Italy Literature – Arcadia

Arcadia . The inanity of the novelty that marinism had established was soon evident, and the effort that the search for the unexpected and the artificial required of poets and readers did not take long to tire both of them; so when in 1690 some of the men of letters who in Rome used to frequent the living room of Christina of Sweden who died a short time ago, first gathered in the garden of San Pietro in Montorio and founded the Academy of Arcadia with the specific intent of regenerating the Italian poetry exterminating bad taste, they were the interpreters of a very widespread state of mind rather than the forerunners of a reaction born even then.

The simplicity and naturalness of the pastoral costume symbolized in the bagpipe, which was the feat of the academy, were contrasted with the amazing artifices and rockets of the early seventeenth century, and the cunning graces of Francesco di Lemene, the smascolinate and flirtatious rhymes of Giambattista Zappi, a whole flourishing of shepherd’s shops, of frivolities, of sdolcinature, of cascaggini, which is collected in the work of a thousand versicciolai ascribed to Arcadia or to the colonies it deduced in every land of Italy. Thus it is customary to represent, with a one-sided judgment more of moralists than of historians, Arcadia. Historically, it was the literary expression of a whole moral world that developed various concepts, starts, aspirations, down to the eighteenth century, and as a literary expression it must be studied, excluding any judgment of morality. We must not forget the multiplicity of forms, meters, tones, materials, from which the arcades varied their compositions, from the crawling sonnets in the footsteps of Petrarch and the sixteenth century artist Angelo di Costanzo, cast from the brains of the devotees to the first keeper of Arcadia , the modernizing Giovan Mario Crescimbeni, to the serious tragedies of Gian Vincenzo Gravina, legislator of the academy and uncompromising admirer of the classics; with quick songs in short rhythms, representing superficial amoretti, well-combed landscapes, ideal scenes of rural life, small miniatures or groups biscuit , to the loose grandiloquents of the aforementioned Frugoni and to those of variously doctrinal subjects by Algarotti and Bettinelli. Art mostly fails; but the fault is not of the academy, yes of the poor fantasies. Pietro Metastasio and Giuseppe Parini, true, if not really great, poets also leave the Arcadia. The environment educates them in that cult of classicism understood not as an imitation of given forms, but as a sense of the clear, well-balanced, precise form that the seventeenth century had distorted due to the pretension of integrating and perfecting, and which was in the reforming intentions of Arcadia. But very high on mediocrity, anonymous even if emblazoned with names that passed for illustrious, their art raises them.

The Metastasio . – According to Themeparktour, the melodrama in the sec. XVII had decayed as a literary work, poetry having been reduced to the mercy of music masters, singers and machinists. But in the first decades of the eighteenth century, Apostolo Zeno had proposed to restore poetry its dignity, composing his melodramas regularly, mostly on historical subjects performed with reasonableness, distributing the arias with sobriety to their natural places, bringing on the musical theater a coherence of characters and stage developments which he had not used for a long time. More ingenious as a critic than a poet, Zeno could not give his reforming intentions the persuasive virtue of art. This was due to Metastasio.

From  the abandoned Dido  (1724) to Attilio Regolo  (1740), Metastasio composed a long series of melodramas, in which the poet’s art is perfected and refined, rising from the simple passion of  Dido  to the complexity of the intertwining of Alexander in the Indies  and Artaxerxes , to the beautiful solidity and structural sobriety of the melodramas ( Clemenza di Tito ,  Achille in Sciro ,  Temistocle ,  Attilio Regolo, etc.) composed after the author succeeded Zeno in the court of Vienna (1730). In Metastasio’s melodramas, love always plays an essential part and comes into conflict with other feelings, such as gratitude, homeland love, paternal love; but these conflicts seldom reach tragic heights, and if for a moment they do, the excitement of feelings calms down in the calm wave of breezes that close the scenes. Such was the nature of the poet, such was the tastes of the public, shying away from anything that could produce violent and unpleasant impressions. Heroism, embodied in some characters, does not live dramatically on the metastasian scene; it remains a pure intellectual abstraction. There, life is in the representation of elegiac, idyllic, mildly sensual affections, in which the poet with brio, with an inimitable concision, exactness, lucidity of expression, with an enchanting sweetness, smoothness, variety of rhythms, he represents the spiritual gallantry of his time. That superior and exceptional society, which humanism had dreamed of cultured, refined, full of dignity, and the literature of the Catholic Reformation, morally perfect, is colored in the eighteenth-century fantasies of idyllic sentimentality and Rococo softness and lulls itself into a world where the image tapers into sounds and melodies. And the stupendous form of this dream in which the dream of the Renaissance is resolved and ends, is the metastasian melodrama. There art redeems Arcadian frivolity. And the stupendous form of this dream in which the dream of the Renaissance is resolved and ends, is the metastasian melodrama. There art redeems Arcadian frivolity. And the stupendous form of this dream in which the dream of the Renaissance is resolved and ends, is the metastasian melodrama. There art redeems Arcadian frivolity.

In order to sanction the legitimacy of the melodrama, Metastasio, having become a critic, wanted to show him as the continuer of classical tragedy; and this concept also belonged to his time when the poet died and awarded him a medal with the inscription “Sophocli italico”. The old age, used precisely to not consider worthy of the name of literary, a work that did not have its models in the classicism, had handed down its habits to the new one. But in reality Metastasio, while turning to the ancient, is rather anticipating the future; because for the representation, albeit unwanted, of the contemporary soul, for the attenuation of the tragic in the sentimental and pathetic, for the intertwining of public facts to the servants and for certain technical freedoms (violation of unity), in his melodrama they are undoubted omens of the romantic drama.

Italy Literature - Arcadia