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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.