of Inferno 32 and 33 into his own hybrid theatrical genre, the tramelogedia; during this time, he also relied heavily on the writings of Dante in his satires and the virulently anti-French tract Il misogallo. (14) The third and most crucial stage of Alfieri's involvement with Dante began in 1790 with the initial draft of his Vita--a work, I will argue, that made his identification with the medieval poet complete if somewhat tragic.

In the first part of his career, Alfieri described himself as an homme de lettres in the idiom of the French Enlightenment. His notion of the writer and his social role was consistent with the Encyclopedie entry under gens de lettres, which not incidentally Voltaire contributed:
 [L]'esprit du siecle [les] a rendus [les gens de lettres] pour la
 plupart aussi propres pour le monde que pour le cabinet; & c'est en
 quoi ils sont fort superieures a ceux des siecles precedens. Ils
 furent ecartes de la societe jusqu'au tems de Balzac & de Voiture;
 ils en ont fait depuis une partie devenue necessaire. Cette raison
 approfondie & epuree que plusieurs ont repandue dans leurs ecrits &
 dans leurs conversations, a contribue a instruire & a polir la
 nation: leur critique ne c'est plus consumee sur des mots grecs &
 latins; mais appuyee d'une saine philosophie, elle a detruit tous
 les prejuges dont la societe etoit infectee; predictions des
 astrologues, divinations des magiciens, sortileges de toute espece,
 faux prodiges, faux merveilleux, usages superstitieux; elle a
 relegue dans les ecoles mille disputes pueriles qui etoient
 autrefois dangereuses & qu'ils ont rendues meprisables: par-la ils
 ont en effet servi l'etat. On est quelquefois etonne que ce qui
 bouleversoit autrefois le monde, ne le trouble plus aujourd'hui;
 c'est au veritables gens de lettres qu'on en est redevable. (15)

The fusion of aesthetic vocation and sociopolitical agenda described above seduced Alfieri. He first read Voltaire in 1765, well before he began to engage the great authors of the Italian tradition. In fact, by Alfieri's own admission, between 1765 and 1775 he read almost exclusively French authors; his first major work, Esquisse du jugement universel from 1772, addresses the idea of writer advanced above. Although the text may appear Dantesque in structure and intent--as the title indicates, it narrates an apocalyptic Final Judgment, with an attendant parade of self-advocating sinners--it could not be further removed from the Commedia's economy of divine justice and Christian gravity. God appears in the guise of an eighteenth-century gentleman who has just had his morning chocolate; heaven takes the form of a royal court, where angels serve as chamberlains and address God as "Votre Majeste"; and Jesus jokes about the temptations of dishonest women. A pastiche of sources ranging from Lucian to Helvetius, the text's most dramatic encounter between Alfieri's emerging literary sensibility and the thought of the philosophes occurs in the following passage, which scholars have acknowledged to be autobiographical:
 J'ai ete toujours, un tissu d'inconsequences, et j'ai reuni dans mon
 caracthere tous les contrastes possibles. J'ai fait des longs
 voyages, dans lesquels j'echangeois mes propres ridicules, avec des
 ridicules etrangers, je renoncois a quelques prejugez, pour en
 investir d'autres. J'eus le deffaut d'aprouver rarement, ce qui se
 passoit autour de moi, et un penchant beaucoup plus fort, pour
 blamer, que pour applaudir. Je ne m'employois a rien, un amour
 propre demesure me fit croire au dessus de tous les emplois, si
 j'avois pourtant pense juste, j'avois vu, qu'en tout pays, et en
 tout temps, il est libre a chacun d'en exercer le plus noble, qui
 est d'etre utile a l'humanite. J'ai beaucoup parle sur ce meme grand
 ton, dont j'ai l'honneur de parler a Votre Majeste, mais le fait
 est, que, je n'ai jamais ete utile a personne.... (16)

The moody serf-analysis in the passage, as opposed to the satirical and comic tone of the other sinners, suggests the author's problematic relationship with the forms of self-representation favored by the philosophes. The majority of philosophes constructed the self in order to uphold their metaphysical speculations on the essential neutrality of human nature and its perfectibility. The form of self-representation favored by the philosophes was the memoire, which typically fell into the following five categories: first, souvenirs or official memoires that recount the major external events that formed an author's profession, reputation, or public image; second, descriptions of a writer's Bildung, intellectual trajectory, or cursus studiorum; third, fictionalized stories of an aspect or period of an author's life, written in a highly transparent form; fourth, chronological versions by writers of their daily activities in the form of a diary or journal intime; and last, life histories structured according to the methodological practices and principles of the historian. (17) In the versions of memoir adduced above, speculative concern for personal identity and abstract issues of selfhood is implicit and incidental. Alfieri, and his more famous precursor Rousseau, would reject this detached attitude toward subjectivity and transform the question of the self into the thematic core of their autobiographies. Generally speaking, scholars believe that this self-conscious pursuit of an elusive inner identity in the manner of Rousseau's Confessions (first published in 1782)--as opposed to the more externally oriented process of self-representation that marks the memoire--signals the transition from Enlightenment to Romantic, or modern, autobiography. IS Viewed from this perspective, Alfieri's self-critique in the above quotation from Esquisse du jugement universel functions as a meta-critique of the language of the self then current. Though Alfieri goes through the verbal motion of self-examination in the manner of the philosophes, he questions the very principles that sustained this process, especially utility ("je n'ai jamais ete utile a personne") and the eradication of prejudice ("je renoncois a quelques prejugez, pour en investir d'autres").

Shortly after the Esquisse, Alfieri experienced an aesthetic conversion that led him to devote himself to the solitary and exclusive pursuit of literature. (19) His new conception of literary activity involved a shift from the Voltairean notion of writer described above to a Dantesque model. The text that narrates this transition, Del principe e delte lettere, anticipates the psychology and mythology that Alfieri would adopt in his Vita. A precursor to such comparative critical works as Germaine de Stael's De la Litterature consideree dans ses rapports avec les institutions sociales (1800), Del principe e delle lettere blends sociological and political analysis with traditional literary-historical methods of aesthetic evaluation, rhetorical classification, and chronological ordering. Alfieri began the text in 1778, when his open relationship with Louisa Stolberg, wife of the pretender to the English throne, William Stuart, made him a political liability to King Amadeus of Piedmont. Accordingly, when Alfieri requested permission to travel to Tuscany in 1777, the king agreed only after reminding Alfieri that he had given him similar dispensation just months earlier. Alfieri viewed the need to receive travel permission as symbolic of how politics and literature were two masters he could not serve simultaneously. A law from 1770 had already exacerbated the tension he felt about the relationship between his status as writer and as citizen; this same law would influence his decision to move away from the philosophes and toward Dante.

