SiStan ChapLee

Friday, January 17, 2020

Fierce with pain

P. P. Rubens, Saint George (2.5 x 3 m; Prado Museum)

Ille dolor ferox caput in sua terga retorsit
vulneraque aspexit fixumque hastile momordit.

__Ovid, Metamorposhes 3.68-9


Rubens' George hints at both Cadmus, from Ovid's Metamorphoses, and "Santiago" as the Christian knight fighting against Muslims (the shell symbol on George's helmet and armor). Ovid's huge serpent would also inspire G. B. Marino in his long poem Adonis (the supposed dragon as Psyche's mysterious lover), and J. R. R. Tolkien for Glaurung. Rubens anyway seems to have been the only artist who stressed the dragon's pain. The horse pays tribute to Leonardo Da Vinci. Half-hidden references are ubiquitous in the painting, e.g. the Lamb. And, what might the Sphinx on the headdress mean?

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Cornuto e mazziato


In the last issue of this magazine, Riscontri (go), this article is also included. Here is a translation of the first paragraph.

GIORDANO BRUNOʼS TRIAL
Blood, the price of free thinking
by Nunzio Ciullo

The studies on the human and legal parabola of the philosopher from Nola – now apparently taken for granted, or even over-examined – are in fact a quite modern result. Starting from his very martyrdom in Campo dei Fiori [a square in Rome, in 1600], the Church always denied that he had been burned at the stake. As recently as 1885, a Catholic author, Théophile Desdouits, still talked about the “tragic legend of Giordano Bruno . . . whose origin is questionable, implausible.” What definitively saved the philosopher from oblivion was an edition of his death certificate, registered in the books of the Venerabile Arciconfraternita di San Giovanni Decollato detta della Misericordia della nazione fiorentina in Roma, the “Great Brotherhood of Saint John Beheaded, a.k.a. of Mercy, of the city of Florence [in its branch] in Rome,” that had been entrusted with the spiritual accompaniment of the people damned by the Inquisition toward the execution.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Michelangeloʼs primordial puddle


A source of inspiration to many has surely been the episode of the Deluge in Ovidʼs Metamorphoses (1.163 ff), and more especially, the description of the new beginning of life after the catastrophe (1.400 ff). For a starter, Darwinism, though based on field research and modern scientific patterns, still shows to have been influenced by Ovidʼs poetical imagery, e.g. in lines like fecundaque semina rerum, / vivaci nutrita solo ceu matris in alvo, / creverunt (the primordial puddle), or tellus . . . edidit innumeras species partimque figuras / rettulit antiquas, partim nova monstra creavit (evolutionary radiation through the geological eras). It can be objected that Darwin, more or less unconsciously, had rather Genesis in his mind. That however amounts to the same thing, as Biblical exegesis and art also, in the Western world, were influenced by Ovid.

Art, anyway, is the sector in which Ovidʼs words displayed their most powerful effects. One of the new creatures born of the soil after the Deluge was Python, a huge dragon, then killed by Apollo; the god, in his turn, is pierced by Cupidʼs arrow. In his representation of the episode, Pieter Paul Rubens (about 1636-37; now Prado Museum, Madrid) apparently equipped Python with udders, suggesting that it was a female “subdued” by Apollo before he himself, as a payback, was made a slave to love (for Daphne).

These pages in the Metamorphoses may even provide a key to understand Michelangeloʼs controversial use of “the Unfinished” in sculpture. After the extermination of life, humankind is restored thanks to stones being thrown by a pair of oldies, Deucalion and Pyrrha. The stones gradually turn into living people. And this is how Ovid describes the process: . . . ut quaedam, sic non manifesta, videri / forma potest hominis, sed uti de marmore coepta, / non exacta satis rudibusque simillima signis (lines 404-6). “A certain human shape, though not clearly, can be seen, rather as simply outlined in marble; non wholly completed, but really like rough images.” Michelangelo, the author of the most famous Deluge worldwide, was an old man when he worked on the Prigioni, and felt sullen and disappointed; was he trying to re-create Man? His views on society are well summarized by the lines (414-5) that conclude the episode: Inde genus durum sumus experiensque laborum, / et documenta damus qua simus origine nati. “Therefore we are a hard race, familiar with toil, and by this, we witness the very origin whence we came.”

Saturday, January 11, 2020

A unique Eucharist

Charles! You, who in this so happy Meal
feed pious minds with sweet ambrosias:
that Food that can make the glorious spirits
happy in heaven, please give it to me too.

My fasting heart, that craves and thinks
about my tardy conversion, days passing
swifter than any arrows, flashes, or rivers,
may you fill; and satiate my great hunger.

Please feed this soul, so suffering and sick,
which sighs; as it burns and languishes,
please restore and recomfort it in God.

