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Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Let's go Baroque


G. B. Marino, The Massacre of the Innocents, canto 3. Surely on purpose, each of the six cantos in the poem is written in a different literary style. Canto 1 is marked by a modern, 'heroic,' no longer Medieval rendition of the character of Satan; a process that started from Torquato Tasso and would lead to John Milton. Canto 2 works on the classical, from Homer on, debate during a council of war, in order to determine the politics to be adopted from now on. Two major viewpoints emerge, based on either peace or violence, and. . . peace won't make it (well, if it did, the story would immediately end). Canto 3 is the most typically Marinean or, that amounts to the same, the most typically Baroque section in the poem. Like all Baroque art, it plays on two levels: human feelings and special effects. The outcome may appear artificial to 21st century readers, but, on careful inspection, many of the most brilliant and innovative ideas are concentrated here.

The three cantos also describe an ascending decision-making process: in hell, on earth, and in heaven. As a consequence, King Herod will prove to be a puppet in the hands of Satan, but Satan and Herod, puppets in God's hands. Canto 3, moreover, provides a connection between the first part of the poem, mostly supernatural, and the second part, earthly if not strictly historical.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

The mysterious quartet


Again Tintoretto's genius at work. The painting above, made in 1551-2 and now at the Accademia Galleries in Venice, is conventionally titled Saint George, the Princess, and Saint Louis. But it puzzled the observers from the very beginning, as the princess (the one rescued by George) played an exaggerated role, and her posture was considered obscene. Well, this is just one among many riddles in the painting. Namely:

1. Saint Louis. . . Louis who? The future Gonzaga saint was not even born, and Louis IX of France (the golden lilies in blue field, on the cloak) was a king, not a monk and bishop.

2. The dragon. Since Tintoretto lived in Venice, he built the dragon by assembling Mediterranean fishes, a swordfish for the head, a garfish for the general look. A slim and not huge monster; trying to draw it whole and unroll it, it should be about four meters in length. Its shape is basically the same as Smaug's in JRR Tolkien's own drawings (see).

3. The Princess. Dressed in red, sitting on a dragon, as in the Book of Revelation 17.3-4: the Whore of Babylon, who traditionally became a symbol of the political corruption of the Church. For example, in Dante, Purgatorio 32.148-153, Rome is blamed precisely for prostituting herself with the King of France!

4. Saint George. The whore and/or princess mirrors herself in his armor, so a sort of tribute to the Renaissance mania with Venus and Mars seems to be implied. George's arms, however, also suggests the crucified and risen figure of Christ. And, the white horse in the background may recall the Messiah-knight in Revelation 19.11-16.

What consequences should we draw from all this? It is not easy to say. But surely, nothing 'harmless' lies hidden over there.



Saturday, April 13, 2019

Quod erat demonstrandum


G. B. Marino, The Massacre of the Innocents, canto 2. King Herod's reaction to Burucco's speech.
He said; and with a way less angry eye
did the king approve of Burucco's words,
firm in his most fierce desire, so gratified
by the sweet sound of flattering praise.
Standing up, quickly he dismisses the princes
while he already plots an atrocious fraud;
and springs like a snake in its cold scales,
a viper and a wild beast foretasting blood.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Born to kill the newborn


G. B. Marino, The Massacre of the Innocents, canto 2. The final jab in Burucco's speech. In the heat of passion, he even 'forgets' that Herod was not a Jew (he was of Idumean origins), and that precisely that was the political problem. An echo resounds of the infamous sentence "Kill them all, God will recognize His own," allegedly pronounced before a massacre of Cathars in the Middle Ages. -- With reference to his contemporary "heretics," the Huguenots in France, Marino thought that only their four main leaders should have been prosecuted; see his pamphlet La Sferza, "The Whip." And again, it seems useful to recall that he himself was a target of the Pope and the Inquisition, though for a different reason (obscenity mixed with sacred subjects).
"Let the innocent die, and the criminal,
if evil lurks in the bosom of innocence.
As a sacrifice to the Jewish King, kill one
wrongdoer among a thousand righteous!
Let the royal sword shed the common blood,
crying death to enemies and not enemies.
Servants' lives do not matter, and rightly so,
to free a king's soul from such great risks."

