The history of Italian literature dates back to the early Middle Ages, when most literary works were still written in Latin.
Italian authors such as Cassidorus, Boethius, and Symmachus continued to write Roman-style works long after the Western Empire had fallen.
Learned people spread out from Rome across Europe during this period, taking their culture with them, and paving the way for many future developments, such as the great universities of Europe, and the first works of vernacular literature. Religion and philosophy heavily influenced the classical traditions of Italian literature during this period.
Vernacular Italian literature first developed during the High Middle Ages, when troubadours (or trovatori, in Italian) from around Europe began to practice their craft in Italy.
These trovatori wrote their poems in Occitan, not Italian, a language that was spoken mainly in the northwestern parts of Italy. Poets of this time also borrowed from other traditions, such as the French chivalric poetry, and the epic poetry of the ancient Greeks and Romans.
Italian literature written in the pure Italian vernacular did not develop until around the thirteenth century. These early works continued to mirror the works of other cultures, and had not yet developed any unifying stylistic features.
During the Renaissance, Italian literature continued to develop into a singular and culturally unique art form. Authors like Dante Alighieri, Francesco Petrarch, and Giovanni Boccaccio, embraced the classical forms of literature even as they perfected the newly developed Italian vernacular literature that had developed during the Middle Ages.
Dante’s most famous work is The Divine Comedy, which details his journeys through Hell, Purgatory, and finally, Heaven. Petrarch is well known as a scholar of classical literature and as a Renaissance humanist who perfected the new form of the Sonnet, writing hundreds to a woman named Laura.
Boccaccio, also a scholarly figure, drew his inspiration from the Latin structures, and wrote The Decameron, a larger novel that frames one hundred smaller novellas that explore themes of love and tragedy. These three authors defined Italian literature in the Renaissance.
More recent works of Italian literature are modernist and post-modernist, and include drama, poetry, and novels. The work of Luigi Pirandello which includes both stage plays and prose, probes the nature of ever-changing reality. Italo Calvino, primarily an author of short stories and novels, explored the nature of these forms, with novels like Invisible Cities and If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler.
Umberto Eco, a semiotician and novelist, explores topics as various as medieval symbols, biblical analysis, andÂ literary theory in his works. Modern Italian authors are at the forefront of current developments in world literature.