Critical Edition of Guittone d’Arezzo’s Rime

Critical Edition of Guittone d’Arezzo’s Rime
Michelangelo Picone

Preface by Teodolinda Barolini
“Remembering a Special Day” by Giuseppe Picone
Critical Edition of Guittone’s Rime by Michelangelo Picone (part 1)
Critical Edition of Guittone’s Rime by Michelangelo Picone (part 2)
Critical Edition of Guittone’s Rime by Michelangelo Picone (part 3)
Commento alle Canzoni by Michelangelo Picone


by Teodolinda Barolini

I first met Michelangelo Picone in 1980, when the University of California at Berkeley, where I was Assistant Professor of Italian from 1978 to 1983, hosted a Philological Association of the Pacific Coast conference. Michelangelo was Professor of Italian at McGill University in Montreal. At the time of our encounter, I had recently read his insightful book Vita Nuova e tradizione romanza (Liviana, 1979), which made a deep and lasting impression on me. At that long ago conference, Michelangelo told me something that also made a deep impression on me: he mentioned that he was working on an edition of Guittone d’Arezzo’s poetry. I did not then learn, but eventually came to know, that the edition was based on the tesi di laurea that Michelangelo wrote under the supervision of Gianfranco Contini at the University of Florence. Given that I was finishing a book on Dante’s poets, and knew the struggle of reading Guittone without a proper edition, this was very welcome news.

The years passed and Michelangelo and I remained friends and interlocutors. After he moved to Switzerland, in 1990, he visited New York regularly in the summer, and we would meet for lunch and discuss our work. I was shocked and saddened when he died, much too soon, in 2009.

More years passed and I met Andrea Robiglio, a dear friend of Michelangelo’s and of his family. The topic of the never published edition of Guittone came up, and I learned that the family possessed the typescript of the original critical edition that Michelangelo produced for his Florentine degree. By then Digital Dante existed and I realized that here, indeed, was the fitting tribute that we could pay to Michelangelo and to his scholarly achievements, while at the same time benefiting the scholarly community at large, for Digital Dante was in a position to make available those early achievements in their original form.

I am intensely proud that Digital Dante now hosts the early work of a great scholar: Michelangelo Picone’s original critical edition of Guittone’s moral verse. The PDF is touching with its penciled-in marginalia, and—difficult as it is to use—it is worlds better than nothing at all. I hope that the person who does complete a critical edition of Guittone d’Arezzo’s poetry will make good use of the work done by the young Michelangelo Picone.

Easter 2021

“Remembering a Special Day”

by Giuseppe Picone
(versione italiana)

My older brother Michelangelo Picone was born in Aragona, Sicily, on February 12th, 1943. When he defended his thesis in Romance Philology entitled For a Critical Edition of Guittone d’Arezzo’s Rime (Le Rime morali) under the supervision of Professor Gianfranco Contini at the University of Florence, Faculty of Letters and Philosophy, during the academic year 1967-1968, he was therefore twenty-five years old. The oral defense of his thesis took place in June of 1968 in a lecture hall on the first floor (if I remember well) of the Faculty of Letters Building in Piazza Brunelleschi.

It was a typically warm afternoon for Florence in early summer. I was present at the event along with other family members. I do not have a precise recollection of the Master thesis defense (“difesa della Tesi di laurea”) itself, nor can I recall clearly the faces of important figures or individual members of the audience. I do remember that Professor Contini was wearing the requisite dark blue suit, but the image I have in mind of his facial features, including his unmistakable black moustache, is probably traceable to photos of him that I saw afterwards. I have completely erased from memory the face of the co-examiner (whose name I also cannot remember). In fact, the only precise image I have of that day is the fresh, clean, shining face of Michelangelo. The tense atmosphere in the room that day also impressed me deeply. I remember well the solemn silence of the ceremony – the total opposite of the joyful bedlam of BA and MA defenses today, especially those of the first level degree. It lasted almost until the very end, which was animated and a bit tumultuous. In fact, as soon as the marks awarded to him were announced, my brother exited the lecture hall in a peremptory manner. I could not understand why. Perhaps he did not appreciate Professor Contini’s remarks; perhaps there had been a misunderstanding concerning the marks awarded (the highest marks, with honors, I believe). Now, using hindsight, I can see the reason for my brother’s reaction. The “Maestro”, Contini, wanted to hold on to his esteemed student, but only with the latter in a subservient position. He thus clashed with Michelangelo, whose desire for intellectual freedom compelled him to leave the nest for good. His teacher certainly did not appreciate this definitive, and final, gesture. Even less so the other fledglings of the brood, who never stopped “pecking at” the reprobate who flew away.

