Rebellion is as old as humankind. From Lucifer to Prometheus, from Ulysses to Jesus Christ, the archetype is repeated over and over again as one among many essential human traits. The manifestation of rebellion will vary from rebel to rebel, but what happens when a decisive (deeply poetic) act of insurrection implies simply climbing trees so as to never again touch the earth? Italo Calvino —whose own rebellion once enunciated the very values essential to our present day— once told this very story.

In a radical act, Cosimo, a noble of some 12 years of age, decided to climb into the trees and never come down. The act resulted from an argument with his father, the honorable Baron Arminio, during the main course of that night’s dinner. Always of an existentialist inclination, Calvino dedicated his work to this unusual rebel in The Baron in the Trees (1957), the second novel of his Our Ancestors trilogy.

Baggio, Cosimo’s brother and the narrator of the novel, recounts his brother’s life on high. It begins on the afternoon Cosimo climbs into the oak in the garden where he stays until his death. The character, in his own rampant way (the word means both to climb, but can also refer to the ascendant) chooses radical rebellion and freedom and this leads him to fall in love, to participate in the French Revolution, and to intervene during the Napoleonic conquests, all in addition to his normal daily activities. He does all of this without setting foot on the ground.

To fully understand Calvino’s work, one must understand its context, one of confrontation between an established system and a newer ideology, one whose reformist inclinations stand against feudalism and its inheritances which, since the first decades of the 18th century had been questioned by great minds of the time. It had eventually triggered the French Revolution, among the first major crises to face the Ancien Régime on the European continent. This entire panorama also includes a dialogue with the moment at which Calvino wrote the novel, the dawn of the 1960s, which is still recalled for its spirit of uprising.

One of the Baron of the Trees’ most striking attributes is the way Cosimo lives aspects of his life in the trees. This includes, of course, love. Viola sits on a swing tied to the tree branch where Cosimo spends his first day in rebellion. She’ll be the love of his life and his loyalty to his ideals is only comparable with that which he feels for her. It is she, coincidentally, who becomes his link with the ground, and the world he’s given up.

The resistance, the authenticity, the celebration of the eccentric, and above all, the strength of his ideals, are the central themes Cosimo embodies: go up and never come down, go up to find yourself, go up to see the world from the heights and to participate in it, and never come down, with an iron loyalty to your own decision. Calvino’s novel is a song of rebellion and truth, and a dream of true freedom.

Never coming down from the trees can only be done with the deepest authenticity, but Calvino’s novel also speaks of the disobedience that is born from individuality, and of the always urgent importance of questioning even the smallest details of daily life. It’s there where we’ll find the most profound act of rebellion.

Image: Public domain

Rebellion is as old as humankind. From Lucifer to Prometheus, from Ulysses to Jesus Christ, the archetype is repeated over and over again as one among many essential human traits. The manifestation of rebellion will vary from rebel to rebel, but what happens when a decisive (deeply poetic) act of insurrection implies simply climbing trees so as to never again touch the earth? Italo Calvino —whose own rebellion once enunciated the very values essential to our present day— once told this very story.

In a radical act, Cosimo, a noble of some 12 years of age, decided to climb into the trees and never come down. The act resulted from an argument with his father, the honorable Baron Arminio, during the main course of that night’s dinner. Always of an existentialist inclination, Calvino dedicated his work to this unusual rebel in The Baron in the Trees (1957), the second novel of his Our Ancestors trilogy.

Baggio, Cosimo’s brother and the narrator of the novel, recounts his brother’s life on high. It begins on the afternoon Cosimo climbs into the oak in the garden where he stays until his death. The character, in his own rampant way (the word means both to climb, but can also refer to the ascendant) chooses radical rebellion and freedom and this leads him to fall in love, to participate in the French Revolution, and to intervene during the Napoleonic conquests, all in addition to his normal daily activities. He does all of this without setting foot on the ground.

To fully understand Calvino’s work, one must understand its context, one of confrontation between an established system and a newer ideology, one whose reformist inclinations stand against feudalism and its inheritances which, since the first decades of the 18th century had been questioned by great minds of the time. It had eventually triggered the French Revolution, among the first major crises to face the Ancien Régime on the European continent. This entire panorama also includes a dialogue with the moment at which Calvino wrote the novel, the dawn of the 1960s, which is still recalled for its spirit of uprising.

One of the Baron of the Trees’ most striking attributes is the way Cosimo lives aspects of his life in the trees. This includes, of course, love. Viola sits on a swing tied to the tree branch where Cosimo spends his first day in rebellion. She’ll be the love of his life and his loyalty to his ideals is only comparable with that which he feels for her. It is she, coincidentally, who becomes his link with the ground, and the world he’s given up.

The resistance, the authenticity, the celebration of the eccentric, and above all, the strength of his ideals, are the central themes Cosimo embodies: go up and never come down, go up to find yourself, go up to see the world from the heights and to participate in it, and never come down, with an iron loyalty to your own decision. Calvino’s novel is a song of rebellion and truth, and a dream of true freedom.

Never coming down from the trees can only be done with the deepest authenticity, but Calvino’s novel also speaks of the disobedience that is born from individuality, and of the always urgent importance of questioning even the smallest details of daily life. It’s there where we’ll find the most profound act of rebellion.

Image: Public domain