SiStan ChapLee

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Sunday Guest: Bram Stoker (2)

From: The Lair of the White Worm

Adam Salton sauntered into the Empire Club, Sydney Hmm, a novel whose very first word is "Adam": worth having a look

[ch. 2] Mr. Salton had all his life been an early riser, and necessarily an early waker. Not to be taken for granted: see somnambulism in Dracula :-)

But the most remarkable characteristic is the eyes. Black, piercing, almost unendurable, they seem to contain in themselves a remarkable will power which there is no gainsaying. It is a power … impregnated with some mysterious quality, partly hypnotic, partly mesmeric, which seems to take away from eyes that meet them all power of resistance—nay, all power of wishing to resist. A feature to be found in Tasso's GC too, but as a power given to good people, heroes indeed!

[ch. 4] But the face of Oolanga … was unreformed, unsoftened savage, and inherent in it were all the hideous possibilities of a lost, devil-ridden child of the forest and the swamp—the lowest of all created things that could be regarded as in some form ostensibly human This is plain racism, at first sight / more in depth, a quotation from Beowulf's Grendel

… he realised that Edgar Caswall had arrived. Then, on looking more closely, he saw that Lady Arabella, dressed as he had seen her last, was seated beside him. That is, Lady Arabella hadn't gone back home to sleep ;-)

[ch. 8] “ … if the scent of the primaeval monster can so remain in proportion to the original strength, can the same be true of things of good import?”

“If deeds and prayers and hopes and earnest thinking leave anywhere any moral effect, Mercy Farm and all around it have almost the right to be considered holy ground.” A fascinating topic in this novel: does goodness leave any trace of itself?

“I am afraid, sir, that there is more going on in this neighbourhood than most people imagine. I was out this morning, and on the edge of the small wood, I came upon the body of a child by the roadside. At first, I thought she was dead, and while examining her, I noticed on her neck some marks that looked like those of teeth.”

“For some time now, things have been happening in this district … several people have disappeared, without leaving the slightest trace; a dead child was found by the roadside, with no visible or ascertainable cause of death—sheep and other animals have been found in the fields, bleeding from open wounds.” A fine cammeo from Dracula, but see also sci-fi and cryptozoology: abductions, the Chupacabra . . .

[ch. 14] It seemed to him that he was now drawn by forces which he could not control—of which, indeed, he had no knowledge—in directions which he did not understand, and which were without his own volition. Psychological horror / Tasso had introduced it into Christian epic

To be continued . . .

Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Tasso Revised Version (3)

[2: 61]

Chi mal non fece al suo vicino oppresso
Perseguendo fortune afflitte e sparte,
E vergogna non hebbe e scorno appresso
Incontra, lui ch'odio da sé diparte;
Nulla è il maligno al tuo cospetto istesso,
Signor, nulla gli giova ingegno ed arte;
Ma glorïoso è chi t'honora e teme
Sino a le parti de la terra estreme.

[Lord, who may dwell in Your sacred tent? . . . ] 
Who did no evil to his oppressed neighbor
By running after vexed and scattered fortunes, 
Nor does he have shame and humiliation against
Himself, who removes hate from himself.
The evil one is nothing in Your sight,
O Lord: useless are his quick wits and art.
But he is glorious, who honors and fears You
Up to the farthest ends of the earth.

This part of the Psalm is almost completely different from the original text. Tasso stresses the negative sides he could see in his society, his own life and personal problems included. Another feature of his times is indicated in the last verse, one of the many - clear or hidden - references to the discovery of America. As to verses 5-6, they may also be translated as "The Evil One . . ." therefore providing a key for the whole poem, with an obvious parallelism with Milton's purpose in writing Paradise Lost.

Next issue on Monday. Tomorrow it will be up to our Sunday Guest.

of priesthood:
all the best,
Fr. Elio!

Friday, June 28, 2013

The Tasso Revised Version (2)

Tasso divides his version of Psalm 15 into three octaves (groups of 8 verses), GC 2: 60-62. This is the first one. The translation will be as literal as possible so as to show the differences with the two 'more accurate' versions supplied yesterday.

Dicean: - Qual novo habitator famoso
Hor nel tuo albergo d'habitar fia degno?
Chi nel tuo santo monte havrà riposo,
O Re celeste e di celeste regno?
Mentre spiega la notte il velo ombroso,
Chi vi s'acqueta dal tuo pio disdegno?
Chi parla fra suo cor senza menzogna
Ned ingannar con falsa lingua agogna.

