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Paroimia: Brusantino, Florio, Sarnelli, and Italian Proverbs from the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries

Daniela D'Eugenio

Paremias (proverbs and proverbial phrases) constitute a rich, underexplored archive of historical, cultural, and linguistic significance. Despite intercultural similarities, they are adapted to and affect specific genres, linguistic codes, and contexts. They circulate through writers, texts, and communities in a process that ultimately results in modifications in their structure and meaning. Vincenzo Brusantino’s Le cento novelle (1554), John Florio’s Firste Fruites (1578) and Second Frutes (1591), and Pompeo Sarnelli’s Posilecheata (1684) offer clear representation of how paremias embed the authors’ personal interpretations of society, culture, and literature, but also disguise their voice behind communal wisdom and knowledge. The analysis of the three authors’ paremias through comparisons with classical and contemporaneous collections of maxims and sententiae illustrates how their perspectives inform the content, language, and structure of their works. Brusantino’s proverbs introduce ethical interpretations to the 100 novellas of Boccaccio’s Decameron, which herewrites in octaves of hendecasyllables. His text appeals to Counter-Reformation society and its demand for a comprehensible and immediately applicable morality. In Florio’s two language manuals, proverbs and proverbial phrases fulfill a need for language education in Elizabethan England through authentic and communicative instruction. Florio manipulates the proverbs’ vocabulary and syntax to fit the context of his dialogues, best demonstrating the cultural and linguistic value of learning Italian in a foreign country. Sarnelli’s expressions illustrate the inherent creative and expressive potentialities of the Neapolitan dialect vis-à-vis languages with a more robust literary tradition. Paremias, interpreted as moral maxims, ironic assessments, or witty insertions, characterize the local Neapolitan context in which the collection’s frame and fables take place. 


"Dr. D’Eugenio has authored an exceptional scholarly monograph on Italian proverbial language based on a close analysis of three selected texts from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Her use of interdisciplinary research to illustrate how Italian proverbs function as flexible literary instruments provides new insights into their meaning and function (individual, societal, and cultural perspectives, ethical commentary, regional dialects). Moreover, the author’s interpretive and analytical ability enhances our understanding of the malleable nature of this significant literary, linguistic, and cultural form."

—Frank Nuessel, University of Louisville


Daniela D’Eugenio is Assistant Professor of Italian at the University of Arkansas. She studied at the University of Florence, Italy (Laurea Specialistica in Filologia e Linguistica) and at the University of Padua, Italy (Master in didattica dell’italiano come L2). In 2017, she completed her PhD at the City University of New York (Comparative Literature—Italian Specialization). Her research interests focus primarily on the study of proverbs in the context of Renaissance and Baroque literature, paleography, irony and humor, and pedagogical approaches in the foreign language classroom. Her articles and entries appeared in Guida alla formazione del docente di lingue all’uso delle TIC—Le lingue straniere e l’italiano L2, Italian Language and Culture Conference—Challenges in the 21st Century Italian Classroom, Encyclopaedia of the Medieval Chronicle (Brill Online Reference Works), Forum Italicum, International Studies in Humour, Italica, the Newberry Library Italian Paleography project, and the Accademia della Crusca Proverbi italiani database. Currently, she is examining the intersections and cross-fertilizations between the verbal and the visual for proverbs in calligraphy manuals and emblem books.


PSRL 83. Paper. $45.00. e-Book available. 


Page last updated on 26 June 2021.

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