Vittorio Alfieri,  conte di Cortemiglia

Vittorio Alfieri, conte di Cortemiglia

Italian poet and classicist playwright, “father of Italian tragedy.”
Date of Birth: 16.01.1749
Country: Italy

  1. Biography of Vittorio Alfieri, Count of Cortemilia
  2. Note: This text has been paraphrased and condensed for clarity.

Biography of Vittorio Alfieri, Count of Cortemilia

Vittorio Alfieri was an Italian poet and playwright, known as the "father of Italian tragedy." He believed that true literature could only thrive in a truly free society and that it should teach virtues and advocate for freedom. He was born in the city of Asti, in Piedmont, and was educated at the Turin Academy. Alfieri traveled extensively throughout his life.

Alfieri began writing in 1774, but faced significant challenges in mastering the Italian language as he did not know Tuscan, the language of literature at the time. He either spoke French or the Piedmontese dialect. Despite the language barrier, he persevered and became a prominent Italian writer.

Initially, Alfieri welcomed the French Revolution, but he soon became disillusioned and developed a strong dislike for France and its leaders. His collection of epigrams, "Misogallo" or "The Hater of the French," reflects his change of heart. He also wrote memoirs in which he described his life experiences.

Alfieri's worldview was characterized by his dogmatic rationalism. He believed in the ideal of a free human personality guided by reason, logic, and will, driven by a sense of duty. His political views were closely tied to these ideas, as seen in his tragedies and their prefaces. He frequently emphasized his hatred for tyrants and his republicanism, although his republicanism was that of an aristocrat, distinguishing between the "naturally free" and the "born slaves."

One of Alfieri's closest heroes was the character of Brutus the Younger, a champion of the aristocratic elite fighting against the "tyrant" Caesar. Alfieri's concept of "freedom" was limited to a select few who had managed to educate themselves into becoming free individuals. While he celebrated the American Revolution in his tragedy "Bruto I" dedicated to George Washington, he also wrote the tragedy "Agis" in memory of the executed English King Charles I, who he saw as a victim of an "unjust" parliament.

Alfieri had a negative view of the state of Italy in the 18th century, which he expressed in his ironic and biting dedication "To the Future Italian People" in his play "Bruto II" or "Brutus the Younger". His views clearly reflected the psychology of the noble class, who maintained political hegemony over many regions of Italy, including Venice and Piedmont, Alfieri's homeland. He represented the healthier side of his class, recognizing that the salvation of fragmented Italy lay in national unity. He rejected the transformations brought about by the French conquerors, who were representatives of the bourgeoisie, a class he detested.

Alfieri's literary legacy is closely linked to his social and philosophical views, as well as his ideas about the significance of literature. In his treatise "Del principe e delle lettere" or "On the Prince and Literature," he argued that true literature could only flourish in a truly free society. He believed that poetry, in particular, was the best form of literature as it taught through enjoyment and enabled individuals to understand their rights and abilities. According to Alfieri, the failure to recognize these rights and abilities led to the enslavement of nations.

Alfieri's tragedies also reflected his rationalism, with their logical construction being the primary organizing principle. The plays focused on sharp contrasts, without shades of gray, and their logical structure revolved around the opposition between the ideal individual fighting for freedom and homeland and the negative type, often a tyrant. His plays began in the midst of action and swiftly moved towards a resolution without any distracting subplots.

Alfieri's language was primarily oratorical, even in love scenes, and especially in political monologues. He used dialectical artistry to appeal to reason. His speeches often involved repeated phrases, concise questions and answers, and slogans that the orator and the people would shout together. His verse was characterized by strong accents, monosyllabic words, and deliberate deviations from smooth, melodic rhythms, which he believed had no place in tragedies that exalted human passions and served as a "school of morality, virtue, and magnanimity."

Alfieri's tragedies were highly theatrical, reflecting his desire for conciseness and focused action. He adhered to unity of time, place, and action. He made successful attempts to revive the choruses of Greek tragedy in his play "Alceste." He also wrote a cycle of four comedies, "L'uno," "I pochi," "I troppi," and "L'antidoto," in which he explored the imperfections of monarchy, democracy, and oligarchy as forms of governance. According to Alfieri, the ideal state could only be achieved through the combination of these three "poisons."

Aside from his dramatic works, Alfieri also excelled in the art of epigram, known for its biting irony, varied rhythms, rich rhymes, and skillful puns. His lyrical poems were often ironic and satirical, with prominent political themes, such as in "Misogallo."

Vittorio Alfieri was one of the leading figures of the nationalist tendency in Italian literature. His work influenced later writers, such as Ugo Foscolo, who drew inspiration from Alfieri's political poetry. Despite his initial enthusiasm for the French Revolution, Alfieri's writing reflected the revolutionary fervor of his time.

Note: This text has been paraphrased and condensed for clarity.