SiStan ChapLee

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Christmas holidays with the Inklings

Tolkien's The Tale of the Children of Húrin and Lewis' Mere Christianity are very well translated, by respectively Caterina Ciuferri and Franco Salvatorelli. The Italian version of Tolkien's unfinished long poem The Fall of Arthur is unfortunately quite disappointing and often wrong, but thank God they also included the original English text.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

This Christmas

This Christmas, the Holy Child is an object produced by an Italian association helping the "Chernobyl children," who are now the second generation of people whose health is damaged by the radioactive effects after the 1986 nuclear incident.

Questo Natale, il Santo Bambino è quello di un oggetto realizzato dall'associazione Forum per i diritti dei bambini di Chernobyl che aiuta le persone, ormai di seconda generazione, la cui salute è danneggiata dagli effetti radioattivi post-incidente nucleare del 1986.

The regular posts will start again on January 3. Meanwhile, oh, yes, I too received a greeting card:

Monday, December 23, 2013

True hand-made Hildegard

The artist Mara Maccari (website) has painted hand-made versions of some of the most beautiful miniatures from St. Hildegard of Bingen's books. As we have already mentioned, herb-healers like Hildegard might be outstanding personages during the Renaissance, even more so than in the Middle Ages in which she lived. Tasso gives these women important roles especially in his Gerusalemme Liberata.

The theological explanations of Hildegard's vision are a later 'appendix' added by the Church authority, i.e. a monk. Na, there was no Vatican conspiracy: the monk, on request, simply and naturally interpreted those images according to his beliefs. But the outcome is quite paradoxical, something like: "Listen! This is a brand new revelation! And it means: God is One in Three Persons, Jesus Christ is the Son of God who became Man, . . ." etc. etc.,  everything that everybody already knew.

So, Mara Maccari can freely reinterpret those images her own way and in her own right. This time, the references are different: esoteric doctrines, especially Rudolf Steiner's, so that, this time, the meaning of Hildegard's vision turns into teachings like: "The state of health, grace, and every miracle is due to the silent work of the soul within the corporeality, since the Soul is always contiguous to the spiritual world and receives substantiality from the planets, which are ruled by the harmony that the Soul succeeds in establishing." And the logical loop takes place once again, because Hildegard now reveals nothing more than what Steiner's followers, etc., already knew. Here's one big question: Is any new revelation actually (linguistically, psychologically, culturally, anthropologically) possible?

But, this Italian artist did something that the interpreters before her didn't: she re-drew the pictures by hand, detail by detail, line by line, color after color, and this let her enter into deeper communion with the Medieval mystic, even beyond the 'explanations' she then added in her turn. Her works, just a little more essential and modern than the original miniatures, are currently on exhibition - until January 21 - in Perugia, Italy, in the rooms of "L'erborista 1975," via Alessi 3.

A tribute to a tribute:

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Sunday Guests: the Trees

From: CS Lewis' Prince Caspian (The Chronicles of Narnia)

The quote: "Oh, Trees, Trees, Trees," said Lucy (though she had not been intending to speak at all). "Oh, Trees, wake, wake, wake. Don't you remember it? Don't you remember me? Dryads and Hamadryads, come out, come to me."

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Italian Nietzsche (7)

The most important consequences of this law:
- To have something cease, fulfil it, lead it to its top. If you want to destroy something, bring it to perfection!
- To achieve a purpose, pursue and achieve the opposite purpose (that's why those who pursue happiness as an end are the saddest people);
- To avoid getting any result, set it as your goal.

__Giovanni Papini, L'altra metà (1911), 1: The Law of Contraries

Friday, December 20, 2013

And the answer is . . . (1)

Armida ends her story. She has unexpectedly been helped by one of the "ministers" of her cruel uncle: Arontes, who has then taken shelter with her in his own castle (incidentally, she says nothing about the kind of relationship she may have with Arontes). But the Uncle King threatens to attack and destroy the castle, unless Godfrey gives aid to them. Now Armida, and all the Christian knights with her, wait for Godfrey's answer . . .  [5: 66]

Ciò detto, tace, e la risposta attende
Con atto che 'n silentio ha voce e preghi;
Goffredo il dubbio cor volve e sospende
Tra pensier vari, e non sa dove il pieghi.
Teme i barbari inganni, e ben comprende
Che non è fede in huom ch'a Dio la neghi;
Ma d'altra parte in lui pietoso affetto
Si desta, che non dorme in nobil petto.

After having said this, she falls silent, waiting for his answer in an attitude that, while keeping quiet, sends voices and pleas. Godfrey sets his hesitant heart -- keeps it suspended -- among wandering thoughts, and doesn't know which choice he should make. He is afraid of the barbarian lies, and he well understands that you cannot trust someone who doesn't trust in [the true] God. On the other hand, a feeling of piety is stirred within him, a feeling never sleeping in a noble soul.

Tasso echoes the famous sentence in the Aeneid, in the episode of the Horse: Timeo Danaos et dona ferentis, "I am afraid of the Greeks, even if they bring gifts," but including it in the issue of the "true religion" and the effects of God's 'exclusive' grace on human behavior, or the so-called question of the "Christian difference." Problems that were alien to the Greek and Latin minds. But, as a matter of fact, as we'll see, religious considerations won't basically influence the following Armida-related events.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

A big question just found a solution

The answer has come, at last, to the Great International Contest "Are there female Dwarfs anywhere?" (see) Many thanks to JWG, from Germany, who just replied via WhiteTeeth:

Zwerg un Zwergin, rasch zum Fleisse, musterhaft ein jedes Paar. Weiss nicht, ob es gleicherweise Schon im Paradiese war.

In one word, "There are!" Many thanks, and stay tuned, J! We'll possibly be needing your expertise again.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

She, Armida (21)

Armida (tells that she) had a dream in which her (fictional) mother warned her: "Flee! The tyrant is planning to kill you!"

[50: 53]

Temea, lassa, la morte, e non havea
(Chi 'l crederia?) poi di fuggirla ardire;
E scoprire la temenza ancor temea,
Per non affrettar l'hora al mio morire.
Così inquïeta e torbida trahea
La vita in un continuo martìre,
In guisa d'huom che l'empio ferro attenda
Su 'l collo, e morto sembri anzi che scenda.

"Poor me! I feared death, but -- would you believe? -- I didn't dare flee it. I even feared talking to anybody about my fears, since this might anticipate death. So, I dragged my anxious, gloomy life in a never-ending torture, like someone waiting for the cruel blade to fall onto their necks, and already looking dead before it does."

The nth proof that the fantasy genre is not an 'escape from reality' at all, but a deep insight into the dynamics of life. This psychological description by Armida is tragically true, as it happened, for example, to Jews throughout Europe when they perceived they would soon be chased by the Nazis and their allies.

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Italian Nietzsche (6)

My thesis is the following:
Each thing generates its contrary. That is:
Each thing comes from its contrary.

Some remarks are immediately needed:
1. This law is not, absolutely speaking, universal. --  Laws enjoying exceptions or referring to one part, or to few parts of reality are not less important than the others, and have the further advantage of meaning something.

__Giovanni Papini, L'altra metà (1911), 1: The Law of Contraries

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Sunday Guest: Trufflehunter

From: CS Lewis' Prince Caspian (The Chronicles of Narnia)

The quote: A dark shape approached the bed. Caspian felt an arm slipped gently under his shoulders -- if it was exactly an arm. The shape somehow seemed wrong. The face that bent towards him seemed wrong too.  . . .  "It's a mask of some sort," thought Caspian.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Italian Nietzsche (5)

I think that my mission (if I am allowed to speak of mission, and my mission) should be the same as the devil's in the great universe of the Lord God: To deny, to awaken, to sting, and to tempt.  . . .  I will stir you up, I will force you.  . . .  I undertake this role; I am a victim, a sort of scape-Christ. I stay in the No, in the bad No, so that others, by clinging on me, may discover new Yesses. I am the Judas of True Thought, and I accept this shame with sympathy -- I would nearly, and meanly, say: with vanity.
My duty is of the kind the "right thinkers" wouldn't accept, but they know all too well that dangerous expeditions need Räuber and bandoleros.

__Giovanni Papini, L'altra metà (1911), Foreword

Friday, December 13, 2013

A Tassean cameo in Goethe's "Faust"

Es wechselt Paradieseshelle
Mit tiefer, schauervoller Nacht

__ vv. 253-254

The Prologue in Heaven. The Archangel Gabriel speaks of the glory of the Earth (der Erde Pracht), that "alternates heavenly light with deep, horrific night." The now classic, very learned Italian translator Guido Manacorda (1948) surely had Tasso's style and lexicon in his mind when he rendered these two verses as ". . .  e luce di paradiso alterna con profonda, orrida notte."