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Three wise men, and one perfidious


G. B. Marino, The Massacre of the Innocents, canto 2. Burucco carries on his peroration before King Herod reminding him of the star mentioned by the three Wise Men who had come from the Far East (Matthew 2.1-3). He reinterprets the episode in a quite peculiar way. And since the word "Palestine," or "Palestinians" as in the original text, is an anachronism in this context, Burucco himself proves to be a soothsayer.
"That new, mysterious star in the sky
was no star here shining by mere chance:
God's tongue it was, and in its own way,
Watch out, King of Judea! it did seem to say.
The divining noblemen, by such a star led,
who among us, in clear, unambiguous words
were looking for some King of Palestine——
what else, but messengers from God were they?"

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Holy advertising


Tintoretto's Deposition of Christ in the Sepulcher, in St. George's Church in Venice, was most probably the last painting he worked on. It was made in 1593 or 1594. Among the noticeable details, the figure of Jesus is clearly inspired by the Holy Shroud (Sindone), as can be inferred from the shroud itself in the painting, but especially from the shape and position of the blood stains on his face and body. Though Venice had no special interest in this relic, its presence here depends on the fact that it had been recently (1578) moved to Turin by the Savoy Dukes who owned it, and an incessant advertising campaign had started. Our friend Giambattista Marino in the very early 17th century would contribute to the promotion of this relatively new devotion, that would supplant the Medieval Veronica (see e.g. Dante, Paradiso 31.103-8).

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Riots in Bethlehem 'as' in Milan


G. B. Marino, The Massacre of the Innocents, canto 2. Burucco is described in detail by Marino, namely as having white hairs mixed to his black head and beard, that makes him look older; he apparently had a real person in mind. Here Burucco gives King Herod some 'good' reasons to order a massacre of the little babies in Bethlehem. His haughty and contemptuous description of the common people is noticeable especially with reference to the poet's (rather than the characters') times, that were practically the same as those depicted in Alessandro Manzoni's historical novel I Promessi Sposi, see the anti-Spanish riots in Milan in 1628.
"A rough people, and untamed, and wild,
looking always for rebellions and riots,
fickle plebs ready to all sorts of insults,
and often recalcitrant—you rule, my Lord.
Let therefore a prudent king, and wise,
curb such impetuous and foolish wrath,
thus remedying dangers from any troubles,
foreseeing any damages from future ones."

Saturday, March 23, 2019

The wrong guy at the right time


G. B. Marino, The Massacre of the Innocents, canto 2. During the 'Council of Bethlehem,' after the wise and useless speech of Urizeo, a second councilor now addresses King Herod. His name is Burucco -- the names of Eastern people in the Western poems of chivalry were usually ridiculous, or at least clumsy, but not always on purpose: they tried to imitate the Arabic sounds. Burucco is a living summary of all the flaws of Renaissance courtiers, and without their virtues; that's precisely why Herod will listen to him. On the other hand, his character will prove less boring than Urizeo to the readers, too. And Marino did hardly do it by chance.
Here's Burucco, baron fed with bitterness
and disdain at the Court, gruff grumbler,
two-faced, cunning, cruel; who hated both King
and Kingdom out of deep envy, and more;
impulsive, with a fervid mind endowed,
fond of slaughters and a fan of death;
he did not know mercy, did not care
about tenderness by nature or blood.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Nobody is deafer than. . .


