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Ugo Foscolo in Padua

(Zakynthos, 6.2.1778 – Turnham Green/Chiswick, Londra, 10.9.1827)

Born in Zakynthos, he received his first education on the island and then moved to Split with his family to attend the seminary school. In 1792, he continued his studies in Venice  with a passion for eloquence and ancient Greek,
which later represented the focus of his “Piano di Studi”, written four years later. 1796 was also the year in which Foscolo, stimulated by cultural unrest, moved to Padua with the intention of attending university courses and to unsuccessfully obtain a place in the Paleocapa College. In the city, he met Melchiorre Cesarotti, a professor at the University of Padua, known in particular for his translations of Homer and the “Canti di Ossian” (Fragments of Ancient Poetry collected in the Highlands of Scotland”), to whom he had sent “Tieste”, his first tragedy, to ask for an opinion the previous October. For his first stay in Padua, the writer decided to stay in a villa on the Euganean Hills, in the immediate surroundings of Abano, probably due to a violent smallpox epidemic that was afflicting the city at that time. During that year Foscolo wrote some articles in the Mercurio d’Italia that aroused the suspicions of the Venetian government.

In Padua he probably attended Cesarotti’s lectures at the university and he bonded with his revolutionary spirited students Luigi Scevola, Gaetano Fornasini and Giovanni Labus. However, his relationship with his spiritual father gradually deteriorated, as they also had a substantial difference in approaching the political events that were shaking those times: Foscolo was a fervent Republican, unlike his disillusioned teacher.

After his experience in Padua, Foscolo moved to Milan and then to Bologna, where he published the first edition of the epistolary novel The Last Letters of Jacopo Ortis, which echoes suggestions of Padua: in fact, the protagonist of the novel bears the surname of Girolamo Ortis, a young Friulian medical student in Padua who committed suicide in 1796, when the poet was in town.