AMARI, MICHELE (1806-1889), Italian orientalist and patriot, was born at Palermo. From his earliest youth he imbibed liberal principles from his relatives, especially from his grandfather, and although at the age of fourteen he was appointed clerk in the Bourbon civil service, he joined the Carbonari like many other young Sicilians and actively sympathized with the revolution of 1820. The movement, which was separatist in its tendencies, was quickly suppressed, but the conspiracies continued, and Amari's father, implicated in that of 1822, was arrested and condemned to death together with many others; but his sentence was commuted to imprisonment, and in 1834 he was liberated. Michele Amari still held his clerkship, but he regarded the Neapolitan government with increasing hatred, and he led a life of active physical exercise to train himself for the day of revolution. He devoted much of his time to the study of English and of history; his first literary essay was a translation of Sir Walter Scott's Marmion (1832), and in 1839 he published a work on the Sicilian Vespers, entitled Hn Periodo delle storie Siciliane del XIII. secolo, filled with political allusions reflecting unfavourably on the government. The book had an immediate success and went through many editions, but it brought the author under the suspicion of the authorities, and in 1842 he escaped from a boat just as he was about to be arrested. He settled in Paris, where he came in contact with a number of literary men, such as Michelet and Thierry, as well as with the Italian exiles. Having no private means he had to earn a precarious livelihood by literature. He was much struck with certain French translations of Arabic works on Sicily,which awoke in him a desire to read the authors in the original. With the assistance of Prof. Reinaud and Baron de Slane he soon acquired great proficiency in Arabic, and his translations and editions of oriental texts, as well as his historical essays, made him a reputation. In 1844 he began his great work La Storia dei Musulmani in Sicilia, but the revolution of 1848 plunged him into politics once more. His pamphlet, Quelques Observations sur le droit public de la Sicile, advocating the revival of the 1812 constitution for the island, met with great success, and on arriving at Palermo,
whence the Bourbon government had been expelled, he was chosen member of the war committee and appointed professor of public law at the university. At the general elections Amari was returned for Palermo and became minister of finance in the Stabile cabinet. On its fall he was sent to Paris and London to try to obtain help for the struggling island; having failed in his mission he returned to Sicily in 1849, hoping to fight. But the Neapolitan troops had re-occupied the island, the Liberals were in disagreement among themselves, and Amari with several other notables with difficulty escaped to Malta. Characteristic of his scholarly nature is the fact that he delayed his flight to take the impress of an important Arabic inscription. He returned to Paris, sad and dejected at the collapse of the movement, and devoted himself once more to his Arabic studies. He published a work on the chronology of the Koran, for which he received a prize from the Academie des Inscriptions, edited the Solwan el Mota by Ibn Zafer (a curious collection of philosophical thoughts) and Ibn Haukal's Description og Palermo, and in 1854 the first volume of his history of the Mahommedans in Sicily appeared. He received a meagre stipend for cataloguing the Arabic MSS. in the Bibliotheque Nationale, and he contributed many articles to the reviews. Although a firm friend of Mazzini, he discouraged the latter's premature conspiracies. In 1859, after the expulsion of the central Italian despots, Amari was appointed professor of Arabic at Pisa and afterwards at Florence. But when Garibaldi and his thousand had conquered Sicily, Amari returned to his native island, and was given an appointment in the government. Although intensely Sicilian in sentiment, he became one of the staunchest advocates of the union of Sicily with Italy, and was subsequently made senator of the kingdom at Cavour's instance. He was minister of education in the Farini and Minghetti cabinets, but on the fall of the latter in 1864, he resumed his professorship at Florence and spent the rest of his life in study. His circle of acquaintances, both in Italy and abroad, was very large, and his sound scholarship was appreciated in all countries. He died in 1889, loaded with honours. The last volume of his Storia dei Musulmani appeared in 1873, and in addition to the above-mentioned works he published many others on oriental and historical subjects. His work on the Sicilian Vespers was re-written as La Guerra dei Vespro (9th ed., Milan, 1886). He was the pioneer of Arabic studies in modern Italy, and he still remains the standard authority on the Mussulman domination in Sicily, though his judgment on religious questions is sometimes warped by a violently anti-clerical bias.
See A. D'Ancona, Carteggio di Michele Amari coll' elogio di lui (Turin, 1896); and Oreste Tommasini's essay in his Scritti di storial e critica (Rome, 189I). (L. V.n)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)