Guittone d’Arezzo

Guittone d’Arezzo
(ca. 1230–1294)
   Guittone d’Arezzo was the leading figure in the Tuscan school of poetry, the second important poetic movement in vernacular Italian in the Middle Ages. A group of followers calling themselves guittoniani emulated his style and created a thriving poetic tradition to replace the earlier Sicilian school, whose source of inspiration had dissolved as the imperial court at Naples declined. As the most important poet of the immediately preceding generation, Guittone came under harsh criticism from DANTE, who at first followed but later abjured Guittone’s style.
   The facts we know of Guittone’s life are few.He was born near Arezzo and his father was a public official of some kind. Guittone himself was apparently involved in commercial ventures and did a good deal of traveling. He is also known to have been a member of the Guelf party (the party that initially supported the pope in Italian politics)— he wrote a poem lamenting the 1260 defeat of the Guelfs of Florence at Montaperte.When the Ghibellines (the party that supported the emperor) controlled Arezzo after 1256, Guittone was exiled. His travels throughout Italy, to Bologna, Pisa, and ultimately Florence, put him in touch with powerful people and with other writers. In 1266, apparently after a sincere spiritual crisis, Guittone left his secular life, including his wife and three children, to enter the religious order of the Knights of the Blessed Virgin Mary, known as the merry friars. From this point on, he forsook the COURTLY LOVE poetry of his earlier life, and focused on religious, moral, and political themes. He died in Florence in 1294, in a monastery to which he had donated a large sum of money the previous year on the condition that they would care for him until his death.
   Dante faulted Guittone for what he called his excessive rhetoric and common language, and claimed that only the ignorant and vulgar were impressed by his poetry. In fact Guittone’s language was filled with a greater number of terms borrowed from Provençal and Latin than that of his forerunners in the Sicilian school.He also used more complex rhetorical figures and sentence structures than his predecessors. Dante at first emulated Guittone’s style, then rejected it in favor of the simpler and clearer manner of the Sicilians. In fact all subsequent Italian poets owed a debt to Guittone: The sophisticated court of Frederick II at Naples was a likely heir to the TROUBADOUR tradition, which flourished in the great courts of southern France. But with a new audience of middle-class citizens of the great Italian cities, Guittone needed to fashion something new. He kept the older forms of the troubadours, but needed to turn away from the values of a landed aristocracy to those of the municipal citizen. His poems extol the virtues of personal energy, self-sufficiency, ambition, merit and the earning of reward. His lyric “Gioia ed allegranza,” for example, ends with the lines
   But to suffer, if he has to,
   to gain by his own worth and manliness
   that is a man’s way.
   And I have a right to say
   that by great manliness
   I have won something great which so pleases me
   that any other joy I have isn’t worth a fifth
   of that which, for this reason, my heart feels.
   (Goldin 1973, 267, ll. 26–33)
   In this love poem, the poet sees the achieving of success in love, or any other matter, as dependent on personal energy and hard work. It was this sort of attitude that Dante saw as plebeian, and he sought a new kind of exclusiveness in his own poetic movement, the DOLCE STIL NOVO, or “sweet new style,” which ultimately replaced the Tuscan school of poetry.
   Guittone was a very prolific writer: 50 of his canzoni are extant, along with some 251 sonnets in addition to other poems. His reputation has been dimmed by Dante’s judgment of him, but a more objective view will admit his important contribution to poetry in the Italian vernacular.
   ■ Goldin, Frederick, trans. German and Italian Lyrics of the Middle Ages: An Anthology and a History. New York: Doubleday, 1973.
   ■ Moleta, Vincent. The Early Poetry of Guittone d’Arezzo. London: Modern Humanities Research Association, 1976.

Encyclopedia of medieval literature. 2013.

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