The Moon in Italian Literature

«Those who love the Moon are not satisfied with contemplating it as a conventional image. They want to enter into a closer relationship with it, they want to see more in the Moon, they want the Moon to say more»
Italo Calvino

A reality understood by Galileo Galilei, following Armstrong’s landing, the Moon became something tangible and physically explorable. A celestial body telling us about the universe, space, and its balance, it is the Earth’s only natural satellite.

“La Luna?
Ma guarda un po’ alla mia età,
andare a finire sulla Luna,
io di questa stagione sono abituato
ad andare a Capri, porca miseria…”
Totò, nel film Totò nella luna

When the word ‘Moon’ appears for the first time

The word moon appeared for the first time in 1224. In the Cantico delle Creature (also known as the  Canticle of the Creatures or Canticle of the Sun) the oldest work in Italian literature, St Francis of Assisi raises his praises to the Lord for the beauty of creation: «Laudato si’, mi’ Signore, per sora luna e le stelle, in celu l’ài formate clarite et pretiose et belle» which means «Be praised, my Lord, for the sister moon and the stars; you have made them clear, precious and beautiful in the sky». As you can see, he refers to the Moon as “sister” because, like man, it is a creature of God.

The moon from Dante to Italo Calvino

About a century later, in Canto II of Dante Alighieri’s Paradiso, we find a small scientific treatise, a kind of lunar monograph. The Divine Poet has doubts about the origin of the moon spots. In his opinion, the brighter parts differ from the darker ones because of the density of the bodies. «But tell me what the dusky spots may be/ Upon this body, which below on earth/Make people tell that fabulous tale of Cain?». However, Beatrice offers a metaphysical explanation. The different luminosity would depend on the various degrees of celestial virtue penetration in the heavens. «Lights many the eighth sphere displays to you/ Which in their quality and quantity/May noted be of aspects different./If this were caused by rare and dense alone/One only virtue would there be in all/Or more or less diffused, or equally./Virtues diverse must be perforce the fruits/Of formal principles; and these, save one, Of course would by thy reasoning be destroyed».

 Like Dante, Francesco Petrarca also speaks of the moon without pathos or excessive emotion in his Rime. It is, however, a metaphor for his nostalgic and melancholic moods: the poet awaits the night in search of peace and serenity: «A’ miei pensier, che per quest’alta piaggia/ Sfogando vo col mormorar de l’onde/ Per lo dolce silenzio de la notte/ Tal ch’io aspetto tutto ‘l dì la sera/ Che ‘l sol si parta e dia luogo a la luna». Here as follows, a possible literal translation of these verses: « I vent my thoughts on this other shore with the waves sound through the sweet silence of the night. I wait all day long for the evening to come, for the sun to go away and make way for the Moon».

In 1516 Ludovico Ariosto dedicated the entire canto XXXIV of Orlando Furioso to the moon. Driven crazy by his love for Angelica, Ariosto “sends” the knight Orlando to the Moon to come to his senses and continue the Holy War. The atmosphere of absolute calm and tranquillity that characterises the Moon represents a strong contrast with life on Earth. Ariosto is ingenious in using the lunar landscape setting for a broader, more detached perspective. From here, he begins his reflections on the human condition. The Earth is a place of madness, where madness is every action performed by man. On the Moon, everything that is lost in the world due to human thoughtlessness is gathered and concentrated. Therefore, this pale star is the symbol of imperturbability and endless wisdom.

Giacomo Leopardi has a more Romantic view of the Moon on his turn. In the poem Canto notturno di un pastore errante dell’Asia, the shepherd asks: “What do you do, Moon, in the sky? Tell me what do you do, silent moon?“. The Moon plays the role of a friendly presence bringing consolation from the anguish. In the poem Alla luna, on the other hand, Leopardi applies the poetics of memory. From the contemplation of the Moon, the present gives way to the memory of the past. The only steady point is pain. The poet entrusts his suffering to the “lovely moon” as if it were a woman capable of relieving human suffering.

 In Il castello dei destini incrociati, a fantasy novel by Italo Calvino published in 1969, the events intertwine with numerous famous works and characters, including Oedipus, Doctor Faust, Parsifal, Orlando and Astolfo (from Orlando Furioso mentioned earlier), Hamlet and Lady Macbeth. The Moon in Calvin’s work takes on very different connotations and roles depending on the piece examined. If in Le Città Invisibili it is barely mentioned, in the famous collection Cosmicomiche, the Moon becomes the absolute and indisputable protagonist. For Calvino, the Moon is the best way to express lightness, silence, and calm. The Moon is a distant and separated place, far from the world and human chaos. So, man seeks a more intimate relationship with the star. Calvino stated: «Those who love the Moon are not satisfied with contemplating it as a conventional image. They want to enter into a closer relationship with it, they want to see more in the Moon, they want the Moon to say more».

It is an element that induces reflection, a symbol of imperturbability or a goal towards which to escape. The Moon has always played a fundamental role in the different words of the great masters of Italian literature.



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