So that it may worship in this Flesh
the divine substance whole – in this Blood,
so wonderful, by which Death is dead.

__Torquato Tasso, to Saint Carlo Borromeo, in Turin (Italy), October 1578

Friday, January 10, 2020

Spoliatis arma supersunt: Those who have nothing left, have weapons


He was prophesied by Nostradamus.
He could have become the King of England.
The head of an almost non-existent Duchy,
he changed the way of making war,
and changed the history of Europe.
In one day.
August 10, 1557.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Giordano Bruno proved dangerous even as an artist


This book is the only existing edition in which Giordano Brunoʼs original engravings are shown. All other books reprint the 19th century simplified versions of them, that however, while focusing on the mere geometrical figures, may miss the point. In the original version, in fact, the pictures are embellished by other elements, and the outcome is beautiful, really fascinating. They were not explained by the author; but according to the editor, Ubaldo Nicola, they were mostly meant to work as Mandalas. The 73 engravings come from Articuli adversos mathematicos [160 articles against mathematicians], first published in 1588, and De triplici minimo et mensura [On the triple minimum and measure], 1591. More of them are shown in the 40-page long, documented essay by U. Nicola about Brunoʼs life, psychology, and thought. The book also includes Sigillus sigillorum [The seal of seals], 1583, a summary of his views on man, memory, magic, the universe, God – and, of his attacks against Christianity.

In my lateral opinion, the artistic geometrical patterns made by Bruno helped him understand the universe by the very action of drawing them, line by line. A prelude, in a way, to Giambattista Vicoʼs method of verum-factum: “The True is what you yourself can make,” with reference precisely to mathematics. The picture chosen for the cover (N. 38 in Articuli), anyway, is not strictly a Mandala: it is labelled Prometheus, so it very probably hints at what the philosopher says in Sigillus 2.9 about “that fire that Prometheus stole from the gods by stealth, and gave humankind; this is the Tree of knowledge of good and evil.” Surely not art as a harmless pastime.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Un sacco di robba sul Cinquecento



Esce il nuovo numero della rivista Riscontri (link). Ben tre degli argomenti segnalati sul sito ufficiale sono trattati dal sottoscritto, quelli evidenziati in giallo. Due su tre riguardano il Rinascimento; il terzo è di tutt'altro genere, ma comunque "rinascimentale" perché propone una rilettura attualizzata e brigante del poema di Dante, proprio come a suo tempo facevano i nostri Ariosto, Tasso, Marino, ecc. In evidenziatore verde, ulteriori temi collegati al Cinquecento. E allora che aspetti, corri subito ad acquistarlo!! E tutte quelle cose che si dicono in questi casi :-)

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Merry Christ - Mas che nada

Luca Giordano, Judith (a variant version)

Luca Giordano (1634-1705) was the greatest Late Baroque painter, especially in Naples and Spain, but well known and appreciated all over Europe; according to a 1681 Relation, he even sold his art to Constantinople. Here some noticeable details from his works will be pointed out. The order is only approximately chronological; on the other hand, scholars do not agree about the respective dates on many occasions.

Christ and the Adulteress (Kunsthalle Bremen, Germany)
The instant “photographed” by Giordano is when Jesus, immediately after stooping to write something on the ground, rises again. The other men have a look at the written words (that we cannot see, as only the upper part of the scene has been represented), and frown.

Ecce Homo (Brera Art Gallery, Milan, Italy)
There is a man who wears glasses.

Samson and Delilah (private collection)
Maybe a sarcastic version of the so-called Carità Romana, or even the Pietà theme.

Neptune and Coronis (private collection)
Feathers “evolutionistically” begin to develop and grow longer on the girlʼs arm.

The Sacred Family (Prado Museum, Madrid)
In the background, the Gulf of Naples can be glimpsed. This painting was made after the manner of Raphael, who in his turn drew on his master, the Perugino. Just, in Perugino, that was the Trasimeno Lake in central Italy – his own homeland, while Giordanoʼs was Naples.

The Annunciation to Zechariah (Capodimonte Museum, Naples)
The action happens both inside and outside the Temple of Jerusalem. And, the Temple recalls St. Peterʼs Basilica in Rome. Its finishing with Berniniʼs Colonnade was quite recent then.

The Calling of Matthew (Charterhouse of St. Martin, Naples)
Matthewʼs face and general look is definitely different from standards.

Traditio Clavium (a sketch once in Paris, France)
In order to be able to give Peter the “keys of the Kingdom of Heaven,” Jesus gets them from an angel. An apocalyptic sky looms in the background.

Perseus Beheads Medusa (Capodimonte)
Mercury does fly, but he “forgets” that his winged shoes are in Perseusʼ feet. Meanwhile, Medusa sees herself already beheaded in the reflection in Perseusʼ mirror/shield.

