The Poetic Sicilian School

    Before the occupation of Rome, the official language of Sicily was Greek. when the Romans occupied Sicily, the Latin Language was imposed by Rome for the next seven hundred years. the Latin language affirmed itself in Sicily. With the division of the Empire in Eastern and Western, Sicily remained as part of the Eastern Roman Empire and, therefore, controlled by Byzantium. Because of this the Greek language was restored as the official language, of which still remained traces.  The Latin language, because of what followed,  almost completely disappeared.

    In 728,  the Arabs launched the first attack to occupy Sicily.  they only succeeded in 840. The Arab occupation of Sicily brought many changes to the island, cultural, financial and industrial, and, after a while, a period of accepted peace, by which Sicilians lived an almost regular life.

    In the 10th century the Normans, came to Italy by thirst for power. After having taken Apulia and Calabria from the Greeks, they decided to occupy Sicily.  It was not that easy. It took Grand Count Roger thirty years to completely chase out or subdue the Arabs.

    Finally having conquered all of Sicily, Roger took care of the State’s internal affairs. He made up his court with Arabs, who voluntarily stayed in Sicily, with Greeks speaking people and with Latin speaking people.  He tried to make up an administration of divers ethnicity to bring peace and union among his subjects, because he needed a unified front to take care of so many people of different cultures and customs.

     The Grand Count Roger in the 10th century initiated the re-latinization of Sicily. All the Catholic churches that the Moors had turned into mosques were converted again into Catholic churches. He also built the Cathedral of Cefalu` after a vow made to the Holy Savior for having saved his life in a sea storm. At the same time, Roger started to push the Latin language as the official language of Sicily.

    At the death of the Grand Count in 1105, his wife Adelaide took the regency for the son Roger. Later he was made king of Sicily with the title of Roger II. He promoted more the Latin language and built the Cathedral of Palermo and the Royal Norman Palace, which was the royal palace for the Norman kings. Today  it is the seat of power of the Sicilian government.

    His son William I, or The Bad, and his grandson William II, or The Good, further worked to make the Latin language the official language of Sicily and of  Southern Italy.

    With the mixing of all these languages the people made up their own language, not all at once but with time, by combining the languages, and mostly by evolution of the languages themselves.

    By the time of the death of William II, other occurrences had taken place, such as the coming to power of Frederick II, emperor of the Western Holy Roman Empire and king of Sicily. All those languages, with the predominance of the new ecclesiastic Latin, had created a new language which was later called the Vulgar Language. That meant the language used by the Vulgus, the people.

    The Latin language in the 1100s underwent a systematic process of transformation. The Latin language stayed as it was for the longest time in the classic works, but the people cultivated  many local dialects, directly attached to a development of the Latin language, influenced by many barbaric languages, making room for the Volgar Sicilian. So the Latin final consonants in the words became obsolete and the double consonant is introduced, to mention but a few of the changes.

   The time was ripe and Frederick II, leader, statesman and scholar with a forerunner mentality,  invited to his court men of culture from any country, from any race and speaking  any language. Those  who adhered to the call of Frederick put together the best literary group of the time. They were  ordered to make poetry in the vulgar Sicilian. Among these were Iacopo da Lentini, who invented the sonnet of which the following is a beautiful sample, re-worked by poets of the Dolce Stil Novo (Sweet New Style):


Io m’aggio posto in core a Dio servire,
com’io potesse gire in paradiso,
al santo loco c’aggio audito dire,
o’ si mantien sollazzo, gioco e riso.
sanza mia donna non vi voria gire,
quella c’ha blonda testa e claro viso,
che sanza lei non poteria gaudere,
estando da la mia donna diviso.
Ma no lo dico a tale intendimento,
perch’io pecato ci volesse fare;
se non veder lo suo bel portamento
e lo bel viso e ‘l morbido sguardare:
che ‘l mi teria in gran consolamento,
veggendo la mia donna in ghiora stare.
I have put in my heart how to serve God,
and how I may go to Heaven,
To the Holy Place where, I have heard,
people are always happy and merry.
I wouldn’t want to go there without my lady
The one with blond hair and fair complexion,
That  without her I could not be happy,
To be separated from my lady.
But I do not say that with bad intent,
Because I do not want to sin:
 But only to see her shapely figure
And her beautiful face and mellow look:
This would give me great comfort
To see my woman be in glory.


Dante Alighieri mentions Iacopo da Lentini in the Canto XXIV of Purg. -55-57  of his Divine Comedy 

– O frate issa vegg’io – disse – il nodo  

che il notaro e Guittone e me ritenne

di qua dal dolce stil novo ch’io odo.

– O brother now I see – he said – the crux

that the notary and Guittone and me held

away from the new style which I now hear.


    calling him the founder of the Scuola Siciliana (The Sicilian School): two among these, Guido delle Colonne and Stefano Protonataro, are both from Messina. To Stefano Protonataro we owe the Canzoni (Songs) a Sicilian composition of a love song: Pir meu cori alligrari…(to make my heart happy…) written completely in Sicilian; Pier delle Vigne, from Capua,  Who was Frederick’s  chancellor and poet, mentioned by Dante Alighieri in the Canto XIII 58-60  of the Inferno in his Comedy:

Io son colui che tenni ambo le chiavi  

del cor di Federico, e che le volsi,

serrando e disserrando si soavi,…

I am the one who kept both keys–

of Frederick’s heart, and turned them–

opening and closing in sweet ways…,


Ciullo D’Alcamo author of the Contrasto (Clash), Rosa fresca aulentissima (Very much perfumed rose), in Sicilian language:

Rosa aulentissima, -ca pari inver la state,

le donne ti disiano- pulzell’e maritate; ..

fresh and very perfumed rose, -which appears toward summer 

all girls envy you, – single and espoused;…


Ed. Mondadori

   It is called “Clash”, because of the confrontation between the lover and the lady who does not want to hear of his love. As a matter of fact, all the major theme of the poetry of the  Magna Curia of Frederick II was about the contemplation of the woman’s beauty who soon is the subject of the love of the poet.

   Among all of these we still find Rinaldo d’Aquino, Giacomino Pugliese, together with the very same Frederick II and his sons Enzo and Manfredi.  From all of these we have quite a production which later in his De vulgari eloquentia, Dante called it the Sicilian Poetic School.

   After the death of Frederick in 1250, his son Manfredi kept the School alive, but with the defeat at Benevento of  Mafredi, in 1266, by Charles D’Anjou, the Sicilian School came to an end, as did the Hohenstaufen egemony and with it, the possibility that the Sicilian langauge might have been the official language of Italy.

   Guittone D’Arezzo hoped to keep alive the tradition trying to continue the Sicilian love song, but with not much luck.

   The School later was revived by the Dolce Stil Novo (Sweet New Style) school of Tuscany of which Dante Alighieri was the founder, and the great poet Petrarca said that: “…in little time the way to make poetry, reborn in Sicily, spreaded all over Italy and even beyond”.   We do not have anymore the originals of the works of the Poetic Sicilian School, only few,because most of it, was reorganized and translated in the Tuscan idiom after the affirmation of the Sweet New Style.

 Nino Russo


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