She, Armida (20)

Keeping on telling her story, Armida says that she absolutely refused to marry that ugly and base cousin of hers. Her uncle and tutor wasn't glad at all . . .  [5: 50]

Partissi al fin con un sembiante oscuro,
Onde l'empio suo cor chiaro trasparve;
E ben l'historia del mio mal futuro
Leggergli scritta in fronte allhor mi parve.
Quinci i notturni miei riposi fûro
Turbati ogn'hor da strani sogni e larve,
Et un fatale horror ne l'alma impresso
M'era presagio de' miei danni espresso.

"He finally left, with a darkened countenance through which his impious heart clearly showed; and it seemed to me to be able to read the whole story of my looming evil on his forehead. From then on, my sleeps have been upset by strange dreams and spectres, and a fatal horror, impressed in my soul, provided an evident omen of my dangers."

"To read something on someone else's forehead" or "to have (or have not) something written on one's forehead" are common Italian phrases still nowadays.
The episode acquires a witty nuance if we remember that Armida is 'actually' the daughter of a mermaid, and we compare these verses with Dante, Purgatorio 19: 19 ff, when he dreams of a mermaid. Here, a mermaid has a dream, a nightmare indeed!
Fatal dreams are commonplace throughout the history of literature, but in Tasso's works they play a more special and disturbing role.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Italian Nietzsche (4)

I had approached Philosophy when I was still almost a kid, with the tender and mystical devotion of a Dante approaching a Beatrix he has dreamed of, and never seen.

__Giovanni Papini, L'altra metà (1911), Foreword

Later on, Papini -- possibly a unique case in Italian literature -- will fiercely attack Dante just for this, because Dante referred Christological expressions, taken from the Gospels (see Purgatorio 29: 85-86, 30: 19, 33: 10-12), to a chick. That in fact was the point: Beatrix as an interface of Christ himself, rather than a fairy tale princess. According to Dante's son Jacopo (James), she wasn't a true woman but a symbol of the Holy Scriptures. See also Purgatorio 27: 58, where . . .  whose voice is it?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Italian Nietzsche (3)

I haven't written this book to amaze the readers. If anything, if I were to have any effect on these courteous everyday enemies, on these ugly uglifiers of the great world and of my soul, I would like to frighten them.

__Giovanni Papini, L'altra metà (1911), Foreword

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

She, Armida (19)

Armida's autobiography, though a fake one, is extremely interesting because of its highly cultural allusions, especially with reference to Dante. Here, the sad story of her planned marriage quite clearly recalls the fifth Canto of Inferno: Francesca Da [ = from the city of] Rimini, who had been told she would marry the handsome Paolo, but she then discovered that the actual spouse would be Paolo's brother, nicknamed Gian Ciotto, "Jack the Lame."

In fact, Dante doesn't tell the whole story. He simply reports that Francesca and Paolo were sister- and brother-in-law, and lovers, without mentioning her husband's name. And he says that they were killed together, but not by whom. This has recently led the skilled Dante scholar and writer Francesco Fioretti to make a detective story out of it, La profezia perduta di Dante [Dante's Lost Prophecy]. The 'official' version, i.e. that broadcast by the 14th century writer Giovanni Boccaccio, the author of Decameron, is that Gian Ciotto himself killed the two lovers one day while they were having sex. Most illustrators show the two being attacked by him as they are reading a book (misinterpreting Inferno 5: 138); just the painter Beppe Madaudo followed Boccaccio's description in his plates for the Divine Comedy, 1982.

Francesca Da Rimini's morbid and tragic story would inspire Romantic writers and artists, all the way up to the newly-born Italian cinema at the beginning of the 20th century.

A consideration added by Tasso is that Armida's fiancé's physical ugliness expresses his inner baseness: a classical/Renaissance topos, that however is not much in line with Christian anthropology. In fact, as we will again see later on, Tasso was morally split between the Renaissance values (see Ariosto, Nietzsche) and the standard Christian values, looking for un-easy solutions.

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Italian Nietzsche (2)

But, today! There's not the snow of years, but there is cold in the heart.  . . .  Every God has died. Even the last one, even the small God being jealously kept in one's bosom as the most sacred serpent and the most indestructible friend, even that little Dio [God] without D [io, "I"] . . .

__Giovanni Papini, L'altra metà (1911), Foreword

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Sunday Guest: Nikabrik

From: CS Lewis' Prince Caspian (The Chronicles of Narnia)

The quote: "Kill it. We can't let it live. It would betray us."
"We ought to have killed it at once, or else let it alone," said [another] voice. "We can't kill it now. Not after we've taken it in and bandaged its head and all. It would be murdering a guest."
"Gentlemen," said Caspian in a feeble voice, "whatever you do to me, I hope you will be kind to my poor horse."

Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Italian Nietzsche (1)

Giovanni Papini, L'altra metà. Saggio di filosofia mefistofelica [The Other Half: An Assay of Mephistophelian Philosophy], Ancona, IT: Giovanni Puccini e Figli Editori, 1911

With these free, independent reflections on "the other half" of things and thought: Nothingness, Diversity, Impossibility, Ignorance, Error, Madness, Not-Doing, Evil, Uselessness, the then just 30-year-old Papini aimed at doing more than Nietzsche himself.

An early member of the newly founded (1909) Futurism, he was a controversial writer -- both ways: he against all, and vice versa -- for all his life, both before and after his non-harmless conversion to Catholic faith. Pope Benedict XVI once caused a fuss when he said that he had read and appreciated Papini's Storia di Cristo [The History of Christ], that includes some virulently anti-Semitic pages.(*) Anyway, one of Papini's last works, the puzzling Il diavolo [The Devil], is among the most interesting books on the subject, along with Origen's and Milton's. Even more clearly than Origen, he stated that Satan is already in time to be redeemed.

L'altra metà would deserve to be integrally translated. We'll be posting here many brief passages from throughout the book in the following weeks; without tagging them as Off Topic because Giovanni Papini is one of the rare true outsiders in the eight-century-old history of Italian Literature, together with Torquato Tasso, in fact, Giacomo Leopardi, and Pierpaolo Pasolini.

(*) Incidentally, the 'original' Nietzsche was no anti-Semite; he even lost his friendship with Richard Wagner precisely because of the latter's racist attitude against Jews.

Friday, December 6, 2013

She, Armida (18)

Keeping on telling her made-up story, Armida says that, after the death of her parents, she has been tutored by her uncle (as to her true uncle, the wizard Hydraotes, see previous posts. Interestingly enough, her fake story is more realistic than the true one). And his uncle would like her to get married to his son, who is this kind of guy . . . [5: 48]

Io crebbi, e crebbe il figlio, e mai né stile
Di cavalier né nobile arte apprese,
Nulla di pellegrino o di gentile
Gli piacque mai né mirò in alto o intese.
Sotto difforme aspetto animo vile
E 'n cor superbo avare voglie accese;
Villan diletto e d'honestà dispregio
I pregi fur del mio amatore egregio.

"I grew up, and so did his son -- and he never learned anything about the style of a knight or any noble activity; he never liked anything refined or gentle, nor has he ever harbored any lofty thoughts. Under deformed features, a base soul, and in a proud heart, burning greed. Rude pleasures and contempt for honesty(*): these were the qualities of my illustrious fiancé."

(*) "for virtue" in the final printed version

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Off Topic: Munchausen's Literary Adventures

Here's an edition of the Adventures of Baron Munchausen, published in 1923 by the Roman publisher Formiggini as N. 43 in the series "Classici del ridere" (The Classics of Humor). The original author R. E. Raspe is mentioned in the Foreword, but this -- good -- Italian translation is based on  G. A. Bürger's reworked and expanded version. The Baron's name has been 'Germanically improved' into Münchhausen.

The author of the woodcuts illustrating the story is a certain Benito Boccolari, with a harsh, powerful style that was often used in Italy for children's books in the first decades of the 20th century. In the picture here on the left, one of the "Sea Adventures" (click on the icon to enlarge it). An interesting detail: the protagonist has a very different face from that which has often become 'mandatory' after Gustave Doré.

In the flyleaves, the picture common to the whole series is a work by no less than Adolfo de Carolis, the most important engraver of that period, who on some occasions Germanized his name into "de Karolis." The motto reads Risus quoque vitast ( = vita est), "Laughter is life, indeed." Once again, the topic is only partially off topic since Baron Munchausen provides one of the finest examples of fantasy literature in modern times.

This book - along with another that will be reviewed soon - has been the first Christmas present of 2013, by the dear friend and antique book dealer Paolo Magionami.

"The Last Adventure of Baron Munchausen" can be read here: 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Renaissance teaches

Fabrizio Saccomanni is the Italian Minister of Economy. In Renaissance Italian, "saccomanni" means "saccheggi," plunders, robberies, plundering, ransacking.

