Aganoor Pompilj, Vittoria (1855-1910)

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Vittoria Aganoor was born in Padua on May 24, 1855, to parents Edoardo Aganoor and Giuseppina Pacini. Edoardo (1822-1891) came from a very wealthy, noble family of Armenian origin that moved to Persia in the eleventh century and settled in the ancient city of Julfa (or 'Guilfa,' as Vittoria called it when describing the origins of her family to Guido Pompilj). Subsequently, the family migrated to France under the advice of the Mechitarist fathers, taking up residence in Paris. They contributed to the founding of schools for noble Armenians: the Collège Raphaël in Paris and, later, the Collegio Moorat in Venice. In 1847, Edoardo married the Milanese noblewoman Giuseppina Pacini and the couple went to live in Padua in the "Casa degli Armeni" ("House of the Armenians") in Prato della Valle. Vittoria spent her childhood and adolescence in that house along with her four sisters--Angelica, Virginia, Mary and Elena.

From the time she was a young girl, Vittoria received an excellent literary education from illustrious tutors such as Andrea Maffei, a noted poet and translator, and the abbot Giacomo Zanella, who was a poet as well as a professor at the University of Padova. The letters Vittoria sent to the abbot are a testament to her scholarly training, since in them she enthusiastically detailed her readings of Italian classics such as Petrarch's Canzoniere and Trionfi and Dante's Commedia, as well as of contemporary novelists and poets like Fucini, Fogazzaro, Prati and D'Annunzio. She was also attracted to other European literatures, inspired by the works of Baudelaire and Heine, Scott and Lessing, Runeberg and Byron. With great attentiveness, she followed the literary sections of periodicals, most notably the Fanfulla della Domenica, the Illustrazione Italiana, and the Rivista Nuova di Napoli. In the midst of her readings, Vittoria wrote her first poetic compositions, which were personal writing exercises she undertook with the aim of refining her expressive powers and achieving the harmonious sonority of poetic language. Thanks to their connection with the abbot Zanella, Vittoria and her sister Elena had two of their poems published in the Nuova Antologia when they were little more than twenty years old. [1] Over time the abbot became more than a mere mentor to the five Aganoor sisters; indeed, a deep and intimate friendship bound him to them. One can imagine the benevolent smile of the elderly professor in reading Vittoria's letters, which were often bold and playful in tone and decorated with comic drawings or with her initials variously inscribed on the paper.

The family moved from Padua to Naples in 1876 in order to improve the possibilities of curing Mary's newly arisen nervous malady, and this relocation coincided with Vittoira's first amorous disappointment. She had become charmed by and briefly engaged to Pasquale Grimani, a Venetian who was a descendent of doges but had no magisterial power or economic resources. Encouraged by friends and relatives, she definitively broke off the engagement in the autumn of 1877. A few years later Vittoria's apparent intellectual affinity with Domenico Ciampoli, novelist and short-story writer who came from Abruzzo to Naples, developed into a serious romantic attraction. Ciampoli was a frequent visitor at the Aganoor residence and ostensibly translated one of Vittoria's compositions ("Nonè amor") into Greek, only to have it discovered that the translation was not his but was instead done by an obliging friend. Upon seeing himself shunned by the family, Ciampoli orchestrated his revenge by threatening to publish one of Vittoria's poems written in Martellian verses, which he had appropriated from her through trickery. The conflict was eventually resolved without public scandal, but it had been a blow to Vittoria's pride and left her somewhat jaded, leading her to the bitter discovery that "the human mind has traitorous tendencies and becomes a treacherous weapon in the hands of the wicked." [2]

Heartened by the abbot Zanella and by Maffei, Vittoria delved ever more deeply into her studies and her poetic exercises, which were yielding quite polished results by this time. She was courted for her exotic beauty, vivacious character, and reputation as a refined and erudite young woman; yet she retreated from any involvements that seemed too committal and cultivated her own private dream of love. She maintained an intellectually active rhythm in her life, enthusiastically involving herself in the reading of books and newspapers, sophisticated and carefully selected social engagements, art exhibits, lectures, and intense epistolary correspondences with letterati, artists, professors and poets (including Ciampoli, Nencioni, De Gubernatis, Checchi, Cimmino, Gnoli, Chiggiato, and Orvieto). Although she longed for deep, enduring friendships and the company of a kindred soul, Vittoria persevered in her ideal of artistic perfection, seeking to immerse herself in the beauty of art and literature with the freedom that, under the vigilant eye of her mother Giuseppina, she had always enjoyed in her parents' house.

