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Vittorio Alfieri

Conte Vittorio Alfieri, 1749-1803, Italian poet.

A military career took the young Alfieri through Europe, where he became fascinated with the political and literary climate of late eighteenth-century England and devoured the works of such French intellectuals as Voltaire, Rousseau, and Montesquieu. From them, he later wrote, he inherited his hatred of tyranny, a central theme in all his works.

After resigning his military commission in 1773, Alfieri began to write tragic poetry, beginning wtih Cleopatra (1775), a popular success. After that came a long string of successful tragedies: Filippo, an attack on the tyrannous Philip II of Spain; Antigone; Oreste; and what is considered his masterpiece, Mirra and Saul. Other works are equally explicit in their celebration of liberty: L'America libera on the American Revolution, for instance, and a prose political tract, Della tirannide (1777). In the early days of the French Revolution, he celebrated the fall of the Bastille in an ode, "Parigi sbastigliata" (1789). After his death, his autobiography -- Vita di Vittorio Alfieri scritta da esso (1804) -- was published.

Alfieri's works show a self-conscious literary nationalism: his works were written in the hope of providing Italy with a great modern national literature such as England and France could claim. In later years, he was recognized as an important figure in Italian nationalism in the years leading up to the Risorgimento.