She, Armida (17)

This part of Armida's made-up story is its weak point: if the city of Maraclea, though ruled by Muslims, welcomed the Crusaders and made some sort of pact with them as other cities did, Godfrey should be able to detect Armida's lies describing non-existent political problems that are supposedly taking place there. Anyway, her sex appeal can easily manage this.

But the most juicy and malicious part in her speech is this reference to her mother; not her true mother (who was a mermaid in Babylon, see previous posts), but her made-up one. So, it is all the more significant that Armida adds a detail just for the sake of doing it: her having died and ascended to heaven. Since Christians at that time - and not only at that time -, as well as Muslims, believed they had a monopoly on salvation, Armida defies them by likening her mother to a Christian saint; as well as her father, as she will say in octave 46, that won't be reported.

By the way, shifting the her real mother: Do mermaids die?

The final verse, putting the death of Armida's mother in parallel with her own birth acquires a thrilling nuance if we recall EA Poe's story Morella.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Sunday Guest: Doctor Cornelius

From: CS Lewis' Prince Caspian (The Chronicles of Narnia)

The quote: "So you've guessed it in the end. Or guessed it nearly right. I'm not a pure Dwarf. I have human blood in me too. Many Dwarfs escaped in the great battles and lived on, shaving their beards and wearing high-heeled shoes and pretending to be men."

Inklings: The crossbreeding between human and non-human phyla is among the most interesting features in Tolkien's stories too, but Lewis enriches this with his sparkling sense of humor. Now a question to experts: Are there female Dwarfs anywhere? -- Schtroumpfs are out of competition.

Saturday, November 30, 2013


murales of the 1970s
Just back from a trip in the charming Medieval and Baroque hill town of Calvi dell'Umbria, some 2,000 inhabitants, for a presentation of the book Dante era uno scrittore fantasy (also available in English: Dante Was a Fantasy Writer). It's been a great success: old people in small towns are often so nice and lively! Besides, Calvi is near Narni, that suggested the name "Narnia" to CS Lewis, with really 'magic' landscapes and buildings; unfortunately there was no opportunity to take a good picture while crossing it in a hurry.

Friday, November 29, 2013

She, Armida (16)

[5: 45, Armida speaks to Godfrey]

Figlia io son di Arbilan, che 'l regno tenne
Di Maraclea, e voi tutti accolse e i vostri;
Ma del suocero suo gli stati ottenne
Ne la Fenicia, e d'or ricco fu e d'ostri.
Con la sua morte il nascer mio prevenne
Mia madre, ascesa a gli stellanti chiostri:
E giunse invidïosa empia fortuna
La sua tomba, in un giorno, e la mia cuna.

"I am the daughter of Arbilan, who ruled the city of Maraclea and welcomed all of you and your soldiers; he also got the territories of his father-in-law in Phoenicia, and he was rich with gold and purple. My mother, who has by now ascended to the starry courts, died just before my birth: the evil-eyed, ungodly Fortune united her grave and my cradle on the very same day."

Verse 3 actually begins with "Ma," literally: "But." Tasso often uses it in the sense of the Greek , that can be rendered as "on the other hand, to be sure, indeed," or simply "and." Here it has been translated as "he also."
"Starry courts": literally "starry cloisters," but the latter word has a general meaning. Tasso used the phrase "stellanti chiostri" in his long poem Il Mondo Creato too.
"Evil-eyed" translates "invidiosa," literally "envious," but it must be interpreted in the etymological sense Dante gave to the word: invidiosa, from Latin in-videre, "to see something/someone negatively."

by Selkis

Some more comments on this: see next Tuesday (Dec. 3). 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Monday, November 25, 2013

She, Armida (15)

Armida plays on the double meaning of such words as "fé" ("fede" in current Italian) that can refer either to trusting a man or having faith in God, and "preghi" ("preghiere") indicating either pleas or prayers. On the other hand, the link between anthropological trust and religious faith had been clearly stated by St. Augustine.

The phrase "preghi honesti," honest plea, echoes Dante, see e.g. Inferno 2: 113 ("parlare onesto") and Purgatorio 23: 88 ("prieghi devoti"). And especially, Tasso takes from Dante the daring move of calling the Christian God "Jove," see Purgatorio 6: 118, even directly referring to Jesus Christ with the shocking words "crucified Jove." Dante's and Tasso's beloved poet Virgil would faint at that.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sunday Guest: Trumpkin

From: CS Lewis' Prince Caspian (The Chronicles of Narnia)

The quote: "Oh, I'm a dangerous criminal, I am," said the Dwarf cheerfully. "But that's a long story. Meantime, I was wondering if perhaps you were going to ask me to breakfast? You've no idea what an appetite it gives one, being executed."

The anniversary: The day before yesterday, Nov. 22, it was exactly 50 years after Lewis' death. But of course the world had a more tragic 50th anniversary to remember.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

She, Armida (14)

[5: 44, Armida speaks to Godfrey]

Ma se la nostra fé varia ti move
A disprezzar forse i miei preghi honesti,
La fé c'ho certa in tua pietà mi giove;
Né dritto par ch'ella delusa hor resti.
Testimonio è quel Dio ch'a tutti è Giove
Ch'altrui più giusta aita unqua non desti.
Ma perché il tutto sappi, intento hor odi
Le mie sventure e l'altrui inique frodi.

"But if the difference between our faiths makes you perhaps despise my honest plea, may my firm trust in your pity benefit me -- nor does it seem right that it be frustrated. Witness is that God who is the Jove of all that you never helped anyone more rightly than me. But in order to know everything about it, please listen to the story of my misfortunes and my enemy's unjust frauds."

Friday, November 22, 2013

She, Armida (13)

In lying to Godfrey, Armida makes ironic reference to the truth when she says that she was born far from the main river in his homeland . . .  but anyway born in a river, she implies. The daughter of a mermaid, therefore a half-non-human creature.

In fact, this verse was different in Gerusalemme Liberata 4: 40. There Armida said, "I, who was born in such a different faith [religion], the one you humbled and are now trying to crush." In Gerusalemme Conquistata she avoids mentioning the "clash of civilizations." She indeed will express very interesting ecumenical concepts, though just as a captatio benevolentiae. An attempt at interfaith dialogue had already been made by the two Muslim ambassadors Aletes and Argantes, though just for political purposes. Examples of a true respect between people belonging to different religions will appear elsewhere in the poem.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

She, Armida (12)

[5: 42]

Armida is lead in the presence of Godfrey of Bouillon, and she 'explains' to him why she has come to the Christian camp, in spite of her (fictionally) being a Muslim:

Et io, che nacqui in sì diversa fede,
Lunge da l'acque del tuo Reno algenti,
Per te spero acquistar la nobil sede
E lo scettro, signor, de' miei parenti.
E s'altri aita a' tuoi congiunti hor chiede
Contra il furor de le straniere genti,
Io poi ch'in lor non ha pietà più loco,
Contra il mio sangue il ferro hostile invoco.

"So I, who was born in such a different faith
And far from the cold waters of your Rhine,
Hope you will help me regain the noble seat
Together with my parents' scepter, O Lord.
Others asked your comrades for help
Against the wrath of a foreign people;
I, since no room has been left there to pity,
Call enemy swords against my own blood."

In current Italian "parenti" means "relatives," but here - as well as in Dante - the term still keeps its original Latin meaning of parentes, i.e. "parents" like in English.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

She, Armida (11)

The image of a sunbeam passing through water without damaging it echoes some sublime verses by Dante, Paradiso 2: 35-36. But especially, in Medieval and Renaissance art, that image was used to symbolize Mary's virginal conception of Christ. The 'bigoted' Tasso could be quite blasphemous when he felt like doing so.

A minor detail is the rhyme between "parte" as a verb (meaning "[it] divides") and "parte" as a noun (meaning "part"). A solution often adopted by Tasso, unlike Dante and Ariosto. This may be due, in "part" at least, to the fact that he probably wrote a lot of verses in a hurry, then reworked and polished them up, but modifying a rhyme was more difficult than changing a word or two inside a verse.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

She, Armida (10)

[5: 34]

Come per acqua o per christallo intero
Trapassa il raggio e no 'l divide o parte,
Per entro il chiuso manto osa il pensiero
Di penetrar ne la vietata parte;
Ivi si spatia, ivi contempla il vero
Di tante meraviglie a parte a parte;
Poscia al desio le forma e le descrive,
E fa più le sue fiamme ardenti e vive.

As through the water or a whole crystal
The sunbeam passes and doesn't break it,
Here men's thought dares penetrate her
Closed wrapping to reach her forbidden parts;
There it sweeps, there it admires the truth
Of so many marvels, part to part;

Then it shapes and describes them according to
One's will, and makes its flames livelier.

