Medieval Studies Giacomo da Lentini
Akash Kumar
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 September 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 September 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0272


Giacomo da Lentini was the central figure in the formation of the Sicilian school of poetry in the early 13th century at the court of Frederick II. He is plausibly considered to be the inventor of the sonnet and his poetic corpus of sixteen canzoni, twenty-two sonnets, and a discordo amounts to by far the most numerous of any poet associated with Frederick’s court. We might thus say that he is the first major lyric poet of the Italian vernacular tradition. Giacomo demonstrates the influence of the earlier Occitan poetry of courtly love in his borrowings of themes, technical vocabulary, and metrical forms; he also innovates considerably in experimenting with the new sonnet form and crafts a refined poetry that actively distills the intellectual culture of Frederick’s court by way of similes that open up his love poems to science, philosophy, and politics. Giacomo’s influence on the subsequent developments of Italian poetry can be widely felt and perhaps most easily perceived in Dante Alighieri’s mention of him as an illustrious poet in his treatise on vernacular eloquence, De vulgari eloquentia, as well as his occupying the prime position of founding father in the poetic genealogy of Purgatorio 24.

Editions and Translations

Giacomo’s poetry has often been anthologized in modern editions of medieval Italian poetry, but editions of his complete body of work are rare. Antonelli 2008 is now the primary source of reference, representing a substantial update of the critic’s 1979 edition of Giacomo’s poetry. The first complete English translation of Giacomo’s poetry is now available in Lansing 2018.

  • Antonelli, Roberto, ed. I poeti della scuola siciliana. Vol. 1. Milan: Mondadori, 2008.

    Antonelli’s long engagement with the poetry of Giacomo da Lentini, including numerous articles and his 1979 critical edition, has culminated in this magisterial volume replete with ample bibliography and copious notes.

  • Lansing, Richard, trans. Introduction by Akash Kumar. The Complete Poetry of Giacomo da Lentini. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2018.

    Lansing’s translation is the first complete English translation of Giacomo’s poetry, representing a substantial update from piecemeal translations available before in scholarly work and in anthologies ranging from Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s 1861 The Early Italian Poets to Frede Jensen’s 1986 The Poetry of the Sicilian School. The translations are accompanied by the Italian original, and the introduction provides historical context and a scholarly frame for reading Giacomo. It also seeks to open the texts up to a wider public readership.

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