• Clive Gilson

Bulls & Wolves

Italian literature arguably began with the founding of Rome in 753 BC. Latin literature was, and still is, highly influential in the world, with numerous writers, poets, philosophers, and historians, such as Pliny the Elder, Pliny the Younger, Virgil, Horace, Propertius, Ovid and Livy.

Much later, following in the footsteps of Petrarch and Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decameron, Italian Renaissance authors produced a number of important works such as Ludovico Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso. Giovanni Francesco Straparola and Giambattista Basile, who wrote The Facetious Nights of Straparola (1550–1555) and the Pentamerone (1634) respectively, printed some of the first known versions of fairy tales in Europe, examples of which appear in this collection.

Later still the Italian Romantic movement coincided with the Risorgimento, the patriotic movement that brought Italy political unity and freedom from foreign domination. Italian writers embraced Romanticism in the early 19th century. The time of Italy’s rebirth was heralded by the poets Vittorio Alfieri, Ugo Foscolo, and Giacomo Leopardi. The works by Alessandro Manzoni, the leading Italian Romantic, are a symbol of the Italian political struggle.

So, with some Italian fairy tales, folk tales and legends stemming from traditions and tales at least 2000 years old, and with the influence of Latin literature, society and empire, it's no surprise that there are strong similarities between stories from Spain, France and Celtic traditions as well.

Embedded within Italian fairy tales are proverbs, jokes and anecdotes that reveal the unique regional and cultural characteristics found across Italy. One type of narrative often found in Italian folklore is called the Fabliau, a humorous style that often poked fun at clergymen or others in authority.

With the rise of Catholicism in Italy, many pagan traditions were replaced or assimilated into religious customs. This form of sympathetic magic can be found in Italian legends and fairy stories as old pagan medicinal practices merged, for example, with prayers to saints, and other interesting concoctions that allowed the two practices to co-exist and find new life in fairy stories and legends.

Not all Italian fairy tales were originally intended to be children’s stories, but with translations and adaptations that toned down the more gruesome or horrific elements, they found their way into the hearts of children the world over. Many popular tales like Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty may have been based, albeit loosely, on true events.

As ever compiling Tales Told By Bulls And Wolves has been a delightful journey through Italy’s famous cities and grand histories. I hope that you enjoy these stories too.

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