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Sunday, December 28, 2014

Sunday Guest: Colonel Procolo

From Dino Buzzati's novel Il segreto del Bosco Vecchio, a tragic "Christmas tale." Old Colonel Procolo had tried to have his nephew Benvenuto murdered in order to take possession of the estate inherited by the latter -- the Old Wood itself -- so, on New Year's Eve, Wind Matthew "as a present" gives him the "good news" that Benvenuto is dying, buried under a snow slide. It is not true, but Procolo believes Matthew's lie, and goes and tries to save his nephew. He will be killed by the cold.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Sunday Guests: Five Nightmares

From Dino Buzzati's novel Il segreto del Bosco Vecchio. The Italian word incubo means both nightmare and incubus. Here it mainly refers to little Benvenuto's bad dreams during his illness, but a general reference to demons may be implied too, although no woman is involved.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Off Topic: Dante's "forbidden night"

A side effect of reading Federico Lanci's studies on Dante (see the Dec.-18 post) has been the realization, for the first time after thirty years, that one night is "missing" in the account of the Divine Comedy. In fact, Purgatorio 33 ends at midday, while Paradiso 1 begins in the early morning. What's happened of -- or rather, in the night in between? Well, you know, Dante and Beatrice had not 'physically' met for then years, mainly because of her death, so, maybe, hmm, they may have been celebrating their rendez-vous, who knows?  ;-)

Friday, December 19, 2014

The best defense is attack (1)

[7: 3]

- E 'nsin a quando ci terrai prigioni
Fra queste mura, in vile assedio e lento?
Odo ben io stridere incudi, e suoni
D'elmi e di scudi e di corazze io sento;
Ma non veggio a qual uso. E que' ladroni
Scorron per tutto homai senza spavento,
Né v'è chi di noi chi mai lor passo arresti,
Né tromba che dal sonno almen li desti.

[Argantes to the Emir of Jerusalem]
"How long will you keep us like prisoners
Among these walls, in such a low, vile siege?
I do hear anvils ringing, I do listen to
The sound of helmets, shields, and armors,
But I don't see to what use. And those thieves
Can now raid everywhere undismayed,
And no one among us dares stop them,
And no trumpet at least wakes them up!"

The GC translations will be resumed starting from January 2. 
With many thanks to the growing number of people who read this blog.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Jerusalem Super-Exalted

- click to enlarge -

Tasso possibly thought that his Jerusalem-poems were the supreme poetical glorification of the Holy City; but, according to an independent Dante scholar of the mid-19th century, Fortunato Lanci, the Divine Comedy made much more than Tasso: it placed Jerusalem at the center of the whole universe. Lanci summarized his insights in the plate reported here (Fig. = figura, picture).

Fig. III   A general map, from above, of Dante's routes in Inferno (a-b), Purgatorio (c-d), and Paradiso (d-m). The h-h line indicates the Jerusalem-to-purgatory meridian. 

Fig. I   The "planets" (Sun included) rotate around the Earth center in point B, in accordance with the Ptolemaic cosmology, but the celestial spheres rotate around the city of Jerusalem in point A. As a consequence, the motion of each planet within its respective sphere is slightly eccentric.

Fig. II   The spheres of the 9 angelic choirs turn around the 9 celestial spheres, but on a perpendicular axis, namely the one whose extremities are Jerusalem and purgatory.

Fig. IV - V   Dante, while standing on the firmament (starry sphere), sees the angelic choirs as circles (not spheres) which look smaller and smaller (instead of larger and larger, as they are). This might be a perspective effect caused by a cone-shaped light ray coming from God, point A in picture IV, to Dante, in point B.

Lanci's book is also interesting because of other minor interpretations, as well as from a cultural point of view. For example, he detects two kinds of damned souls in hell's vestibule. And he is puzzled because, according to Dante, usury is worse than homosexuality. But more significant is the following remark: "A special folly, which clouds the French brains in our century, tries to turn Dante, at all costs, into a rebel against the Holy [Catholic] Church, as the author and champion of doctrines in accordance with their own heterodox communities . . .  defining him heretical, revolutionary, and socialist." About this, I take the liberty to link to my Dante book.

De' spiritali tre regni cantati da Dante Alighieri nella Divina Commedia. Analisi per tavole sinottiche di Fortunato Lanci [The three spiritual realms sung by Dante Alighieri in the Divine Comedy. An analysis through synoptical plates, by Fortunato Lanci], Rome, "a spese dello autore" [printed on demand], cm 28 x 39 x 2.
Actually, it consists of two books bound together: Degli ordinamenti onde ebbe informata Dante Alighieri la prima Cantica della Divina Commedia, investigazioni di F. Lanci [On the organization according to which Dante A. shaped the first Canticle of the D. C., the researches by F. L.], 1855, 28 pages + 2 plates; and Degli ordinamenti ond'ebbe conteste Dante Alighieri la seconda e la terza Cantica . . ." [On the organization according to which Dante A. wove the second and third Canticles . . .], 1856, 66 pages + 4 plates.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Meanwhile on the opposite front (2)

[7: 2]

E 'l Re sempre e queste parti e quelle
Li fa inalzare, e rafforzare i fianchi,
O l'aureo sol risplenda, od a le stelle
Et a la luna il fosco ciel s'imbianchi;
E 'n far per sì gran rischio arme novelle
Sudano i fabbri affaticati e stanchi.
In s' fatto apparecchio intolerante,
A lui se 'n venne e ragionolli Argante:

. . .