Saint Gennaro Prays for the End of the 1656 Plague (Capodimonte)
Christ, who should supposedly shine in his glory in heaven, is still carrying the cross.

Judah, Tamar, and Onan (private collection)
Apparently a parody of Caravaggioʼs now lost painting Saint Matthew and the Angel.

Saint Michael (Berlin Art Gallery, Germany)
The Archangel does not hit the devil with a sword, but with a spear, almost like a whaler. And, the devilʼs wounded side recalls Jesus being pierced on the cross!

Jesus Chases the Merchants out of the Temple (Church of the Girolamini, Naples)
At the same time, a typical Neapolitan “Presepe” and a Last Judgment.

The Allegory of Disarmed Justice (National Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest)
The ostrich was – also – a symbol of Justice. Here, however, for a funny misrepresentation, it looks like the dinosaur called Struthiomimus.

The Dedication of the Church of Montecassino (Capodimonte)
Basically no one among the people there is interested in the liturgy. Nihil sub sole novi.

The Crossing of the Red Sea (El Escorial, Spain)
God does not care about the Israelites, He flies toward their enemies. The Egyptians are frightened by Jupiter-like bolts of lightning, not mentioned in the Bible.

The Transit of Virgin Mary (El Escorial)
That is, her passage from death to eternity. In a very rare representation, Mary is shown while she reawakens from her deathbed, surrounded by light and angels. That incidentally makes the traditional depiction of her Transit useless: the empty grave, painted in the opposite corner of the same ceiling.

Casón del Buen Retiro, Madrid
The Earth, stars, and God are linked to one another via a “multiverse.” The sun-clothed Woman and the Dragon from the Book of Revelation are also shown; and since she signifies the glory of Spain, she is stronger than the dragon, once in a while.

Saint Ferdinand (Royal Palace, Madrid)
The Infant Jesus, not harmless though in the arms of his Mother, hits the Dragon of Revelation with a long spear-shaped cross.

The ceiling of the Sacristy, Cathedral of Toledo, Spain
One of the subject matters is the defeat of heresy; but the whole, vast picture is arranged so as to leave this episode “cornered,” while the other subject monopolizes our attention: YHWHʼs sunbeam reaching Virgin Mary.

The Triumph of Judith (Charterhouse, Naples)
Judith frightens the soldiers by showing them Holopherneʼs head, the same gesture as Celliniʼs Perseus does with Medusaʼs head in Florence. An episode absolutely missing in the Bible.

Saint Luke Portrays Virgin Mary (once in the Busiri Vici Collection)
The ox is even more modern than in Caravaggioʼs style – see Saint Paulʼs horse. It already prefigures the art of Giovanni Segantini.


Iconographic source: Giuseppe Scavizzi, Luca Giordano. La vita e le opere [Life and Works]: Naples, Arteʼm, 2017, pages 304, euros 27, with 100 black&white pictures and 72 in full colors.


Friday, December 13, 2019

Baroque in a far, far away time

The Dark Crystal, from the McNally book

The first-ever Baroque work in Christian literature was written, imho, far before the 17th century, in fact it would date back to the first century AD. It was called Apocalypsis, “the book of Revelation.” Why Baroque?! Because, much ante litteram, when Christian literature had just begun, Revelation already applied 17th century criteria as a way to reuse Christian texts. Re-use, when they had just started to be used! Revelation is, in practice, entirely made of quotations from other books, from both the Old and the New Testament. At the same time, the sources are employed and mixed in an often puzzling way, making the reader suspect that, in spite of its apocalyptic scenarios, even a certain amount of humor was meant. And third, a love for repetitions and conceptual mazes also emerges. Yeah, Baroque methods. Some examples may illustrate this thesis.

The Book of Exodus is often quoted, or hinted at, and twisted. The main source as to the general structure of Revelation, however, is chapter 10 from Prophet Daniel (in Catholic editions of the Bible. Nearly all the chapter resurfaces in Revelation, curiously except verse 7, that however has been retrieved in Acts of the Apostles 9.7). But, even if words and whole sentences look the same, the underlying meanings differ. For example, in Daniel the “man” in linen clothes, with a body in precious stone and eyes of fire, etc., turns out to be weaker than the “Prince” (guardian angel) of Persia, while in Revelation his features belong to no less than the victorious God and/or Christ. A complex play concerns the four Living Beings in Revelation: they have six wings like the Seraphs in Isaiah 6, but, unlike them, they are four. Four is the number of beings seen by Ezekiel in ch. 1 of his book, who however are called Cherubs; he also talks about eyes, but placed on the wheels of Godʼs chariot, not on the angelsʼ wings. (William Blake in his turn will draw eyes on the wheels of the mystical chariot in Danteʼs Purgatorio 29, though Dante did not put any there while re-reusing imagery from Ezekiel and Revelation.) Rev. 17.4 makes a parody of Psalm 45.14. And so on.

An even subtler treatment is given to the New Testament. For example, Jesus reading a passage from Isaiahʼs book in the synagogue in Nazareth, Luke 4.16 ff, develops into the Lamb – with what kind of hands? – opening the sealed book, then Isaiahʼs glorious prophecy about the Messiah turns into a destiny of death (Rev. 5.7-10). The winepress being “trampled outside the city, and blood came out” (Rev. 14.20, NKJV) in a bizarre way echoes Hebrews 13.12. In Rev. 7.17 the role of the Divine Shepherd, who takes care of the sheep, from Psalm 23, is taken on by a very unusual shepherd, i.e. the Lamb; and, He will lead them not to “still” waters, but to the “living waters,” as promised by Jesus in the Gospel of John (7.38). Not to speak of a perfectly Baroque oxymoron like "the wrath of the Lamb" (Rev. 6.16).

By the way, since the author of the Book of Revelation calls himself John, it has been traditionally assumed that he was the same person as Jesusʼ “beloved disciple,” as well as the author of the fourth Gospel (this identification too proves thorny). Be it as it may, it appears quite clear that Revelation knows the fourth Gospel, and makes variations on it. More specifically, many episodes in Rev. seem to convey “Johnʼs” insights into Christʼs Transfiguration, that had been “forgotten” by “John” in the Gospel, although – according to the other Evangelists – he was one of the three witnesses of the event. We will leave our readers the joy of finding themselves clues about Transfiguration across the pages of Revelation.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Wisdom, Ancient Rome to XVIII century


On the Renaissance in general
Civil life [la repubblica], extinguished by the barbarians [during the Middle Ages], after many decades was rebuilt [in the Renaissance] on the same orders [as in Ancient Rome], that is, that the turf of philosophers was the Probable, of mathematicians was the True. Therefore, all the arts and disciplines of honesty, comfort, and human pleasure were given back their old glory, and in some fields, even more than back then.
Now, however, those orders have been upset [by Cartesian dogmatism, etc.] once again, and what should be considered the Probable has usurped the place of the True. “Demonstration” has been turned into a mean word. . .

On (Baroque) art
In the imitation-based arts, such as Painting, Sculpture, Pottery, Poetry, the most excellent authors are those who embellish the archetype, taken from the commonly known Nature, with not common, but new and amazing details; or, what had already been expressed by another artist, they resume in a personal and better way, making it distinct as their own work.

From Giambattista Vico's book De antiquissima Italorum sapientia, “On the most ancient wisdom of the peoples of Italy,” i.e., even before the Romans; first published in 1710. The passage on art, from the book itself, is in Latin, while the excerpt on Renaissance comes from the author's “Replies” to some objections, and was written in Italian. In the bilingual edition shown in the photo above, published by Diogene Edizioni, the afterword by Claudia Megale deals with the success of Vico's ideas in psychoanalysis, especially Jungian.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Portrait of the Theologian as a Young Dog

Naples for President:
G. B. Marino and G. Bruno

The author, if you happen'd to meet 'im, you'd say he got such a bewilder'd count'nance: he always looks like one contemplatin' the very pains of hell, looks like he's been under a press as a [felt] bar, one who laughs only to behave as all th'others 'round do; yea, you'll mostly see 'im annoy'd, an' standoffish, an' bizarre, never happy about no thin', baulkin' just like another eighty-year-older, weird like a dog mangy after a thousan' blows, a fella all too well fed with onions.

__Giordano Bruno, Candelaio [The Candle Seller], from the "Anti-prologue"

The play is written in a lively, delightful mixture of highly refined Italian and the dialect spoken by common people in Naples during the Renaissance; the translation clumsily tries to render it. Bruno is probably the most interesting 16th century author in Italian, in an epoch when most Italian thinkers wrote in Latin. The "candle" hints at the male organ. Onions are sour, but eating them (with bread: pane e cipolla) also refers to an Italian phrase meaning that somebody is very poor. Bruno wrote the Candelaio after having to flee from Naples (1576), where he had studied Divinity at the same religious school as Thomas Aquinas and Tommaso Campanella did.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Dante's glory day, and the day after

"The big Sun of Hiroshima"?
See Revelation 10.1 and 16.8?

To put it in a simplified way, the Divine Comedy experienced two major phases of free interpretation: 1. In texts by authors of the 16th and 17th centuries, and, 2. In works of art of the 19th and 20th centuries. 1. In the long poems especially by Ludovico Ariosto and Giambattista Marino, a lot of quotations from Dante can be found, but often reused in a new context, so the very same words take on a completely different meaning. Many examples have been shown in this blog. 2. The first artist who illustrated the Divine Comedy in order to convey a personal worldview, quite unlike Dante's, was probably William Blake. In contemporary art, Salvador Dalí produced 100 illustrations, virtually one for each canto; but as a matter of fact, he depicted some episodes more than once, then changed the titles of some of them so as to have them fit other subject matters, and even added pictures that had nothing to do with the poem.

Still more interesting is the case with an Italian artist, Aligi Sassu (1912-2000). Over the years 1980-86 he made 112 paintings in acrylics, covering almost all of the main episodes in the Divine Comedy. On some occasions, two illustrations refer to different scenes in one canto. But here too, the 'official' titles are misleading sometimes. Sassu also made double versions of the same subject, e.g. the Minotaur, the Centaurs; then shifted one version to another place in the poem, taking advantage of swift hints made by Dante. But, on other occasions, he apparently changed his mind about the subject he had depicted, and gave it an alternative name. For example, the guardian angel at the gate of Paradise/Purgatory (Genesis 3.24; Purgatorio 9.76-84) moved to Paradiso 14, where Dante mentions Archangel Gabriel, who however should not exhibit a fire sword. The supposed meeting of Dante and Virgil with Homer (Inferno 4) looks rather like their dialog with Cato (Purgatorio 1). And so on.

Quite peculiar to Sassu are the references to contemporary society. A well-known Italian Minister of the past decades appears among the damned souls in the circle of squanderers (Inferno 13), who in their turn are turned into a pack of werewolves. Minos (Inferno 5) has the face of Yasser Arafat, the then leader of PLO, who in the 1980s was often described as an instigator of terrorism. A subtler clue seems to be meant in Sassu's illustration for the heaven of the Sun (Paradiso 12; see picture above). The desperate crowds, the birds, the rainbow recall the Flood in the Bible (Genesis 6-8). Here however the destruction is brought about not by water, but by fire, therefore mirroring the fear, widespread back in the Eighties, of an apocalyptic nuclear war. See e.g. the movies The Day After and War Games, both 1983.

Monday, November 18, 2019

The metamorphoses of Transfiguration


One of Giambattista Marino's abortive mega-projects in the early 17th century was a remake of Ovid's Metamorphoses. This Greek word played a remarkable role in Christian tradition, anyway.

The so-called Second Letter of Peter in the New Testament was written, according to internal and external clues, in the late first century AD; therefore, when the apostle Peter was already dead. One of its core topics is the controversy against some masters who, within the Christian community, started to preach doctrines that denied the Second Coming of Christ. Against them, the author of the Letter presents himself as a more reliable source insofar as he allegedly eye-witnessed Jesus' Transfiguration, though he actually quotes from the Gospel of Matthew 17.1-8.

But here is an interesting detail: "Peter" does not call it Transfiguration. He uses a complex circumlocution instead, including the word megaleiotes (in the genitive, megaleiotetos) that means greatness, majesty, magnificence. In fact, what he aimes at is attacking people who follow "cunning myths." So, using the word "transfiguration" would have been self-defeating because the Greek word for it is the same as metamorphosis, that also provided the title of the famous pagan masterpiece. In a way, the self-styled first Pope thought he had to normalize Matthew the evangelist by clearly differentiating the Gospel from Ovid's long poem. Well done, or not?

Friday, November 8, 2019

The Cloud of Unknowing

Torquato Tasso, Gierusalemme Conquistata 4.18

Fra gli infedeli intanto un huom che guarda
Antica torre, e scopre i monti e i campi,
La già minuta polve alzarsi guarda,
Onde par che gran nube in aria stampi;
Par che baleni il nuvol denso et arda,
Come fiamme nel sen rinchiuda e lampi;
Poi lo splendor de' lucidi metalli
Distingue, e scerne gli huomini e i cavalli.

Meanwhile among the infidels, a man
Watching from an old tower over hills and fields
Sees that that very thin dust is now rising:
A big cloud seems to be printed in the air,
And the thick mass seems to flash and burn
As if it contained both flames and lightning.
Then the radiance of shiny metal armors
He recognizes – makes out the men and horses.

Literally, the man (a Muslim soldier) is said to be "watching the old tower," rather than "from" it; but meaning that he watched that area of Jerusalem, in that direction.


Sunday, November 3, 2019

Let's Twist Again

In the Catechism of Trent (published in 1566) some powerful descriptions of the evils of society appear. For example, in commenting the words "Give us this day our daily bread" in the Lord's Prayer, the Catholic leaders stress:
It is a sure sign of death approaching when people can no longer eat food, or no longer store in themselves the food they ate. In the same way, it is a great evidence for the end of any hope of salvation when people no longer look for God's Word, or if it is given them, they do not tolerate it, and raise that ungodly cry against God, "Depart from us, for we do not desire the knowledge of your ways!"

That is taken from the Book of Job 21.14. Just, if we read the text in its context (lines 7-15, KJV), we will see that Job's polemic speech aimed at precisely the opposite end:
"Wherefore do the wicked live, become old, yea, are mighty in power?. . .
Their houses are safe from fear, neither is the rod of God upon them. . . .
Therefore they say unto God, Depart from us; for we desire not the knowledge of thy ways.
What is the Almighty, that we should serve him? and what profit should we have, if we pray unto him?"

Whom were they trying to fool with such a twisted quote? Surely not their main adversaries, the Lutherans, who were accustomed to read the Bible very carefully. Their own Catholic faithful, then, by providing them with 'any weapons,' accurate or not? Maybe. But, it is probably more promising to remember that that was the Renaissance, when the art of quotation -- from the Greeks, from Dante, from the Bible -- reached a high level in refinement and freedom. First of all, in order to amuse the learned. But more in depth, to convey a worldview that was no more the predictable Medieval one. The Council Fathers were not guys like Ludovico Ariosto, let alone Giambattista Marino, but willy-nilly, belonged to the exciting civilization of the 16th-17th centuries.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

There was a reason to say so


". . . because it is not a different God, the One of whom the rich and the kings were born (again), and by whom the poor and the people under the kings' power have been created. There is in fact only one God, the Father and Lord of all."

__The Catechism of Trent (1566), commenting on the word "Our" in the Lord's Prayer

Sunday, October 20, 2019

An overreaching prophecy

Torquato Tasso, Gierusalemme Conquistata 4.10

Sorgi, Gierusalem, co' raggi illustri,
Perch'il tuo lume e l'altrui gloria hor vene;
La gloria del Signore onde t'illustri
Nasce in te, perch'il duolo in te serene.
Ecco, dopo tanti anni e tanti lustri
Che l'ombre e le caligini terrene
I popoli coprîr ne l'Orïente,
De la gloria divina il Sol nascente.
. . .

Rise, O Jerusalem, with shining rays,
Because your Light and human glory now comes;
Now the Lord's glory, that makes you shine,
Is born inside you to cheer your sufferings up.
Lo, after so many years and decades
In which the earthly shadows and darkness
Kept covering the peoples in the Orient,
Here comes the rising Sun of divine glory!
. . .

A partly free translation of Isaiah 60.1-2, based anyway on the then official Latin version for Catholics (the Vulgate), not on the original Hebrew text. Tasso reinterprets God's glory coming back to Jerusalem as the victory of the European armies in 1099 AD during the First Crusade, rather than Jesus being born, as it was usually the case in Christian tradition. See e.g. John Milton's ode On the Morning of Christ's Nativity.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Pecca fortiter!


Giambattista Marino's long poem Adonis was condemned by the Inquisition in 1623. The reasons can be traced back to the Council of Trent, more precisely its Fourth Session, held on April 8, 1546. In this case, the target of the attack was not Martin Luther. And, well, ha ha, basically all the 'sins' listed by the Council will be found in Adonis:

. . . temeritatem illam reprimere volens, qua ad profana quaequae convertuntur, & torquentur verba, & sententiae sacrae Scripturae, ad scurrilia scilicet, fabulosa, vana, adulationes, detractiones, superstitiones impias, & diabolicas incantantiones, sortes, libellos etiam famosos . . .

"[The Council] means to repress that foolhardiness by which the words and sentences in the Holy Scripture are changed and twisted into something profane, that is, lewd, imaginary, vain, as well as flattery, insults, ungodly superstitions and devilish enchantments, fortune-telling, even pasquinades . . ."

Saturday, October 12, 2019

And this guy, what's he?


. . . And in the decay of those who drink beneath his statue, martyrdom is not over for the Dominican monk. . .

"And this guy, what's he?"
"Obi-Wan Kenobi, I guess."


__Roberto Recchioni featuring Il Muro del Canto, RSDIVG: Roma sarà distrutta in un giorno [It will take just one day to destroy Rome], Milan, Italy: Feltrinelli, 2019

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

How did it end up with the Muslims?


The 'not always easy' relationship between the Christian and Muslim countries during the 16th and 17th centuries was a major topic in the literature and art of that time. It is, in fact, a frequent tag in this blog too. Now, when was the word "end" put to the long anxiety of Europe toward the Ottoman power, that had started in 1453? Surely not with the Battle of Lepanto, 1571, but with the Battle of Vienna, 1683. Now a thin as much as rich book recreates the events of that memorable siege, made by the Turks and their allies, and finally undone by the Western countries, especially the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Poland. The text, based on sources of that epoch in different languages, also provides precious insights into the political theater, the rivalry between the European countries, the penetration of the Turks into Central Europe, the paradoxical situation of the Tartars, the war techniques of both armies, etc. With just one small flaw: while focusing on the decisive role played by the Polish King, John III Sobieski, the books curiously fails to even mention a very important Italian leader in the Christian army, Prince Eugene of Savoy, a monument of whom can be seen in Vienna itself.

Lorenzo Mori, L'assedio di Vienna. Gli ottomani alle porte d'Europa e l'intervento polacco, Avellino, Italy: Il Terebinto, 2019, pages 112, with 11 photos, euros 12

Monday, October 7, 2019

Your life written in somebody else's dreams


The biography of the top Renaissance publisher, Aldo Manuzio in Venice, is told by following the 173 engravings in the most famous book published by him, the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, "Poliphilus' Dream-Fight for Love." The book appeared anonymous in 1499, though most critics as well as this novel consider him to be a certain Francesco Colonna.

Angelo Dolce, Il sogno di Aldo Manuzio [Aldo Manuzio's Dream], Zermeghedo, Italy: Edizioni Saecula, 2015, pages 278 with all of the Hypnerotomachia engravings and many B&W photos of Venice, euros 15

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

All the friends of Myrrha


In the Christian reinterpretation of Greek myths, Myrrha's defenders seem to be much more numerous than her accusers, at least among poets. One accuser is Dante, who in canto 30 of his Inferno (Longfellow version) describes her as "the ancient ghost / of the nefarious Myrrha, who became / beyond all rightful love her father's lover," where scellerata rather means evil in some obscene way.
But, in the early 17th century, Giambattista Marino takes her into consideration as the mother of the main character in his long poem Adonis; and in the end, she will be publicly, even morally reconciled with the whole society.
Some decades earlier, Luís de Camões also used kind words referring to her, while directly identifying her as the myrrh (the two words are spelled identically in languages other than English). In fact, in canto 4 of his poem The Lusiads, stanza 63, he says that Portuguese envoys explored "the scented Sabean coasts, / which the handsome Adonis' mother honored so much."

As costas odoríferas Sabeias,
Que a mãe do belo Adónis tanto honrou,
Cercam. . .

In the late XVIII century, Vittorio Alfieri will write a whole tragedy about Mirra, in which, once again, the author will side with the "nefarious" female character. In this case, however, the girl 'only' burns with desire toward her father, the King of Cyprus, without actually making love to him. -- So, no Adonis will be born, either.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Dante Fantasy Sud Story

(Post text in Italian since the book is only available in that language) 

Ovvero: che mi hai portato a fare sopra a Posillipo, se ancora leggi Dante come facevano nell'Ottocento? Esce, dopo sette anni, una nuova edizione del saggio sugli "inattesi" lati fantasy della Divina Commedia. Testo ricorretto, aggiornato con nuovi dati, e arricchito di illustrazioni digitali, opera dell'autore stesso in team con Selkis... a parte la copertina che, va da sé, è di Gustave Doré. Oltre a svelare dove Dante ha nascosto, anzi lasciato in bella evidenza personaggi come elfi, lupi mannari, vampiri e quant'altro, la nuova edizione offre qualche ipotesi alternativa sulla biografia del poeta, in particolare il perché e percome dell'esilio. E getta un'occhiata sull'uso che fecero della Divina Commedia i grandi poeti del Cinque e Seicento: Ludovico Ariosto, Torquato Tasso, Giambattista Marino, John Milton. Prefazione di Carlo Crescitelli.

Dante fantasy può essere
1) ordinato presso l'editore Il Terebinto di Avellino qui
2) trovato o ordinato nelle librerie del Sud Italia
3) ordinato presso qualunque libreria Feltrinelli
4) scaricato in formato Kindle qui

- - -

Errata corrige
Palli > Palii
Rinaldo e Alcina > Ruggiero e Alcina

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Medusa has changed her job

But, who will be able to free himself
from the snares Love so sweetly lays
in human roses and the purest snow,     the woman's breast
and gold, and transparent alabaster?     and hair, and face
Who can, from so rare and new beauty?
Or rather, from Medusa's very face,
which changes the heart, its prisoner,
into stone – oh, no, into wild desire.

__Luís de Camões, Os Lusíadas 3.142. From Portuguese, a language I actually don't know, but here the words are basically the same as in Italian. "Rare and new" in line 5 renders peregrina, with the same meaning it had in Medieval and Renaissance Italian. In the last three lines, with a typically Baroque agudeza (witty subtlety), Medusa's psychological effect on sex – see Greek mythology, then Freud – is twisted the other way round.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

The New Traveller's Almanac


Volume 2 of Alan Moore & Kevin O'Neill's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen has just been published in Italy (BAO Publishing). Both plot and art are wonderful. The story is set in England, 1898. The League includes Mina Harker/Murray, from Bram Stoker's Dracula, currently a divorcée; Allan Quatermain, the now 70-year-old explorer, her lover; Captain Nemo, clearly identified as a Sikh guerrilla; Mr. Hyde, here a sort of Incredible Hulk; and Hawley Griffin, i.e. Herbert George Wells' Invisible Man. Also starring: Sherlock Holmes' fat brother, and Doctor Moreau, who turns out to be still alive. They have to fight against an invasion from Mars, or rather, aliens coming from Mars after having invaded it from another planet. The evil extraterrestrials recall H. G. Well's War of the Worlds, while the native, heroic Martians are fantasy people like in Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter. Things get even messier when Griffin "disappears". . .

But especially, as far as the subject matters of this blog are concerned, the second section of the book provides us with The New Traveller's Almanac dealing with the strangest places all over the world. The text is said to come from the archives of the UK secret services, with documents belonging to the first three decades of the 20th century. It reports passages from the travel journal of Mina Murray, as well as Nemo's logbook, and the diary of an alternately male or female character, Orlando/Roland, the famous Medieval knight in one of his/her incarnations across the centuries. The chapters, Continent after Continent, lead us to visit places that were described in the legends from ancient times to the modern era, Atlantis to Mu, Sindbad's adventures to King Kong's island; Homer and Lucian of Samosata to E. A. Poe, H. P. Lovecraft, J. R. R. Tolkien, J. L. Borges. Some characters date back to the 16th and 17th centuries, e.g. Alcina, the witch in Ludovico Ariosto's long poem Orlando Furioso, Prospero from William Shakespeare's play The Tempest, Christian from The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan. Italian readers will be delighted to find references to our modern literature too: Carlo Collodi (Pinocchio), Emilio Salgari (I misteri della jungla nera, I segreti dei naviganti della Meloria), Dino Buzzati (Il deserto dei tartari), Umberto Eco (L'isola del giorno prima).

Alan Moore plays joyfully and cleverly with these vast materials, on different levels: (1) "Recognize" as many things as possible from the books you have read, the movies you have seen, the legends you have heard of; (2) "In the end, what the hell happened to. . ." e.g. Lewis Carroll's Alice, Frankenstein's monster, E. T. A. Hoffmann's Olympia; and at the same time, (3) "You didn't expect" some crossovers or developments, e.g. where the kingdom of Prester John was, or the truth about Santa Claus. Moore also averts the risk of making an arid list of places by having some characters and ideas resurface and be knitted together through the almanac. Not to speak of many funny places completely invented.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Mixed feelings

Torquato Tasso, Gierusalemme Conquistata 4.6

Sommessi accenti e timide parole,
Rotti singulti e flebili sospiri
De la gente ch'in cor s'allegra e dole
Fan che per l'aria un mormorio s'aggiri;
Qual ne le sacre selve udir si suole
Dove Austro soffi sibilando e spiri,
O qual, spezzato infra gli scogli e' lidi,
Freme e si lagna il mar con rauchi stridi.

Humble tones, half-restrained words,
the broken sobs and feeble sighs
of people rejoicing in their hearts, and grieving,
now make a murmur whirl in the air
as in sacred woods you may hear
where Auster hissing blows and breathes;
or when, broken between the rocks and shores,
the sea throbs and weeps, shrieking hoarse.

A description of the Crusaders' reaction the first time they see Jerusalem from afar. Their deeply religious feelings are expressed with a quotation from. . .  Dante, Inferno 3.22-30!

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Going to war and asking for forgiveness (but, not the same people)

A translation of two excerpts from an Italian cultural magazine, Riscontri, N. 2/2019, that has just been published. See website.

Nowadays historical criticism has clearly recovered and reevalued the religious inspiration of the [First] Crusade; and Tasso's own standpoint [in Gierusalemme Liberata] appears more and more in line with the current interpretation of the spirit of the Crusade itself, i.e. much more unselfish and deeply religious than was maintained by critics with a positivist approach, who had considered merely or mainly material ends as its ground.
__Guido Tossani, Storia e poesia nella visione tassiana dell’islam, “History and Poetry in Torquato Tasso's Concept of Islam,” pp. 13-33
Women started going to confession more and more often, devoting much time to the practice of penitence, no longer afraid of malevolent looks from bystanders. Between confessors and female penitents a firm link of trust had now been created – as well as of psychological subjection, since the pattern according to which the sacrament was administered to women was definitely authoritarian. The priest led the dialog, and the penitents relied on him as on a father, giving raise to a steady, deep relationship with him. Quite often, in a society ruled by violent males, the confessor meant a saving anchor, or at least, a bulwark for the woman's individuality in a field, sexuality, in which women usually were at the mercy of men.
__Mario Sanseverino, Confessare gli italiani in età moderna, “How to Confess Italians in the Modern Era,” that is, in the Catholic Church in the decades after the Council of Trent, 16th-17th centuries, pp. 89-109