G. B. Marino, The Massacre of the Innocents, canto 2. Urizeo ends his peroration with a sort of balance between common sense, least-evil pragmatism, and noble Counter-Reformation i.e. anti-Machiavellian political values. The last two lines in the stanza below, in an extreme attempt, even deny what he himself had just said, that if a Messiah has been forecast, it will be impossible to stop him. As a result of all his efforts, anyway, Urizeo will read this reply written on the King's brow: "A resolute mind hates advice."
"Shun, my Lord, the heinous title of cruel,
demented king; and with royal clemency,     a false step if any!
may that hot will that burns and boils be
checked by mature mind and high wisdom.
Suspend wrath; and made meek and tender,
use, I pray, just rigor instead of violence.
Let us rather look for the one criminal,
and let he alone bear the common guilt."     see John 11.50-2

Sunday, March 17, 2019

The first Hollywood colossal on J.C.


Again a look at Tintoretto's works, a king of intriguing novelties. Here above, a detail from his famous and gigantic Crucifixion, painted in 1565 for the Scuola Grande di San Rocco (St. Roch Guild) in Venice. The painter organized the space on the canvas so as to be able to show three consecutive phases in the execution of the Roman capital punishment: the convict being tied or nailed (on the right), the lifting up of the cross (left), the death (Jesus). As for the second stage, a powerful, impressively realistic rendition makes us feel like we were there in that moment, perceiving the muscular efforts of the men who, in one place and another, either push or pull, both with their hands and with ropes, then. . .

"Realistic"?! Oh, no, the crucifixion technique was completely different! They possibly did not know about it in the 16th century, but the impression remains that, had Tintoretto known about it, he would have invented this scene all the same, because however fake, it made a big effect. The first Hollywood colossal on Jesus Christ.

Friday, March 15, 2019

A very original sin


This is Jacopo Tintoretto's version of The Original Sin -- the work of an artist who succeeded in standing out for his originality in an epoch in which originality was ubiquitous. The painting, made in the early 1550s, is currently kept in Venice in the Accademia Gallery. Tintoretto's touch of genius here appears in Eve, who is crowned with laurel and even has laurel, not fig, leaves to cover her sex, that therefore identifies her as Athena/Minerva. If it was all about the Tree of Knowledge, she could play the role of the Goddess of Knowledge, couldn't she?

And by so doing, she also reversed the roles in the Judgment of Paris. Other details look remarkable in the painting. For example, the couple is sitting on a bench of hewn rocks even before the official beginning of humanity's condemnation to a life of a hard work; and, with what tools?

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Perugino's best hidden secret


It might seem a tautology that in Perugia, Italy, there exists a home where the Renaissance painter called "Perugino" lived, or supposedly so. It exists, in fact, but in an almost unfindable alley (see map below), with no signs leading to it. The plaque was put there few years after the National Unification of Italy, when the city of Perugia did no longer belong to the Papal States. It is solemn and quite ungrammatical in Italian, yeah. And reads:

In this building
where, according to constant tradition,
there lived
PIETRO VANNUCCI
"Perugino" [a citizen of Perugia]
by home, by feelings, and by name,
341 years after the great painter's death,
in November 1865, thanks to the City Hall,
this plaque was set
that it also might witness to all people
Perugia's devotion
toward the founder of its School,
Raphael's master.



The paradox of the Messiah


G. B. Marino, The Massacre of the Innocents, canto 2. For the general context, see the previous post in this series. Here is a section from the speech of Urizeo, the old and wise priest, trying to convince King Herod not to order the massacre, for many reasons, among which a logical paradox implied in the Messianic prophecies:
"Either that ancient prediction about
the Kingdom is false, or else it is true.
If a vain one, why to upset peace,
and arouse public hate and disdain?
. . .
If it is carved and written in the stars,
if the High Child's birth is set in heaven,
what can human efforts do? Why to vex
a people vexed already—and contrast Fate?
Such a cruel edict you will issue in vain.
Quiver, rage, threaten, as best as you can:
He will live, grow up, and under some veil
will Heaven keep, in spite of you, him."