The said, "What new, famous dweller
Will now be worthy of dwelling by Your seat?
Who will enjoy rest in Your holy mountain,
O heavenly King of a heavenly Kingdom?
As Night unfolds her shadowy veil,
Who can recover there from Your saintly wrath?
Those who speak in their hearts without any lie,
Nor do they want to deceive by a false tongue.
. . ."

The changes introduced by the poet are of several kinds, all of them very typical of him. He stresses the element of landscape, especially "by night," as well as the negative attitude of those who lie and deceive their neighbors. God is a Baroque one, a glorious King who, at the same time, must be feared because of His wrath but also, with an oxymoron, a God whose wrath is saintly. Another basic feature of Tasso's poetry is a need for rest, quiet, silence, peace. But especially, the person who will be worthy of dwelling in the holy mount of Sion is a "famous" one, namely Godfrey of Bouillon, the head of the Crusaders.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Tasso Revised Version (1)

In GC 2: 53 ff, in an episode that Gerusalemme Liberata didn't report, Christians are forced to leave Jerusalem. In marching towards the Crusaders' encampment, they pray and recite some Psalms, of which Tasso provides a personal translation into Italian -- based on the Latin Vulgate version; during the Renaissance, Christian scholars and philosophers rediscovered Hebrew, but Tasso wasn't among those who knew this language, as far as I can say.

As an example, we'll examine Psalm 15, or Psalm 14 according to the numbering in the ancient Greek version - the LXX - that was then followed by Latin Christian Bibles. Tasso modifies the text so as to make it fit the narrative, with very interesting additions and changes. But, for a starter, here's Psalm 14 / 15 in the classic King James Version and in a modern rendition, the New International Version:

Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle?
Who shall dwell in thy holy hill?
He that walketh uprightly,
and worketh righteousness,
and speaketh the truth in his heart.
He that backbiteth not with his tongue,
nor doeth evil to his neighbour,
nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbour.
In whose eyes a vile person is contemned;
but he honoureth them that fear the Lord.
He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not.
He that putteth not out his money to usury,
nor taketh reward against the innocent.
He that doeth these things shall never be moved.

Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent?
Who may live on your holy mountain?
The one whose walk is blameless,
who does what is righteous,
who speaks the truth from their heart;
whose tongue utters no slander,
who does no wrong to a neighbor,
and casts no slur on others;
who despises a vile person
but honors those who fear the Lord;
who keeps an oath even when it hurts,
and does not change their mind;
who lends money to the poor without interest;
who does not accept a bribe against the innocent.
Whoever does these things will never be shaken.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Saul bellows (3) or, In the Valley of Elah

If these first posts gave you the impression that reading Gerusalemme Conquistata is like subscribing to National Geographic, this happens because --- it is. The Conquistata is much more than a remake of Gerusalemme Liberata, it is a radical reboot. And not only has a great part of the plot been modified or added: the narrative structure itself has been upset. Whereas Gerusalemme Liberata was a compact, consistent story (against Ludovico Ariosto's labyrinthine Orlando Furioso), Gerusalemme Conquistata is full of sub-stories, even long ones, and blocked roads. Here Tasso quite often stops describing an action and starts to describe a set of places, or the history of a family, or a very detailed vision; or he translates passages from the Bible, etc.

This sort of 'documentary poetry' has a climax in his poem Il Mondo Creato (The Creation of the World), started just one year before, 1592, WITHOUT a plot and without personages, like Dziga Vertov's experimental movies. In Gerusalemme Conquistata Tasso finds a surprising compromise between already post-modern anti-structures and classic epic.

What about David and Goliath? They somehow anticipate the final battle between the young Richard, literally a super-hero, and Solyman. And this the second big novelty in GC with reference to GL: turning Ariostesque duels into Robert-E-Howardesque butchery, all the way up to (Marvel) comics and science fiction.

IT / Kindle and paper edition

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Saul bellows (2)

The 'climatic changes' caused by Saul's death come from a literal interpretation of II Samuel 1: 21, but Tasso probably highlights this episode because it had already been powerfully reused by Dante, Purgatorio 12: 40-42.

The description in which Saul's beheaded body is "fixed onto a tree" is wrong, instead. According to I Samuel 31: 9-10, ". . .  they cut off his head and stripped off his armor, and sent word throughout the land of the Philistines, to proclaim it in the temple of their idols and among the people. Then they put his armor in the temple of the Ashtoreths, and they fastened his body to the wall of Beth Shan" (NKJV), nor did the then commonly used Latin Vulgate read otherwise, nor does the parallel text of I Chronicles 10: 9-10 report such a detail. Tasso's literary - and maybe also Freudian - slip belongs to the general 'Vikingalization' his poetry undergoes in the last period of his life, with Il Re Torrismondo and Gerusalemme Conquistata. Quite often, in fact, in GC bodies and heads of men or bears, killed by warriors or hunters and fixed onto trees appear.

