Tuscany in Print
In the late Middle Ages, a cheeky chap named Dante Alighieri decided that he would shake
up the literary establishment by writing in Italian rather than Latin. In so doing, he laid the
foundations for the development of a rich literary culture that continues to nurture both loc-
al and foreign writers to this day.
THE REAL ADVENTURES OF PINOCCHIO
In the early 1880s, Carlo Collodi (1826-90), a Florentine journalist, wrote a series for Il Giornale dei
Bambini, the first Italian newspaper for children. Entitled Storia di un burattino (Story of a Puppet) and
subsequently renamed, Pinocchio would have made Collodi (real name Lorenzini) a multimillionaire
had he lived to exploit the film and translation rights.
The character of Pinocchio is a frustrating mix of the likeable and the odious. At his worst he's a wil-
ful, obnoxious, deceitful little monster who deserves just about everything he gets. Humble and blub-
bering when things go wrong, he has the oh-so-human tendency to resume his wayward behaviour
when he thinks he's in the clear.
The story, weaving between fantasy and reality, is a mine of references, some more veiled than oth-
ers, to the society of late-19th-century Italy - a troubled country with enormous socio-economic prob-
lems compounded by the general apathy of those in power. Pinocchio waits the length of the story to
become a real boy. But, while his persona may provoke laughter, his encounters with poverty, petty
crime, skewed justice and just plain bad luck constitute a painful education in the machinations of the
Disney made a much-loved animated film of the story in 1940. It won two Academy Awards - one
for Best Original Score and one for Best Original Song ('When You Wish Upon a Star'). A number of
Italian adaptations have also been made, including one directed by Roberto Benigni in 2002.
Prior to the 13th century, Italian literature was written in Latin. But all that changed with
Florentine-born Dante Alighieri (c 1265-1321). One of the founders of the Dolce Stil Novo
(Sweet New Style) literary movemen t - whose members wrote lyric poetry in the Tuscan
vernacular - Dante went on to use the local language when writing the epic poem that was
to become the first, and greatest, literary work published in the Italian language: La grande
commedia (The Great Comedy), published around 1317 and later renamed La divina com-
media (The Divine Comedy) by his fellow poet Boccaccio. Divided into three parts - In-
ferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso - The Divine Comedy delivered an allegorical vision of the
afterlife that made an immediate and profound impression on readers and, through its wide-