Of all the European countries, only England, Holland, and Switzerland had anything resembling a modern form of freedom of the press in Alfieri's age. Meanwhile, overt censorship prevailed in France, Germany, and Italy. (20) Although laws varied greatly in Italy, Piedmont had notoriously harsh restrictions against freedom of expression. (21) Giuseppe Baretti, for example, had anticipated Alfieri's fate by leaving the Piedmontese capitol of Turin in 1751 for the literary freedom of London. When Baretti returned to the Italian Peninsula in 1760, he decided to settle in Lombard Milan and not Turin, where his inflammatory satires certainly would have invited censure. Eventually, the Piedmontese Royal Constitution of 1770-1771 passed the aforementioned law forbidding the king's subjects to publish any work outside of his kingdom without approval of the censors. The combination of these hostile laws and Alfieri's precarious situation with Louisa Stolberg incited him to produce a trilogy of political treatises on freedom between 1778 and 1786: Del principe e delle lettere, Della tirannide, and Etruria vendicata. Moreover, as if to foreshadow Alfieri's own possible fortune, in 1777 Carlo Denina, Alfieri's first Latin teacher and an autobiographer and Dantist of note, was arrested outside of Turin, and his politically charged books were seized and burned. Alfieri began shortly thereafter the negotiations with King Amadeus that resulted in his voluntary exile and the relinquishing of his property in exchange for a yearly stipend. The following August, in 1778, he began to draft Del principe e delle lettere.

The events that led to the composition of this text embody the principle of zero-sum relations between writer and ruler that informs each page of the work. Del principe e delle lettere begins with the following premises: force not knowledge rules the world; any ruler may be and generally is ignorant; and the prince is the congenital enemy of mankind. Drawing on Voltaire's Dictionnaire philosophique, Alfieri then describes literature somewhat feebly as the Horatian useful and delightful. Because of this capacity for docile pleasure in literature, the prince will always favor elegant writers over sublime ones. The only writers that the prince should fear, Alfieri claims, are those who place literature at the service of humankind. The primary targets of his critique are neoclassicism and its touchstones, taste and utility. Within the stark economy of Alfieri's notion of literature, taste is portrayed as a reactionary desire to limit the scope of the literary with the socially conservative qualities of wit, elegance, and sophistication. Utility, at least in the Enlightenment sense of the term, was no less conservative in Alfieri's eyes: to serve the existing system, he argues, is to abet a conspiracy of corruptions. According to him, genuine utility comes only through the iconoclasm of sublime writers whose "veritier[o]" and "feroc[e]" work every prince seeks to suppress (Principe 1: 3).

After criticizing the state of European literature in Book One, Alfieri then frees the writer from any traditional social tie or obligation. Because all governments are inherently corrupt, he writes, all writers should challenge them. All literature worthy of the name must offend. He then adds that, as opposed to writers like Voltaire, who signed his name "Gentleman-in-Waiting to the King," the author who struggles against authority is a champion of liberty. Book Two begins with a dedication "ai pochi letterati, che non si lasciano proteggere" (Principe 2: 1). Those writers who refuse government protection in the name of literature include Hume, Milton, Homer, and Dante. The latter emerges as Alfieri's model of the poet-hero:
 Dante non fu protetto: che poteva egli dar di piu? Mi si dira forse:
 "Piu eleganza": ma egli ebbe tutta quella che comportavano i tempi
 suoi; e l'ebbe di gran lunga superiore a tutti i suoi predecessori,
 che scritto aveano nella stessa sua lingua. Ma Orazio e Virgilio
 furono protetti: e diedero percio quel tanto di meno, che la
 dipendenza e il timore andavano ogni giorno togliendo alla energia
 gia non moltissima degli animi loro. Mi si opporra, che Dante in una
 corte ripulita e delicata come quella d'Augusto non avrebbe adoprato
 tante rozze e sconce epressioni. Rispondo, che questo puo essere: ma
 soggiungo, che Virgilio ed Orazio fuor di tal corte, non si
 sarebbero contaminati di tante vili adulazioni e falsita. Qual
 peggio? (Principe 2: 3)

This last query ("Qual e peggio?") suggests the transition taking place around this time in the types of questions that writers throughout Europe were asking of literary works. In reality, these requests had already been intuited by some of those same Enlightenment thinkers whom authors like Alfieri were attacking. (22) However, for Alfieri to balance the moral and ethical content of a work against its formal properties, and then to judge these former two qualities more important, reflects the tendency in his age to theorize about literature in terms that were increasingly hostile to neoclassical strictures.

The "Dante" that Alfieri created in Del principe e delle lettere was in part fictitious, and the manner in which he handled the dialectic in Dante between self-representation and self-transcendence was curious but consistent. Although Dante promoted a centralized and authoritarian Holy Roman Empire, Alfieri transformed the medieval poet into an iconoclastic political radical. Alfieri also viewed Dante as a heroic poet rather than a religious pilgrim. Dante's writings do contain numerous examples in which the poet calls on his courage and inner reserve to deal with a pressing cultural, political, or social problem. In the Commedia, however, these instances of heroism are crucial only insofar as they aid Dante the Pilgrim in a spiritual ascent that will eventually require him to transcend the principium individuationis. But Dante's overcoming of the self did not concern Alfieri. His Dante became a symbol of the literary life centered on values of protest, endurance, and moral imperturbability. The dialogue Alfieri establishes between a writer's moral and ethical makeup and the content of his work makes autobiographical reflection natural if not inevitable. He would even stress the relevance of biographical criticism in his critique of Enlightenment literary thought. Modern literature, he writes, is the result of a "semi-filosofia" widely disseminated in the eighteenth century "da alcuni scrittori leggiadri, o anche eccellenti, quanto allo stile; ma superficiali, o non veri, quanto alle cose" (Principe 3: 5). He then blames these "scrittori leggiadri" for their indifference to heroism, failure to attend to human spiritual needs, and incomplete development of the notion of man. He writes:
 E tutto cio, perche si rimirano i nostri [eroi] con occhi offuscati
 da un pregiudizio contrario ai passati; e perche si giudicano dagli
 effetti che hanno prodotto, non dall'impulso che li movea, e dalla
 inaudita sublime tempera d'animo, di cui doveano essere dotati,
 abbenche con minor utile politico per l'universale degli uomini
 l'adoprassero. (Principe 3: 5)

