Luigi Puli The Morgante Maggiore

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Luigi Puli

The Morgante Maggiore Canto I

Translated by Byron, Ravenna, October 29th 1819-February 20th 1820

Published by John Hunt, The Liberal No 4, July 30th 1823

Rough manuscript: Morgan Library

Fair copy by Byron: not found

Luigi Pulci: Morgante Maggiore Canto I

translated by Byron

Edited by Peter Cochran

See Appendix for a comparison between Byron’s translation and that of J.H.Merivale.

Luigi Pulci (1432-84) was court poet to Lorenzo de Medici, whom he also served as a diplomat. He was a polemical antagonist of the philosopher Marsilio Ficino. The burlesque epic Morgante is his most important artistic work, though he also wrote prose, sonnets (some of them anti-religious, denying miracles, and the immortality of the soul), lyrics, and verse in terza rima. The Morgante, however, stands with Boccaccio’s poems at the head of the massive Italian ottava rima serio-comic tradition, whose later practitioners include Berni, Boiardo, Casti, and greatest of them all, Ariosto. The solemn Tasso also employed ottava rima: but no-one has ever accused Tasso of religious levity, a charge often, and with justice, levelled at Pulci (as Byron knew, though he never mentions it).

When Pulci died his body was denied burial in consecrated ground.

The twenty-eight canto Morgante Maggiore (1483) is so called to distinguish it from an earlier twenty-canto version (1478), called the Morgante, no copies of which are known to survive. On the last day of the Florentine carnival in 1497 it was burned in the Bonfire of the Vanities organised by Savonarola (treatment it shared with works by Petrarch and Boccaccio).1 Byron admired it greatly, and translated its first Canto, at roughly the same time (late 1819-early 1820) that he wrote Canto III of Don Juan. Based loosely on the Chanson de Roland and other earlier epics, the poem catalogues many knightly deeds of the Carolingian epoch, whose chief common factor is their improbability.

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