SiStan ChapLee

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Divine search engine

G. B. Marino, The Massacre of the Innocents, canto 3. The most striking feature of the she-angel called Vision is that her forehead is a video screen.
Crystal is her forehead, clear and spotless,
where written or drawn are all things which
Nature makes or will ever be able to make,
shapes that can be created, or created already.
God's very hand did write them, the text
being in an ink of light, in letters of gold.
Here to his beloved ones He often shows—
as on white paper—what He to others hides.

Monday, June 17, 2019

A vision of Vision

G. B. Marino, The Massacre of the Innocents, canto 3. The kingdom of Dream is peopled with symbolic and bizarre creatures, as was usually the case in Renaissance literature and art. The most interesting character is a female one, Vision, whom in fact the angel has come to contact. Her wings recall famous passages from the book of Prophet Ezekiel, ch. 1, and the Book of Revelation, ch. 4, both of which had already been reused by Dante in Purgatorio 29.91-105 (see here William Blake's illustration).
Among the black crowd of spectres winged
there flies, shining and white, a young lady
whose limbs are veiled by a diaphanous
garment; of a wonderful kind her beauty.
Silvery her wings, and like a peacock's, are
embellished with eyes—her name being Vision,
the escort of Truth, of Prophets the friend,
ancient ambassador for the King of heaven.

Monday, June 10, 2019

The Dream-Quest

G. B. Marino, The Massacre of the Innocents, canto 3. Since Joseph has to be warned while sleeping, the angel, first of all, reaches the realm of dreams. The place is set in Ethiopia, encircled by very high mountains; that is remarkable because in literature that location was often ascribed to Adam's Paradise, see Ariosto's Orlando Furioso and, in part, Dante's Purgatorio. The last variation on the theme of the "mountains of madness" would be worked out by Howard P. Lovecraft, shifting them to Antarctica and replacing Eden with a quite different kind of primordial habitat.
A valley there, in Ethiopia the Black,
surrounded by a crown of high rocks
within which evening falls after noon,
opens its branches, blooms against the sun.
Here, with a lazy and indolent crowd
the King of Dreams got his home, deep;
and here, among dark, solitary caves
a quiet shelter is given the Night.     agudeza

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Close Encounters of the Third Heaven

G. B. Marino, The Massacre of the Innocents, canto 3. An angel -- an ordinary one, not Gabriel or Michael -- is sent by God to warn Joseph, Mary's husband, that they must immediately leave Bethlehem in order to escape Herod's fury. In Marino's version, the angel will not simply appear to Joseph in a dream; a longer, often surprising psychological process will take place. Now, anyway, he flies toward the Earth quite like a shooting star or a UFO. His description comes from Homer's Hermes via the angel (Gabriel) sent to Godfrey of Bouillon in Torquato Tasso's Jerusalem Delivered.
The night soon vanished, though the bigger
lamp still remained buried below the Earth;     the sun
but that heavenly fire, soaring in its flight
like a vice-sun, burns and flares up and,
beating its wings while curled up in itself,
imprints a long trail of light across the air.
The shepherd, deceived, gets off his bed
in the glimmer of that morning-like ray.

Monday, May 27, 2019

The answer, my friend. . .

G. B. Marino, The Massacre of the Innocents, canto 3. God answers the goddess called Mercy, who is a projection of Virgin Mary in her future condition in glory, as well as a new Thetis imploring Jupiter to save her son, Achilles. God's 'explanation' on why He is about not to prevent Herod from slaughtering dozens or hundreds of little babies, out of ambition and folly, is definitely not comforting and reassuring, still less 'utilitarian.' It implies a sort of mystic reduplication of Christ's sacrifice, that surely comes from the works of some Church Father, with New Testament links to Matthew 16.24; Colossians 1.24, etc. There also seems to be operating a cross reference to Dante, Paradiso 7.103-8 (Justice vis-a-vis Mercy) and 32.42-8 (children in heaven). In Marino, however, Justice plays rather the role of Fate as in Greek literature. The passage translated below includes an octave and the first two lines of the following.
"It is here fixed that, as he sheds his blood,
a crowd of innocents shed their blood too;
so that my Church, which he will establish soon,
may be most rich in its ornaments and treasures;
and this, she who holds the scales and the sword,     Justice
may never complain about injustices with me.
My daughter, I don't wish this, nor want to wish,
though must appease your sorrow in part, at least.
I do want for these very first victims of mine,
to the author's scorn, offense to turn into glory
. . ."

Monday, May 20, 2019

Off Topic: Tricks of a Spirit-Seer

by Salvador Dali

Wonderful and devastating is Emanuel Swedenborg's book, with a quite misleading title, De cultu et amore Dei, "On the worship and love of God."

Wonderful because it practically provides a Summa of the whole range of topics that, from time to time, he was interested in during the different phases of his life. Scientific observations and conjectures on the origin of the universe and of the species, as well as on the structures of biology and psychology, are interwoven with free interpretations of the Bible and forays into Christian theology. His pattern of the universe comes after Descartes', an author he often refers to, mostly in order to refute him. But much more relevant is the fact that Swedenborg's dynamic, evolutionary hypotheses are worked out earlier than the Laplace-Kant model, not to speak of Darwin. Unusually numerous are the quotations from Greek mythology. Satan gnostically plays a cosmic, even biological role that he will lose in Swedenborg's following works. As for the Bible, his exegesis fluctuates between scientific/psychological explanations, symbolism, and brilliant literary variations that aim at a direct competition with Milton's Paradise Lost, as especially nn. 90-91 and 113 in De cultu demonstrate most clearly.

But, devastating because. . . well, it was published in 1745. That means, before Swedenborg started – from 1749 on – to write books about his "divine revelations." In De cultu, however, we find out that all his main ideas were already there, with the only exceptions of some residues of traditional Christology that would soon be rejected, and the absence of the spirits of the dead, who would play an ubiquitous role in his later works. In fact, Swedenborg wrote De cultu precisely when crowds of phantoms had already been haunting him for a year or two, and he was struggling to resist, to carry on his everyday life as if no such phenomenons were happening. Not by chance, the very first lines (Stroh & Sewall translation) read: "Walking once alone in a pleasant grove to dispel my disturbing thoughts. . ." So, even if in future he would present his persistent scientific ideas as a result of his visions of angels, this book shows that the derivation had been the other way round. "The Supreme Deity, our Most Holy Father, is actually in our souls with His life; His Only-begotten, or our Love, is actually in the mind itself. And that Prince of the world is actually with his life in the animus, in this lowest mind" (n. 70). The way to William Blake was paved.

Monday, May 13, 2019

The Shining

G. B. Marino, The Massacre of the Innocents, canto 3. Now God reacts to Mercy's prayer. The description of God is the same that appears in the remaining stanzas for Marino's long-planned poem Gerusalemme distrutta ("Jerusalem Destroyed" in the events of 70 AD), though it refers more specifically to Christ in glory in that case. Which reuses which? Hard to say. Marino in fact often worked on more poems at the same time, and made materials shift from one another. In general, and obviously, in this Baroque scenery God is no more an arid geometric pattern like in Dante's Paradiso, canto 33. The text, anyway, also recalls images from Paradiso, e.g. 5.124-5, together with passages from the Bible, such as Psalm 104.1-2 and 1 Timothy 6.16.
Threads woven from I dunno what fabric
has the rich, sacred clothing covering Him;
they seem the sun, if the sun (which receives
blaze from the heavenly sun) shines so much.     see Matthew 17.2
A sparkling fog He wears as his garment,
a cloudy light He wears as his cloak;
He shines up to being veiled in his light,
within his own rays He himself hides.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Candid camera on Ludovico Ariosto

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780-1867) may be termed a neo-Renaissance, or indeed the neo-Renaissance painter of the 19th century, for many reasons. The most trivial reason is that his idol was Raphael (Raffaello Sanzio), whose works he continually "quoted" in his own paintings; not only Raphael's Madonnas but also his vast frescoes like The School of Athens and The Fire in Borgo. Ingres even hid small reproductions of Raphael's Madonnas in portraits that had nothing to do with it, Napoleon included. Moreover, the French painter rediscovered the late Medieval and early Renaissance Italian artists, for example Piero della Francesca, from whom he borrowed the use of colors. And quite surprisingly, his Jupiter and Thetis echoes Piero's Resurrection of Christ. This highlights the fact that Ingres was a neo-Renaissance author especially because of his attitudes toward both art and the world. Classical mythology, Christianity, history, contemporary personages were approached by him by blending different levels of meaning, cross references, and touches of cultivated humor.

One example is shown in the collage above, based on his Ruggiero Freeing Angelica, 1819, kept at the Louvre Museum in Paris. Absolutely the most famous work of art ever inspired by Ludovico Ariosto's long poem Orlando Furioso -- Ingres himself made more copies or versions of it. Though it apparently depicts the episode in the poem with great care, it provides in fact a very free interpretation of the subject. Ruggiero's (or "Ruggero" in the current spelling) action does not mirror Ariosto's description, his posture rather recalls Saint George killing the dragon. The Orc however is a small beast here: it could hardly swallow Angelica in one bite! Comparisons with Renaissance art will retrieve teeth of that kind in devils and in sea monsters that symbolized the Turkish menace, see e.g. Paolo Veronese's Perseus and Andromeda, or El Greco's Victory at Lepanto. And here is Ingres' pointe: Angelica does not look frightened at the Orc, but at the talons of the hippogriff ridden by her rescuer! An omen of the fact that the valiant knight will soon represent a sexual threat to her, as the poem reveals.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Mercy cries mercy