A minor remark: in the Bible we can read both pro-Saul and anti-Saul passages. Tasso sides with the first, terming "noble" the king's head.

To be continued . . .

Monday, June 24, 2013

Off Topic: Buone notizie, la filosofia è viva

Methodological Note: When a review concerns a book that's only available in Italian, the post will be written directly in this language.

Marco Guzzi, Buone notizie. Spunti per una vita nuova, EMP, Padova 2013, pagg. 138, euro 12

Un libro che prende di petto la crisi contemporanea nelle sue varie sfaccettature: famiglia, politica, economia, educazione, ecc., e propone una via di soluzione. Lasceremo qui da parte la soluzione, per non rovinare il gusto della lettura, e anche perché la soluzione in fondo è sempre più o meno la stessa in questi casi: aderire al movimento creato dall'autore. Precisando però che Guzzi non è il "fondatore di una setta": è docente all'istituto Claretianum affiliato alla Pontificia università lateranense, nonché membro della Pontificia accademia di belle arti e lettere... e allo stesso tempo, per par condicio, non è un bigotto.

Il dato più ammirevole dell'opera è che l'autore (si) espone (con) una visione complessiva originaria* della storia della civiltà occidentale, fino a dare una lettura "forte" della situazione in atto, con le sue dinamiche, i suoi nodi e i possibili, o ineludibili, sviluppi. Un'operazione sanamente massimalista, con un humour spesso sanamente graffiante, che dovrebbe caratterizzare la filosofia in quanto tale, ma che da troppo tempo sembra latitante. Un altro raro esempio contemporaneo era Raimon Panikkar. Tra le idee portanti di Marco Guzzi, eccone una sola a titolo di esempio, antica eppure oggi tutta da riscoprire: l'unità dell'io, la libertà personale non come punto di partenza ma come punto di arrivo. Domande cosmiche e lotte interiori che peraltro non dispiacerebbero al nostro Torquato.

* Si potrebbe dire "originale", se non fosse diventato un insulto.

Saul bellows (1)

[2: 47]

Questi il paese il qual dintorno ha cinto
L'alta città dove al sepolchro huom poggia;
E la valle cercò di Terebinto
Là dove giacque in disusata foggia
L'empio Golia dal buon fanciullo estinto;
E 'l fero monte in cui rugiada o pioggia
Non destillò poi ch'a Saul fu tronco
Il nobil capo, e 'l busto affisso al tronco.

He [a character called "Floridoro" in the manuscript, and "Celebino" in the published text] searched the land surrounding the high city where one walks up to the [Holy] Sepulcher; and the Valley of Terebinth [ = Valley of Elah in English Bibles] where, in disused fashion, the ungodly Goliath lay, killed by the good boy; and the desolate mountain in which dew or rain didn't fall anymore since Saul's noble head was cut off and his bust stuck to a trunk.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Sunday Guest: Bram Stoker (1)

- click to enlarge -

Ha, now, c'mon, what's the 'father' of Dracula to do with Torquato Tasso? The thin thread connecting them is --- a cable, a pipe! That is, Literature rereading the Genesis myth of the Garden / Forest / Tree / Fruit / Serpent / Woman. In this case, the work taken into consideration will be the last novel by Stoker, The Lair of the White Worm, 1911. To be sure, it's not considered his masterpiece: much too inconsistent and a bit boring, to say the least. But it turns into a fascinating book if one just reads it from different standpoints: a pre-Surrealist novel, suggested by unconscious associations; a ready-made or a collection of unfinished fragments; meta-literature in which Stoker reflects on the many different 'layers' in Dracula; and humor, a lot of humor. That's why, on the next Sundays, we'll be choosing some gems out of it.

