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From the Morlack to the Slav: Images of South Slavic People between Exoticism and Illyrism in Italian Literature and Opera during the 19th Century

  • Autori: Cavallini, I.
  • Anno di pubblicazione: 2012
  • Tipologia: Capitolo o Saggio (Capitolo o saggio)
  • Parole Chiave: Identity, Morlack, Homer, South Slavic People, Illyrism
  • OA Link:


Alberto Fortis’ “Viaggio in Dalmazia” (Padua, 1774) described for the first time the Morlacks (Cr. “Vlasi”) of the inner Dalmatia as the true model of a primitive group, whose characteristics became a source of inspiration until 1830s for some Italian writers and ballet composers devoted to exoticism. Contemporaneously, Homer’s paradigm, introduced by Melchiorre Cesarotti in the foreword to the Italian version of the poems of Ossian (1763), as quoted by Fortis, was in turn transformed by the composer and doctor of Split Giulio Bajamonti. Even though published in Italian, Bajamonti’s “Morlacchismo d’Omero” (Venice, 1797) must be considered as the first contribution to the romantic Croatian literature. In fact, the essay recognizes in the poetry and music of the Morlacks the authentic national spirit of South Slavic people. At the light of Vico’s “Scienza nuova” (1744) the author renews Homer paradigm to show close ties between the Morlack’s way of life and the Homeric heroes’ behaviour in the Iliad. Further, he compares the Morlack “guslar”, who plays by heart epic verses, to the ancient Greek bard. The figure of the Morlack disappeared around the 1840s, at the time when some intellectuals of Dubrovnik and Venice edited articles and novels on Serbs, Croats, Bosnians and Montenegrins in the Italian periodical “La Favilla”. With the aim of creating a unifying language in the Balkan area and the Slavic lands of Mitteleuropa, writers such as Ivan August Kaznačić, Medo Pucić, Niccolò Tommaseo and Francesco Dall’Ongaro promoted in Trieste the Serbo-Croatian literature based on the unwritten tradition of the guslari’s epic songs. These intellectuals, as supporters of the Illyrian Movement born in Croatia, exalted the South Slavic epic in rejecting the well known Italian and “Gothic” literatures (i.e. English and German). The Romantic vision of a standardized South Slavic type substituted the previous wild Morlack but not his culture. This phenomenon involved two composers of the 1860s, Nikola Strmic di Valcrociata and Pietro Platania, who wrote new operas on this topic, always characterizing the South Slav as primitive, honest, hospitable and vindictive.