|Jeronim De Rada|
Born the son of a parish priest of Greek rite in Macchia Albanese (Alb. Maqi) in the mountains of Cosenza, De Rada attended the college of Saint Adrian in San Demetrio Corone. Already imbued with a passion for his Albanian lineage, he began collecting folklore material at an early age. In October of 1834, in accordance with his father’s wishes, he registered at the Faculty of Law of the University of Naples, but the main focus of his interests remained folklore and literature. It was in Naples in 1836 that De Rada published the first edition of his best known Albanian-language poem, the ‘Songs of Milosao,’ under the Italian title Poesie albanesi del secolo XV. Canti di Milosao, figlio del despota di Scutari (Albanian poetry from the 15th century. Songs of Milosao, son of the despot of Shkodra). He was soon forced to abandon his studies due to a cholera epidemic in Naples and returned home to Calabria. His second work, Canti storici albanesi di Serafina Thopia, moglie del principe Nicola Ducagino, Naples 1839 (Albanian historical songs of Serafina Thopia, wife of prince Nicholas Dukagjini), was seized by the Bourbon authorities because of De Rada’s alleged affiliation with conspiratorial groups during the Italian Risorgimento. The work was republished under the title Canti di Serafina Thopia, principessa di Zadrina nel secolo XV, Naples 1843 (Songs of Serafina Thopia, princess of Zadrina in the 15th century) and in later years in a third version as Specchio di umano transito, vita di Serafina Thopia, Principessa di Ducagino, Naples 1897 (Mirror of human transience, life of Serafina Thopia, princess of Dukagjin). His Italian-language historical tragedy I Numidi, Naples 1846 (The Numidians), elaborated half a century later as Sofonisba, dramma storico, Naples 1892 (Sofonisba, historical drama), enjoyed only modest public response. In the revolutionary year 1848, De Rada founded the newspaper L’Albanese d’Italia (The Albanian of Italy) which included articles in Albanian. This bilingual ‘political, moral and literary journal’ with a final circulation of 3,200 copies was the first Albanian-language periodical anywhere.
Before Albania had become a political entity, it was already a poetic reality in the works of Girolamo De Rada. His vision of an independent Albania grew in the second half of the nineteenth century from a simple desire to a realistic political objective to which he was passionately committed.
De Rada was the harbinger and first audible voice of the Romantic movement in Albanian literature, a movement which, inspired by his unfailing energy on behalf of national awakening among Albanians in Italy and in the Balkans, was to evolve into the romantic nationalism characteristic of the Rilindja period in Albania. His journalistic, literary and political activities were instrumental not only in fostering an awareness for the Arbëresh minority in Italy but also in laying the foundations for an Albanian national literature.
The most popular of his literary works is the above-mentioned Canti di Milosao (Songs of Milosao), known in Albanian as Këngët e Milosaos, a long romantic ballad portraying the love of Milosao, a fictitious young nobleman in fifteenth-century Shkodra (Scutari), who has returned home from Thessalonica. Here, at the village fountain, he encounters and falls in love with Rina, the daughter of the shepherd Kollogre. The difference in social standing between the lovers long impedes their union until an earthquake destroys both the city and all semblance of class distinction. After their marriage abroad, a child is born. But the period of marital bliss does not last long. Milosao’s son and wife soon die, and he himself, wounded in battle, perishes on a riverbank within sight of Shkodra.
The earth had transformed the oaks
The earth had transformed the oaks,
Fresh sea water sparkled
Blue at the new day rising;
But the dove of Anacreon
Lived on in ancient Tempe.
One day it departed for the mountains for water
And did not return as was its habit.
It did not freeze in the snow
Nor was it wounded by an arrow,
But flew onward until it landed
At my happy home.
When the house and land
Reappeared beside the sea at dawn,
What joy welled in my eyes.
It awoke me, brushing
Against the window panes.
I arose and looked outside:
The grapes in the ripening vineyards
Covered our fields,
The blossoming flax
Swayed in the wind,
Gently smiling, and like its blossoms
Was the colour of the sky.
You could look out and forget
The cares of this world.
The gleaners were singing
Amidst the sheaves. I had just
Returned from abroad, to be reunited
With my sisters. My name was
Constantly on my mother's lips.
A joy filled my body
Like that of a fair maiden
Who, in the warmth of her bed at night,
Senses her breasts
Beginning to swell.
[Canti di Milosao, excerpt from canto 1, Naples 1836, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie, and first published in English in History of Albanian literature, New York 1995, vol. 1, p. 163-164]
Like two radiant lips
The vineyards were golden,
Foxes with their exhausted young
Were descending from the mountains
At the end of the harvest,
At the time of year when the sun
Retreats from such places (as mothers
Who have sung and danced retreat from earth),
At the time I left for Fjokat.
Tall and with embroidered cuffs
And braided hair
Bound in a white ribbon,
There was a maiden at the fountain,
Pensive her brow,
Her scarf tied to a blue sash
Extending to the ground.
The moment she sensed my presence
She turned towards me,
Elegant and graceful,
Trembling with joy.
The lad: "Will you give me a drop of your water, maiden?"
The maid: "As much as you wish, sir."
"Whose daughter are you, maiden?"
"Are you not from here?"
When as a lad I left home
For Salonika, there were no maidens
In the village with such charm."
Lifting her jug
She said blushingly:
"I am the daughter of Kollogre"
And departed, her head uncovered.
Though she took that path,
The thorns that covered it
Did not scratch her,
For I held them back
With my bleeding arms.
We seemed on that evening
Like two radiant lips
In a moment of ecstasy.
[Canti di Milosao, excerpt from canto 2, Naples 1836, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie, and first published in English in History of Albanian literature, New York 1995, vol. 1, p. 165-166]
Can a kiss be sweeter?
It was Sunday morning
And the son of the noble matron
Went to visit the fair maid
To ask for a drop of water,
For he was dying of thirst.
He found her alone by the hearth
Braiding her hair.
They loved one another, but spoke not of their love,
The maiden with a smile on her lips:
'Why must you fly off like the wind?'
'They're awaiting me for discus throwing.'
'Wait a moment, I've kept
Two ripe apples for you.'
Holding her combed hair
With one raised hand
Over her pale ears,
She plunged the other into her bodice
And pulled out the apples,
Placing them in his hands,
Blushing with embarrassment.
Tell me, oh lovers,
Can a kiss be sweeter?
[Canti di Milosao, excerpt from canto 4, Naples 1836, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie, and first published in English in History of Albanian literature, New York 1995, vol. 1, p. 167-168]