In the picture above: a rendering of the White Worm, whose shape, in Stoker's descriptions, recalls the fossils of Basilosaurus that had been found just few decades earlier -- "few" with reference to 1860, the year in which the story is set. Basilosaurus was a prehistoric whale, but at that time often considered a sea serpent; actually, its skeleton is puzzling still nowadays, and reconstructions of its living body can vary a lot.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Moses reported abducted (2)

Moses in an almost unknown
painting by S. Dalí (detail)
The Bible (Deut. 34: 6) simply says that nobody knows the place in which Moses was buried. Surely Tasso is drawing on some ancient Jewish tradition, such as were known also by Christians, see especially the apocryphal book called The Assumption of Moses. For a midrash on the subject, this PDF file in Italian can be read - a link kindly provided by the "Ragazze Sisters" (see their website). Here's a translation of some pertinent lines:

The verse "If his height even reached the sky . . ." (Job 20: 6) refers to Moses, who ascended up to the heavenly dwellings, and whose feet stepped on the cloud enveloping the Divine Majesty, and who, being like the angels in everything, spoke to the Holy One - may He be blessed -, face to face, receiving the Torah from Him. But, as his end was close at hand, the Lord said, "Lo, the time is approaching, etc." (Deut. 31: 14) . . .  Then the Holy One - may He be blessed - called Moses' soul: "Daughter, I have been keeping you in Moses' body for 120 years; now your last term has come, you must come out of it. Get out, don't hesitate!" And the soul said: "Lord of the universe! I know You are the God of All, the Lord of every soul. You created me, You left me in Moses' body 120 years. But does any body purer than Moses' exist on earth? I love it, I don't want to abandon it!" "Come out!" replied the Holy One - may He be blessed. "And I will place your seat just below the throne of my Majesty, next to the Cherubim and Seraphim." Then the Holy One - may He be blessed - kissed Moses, and He picked his soul in a kiss.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Moses reported abducted (1)

[2: 45]

Poi sale il Monte ove colui da lunge
Il promesso terren vedea mirando,
Ma prima a quel ch'è più vicino ei giunge,
Ove atra nube il circondò portando,
O sia rapto che l'alma a Dio congiunge,
O Morte pur di cui si cela il quando.
Così, sparito da l'humana vista,
S'ascose in guisa d'huom ch'il Cielo acquista.

He [a prince called Corcut] climbs the Mount where [Moses] saw the Promised Land from afar, in awe. But, before, he reaches the nearer one, where a dark cloud surrounded [Moses] and took him away - whether it was an abduction that unites the soul to God, or Death whose "when" has not been told. So, disappearing from human sight, he hid like a man attaining Heaven.

A proper comment will be provided tomorrow. Meanwhile, just a brief note to point out that the last verse - "s'ascose," he hid  - includes a Dantesque hint, Purgatorio 26: 148; the phrase "in guisa d'uom" (like a man . . . ) also echoes Dante's language.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

At the sources of the Jordan River (2)

The temple was that of Caesarea Panias. Gerusalemme Conquistata - even much more than the Liberata - is a triumph of imagination and fantasy, but, at the same time, Tasso read whatever he could retrieve about the history of the Holy Land. Here the issue is connected to that of the element water, with which Tasso had a true obsession, as we'll see more in depth in some future.

The most interesting aspect here is the decadence, ruin, death of every human work. This is a feature Tasso profoundly shares with the ancient poem Beowulf, even if he couldn't know about it. He did know the 16th century works by Olaus Magnus, Olav Manson. Anyway, really looks like Destiny - a genuine Beowulfian concept! - wove together the threads of the Renaissance poet and of his unknown Nordic colleague. In fact, Tasso's Sophoclean/Shakespearean tragedy Il Re Torrismondo (it might be translated as King Thorismond) is set in basically the same place and time as Beowulf: Scandinavia, sixth century AD, in a "more heathen than Christian" looking society.

N.B. In the manuscript, Tasso had at first written "barbarian injuries" instead of "our," then he realized he knew better than that.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

A travel buddy

It will happen on several occasions to make reference to the topics dealt with in the wide-range essay Dante Was a Fantasy Writer (International Authors, 2013: orig. IT ed., Dante era uno scrittore fantasy, GuardaStelle, 2012). Meanwhile, here's the cover and ordering info:

At the sources of the Jordan River (1)

[2: 34]

Gemino fonte e verde speco ombroso
Vide; se pur son ivi il fonte e l'urna
E non corre più tosto altronde ascoso
Per via secreta al sole, atra e notturna.
Non v'era il tempio che sorgea famoso
Ove i marmi vincean bianchezza eburna:
Perch'ogni opra mortal tardi o per tempo
Cede a le nostre ingiurie o cede al tempo.

