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Matteo Maria Boiardo Biography | Poet

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BOIARDO, MATTEO MARIA, Count (1434-1404), Italian poet, who came of a noble and illustrious house established at Ferrara, but originally from Reggio, was born at Scandiano, one of the seignorial estates of his family, near Reggio di Modena, about the year 1434, according to Tiraboschi, or 1420 according to Mazzuchelli. At an early age he entered the university of Ferrara, where he acquired a good knowledge of Greek and Latin, and even of the Oriental languages, and was in due time admitted doctor in philosophy and in law. At the court of Ferrara, where he enjoyed the favour of Duke Borso d’Este and his successor Hercules, he was entrusted with several honourable employments, and in particular was named governor of Reggio, an appointment which he held in the year 1478. Three years afterwards he was elected captain of Modena, and reappointed governor of the town and citadel of Reggio, where he died in the year 1494, though in what month is uncertain.

Almost all Boiardo’s works, and especially his great poem of the Orlando Inamorato, were composed for the amusement of Duke Hercules and his court, though not written within its precincts. His practice, it is said, was to retire to Scandiano or some other of his estates, and there to devote himself to composition; and Castelvetro, Vallisnieri, Mazzuchelli and Tiraboschi all unite in stating that he took care to insert in the descriptions of his poem those of the agreeable environs of his chateau, and that the greater part of the names of his heroes, as Mandricardo, Gradasse, Sacripant, Agramant and others, were merely the names of some of his peasants, which, from their uncouthness, appeared to him proper to be given to Saracen warriors. Be this as it may, the Orlando Inamorato deserves to be considered as one of the most important poems in Italian literature, since it forms the first example of the romantic epic worthy to serve as a model, and, as such, undoubtedly produced Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso. Gravina and Mazzuchell have said, and succeeding writers have repeated on their authority, that Boiardo proposed to himself as his model the Iliad of Homer; that Paris is besieged like the city of Troy; that Angelica holds the place of Helen; and that, in short, the one poem is a sort of reflex image of the other. In point of fact, however, the subject-matter of the poem is derived from the Fabulous Chronicle of the pseudo-Turpin; though, with the exception of the names of Charlemagne, Roland, Oliver, and some other principal warriors, who necessarily figure as important characters in the various scenes, there is little resemblance between the detailed plot of the one and that of the other. The poem, which Boiardo did not live to finish, was printed at Scandiano the year after his death, under the superintendence of his son Count Camillo. The title of the book is without date; but a Latin letter from Antonia Caraffa di Reggio, prefixed to the poem, is dated the kalends of June 1495. A second edition, also without date, but which must have been printed before the year 1500, appeared at Venice; and the poem was twice reprinted there during the first twenty years of the 16th century. These editions are the more curious and valuable since they contain nothing but the text of the author, which is comprised in three books, divided into cantos, the third book being incomplete. But Niccolo degli Agostini, an indifferent poet, had the courage to continue the work commenced by Boiardo, adding to it three books, which were printed at Venice in 1526-1531, in 4to; and since that time no edition of the Orlando has been printed without the continuation of Agostini, wretched as it unquestionably is. Boiardo’s poem suffers from the incurable defect of a laboured and heavy style. His story is skilfully constructed, the characters are well drawn and sustained throughout; many of the incidents show a power and fertility of imagination not inferior to that of Ariosto, but the perfect workmanship indispensable for a great work of art is wanting. The poem in its original shape was not popular, and has been completely superseded by the Rifacimento of Francesco Berni (q.v.).

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