« AnteriorContinuar »
NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW.
Art. I. — 1. Storia degli Antichi Popoli Italiani. Di
GIUSEPPE MICALI. 3 tom. 8vo. 2. Monumenti per servire alla Storia degli Antichi Popoli
Italiani, raccolti, esposti e publicati da GIUSEPPE MI-
GIUSEPPE MICALI was born, and received the first rudiments of his education, in Leghorn. He gave early proofs of that decided taste for antiquities and historical research, which was to win him so honorable a station among the writers of his age. Placed by the possession of an ample hereditary fortune beyond the reach of those cares, which so often chill the ambition and check the efforts of the young student, he was enabled to devote himself entirely to the cultivation of his mind and the prosecution of his favorite inquiries. After having laid the foundation of his education by an accurate study of classical literature, he directed his attention to that species of cultivation, which can only be acquired by an extensive and practical acquaintance with the world. With this view he visited different parts of Europe, and was gladly received into the society of many of the men of letters, who formed the brightest ornament of the last century. Among those, with whom he lived upon terms of the closest intimacy, were several of the distinguished members of the literary circle of Frederic the Second, and particularly the well-known Abbé Denina, with whom he formed a friendship
VOL. XLVIII. —NO. 102. 1
that was dissolved only by death. We have before us, at this moment, several letters addressed to our author by Denina, in the last years of his life, which contain the warmest expressions of personal regard, and of the high expectations which he had formed of the promise of his young friend.
Micali resided also in Paris from 1796 to 1799, and was an y eyewitness of the fall of the Directory, and of the first brilliant steps of Napoleon.
But no part of his early studies was so advantageous to him, as the long series of diligent researches, which he carried on upon the site of the principal cities of Ancient Italy ; frequently directing in person the excavations from which his materials were to be derived, and pursuing with his own eyes the numerous topographical investigations, the neglect of which had hitherto formed one of the chief obstacles to a satisfactory history of that remote period. An attentive study of numismatics strengthened and confirmed the views, which these preparatory researches had suggested ; and, when he first put his hand to the composition of his history of “ Italy before the Roman Conquest,” there was hardly a spot of the peninsula which he had not visited, or an important monument which he had not examined.
This work was published in Florence, in 1810, in four volumes octavo, together with a folio “ Atlas," containing sixty plates, illustrative of the manners and customs of the ancient Italians. Its object was as important as its plan was new. Ancient Italy had till then been the subject of puerile fables, or of researches purely antiquarian. Micali was the first who ventured to engage in the bold and hazardous task of separating the false from the true, in the fragments which have come down to us of the old writers, and of restoring the history of this primitive civilization, by drawing from its numerous monuments their varied and enigmatic records. His work was divided into two parts. The first is devoted to a descriptive examination of the original divisions and of the primitive inhabitants of the country. The second is a narrative of their revolutions and of the various incidents of their history.
The “ History of Italy before the Roman Conquest,” preceded the Roman History of Niebuhr, and, if we may be allowed to judge by the rank which these two celebrated works seem now to have permanently taken, has survived it. Niebuhr himself, who had attacked many of the positions of Micali in his first edition (1811), retracted his accusations in the last.
A second edition, with additions and corrections, was published in Florence in 1822 ; and four others have subsequently appeared in different parts of Italy. A French translation was published in Paris, but shamefully disfigured by the ignorance and the prepossessions of the translator.
These studies seem naturally to have led our author to the examination of another part of his national history hardly less obscure, and assuredly no less interesting, than that which he had treated with such marked success. This was the history of the “ Commerce of the Maritime Republics of Italy.” He had long been engaged in collecting materials for this work, when his attention was called back to his original theme, by the discoveries which were making in nearly all those parts of Italy, which had been distinguished as the seats of her earliest civilization. A new and strong light was thus thrown upon many questions, which at the beginning of his investigation had been purely conjectural ; and he had the rare satisfaction to find, îhat the views, which he had adopted upon the authority of his first observations, were fully confirmed by all his subsequent discoveries. It is to this that we are indebted for the work, which forms more immediately the subject of the present paper, and of which we shall now proceed to give a full and minute analysis, taking, at the same time, the liberty to interweave such illustrations and observations of our own, as seem naturally to arise from, or be required by, the facts that we are called upon to relate.
1. The question concerning the name and origin of the first inhabitants of Italy has long been agitated in vain. The progress of geographical discovery has shown, that man may exist in almost any part of the globe. But he has always been found in a state of union. Origin everywhere esc researches. It is obvious, however, that the human race must have been most readily propagated in those regions, where the means of subsistence are most abundant and most easily obtained. The only course, that can afford a reasonable gratification to our curiosity, is, to ascertain, as nearly as we can, the condition of the people whom we find in possession of a country, without troubling ourselves about the fruitless inquiry, as to whence they came.
The physical revolutions of Italy, of which so many and such positive proofs still remain, must, for at least a considerable space after its first settlement, have confined its inhabitants to the higher regions. But the frequently renewed experience of modern times shows how insufficient the terrors of nature are, to drive man from the spot which he has once made his home. Even here we witness a new triumph of human power; for man daily accomplishes what nature cannot, and strikes those with dread, to whom earthquakes and volcanoes had spoken in vain.
The natural fertility of Italy has been the subject of poetical rapture and rhetorical declamation from all antiquity.
The fables which represent man as springing from the soil, and from the trunks of trees, can but allude to the impenetrable antiquity of the human race in these happy regions. The tradition of an original and distinct race of native Italians was preserved in the historic ages ; and the Aborigines mentioned by the Romans are the same, whom the Greeks found assembled in tribes, and whom they qualified, according to the invariable custom of that ingenious but vain people, by the contemptuous denomination of barbarians. From these, as from one common stock, sprang the people, who, under various names, occupied the chief portion of the Italian peninsula.
Their mode of life, like that of all men in this first epoch, we would say of aggregation rather than of society, was regulated by their physical wants and by the roughness of their manners. Acorns and roots, the spontaneous products of the soil, together with the game of their forests, supplied their daily food. Society has few charms for those who have never tasted its artificial pleasures ; and it was only by the slow and natural progression from their first wild life to the more regular occupation of pasturage, that they were led to agriculture, the first decisive step in civilization. But even this step has seldom, if ever, been taken without some unusual external impulse. The fables of Janus and of Saturn, that golden age, so often and so sweetly sung, and which, from its unlikeness to any thing that we have ever seen, seems rather as a fiction than a reality, allude to this change, and probably indicate, at the same time, the sacerdo
The magnificent description of Virgil in the second Georgic, and that of Dionysius of Halicarnassus in the first book of his Roman Antiquities, are the finest, but unfortunately too long to be introduced here.