In pursuit of Foscolo

By: | Post date: June 11, 2023 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: Culture, Greece

The three rock star poets of the early 19th century from here were Foscolo, Kalvos, and Solomos.

Zante in the early 19th century, with the Venetians just seen off, was still a heavily Italian domain, and Italian was the default high language. Much of the nobility of the island was of Italian descent, and everybody’s education was in Italian.

Hence Foscolo moving to Italy and writing exclusively in Italian, even though he kept pining for Zante.

Hence Kalvos joining Foscolo for several years, working as his scribe, and writing in Italian for a decade before trying his hand at archaic Greek. A recent commentator has remarked, if Kalvos knew better Greek, we wouldn’t have his Odes at all.

Hence Solomos dedicating himself to the promotion of the Greek vernacular—but jotting down all his marginal notes in Italian.

Hence for that matter Niccoló Calichiopulo Manzaro being of noble Italian stock, registered in the Libro d’Oro—and when, as Nikolaos Chalikiopoulos Mantzaros, he established the Old Philharmonic in Corfu, banning the use of Italian.

There was a fluidity between the two cultural identities in 1800. That cultural fluidity is not perhaps alien to Greece at all; but it is alien to the modern construction of Greek identity. People had to choose, like Mantzaros did.

Foscolo chose the other way, and that entered him into the canon of Italian poetry. And when my former colleague Gregoria Manzin, brought up on Foscolo, found out I was going to Zante, she bade me look him up.

Which gave me a project. I don’t know if she was expecting me to find so much.

The thing is, Italian literature is alien to Greece, but it’s not alien to Zante. At least some people remember Foscolo, and at least some people perpetuate his memory. There are a decent number of studies about him in local bookshops, for example.

The local cinema-cum-café, for example, is named for him: Cine Foskolos. (Now showing: Stephen King’s Boogeyman.)

Greek readers at this point might be wondering whether the cinema is named for long-time soapie auteur Nikos Foskolos instead. I doubt it, I don’t think Zante is that kind of place…)
The cinema-cum-café is right on the Central Square (yes, I am allergic to calling it Solomos Square), and I grew rather fond of it as a place to hang out. Not least because it kept going till 1 am:
May be an image of 11 people
As I walked the length of the town, I found myself on Foscolo Street, and decided I needed a more photogenic shot of the street sign than a dry cleaning shop.

I guess the birthplace of the poet counts as that?
Or, as the side plaque sadly clarifies, the site of the birthplace of the poet. Like just about everything else in the town, whatever was here before 1953 is long gone.
The inscription on the statue is the last two verses of his sonnet To Zacynthus:
motherland of mine: our fate already

written, the unmourned grave.
As Gregoria explains,
The inscription is the last tercet of the sonnet “A Zacinto” (To Zante) – which I had to learn by heart in primary school (I bet this would be considered rote learning today).
It refers to his self-exile after Zante moved hands, from Venice to Austria—concerted by Napoleon, as you mentioned in your posts. He moved to Napoleon’s young Kingdom of Italy, which spanned the central and northern part of the peninsula and included part of the Emilia Romagna region (the region where we just had massive floods), down to Le Marche too.
He missed his birth island all his life and referred to it in several of his works.  being both neoclassicist and pre-romantic, his experience of exile and his attraction to Hellas became two of his major literary themes.
His most celebrated works are sonnets and odes, among which To Zacynthos and the wonderful long ode Of the Sepulchres, and an epistolary novel called The Last Letters of Jacopo Ortis. He also wrote a few tragedies.
Of the Sepulchres is a discussion with the literati Ippolito Pindemonte about Napoleon’s Edict, which dictated that cemeteries had to be built outside of the city walls, and tombs be all uniform and bearing no inscriptions.
He ended up dying in London, pretty much destitute. He is now buried in Santa Croce, Florence, after the “unified” Kingdom of Italy (that of 1861, not the Napoleonic one) brought his remains back to Italy—which was not home.
(What counts as home is a discussion we continued; more anon.)
This model in the post-Byzantine museum is of the old municipal theatre, named for Foscolo.
No photo description available.
There is a new municipal theatre, and in fact an outdoor theatre as well—although the municipal theatre was stuck in scaffolding until quite recently, because of lack of funds for its restoration or something.
The new municipal theatre has not been named after Foscolo; that baton has been passed to the cinema-cum-café.
In the Solomos museum, this is a near-contemporary painting of the Foscolo theatre burning down after the 1953 earthquake:
And Foscolo gets a bust just behind the main square, the other side from Vesalius:

Leave a Reply

  • June 2023
    M T W T F S S
  • Subscribe to Blog via Email

%d bloggers like this: