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Sunday, September 16, 2018

The Gallery: Actaeon

by Selkis

The myth of Actaeon proved unexpectedly successful during the post-classical, i.e. Christian era, too. He was reinterpreted as a symbol of Christ -- as all sorts of characters were, indeed, Hercules and Adonis included. Giordano Bruno worked out a very personal, fascinating philosophy about Actaeon's meaning in his book De gli eroici furori ("The Heroic Frenzies"). Here below is G. B. Marino's interpretation, who comments on a painting by Bartolomeo Schedoni (but Marino spelled his name Bartholomeo Schidoni). The dogs as a symbol of devouring sins will also appear in John Milton's Paradise Lost.

How many, oh how many Actaeons
more miserable than the one
expressed by your brush
can be discovered, Schidoni?
The hungry passions,
the biting instincts
of our human senses, what
else are they, than dogs
we ourselves feed, to
be then wounded by them?

Thursday, September 13, 2018

The evolution toward evolutionism

But, I cannot see for sure if there is any sense whose functioning Nature has provided with more 'machines' and more wonderful tools than the mouth . . .  Not to speak of the brain, from which many nerves originate in order to move, and turn, and rotate the tongue nimbly in every direction . . .
It is a passage from Giambattista Marino's Dicerie sacre (1614), oration 2, part 2. Even if he himself mentions Galen (first/second century AD) as his source in the footnotes, as a matter of fact it was simply usual in the Renaissance that they resorted to ancient books to justify their own worldview. A Medieval scholar might read Galen too, but would not have drawn the same consequences. In the 16th and 17th centuries the concept of Nature -- i.e. Nature itself, in a way -- was starting to change, to the extent that the first signs of evolutionism appeared. Here Marino highlights the tongue's role because he is dealing with music, but other authors, such as Giordano Bruno and Tommaso Campanella, indicate the hand/intelligence combination as the reason of man's dominant position on Earth. Marino and many of his contemporaries were fascinated by the "intermediate" forms of life, e.g. those existing on the sea shores, as well as genetic malformations. The study of actual wildlife behavior started to replace the allegories of Medieval Bestiaries. Bruno's doctrines of metempsychosis and the cosmic cycles, albeit of Neoplatonic origin, already suggested a process of animal and environmental evolution.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Clash of Heretics: Marino replies to Bruno

There are passages in Giambattista Marino's works that, more or less clearly, react to Giordano Bruno's ideas. The philosopher was burned at the stake in Rome in the year 1600; the poet's texts date back to his stay in Turin, 1608-14. In 1623, Marino too would be condemned by the Inquisition, though in a much milder way than Bruno.

For a starter, in the Dicerie sacre ("Sacred Orations," more precisely in oration 1, part 1) Marino has God himself say, to glorify his begotten Word as superior to the whole creation, repudiating Genesis 1.31 by doing so: "In all other [pictures of Myself] I was not well pleased, since indeed my infinite power could have created infinite worlds . . ."  Could, and did not; but could, and possibly would like to. There emerges the Renaissance and Baroque approach versus the classical authors and the Middle Ages, when perfection meant delimitation.

Above in the same text, he had faced up to Pythagoras' doctrine of metempsychosis/reincarnation, that was one of the pillars of Bruno's worldview. Marino does not attack this doctrine as such, just suggests a more 'acceptable' way to refer to it: "I am not speaking of the external [metempsychosis], that, as is well known, is false, legendary, and impossible . . .  but of the inner one. That occurs each time our soul, overpowered by vices, loses the use of the intellect; and made a slave of irrational drives, in a sense, it de-humanizes itself, and takes on an animal quality according to its different evil inclinations . . ."  Marino meanwhile planned to write a remake of Ovid's Metamorphoses, of which many episodes have survived in his long poem Adone.

But, probably the most interesting reply to Bruno can be found in the 1,400-line long poem Il Ritratto, the "Portrait of Duke Charles Emmanuel [Carlo Emanuello] of Savoy." In the final section, it is prophesied that the Duke, after his hopefully late death, will not only go to heaven, but replace a constellation. This was precisely the literary frame of Bruno's Spaccio de la bestia trionfante. Marino sings: "Let then Hercules and Perseus give / their seats to your fine image. / And like a new Orion, new Cepheus, / a frightening star to your enemies, / laurel-worthier than his pupil [Achilles], / be welcomed by your Centaur in heaven!" (stanza 233). The Centaur, Chiron, is here identified with Sagittarius, the Duke's rising sign. Well, things worked the other way round in the Spaccio. Bruno in fact exalted Hercules and Perseus as permanent heroes while ridiculing Orion and Chiron as symbols of the decadence of religion. Just a chance?

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Who painted the Holy Shroud? Jesus!

by Igor Mitoraj
You wanted to work, O Lord, in order not to remain idle — I dare say — even during that short time period [in the Sepulcher]. But what did you do, consistently with your Father's being at work [John 5.17]? God the Father portrays himself by begetting the Word; so did you, precisely alike, paint and leave your own portrait imprinted on this holy linen, with the only difference that the former image is all luminous and shining, while the latter is all gory and dark.

__G. B. Marino

from his Dicerie sacre, "Sacred Orations" published in Turin, Italy, in 1614; oration 1, part 1, end.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Dinner is served

Those — Yours Truly included  who regret that the Renaissance is over, can find reasons of comfort by admiring, in some world areas at least, the many remaining legacies that still exist. Not only, for example, 16th and 17th century works of art, and churches, and buildings. Much less so with some modern events that supposedly recreate Renaissance parades, pageants, games, etc. (they could do so, maybe, if they invested a hundred times as much money). The true bliss of the Renaissance lover consists in finding contemporary authors who still think and work as people did half a millennium ago.

And, one of the main examples was undoubtedly Salvador Dalí. His big-sized cooking book, manufactured in the early 1970s with the help of authoritative chefs, includes 136 original recipes; originally written in French, has recently been republished by Taschen in translation. It is a hymn to Who Cares about egalitarianism, envy, vegan crazes, and cholesterol. Is an unmethodical collection of Dali's paintings, both masterpieces and minor sketches, from the very early years to the present, while also showing gorgeous collages assembled for the occasion, all of this alternating with magnified details from Bosch's visions and quotes from Rabelais. Is a refined, delirious pâté of sacred imagery and profane drives, Renaissance splendor and Surrealist raspberries. The joy of life and the omen of death. Even joy while thinking of death. Because "the mandible is the best tool for philosophical knowledge we possess" (S. D.)

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Off Topic: "We see as through a glass darkly"

One of the most fascinating features of Renaissance writers is the very free way in which they reuse the Bible. Medieval authors might play with allegories, yes, but 16th-17th century authors loved to mix Christian Scripture and classical mythology, and their contemporary culture too, often with alienating results. Here is a 20th century example of that same approach, especially if we keep in mind the mentioned novel's subject:
. . .  Phil immediately began a new project, which became the novel A Scanner Darkly. That title is a Biblical reference. In the King James Version of the New Testament, Paul says, "We see as through a glass darkly", which means that we see dim reflections in a mirror. This is quite similar to Plato's idea that what we call reality is really shadows on the wall of a cave, and not the real objects that cast those shadows.

Tessa B. Dick's autobiographical book Blade Runner Creator Philip K. Dick is available via Amazon here. The book both examines the two Blade Runner movies in detail and reports many first-person memories (Tessa having been PKD's fifth and last wife) about the great writer. Memories that are not rarely sad. Life is not a movie.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

The Gallery: Narcissus

by Nivalis70

Most poems in G. B. Marino's Galeria end in a pointe (French), i.e. a line or very few lines that, while summing up the main contents, suddenly add an unexpected, intriguing development. The pointe of the poem below, based on a painting by Francesco Vanni, is among the best ones in the collection, imho.

O credulous boy,
who with a fake object in a Lethal spring     pun on "Lethal"
did sadly, tragically amuse yourself:
If in those quiet waves you
had seen yourself as beautiful —
or if, as I can see you so
lively in colors, you now saw yourself,
the extreme ardour would change you
into a flame, not flower;
and now, to admire your vain shadow,     shadow = reflection, too
you would take on human form again.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

The Gallery: Adonis

Starting from this post, we will be translating a selection from the collection of poems titled La Galeria del Cavalier Marino, distinta in pitture e sculture, that is, verse dedicated to a virtual gallery of paintings and sculptures, written by G. B. Marino, who in fact was an important art collector. Both actual and 'possible' works are praised, which portray mythological characters as well as historical personages. La Galeria, that puts together texts from a number of years, was published in 1620, when the expectation for Marino's long poem Adone was high throughout Europe. And with an eye to sales, the poet starts precisely there. The poem below is based on The Birth of Adonis by an Italian engraver, Giovanni Valesio. A reference to Renaissance paintings showing Virgin Mary with the Infant Jesus can be detected too.

