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This short chapter draws together the surviving evidence of the earliest practitioners of oral poetry in Italy, and lays the foundation for a number of themes that recur in later chapters: the rapidly shifting status of vernacular language, and the attendant shifts in the status and venues of those who, like these oral poets, made a living from it. Among the varied cast of characters that included poets of all ranks, were the prototypes of the professional canterini who mesmerized audiences in piazzas with dramatic renderings of narrative cantari, served the dynastic ambitions of the courts, and articulated the civic values of communal priors and captains. Depending on whether the historical witnesses were ecclesiastical (Salimbene de Adam, Thomas Aquinas) or secular (Giovanni da Viterbo, Lovato de’ Lovati), these early civic performers were regarded with varying degrees of suspicion, condescension, fascination, and admiration.
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