The above defense of heroism is crucial, for many Enlightenment writers, including Voltaire, had written against it in the name of social equality and cohesion. (23) Alfieri's repudiation of Enlightenment anti-heroism drew on his dissatisfaction with any criticism that evaluated a work solely according to the standards of the present and without reconstructing its context and motives. He qualifies his exhortation to the literary hero in an idiom and lexicon consistent with his description of Dante, the libero scrittore:
 E questo impulso, un bollore di cuore e di mente, per cui non si
 trova mai pace, ne loco; una sete insaziabile di ben fare di gloria;
 un reputar sempre nulla il gia fatto, e tutto il da farsi, senza
 pero mai dal proposto rimuoversi; una infiammata e risoluta voglia e
 necessita, o di esser primo far gli ottimi, o di non esser nulla.
 (Principe 3: 6)

This description of the enflammed and resolute desire that compels the libero scrittore to bypass present concerns in the name of a reformed future once again recalls the Dante of Del principe e delle lettere 2: 3. These newly freed authors will produce true literature, constitute a small but noble republic of letters, and enter into voluntary exile in order to regain "l'intero esercizio del loro intelletto e della lot penna" (Principe 3: 8). These are writers of genius not talent, who must move away from their public in order to communicate better with it. Moreover, they are not gens de lettres, in the sense of literary persons of broad learning and versatility, but primarily creative writers, whom Alfieri and many others after the French Revolution will identify as the type of author most capable of producing high literature.

Alfieri claims in Book Three that writers in the manner of Dante, who are guided by natural and not artificial impulses, will work free from envy and government restraint, and will speak for themselves and humanity ("per loro e per tutti," Principe 3: 8). Alfieri's tendency to link discussions of a writer's identity with observations on humanity corresponds to his rejection of key Enlightenment ideas on human nature. To a philosophe like Voltaire, a certain notion of humanity made a sustained interest in the question of the self a moot point. This was due in part to the assumption that an author wrote not as an individual, separate from society and beholden primarily to his own feelings and thoughts for a sense of identity, but rather as a representative of a larger social group that conferred identity upon him from without. One should learn who one was, Voltaire and others believed, primarily through one's relations with others and not through introspection. The breed of individual best capable of defining himself as the differentiated part of a greater external whole was the philosophe or homme de lettres, who not only felt at home in this constructed notion of totality but gave the feeling associated with it a name: l'humanite. The philosophes did not, in the manner of Descartes, arrive at an understanding of the link between the self and society through abstract a priori principles. Rather, they introduced the concept that the literary practitioner should walk among men and women and observe them from eye-level:
 Notre philosophe ne se croit pas en exil dans ce monde; il ne croit
 point etre en pays ennemi; il veut jouir en sage econome des biens
 que la nature lui offre; il veut trouver du plaisir avec les autres:
 & pour en trouver, il en faut faire: ainsi il cherche a convenir a
 ceux avec qui le hasard ou son choix le font vivre.... Les
 philosophes ordinaires qui meditent trop, ou plutot qui meditent
 mal, le sont envers tousle monde; ils fuient les hommes, & les
 hommes les evitent. Mais notre philosophe qui fait se partager entre
 la retraite & le commerce des hommes, est plein d'humanite. C'est le
 Chremes de Terence qui sent qu'il est homme, & que la seule humanite
 interesse a la mauvaise ou a la bonne fortune de son voisin. Homo
 sum, humani [a] me nihil alienum puto.... De cette idee il est aise
 de conclure combien le sage des Stoiciens est eloigne de la
 perfection de notre philosophe: un tel philosophe est homme & leur
 sage n'etoit qu'un phantome. Ils rougissoient de l'humanite, & il en
 fait gloire.... (24)

The above quotation renders explicit the link between writer and society that authors like Voltaire and Hume elaborated in their memoirs. (25) This Encylcopedie entry also maintains that a writer's sense of belonging stems not from any rational process or creative discovery but from a social instinct inherent in human nature. The "plaisir" that this feeling of humanity elicits is one that the philosophe experiences through a process of communal integration and identification ("[le philosophe] cherche a convenir a ceux avec qui le hasard ou son choix le font vivre"). The emphasis on sociability and public-mindedness in the Encyclopedie's definition of l'humanite is striking:
 HUMANITE ... c'est un sentiment de bienveillance pour tous les
 hommes, qui ne s'enflamme guere que dans une ame grande & sensible.
 Ce noble & sublime enthousiasme se tourmente des peines des autres &
 du besoin de les soulager; il voudroit parcourir l'univers pour
 abolir l'esclavage, la superstition, le vice & le malheur. Il nous
 cache les fautes de nos semblables, ou nous empeche de les sentir;
 ... il ne nous porte pas a nous degager des chaines particulieres,
 il nous rend au contraire meilleurs amis, meilleurs citoyens,
 meilleurs epoux; il se plait h s'epancher par la bienfaisance sur
 les etres que la nature a places pres de nous. (8: 348)

Here, the feeling of humanity leads not to a process of self-examination or desire for independence but to a strengthening of the ties that bind. Not only did the philosophes' sense of humanity make them presumably better writers but also better friends, citizens, and partners ("[l'humanite] nous rend au contraire meilleurs amis, meilleurs citoyens, meilleurs epoux"). In theory, this sentiment of humanity gave the philosophes that rare historical phenomenon: a mutually beneficial relationship between intellectual activity and community life. In the second phase of his Dante criticism, 1778-1790, Alfieri used his reading of Dante to challenge this notion of human nature and the barriers it erected between a writer and the possibilities that literature held for the exploration of the self.