Of the handsome Adonis being born,
hear the wails, Goddess of Cyprus; prepare     Venus
to the dear baby a cradle and bands of roses —
but tearful and sad,
to his woeful grave
already prearrange funeral honors.
. . .

Saturday, September 1, 2018

In praise of the Savoy Art Gallery

A poem by Giambattista Marino on Duke Carlo Emanuele's collections in the early 17th century, that would develop into the current, wonderful Galleria Sabauda (Savoy Art Gallery) in Turin, Italy.

A work surely worthy of you, my Lord,
to assemble in a closed place the fallen
relics of past centuries,
their memories lost;
to lift from the ground
old, scattered statues broken by time,
and upon high stands to give
back whole heads to truncated busts.
This halo, this alone *
your deeds and my lines lacked:
To be magnanimous to marble. **

* A different pun in Italian: Questo Sol ( = Sun), questo solo. . .
** Marble, in poetry, was a symbol of the hardness of heart.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

More reasons to read Bruno

* To all those who can read Italian, Giordano Bruno's style provides one of the absolutely best examples of that language in the Renaissance: lively, witty, experimental. Even when technical terms are employed, everyday or slang words or neologisms interplay with them. Literary masterpieces are, for example, the first dialog in Lo spaccio de la bestia trionfante; the episode of the Thames boat crossing in La cena de le ceneri (the supper takes place in London); and his poems in Gli eroici furori.

* The tragic controversy between Galileo Galilei and the Inquisition would deal with the Sun turning around the Earth or the other way round. But both positions had already been overstepped by Bruno, according to whom, if the universe is infinite, there is no center proper, so it is only a matter of calculation to choose a fixed point or another.

* Giordano Bruno was a prophet, yeah, but a child of his time as well! Renaissance scholars may want to know his never-trivial ideas about much debated issues of his Era, for example the role of Fortune in human life, that he discusses in Lo spaccio de la bestia trionfante, second part of the second dialog. Or else, see the post on "Revolution vs. Reformation" for Bruno's views about the conquest of America. Besides, the discovery of those "new" but actually very old cultures led Bruno to state the relativity of the dates and data in the Bible.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Revolution vs. Reformation

Since Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake, it is often assumed that he was a progressive in the now common sense of the word. He was not. He despised the "plebs" even more than the standard Renaissance thinkers did. He was a misogynist. In his work Lo spaccio de la bestia trionfante ("The triumphant beast being driven out"), the main beast to be driven out is Martin Luther as the author of De servo arbitrio, that Bruno quotes and counterattacks, considering this attitude the origin of all social evils imaginable. He, who was usually open-minded toward pluralism, here went as far as to say that it would be perfectly in the Catholic Church's right to slaughter all Protestants.* 

But, the Catholic Church had nothing to enjoy about. If Bruno could not stand the Reformation, it was because it led Christianity to extremes. The cure for the western civilization, according to him, lay in its going back to the pre-Christian values; that would be repeated by e.g. Giacomo Leopardi and Friedrich Nietzsche, but in epochs in which nobody would burn them any longer. 

A very interesting aspect of Bruno's religious revolution can be connected with the New World. Again in the Spaccio, he puts forward the two opposite conceptions of animality, as (1) the degradation of man, or (2) a deep contact with the energies of Nature, see shamanism. He refers (1) to Christianity, even to the "two natures" of Christ; and (2) to the pantheon of Ancient Egypt, but a hint at Native American cultures can be guessed too. Bruno, noticeably, was among the very rare European authors who dared describe the Discovery of America and following conquests as a catastrophe, and added that it would have been better if the discovery had never occurred, so those peoples' societies and religions would have been spared.

* Though some years later, and precisely in Wittenberg, he would reverse his stand.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

When Raphael saved Ancient Rome

There exist two manuscripts of the report that Raffaello Sanzio (Raphael), who had been appointed "commissioner to antiquities," wrote to Pope Leo X Medici in 1519 in order to describe the condition of the ancient monuments in Rome, and call a halt to the reuse of those materials for new buildings. One manuscript was discovered in Italy in 1733, the other in Germany in 1834. The former, more refined in its style, is considered the work of Baldassar Castiglione, the author of the famous handbook for courtiers Il Cortegiano. The latter, in a rougher language, might be Raphael's own text.