Thursday, March 7, 2019

In their humble (and useless) opinion


G. B. Marino, The Massacre of the Innocents, canto 2. The Council "of Bethlehem" follows a pattern that, starting from Homer but also the Bible, will be constantly re-employed by the Renaissance poets, and then, in a new, surprising way, by John Milton for the "Pandaemonium" in Paradise Lost. In spite of many differences between authors, the opinions expressed by the contrasting characters during the debate before the king, or equivalent, belong basically to two trends: wisdom/peace vs. violence/war. And as it happens in 1 Kings 12, and in real life, the leader (here, Herod) finally OKs the opinion that from the beginning was in line with his own mood.

Marino felt personally involved with this subject: in fact, his father meant to have him study at the university in order to become a lawyer, not a poet (the same familiar strife as Ovid had had). Marino refused because that would have meant to devote his entire life to silly quarrels on the basis of laws that were -- and are, in Italy at least -- conceived precisely so as to make people dependent on lawyers. It was the epoch, the early 17th century, skilfully rebuilt by Alessandro Manzoni in his novel I Promessi Sposi, where the character nicknamed "Azzeccagarbugli," the Tangle-maker, has become proverbial.

The first speaker, already introduced in the last stanzas of canto 1 in The Massacre of the Innocents, is an old Jewish priest, Urizeo, who "traveled much and saw much," like Odysseus. We will listen to his reasoning in the next post.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Shakespeare in Bethlehem


G. B. Marino, The Massacre of the Innocents, canto 1. Herod's speech corresponds quite aptly to his personality, as well as his mixed feelings toward "his" and "not his" people as we can retrace them in history. But more directly, Marino aimed to build a Baroque piece of drama. All in all, his New Testament King reminds us of William Shakespeare's Richard III.
". . . And now this cowardly people, always
loved and fed by me with great paternal zeal,
would dare to acclaim a dunno-what kid     Jesus
in my stead, and do so while I myself live?
What about me? I sleep, keep quiet, and bear
my own scorn? A despised and betrayed king!
In the name of a vain mercy of them all,
shall I be cruel, unjustly, against myself?"

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Memorial hall


G. B. Marino, The Massacre of the Innocents, canto 1. After his Messianic nightmare, Herod wakes up, and the sooner the better, calls his Council for the early morning in his Bethlehem palace. Again a topos of literature, from Homer to the Renaissance long poems. Here Marino's touch lies in the details of the hall where they meet: the walls are decorated with tapestries that show the story of Herod's second wife, Mariamne, whom he had murdered in his persecution mania. The tapestries therefore represent his bad conscience, precisely when he prepares to plan another slaughter. The adjectives superbi/superbe in line 8 mean at the same time "superb" and "proud," with a hint at the King's personality.
Now the Senators having been gathered,
were led by the guards up to a spacious hall.
Here woven and colored in a lively style,
representations had been realized in silk,
the embroidered memories of Madiamne's
unlucky loves followed by a tragic end;
works of Babylonian-like craftsmanship,
superb embellishments to superb walls.


Sunday, February 24, 2019

Spin doctors


G. B. Marino, The Massacre of the Innocents, canto 1. The she-demon Cruelty is sent as a secret messenger to King Herod, who is envisioned by the poet as having a secondary royal palace in Bethlehem, where in fact he currently resides. It is night; and, with a classical expedient dating back to Homer, Cruelty appears to Herod in a dream after taking on the face of someone familiar to him, in this case his brother Joseph, now dead. She warns the King about the Messiah, whom she, clearly a spin doctor, already describes as followed by dangerous crowds, all the more dangerous as Herod the Great was not a Jew but an 'usurper' of Idumean origins. He had previously learned something about a mysterious infant from the three Wise Men (Matthew 2.1-7).
"You know: from the old stock of Jewish kings,
as an unhoped-for fruit out of a dry branch,
a wonderful baby, although poor, among
the beasts and hay was just recently born.     (Isaiah 1.3)
With such a descendant, your fatal enemy,
too friendly does the ungrateful plebs deal:     (Luke 2.11, 20)
they cheer him, and follow him, and openly
call him your successor, their sovereign."

