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date: 17 October 2017

Abstract and Keywords

The “Romantic century” (1750–1850) saw the rise and decline of a distinctive type of improviser: the improvvisatore or improvvisatrice, a solo poet-performer who spontaneously composed verses on subjects assigned by the audience. As this primarily Italian tradition spread across Europe, it generated wide-ranging debates about poetics, aesthetics, and the role of improvisation in political rhetoric and communal leadership. Often this discussion focused on the relationship between modern poetic improvisers and the rhapsodes of classical antiquity, especially Homer. Variations on the questions “Was Homer an improvvisatore?” and “Are improvvisatori the descendants of Homer?” show up in antiquarian, poetic, and political discourses, influencing Romantic ideas about the public role of poets while changing the direction of Homeric scholarship. Since the performances of poetic improvisers and the debates they generated took place in the midst of a rapidly expanding culture of periodical magazines and other print media, the reception of orally improvised poetry during the Romantic era also affects the evolving relationship of orality and print.

Keywords: improvvisatore, improvvisatrice, improvised poetry, 1750–1850, Romanticism, Homer, classical antiquity, political rhetoric, orality, print culture

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