Fellow citizen Professor Vincenzo Di Paola engaged in an intense friendly working relationship with the Poet

When Giovanni Pascoli was Broke

By Walter Teti and Germana Piccone

When Giovanni Pascoli[1] was broke, a couple of centuries ago, he was helped by one of our fellow citizens [from Torricella Peligna],Professor Vincenzo Di Paola (1837 - 1917), who first was the Headmaster of the 4th-5th year of the Secondary-High School of Matera and then Director of Education at Livorno. Pascoli taught Latin and Greek Literature at Matera and, as one learns from re-found historical documents, the Headmaster, Vincenzo Di Paola, helped him by loaning him money. Not only that, but Di Paola had to wait very patiently because Pascoli lived continually in strained economic circumstances, and the repayments were accompanied by many words of thanks and excuses.
These were not only for the delay, but also for offensive words that he let slip on more than one occasion concerning his “benefactor, friend and protector”. 






Above Left: Professor Vincenzo Di Paola.         



Above Right: the historic entrance to his house.



Below: the handwritten note in which Giovanni Pascoli begs for a loan of 80 terrible Liras. See NOTES at end for translation.




Here is an extract from a letter that Giovanni Pascoli sent to Vincenzo Di Paola.

“You are not just a Headmaster, you are a gentleman. With whomsoever I speak, and I speak with people who come from one end of Italy to the other, they all affirm my conviction that a gentlemanly headmaster, strict yet good, forceful yet courteous, is a very rare sight indeed and this rarity I myself have seen, in faraway Basilicata. I beg you to be patient; and to show forbearance; and to wait until I return from Viggiano[2] for the other 43 Liras that I owe you. I say forty-three, but I believe it is a bit more than that, and I beg you also for this: to tell me the precise sum. I would not able to go on my journey, if I were to give it all to you; nor would I even be able to get there. I would need to turn to others, but without much hope of being satisfied. I have always counted on you; on you whom I offended the other evening, seriously and mistakenly. But you see; I don’t think or see anything other than destitution, and my heart becomes impoverished and weakens my intellect. I too would like to enjoy things: and, if you could read inside me, you would find nothing other than that the enjoyments, that I have always waited for in vain, are only of a very low order. Altogether I am irritated, disheartened. And I do and say things that I ought not to have done or said. Thus I beseech you to forgive me not only for the bad things I said the other evening, but for that of so many other times. I am also returning your books to you. Do you remember the Fedone[3] - I never had it at all this year. With gratitude and affection, Yours most affectionately, Giovanni Pascoli.”


Vincenzo Di Paola went to Livorno to become Director of Education and he met Giovanni Pascoli there, when he taught from 1887 until 1895.

“The hardships and privation” of Giovanni Pascoli continued in this part of Italy too and so on top of his teaching [in school], he had to dedicate many hours to private tutoring, which drastically reduced the time available for him to devote to his studies and his poetry. As we know, it was in this period that Pascoli began to achieve fame as a poet and he met many scholars and poets of his times, amongst whom was Gabriele D’annunzio, considered to be “his younger and older brother” <since he was older by 8 years but less well known than the Abruzzan poet>. Well, even here at Livorno the Torricellan, Vincenzo Di Paola, showed his benevolence towards Pascoli, by making him “take part in the Commission of twenty secondary school Latin teachers who were called to Rome by the Minister of Public Instruction, to <discuss the very subject of Latin>”. This event evidently strengthened even more the bond of friendship between Di Paola and Pascoli, an “intense friendship and spiritual closeness” that led Pascoli to visit Vincenzo Di Paola many times here in Torricella Peligna. Di Paola lived at 1, Corso Umberto, in the house of his relative Maria Di Paola, reached via the doorway shown in the photo above and now well-known by everybody: Giovanni Pascoli passed over that threshold many times.


THE Note above:-

Giovanni Pascoli

ha bisogno di 80 terribili lire. Non puo’ farne a meno. Potrebbe restituirne sole 30 alla fine di questo mese: il resto alla fine di giugno. Egli e’ molto disgraziato, lui e i suoi poveri fratelli; ma il preside e’ molto buono.


Giovanni Pascoli

needs 80 terrible liras. He cannot manage without them.  He could repay only 30 at the beginning of this month: the rest at the end of June. He is very wretched, him and his poor brothers: but the Headmaster is very good.

Endnotes from Translator:


[1] Giovanni Pascoli (1855-1912), Italian poet. Pascoli's childhood was marked by a series of tragedies; he was 12 when his father was murdered and this was soon followed by the deaths of his mother - who had a deep influence on his life, his vision of the world and his poetry - and five of his brothers and sisters who died young. A radical in his student days at the University of Bologna, he was subdued by imprisonment (1879) and then gave up his political activities. After completing his studies he taught classics, succeeding Giosuč Carducci as professor of literature at Bologna in 1905; but never abandoned his main passion: poetry. His large collection of tender poetry, written in pastoral style, won him international fame; many verses were inspired by memories of his family. Also seeing his mission as the chronicling of Italy's glory, he wrote of historical and patriotic subjects, earning D'Annunzio's epithet "the last son of Virgil." His works include Carmina (in Latin, 1914); the more mystical Myricae (1891-1903); and the patriotic Odi e Inni (1906). Pascoli remains one of Italy's best-loved poets. He was also an essayist of distinction.


[2] Viggiano At 1,023 metres, it dominates the High Agri Valley, with its sheltered historic centre, consisting of antique houses and ancient musicality. “The town is not large, but neither is it small” Giovanni Pascoli wrote to Carducci, when he was commissioner of exams in 1884 at the flourishing senior boarding school “S.Pellico” – “the air is excellent, the surroundings picturesque, the ruins at Grumentuma are close by; harp-playing for everyone who makes of Viggiano the Antissa of Lucania ”.

Viggiano is an agricultural centre in the Lucanian Appenines, in the Vulturine Massif, on the southern slopes of Mount Saint Enoch (1,341 m).

ANTISSA – a beautiful unspoiled village on a lovely Greek island

LUCANIA – Lucania was an ancient region of Southern Italy – it went from the Tyrrhenian Sea to the Gulf of Taranto, adjoining Campania, Samnium and Apulia to the north, and to the south it was separated by a narrow isthmus from the district of Bruttii. Thus it made up most of the modern province of Basilicata, plus the greater part of the province of Salerno and part of that of Cosenza.


[3] The Fedone - is a youthful dialogue of Plato in which he discusses the search for the true cause; unexpectedly it discusses the doctrine of ideas.

© Amici di Torricella

Translation courtesy of Dr. Marion Apley Porreca


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