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Who ya gonna call?


G. B. Marino, The Massacre of the Innocents, canto 1. In Marino's hell, Satan is surrounded by the three Furies who 'work' as his conscience, at the same time expressing his thoughts and punishing him. Now the infernal lord, chained and unable to leave his kingdom, decides anyway to plan an operation on earth in an attempt, however it may be carried out, to destroy the recently born Messiah. The Furies volunteer for helping. Satan has a better idea: Call Lady Cruelty. Whaaa haaa haaa haaa haaa!
This was, of the three goddesses of evil,
a worthy sister, fiercer than all wild beasts;
and made the rounds, beating her wings,
to watch over all those wicked crowds.
She loved to fuel the immortal tinder of
the fire by which the black souls boiled     Inferno 6.85; 21.17
in the deepest, most secret chasm
of the forever-sad and woeful world.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Satan confesses: That's why I did it


G. B. Marino, The Massacre of the Innocents, canto 1. Satan blames God because, not content with having chased him down from heaven, now He also tries to deprive the hell of its power on earth. In this sequence of stanzas, one stands out, first, because the text does not fit in well with the preceding and following lines, so it may have been inserted later. And secondly, it expresses a more developed theology that draws on the Church Fathers, whom Marino studied while working on his Dicerie sacre, "Sacred Orations" in prose. According to this version, Satan's rebellion was caused by his hate against the Son of God (see also Milton's Paradise Lost), and more than that, by refusing, from the very beginning, to accept the scandalous process through which, one day, Christ would lower himself by taking on human "mud." Moreover, the concept in the last line here below was used by Marino in another poem, too, in order to praise a "heretic," Giulio Cesare Vanini, sentenced to death by the Inquisition in 1619. Satan remembers:
"His own simple, prime forms He meant to
overlay with a low corporeal nature,
and as the Head of heavenly limbs     Ephesians 1.22
make a filthy mass of earthly mire.     see Gnosticism
I did not stand it; and soared above
the North, where no angel's flight goes.
Although my army then fell vanquished,
to attempt high deeds is a trophy as such."

Friday, February 15, 2019

The food of the God(s)


G. B. Marino, The Massacre of the Innocents, canto 1. While viewing a sort of mental movie on Jesus Christ's infancy, Satan really cannot believe that God may have undergone such a change. Marino here lists, in a set of stanzas, the paradoxes of faith that were so dear to Catholic Baroque devotion; but he also adds his personal 'trademark.' In this case, in line 6, the Son of God is described as "feeding on heavenly nectar" like the Greek gods. That is precisely the opposite of the standard theological tenets about Jesus, i.e. that he is the "true bread from heaven" to be eaten by us (Gospel of John, ch. 6). The prophecy in Isaiah 7.15 provides a conceptual link, however. So, Satan cannot believe. . .
That the unattainable, invisible Light     1 Timothy 6.16
reveals himself to shepherds on his birth;
that the infinite, almighty Godhead
is now imprisoned by cloth bands;
that he may drink milk, as a baby,
who used to feed on heavenly nectar;
that in a rough barn, a poor hut there
sits he who owns a star throne above.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Refined rage


G. B. Marino, The Massacre of the Innocents, canto 1. Satan understands that the Messiah is about to be born, that is, that his own kingdom on earth is doomed. He reacts with rage, anyway a very refined one since it comes from Dante, Inferno 3.109 and 27.124-7.
Having from lower effects gathered
the deep meaning of supreme decrees,
his ungodly eyes stained with blood
and venom, hell embers, distorted he.
He hid in his claws his face, he hurled
a roar that deafened those dark caverns;
and of his tail, wound around himself,
finally bit the whole end out of fury.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Michelangelo in a poem by Poe

Al Aaraaf

In a letter of 1829 to a publisher in Philadelphia, Isaac Lea, Edgar A. Poe explained that the poem he was working on, Al Aaraaf, was based on Tycho Brahe's discovery of a "new star" in Cassiopeia, that suddenly appeared and vanished. And the protagonist of the poem might have been --- Michelangelo! By whom Poe meant someone who was alive during the astronomical phenomenon, that however happened in 1572 while the artist had died eight years before. In the final version of Al Aaraaf, the male Terrestrial in the dialog in Part II is anyway called Angelo.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

No! Not Venus, please!


