Famous Italians

Religious devotion is one of the main Italian national traits, even in today’s secular world. Although many Italians have a deep understanding of the Catholic faith, one particular aspect of this religion remains most prevalent: veneration of the saints. This aspect holds a special significance in Italy because it is linked with a sense of national pride. It so happens that Italy was home to some most illustrious saints. During the early centuries of Christianity, the Italian peninsula was the center of a great empire. This pagan state persecuted the new monotheistic religion, which resulted in many believers’ martyrdom. When the bishops of Rome established themselves as uncontested leaders of Western Christianity, Italy strengthened its position as a place of pilgrimage and monastic life. Relics of some saints have been transferred here for reasons of safety.

As it is often the case in Italy, regional sympathies can mean more than nationwide attitudes. Many cities and provinces have their own favorite saints. For instance, St. Nicholas of Myra is highly esteemed in Bari where his relics have remained since the 11th century (in that sense, St. Nicholas can be considered an Italian saint, despite the fact that he was born and lived all his life in Asia Minor). However, the renown of many Italian saints is truly universal.


Have you ever heard the song Santa Lucia? This Neopolitan classic was born in the neighborhood where the church of St. Lucy is located. This woman of noble birth was martyred in the early 4th century. She resisted the advances of a Roman official, was tortured and executed. St. Lucy is a patron of writers and people suffering from diseases of the eyes. Her feast day is on December 13.


This patron saint of Naples was martyred at Pozzuoli around 305. He was first thrown into the pit with wild animals, but they did not hurt him. Januarius was then taken to the crater of an ancient volcano and beheaded. Three times a year, St. Januarius coagulated blood kept in a vial liquefies. Prayers to this saint supposedly are able to stop eruptions of Mt. Vesuvius.


There are two St. Valentines known to the Catholic church. It is possible that both martyrs are actually one and the same person. The identification of St. Valentine as a patron saint of lovers can be traced back to the late 5th century.


This Franciscan friar was known in his lifetime for the ability to levitate. These flights were observed by many reliable witnesses, but some attributed St. Josephs miracles to witchcraft. As a result, he was placed under constant supervision and lived the life of extreme asceticism.


This bishop of Myra, in southwestern Turkey, who lived in the early 4th century is the inspiration for the ever popular Santa Claus. The original St. Nicholas was known for his holy life and charitable deeds.

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Carlo Goldoni (1707 – 1793), an Italian playwright and citizen of Venice is one of the most cherished authors in his home country. Many of his plays are also well known across the world and are often produced in modern theaters. They are known for their lively wit and comedic twists. Several of Goldoni’s quotations are easily recognizable by native Italian speakers.

Non mancano pretesti quando si vuole.
Pretexts are not wanting when one wishes to use them.
La Villeggiatura

Chi ben commincia è alia meta dell’ opra.
Who well begins, is half way through his task.
Il filosofo di campagna

Bello è il rossore, ma è incommodo qualche volta.
The blush is beautiful, but it is sometimes inconvenient.

Chi parla troppo non può parlar sempre bene.
He who talks much cannot always talk well.

Chi non esce dal suo paese, vive pieno di pregiudizi.
He who never leaves his country is full of prejudices.

Il mondo è un bel libro, ma poco serve a chi non lo sa leggere.
The world is a beautiful book, but of little use to him who cannot read it.

Un viaggiatore prudente non disprezza mai il suo paese.
A wise traveler never despises his own country.

Muore per metà chi lascia un’ immagine di se stesso nei figli.
He only half dies who leaves an image of himself in his sons.

La gola è un vizio che non finisce mai, ed è quel vizio che cresce sempre quanto più l’uomo invecchia.
Gluttony is a vice that never ceases, and that vice grows more and more as the man ages.
La bottega del caffè

Tutti cercan di fare quello che fanno gli altri. Una volta correva l’acquavite, adesso è in voga il caffè.
Everybody wants to do what everybody else is doing. Brandy used to be in, and now coffee is in vogue coffee.
La bottega del caffè

Le bugìe sono per natura così feconde, che una ne suole partorir cento.
Lies are by nature so prolific, that one gives birth to a hundred
Il bugiardo

Oh bella! Ghe n’è tanti che cerca un padron, e mi ghe n’ho trovà do. Come diavol oia da far? Tutti do no li posso servir. No? E perché no?
There’s luck! There are many that look in vain for a master, and I have found two. What the devil am I to do? I cannot wait upon them both. No? Why not?
Il servitore di due Padroni

I regali non fanno male allo stomaco.
Presents do not hurt one’s stomach
La locandiera

Attributed to Goldni:

Come l’appetito rende saporite le vivande!
How an appetite improves the taste of food!

See also:

Best quotes from Dante
Da Vinci quotes in Italian with English translations

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Caterina Sforza’s book of secrets

March 13, 2015

Caterina Sforza (1463 – 1509) was a fine example of a medieval noblewoman who was never at a loss when it came to safeguarding her possessions and the good of the family. She was even accused of trying to poison  Pope Alexander VI (Rodrigo Borgia). A very curious book exists which has been copied in […]

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Dorothy’s Ferragamo pumps

May 2, 2012

Curiously enogh, Dorothy’s iconic red slippers actually are nothing but a pair of Ferragamo pumps. Salvatore Ferragamo, born in 1899, was a great Italian shoe designer. He actually spent some time in the United States and later returned to Italy. His business was not entirely successful for a while, but by the 1950s the company […]

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“Galilean” inscriptions

October 12, 2011

“Palazzo Viviani”, later renamed “Palazzo dei Cartelloni,” features enormous  plaques and a bust dedicated by Vincenzio Viviani to Galileo Galilei. The text on the plaques is quite copious, it lists Galileo’s scientific achievements in considerable detail. I have no desire to reproduce this text (which I have) in its entirety, but one particular line on […]

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Cesare Borgia and his motto

September 4, 2011

Cesare Borgia (1475? – 1507), son of Pope Alexander VI, was one of the most prominent members of the Borgia clan.  His ambitions are clearly seen in the motto which he chose for himself and which, according to some sources, could be found on his ring and his sword: Aut Caesar, aut nihil, “Caesar or […]

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Glow-in-the-dark: Alchemy at your service

August 2, 2011

Vincenzio Cascariolo, an Italian shoemaker from Bologna, like so many people of his time, dabbled in alchemy. Unfortunately for him, he was never able to figure out how to achieve the process of transmutation of lead into gold, or anything else of substantial value, for that matter. However,  in 1603 Cascariolo accidentally discovered a way […]

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Da Vinci quotes in Italian with English translations

July 18, 2011

Leonardo Da Vinci, the original “Renaissance man”, most famous for his artistic exploits,  left a plethora of quotes that pertain to all areas of knowledge. There are many sources where you can find them in English, but here I have a very small selection of these brilliant quotations in Italian with English translations. Great for […]

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History of pizza – an important primary source

May 31, 2011

Are you sitting there, wondering where pizza came from? Most culinary books and popular introductions to Italian culture name one Raffaele Esposito as the creator of modern pizza. At the very least, this citizen of Naples supposedly came up with a combination of mozzarella, basil and tomatoes, thus matching the three colors of the Italian […]

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Rome – poem by Giosuè Carducci

May 14, 2011

Giosuè Carducci (1835 – 1907), the main figure of the Italian Neo-Classical movement, remains arguably  the most recognized modern poet in Italy. In 1906 he became the first Italian author to receive the Nobel Prize in literature. Carducci’s poem “Rome,” part of  his Levia Gravia cycle,  is given here in Italian followed by G. A. […]

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