|Native name||Zef Skiroi|
|Born||August 10, 1865
Piana dei Greci, Italy
|Died||February 17, 1927 (aged 61)
|Occupation||Poet, linguist, publicist and folklorist|
Giuseppe Schirò (Arbërisht: Zef Skiroi; Piana degli Albanesi, August 10, 1865 – Naples, February 17, 1927) was an Arbëreshë neo-classical poet, linguist, publicist and folklorist from Sicily. His literary work marked the transition to modern Albanian literature in Italy.
He was born in the Arbëreshë-speaking town of Piana dei Greci, which was renamed "Piana degli Albanesi" in 1941 by the Fascist regime after Italy attacked Greece. While still young he was encouraged by his cousin Cristina Gentile Mandalà (1856-1919) to value his native Arbëreshë language and culture. She would assist him later in collecting local folktales and published a compilation of folktales herself. At the age of nine he wrote poem inspired by nationalism and dedicated to Albania's most important national hero Skanderbeg.
In 1890, he graduated with a law degree at the University of Palermo. However, his main passion remained classical and Italian folklore and literature, which he taught from 1888-1894 at the Garibaldi secondary school in Palermo. At the university he befriended Luigi Pirandello, who would become a world-famous novelist and playwright.
He wrote poems in both Italian and Albanian, and soon began to collaborate with literary and political writings in various periodicals. In 1887, he founded the magazine Arbri i rii (La giovine Albania/The young Albania), which was followed in 1890 with Archivio albanese (Albanian archive) and in 1904 with the short-lived La bandiera albanese (The Albanian flag).
His literary breakthrough was Rapsodie albanesi (Albanian Rhapsodies) in 1887, which made him known to Albanologists and Albanian patriots. In 1891, he published an imaginary love idyll Mili e Haidhia (Mili and Haidhia), which would eventually be published in three editions (1900 and 1907), including notes on traditions, legends, customs and traditions of Piana dei Greci. The work is considered to be a masterpiece of early 20th century Albanian verse and is probably his best work.
A collection of patriotic songs Kënkat e luftës (The songs of battle), dedicated to Albanian independence, came out in Palermo in 1897, followed by the historical idyll Te dheu i huaj (To the foreign land) in 1900 about the epic escape of Albanians in the 15th century from their homeland and their arrival in Sicily. He also published work on Arabëreshë folklore in Canti sacri delle colonie albanesi di Sicilia (Sacred Songs of the Albanian Colonies in Sicily) in 1907, and Canti tradizionali e altri saggi delle colonie albanesi di Sicilia (Traditional Songs and Other Essays of the Albanian colonies of Sicily) in 1923.
Academic career and politics
In 1901 he was appointed professor of Albanian language and literature at the Istituto Regio Orientale (Royal Oriental Institute) in Naples, where he would remain until the end of his life. From 1912-1914 Schirò worked in Albania as an inspector for Italian schools. Those were the years of the birth of an independent Albania, proclaimed in November 1912 after nearly 500 years of Ottoman rule.
Meanwhile he had laid the foundation of the Società nazionale albanese (Albanian National Society) to affect public opinion in favour for the independence of Albania, and for the same purpose composed a poem Fiamuri i Arbërit (The Albanian flag) and the book "The Albanians and the Balkan question", both in 1904. While devotedly Albanian, Schirò also admired Italy’s cultural potential. He often advocated Italy’s role, with its strong Arbëreshë minority, as a protector of the weak Albanian state against the hostile intentions of its Balkan neighbours.
In 1913, Schirò participated in the Albanian Congress of Trieste.
Schirò was fascinated with the early Fascist movement of Benito Mussolini. In Kënkat e litorit (The Songs of the Littoral), published in 1926, he glorified the rise of the movement. In local politics, he was an unyielding opponent of Nicola Barbato, the socialist leader of his hometown Piana dei Greci. He supported the local Mafia boss Francesco Cuccia for mayor in April 1922. Schirò publicly defended the Mafia administration of Cuccia several times, considering it "the most suitable for the peaceful development of the best qualities of its people," able to open "a new period in our history." In a speech from the balcony of City Hall, he praised Cuccia to have had the merit and the courage "to have done away with that red flag of socialism from our community."
Death and legacy
The death of his son Mino, murdered in a political intrigue in July 1920, shed a heavy shadow over his final years. He dedicated the poem Mino to his son’s tragic death. Schirò died on February 17, 1927, in Naples.
His absolute belief in Italy as a potential protector and custodian of the culture of Albania conflicted with the aspirations of Albanian nationalists, which advocated absolute independence, including from Italy. Despite his accomplishments, Schirò was less appreciated by literary historians in Communist Albania and political criteria interfered with objective literary criticism.
Schirò is considered to be one of the greatest figures of contemporary Sicilian Arabëresh literature. According to the scholar in Albanian literature and folklore, Robert Elsie, Schirò “first succeeded in blending the romantic elements of Arabëresh folk verse with the artistic precision of Italian classical and neo-classical poetry to form a harmonious and balanced poetic corpus. What Girolamo De Rada had done for Arabëresh literature in the 19th century, Giuseppe Schirò accomplished in the 20th.”
- Elsie, Robert (2005). Albanian Literature: A Short History, I. B. Tauris, ISBN 1-84511-031-5
- Di Marco P. & Musco A. (2005). Aspetti della cultura bizantina ed albanese in Sicilia, Officina di Studi Medievali