Monday, November 18, 2013

She, Armida (9)

[5: 33]

Mostra il bel petto le sue nevi ignude,
Onde il foco d'amor si nutre e desta;
Parte appar de le mamme acerbe e crude,
Parte altrui ne ricopre invida vesta,
Invida agli occhi soli il passo chiude:
L'amoroso pensier già non s'arresta
Ché, non ben pago di bellezza esterna,
Negli occulti secreti anchor s'interna.

Her beautiful top shows its bare snow,
Feeding and triggering the fire of love;
Her young, unripe breasts partly appear,
Partly are covered by her jealous dress --
Jealous, but it can impede the eyes only,
For the loving thought does not stop
And, unsatisfied with external beauty,
Penetrates the most hidden secrets.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sunday Guest: King Kong

Edgar Wallace's 1932 novel King Kong is an interesting reboot of Milton's Paradise Lost. Here are a Man and a Woman in a 'virgin' land, a no-man's-before land. And the more the story proceeds, the more the protagonists are in love with each other, and 'innocently' naked, the girl especially.

Analogies are much less interesting than differences, though. This "paradise" is a nightmarish place full of ancient monsters, not only outdated dinosaurs like in the movie version (and nobody wanting to show them in a Park!!), but also fantasy creatures like giant spiders and walking octopuses. And they all, Kong included, are termed "Nature's mistakes." But especially, in KK the 'alien' invader is not the 'dark monster,' but right the other way round: Kong is attacked and finally destroyed by humankind, and the protagonists are all too happy to leave a would-be paradise that, in fact, is a Skull Island.

The 'just' 6-meter tall Kong is ape-like, he 'looks like' a gorilla, but he is not a gorilla. There may be a reference to the giants mentioned in the Book of Numbers 13: 33, with a parallelism between the Promised Land and Eden. Another of Kong's interesting features is that - so to speak - he is "without mother, without father" like the Messiah in the Letter to the Hebrews. How much time has he been there? How is he going to perpetuate himself? In the text, he is simply "there," like the Serpent in Genesis 3. And a genetic exchange with the blond, beautiful Ann Darrow looks unlikely.

In brief, Kong may be a symbol of Satan (and Hitler in those years, or  vice versa, the menace of Communism, etc. etc., blah blah) but it would possibly work better to see him as the male version of Lilith, i.e. an Anti-Adam. And/or the specimen of an old, cursed humanity like Beowulf's Grendel, with swamps and all.

As for the other happy findings from a bookstall, the 1974 anthology Creature note e ignote [Known and Unknown Critters] includes: G. M. Glaskin, The Inheritors; Paul Ernst, Nothing Happens on the Moon; Sterling E. Lanier, And the Voice of the Turtle; Thomas M. Disch, Nada; Dean R. Koontz, The Mystery of His Flesh. Jack Finney's The Body-Snatchers is a classic, but the true revelation is the post-apocalyptic, post-human Second Ending by James White, 1963. All three Urania books are very well translated; while the quality of this Italian version of King Kong is irregular, unfortunately.

Next Sunday it will be up to the second episode of the Chronicles of Narnia, Prince Caspian.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Torquato Tasso: The Legacy

Frank Tieri (story), Mark Texeira (art), Space Punisher; US edition in four parts, Sept. to Dec. 2012; Italian edition in one book by Marvel - Panini Comics, "Marvel World 18," Sept. 2013, euros 4.30

The most genuine soul of comics: crazy, funny, splatter, heroic, clever and iconoclastic, fast and furious, based on a long tradition and unheard-of, superbly drawn, powerful, not too affectedly detailed as it often happens nowadays, with wonderful restylings of a lot of Marvel characters. Nor is it tagged as "off topic" because this is precisely what Renaissance poems, and all the more so Tasso's, wanted to achieve.

She, Armida (8)

[5: 31]

Argo non mai, non vide Cipro o Delo
D'habito e di beltà forme sì care:
D'auro ha la chioma, et hor dal bianco velo
Traluce involta, hor nuda al vento appare;
Così, qualhor si rasserena il cielo,
Hor da candida nube il sol traspare,
Hor da la nube uscendo, i raggi intorno
Più chiari spiega, e ne raddoppia il giorno.

Argos never saw, nor did Cyprus or Delos,
Such dear shapes of style and beauty:
Gold is her hair, and now through the white veil
It shines half-hidden, now bare in the wind;
So, as soon as the sky clears up,
Now the sun shows through a white cloud,
Now coming out of the cloud, it spreads
Brighter rays around, and doubles the day.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Dante, Lewis, and old-minded teenagers

Today, in the beautiful Italian town of Città della Pieve, Umbria, the Dante book has been presented to some hundred students from local high schools (15 to 18-year-olders). And for the first time, some of them had already read it after a suggestion by their Literature teacher.

From a sociological point of view, the most interesting phenomenon was our expectations being turned upside down: teachers (mostly women) did like the new fantasy keys suggested for interpreting the Divine Comedy, while several teenagers, especially girls, seemed to be 'upset' by those very keys. Maybe they did so just in order to contradict the lecturer, but the paradoxical result was that, by negating a negation, they reaffirmed the traditional interpretation, and therefore sounded 'older' than their 40-year-old teachers.

The lowest point was when a girl defined CS Lewis "a grandfather telling fairy tales to her little granddaughter." References to the University of Richmond's Milton List web discussions were needed to fix it.

She, Armida (7)

Torquato Tasso harbored ambivalent feelings for Armida, a symbol of evil and temptation, but also of beauty and of woman's independence and power, that was a newly rediscovered value in Renaissance (see in Ariosto's Orlando Furioso, very different from the role of women in Dante). Armida is, moreover, a character who concentrates in herself a very rich cultural texture: not only must she be able to compete against Ariosto's famous witch Alcina, but her words, as we will see, are full of quotes from the Divine Comedy.

One term will suffice to show this ambivalence. (a) In Gerusalemme Liberata, in the first verse of this octave Armida was simply called "la donzella," the young Lady; (b) in the manuscript of Gerusalemme Conquistata, here reported, Tasso even adds "alta donzella," a high, noble one; (c) but in the final printed version of GC, she will become the "empia - ungodly - donzella."

Also interesting is the reference to the natural phenomenon of comets, that quite often appears in Renaissance literature, and specifically in Tasso, as an ill omen.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

She, Armida (6)

[5: 30]

Dopo non molti dì l'alta donzella
Vien dove i Franchi alzate havean le tende;
A l'apparir de la beltà novella
Nasce un bisbiglio, e 'l guardo ognun v'intende,
Sì come là dove cometa o stella
Non veduta di giorno in ciel risplende;
E traggon tutti per saper chi sia
La nobil peregrina, e che desia.

Not many days later, the high young Lady
Comes where the Franks had built their tents.
At the appearance of such novel beauty,
A whispering rises, and all just look there,
Like when a comet or unseen-before
Star shines in the sky by day.
And they all flock to learn who
The noble pilgrim is -- what she may need.

This will deserve some comment more in depth (tomorrow).

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

She, Armida (5)

[5: 25]

D'altre sirene anchor le rive herbose
Altre figlie nudrîr tra suoni e canti,
Che tra i bei gigli e le purpuree rose
Prendean co 'l dolce sonno incauti amanti;
Ma questa le più belle e più famose
Vinse cantando, e più co' bei sembianti.
Con questa il vecchio mago i suoi consigli
Comparte, e vuol ch'ella il pensier ne pigli.

Those grassy banks hosted more daughters
Of other mermaids among sounds and songs,
Who among beautiful lilies and red roses
Caught unwary lovers with sweet sleep;
But this(*) beat the most beautiful and renowned
Thanks to her voice, and more, her fine features.
With her the old wizard now shares his
Mind, and asks her to see to it.

(*) Armida

"Lilies and roses" was a poetical phrase meaning the women's breast.
Armida is the daughter of a 'passing sailor' and a (mer)whore.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

She, Armida (4)

[5: 24]

Di Babilonia entro l'eccelse mura,
In sen de l'ampio Eufrate ella già nacque
D'una sirena ch'in gentil figura
Il viso e 'l petto discopria da l'acque;
E cantando d'amor ne l'aria oscura
Mille amanti invaghì, cotanto piacque;
Né sola fu, ma placide sirene
Tante non hebber mai l'onde Thirrene.

Within the high walls of Babylon
She was born, in the wide Euphrates:
Born of a gentle-looking mermaid who used
To show face and breast out of the waves;
And by singing of love in the dark air,
She charmed a thousand lovers, so much she pleased.
Nor was she alone, for not so many placid
Mermaids inhabited the Tyrrhenian Sea.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Beauty Sleeping in a Dark Forest

Andrea Armati, Michela Pazzaglia, after Pierre Saintyves (Émile Nourry), La Bella Addormentata e le sue sorelle, Perugia, IT: Eleusi Edizioni, 2013, with 53 pictures, pages 132, euros 10; website

An intriguing study on the - literally - fairy tales of the Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, and Red Riding Hood as modern reworkings of ancient seasonal cults. It also provides materials useful to set in a wider horizon some episodes in the works of Dante (e.g. the dark forest, Beatrice's chariot), Ariosto, Tasso, up to contemporary fantasy writers like CS Lewis.

