The Literature of Sicily: A History

Introduction - Twenty-Five Centuries of Great Literature

Most Americans think of Sicily as a cultural backwater, which contributed little to the civilization of Italy and to the rest of Europe. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Sicily, like all of Italy’s other children, has made major contributions to science, philosophy, architecture and the arts. Indeed, evidence of Sicilian genius can be seen in every field of endeavor, but it is especially apparent in the island’s literature.

Since the time that the Sicilian city states were part of Magna Graecia (Greater Greece), Sicilians have been making major contributions to the world of letters. Indeed, in the recent past, that little island has produced two Noble Prize winners in literature: Luigi Pirandello and Salvatore Quasimodo.

It was in Sicily that the first Italianate language was spoken and written. Indeed, Sicily is the birthplace of literature written in an Italian tongue. The first Italian poetry was written by the Sicilian School (la Scuola Siciliana, which we will discuss later). Writing in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, these poets influenced many of the great continental writers, including Dante himself, who pays them tribute in On Eloquence in the Vernacular (De vulgari eloquentia) written around 1302.

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