A philanthropic instinct of humanity cannot endure in the mind of Alfieri's libero scrittore, for he proposes that society threatens creativity and expression. Implicit, however, in the antagonistic relationship he sets up between writer and society is the idea that a new version of human nature must issue from the free writer's pen. He reformulates the traditional Enlightenment ideal of humanity along the following lines. First, he challenges the belief that men and women are perfectible and capable of progress. Second, he argues that human nature is an historical process and not a metaphysical category. Third, he repudiates the cosmopolitanism of the philosophes in favor of a state of permanent exile. Last, he contends that times of supposed darkness and backwardness, such as the Middle Ages of Dante, actually represent enviable periods of faith and power. The following sonnet, one of two addressed by Alfieri to Dante in 1783, epitomizes his anti-Enlightenment bias. (26)
 O grande padre Alighier, se dal ciel miri
 Me tuo discepol non indegno starmi,
 Dal cor traendo profondi sospiri, 3
 Prostrato innanzi a' tuoi funerei marmi;
 Piacciati, deh! Propizio ai be' desiri,
 D'un raggio di tua luce illuminarmi. 6
 Uom, che a primiera eterna gloria aspiri,
 Contro invidia e vilta de' stringer le armi?
 --Figlio, i' le strinsi, e assai men duol; ch'io diedi 9
 Nome in tal guisa a gente tanto bassa,
 Da non pur calpestarsi co' miei piedi.
 Se in me fidi, il tuo sguardo ache si abbassa? 12
 Va, tuona, vinci: e, se fra' pie ti vedi
 Costor, senza mirar, sovr'essi passa.

Alfieri composed this poem after a visit to Dante's tomb that he later described in terms of a religious experience: "Di Bologna mi deviai per visitare in Ravenna il sepolcro del Poeta, e un giorno intero vi passai fantasticando, pregando, e piangendo" (Vita 4: 10). But any reflective pause he may have experienced at the grave becomes in Sonnet 53 the righteous anger he claims is required of the libero scrittore. The poem's paternal images reveal his genetic identification with Dante ("O grande padre Alighier" in 1.1 and "Figlio" in 1. 9). The word "discepol" in the second verse suggests Alfieri's devotion if not worship of the medieval poet. The opening lines also show Alfieri's habit of substituting the Enlightenment image of the light of truth with a flash of inspiration or genius ("d'un raggio di tua luce illuminarmi," 1. 6). In a carefully staged dialogue between a belated pilgrim-poet (Alfieri) and the prototypical one (Dante), the funereal meeting ponders what the poet is to do in a world that has no use for him nor he for it. The sense of solitude in the sonnet is complete: rays of light from an illustrious predecessor poet may penetrate Alfieri's mind, but no human presence will. The free writer Alfieri has become--in 1783 we are five years into his voluntary exile--has deepened his conviction that the path to glory passes through a misanthropy that he unfairly attributes to Dante. By 1783, Alfieri has also decided that any feeling of humanity should express an intractable disgust with a world that only literature can redeem. Writing, subsequently, became for him an act of heroic protest that sought more the respect of the dead than communion with the living. (27)

Alfieri's proclivity to attribute misanthropy to Dante resulted from his exaggerated emphasis on the traits of pride and disdain that biographers and commentators typically had ascribed to the poet. (28) The vite of Dante followed two main lines of exposition, one poetic or legendary in the manner of Boccaccio's Trattatello in laude di Dante (c. 1348) and the other historical in the style of Leonardi Bruni's Vita di Dante (1436). As mentioned earlier (see note 13), Alfieri owned commentaries on the Commedia that included both a poetic (Landino, 1481) and an historical (Vellutello, 1544) life of Dante. Each of these commentaries does allude to the prideful and disdainful aspects of Dante's character. Nowhere, however, either in Dante's own writings or in the biographical works on him, is there the bile toward humanity that surfaces in Alfieri's representation of the medieval poet.

Alfieri's choice of Dante as the writer most capable of redefining the shape of humanity led to stage three of his involvement with the Commedia, that of identification (1790-1803). During this time Alfieri produced his Vita, one of the earliest autobiographies in European literature to narrate the process by which an individual divests himself of all worldly ties in the name of literature. (29) Although Alfieri did not begin to write his life story until 1790, this text splits his career into two halves: one in which he produced literary art (1772-1790); and another in which he anthologized, edited, translated, and published it (1790-1803). If social decorum prevented a writer like Hume from introspective autobiography and an Olympian sense of irony produced a similar restraint in Voltaire, the first words of the Vita convey Alfieri's desire to immerse himself in the literary self-representation that would intermittently occupy the last fourteen years of his life:
 Il parlare, e molto piu lo scrivere di se stesso, nasce senza alcun
 dubbio dal molto amar di se stesso.... Ed e questo dono una
 preziosissima cosa; poiche da esso ogni alto operare dell'uomo
 proviene, allor quando all'amor di se stesso congiunge una ragionata
 cognizione dei proprj suoi mezzi, ed un illuminato trasporto pel
 vero e bello, che non son se non uno. (Vita "Introduzione")

Typically, Alfieri in the above quotation links self-love to the enthusiastic pursuit of the true and beautiful. It is useful to situate his positive appraisal of unbounded, demiurgic enthusiasm (which he discerned in writers like Dante) within the larger rubric of the transition from Enlightenment to Romantic conceptions of poetic inspiration. Drawing on authors including Voltaire and Diderot, the anti-Dantist Saverio Bettinelli provided Italians with their first monograph on the place of enthusiasm in poetry with L'entusiasmo delle belle arti (1769). This work critiqued the rationalist stile geometrique associated with Descartes and promoted the importance of energy and personal experience in the creation of enduring artistic works. Bettinelli, however, never disassociated the effects of enthusiasm and poetic inspiration from good taste: he believed that imagination and taste enforced each another and worked in unison to create the Arcadian poetry that he promoted. Later, in his attacks on Alfieri's tragedies, Bettinelli would shrewdly indicate that the entusiasmo that pervades Alfieri's works had little to do with Bettinelli's own belletristic enthusiasm. (30) Alfieri would altogether remove the creative aspects of poetic enthusiasm from the compass of taste. He argued that writers on the order of Dante transcended existing norms of aesthetic evaluation and appreciation through the culturally disruptive yet morally productive agency of the creative act, which Alfieri understood to be the originary and violent space wherein the self was forged.

