The ‘Demetrius Legend’ in Italy During the 17th Century

Jacopo Doti


This article aims at giving an account of the reception, diffusion and literary elaboration of the ‘Demetrius legend’ in Italy during the seventeenth century. Its main focus is on the political and ideological background as well as the genre conventions which played a role in shaping the mythos of the Russian pretender. After considering the peculiarities of Maiolino Bisaccioni’s historical novel, the article focuses on two tragedies by two minor Italian playwrights, Bianco Bianchi and Giuseppe Teodoli. Notwithstanding their different treatments of the subject, both authors were confronted with a difficult task: how to justify the fall of their hero (the legitimate heir to the Muscovite throne). They opted for a similar dramatic device: at the turning point of the tragedy Demetrius is erroneously considered an impostor, then dethroned and put to death as a tyrant. Finally, his legitimacy is reasserted and he is celebrated as a martyr of the faith or pitied for his unfortunate destiny. Both tragedies were drawn from the Jesuit account of the myth, spread from Poland, and are modeled on the rules of classical tragedy.


Demetrius legend; Bisaccioni; Bianchi; Teodoli; Italian Baroque tragedy

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