PULCI, LUIGI, born at Florence, in 1431, of a respectable though poor family, became early in life acquainted with the wealthy family of Medici, through which he seems to have obtained an inferior office under the Florentine republic. He travelled about Italy, and even beyond its limits, according to his own statement. Few particulars of his life are known. He married Lucrezia Albizzi, by whom he had two sous, who survived him. He was a welcome guest at the table of Lorenzo de' Medici, who relished his wit and his extempore poetical effusions. Lucrezia Tornabuoni, Lorenzo's mother, urged Pulci to write an epic poem. Pulci undertook the task, and he looked for his theme among the traditional legends of Charlemagne and his Paladins, as recorded by Turpin, which had already become familiar in Italy through the Italian romance ' I Reali di Francia,' written in the thirteenth century,and had become a popular theme for the extempore effusion of strolling storytellers. Pulci took for the subject of his poem the treachery of Gano of Maganza, one of Charlemagne's vassals, who is reported in the old legends to have conspired with the Saracens of Spain against his master, and to have brought about the fatal defeat of the French at Roncesvalles in the Pyrenees. Pulci was well acquainted not only with Turpm's'Chronicle,'but with the old French and Provencal romances which related to the fabulous history of Charlemagne's Spanish wars. An abstract of these singular traditions, in which the confused records of the wars of Charles Martel and his son Pepin against the Saracens in France were mixed up with the short campaign of Charlemagne himself beyond the Pyrenees, is given (by Foscolo) in No. 42 of the ' Quarterly Review,' and also in an article on the early poetry of Spain, in No. 78 of the 'Edinburgh Review.' Pulci moulded those rude materials into a living form, and breathed into it his own poetical inspiration. His predecessors had dealt out the old traditional fables in a sober serious strain. Pulci was the first to seize the ludicrous side of the stories, and to derive from it a fresh subject for poetry and a source of amusement for his readers. Still his poem is not, as it has been by many supposed to be, a burlesque poem, but a combination of the serious with the facetious; it is a romance accompanied by its own parody. The poet is often evidently in earnest, being carried along by the lofty or pathetic events which he describes; but he now and then relaxes to enjoy a laugh with his hearers at the expense of his herpes, and of the popular story-tellers, who furmed a numerous tribe in his age, and who, by their pompous diction and their exaggerations and anachronisms, enhanced the absurdity of their wondrous tales. One character however, that of Orlando, the French and Spanish Roland, Pulci preserved in its original simple grandeur, as handed down by old tradition. It was reserved for Bojordo to lower the original character of the Roland of old traditional legend, the chaste and unspotted champion of religion, loyalty, and chivalry, and to reduce it to that of a brave but frail warrior. Pulci brought also on the scene another worthy competitor for fame, Rinaldo of Monlalbano, the Reynault of the French romances, whose character and adventures he took chiefly from ' Les Quatre Fils d'Aymon' of Adcnes, an old romance writer of the thirteenth century.
The title of 'Morgante Maggiore,' which Pulci chose to give to his poem, is a capricious one, for the giant whom he introduces by the name of Morgante is only a subordinate character, and acts as squire to Orlando. The reason of the adjunct 'Maggiore' is not perceived, unless it was given to him on account of his great strength.
Orlando is the hero of the poem, but Gano may be considered as the principal actor; like Satan in Milton, he is the author of all mischief, and his punishment is properly the end of the action. 'The Treasons of Gano' would have been a more appropriate title to the poem. Another giant, called Margutte, is the Thersites of the poem. He is an open scoffer at religion, and boasts of his numerous sins; he is, in short, an impudent but humorous villain. He accompanies Morgante, who is a pious personage, and dies at last of an immoderate fit of laughter at some ludicrous sight. This character of Margutte, which is merely episodical, and which seems to have been introduced by Pulci in a fit of unrestrained mirth, has been adduced by Voltaire and others as a proof of Pulci's unbelief. Hut the poet, from the beginning, proclaims Margutte to be what be is. a profligate despicable fellow, and by so doing shows no intention of recommending his opinions or example.
In canto xxv. there is a curious dialogue between Rinaldo and a familiar demon named Astaroth concerning the then so-called Pillars of Hercules. The daemon says: "An old and hallowed error has long prevailed, that no one can venture westward of this point without incurring certain death. Know then that this is a vain supposition, for it is possible to navigate far beyond, as the sea is level everywhere, although our world has a round form, as everything above is attracted to the centre, and the earth itself stands suspended among the stars. And ships shall proceed far beyond the boundaries which Hercules fixed here in times of ignorance, and they will discover another hemisphere, where are towns, nations, and empires. Those are the antipodes, and they adore the Sun and Jupiter and Mars, they have trees and cattle as you have, and often wage war against one another.' (Canto xxv., st. 228, ct seq.) Pulci wrote this fifteen years at least before Columbus sailed on his memorable expedition. Rinaldo asks whether the antipodes are of Adam's race, and are capable of obtaining salvation. To this delicate question the dromon answers, that all men may be saved by the Cross, and that the day will conic when, after many errors and wanderings, all will acknowledge the truth and find acceptance. The whole passage is curious as illustrative of the state of mind among men of information in Italy in that age. Roland's last fight and dying scene at Roncesvalles are beautifully described by tba poet. The farewell of Roland to his faithful steed, hii trusty companion in many a battle, his confession and last prayer, and the angelic melody which is heard above, as be expired—all this part is equal in pathos and loftiness to any passage in either Dante or Tasso. The poet felt evidently interested in his subject and wrote in earnest. But even here he occasionally breaks out, in the midst of his most serious narrative, into a fit of comic humour, as if by way of relaxation. While the fearful conflict is raging in the glen of Roncesvalles, the poet descries two dmmons keeping watrh in a deserted chapel on the outskirts of the defile, intent upon seizing and securing the souls of the Saracens who fell in the battle, as their lawful prey. The eagerness of these satanic sentries is described with much drollery.
It is a curious fact that the first edition of the poem of Pulci, with all its freedom of thought and expression, came out in 1481, from the press of the convent of Ripoli at Florence, and that some of the nuns, and out Marietta among them, acted as compositors, and were pei' accordingly. (Notizie Istoriche topra la Stamr*ria di Ripoli, by Father Vincenzo Fineschi, Domenicano, Florence, 1781.) There was a much greater degree of freedom in speaking and writing in Italy during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries than there has been at any time since; the change took place about the middle of the sixteenth century, when the alarm about the spreading of the doctrines of the Reformation induced Pope Paul III. to establish permanently, with the consent of Charles V., the court of the Inquisition, which effectually silenced both tongues and pen* The ' Morgante Maggiore' is less read and noticed now even in Italy than it deserves; the poem has many beauties. and great fluency and vivacity of diction, owing to the author being a Florentine and writing in his own vernacular language. Pulci may he considered both as the last of the old romancers and as the first of the Italian epic writers. Htt poem retains much of the simplicity and antique cast of the traditions of the dark ages, enriched with the information of a more enlightened period. By reading the 'Morgante' attentively, one is less surprised at some old Florentine critics giving it the preference over Ariosto's splendid and elaborate poem. But the two works are the representative* of two different ages, and there is the same difference between them as there was between Pulci's jovial and free-spoktn friend, Lorenzo de' Medici, and the princes of the House of Este, the courtly patrons of Ariosto. The edition of the 'Morgante,' Naples, 1782, contains a good biography of tb.author.
Pulci wrote also a number of satirical and some licentious sonnets, and other light poetry, including his "Conic* sion," the copies of which are rather scarce. Pulci died at Florence in 1487.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)