She, Armida (3)

[5: 23]

Donna a cui di beltà le prime lodi
Concedea l'Orïente è sua nepote;
Gli accorgimenti e le più occulte frodi
Ch'usi femina o maga a lei son note,
E le vie più secrete e i dolci modi
Onde prendere al laccio il cor si pote;
Ma 'l nascer di costei tutte altre eccede
Le maraviglie, e trova antica fede.

A Lady to whose beauty the whole 
Orient granted the highest praise is his(*) niece.
To her are known all devices and the most
Secret frauds used by a woman or witch,
And the most hidden, and the sweetest ways
By which man's heart can be ensnared.
But her birth does any other marvel
Exceed -- trustworthy from old times.

(*) Hydraotes'

"Donna" = Latin Domina = Lady
"femina" = Latin foemina = (any) woman

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Sunday Trip: at the Stone Table

From: CS Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (The Chronicles of Narnia)

The quote: At that moment they heard from behind them a loud noise -- a great cracking, deafening noise as if a giant had broken a giant's plate.
"What's that?" said Lucy, clutching Susan's arm.

Drawing inspiration: Sentinel Hill in Dunwich; the Holy Shroud in Turin.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

She, Armida (2)

One of the devils sent by Satan to attack the Christian army makes the most clever move, as it will turn out: he 'inspires' a wizard called Hydraotes, who also happens to be the king of --- nice question: which city? In Gerusalemme Liberata it was about no less than Damascus. In the manuscript of Gerusalemme Conquistata, Tasso wrote Samosata (again in current Syria), then Sidon (in Lebanon), and finally Maraclea (on the coast; it would become a place ruled by the Knights Templar, then destroyed by the Mamluks in 1271).

Hydraotes has a niece called Armida. The original text says "nepote," "nipote" in nowadays Italian, that is a sadly equivocal term as it can mean both niece and granddaughter. In this case, circumstances lead to adopt the former solution.

The devil puts this project in the head of the wizard: Send the super-sexy Armida as a 'diversionary' among the Crusaders. And now one of the most fascinating episodes in Italian literature begins.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

What the hell (22)

A true Tassean / Baroque picture, with supernatural powers blending with natural phenomena in a choral action in which darkness, light, wind, sounds partake.

The link between supernatural powers and natural phenomena is a very ancient one. Tasso could draw on many literary sources, from the description of the 'living' winds in the Aeneid to Dante, Purgatorio 5: 109-123.

Moreover, the third verse in this GC octave includes a direct quote from Dante: "a riveder le stelle," to see the stars again, or "Thence we came forth to rebehold the stars" in the Longfellow translation. That is the very last verse in Dante's Inferno, so it acquires an ironic meaning here: both Dante and the devils come out of hell, but supposedly for very different reasons -- or not?

lineart by dhr
colors by Selkis

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

What the hell (21)

[5: 18]

Non aspettâr già l'alme a Dio rubbelle
Che fosser queste voci al fin condotte;
Ma fuor volando a riveder le stelle
Già se n'uscian da la profonda notte
Come sonanti e rapide procelle
Ch'arbori, tetti, navi e sparse e rotte,
E perturbando il mar, il ciel, la terra,
Natura han mossa e gli elementi in guerra.

Nor did the spirits, rebellious against God, wait for these words to be through. But, flying outside to see the stars again, they soon came out of the deep shadows like swift, noisy storms that, scattering and breaking trees and roofs and ships, and upsetting sea and sky and earth, move Nature and the elements to war.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Fantasy never dies

Dino Buzzati, I misteri d'Italia [The Mysteries of Italy], Milan: Oscar Mondadori, 2009, pages 220, euros 9.50

Dino Buzzati (1906-1972), writer, journalist, artist, of Medieval Hungarian origins (Buzàt from Buda-Pest) and whose mother was the last descendant of an important dynasty of Venetian Dogi, has been the most important Italian fantasy author of the 20th century. The fantasy genre pervades basically all of his production, from short stories to novels, from comics to paintings -- even his articles as a journalist, as it is shown by this collection of would-be news reports published in the mid-Sixties in Il Corriere della Sera, the most important Italian newspaper.

Here Buzzati describes a country that was just then becoming a so-called "rich" one, but kept old traditions inside. The tour among supernatural places includes this phenomenon in its broader sense: haunted houses, ghosts, mediums, apparitions of Virgin Mary, and UFOs which are a modern version of witchcraft (he says, possibly echoing Lovecraft?). Imagination continually mingles with 'real' personages like Federico Fellini and Gustavo Rol, and the two levels clarify each other.

What the hell (20)

Satan plans the counterattack against God, i.e., in this case, against the Crusaders, not Adam and Eve like in Milton's Paradise Lost. The actions described in this octave summarize a lot of events actually occurring in the next Cantos, though 'of course' things won't go exactly as Satan wishes them to.

The two most important successes for the devil will be the divisions breaking out among the Christian soldiers, sort of a micro civil war; and especially, the big troubles caused by the coming of the Muslim witch Armida to the camp -- who isn't strictly a Muslim, nor is she strictly a witch but something more, or something worse, or something better for those who love the fantasy genre. We will enjoy her company for a long time, immediately after the "what the hell" posts end in a couple of days.

Monday, November 4, 2013

What the hell (19)

[5: 17, Satan speaks]

Sia destin ciò ch'io voglio: altri disperso
Se 'n vada errando, altri rimanga ucciso,
Altri in cure d'amore lascive immerso
Idol si faccia un bello e chiaro viso.
Sia 'l ferro incontra il suo rettor converso
Da lo stuol ribellante e 'n sé diviso:
Schiere e cittadi e regni e 'l mondo tutto
Arda, affondi, consumi incendio e flutto -.

"Let my will become fate: let someone be wandering and missing, and someone be killed, and someone -- completely absorbed in lust -- have a beautiful, fair face as his idol. Let the swords be turned against their leader by rebellious and divided soldiers. Let troops and cities and kingdoms and the whole earth be burnt and submerged and consumed by fire and water!"

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Sunday Guest: the Witch's Army

From: CS Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (The Chronicles of Narnia)

The quote: "Call out the giants and the werewolves and the spirits of those trees who are on our side. Call the Ghouls and the Boggles, the Ogres and the Minotaurs. Call the Cruels, the Hags, the Spectres, and the people of the Toadstools. We will fight."

The precedent: Qui mille immonde Arpie son giunte, e mille
Centauri, e Sfingi, e pallide Gorgoni;
Latrâro i cani e le voraci Scille
E fischiâr Idre e sibilâr Pitoni;
E vomitâr Chimere atre faville,
E i Polifemi horrendi, e i Gerioni
. . .
"Furie, Mostri, Giganti, ognun si sforze
. . ."

__T. Tasso, Gerusalemme Conquistata 5: 5, 16

Saturday, November 2, 2013

What the hell (18)

Here the plot takes a turn that's completely different from Paradise Lost: in both GL and GC, Satan doesn't decide to go and destroy the righteous humankind on his own, even preventing the other devils from doing so, but he sends the hellish army. The role of the Tempter will anyway be soon played by the beautiful Lilith-like witch Armida, whose intervention in the war will in fact be 'suggested' by the devils. Later on in GC (not in GL), a huge and powerful devil called "Fortune," a mix of Satan and Poseidon, will take part in the battle of Jaffa.

Quite interesting is the psychological characterization of Satan in these lines. He asks the devils to spread everywhere the very fire he feels burning inside himself, but at the same time he doesn't want that fire to go out.

Friday, November 1, 2013

What the hell (17)

[5: 16, Satan speaks]

Ma perché più v'affreno o vi ritardo,
O miei consorti, o mia potentia e forze?
Itene pur (ché già il partirsi è tardo)
Furie, Mostri, Giganti, ognun si sforze.
Spargete il tosco e 'l foco ond'io pur ardo,
Ogn'altra fiamma che la mia s'ammorze:
Guerre e morti portate, e fame e peste,
Tenebre, horrori e turbini e tempeste.

"But why do I hold you back, or delay,
O my fellows, O my power and strength?
Go now (it's already late to leave indeed),
Furies, Monsters, Giants, do strive, all!
Spread the poison and fire burning me;
Any flame may go out, except my own.
Cause wars and deaths and hunger and plague,
Shadows, horrors, and whirlwinds and storms!"

Spawn © Todd McFarlane
fan art by dhr

Tasso : Epic = McFarlane : Comic Art

Thursday, October 31, 2013

What the hell (16)

In the parallel text (4: 15.5) in Tasso's Gerusalemme Liberata,  published in 1581 twelve years before, Satan said, "Fummo, io no 'l nego, in quel conflitto vinti," i.e. "In that conflict (I won't deny it) we have been defeated." The GC version puts it a bit more harshly.