In the letter, the great painter and 'supervisor' explains the method he is using to measure the Roman ruins so as to be able to draw perspective renderings of them; the main instrument was a sort of compass. This graphic work, most expected, would be however left unfinished by Raphael because of his death, to the great disappointment of Renaissance scholars. That is a pity, in fact. An amazing example of his ability to recreate buildings is the setting of his fresco The School of Athens, showing what, at that time, the new Basilica of Saint Peter was planned to look like -- while the exterior of the Medieval basilica, now destroyed, can be seen in Raphael's fresco The Fire in the Borgo.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

A leader and his elliptical halo

click to enlarge

The shrine of Vicoforte, NW Italy, should have become the religious heart of the Savoy Duchy, then Kingdom. As a matter of fact, it is now promoted as a fine sample of "Piedmontese Baroque art" rather than a place for pilgrims like Fatima or Lourdes. The religious politics of the Savoys have been well reported by Giambattista Marino in his poem Il Ritratto, the "Portrait" of Charles Emmanuel. The true religious hit of the Savoys has anyway turned out to be the Sindone, the Holy Shroud that allegedly enveloped Jesus' body, now kept in Turin.

Planned in the late 16th century, the Vicoforte shrine was completed no sooner than the 18th century. The general shape, a central planimetry with a big dome and four towers, is the same as Saint Peter in Rome should have been according to Michelangelo -- with a major difference: here the dome is elliptical, indeed the greatest elliptical dome worldwide.

The first sponsor of the building was Duke Carlo Emanuele / Charles Emmanuel I, of whom a statue has been set in front of the shrine in 1891, i.e. "three centuries later" (better than never) as the sign stresses, while his grave lies inside, see bottom left in the photo. The statue and the grave are basically the most important monuments dedicated to the Duke.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Where Andrea Pozzo started his career

The most famous Jesuit artist of all times, as well as one of the most significant Baroque artists ever, Andrea Pozzo, had started his career as . . . a cook. The work that revealed his talent as a painter and launched him into the Baroque jet set (Rome, the German Empire) was made in Mondovì, NW Italy, during the winter of 1676-7: the trompe-l'oeil ceiling for the Chiesa della Missione, the "Church of Mission" that belonged to his religious Order. From then on, Catholic church ceilings would no longer be the same. See also tomorrow's post.

And, up with talents emerging unexpectedly from small towns! -- Mondovì, though, was then more important than nowadays. It would also give birth to Giovanni Giolitti (1842-1928), a key figure in Italian politics after the National Unification.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

In May 1521

In May 1521, Hernán Cortés launched the final attack against Tenochtitlan (Mexico City). At the same time in Spain, during the battle of Pamplona, Ignatius of Loyola received the fatal wound that would revolutionize his life. Two events destined to change -- for good or for worse -- the history of the Renaissance. And quite remarkably, both protagonists were Spanish soldiers.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Giordano Bruno praises Turin

. . . vicino a l'Alpi, alle rive del Po, dico alla metropoli del Piamonte, dove è la deliciosa città di Taurino. . .

. . . under the Alps, along the banks of the Po River, I say, in the metropolis of Piedmont, where the delightful city of Turin rises. . .

__Spaccio de la bestia trionfante (from England, 1584)

Thursday, August 16, 2018

One epoch, two novels

A significant novel set in the early 17th century is Umberto Eco's L'isola del giorno prima (also available in English as The Island of the Day Before), originally published in 1994. It may prove interesting to make some comparisons with the Italian novel par excellence, that is Alessandro Manzoni's I promessi sposi ("The Betrothed"), written in the first half of the 19th century.

1. There is a chronological sequence, since the events described in I promessi sposi happen in the years 1628-30; L'isola del giorno prima covers the period between 1627 and 1643. Eco also inserts witty references to his literary forefather.
2. Manzoni adopted a modern literary style. Eco, on the contrary, rebuilds the Baroque way of writing and thinking.
3. Both authors tell a story set in the Baroque Era in order to convey their own views on history and on God. With a great difference, though: Manzoni meant to stress the role of Providence in human history while Eco shows a universe in which all rules have been messed up. Seventeenth century culture can support both viewpoints, but the latter possibly better than the former.
4. The events of I promessi sposi all happen in some towns of current Lombardy and in the city of Milan, providing an accurate description of everyday life in that places and epoch while leaving the big personages in the background. L'isola del giorno prima begins in Piedmont (NW Italy, west of Lombardy), then switches to Paris, and ends in the middle of nowhere in the Pacific Ocean, with a glocal approach that takes both local facts and international phenomenons -- salons, politics, voyages, philosophy, science, technology -- into account.
5. Things of course are more complex than this.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Not by chance

