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Radical Translations

Francesco Saverio Salfi
Francesco Saverio Salfi Public domain

The turning point in Salfi's life was his involvement in the 1794 Jacobin plot to overthrow Ferdinand IV. Salfi was an active member of this plot together with other patriots like Carlo Lauberg, Matteo Galdi and Giuseppe Abamonti. However, the plot was discovered and Salfi fled first to Genoa and later to Milan.

Beside his activity as playwright Salfi translated plays by the French author Marie-Joseph Chénier such as Fénelon ou les religieuses de Cambrai and Charles IX. These translations were the active contribution of Salfi in the renovation of theatrical production in the Italian Republics. Salfi defined his translation of Fénelon in these terms:

“The (French) Revolution needs pushes to speed up its progress; this tragedy abounds of them; this is the reason why I translated it”.

In the eyes of the Italian author theatrical plays had to support the new republican ideals where exalted republic values overcame corruption and viciousness caused by bigotry and monarchy.

He wrote theatrical pieces like the pantomime Il general Colli in Rome, better known as the Ballo del Papa (The Pope’s Ball), where he openly mocked the secular power of the Church and the obstinate reluctance to embrace the universal values brought by the French revolution.

Before the Austrian-Russian troops entered in Milan, Salfi had moved to Naples where he was appointed the secretary of the short-lived Neapolitan Republic. The collapse of the republican forces led Salfi to flee first in France and from there he returned to Milan after the French victory at Marengo (18 June 1800).

Salfi's activism continued also under the the kingdom of Italy (17 March 1805). He wrote a new theatrical piece (Pausania) and published atranslation of the French piece Les Templiers by François Raynouard. Salfi was an active member of Freemasonry and he supported the ideal of a unified Italian republic. However the final defeat of the King of Naples, Joachim Murat, to achieve an Italian unification forced Salfi to a long exile in France.

In Paris Salfi met again Carlo Lauberg who introduced the Neapolitan exile in the salon of Madame Condorcet, where he met Volney, and the literary scholar Pierre-Louis Ginguené. Until the end of his life Salfi never gave up the political life and the political cause of the Italian liberty taking an active part in the secret Carbonari activities in Paris who prepared military actions to defeat the foreign monarchies ruling over the Italian states.

Read Francesco Saverio Salfi more extensive biography here