But what is really worth noticing is the last two verses, that in GL were completely different: "Diede che che si fosse a lui vittoria: / rimase a noi d'invitto ardir la gloria," that is "Whatever gave Him victory, to us the glory of an unconquered boldness remains." This version may sound more daring than the GC one, and especially more Miltonian.

On the other hand, when in GC Satan calls himself the one who "moves the world" the sentence is not less daring at all. Indeed, it parallels God who "moves the sun and the other stars" (Dante, Paradiso, last verse), nearly suggesting a Gnostic-like worldview. In fact, this was one extreme of the swing of the pendulum in Renaissance theology, the other extreme being a Spinozian deification of Nature. Tasso clearly shows both in his long poem Il Mondo Creato (1592).

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Off Topic: Art for Hard's Sake

Dante, Inferno 18

A Pasolinian* Canto
full of

* after the name of the Italian columnist, movie director, writer, poet, and civil martyr Pier Paolo Pasolini (1922-1975)

What the hell (15)

[5: 15, Satan speaks]

Ah, non sia ver, ché non sono anco estinti
Gli spirti in voi di quel valor primiero
Quando, di ferro e d'alte fiamme cinti,
Pugnammo già contra 'l celeste impero.
Fummo (no 'l niego) allhora oppressi e vinti,
Ma non mancò virtute al gran pensiero;
E 'n questo tenebroso horror profondo
Quasi io pareggio il ciel e movo il mondo.

"Ha, anything but this! For the spirit of that ancient valor has not died out in you -- when, clad in iron and high flames, we fought against the heavenly empire. We were then (I won't deny it) crushed and defeated, but not without virtue was that great thought. And in this dark, deep horror, I do nearly match heaven, and I move the world."

The red-fonted words, as usual, indicate the places in which Tasso modified the text in comparison with Gerusalemme Liberata; see tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

What the hell (14)

Oddly enough, here Satan pronounces the Name of Jesus: Dante's devils would never have dared to, in fact they always used periphrases when they had to mention him.

Identifying non-Christian gods with devils is a stand dating back to the Tanakh / Jewish Bible (ofter improperly referred to as Old Testament), then developed by St. Paul and the Church Fathers, all the way up to Milton. This often led to including fairies, elves, etc., in the same hellish field. Only - in practice - with JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis would traditional Christian thinkers start to see the fantasy world as something neither angelical nor devilish, and basically positive.

It also dates back to the Tanakh to envision the gathering of all peoples around the true God, but in this case Tasso, with an implicit prophecy, also refers to the newly discovered peoples of America.

Monday, October 28, 2013

What the hell (13)

[5: 13.5 - 14.8, Satan speaks]

Non basta anchor, non basta anchor, non basta
Se 'l nome di Giesù la terra ingombra,
Ma d'altre lingue anchora i novi carmi
Aspetta, e novi anchor metalli e marmi?

Che sian gli idoli nostri a terra sparsi?
Ch'i nostri altari il mondo a lui converta?
Ch'a lui sospesi i voti, a lui sol arsi
Siano gli incensi, et auro e mirra offerta?
Ch'ove a noi tempio non solea serrarsi
Hor via non resti a l'arti nostre aperta?
Che manchi di tante alme ampio tributo
Alfine, e 'n voto regno alberghi Pluto?

"And isn't it enough, not enough, not enough, that the name of Jesus occupies the whole earth, and he now waits for new songs in new languages, and new works in metals and marble? That our idols are knocked down? That the world converts our altars to him? That to him alone are votive offerings hanged up, and incenses burnt, and gold and myrrh given? That, where no temple used to be closed to us, now no way open to our arts has been left? That, finally, the large tribute of souls may be missing, and Pluto may have to live in an empty kingdom?"

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Sunday Guest: Aslan's Army

From: CS Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (The Chronicles of Narnia)

The quote: . . . when they tried to look at Aslan's face, they just caught a glimpse of the golden mane and the great, royal, solemn, overwhelming eyes; and then they found they couldn't look at him, and went all trembly.
"Go on," whispered Mr Beaver.
"No," whispered Peter, "you first."
"No, Sons of Adam before animals," whispered Mr Beaver back again.
"Susan," whispered Peter. "What about you? Ladies first."
"No, you're the eldest," whispered Susan.

 The question: What's that?! L'Armata BrancaLeone?!

Beauty, or the Beast: According to Salwa Khoddam, "In Lewis' chronicles, one can generally observe that the mixed creatures are evil if they have human bodies but animal heads, and good if it's the other way round, suggesting the Renaissance concept of reason as the highest faculty" (Mythopoeic Narnia, 2013, p. 32). On the other hand, a man-headed bull may prove a decent hellish monster, like this Dantean Minotaur drawn by Beppe Madaudo (1982) . . .

Saturday, October 26, 2013

What the hell (12)

Octaves 12 and 13 are quite different from the corresponding verses in Gerusalemme Liberata, but no 'compared criticism' will be done here since the GC version is much more interesting. But, later on, it will be very interesting to see octave 15 both as it appeared in GL and as it has been modified in GC.

Here above, the quite unusual description of God as a vampire comes from Dante, Paradiso 27: 58-59, in a heartfelt invective by St Peter himself who however referred to the 14th century Papacy, namely Clement V and John XXII who "are about to drink our very blood."

The image of the devils' "then bright faces being turned into appalling faces" will be powerfully reworked by Milton in Paradise Lost 1: 84 ff:

"If thou beest he - but O how fall'n! how changed
From him, who in the happy realms of light
Clothed with transcendent brightness didst outshine
Myriads though bright . . ."

Friday, October 25, 2013

What the hell (11)

[5: 12.1 - 13.4, Satan speaks]

Ma ché rinovo i miei dolor gemendo?
Chi non ha intesi i nostri oltraggi e l'onte,
Il carcer, le catene, e 'n viso horrendo
Mutata quella chiara antica fronte?
Di quali ingiurie a ragionar mi stendo
Se parlo cose manifeste e conte?
Deh non vedete homai come s'inpingua
De l'altrui sangue? E non sermone o lingua

Il fido popol suo, ma 'l ferro e l'hasta
Adopra, ond'ogni regno atterra e sgombra;
E mentre a' Regi d'Asia egli sovrasta,
A pena lascia a noi la notte e l'ombra.

"But why should I moan so, and renew my sufferings? Who doesn't already know about our affronts and shame, this jail, these chains, and our then bright features being turned into appalling faces? What insults should I keep listing, as I speak of such obvious and well-known things? Ha, can't you see how 'he' is now getting full of our blood? And not speeches or tongues does his faithful people use, but swords and lances, and they overthrow and empty all kingdoms. And while he dominates the Kings of Asia, he hardly leave us the night and shadows."

Thursday, October 24, 2013

What the hell (10)

Ironically enough, Satan is the only character in GC who offers us a 'Sunday school' on the history of salvation; a sort of Catechism such as had been invented by Martin Luther and then published by the Catholic Church too (in 1566, when Tasso was working on his poem).

Special relevance is here given to Christ's Descent into Hell, that in the Western tradition is usually considered a minor, picturesque event in the life of the Savior, but in the Eastern tradition, i.e. that of the East-European Orthodox Churches, was and is the only way to portray his resurrection and triumph. Tasso's description of the Descent echoes Dante, once again; see Inferno 4: 52-54 and 12: 38-39.

In more modern times, a powerful image of Satan remembering that fatal Easter is provided by CS Lewis in his unsurpassable sci-fi fantasy horror philosophical theological erotic novel Perelandra (1943).

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

What the hell (9)

[5: 11, Satan speaks]

Né ciò gli parve assai; ma in preda a morte,
Sol per farne più danno, il Figlio ei diede:
Quel venne e ruppe le tartaree porte
E porre osò ne' regni nostri il piede,
E trarne l'alme a noi dovute in sorte
E riportarne al ciel sì ricche prede
Vincitor trïonfando, e 'n nostro scherno
L'insegne ivi spiegar del vinto inferno.

"Nor did this look enough to 'him'; but, just to cause more damage to us, he gave the Son over to death -- who came, and broke the Tartarean doors, and dared set foot in our kingdom, and draw away the souls that were due to us, and take back to heaven such a rich booty after triumphing victoriously and, to our scorn, display there the standards of defeated hell."

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

What the hell (8)

Satan's grand speeches in Milton's Paradise Lost are held shortly after the devils' Fall, but in Tasso's poems the episode is set in the year 1099, at the end of the First Crusade, so Satan already knows everything about the creation of Man and Man's salvation in Christ - while in PL he could only take a wild guess, and quite badly, for that matter.