Two works of Caravaggio were owned by Giambattista Marino: a portrait of the poet as a young man, and the only painting in which Caravaggio represented a wholly naked woman, Susan and the Elders (see a detail above). It was one of the favorite Biblical episodes in Renaissance art, from the Book of Daniel; and of course, it was chosen because it provided a religious screen to an erotic subject -- as Saint Sebastian did in the homosexual field. Not by chance, even if Caravaggio dealt with this topic only once in his life, that one work belonged to Marino.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Renaissance signs in Savigliano, Italy

click to enlarge

From bottom left, clockwise
- The triumphal arch of the Savoy Dukes, then modified;
- The city thanks the Saints Sebastian and Roch for having been left untouched by the 1632 plague, practically the same epidemic wave described in Alessandro Manzoni's novel I Promessi Sposi, i.e. the one caused by the Thirty Years' War;
- The Jewish ghetto, though the sign refers to its late 18th century / 19th century position;
- A street name recalling a print house of 1470, therefore one of the oldest in Italy.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

What is left of the Renaissance in Swedenborg

Since Emanuel Swedenborg (born Svedberg) was a genius and an innovator in many fields, it is interesting to compare his own views with the religious legacy of the Renaissance, now that the second half of the 18th century had come – also considering that he was the son of a leading, open-minded Lutheran bishop of Sweden, and had travelled throughout Europe, meeting very important personages of his epoch.

Well, in his well-known book on Heaven and Hell, it basically turns out that both the Catholic and the Protestant tenets should be seen as outdated, for different reasons, and it is worthy noting which: the Roman Catholic Church because of its (absurd) claim to having exclusive rights to truth and power, the Protestant Churches because of their (devastating) teaching on “faith only.” 
As for a major feature of Renaissance culture: magic, Swedenborg, while not dismissing it as mere superstition, as the Enlightenment authors usually tended to, does anyway reduce it to an “abuse against the divine order” in the universe, i.e. a hobby for people self-destined to hell, though not simply because of that. 
Definitely significant looks his attitude toward Islam. Muslims, it is true, will have to attend a sort of Sunday school in afterlife before being able to access heaven, but, if they have behaved well by following their own religion, they will freely be admitted to eternal blessing; and so will all pagans, as well as the inhabitants of other planets, on the same conditions. So, in Swedenborg’s opinion, poems of chivalry too had made their time. 

All problems solved? Apparently not, according to William Blake, who would reply with his Marriage of Heaven and Hell. And, C. S. Lewis would reply to Blake by writing The Great Divorce. Then Philip K. Dick, in his turn, . . . 
The saga continues.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Francis, the marginalized Saint

by Caravaggio

G. B. Marino's vast production of verse also includes a group of four short poems dealing with the three standard theological virtues, Faith, Hope, and Love, plus a surprise, i.e. the Stars. Each virtue is associated with a key simile: the shield for Faith, the flower for Hope, fire for Love. In spite of interesting details here and there, these poems keep a low profile, all in all. Probably the most remarkable section is the one that, within "Love," describes Saint Francis of Assisi. In fact, even if Franciscan monks played a major role in the people's spirituality and practice (see Alessandro Manzoni's novel I Promessi Sposi), their holy founder had no significant place in the main Renaissance poems in Italy (as he had had in the Divine Comedy), probably because he is the very symbol of poverty, humility, and peace, while the then mainstream culture followed right the opposite values (see Nietzsche). Anyway, here it is:
Fire, you that wonderfully
change one into his beloved object,
or rather enliven, and inform
the changed heart by acting as its soul:
With this pure affection
the Seraph of Ascesis *
had his desires burning,
so much so that he was finally seen,
turning Christ into himself, turn to Christ.

* punning on "Assisi." Saint Francis is often called "the Seraphic Father."

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Italians' first shock with the 17th century

Don Rodrigo, the villain, blamed by
Father Cristoforo (ill. by G. De Chirico)

One of the 'most hated masterpieces' of Italian literature is Alessandro Mazoni's novel I Promessi Sposi (The Betrothed), written in the years 1827-42. Hated because it is mandatory to read long passages of it at school in Italy, with the obvious consequences on teenagers' taste. Many people, we included, will rediscover the book only at a much greater age. In our case, what makes it definitely palatable is that the events are set in the epoch that dominates this blog, namely between 1628 and 1630, in a northern Italy then colonized, if not oppressed by Spain.

