Ugo Foscolo

Portrait of Ugo Foscolo

Ugo Foscolo: (1778-1827) was an Italian writer, poet and revolutionary. He was born in Zakynthos, Greece on 6th February 1778 and died in Turnham Green, London on 10th September 1827 aged 49.

Major Works

“A Zacinto” (To Zakinthos) (1803)
“In morte del fratello Giovanni” (1803)
“Dei Sepolcri” (Of the Sepulchres) (1807)
“Ultime lettere di Jacopo Ortis” (The Last Letters of Jacopo Ortis) (1802) 

Biography Timeline

Ugo Foscolo was born on 6th February 1778 on the Ionian island of Zakynthos, then part of the Venetian Republic. (His original name was Niccolo). His father was Andrea Foscolo, a Venetian nobleman and his mother was Diamanta Spathis, a Greek. He was educated at Split in Croatia and Padua in Italy.

1785: The family move to Split on the Dalmatian Coast, where his father is appointed as a military hospital surgeon.

1788: His father dies and the family move to Venice and Foscolo studies at the Dalmatian Grammar school at the University of Padua.

1794: He writes his first collection of poems entitled “Versi dell’Adolescenza” (Verses of adolescence) which he dedicates to his friend Costantino Naranzi.

1795: For some unknown reason he begins to call himself Ugo instead of Niccolo. He writes the odes “La Campagna”“A Dante”“La Verità” and “La Morte di ***.”  In September he returns to Venice and completes his first tragedy, “Tieste” and the poems “In morte del Padre”, “Il Mio Tempo”, “In Morte di Amaritte” and “A Venezia”.

1797: The first performance of “Tieste” makes him famousAs a prominent member of national committees, he sees Napoleon Bonaparte as a liberator from the clutches of the Venetian Republic and writes the ode “A Bonaparte Liberatore” (To Bonaparte the Liberator). However, Napoleon not only ends the Venetian Republic but at the Treaty of Campo Formio on 17th October cedes Venice to Austria.  

1798: He writes the novel “Ultime lettere di Jacopo Ortis” (The Last Letters of Jacopo Ortis). The hero undergoes mental torture and contemplates suicide which has been as an analogy for his disappointment with Napoleon’s actions.

1799: When the Austrians and Russians invade Italy, he joins the French side along with with other Italian patriots.

1800: He is made a captain in the Italian division of the French army after the Battle of the Trebbia and the Siege of Genoa. After being wounded and briefly imprisoned he is released and moves to Milan. He meets the poet Giuseppe Parini, puts the finishing touches to “Ortis” and publishes 12 sonnets. His attempts to convince Napoleon of a new model of unified Italian government fail.

1801: He meets Alessandro Manzoni in Paris and some studies have noted the similarities between Foscolo and Manzoni’s writings of the period.

1802: “Ultime lettere di Jacopo Ortis” (The Last Letters of Jacopo Ortis) is finally published to great acclaim and shows to a wider audience his disgust for the social and political situation in Italy at the time. He also writes the poem All’amica Risanata”. 

1803: He publishes the poems Alla Musa”, “Alla Sera”, “A Zacinto” (To Zakinthos) and “In Morte del Fratello Giovanni”.

1804: He is sent to Paris with the army for the next two years. He starts translating Homer’s “Iliad” and “A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy” by the English writer Laurence Sterne.

1807: He returns to Milan and publishes “Dei Sepolcri” (Of the Sepulchres), a blank verse poem protesting against Napoleon’s decree forbidding tomb inscriptions.

1808: “Dei Sepolcri” helps him achieve the post of chair of Italian Rhetoric at the University of Pavia and he lives in the Palazzo Cornazzani.

1809: In January he gives a lecture entitled “On the Origin and Duty of Literature”, where he urges his countrymen to study literature to foster individual and national life. His post is abolished later in the year and he moves back to Milan.

1811: Satirical references to Napoleon in his tragedy “Aiace” (Ajax) again place him under suspicion with the French authorities and he is forced to leave the city.

1812: He moves to Florence, where he writes the tragedy “Ricciarda” and most of his unfinished poem “Le Grazie” (The Graces). 

1813: He returns to Milan.

1814: At the fall of Napoleon the Austrians return to Italy and Foscolo refuses to take the oath of allegiance and flees to Switzerland. 

1816: He moves to England where he is to remain for the rest of his life and is a popular figure due to being an Italian patriot. He works by teaching and writing commentaries on Dante, Boccaccio and Petrach for the periodicals “The Edinburgh Review” and the “Quarterly Review”. He is often accused of financial mismanagement however and even spends some time in a debtor’s prison which reduces his standing in society and therefore his earning capacity still further.

Ugo Foscolo died in poverty on 10th September 1827 in Turnham Green, near London, England. He was buried in St Nicholas Church in Chiswick where his tomb still exists today. On 7th June 1871, his remains were taken to Florence, Italy at the request of the King of Italy and reburied in the church of Santa Croce, near the tombs of Michelangelo and Galileo.