G. B. Marino, The Massacre of the Innocents, canto 1. On the basis of apochryphal sources (see also John Milton's ode On the Morning of Christ's Nativity), in conjunction with the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, Satan "sees" cosmic wonders and a general fall of the idols in the heathen countries all around. Among which, special relevance is given to Venus' temple. This might be a section added by Marino after 1623, when his long poem Adonis had been condemned by the Inquisition, and he was trying, more or less convincingly, to re-present himself as a devout son of the Catholic Church. In line 7, "destruction" translates the verb scoppiare, that means both "to explode" and "to uncouple."
He sees the doors opened to a triple Sun
by the Orient palace, that now uncloses.
He sees the demolished building fall,
sacred to the beautiful war-hating Goddess;
the idols and images, where her godhead
is worshiped, be hurled down to the ground,
and the earth quake, and a destruction
of all foul lovers whose love was insulting.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

The true shape of Noah's Ark

by Salvador Dali


(. . .) the “window” which was to be “made perfect to a cubit from above” signifies the intellectual part, (. . .) and from the fact that, when the construction of the ark is being treated of, by the “ark” is signified the man of the church, the intellectual part cannot be otherwise compared than to a “window from above.”


__Emanuel Swedenborg, Arcana Coelestia, n. 655

Sunday, February 3, 2019

I have seen things you people wouldn't believe


G. B. Marino, The Massacre of the Innocents, canto 1. Marino's Satan (like Tasso's before, and Milton's afterward) is a modern character, not a dumb grinding machine as in Dante's Inferno. "In his eyes melancholy dwells, and death"; his sighs express "rage, pride, and desperation." The "once most beautiful angel of light" has "transformed, and fallen into Phlegethon, / a proud Narcissus, a sacrilegious Phaeton." But presently, Satan looks upward through a crack in the Earth's crust, and sees. . .
He sees in Galilee, sent there by God
to a humble Virgin, a heavenly messenger;
who bows, greets her, and as to a goddess
brings the lilies of an April everlasting.
He sees in an old Jewish woman's womb,
fertile in spite of senile barrenness,
the Great Embryo worshiped, with a jerk,     Luke 1.44
by a baby, saint even before being born.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

The action starts in hell


G. B. Marino, The Massacre of the Innocents, canto 1. After the Prologue that summarizes the subject, and the dedication to a gentleman, Lodovico Rivaldi, the action starts in hell. The powerful, angry and sad character of Satan draws on Torquato Tasso's long poem Gierusalemme liberata (Jerusalem Delivered), that will also inspire John Milton for his Paradise Lost. Milton's poem, too, starts in hell with Satan plotting schemes -- just by chance? In the stanza below, the seven horns on the devil's crown, a clear symbol of the seven deadly sins, rework passages from the Book of Revelation; the mythological snakes recall Dante's Furies.
As the Judge of torment, King of tears,
he owns throne and garment of fire eternal:
garment, once a rich, luminous covering,
now woven with flames and darkness.
He carries (of his kingdom, the sole honor)
a seven-horned, high crown upon his head;
all around the royal diadem, green Hydras
make, with Cerasteses, horrid ornaments.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

The Massacre of the Innocents

from Hieronymus Bosch

In the next months, many chosen passages from Giambattista Marino's poem La strage degl'innocenti, of some 3,500 lines, will be translated here. The poem was first published posthumous in 1632 (Marino having died in 1625) and, according to online sources, remained a greatest hit up until the 19th century. The poem was mentioned by the author as early as 1605, then resurfaced as a "coming soon" project during the years, and evidences have been preserved that he himself used to read it to friends. As a matter of fact, the existing text seems to alternate Baroque fantasies of Marino's earlier phase and more mature, bitter considerations of his later years; sometimes, imperfect 'weld joints' between stanzas (of different epochs?) can be detected.