In the Vita, Alfieri drew on his reading of Dante to transplant the libero scrittore from Del principe e delle lettere onto his own life. He began the Vita in Paris in 1790, where he was witnessing the aftermath of a revolution he increasingly reviled. (31) In 1786, Alfieri chose to move to Paris to follow Stolberg, who had come to the French capital after finally succeeding in her attempt to divorce Stuart. For all its promise of personal and political freedom, France represented the antithesis of Alfieri's core beliefs. The same artifice, sophistication, and elegance a la francaise that Voltaire hoped would permeate all aspects of European creative and social life appalled Alfieri. Moreover, his avowedly aristocratic sympathies and cult of tradition reminiscent of his contemporary Edmund Burke made the post-revolutionary chaos synonymous in his mind with a world gone mad.

If Voltaire conceived of his literary pursuits through metaphors of gardening ("il faut cultiver notre jardin"), Alfieri chose for his Vita images of turbulent seas, wild forests, and icy northern plains. Above all, the figures of speech Alfieri preferred were those related to horses and riding. Since real life provided infrequent opportunities to display his bravery, his autobiography often assumes the form of a mock epic, with Vittorio raring to and from lover's homes on a charging horse like a warrior or sentry who has gone ahead to warn troops of approaching danger. (32) Especially in discussions of the study and production of literature, Alfieri's need for forte sentire permeates the Vita. A journal entry from early in his career sums up his desire to be unlike any other person of his time:
 Non perdo mai occasione d'imparare a morire: il piu gran timore
 ch'io abbia della morte, e di temerla: non passa giorno in cui non
 vi pensi; pure non so davvero se la sopportero da eroe, o da buon
 cattolico, cioe da vile: bisogna esservi per saperlo.... In mio
 pensiero, che non ad altro e volto ch'alla gloria, rifaccio spesso
 il sistema di mia vita, e penso ch'a quarantacinque anni non voglio
 piu scrivere: godere bensi della fama che sarommi procacciata in
 realta, o in idea, ed attendere soltanto a morire. Temo una sola
 cosa: che avanzando verso la meta giudiziosamente prefissami, non la
 allontani sempre piu, e ch'agli anni quarantacinque non pensi se non
 a vivere: e forse a sciccherar carta. Per quanto mi sforzi a credere
 e far credere ch'io sia diverso dal comune degli uomini, temo
 d'essere simigliantissimo. (33)

In his Vita, Afieri extended this fear of being like others ("temo d'essere simigliantissimo") into a critique of the Enlightenment model of the self and its belief in a general, abstract human nature. Like so much else in the Vita, Alfieri's sentiments lie more with Vico's notion of the deterministic nature of historical and sociocultural context than with the metaphysical notion of tabula rasa Voltaire popularized in his writings on Locke. (34) Alfieri's childhood is, by and large, one of ignorance and stagnation. He describes himself as "selvatichetto" and claims that, while young, he was a stranger to all forms of learning. Early chapters bear the titles "Continuazioni di quei non-studj" and "Primi studi, pedanteschi e mal fatti" and depict scenes in terms of the author's inability to compose poetry or respond with sensitivity to art. This early cultural and intellectual poverty forms a vivid contrast to the radical change that will occur when Alfieri actually does dedicate himself to writing, which occurs in 1772 after years of anomic wandering. Henceforth, the mock heroism of his travels cedes to the militant engagement of the man of letters, a fragile pursuit of glory that he embarks upon after careful consideration of the relationship between French and Italian literary history. Before beginning Del principe e delle lettere in 1778, Alfieri banned himself from speaking French and set about the arduous task of learning Dante's Tuscan:
 Primo passo adunque verso la purita toscana essere doveva, e lo fu,
 di dare interissimo bando ad ogni qualunque lettura francese. Da
 quel Luglio [1775] in poi non volli piu proferire parola di codesta
 lingua, e mi diedi a sfuggire espressamente ogni persona o compagnia
 da cui si parlasse. Con tutti questi mezzi non veniva percio a capo
 d'italianizzarmi. (Vita 4: 1)

His study of the Tuscan language involved immersing himself in its most illustrious practitioners: Dante, Petrarch, Ariosto, and Tasso. Beginning in Book Four, his allusions to these writers increase. Alfieri decides to become a tragedian after he reviews the Italian literary tradition and realizes that it lacks a great playwright. He writes:
 Questi quattro nostri poeti [Dante, Petrarca, Ariosto e Tasso],
 erano allora, e sono, e sempre saranno i miei primi, e direi anche
 soli, di questa bellissima lingua italiana: e sempre mi e sembrato
 che in essi quattro vi sia tutto quello che umanamente puo dare la
 poesia; meno pero il meccanismo del verso sciolto di dialogo, il
 quale si dee pero trarre della pasta di questi quattro, fattone un
 tutto, e maneggiatolo in nuova maniera. (Vita 4: 10)

Alfieri himself, presumably, would be the one to gather Dante, Petrarch, Ariosto, and Tasso into a single form and then add drama and the art of dialogue to this synthesis. By his own account, the process of incorporating the four maestri into his work was a rare thread of continuity in a life of great personal and artistic vicissitudes:
 E questi quattro grandissimi [Dante, Petrarca, Ariosto e Tasso],
 dopo sedici anni oramai ch'io li ho giornalmente alle mani, mi
 riescono sempre nuovi, sempre migliori nel loro ottimo, e direi
 anche utilissimi nel loro pessimo; che io non asseriro con deco
 fanatismo, che tutti e quattro a luoghi non abbiano e il mediocre
 ed il pessimo; diro bensi che assai, ma assai, vi si puo imparare
 anche dal loro cattivo; ma di ben s'addentra nei loro motivi e
 intenzioni: cioe da chi, oltre l'intenderli pienamente e gustarli,
 li sente. (Vita 4: 10)

