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Two Renaissance Views of Carthage: Trissino’s S o fo n is b a and Castellini’s A s d r u b a le Beatrice Corrigan I “The Sofonisba of Trissino, which belongs to the beginning of the sixteenth century, is generally named as the first regular tragedy. This literary curiosity I cannot boast of having read, but from other sources I know the author to be a spiritless pedant. Those even of the learned, who are most zealous for the imitation of the ancients, pronounce it a dull labored work, without a breath of true poetical spirit; we may, therefore, with­ out further examination, safely appeal to their judgement upon it.”l Since August Schlegel wrote those words in 1809 a long series of critics have been content to accept his estimate of Sofonisba, without his candor, however, in acknowledging their ignorance of the work itself. There has been some degree of revaluation done by modern Italian editors, and I should like here to re-examine the tragedy and Trissino’s purpose in writing it, and to compare it with another Carthaginian tragedy written forty-five years later, the Asdrubale of Jacopo Castellini. When Giangiorgio Trissino began to compose Sofonisba in 1514, he was twenty-six.2 A nobleman of Vicenza, wealthy, educated by some of the leading humanists of the day, an en­ thusiast for Greek literature, he was forced in 1509 to leave his native city when it was captured by Venice from the Emperor, whose party he had supported. For eight years he lived in Ferrara, Mantua, and Rome; he met most of the leading figures of the era, and became the friend and correspondent of Lucrezia Borgia and her sister-in-law, Isabella d’Este, married to Duke Francesco Gonzaga. Sofonisba was written at least in part in Rome, and was dedicated to the Medici Pope, Leo X. It was 193 194 Comparative Drama not printed until 1525, though it circulated widely in manuscript from the time of its completion. The subject was taken from Livy’s History of Rome, Book XXX, with additions from Appian and Dion Cassius. The time of the play is 201 B.C., at the end of the Second Punic War. Sofonisba, daughter of Hasdrubal, niece of Hannibal, is the wife of Syphax, King of the Massylians. Her father had earlier promised her to Massinissa, King of the Numidians, but the Carthaginians bribed Syphax with her hand to desert the Roman cause for theirs. Massinissa in revenge joined the Romans, and when the play opens has just aided them to defeat Syphax and capture his native city, Cirta. Among the captives is Sofonisba, devoted to Carthage and liberty, who pleads with Massinissa not to deliver her alive into Roman hands. Moved by her beauty and his ancient love he promises, and weds her immediately to strengthen his right to protect her. Though the Roman General, Lelius, and Cato rebuke him, he is adamant; but he cannot withstand the logic and lofty virtue of his friend and model, Scipio. He keeps his promise by sending Sofonisba a cup of poison, and she drinks it intrepidly. Too late he devises a scheme for her escape. She is already dead, and he can only assure safety and freedom for her little son and the women of her household. The choice of an historical rather than a mythological sub­ ject had a profound influence on Italian and on Western Euro­ pean tragedy generally. Important too was the love interest, so contrary in its mood to classical tragic tradition, so congenial to Renaisance taste. Trissino’s tragedy was not the first appearance of Sofonisba in Italian literature. Both Boccaccio and Petrarch had cele­ brated her, the former in De Claris Mulieribus? the second in both his epic poem, Africa, and in the Trionfo d’Amore, where both style and form (Massinissa tells their story while Sofonisba is silent) suggest an analogy to the episode of Paolo and Fran­ cesca. A tragedy on the subject actually was written before Trissino’s: the Sofonisba of Galeotto Del Carretto, irregular in dramatic form and composed in ottava rima, was dedicated in manuscript to Isabella d’Este Gonzaga...


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