Giovanni Meli, "The Poet of Sicily," was born in Palermo on March 3, 1740, from a poor family, but he was able to complete his studies as a doctor, thanks to the help of some protectors, the Jesuit Fathers and the Prince of Campofranco, who were delighted with the composition of the young poet. At the age of 18, he wrote the first poem in Sicilian dialect, the "Fata Galante." Afterwards, in order to help his family and to live himself, he took the profession of a doctor, which he never abandoned. He was happy to bring help and to introduce new curative methods among the people of Sicily, regardless of their social position and financial means.
His compositions "The Quattro Stagioni," the "Pescatori" and the "Polemunii" gave fame to this simple, realistic, sensible poet, so that he had to return to the Capital, Palermo, where his gentile manners and rhymes conquored the favor of all the ladies of that society. In the meantime, he wrote some scientific compositions, praised by the Archbishop of Palermo, and expressed his wish for the country life, a little house of his own, in the "Favorita."
His fame was spreading beyond the island, and all over the rest of Italy and in France. The great poet Alfieri had high words for his talent, stating he was doing better writing in a dialect that he could feel closer to his spirit than in Italian.
Life, however, was not sweet for Meli. Misfortunes, familiar troubles and diseases had kept him far from that quiet place he was longing for. However, he was lucky enough to see how appreciated his poems were, that it got him the important office as Professor of Chemistry and Pharmacy in the famous Palermo University in 1787.
At that time, high personalities started to visit the poet in his small, humble house. King Ferdinando III, Admiral Nelson, the Princess Maria Cristina and Princess Maria Amalia (later Queen of France) also wanted to meet Meli. The great poet Ugo Foscolo translated his poem "Don Chisciotte" into Italian. The Prince de Tranoa, the last of his protectors, took care of a complete edition of his works of poetry, while the poet, growing old, was dedicating himself to another kind of literature. It was the educative, humouristic tales, writing about 85 "apologhi." At the beginning of 1814, he was near to obtain the highest reward to his fatigues, becoming the "Abata" of the rich Abbey of Saint Pancrace, when his strong health began to fail, and on December 20, 1814, the poet died with serenity and peaceful thoughts.
His grave was kept hidden by the Dominican friars for a long time, because too many people claimed the honor to provide his burial. Finally his body rested in peace in S. Domenico. His fame, still alive and dear to the heart of each Sicilian, tells about the delicate, sincere, simple and sensible poet, who expressed in his rhymes a deep love for his land and for his people.