In spite of this, Tasso gives his long poem/s a universal scope both with regard to space and time: in fact, virtually all the peoples of the Earth partake in the war (China and India included), and the historically limited event of the Crusade turns into a bird's eye view on the whole of human history and the history of salvation. That's why Milton can easily draw on Tasso's verses for his own Genesis-based poem.

Could a reference to Dante be missing? No! Satan's pain in recalling bliss while in hell comes from some statements by damned souls in Dante's Inferno, e.g. Canto 5: 121-122 and 24: 133-134. Farther on, this attitude could already be found in the words of the spirits in Hades according to Greek and Latin classical poets, e.g. see Aeneid 6: 514.

Monday, October 21, 2013

What the hell (7)

[5: 10, Satan speaks]

Et in vece del dì sereno e puro,
De l'aureo sol, de gli stellanti giri,
N'ha qui rinchiusi, in questo inferno oscuro,
Né vuol ch'al primo honor per noi s'aspiri.
E poscia (ahi quanto a ricordarlo è duro!
Questo è quel che più inaspra i miei martìri)
Ne' bei seggi celesti ha l'huom chiamato,
L'huom vile e di vil fango nato.

"And instead of the serene and clear sky, of the golden sun, of the starry circles, 'he' shut us up here, in this dark hell, nor does he want us to aim at our honor of old. And then - ha, that's so hard to recall! That is what sharpens my torments more - to those very fine heavenly seats he called Man, the low, mud-born Man."

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Sunday Guest: ASLAN

From: CS Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (The Chronicles of Narnia)

The quote: "This is no thaw," said the dwarf, suddenly stopping. "This is Spring. What are we to do? Your winter has been destroyed, I tell you! This is Aslan's doing."
"If either of you mention that name again," said the Witch, "he shall instantly be killed."

The echo: And I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a scroll written inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals. Then I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, "Who is worthy to open the scroll and to loose its seals?" And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll, or to look at it. So I wept much, because no one was found worthy to open and read the scroll, or to look at it. But one of the elders said to me, "Do not weep. Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals." (Revelation 5: 1-5)

And also, who knows: But not so much, that did not give me fear
A lion's aspect which appeared to me.
He seemed as if against me he were coming
With head uplifted, and with ravenous hunger,
So that it seemed the air was afraid of him
. . .

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Off Topic: Looks like youths still love Dante

Todi (Italy), "Liceo Jacopone," Oct. 18, 2013

What the hell (6)

John Milton loved these powerful opening words in Satan's speech so much that he reused and reworked them at least three times in his Paradise Lost.

PL 1: 315-316
. . .  "Princes, Potentates,
Warriors, the flow'r of heav'n, once yours, now lost
. . .

PL 2: 11-14
"Powers and Dominions, Deities of heav'n,
For since no deep within her gulf can hold
Immortal vigor, though oppressed and fall'n,
I give not heav'n for lost.  . . ."

PL 10: 460-462
"Thrones, Dominations, Princedoms, Virtues, Powers,
For in possession such, not only of right,
I call ye and declare ye now . . ."

As it will be easy to see through the following posts, the whole of Satan's speech in Gerusalemme Liberata and Conquistata will provide Milton with ideas.

Friday, October 18, 2013

What the hell (5)

Starting from the end. In Gerusalemme Liberata 4: 9, Satan lamented that they had been judged by God as "alme rubelle," rebel souls, i.e. spirits in this case - not "populace."

In GL, God was described as "Colui [che] regge a suo voler le stelle," He who rules the stars according to His will. The different wording in GC makes clearer reference to the very last verse in Dante's Divine Comedy: He who "move 'l sole e l'altre stelle."

But the most meaningful change concerns verse 5. In GL, Satan spoke of "gli antichi altrui sospetti," the early [literally: old, ancient] suspicions of 'somebody,' an indirect device to say God. While in GC Satan recalls "gli antichi miei pensieri," his own early thoughts. This also modifies the meaning of the second part of the verse, though the wording remains the same, i.e. "e i feri sdegni." That, with reference to God, might imply His "fierce wrath." With reference to the devil, it can be rendered as his "proud disdains." Both versions anyway can be read in a Miltonian key: the breaking of trust and confidence between Lucifer and God, and the former's plan to conquer heaven.

Last but not least, there possibly is a pun in verse 4. Satan points out "il gran caso" as the cause of their being in hell. In its older, Latinizing sense, "caso" means fall. But in Italian the term usually means "chance," therefore Satan - as he 'will again' do in Milton's Paradise Lost - may be suggesting that their defeat was due to mere chance, misfortune, bad luck.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

What the hell (4)

Devilman © Go Nagai
fan art by Selkis

[5: 9, Satan speaks]

- Tartarei Numi, di seder più degni
Là sovra il sole, ond'è l'origin vostra,
Che meco già da' più felici regni
Spinse il gran caso in questa horribil chiostra;
Gli antichi miei pensieri e i feri sdegni
Noti son troppo, e l'alta impresa nostra.
Hor colui regge il sole et ogni stella,
Noi giudicati siam plebe rubbella. 

"Tartarean Gods, worthier to sit 
There, above the sun, whence your origin is; 
You who, with me, down from a happier kingdom
Did the great fall push into this horrible jail!
My early thoughts and proud disdains
Are well-known, and our high enterprise. 

Now 'he' rules the sun and every star,
And we are judged as rebel populace!"

The red-fonted words are those that have been changed with reference to the parallel text in Gerusalemme Liberata 4: 9. See tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

What the hell (3)

[5: 6-7]

. . .
Et anzi lui parrebbe un picciol colle,
Tanto la fronte e le gran corna estolle.

Horrida maestà nel fero aspetto
Terrore accresce, e più superbo il rende,
Rosseggian gli occhi, e di veneno infetto
Qual sanguigna cometa il guardo splende;
Le guance involve e su l'irsuto petto
La nera e folta barba hispida scende;
E 'n guisa di voragine profonda
S'apre la bocca d'atro sangue immonda.

[Any biggest mountain] next to him, would look like a small hill, so high does he [Satan] raise his forehead and horns. A repulsive majesty in his fierce features increases a feeling of terror, making him even more superb. His reddish eyes, infected with venom, shine like a blood-colored comet. A black, thick beard hides his cheeks and comes down prickly to his hairy chest; and like a deep pit, his mouth gapes dirty with dark gore.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

What the hell (2)

[5: 4-5]

Corron gli Dei d'abisso in varie torme
A le caliginose oscure porte:
O come strane, o come horribil forme,
Quanto è negli occhi lor terrore e morte!
Stampano alcuni il suol di ferine orme
E 'n fronte humana han chiome d'angui attorte;
E volgon dietro la pungente coda
Che, quasi sferza, si ripiega e snoda.

. . .
E 'n vari mostri, e non più intesi o visti,
Diversi aspetti fûr confusi e misti.

The Gods of Abyss run, in varied swarms, to the dark, obscure doors. Oh, what strange, what horrible shapes! Terror and death in their eyes! Some leave animal footsteps on the ground, and have locks of entangled snakes on human foreheads, and wag stinging tails that, like whips, coil and unwind.  . . .  And in various monsters, never to be conceived or seen, different features were confused and mixed.

Welcome to Pandemonium. Instead of this world, meaning "All Demons" and coined by Milton, Tasso in GC 5: 2 uses the phrase "Concilio horrendo," a hideous Council, like a devilish mockery of the Council of Trent. In the last verse here quoted a reference to Dante, Inferno 25, especially verses 71-72 can be detected too.

Monday, October 14, 2013

What the hell (1)

by Nivalis70

Translations and comments on Canto 5 of Gerusalemme Conquistata (corresponding to Canto 4 of Gerusalemme Liberata) now begin. That is, where Satan calls the whole Hell, and recalls their glorious battle in Heaven, and decides to counter-attack on Earth. Does it sound like something well known? Yes, the heroic Satan was not invented by John Milton: he almost literally copied passages from Tasso. Some English versions of the Liberata may exist, but this is probably the first time that the Pandemonium octaves in GC are translated, and it is definitely worth it since details often vary. So, extended sections of Canto 5 will be offered here. Enjoy Tasso's genius!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Sunday Guest: Maugrim

From: CS Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (The Chronicles of Narnia)

The quote: Edmund stood and waited, his fingers aching with cold and his heart pounding in his chest, and presently the great wolf, Maugrim, the Chief of the Witch's Secret Police, came bounding back and said, "Come in! Come in! Fortunate favourite of the Queen -- or else not so fortunate."