The 17th century society, both Great History (the Thirty Years' War) and everyday life with its habits and tragedies (corruption, famine, poverty, war, plague), is described with great skill, in a plain and elegant prose that is quite unlike the Baroque standards, in order to make the story reader-friendly, as the author himself states in the introduction. As a matter of fact, Manzoni's language shaped current Italian. In the novel, there appear in the background personages who have been examined in recent posts, e.g. Duke Carlo Emanuele of Savoy and King Louis XIII. At the same time, it is curious to notice that at least three cultural protagonists of that era are not even mentioned, for some reason: Tommaso Campanella, Galileo Galilei, and Giambattista Marino.

Of I Promessi Sposi there also exists a rare 1964 edition illustrated by no less than Giorgio De Chirico, a master of 20th century art as well as the first inspirer of Surrealism -- though never joining the movement -- who in this case chose to adopt a fake-naive style.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable

works by Damien Hirst

Something strange happens as among the waves
the amazing artifact travels:
into the dark waters of the depth, it
is drawn downward by the sea abyss—
Venus herself, hiding inside the sea
and born out of it, and the sea queen,
thinking it Mars, takes it as it passes
to hug it, then being deluded, lets it go.

__G. B. Marino, Adone 11.155

In line 8, the word deluso (here delusa, in the feminine) would mean "disappointed" in current Italian; but in the 17th century it still kept the original meaning of the Latin adjective delusus, like "deluded" in English.
The stanza from Marino's long poem Adone referred to a majestic sculpture of King Henry IV of France, made by Jean Boulogne aka Giambologna, and transported to Paris in 1614. It would be destroyed not many years after the French Revolution.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

"Del gran Martirio hebreo l'historia amara"

Holy Mercy, if in heaven you're not dead
after having fled disgusted to heaven:
See the events down here, see the victims
of your enemy—they are weak and sad.     enemy: Cruelty
Why don't you come? Are offenses against 
the Jews uncared for by you, or unseen?
Look, no other shelter or salvation
is hoped for by the good seed of Israel.

One of the most striking features in Giambattista Marino's poem La strage degl'innocenti (The Slaughter of the Innocents) is a sort of prophecy of the Shoah, the Holocaust. Not simply of persecutions, as there have tragically often been; but of the methods that would be used by Nazism. In the poem, clearly a fictionalization from Matthew, ch. 2, King Herod means to exterminate as many people as possible. In order to accomplish the massacre, the mothers of 0-2 year-old babies are gathered in one place under a false promise (this is not in the Gospel), as Nazis did when ordered the Jews to get on the trains for the concentration camps. And afterward, soldiers search the houses one by one to make sure that no baby has escaped (not even this is in the Gospel). With a final coup de théâtre: The soldiers, out of zeal and by mistake, will kill Herod's only son (pure fiction).

Marino, as appears in other works (see La Sferza), was not exempt from Medieval/Renaissance prejudices against the Jews. In the Strage, however, it looks like he had developed a partially different view on life. The poem had a complex gestation: Marino had been working on it since the earlier years of the 17th century, but it was published only in 1633, eight years after his death. Friends report that at the end of his career, in Naples, he used to read it "at the club," so to speak, namely the Accademia degli Humoristi. So, in spite of its relatively short length, some 3,500 lines divided in six cantos, the poem took twenty years of elaboration. Parts of it -- canto 2, for example -- seem to reflect the quieter, wiser moods of an "old" man (though not much older than 50, in fact). And, a man who had himself experienced persecution.

In this sense, very interesting in the Strage is the character of Joseph, Jesus' adoptive father. He is a . . .  normal guy! An aged, sweet, attentive husband, father, and artisan. There is nothing epic in him, and nothing grotesque, too, as most men of the people tend to be in Marino's poems. This unusual realism is skillfully mixed with Marino's typical themes: here, in particular, a modern imagery about heaven and hell, that preludes John Milton. There also is a female angel, called Vision, whose forehead is a screen showing the events of the future.