G. B. Marino, The Massacre of the Innocents, canto 3. Rachel's (i.e. Israel's) prayer is heard by a "goddess" called Mercy, who in her turn supplicates God. In Catholic literature the role of this Mercy would usually belong to Virgin Mary, who however had not yet been glorified since the events in the poem take place, obviously, when Jesus is an infant. The whole passage is full of references to Dante. In Inferno 2, Beatrix, anguished by the poet's fate, seeks help from Saint Lucy, who goes and prays Virgin Mary -- or Divine Mercy personified, according to Dante's son Jacopo. In the stanza below, line 2 quotes Purgatorio 6.120. And the last line reworks Virgil's famous cry, Quid non mortalia pectora cogis, auri sacra fames, that had been quoted in Purgatorio 22.40-1 too, though in a wrong translation (!).
"Eyes which see the whole, O divine eyes,
are you," she said, "looking perhaps elsewhere?
Or, those most innocent babies slaughtered
appear before you indeed, but you don't care?
You do see those human, those beastly hearts
to what new, unheard of abominations
are drawn, via the hellish ungodly snake,
by a thirst for blood born of gold hunger!"

Friday, May 3, 2019

The effects of bodybuilding

For some reason, in listing the many literary and artistic sources of Ingres' Jupiter and Tethis (1811; now in Aix-en-Provence, France), scholars often forget what apparently had been the main source, Piero della Francesca's Resurrection of Christ (1450-63; Sansepolcro, Italy). All the more so as Ingres was a wild-eyed fanatic of late Medieval / early Renaissance Italian art. And surely, this kind of reuse tells much about the French painter's methods and views, in spite of his devout declarations.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Able to surp-rise

And once again, Tintoretto with his surprises. Since in the liturgical calendar of the Catholic Church the time of Easter continues until Pentecost (June 9, this year), it is still worth spending some words on Tintoretto's Resurrection of Christ inside the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, the former headquarters of the St. Roch Major Brotherhood in Venice. According to Matthew 28.2 (ISV), "Suddenly, there was a powerful earthquake, because an angel of the Lord had come down from heaven, approached the stone, rolled it away. . ."

Here, for a starter, the angels make a team of four; that may remind us of such apocalyptic texts as Matthew 24.31 and Revelation 7.1. But what's much more, much more than this, if we carefully look at their movements, they are NOT rolling away the stone. They are trying to lock it into position, and shut Christ inside before it is too late!

But, it is too late. Preachers love to say that the resurrection of Christ was a shocking event, and the artists often conveyed this by showing the soldiers, when not sleeping, frightened by the sudden flash of light from the sepulcher. Apparently, according to that devout but 'bad boy' called Tintoretto, the event surpassed even the angels' comprehension and projects. Interpreting Ephesians 1.20-21 in the strongest way possible; maybe with an echo of Dante, Inferno 8.124-6.

Saturday, April 27, 2019


G. B. Marino, The Massacre of the Innocents, canto 3. Herod plans the massacre of the children in Bethlehem, all those who are two years old or younger (Matthew 2.16). He uses a 'technique' that will be also used by the Nazis for the Holocaust: tell the people -- here, the mothers with their babies -- to gather in one place, without explaining the true reason, indeed hinting at some pleasant event that will happen. The poet lets out a lamentation, having it expressed by Rachel, the symbol of Israel (Matthew 2.17-18). God's silence, and more than that, His non-intervention is an important subject in Marino's poetry, in his long poem Adonis too; with explanations a posteriori that will not sound entirely comforting. Faith in 16th-17th century Europe was no longer naive, not even with Catholic authors (poets, writers, artists) who declared themselves to be in line with the established Church.
"Holy Mercy, if in heaven you are not dead
after fleeing from earth to heaven in scorn,     = Astrea
look at the events down here, at the trophies
of your enemy: they are so frail and sad.     enemy: Cruelty
Why don't you come? Are perhaps the Jewish
injuries uncared for, or unseen by you?
You see that no other shelter or escape
than yours Israel's good seed now hopes for."

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Women & Power, true thru art

The title, Faces of Power, is an umbrella concept for a book that delves into much more. One mosaic and twelve paintings in fact not only explain icons of sovereigns and rulers in a strict sense, but provide views on politics, society, and European history more in general, from the late Roman Empire to the 19th century. Most of the works examined concern 'our' favorite time span, the epoch included between the 15th and the 17th centuries. An insight into one of Giambattista Marino's favorite subjects, namely Maria De' Medici Queen of France, is also included; and her personality turns out to have been quite different from her laudatory poetical portraits. Who could figure it out?!. . .  This anyway leads us to mention a very important feature of this book: the role played by female personages, from the surprising Empress Theodora onward. It is especially a shock to learn about the nightmare that surrounded the lives of all the girls and women shown in Velazquez's famous painting Las Meninas.

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. Saint Louis of Toulouse, 13th century, is however meant; who happened to be nephew to Louis IX.

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
"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."