He [the same character as before, i.e. a Muslim prince called Saladin - not "that" Saladin, of course] saw a twin source and a green shady cave, provided those are the [true] source and urn and it [the Jordan] doesn't rather run elsewhere, hidden in a bed secret to the sun, dark and nocturnal. There wasn't the temple, the one that once rose so famous, where the marbles outdid ivory in whiteness: because any mortal work, sooner or later, yields to our injuries or to Time.

To be continued . . .

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Visiting Naim in the 11th century (2)

The episode in the Gospels the text refers to is Luke 7: 11-17.

But especially, in these six verses, at least four - direct or indirect - quotations from Dante can be detected. First of all, the "dolce raggio" (sweet [sun] beam) seen by the resurrected boy recalls Dante's "dolce lome" (sweet light) in Inferno 10: 69, also dealing with a young man who had recently died. Second, Dis - after Dante - has become the name of a place, instead of the name of a guy (Hades). Third, Pluto's rage makes us think of that mysterious but well-known cry in Inferno 7: 1, "Pape Satan, Pape Satan, aleppe!" though with the basic difference that Pluto in the Divine Comedy is introduced as 'one of' the devils calling his king Satan, while Tasso simply identifies him with Satan himself.

But the most important link lies in the "bigger damage" the devil is afraid of in seeing Jesus' miracle. In fact, a much more powerful resurrection and victory against hell will occur in the Holy Sepulcher, the very center of Tasso's narrative. Describing Christ's resurrection as a triumphant descent into hell belongs to the theology of the Church Fathers and the Orthodox Churches, see their sacred icons; but also Dante, who mentions this episode (just alluded to in the New Testament) quite often. Tasso uses it as one of the main keys to his poem.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Off Topic: Anthony . . . who?

Salvador Dali's Temptation of St Anthony (1946) is - imho - one of his absolute masterpieces. At first sight, it shows the classic Saint tempted by the classic things, sex, power, glory, and the like. But it suffices to know Dali's themes to notice that the so-called "temptations" here sum up all of his favorite positive things: the prancing white horse (see his painting St James the Great, etc.), female beauty, Baroque architecture, the tower, the elephants, etc. While St Anthony's features recall the way in which Dalí used to depict another Antoni . . .  Gaudí! Whose life in fact was the same as a hermit's, unlike Dali's.

A friendly competition between the two great Catalan geniuses.

This anyway goes off topic only in part, since Dalí was "the last Renaissance man" . . .  like Tasso.

Visiting Naim in the 11th century (1)

[2: 31]

E quella che stupì, dal regno oscuro,
Ove si fa l'estremo aspro viaggio,
Tornar visto il fanciullo e d'aer puro
Aprire i chiusi lumi al dolce raggio,
Talché non parve in Dite allor securo,
Ma paventò Pluton maggiore oltraggio.
. . .

And [an above-mentioned personage also visited] that [town, i.e. Naim in Galilee] that was amazed in seeing the boy coming back from the dark kingdom - where one makes the last, bitter voyage - and opening his closed eyes to the sweet sunbeams; so that Pluto no longer felt safe in [the hellish city of] Dis, but feared a bigger damage.

The text is based on Tasso's manuscript, not on the final published version. Important differences will be pointed out, when necessary. The punctuation has been here adapted to current standards in order to make it clearer (e.g. Tasso wrote "E quella, che stupì," quite like the grammar rules in German). A comment will be provided tomorrow.

The critical edition employed is: Torquato Tasso, Gerusalemme Conquistata - Ms. Vind. Lat. 72 della Biblioteca Nazionale di Napoli (Vol. III, Book 1 of the National Edition of Torquato Tasso's Works), edited by Claudio Gigante, Alessandria: Edizioni dell'Orso, 2010, pages LXX + 544

Sunday, June 16, 2013

It all began 420 years ago

In 1593 Torquato Tasso's long poem Gerusalemme Conquistata (Jerusalem Conquered) was published. It was the remake of his more famous Gerusalemme Liberata (Jerusalem Delivered), first published in 1581 --- or rather, the reboot of it --- or even better, the only true version, since the 1581 book was a pirate edition, against the author's will. At that time there were no copyright laws of any sort.

The Conquistata is usually described as a worsened version of the Liberata: a bigoted and boring flood of words, one-Divine-Comedy-and-a-half long. By studying it a bit more carefully, it turns out that the 1593 poem wasn't and couldn't be understood, then, for the simple reason that Tasso was some five centuries ahead of time. But NOW we have the instruments to get it and appreciate it as it deserves.

This is what we'll try to, by means of original (maybe the first ever) translations and detailed comments. Welcoming the lost pilgrims who will bump into these pages.