Of the four Italians Alfieri cites as models, he first eschews Tasso and Ariosto as courtly writers that were too beholden to the whims of their patrons to be free and fierce. (35) Petrarch was also protected by a prince; his greatness, subsequently, was limited. (36) The only writer who entirely satisfies Alfieri's demands is the one to whom he refers as "Poeta," Dante. (37) In Del principe e delle lettere 3: 2, Alfieri asks if it is possible for a nation to produce two Dantes. Such a phenomenon, he argues, would result in an the greatness a literary culture needed. The Vita, in essence, answers this question by proposing Alfieri himself as a second Dante, a sentiment anticipated in the earlier Del principe e delle lettere:
 E di Dante mi sono prevaluto per prova, perche io molto lo leggo, e
 mi pare di sentirlo, e d'intenderlo: di Omero, di Sofocle, o di
 altri simili massimi e indipendenti scrittori mi sarei pure
 prevaluto per prova, se nella loro divina lingua mi fosse dato di
 leggerli. Ma in Dante solo mi pare d'aver io bastantemente ritrovata
 la irrefutabile dimostrazione del mio assioma; poiche Dante senza
 protezione veruna ha scritto, ed e sommo, e sussiste, e sempre
 sussistera: ma nessuna protezione ha mai fatto, ne vorrebbe, ne
 potrebbe far nascere un Dante. Potrebbe la protezion principesca
 bensi, dove un tanto uomo nascesse, impedirlo; put troppo! (Principe
 3: 2)

The definitive sign of Dante's presence in Alfieri's notion of the self lies in his evocation of how a feeling and understanding for an author ("mi pare di sentirlo, e d'intenderlo") can nourish a sense of personal identity. In the incessant battle that Alfieri understood writing to be, he momentarily surrendered the anger in his pen for a tranquil moment of identification with an illustrious predecessor.

The same year in which he commenced the Vita, Alfieri also began a work, the tramelogedia entitled Ugolino, in which Dante's influence would have been at its most explicit. Not incidentally, this theatrical adaptation of Inferno 32 and 33 never made it past the stage of outline. By his own account, the Vita was intended as a post-mortem to his career as writer. It is no surprise, therefore, that Alfieri would decide to abort the Ugolino, the last text in which he composed an original tragic verse. Though never realized, the Ugolino adaptation manque reveals much about the question of literary self-representation in Alfieri's age and Dante's place in it. In 1790, to thematize and recreate in prose one's own life in the manner of Alfieri was neither accepted nor common; hence the myriad of qualifications and self-accusations that fill the Vita. It was also unusual to base, as Alfieri did, one's identity on Dante. This helps to explain why Dante's presence in the Vita is at once so diffuse and so hidden. It also suggests why Alfieri abandoned his Ugolino at the very point he began a life story in which Dante would figure so prominently. In all likelihood, a completed Ugolino would have rendered official Alfieri's choice of Dante as model of the self in the Vita, a result that an autobiographer as concerned with originality as Alfieri could never have desired. In this last period of his life, he would no longer write tragedies but would devote his energies to constructing an elaborate portrait of himself as Italy's premier tragedian and its self-proclaimed heir to the tradition of modern Italian letters beginning with Dante. The literary lion had reached his autobiographical winter.

Alfieri's Romantic successors, especially his poetic disciple Ugo Foscolo, would continue to ask both of books and themselves questions similar to the ones that Alfieri posed. Unlike Alfieri, however, these authors would not be so confrontational in their fusion of Dante and autobiography, for the steady institutionalization of the relationship between Dante criticism and literary self-representation would make such polemics unnecessary. Indeed, Dante's presence in the burgeoning autobiographical genre of the Romantic age would become something of a rite of passage. Viewed from this perspective, Alfieri's elusive heroism derives in part from the following fact: he was the first to allot Dante a significant place in his autobiography at a time when many authors regarded with suspicion both Dante and introspective autobiographical writing. By translating Dante into an iconoclastic poet-hero, Alfieri neglected the medieval Christian poet's spiritual concerns and devotion to political empire. But it was Alfieri's talent to live and to write so emphatically that the sheer force of his convictions, whether or not accurate, could sweep both himself and his readers toward some erstwhile glorioso porto, where the self never escapes the shadows cast by literary history.


(1) Del principe e delle lettere, ed. P. Cazzani (1951) 1: 8; vol. 3: 127 of the Opera omnia, 40 vols. (Asti: Casa d'Alfieri, 1950-1989; hereafter "Edizione Astese").

(2) See my "From the dark wood to the garden: Dante and autobiography in the age of Voltaire," SVEC: Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century 6 (2002): 349-70.

(3) See Giuliano Mambelli, Gli annali delle edizioni dantesche (Bologna: Zanichelli, 1931). Unless otherwise indicated, references to the textual history of the Commedia are to Mambelli.

(4) These five editions appeared in England, France, and Germany (London: 1778, Nuremberg: 1781, Paris: 1787, Berlin and Strasbourg: 1788, and Berlin: 1799).

(5) Important translations include William Hayley's English version of Inferno 1 to 3 (1782), Antoine de Rivarol's L'Enfer, traduction nouvelle en prose (1783), and August Wilhelm Schlegel's German translation of fragments of the Commedia (1790). See Paul Colomb de Batines, Bibliografia dantesca, 2 vols. (Prato: Aldina Editrice, 1845-1846) 1: 252-53, 264-66, 271; and Werner Friedrich, Dante's Fame Abroad, 1350-1850 (Rome: Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura, 1950) 114-16, 226-29, 375-84.

(6) An early sign of interest in Dante from the Jena Romantics was an essay on the Commedia by A. W. Schlegel in 1791. Then followed Friedrich Schelling's lecture "Uber Dante in philosophischer Beziehung," delivered as part of a series of talks in Jena in 1802 and 1803. In these same two years, A. W. Schlegel discussed the poet at length in his lectures on literature and art in Berlin. A leader of the Jena group, Friedrich Schlegel, drew on Dante's tripartite division of Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso in elaborating his three-stage theory of tragedy in Geschichte der alten und neuen Literatur (1812). See Rene Wellek, History of Modern Criticism, 8 vols. (New Haven: Yale UP, 1955-1992) 2:21-22; Erich Auerbach, "Entdeckung Dantes in der Romantik," Gesammelte Aufsatze zur romantischen Philologie (Bern: Francke Verlag, 1967) 176-83; and Ralph Pite, The Circle of Our Vision: Dante's Presence in English Romantic Poetry (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1994) 22.