When the family returned to Venice in the late 1880's and definitively settled there, residing near the Ponte dei Greci, Vittoria started a small aristocratic salon in their house. In attendance were young poets, journalists, and other writers seeking social visibility and, in some cases, hoping to make an influential connection. They showed up at the Ponte dei Greci with their manuscripts in hand, attracted by the fame and brilliance of the aristocratic Armenian poet. Athough they were often mired in unreachable ideals and echoes of famous authors, they wished to test the waters and try out their talents in an illustrious literary workshop. In any case, some as-yet-unpublished letters between Vittoria and Fogazzaro reveal the names of promising young writers that Vittoria took under her wing. In May of 1897 she introduced the poet Angiolo Orvieto to Fogazzaro and shortly after, she defended Giovanni Chiggiato upon the publication of his first volume of poetry.

Retreating a bit from Venetian high society, the Aganoor salon began to aim for greater moderation in its activities, enacting a sort of aristocratic reserve that was reinforced by the invisible shield of social appropriateness. The family determined that the salon would be a place where poetry was produced, music was cultivated, and the figurative arts were appreciated.

After the death of her father in 1891, her close friend Nencioni in 1896, and her mother in March of 1899, Vittoria was overcome by grief and a sense of loss. Nevertheless, after many refusals, she finally accepted the offer of the Treves press in Milan to publish her poems, which by this time constituted a considerable corpus she had worked on and continually refined for about fifteen years. The volume, entitled Leggenda eterna, was published at the beginning of May, 1900. Upon the book's release, Vittoria Aganoor's name appeared in literary magazines and the appraisals of her work were all favorable and encouraging. In June she was welcomed as a "queen" in aristocratic Neapolitan salons. Journalist Salvatore Di Giacomo provided an excellent chronicle of her dazzling presence in Naples, writing a story in the Illustrazione Italiana about the reception given in honor of the poet by the princess Antonia of Tricase.

In the summer of 1900, Vittoria had an intense epistolary exchange with Francesco Cimmino, who loved her ardently; however, toward the end of the year and probably in Venice, she met the politician Guido Pompilj, who became her husband on November 28, 1901. After the marriage she continued her intellectual and poetic activity: in 1903 a new edition of Leggende eterne came out, and in 1908 she published a collection entitled Nuove liriche.

At last, Vittoria had a taste of that sweet life for which she had searched in vain for so long. In her final years she divided her time between two residences--a house in Perugia facing Piazza Maggiore and across from the Palazzo dei Priori, and a villa in Monte del Lago from the terrace of which she could admire the rolling hills of the Umbrian countryside surrounding Lake Trasimeno. In the spring of 1907, she and her husband went with the royalist group Reali d'Italia on an ambassadorial visit to Greece.

Vittoria died on the night between May 7 and 8, 1910, from complications following an operation she underwent at a clinic in Rome. Her husband could not bear the idea of living without her and ended his life with a pistol shot. This double death elicited both shock and sympathy in Italian literary and political circles, the tragic event occupying front-page headlines for many days.


1. In Nuova Antologia XI, sec. II, fasc. 8 (1876): 850-51. The two poems, entitled "A una bolla di sapone" and "Melanconia," are preceded by a poetic epistle written by Zanella, entitled "Ad Elena e Vittoria Aganoor."

2. Written in a letter from Aganoor to Zanella, dated Aug. 2, 1883 from Naples. In Vittoria Aganoor, Lettere a Giacomo Zanella (1876-1888), ed. Adriana Chemello (Venezia-Mirano: Eidos, 1996), 123.

Submitted by Adriana Chemello, Università degli Studi di Padova, 2004.
Translated by Lisa A. Barca.

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