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Little Heroes, Epic Transformations: Giulio Cesare Cortese’s Neapolitan Mock Heroic


Neapolitan dialect literature made its official entrance onto Mount Parnassus in 1621. In Giulio Cesare Cortese’s Viaggio di Parnaso (Voyage to Parnassus), a narrative poem published that year, the autobiographical protagonist journeys to the home of Apollo and the Muses bearing news about the latest literary developments in Naples, which the god of poetry receives with the greatest enthusiasm.

The Viaggio came at a culminating moment in Cortese’s own career as a founding father of the Neapolitan tradition, a career that showcased the innovative mock heroic poems La Vaiasseide (The Epic of the Servant Girls, 1612) and Micco Passaro ‘nnammorato (Micco Passaro in Love, 1619). Although the language—Neapolitan dialect—in which these works were written had been adopted by earlier authors, only in the seventeenth century did it establish itself as a rich literary idiom, primarily in the works of Cortese and his friend and colleague Giambattista Basile. These authors forged new linguistic territory, but also experimented with fresh generic paradigms (the mock heroic and the fairy tale) and promoted a poetics dedicated to excavating and representing, with proto-anthropological curiosity and critical acumen, the Kingdom of Naples in its everyday life and rituals, popular culture, and folklore. This essay investigates Cortese’s place in Parnassus through an analysis of these two poems.


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