The poem, in six cantos, deals with a specific, almost Aristotelically unitary subject matter: the massacre of the babies supposedly planned by King Herod the Great in order to kill Jesus, whom he considered a rival for the throne, as in the Gospel of Matthew, ch. 2. But, as with all long poems then, its horizon is wider, in fact looking at the whole of human experience and history. The "whole" of it also includes the extramundane powers who influence humankind, namely Heaven and hell. The sources used by Marino, in either a clear or hidden way, will prove quite numerous.

The edition employed for the translation is the one published in Rome in 1633. In the introduction, they stress that they corrected many typos from the 1632 version; however, some mistakes also occur in this book, and will be indicated when needed.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Si salva nisciùno: Luther, Machiavelli, and Jesuits!


I spoke in the world of spirits with some doctors of the [Lutheran] church, about what they meant by “works of the law,” and what by “the law” under whose yoke, servitude, and condemnation they say they are not. They said they meant the works of the law of the Decalogue. And I then said, “What are the things decreed in the Decalogue? Are they not these: ‘thou shalt not kill,’ ‘thou shalt not commit whoredom,’ ‘thou shalt not steal,’ ‘thou shalt not bear false witness’? Are these the works of the law, which you separate from faith, saying, that ‘faith alone, without the works of the law, justifies and saves,’ and are these what Christ made satisfaction for?” And they replied, “They are.” And then there was heard a voice from heaven, saying, “Who can be so insane?” And immediately their faces were turned towards some diabolical spirits, among whom was Machiavelli, and several from the order of Jesuits, who permit all these things provided they guard themselves from the laws of the world. . .

__Emanuel Swedenborg, Apocalypsis Revelata, n. 578 (U.S.A. version, 1997)

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Off Topic: The Dwarfs Revealed

(picture from the Web)

JRR Tolkien would have probably been surprised to find out that 'his' Dwarfs had been prophesied in the Bible, in the Book of Revelation. In chapter 9, in fact, the mysterious "locusts" are described, whose bizarre features already made a big effect in the miniatures of Medieval manuscripts. But one of our beloved authors, Emanuel Swedenborg, succeeded in doing more than that. In his thick book Apocalypse Revealed (1766), n. 424, he stressed that the doomsday locusts actually looked like "dwarfs, which is evident also from their description, in that they had crowns on their heads, faces like men, hair like women, teeth like lions, breastplates of iron, and a king over them. . ."

So, not at all the funny, harmless Disney Dwarfs, but fierce and aggressive as in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Honestly, the Book of Revelation also says that they looked like horses, but Swedenborg explains this as meaning that they were ready to fight. And, ready they were! ;-)

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Luther and Machiavelli . . . together in hell


Emanuel Swedenborg's visions may be found intriguing -- or crazy -- for different reasons. Here, in a description of hell from Apocalypsis Revelata, n. 463, a controversy is made at the same time against Lutheran clergy and their theology, on the one hand, and political Machiavellism on the other. That would have looked quite obvious among 17th century Catholic thinkers, but much less so with an independent religious founder, whose father, moreover, had been an open-minded Lutheran bishop. The English translation adopted is John Withehead's from Apocalypse Revealed, West Chester (PA): The Swedenborg Foundation, 1997. It will be appreciated, at least, that Swedenborg's hell enjoys a dynamic exchange between "circles" that Dante's lacked.
(. . .) those of the clergy there, who altogether separate faith from charity and its good works, affirming in themselves that there is plainly no conjunction between them (. . .) There is an infernal society of them on the confines of the infernal society from the Machiavellists, and they sometimes enter from the one into the other, and call themselves companions; but they go away because there is a diversity, on this account, that there was with them something religious concerning faith in act, but none with the Machiavellists.