Angiolieri, Cecco

Angiolieri, Cecco
(ca. 1260–ca. 1313)
   The Siena-born lyric poet Cecco Angiolieri was known chiefly for his humorous sonnets, but also for his allegedly profligate lifestyle, though some of that reputation derives undoubtedly from the per-sona created in his lyrics. A contemporary and acquaintance of DANTE, Cecco devotes much of his poetry to burlesquing the elevated view of love presented in the DOLCE STIL NOVO (“sweet new style”) practiced by Dante, CAVALCANTI, and other poets of Tuscany.
   Very few facts are known of Cecco’s life.He was born in Siena, and his family seems to have been wealthy.He is thought to have taken part (as Dante did) in the Battle of Campaldino (1289) with the Sienese troops, allied with the Guelfs of Florence against the Ghibellines of Arezzo (in general, the Guelf party was largely middle class and supported the pope in Italian politics, while the Ghibellines were aristocratic and supported the emperor). Later Cecco probably went to Rome, where he was part of the court of Cardinal Riccardo Petroni. Beyond these things, the only other facts we know are that in 1291, Cecco was sued for criminal assault and was acquitted; and that, upon his death, all five of his sons renounced their inheritance because it would have meant being responsible for Cecco’s substantial outstanding debts. His reputation for wild living was so widespread that BOCCACCIO included a story about him in The DECAMERON (ninth day, fourth story), in which he loses his money, shirt, and horse to a gambler he has taken on as a servant.
   This reputation is only enhanced by many of the 128 extant sonnets attributed to Cecco, in which he presents a persona who devotes himself to carousing, brawling in taverns, chasing loose women, and complaining that his stingy father won’t give him enough money. Not all of his poems are in this vein: In some, he shows the influence of the Sicilian school of love poetry established by GIACOMO DA LENTINO, who first brought to Italy poetry in the COURTLY LOVE style of the Provençal TROUBADOURS, and also shows his familiarity with the more fashionable Dolce Stil Novo of Florence. But his best-known sonnets are his humorous ones.
   Cecco might be considered with FOLGORE DA SAN GEMINIANO as one of the earliest Italian poets in the popular realistic humorous vein. Both poets give a vivid picture of everyday life, though Cecco certainly differs from Folgore in his raucous, burlesque manner. In his most popular poems, Cecco replaces the angelic woman, bringer of blessings, characteristic of the Dolce Stil Novo, with Becchina, a cobbler’s daughter who seems to bring more of a curse than a blessing to Cecco’s persona. His sonnets present his love spats with Becchina, his complaints about his rich but stingy parents, and his outrage at his own resulting poverty. His frustration comes out as bitterness against all of creation in his most famous poem, “S’i’ fosse foco, arderei ’l mondo” (“If I were fire, I would burn the world”).
   The tendency of scholars has often been to read these sonnets autobiographically.More recent critics, however, have pointed out the profound influence of earlier Latin GOLIARDIC VERSE on Cecco’s comic poetry, and thus the persona Cecco creates owes much to the golias persona. Perhaps Cecco’s three poems addressed to Dante may also be read in this light. In all three sonnets, Cecco disputes with Dante in some way: One poem draws attention to an inconsistency in the last sonnet of Dante’s VITA NUOVA; another abuses him for suggesting that Cecco should not write poems about Becchina; a third, addressed to Dante in exile at Verona, suggests that his lot is not much different from that of the impoverished Cecco.While these might be read as evidence of enmity between the poets, it is certainly possible that they are the voice of Cecco’s irascible persona and are intended humorously. Cecco, long obscure to English readers, was made somewhat more accessible in Victorian England when Dante Gabriel Rossetti (who called Cecco the “scamp” of Dante’s circle) translated several of his poems into English.
   ■ Angiolieri, Cecco. The Sonnets of a Handsome and Well-Mannered Rogue. Translated by Thomas C. Chubb. New York: Archon, 1970.
   ■ Bondanella, Peter E. “Cecco Angiolieri and the Vocabulary of Courtly Love,” Studies in Philology 69 (1972): 55–71.
   ■ Rossetti, Dante Gabriel, trans. The Early Italian Poets. Edited by Sally Purcell. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981.

Encyclopedia of medieval literature. 2013.

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