TEOFILO FOLENGO (1491-1544), otherwise known as Merlino Coccajo or Cocajo, one of the principal Italian macaronic poets, was born of noble parentage at Cipada near Mantua on the 8th of November 1491. From his infancy he showed great vivacity of mind, and a remarkable cleverness in making verses. At the age of sixteen he entered the monastery of Monte Casino near Brescia, and eighteen months afterwards he became a professed member of the Benedictine order. For a few years his life as a monk seems to have been tolerably regular, and he is said to have produced a considerable quantity of Latin verse, written, not unsuccessfully, in the Virgilian style. About the year 1516 he forsook the monastic life for the society of a well-born young woman named Girolama Dieda, with whom he wandered about the country for several years, often suffering great poverty, having no other means of support than his talent for versification. His first publication was the Merlini Cocaii macaronicon, which relates the adventures of a fictitious hero named Baldus. The coarse buffoonery of this work is often relieved by touches of genuine poetry, as well as by graphic descriptions and acute criticisms of men and manners. Its macaronic style is rendered peculiarly perplexing to the foreigner by the frequent introduction of words and phrases from the Mantuan patois. Though frequently censured for its occasional grossness of idea and expression, it soon attained a wide popularity, and within a very few years passed through several editions. Folengo's next production was the Orlandino, an Italian poem of eight cantos, written in rhymed octaves. It appeared in 1526, and bore on the title-page the new pseudonym of Limerno Pitocco (Merlin the Beggar) da Mantova. In the same year, wearied with a life of dissipation, Folengo returned to his ecclesiastical obedience; and shortly afterwards wrote his Chaos del tri per uno, in which, partly in prose, partly in verse, sometimes in Latin, sometimes in Italian, and sometimes in macaronic, he gives a veiled account of the vicissitudes of the life he had lived under his various names.
We next find him about the year 1533 writing in rhymed octaves a life of Christ entitled L' Umanitd del Figliuolo di Dio; and he is known to have composed, still later, another religious poem upon the creation, fall and restoration of man, besides a few tragedies. These, however, have never been published. Some of his later years were spent in Sicily under the patronage of Don Fernando de Gonzaga, the viceroy; he even appears for a short time to have had charge of a monastery there. In 1543 he retired to Santa Croce de Campesio, near Bassano; and there he died on the 9th of December 1544.
Folengo is frequently quoted and still more frequently copied by Rabelais. The earlier editions of his Opus macaronicum are now extremely rare. The often reprinted edition of 1530 exhibits the text as revised by the author after he had begun to amend his life.
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