Chapters (Layout Features)

National Political Ideologies and Local Maggio Traditions of the Reggio Emilia Apennines: Roncisvalle vs. Rodomonte

Cavallo, Jo Ann

The maggio epico, also called maggio drammatico to distinguish it from maggi lirici (springtime festival songs), has recently been shown to have antecedents dating back to the Renaissance, but the current tradition is documented in the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines from the late 1700s. This form of folk opera, generally performed in a natural outdoor setting on summer Sunday afternoons, consists in singers dramatizing stories that are often directly adapted from or inspired by medieval and Renaissance chivalric romance. In this way we might contend that canonical texts composed for the Estense court of Ferrara or the urban elite of Florence – which in turn refashioned subject matter originating largely in France – virtually “conquered” remote Apenninic villages by periodically transforming members of its rural population into chivalric knights sporting swords, shields and fancy feathered helmets recalling images from illustrated volumes. Indeed, as Romolo Fioroni has remarked, «nessuno di noi, evidentemente, può oggi capire un maggio [...] senza la cavalleria, perché l’anima del poema cavalleresco è così profondamente penetrata nel cuore e nella fantasia del popolo da contaminare ogni argomento e fonte». It is no less true, however, as this essay will argue, that very different ideologies can be expressed under the umbrella of cavalleria and that through the process of adaptation the maggio authors and companies have reshaped the stories to reflect their own particular Weltanschauung. Using as a working hypothesis the principle asserted by Walter J. Ong and others that «oral traditions reflect a society’s present cultural values rather than idle curiosity about the past», this essay compares two prominent maggio companies from the same Apenninic village in an attempt to uncover how each company’s performances are tied to the expression of its core principles. Of special interest to me is the depiction of the designated enemy, which brings to the fore questions about group identity, whether local, national, ethnic, social or religious.

Geographic Areas


Also Published In

Conquistare la montagna Storia di un’idea
Pearson Italia

More About This Work

Academic Units
Published Here
November 7, 2016