(7) For example, Vincenzo Martinelli's edition of the Commedia (London and Livorno: 1778) includes a laudatory vita di Dante and two letters defending the poet from Voltaire's attacks. Also noteworthy was the Parma Commedia (1795) edited by Gian Giacomo Dionisi, whose philological accuracy and thoroughness were such that Ugo Foscolo later labeled him the "ristoratore del testo dantesco" (cited in Mambelli, Edizioni dantesche 77).

(8) For Dante's presence in eighteenth-century Italy, see Aldo Vallone, "La critica dantesca nel Settecento" La critica dantesca nel Settecento ed altri saggi danteschi (Florence: Olschki, 1961) 3-64. More recently, Domenico Pietropaolo in Dante Studies in the Age of Vico (Ottawa: Dovehouse Editions, 1989) connects differences in approach to Dante in the 1700s to the varying cultural and political situations of individual Italian cities.

(9) For a discussion of the birth of a modern notion of literature in the early nineteenth century, see Raymond Williams, Marxism and Literature (New York: Oxford UP, 1977) 45-54; and David Bromwich, A Choice of Inheritance: Self and Community from Edmund Burke to Robert Frost (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1989) 1-19.

(10) Alfieri had an opportunity to meet Rousseau in Paris in 1771 but declined to do so. He stated that the Swiss writer's already legendary abrasiveness would probably have caused him to begin despising a man he wished to continue admiring. Although it is tempting to view this evasion as a manifestation of literary anxiety vis-a-vis a formidable predecessor, by 1771 Alfieri had neither read much of Rousseau nor expressed any desire to pursue a literary career (see Vita, ed. L. Fasso [1951] 3: 12; vol. 1:124-25 of Edizione Astese).

(11) See especially Ugo Foscolo's description of the failed attempt by his protagonist, Jacopo Ortis, to meet Alfieri (Le ultime lettere di Jacopo Ortis, 27 agosto 1798). Alfieri, typically, wanted nothing to do with the adulation of admirers and went so far as to affix to his door a public notice warning away literary pilgrims (see Edizione Astese 2: 294).

(12) See Aurelia Accame Bobbio's summary and bibliography in the Enciclopedia dantesca, dir. Umberto Bosco, 6 vols. (Rome: Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana, 1970-1978) 1: 120-21; and Assunta Borselli, "Dante nella ricerca stilistica di Alfieri," L'Alighieri 37 (1996): 89-101. See also, more generally, Benedetto Croce, Poesia e non poesia (Bari: Laterza, 1946) 9; Vittore Branca, Alfieri e la ricerca dello stile con cinque nuovi studi (Bologna: Zanichelli, 1981); and Guido Santato, Alfieri e Voltaire: Dall'imitazione alla contestazione (Florence: Olschki, 1988) 129.

(13) The definitive catalog of Alfieri's library books lists thirteen copies of the Commedia, including those with commentaries by Landino (1481), Vellutello (1544), and Daniello (1568), as well as the landmark edition of the Accademia della Crusca (1595). The catalogue also contains influential critical studies on Dante by Giambullari (1544), Bulgarini (1573), and Mazzoni (1573). See Santato, Alfieri e Voltaire 74-76.

(14) Alfieri borrowed verses from Paradiso 16 to serve as epigraph to the satire La plebe and cited Dante's sonnet "Gente piu vana assai" in his satirical attack on his political enemies in Sonnet 5 of the Misogallo (ed. C. Mazzotta [1984]; in Edizione Astese 5: 242). In 1790, Alfieri remarked that the entire Inferno warranted recopying, for he believed that one learned more from the errors of Dante than from the successes of other poets; see Colomb de Batines, Bibliografia dantesca 1:206. In contrast, Dante's great Enlightenment detractor Saverio Bettinelli claimed that only a hundred verses in the entire Commedia merited preservation.

(15) Encyclopedie ou Dictionnaire Raisonne des Sciences des Arts et des Metiers, ed. D. Diderot and J. D'Alembert, 17 vols. (Paris: Briasson, 1751-1765) 7: 599-600. In this text and all others, original spelling and punctuation are cited without modification.

(16) Esquisse du jugement universel, ed. C. Mazzotta (1984) 1: 29; in Edizione Astese 5: 16-17.

(17) For traditional memoirs written between 1750 and 1800, see Voltaire, Memoires pour servir a la vie de M. de Voltaire ecrits par lui-meme; Carlo Goldoni, Memoires; and Giacomo Casanova, Histoire de ma vie. Examples of cursus studiorum or Bildung in the first half of the eighteenth century are Ludovico Muratori, Intorno al metodo seguito ne' suoi studi; Giambattista Vico, Vita scritta da se medesimo; and Gherardo Degli Angioli, Vita di Gherardo De Angelis da lui stesso descritta. For fictionalized autobiographical accounts in the period between 1770 and 1800, see J. W. Goethe, Die Leiden des jungen Werther; Restif de la Bretonne, Monsieur Nicolas, ou le coeur humain devoile; and Ugo Foscolo, Le ultime lettere di Jacopo Ortis. A representative diary is Alfieri's own Giornali (1774-1775); and a major life history from the decade following is Edward Gibbon, Memoirs. For a fine survey of the various categories of autobiography during this period, see Franco Fido, "At the Origins of Autobiography in the 18th and 19th Centuries: The Topoi of the Self," Annali d'Italianistica 4 (1986): 168-80. See also Marziano Guglielminetti, "Per un'antologia degli autobiografi del Settecento," Annali d'Italianistica 4 (1986): 140-51; and Andrea Battistini, Lo specchio di Dedalo: autobiografia e biografia (Bologna: Il Mulino, 1990).

(18) For critical discussions of the distinction between "autobiography" and "memoir," see Philippe Lejeune, L'autobiographie en France (Paris: Colin, 1971) 42-71; and Karl Weintraub, "Autobiography and Historical Consciousness," Critical Inquiry 1 (1975): 821-48. See also Georges Gusdorf, "Conditions et limites de l'autobiographie," Formen der Selbstdarstellung: Analekten zu einer Geschichte des literarischen Selbstportraits (Festgabe fur Fritz Neubert), ed. G. Reichenkron and E. Haase (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 1956); Jean Starobinski, "The Style of Autobiography," trans. S. Chatman (1971), rept. in J. Olney, ed., Autobiography: Essays Theoretical and Critical (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1980) 73-83; Philippe Lejeune, Le pacte autobiographique (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1975); Karl Weintraub, The Value of the Individual: Self and Circumstance in Autobiography (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1978); Paul de Man, "Autobiography as Defacement," MLN 74 (1979): 919-30; and John Sturrock, The Language of Autobiography: Studies in the First Person Singular (New York: Cambridge UP, 1993).