More cues: Penelope's lovers treacherously shut inside the royal palace, and killed by Odysseus. King Pentheus, who wants to get rid of a god, Dionysus, and is fiercely punished (Euripides' Bacchae are hinted at in Marino's poem). "The Slaughter of the Innocents" replaces the long-planned poem on "Jerusalem Destroyed," in a very different key.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The oldest "Road Map" for Jerusalem

from William Blake's illustrations
for Paradise Lost (recolored)

Gierusalemme distrutta, "Jerusalem Destroyed," is a Baroque long poem long promised by Giambattista Marino, and never realized but for a 'tiny' part, i.e. more than 700 lines, like six whole cantos of the Divine Comedy. The subject should have been the tragic events of 70 AD, when, after the Jews' rebellion against the Empire, the Holy City was seized and razed to the ground by the Romans, who would build a heathen colony in its place, Aelia Capitolina. In brief, a prequel -- and a competitor -- to Torquato Tasso's Gierusalemme liberata.

Quite interestingly, the remaining canto is not the first, but the seventh. And quite interestingly, it does not deal with battles or other historical episodes, but a dialog in heaven. God looks down onto the war being waged on Earth, where the devil is causing havoc, so He also decides to intervene; a scene of far Homeric origin, more directly based on Gierusalemme liberata. Here, the Almighty opens the book of Destiny, where it is stated that Jerusalem must be destroyed forever because of its "rebellion" against the divine will (i.e. not embracing Christianity). King David, who is among the blessed, is shocked, and implores Virgin Mary to avert that fate. Mary prays her Son, and Christ in his turn shows his mercy to God the Father. God accepts to spare the Holy City; He will just send Archangel Michael to break the devil's plans; and here the canto comes to an end. An important part of the plot is missing, since Jerusalem was actually destroyed, so some unexpected (even by God?) development must have occurred (or, did God only 'make if' He had changed his mind?).

More remarkable than the plot is the style. Marino drew on Tasso as John Milton would, and Milton also read Marino, whose Jerusalem stanzas were published posthumously in 1633. Well, an amazing similarity leaps out between Gierusalemme distrutta and the parallel sections in Paradise Lost -- except for the Catholic devotion, of course. Effects of light and shadow, majesty and paradoxes, colors and music and flowers, dizzy detailed descriptions, belligerence and tenderness, golden curls and shiny armors, Biblical quotations and theatrical phrasings. . .  At the same time, Marino cannot help adding his trademark, especially in the dialog of Mary and Christ. Here, the words exchanged between the Virgin and her Son have an erotic undertone that cannot be wholly justified as Baroque sentimentalism. By the irony of fate, sanctimonious readers of the 17th century hoped that Gierusalemme distrutta would be completed.

Monday, July 9, 2018

A true fake edition

The unfinished, or rather, barely begun long poem Gerusalemme distrutta, "Jerusalem Destroyed," by G. B. Marino turned up to be available through AbeBooks, the biggest book market worldwide. Curiously enough, though in an Italian version, the poem came from India (see the amount of stamps above), and very cheaply so. But there was a trick: As a matter of fact, the 'publisher' simply downloaded some online facsimile file, then printed it on demand.

Anyway, it doesn't matter. What matters is that this work of Marino, together with other fascinating texts, is on my desk now :-) We will be dealing with each poem included in this precious prank.

Friday, July 6, 2018

1623: When years were years

photo from a Web source

The Basilica of Saint Francis in Assisi, Italy, is mostly known for its Medieval frescoes, made by Cimabue, Giotto, and others, that show episodes from the life of the famous Saint as well as from the Gospels and other religious texts. But the basilica inferiore (the lower floor of the church) also hosts a big fresco about the Last Judgment, clearly based on the Sistine Chapel, just reinterpreting it in a Franciscan key, and making it more "standardized" than Michelangelo's.

The Assisi Judgment fresco was made by a Baroque painter called Cesare Sermei, and in a very special year: 1623. That is, when the first (and posthumous) edition of Michelangelo's experimental poems was published. . .
and the First Folio of Shakespeare was published. . .
and G. B. Marino's long poem Adone, too.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Hippogriff, a successful invention

As far as scholarship goes, the hippogriff appeared for the first time in the history of literature in Ludovico Ariosto's long poem Orlando Furioso (1516-32), so it can be considered his own invention. This fascinating creature still soars in our paper skies. Here drawn by Ediano Silva for Pathfinder, volume 6: Runescars, Dynamite Entertainment, 2018 (in Italy: Le Rune di Varisia, Editoriale Cosmo).

Sunday, July 1, 2018