The Parva Domus of Ludovico Ariosto

Written by  Luciano Chiappini
Some hypotheses regarding the inscription on the façade of the house in via Mirasole.
Ariosto was forever in search of peace. This sublime poet of the imagination was obliged by life to deal with irritating realities: trials, pettifogging lawyers, the division of property among family members, relations with the court. All things he was forced to do in order to make ends meet.

Ariosto was put through the mill during his time at the service of the Este family, not the least of his troubles being the three years spent as governor of Garfagnana, where bandits and disobedient subjects sorely tried his patience. On his return to Ferrara, he wished to fulfil his dream of living in a modest house, but one that was quiet and all his.

So, in 1529, he left the district of Santa Maria di Bocche where he had been living and moved with his son Virginio to the Mirasole district, where he had acquired a small building.

The little house had belonged to Bartolomeo Cavalieri, a courtier of Ercole I's day, and a man with literary interests. Upon his death the family sold the house to Ariosto, who went to live there as soon as restoration work was completed. The back of the building was brightened up by a green lawn because Ariosto had bought a garden in a bid to guarantee his privacy.
The façade of the house is an evocative blend of harmony, simplicity, and serenity. There are two inscriptions to be seen. The first says: Sic domus haec Areosta propitios deos habeat olim ut Pindarica ("Thus, may the gods smile ON the house OF the Ariosto family AS once they did ON that OF Pindar") and requires little comment, reflecting as it does the humanistic atmosphere of the Renaissance. The second contains the famous couplet found in all the anthologies: Parva sed apta mihi, sed nulli obnoxia, sed non sordida; parta meo sed tamen aere domus ("Small, but RIGHT FOR me, clean AND unpleasing TO NO one; brought TO completion WITH my money").

It is said that this inscription was placed here by Ariosto himself. But in all probability the inscription was already on the façade in Cavalieri's time, who had perhaps received the text from some literary friend.

Some, in supporting the thesis of Ariosto's authorship, have interpreted it as an intention to reprove the Estes for having failed to reward the poet sufficiently for his merits or even for having done him an injustice in a dispute over the possession of some farms. But this is not likely, when one thinks of the ties of service that still bound the poet to the ruling family of Ferrara; bonds that, while they did not prevent him from having the odd upsurge of pride and independence in defence of his own personal dignity, would never have permitted such an assertive stance and one, moreover, that was expressed overtly in a wall inscription.