(19) "Eccomi ora dunque, sendo in eta di quasi anni venzette, entrando nel duro impegno e col pubblico e con me stesso, di farmi autore tragico" (Vita 4: 1).

(20) For example, Voltaire fled persecution in France as early as 1726, Diderot was imprisoned in 1749, Helvetius's De l'Esprit from 1758 was burned, and Rousseau went into exile in 1762. See B. Corrigan and A. Molinaro, "Introduction," The Prince and Letters (trans. of Del principe e delle lettere; Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1972) xiii-xvii.

(21) One region that had a fairly liberal policy regarding freedom of expression was Tuscany, home of the literary language Alfieri wished to emulate and the place to which he would eventually immigrate. See Corrigan and Molinaro, Prince xv.

(22) The following works from the period between 1740 and 1780 contain either cautious disapproval or outright rejection of the principles of la clarte, l'elegance, and le dessein that Voltaire and others defined as characteristic of the tasteful literary work: Bodmer, Critische Betrachtungen uber die poetischen Gemahlde der Dichter; Diderot, Discours sur la poesie dramatique; A. Verri, Degli errori utili; Baretti, Discours sur Shakespeare et monsieur de Voltaire; and Walpole, History of the Modern Taste in Gardening.

(23) See Voltaire's letter to Frederick II of Prussia from 26 May 1742; vol. 8: D2611 of Correspondence and Related Documents, ed. T. Besterman; in The Complete Works of Voltaire, vols. 85-135 (Oxford: The Voltaire Foundation, 1968-1977): "J'aime peu les heros, ils font trop de fracas, / Je hais les conquerants, fiers ennemis d'eux memes, / Qui dans les horreurs des combats / Ont place le bonheur supreme; / ... Plus leur gloire a d'eclat, plus ils sont haissables."

(24) Encyclopedie 12: 510. For an example of the balance between study and sociability in philosophe thought, see David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 1988) 11-12: "The most perfect character is supposed to lie between ... extremes; retaining an equal ability and taste for books, company, and business; preserving in conversation that discernment and delicacy which arise from polite letters; and in business, that probity and accuracy which are the natural result of a just philosophy.... Man is a sociable, no less than a reasonable being...."

(25) See the aforementioned Voltaire, Memoires (note 17); and Hume, Story of My Own Life (1776).

(26) See Rime, ed. F. Maggini (1954); in Edizione Astese 9: 50-52.

(27) An author who influenced Alfieri, Giambattista Vico (see Del principe e delle lettere 2: 2), provides a similar formulation of the untimely and marginal heroism of the self-styled visionary writer in his aforementioned autobiographical Vita scritta da se medesimo (note 17).

(28) See Ugo Foscolo, Edinburgh Review 30 (1818): 333: "The haughtiness of demeanour, attributed to [Dante] by all the writers from [the fourteenth century] to the present day, probably is not exaggerated."

(29) Studies of the text are in Francesco De Sanctis, Storia della letteratura italiana, ed. B. Croce, 2 vols. (Bari: Laterza, 1912) 2: 370-82; Benedetto Croce, La letteratura italiana del Settecento (Bari: Laterza, 1949) 325-35, 375-95; Luigi Fasso, "Introduzione all'edizione critica della Vita," Edizione Astese 1: xi-lxiv (1951); Mario Fubini, Ritratto dell'Alfieri e altri studi alfieriani (Florence: La Nuova Italia, 1951); Luigi Russo, "La vita dell'Alfieri," Ritratti e disegni storici (Bari: Laterza, 1953) 17-86; Giampaolo Dossena, "Introduzione" to Alfieri, La vita (Turin: Einaudi, 1967) vii-xlii; Neuro Bonifizi, "L'operazione autobiogratica e la 'Vita' di Vittorio Alfieri," L'approdo letterario 75-76 (1976): 115-42; Riccardo Scrivano, Biografia e autobiografia: il modello alfieriano (Rome: Bulzoni, 1976); Giacomo Debenedetti, Vocazione di Vittorio Alfieri (Rome: Editore Riuniti, 1977); Folco Portinari, Di Vittorio Alfieri e della tragedia (Turin: Giappichelli, 1977); and Ezio Raimondi, Il concerto interrotto (Pisa: Pacini, 1979).

(30) See Ettore Bonora, Il preromanticismo in Italia (Milan: La Goliardica, 1958) 34.

(31) Alfieri initially welcomed the storming of the Bastille with an ode; see "Parigi sbastigliato," ed. P. Cazzani (1966); Edizione Astese 4:101-11.

(32) See, for example, Vita 3: 10.

(33) Giornali, ed. L. Fasso (1951) 26 aprile 1775; in Edizione Astese 2: 245-46.

(34) See Voltaire, Lettres philosophiques (1738) 13: "Sur Monsieur Locke."

(35) See Principe 3: 2.

(36) See Principe 3: 2.

(37) See Bettinelli: "[Alfieri] ha studiato Petrarca, Ariosto, e Dante; ma l'ultimo solo campeggia nel suo stile, perch'e il piu robusto, e pero il vidi ognor perferito dai pensatori in poesia" ("Lettera diretta al signor canonico De Giovanni del Collegio delle Arti Liberali di Torino sulla nuova edizione delle tragedie di Vittorio Alfieri"; from Illuministi italiani, ed. E. Bonora [Milan and Naples: Riccardo Ricciardi, 1969] 2: Opere di Francesco Algarotti e di Saverio Bettinelli 1181).

Joseph Luzzi is Assistant Professor of Italian and co-director of Italian Studies at Bard College. He is completing a book-length study entitled No Second Troy: Romantic Europe and the Question of Italy. His work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Dante Studies, Yale Italian Poetry, MLN, Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century, The Los Angeles Times Book Review, Salmagundi, The Yale Journal of Criticism, and PMLA.
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Title Annotation:Vittorio Alfieri
Author:Luzzi, Joseph
Article Type:Critical Essay
Geographic Code:4EUIT
Date:Jun 22, 2003
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