The devil in the detail: Unless some blunder, the warrant signed by Maugrim (ch. 6) is the only place in the whole novel in which the evil Lady currently ruling Narnia is called "Jadis" instead of "the White Witch." And more precisely: . . .  her Imperial Majesty Jadis, Queen of Narnia, Chatelaine of Cair Paravel, Empress of the Lone Islands, etc., already suggesting the future adventures in the saga. "Future" with regard to the order in which Lewis actually wrote the stories, not the final and deceiving one-volume rearrangement. That "etc." may forecast 'her' conquest of Underland.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

From long-continued silence hoarse (3)

A Roman Catholic believer like Torquato Tasso could 'borrow' practically anything from the pagan Virgil; even prayers, just changing [the] God's name. But there is one subject matter on which Tasso does not follow Virgil - and Homer - and draws on completely different sources. And this is death.

In Aeneid 11: 36-41, Aeneas enters the place in which the dead Pallas has been arranged. And . . .
ut uero Aeneas foribus sese intulit altis
ingentem gemitum tunsis ad sidera tollunt
pectoribus, maestoque immugit regia luctu.
ipse caput niuei fultum Pallantis et ora
ut uidit leuique patens in pectore uulnus
cuspidis Ausoniae, lacrimis ita fatur obortis:
. . .

Tasso repeats the scene in a very similar way when Godfrey finds himself in front of the corpse of Guidon (see), but when he starts to speak, his words have nothing in common with Aeneas' words, that ran like this:

Just you, miserable lad, has envious Fortune - while showing up so happy - taken away from me, so that you may not see our kingdom, nor be exalted as a hero in your father's palace?

Friday, October 11, 2013

From long-continued silence hoarse (2)

In the two most recent posts called "Timber!" the cutting of a forest was shown, the work of the Crusaders in order to build big siege engines. But, again, if we place these verses by Tasso against the background of Virgil, Aeneid 6: 179-183
itur in antiquam siluam, stabula alta ferarum;
procumbunt piceae, sonat icta securibus ilex
fraxineaeque trabes cuneis et fissile robur
scinditur, aduoluunt ingentis montibus ornos
a different nuance emerges. In fact, Virgil's verses referred to the wood needed to build a high pyre to honor the corpse of a dead warrior, Mysen. So, the power of machines is turned into a dark shadow of death. Those engines will burn as an enormous pyre. It also clearly appears that Tasso modified the list of the tree species on purpose by adding the yew, i.e. himself ("tasso" = Tasso).

Thursday, October 10, 2013

From long-continued silence hoarse (1)

One of the major limits in this research on Tasso's works is the poor reference to Virgil's and Homer's poems, that would provide a lot of keys by linking passages from those classical epics and their Renaissance counterparts. For example, the description of Guidon's death we recently read (see) follows Virgil's description of the suicide of Dido, the queen who had fallen in love with Aeneas, in Aeneid 4: 690-692,
ter sese attollens cubitoque adnixa leuauit,
ter reuoluta toro est oculisque errantibus alto
quaesiuit caelo lucem ingemuitque reperta. 

This adds a powerful 'soundtrack' to Tasso's episode, letting readers 'see' more than a soldier dying in the battlefield here: it is a sad, painful farewell to life, to the most precious goods, to love, to the deceiving promise of a joyful future.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Timber! (2)

As it is suggested here, and much more evident in his Il Mondo Creato, Torquato Tasso developed a very early - 16th century! - ecological awareness. In the latter poem, for example, he not only notices that the shapes of coasts vary in the course of time, but also that lions have disappeared from Europe because of man.

In the GC passage we are examining a subtler element is present too. Among the trees being hacked up, yews are mentioned, a tree whose Italian name is "tasso" like the poet's name ("tasso" also means badger, but that's not the case here). Besides, Tasso adds a character called Tranquillo (Tranquil) in the plot, who clearly has autobiographical connotations: a poet who had written love songs, now dealing with war, etc. Quite interestingly, Tasso will 'have himself' killed, as Tranquillo, by an arrow shot by Clorinda, the main heroine. A 'sweet death,' for a man who wrote to a friend that "were it not for my Christian faith, I would already have killed myself."

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Timber! (1)

[4: 82]

Altri i tassi e le querce percote
Che mille volte rinovâr la chioma,
E mille volte ad ogni incontro immote
L'ira de' venti han rintuzzata e doma;
Et altri impone a le stridenti rote
D'orni e di cedri l'odorata soma.
Lascian al suon de l'arme, al vario grido,
E le fere e gli augei la tana e 'l nido.

Some hit yews and oaks that had already renewed their crowns a thousand times, and a thousand times, standing still, had withstood and tamed the wrath of winds. Others load the creaking wheels with the scented weight of ash and cedar trees. At the sound of weapons, at the varying cries, wild beasts and birds leave their lairs and nests.

Monday, October 7, 2013

When a friend dies (3)

Godfried's feelings, in front of the corpse of a dear fellow knight, are expressed through carefully chosen words creating a difficult balance between human sorrow and religious atmospheres of hope. In GC 4: 74, verses 5 and 7-8, plus 76, verse 2, Tasso intertwines not less than three passages from Dante, that is Inferno 4: 84 (an uncertain attitude, like in the Limbo), Inferno 5: 109-111, 117 (the sorrow for the death of Francesca da Rimini), and Inferno 8: 119 (anguish, lying in wait).

In general, this episode well summarizes the complex, ambivalent attitude of Tasso towards life, dithering between a feeling of universal collapse and a vision of an all-permeating divine light.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

When a friend dies (2)

[4: 75-76]

- Già non si deve a te doglia né pianto,
Ché se muori al mondo, in ciel rinasci,
E qui dove ti spogli il fragil manto
Di gloria impresse alte vestigia hor lasci:
Vivesti qual guerrier christiano e santo,
E come tal sei morto; hor cibi e pasci
D'eterno ben te stessa, o felice alma,
Et hai di bene oprar corona e palma.

Vivi beata pur, ché nostra sorte,
Non tua sventura, a lagrimar n'invita
. . .

"Not for you must we feel sorrow, and cry: you may have died to the world but are born again in heaven. Here, where you undressed your frail cloak, you now leave high signs of glory. You lived as a Christian knight, a saint knight, and you died as such. Now you feed and satisfy yourself on the eternal good, O happy soul, and receive the crown and palm of good deeds. Live in bliss! Our own lot, not your misfortune, invites us to weep . . ."

Friday, October 4, 2013

When a friend dies (1)

[4: 74]

Poi colà trasse ove gli amici ornâro
Il gran ferètro in cui Guidon si giace.
Quando Goffredo entrò, le turbe alzâro
La voce assai più flebile e loquace;
Ma, con volto né torbido né chiaro,
Frena gli affetti il pio Goffredo, e tace;
E poi che 'n lui pensando alquanto fisse
Tenne le luci, sospirando ei disse:
. . .

Then he [Godfrey] went where the [closest] friends had adorned the big bier in which Guidon lies. When Godfrey entered, the crowd started to raise much more mournful and frequent voices. But, with a face that is neither gloomy nor bright, the godly Godfrey restrains his feelings, and keeps silent. Then, after having thoughtfully gazed at him for a long time, he sighed and said: . . .

Thursday, October 3, 2013

In the beginning was the Sword (8)

[4: 61]

Né si darà l'assalto, onde ritorni
L'hoste con molto danno e poca gloria,
E di troppo ardimento al fin si scorni,
Di cui Riccardo pur si vanta e gloria.
Ma se non hoggi, in diece o 'n venti giorni
Con le machine havrem certa vittoria.
. . .

[Godfrey speaks] " . . .  We won't attack now, so as to have our army then come back with heavy damage and little glory, thus paying dearly(*) for this excessive boldness Richard even takes pride and glory in. But, if not today, in ten or twenty days we will enjoy full victory thanks to our machines."

(*) The verb "scornarsi" literally means to break one's horns. Cf. Dante, Inferno 9: 97. Horns as a synonym of power is an image coming from the Bible.

Gerusalemme Conquistata marks the passage from traditional chivalric battles to modern technological war. In the beginning was the Sword; in the end there will be the Machine.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

In the beginning was the Sword (7)

Godfrey of Bouillon, the - fictionally - head of the whole Christian army, sees Richard not as a hero but as a menace against the whole enterprise, as he acts in the wrong way at the wrong time; a berserkr rather than a soldier. In fact, as we will see, Richard is a much more rebellious character than his equivalent in Gerusalemme Liberata, Rinaldo. Godfrey will presently force him to stop his 'self-managed' attack, and Richard will reluctantly obey, but . . .

Here again, a study on language is very interesting. Some expressions have a clear Dantesque flavor, such as "non cura intoppo o schermo" (lit.: don't care about obstacle or barrier), "e so che 'l vero affermo" (lit.: and I know that I am saying the truth), but especially the verb "inforsa," one of the famous Dantean "in-" neologisms to be often found in Paradiso, where "in-" implies a movement, a direction (e.g. introduction, invasion, etc.). In this case, it is linked to "forse," literally "maybe, perhaps," so it could be translated as the action of "perhapsing" the final victory. In the Logfellow version of the Divine Comedy, Paradiso 24, it is rendered as "there is no peradventure."