Discovered the oldest known verse of Italian literature in a manuscript in Germany

Two Italian scholars, Vittorio Formentin and Antonio Ciaralli, have discovered the oldest known verse in Italian literature: “Fui eo, madre, in civitate, vidi honest iovene”. They found it in a manuscript kept in Würzburg, Germany.

Tracked off oldest verse in Italian literature: it is an annotation dating back to a period between the end of the 9th century and the beginning of the 10th century, written by a monk in the margin of an 8th century manuscript kept at the University Library in Würzburgin Germany. Breaking the news isUniversity of Udine: the discovery bears the signature of the historian of the Italian language Vittorio Formentinby the Department of Humanities and Cultural Heritage at the University of Udine, and by the paleographer Antonio Ciaralli, from the University of Perugia. The discovery of verso and its subsequent study are part of the activities of the project of relevant national interest (Prin) Chartae Vulgares Antiquiores, coordinated by Vittorio Formentin. At the end of the month, an in-depth essay on the poetic text in the magazine will be published Language and Style.

According to Formentin and Ciaralli, the line (“Fui eo, madre, in civitate, vidi onesti iovene”) is the beginning of a chanson de femme, it is a lyrical form in which, to say, is a young female voice: “a genre,” explains the University of Udine, “which has certainly occupied a very important place in ancient Romanesque poetry, and which has survived to this day. (or yesterday) in modern popular poetry of oral tradition “. In this case, the young voice is a girl’s voice confessing to her mother her problems at the sight of a group of young people. We do not know to whom we owe this verse: the two scholars speak of a “clue”, because the only known attestation is in fact the note probably written by heart by the monk who commented on the Würzburg manuscript (specifically of a manuscript of Homilier of Origen). However, reconstructing the early medieval prototype (6th-9th century) of lyrical romancewhose origin is controversial because there are no known surviving texts.

It was a popular poem with love theme, as we know it, because there are still many early medieval Christian sources talking about it, yet condemning it as being immoral. A production that is therefore presumed to be large, different from contemporary Latin poetry, but also from the subsequent poetry of Provencal troubadourswhich, however, is unknown because no texts survive, despite attempts to trace them.

“The discussion of philologists about the origins of Romantic poetry,” explains Formentin and Ciaralli, “has been very heated, but there has always been substantial agreement on recognizing the centrality of this process of chanson de femme, a poetic type who many comparative-reconstructive traces have led us to place, albeit hypothetically, in the beginning of Romanesque poetry. “According to the two researchers, the identification of the Würzburg line confirms the accuracy of this hypothesis:” In fact, metrics, vocabulary and theme literally conformity in many novels of the late Middle Ages, especially in the cantigas de amigo galego-Portuguese of the XIII and XIV centuries, and anticipates them very much. “The dating of our traces therefore shows the existence in the early Middle Ages of an ordinary proto -roman lyrical reservoir of a popular character.

“Furthermore,” concluded Formentin and Ciaralli, “the linguistic aspect is very important: the use of the asigmatic plural form ‘onesti iovene’ as a direct object shows that the verse is written in an Italo-Roman variant. This makes it the oldest poetic testimony of our literary tradition at the moment ”.

In the photo: the monk’s remark (in the red box) with the verse “Fui eo, madre, in civitate, vidi onesti iovene” (Würzburg Universitätbibliothek,, f. 38r)

Discovered the oldest known verse of Italian literature in a manuscript in Germany

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