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Celestino Massucco


Celestino Massucco (Cadice 1748- Genoa 1830) played an active part in the political life of the Ligurian republic.

The long-lived trajectory of Celestino Massucco epitomized the transition from the Enlightenment to the revolutionary period as well as the passage to the Empire and the following restoration. Celestino Massucco was born in Cadice, Italy in 1748. His father was Genoese while his mother was Argentinian. In 1760 he entered in the religious order of the Scolopian fathers. He started teaching literature in high schools and later was promoted to the chair in rhetoric at the University of Genoa.

During the Ligurian Republic he left the religious life and embraced the hectic political life of the small republic and its manifold challenges. He joined the Constitutional Society, founded the newspaper Giornale degli amici del Popolo and translated plays and essays from French to Italian. After the end of the Ligurian republic, Massucco left the political life and went back to the religious life while assisting as private secretary the bishop of Genoa. In the last period of his life Massucco dedicated all his forces to translate classical poetry and compose hymns. The conclusion of Massucco’s life seems to contradict and erase the brief period of his involvement in the revolutionary life of the Ligurian republic. Yet, the apparent denial of republican values must be seen in the light of the end of all liberties for Genoa but also as a constant in the life of the author who moved from being an Arcadian poet, under the name of Olimpio Fenicio, to write articles for the republican press and then serving the Archbishop of Genoa for more than a decade.

Massucco wrote thirty editorials of the Giornale degli amici del popolo. He invited his readership to avoid any extremism and to live following the republican values instead of simply preaching them. Massucco’s devotion to education led him to take an interest in translating French texts devoted to moral teachings like L’école des moeurs by Jean Baptiste Blanchard or Délassements de l’homme sensible au Anecdoctes diverses by François Baculard d’Arnaud.

Besides the participation in the political life, Massucco translated two French texts that had important consequences for the Ligurian Republic: Le Contrat social by Jean Jacques Rousseau and the play Caius Gracchus by Marie Joseph Chénier. Massucco provided an excellent translation of Rousseau’s text and limited his intervention to a small note concerning the criticism of Rousseau towards the institution of the Catholic marriage. Instead of condemning Rousseau’s criticism of the Catholic Church, Massucco excused Rousseau’s posture as a result of his “Protestant faith”. Massucco’s translation of the Contrat social was not the only one in the Italian context: in 1797 Niccolò Rota translated Rousseau’s work in Venice. However, it was Massucco’s translation that circulated more widely as his reprinting during the Roman republic clearly testified.

Even more revelatory of Massucco’s support of radical republicanism is the translation of Caius Gracchus. Marie-Joseph Chénier’s play was published at the beginning of 1792 and it exalted the figure of the roman tribune Caius Gracchus who fought for a comprehensive agrarian law and more broadly epitomized the figure of the people’s lawyer. As a constant theme of the play there is the confrontation between the defence of universal rights, declared by Caius, and the scepticism towards universalism expressed in the words of the consul Opimus who fought to defend previous privileges of the aristocracy. Caius Gracchus is a veritable political play that put on the theatrical scene the clash between the moderate positions held by the Feuillants against the radical convictions of the Jacobins. In the Genoese context the play was particularly felt due to the social and political confrontations that tore up the young republic. On the one hand, the old aristocrat families, member of the ruling oligarchy, tried to limit the radicalism of the revolution; on the other hand, a large majority of workers and artisans wanted to achieve true republican equality.

The last translation of French texts with a relevance for the history of the Ligurian Republic is Giornale delle operazioni militari dell’assedio e del blocco di Genova scritto da un ufficiale generale (original text by Paul Thiébault, Journal des opérations militaires du siège et du blocus de Gênes). After 1800 Massucco devoted more attention to the translations of poetry by Roman authors. In 1814 he translated Chateaubriand’s De Buonaparte, des Bourbons, et de la necessité de se rallier a nos princes légitimes, pour le bonheur de la France et celui de l'Europe. This text was an open act of accusation against all revolutionary conquests as well as all mistakes committed by the Emperor. At the eve of the Restauration, Massucco’s translation appeared as an attempt to obliterate his past commitment to the revolutionary cause. Yet, his translations of Rousseau and Chénier attested his former commitment to the republican principles.


Ambrus, Gauthier, “Voix politiques dans les tragédies révolutionnaires de Marie‑Joseph Chénier”. Littératures, no 62 (2010): 141‑57.

Villa, Edoardo, Genova letterata e giacobina. (Genova, La Quercia Ed.), 1990, 31-51.