We may well ask how it was possible that Michelangelo, the first of seven children born to a very poor peasant family that had migrated from Sicily to rural Tuscany in the late 1940s, was able to go to Florence to study that subject at that university. Well, his prodigious abilities and his absolute dedication to studying became apparent to local authorities while he was attending primary school in the Tuscan countryside.  So, at the tender age of ten, with a fully funded scholarship and under the firm and farsighted guidance of his mother, he entered a seminary in the city of Florence in via Santa Marta a Montughi. At that time the Seminario Minore Arcivescovile was the only institution of higher learning that opened its doors to the children of poor peasant families such as ours. In fact, it should come as no surprise that pursuing the new opportunities that emerged because of the “economic miracle” of the 1960s meant the depopulation of both the countryside and of many seminaries. In the beginning, Michelangelo had a difficult time adjusting to life in the seminary. Later on, his remarkable academic success was accompanied by an increasing dislike for seminary discipline and authoritarian rule. Although he was able to complete middle school at that institution, by mutual agreement he left the seminary after the first two years of high school. Where was he to go?  Fortunately, Catholic Florence at the time was influenced by the benevolent views of ex-mayor Giorgio LaPira; talented students were recognized, valued, and given aid. Thus Michelangelo, having  found a new home in Florence  in the Casa della Gioventu’ di Pino Arpioni, was able to easily obtain his high school degree with a specialization in classical studies. At that point he enrolled in the Faculty of Letters at the University of Florence and won a scholarship that allowed him to live in student housing in Piazza Indipendenza. Michelangelo’s colleague and close friend Michele Ciliberto explains why Michelangelo chose to remain in Florence and not to apply to the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa (it would have seemed the appropriate choice at that juncture):  the true  “Normale” at that time was in fact the University of Florence, where eminent scholars such as Gianfranco Contini, Eugenio Garin, Ernesto Sestan, Delio Cantimori, all taught (cf. M. Ciliberto, “Michelangelo Picone. Un amico, una generazione” in M. Mesirca, G. Picone, Per Michelangelo Picone: Aragona (Agrigento), 12 febbraio 1943-Tempe (Phoenix), 24 aprile 2009, Pisa, Fabrizio Serra Editore, 2009, pp. 19-23).

Why did Michelangelo decide to study Romance Philology with Professor Gianfranco Contini? I can only offer a personal opinion, one based on intimate knowledge of my brother’s character. He was one who always sought the greatest challenges and who wanted to reach the highest summits. Professor Contini and his elite group of students existed behind an almost impenetrable fortress wall, yet Michelangelo was able to make his own way into that highly selective space. This indomitable spirit, and his abiding love for Italian literature and its origins, are the hallmarks of more than forty years of his activity as a scholar and as a teacher.

The material presented at Michelangelo’s thesis defense–and made available online now thanks to Columbia University–comprises two volumes. The first volume, consisting of 214 pages, is the proposed critical edition of Guittone’s rime morali itself. The second volume, consisting of 92 pages, is the corresponding commentary. Alas, this important body of work was never published despite the fact that Michelangelo wanted it to be. Over the years he stated this intention repeatedly, including during the Colloquium on Guittone that he organized in Arezzo in 1994 (see the Acts of the Colloquium edited by Michelangelo himself, Guittone d’Arezzo nel settimo centenario della morte, Atti del Convegno Internazionale di Arezzo (22-24 aprile 1994, Florence, Franco Cesati Editore, 1995, pp.73-88, especially p. 80, n. 17). Yet again, I can only hypothesize why. Michelangelo was not only a scholar of the highest order, he was also a profoundly dedicated teacher who was always available to his students and always generous with his time. He was a tireless organizer of conferences, seminars, and colloquia. He was the creator and director of numerous highly specialized publication series, especially about Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio, authors who were the central focus of his historical and philological research throughout his career. He was the Chief Director and life-spirit of two major periodicals, the “L’Alighieri” and the “Rassegna Europea di letteratura italiana”. All of the material that was to appear in volumes he edited, that is to say every single word on every single page, was checked personally by him at every stage, including the correction of proofs. He often compiled the index of names as well, a monumental task. In all probability Michelangelo had destined the preparation and publication of his critical edition of Guittone’s rime to a period in his life–his retirement– when he would have had the time to dedicate to that enterprise alone. Unfortunately, before that could happen, Moira and Thanatos, the cruelest of couples, stole him from his work, and from us.

Florence, Biblioteca Centrale Nazionale Firenze, Banco Rari 217, f. 55r

Ora parrà, Guittone d’Arezzo, Biblioteca Centrale Nazionale Firenze, Banco Rari 217, f. 55r

Critical Edition of Guittone’s Rime morali and Commento alle Canzoni by Michelangelo Picone

Critical Edition of Guittone’s Rime morali by Michelangelo Picone (part 1)


*download the Critical Edition (part 1)*

Critical Edition of Guittone’s Rime morali by Michelangelo Picone (part 2)


*download the Critical Edition (part 2)*

Critical Edition of Guittone’s Rime morali by Michelangelo Picone (part 3)


*download the Critical Edition (part 3)*

Commento alle Canzoni by Michelangelo Picone


*download the Commento alle Canzoni*

Acknowledgements: Many thanks to Professor Andrea Robiglio of the De Wulf-Mansion Centre for Ancient, Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven for connecting the Picone family with Digital Dante; and to the Picone family, particularly Giuseppe Picone, for sharing Michelangelo’s extraordinary scholarly achievements.

Recommended Citation: Picone, Michelangelo. “Critical Edition of Guittone d’Arezzo’s Rime.” Digital Dante. New York: Columbia University Libraries, 2021.

return to top Return to top
Published in partnership with Columbia University Libraries