The King(*) meanwhile has many places
In the city lifted up and strengthened,
Both when the golden sun shines and when
The dark sky turns white with stars and moon;
To make new weapons, in such a great peril,
Many smiths labor, sweaty and tired. (**)
Among all preparations, the impatient
Argantes now comes before him, and says, . . .

(*) The Emir of Jerusalem, whose true name was Ducat; he was fairy-tale-like called "Aladino" (Aladdin) in Gerusalemme Liberata, while here in the Conquistata his name is rectified into "Ducalto."
(**) Echoing Dante, Inferno 14: 55-57.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Anna and Her Sisters

Anna Katharina Emmerick (1774-1824) was at the peak of her controversial success ten years ago, when Mel Gibson used her visions as a source for his 'scary movie' The Passion of the Christ and Pope John Paul II declared her "Blessed," just one step before becoming "St."

Her visions, more or less contemporary to William Blake's, are very different from her Medieval colleagues': the latter are concise and theologically pertinent, whereas Emmerick's are full of descriptive and psychological details, and changes in the landscape constantly echo the feelings of the personages. Briefly, it is a clear product of German Romanticism. At the same time, the Seer's mind (in the Medieval sense of mens) 'desperately' tries to get a consistent picture out of all kinds of materials she may have access to, directly or indirectly: Medieval and Renaissance art, apocryphal books, modern archaeological researches (e.g. the Essenes) and devotions (e.g. the Holy Shroud now in Turin), etc. And, is it possible that her descriptions of Eden, setting the supernaturally beautiful Adam and Eve in a gorgeous paradise, depended -- at least in part -- on Milton's Paradise Lost? After all, the notes of Haydn's oratorio Die Schöpfung were still fresh in the German world's air.

The most original and interesting side of her "updated Gospel" is the role played by Lazarus as a sponsor, and especially by a whole team of women as healing helpers in the public ministry of Jesus. Significantly, his enemies accuse him of being a wizard, rather than a blasphemer. The Messiah's personality itself is not always the one we would expect.

A. K. Emmerick, Visioni bibliche e contemplazioni mistiche, an anthology perceptively edited and very well translated by Vincenzo Noja, Milan: Paoline, 2009, pages 326, euros 14.50

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Sunday Guest: a sexy Ichneumon Wasp

From Dino Buzzati's novel Il segreto del Bosco Vecchio. Why "sexy"?! Because, in this juvenile novel, it is the only episode in which Buzzati hints at a subject that will play a fundamental role in his later works: women possessing, dominating, and mocking men. In fact, the insects are described as follows:
Giving very thin cries to excite one another, the she-wasps swooped down on the caterpillars, seized them by the hair, and gripped them between their own legs(*) while casting contumelies on them. Then, they pierced the caterpillars with their stings, at a surprising speed, in every part of their bodies.
(*) The word gambe is employed, that refers to human beings; animals have zampe, in Italian. The actions of the ichneumon wasps, and of their larvae later on, match their actual behavior only in part: Buzzati sometimes enjoyed creating an alternative zoology, though the most interesting examples of this in 20th-century Italian literature can be found in Primo Levi's and Italo Calvino's short stories.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

With a higher IQ than Smaug

"I'm ho-o-me!" or, Mr and Mrs Dragon

A detail from a cult illustrated book: Die Drachenfedern (The Dragon's Feathers), first published in 1993, with the amazing plates by Ol'ga Dugina and Andrej Dugin. From the viewpoint of fantasy lore, the interesting novelty -- in the illustrations, not in the text -- is that the Dragon is endowed with intelligence and speech, like Tolkien's specimens, but he makes something more than collecting useless treasures. He is an alchemist, a magician.
In connection with this, the countless details added by the Dugins, a married couple themselves, give a quite different meaning to the whole story. Signs of the Dragon, in fact, can bee seen in every page: giant eggs, dragon-shaped helmets, little reptilian critters, etc. The impression arises that the W/Lizard only "makes as if" he is deceived by his wife, revealing her the secrets that she, in turn, will pass on to the young hero of the story to help him accomplish his "mission." The Dragon probably knew everything about it, and now enjoys observing the consequences. The result is that the young man will succeed in marrying his sweetheart, but they won't look very happy: the worst curse has fallen on them, the curse of gold.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Meanwhile on the opposite front (1)

After so many pages devoted to the events in the Christian Camp (especially those concerning Richard and Armida), Tasso shows us the situation from the point of view of the Muslim army and people within the walls of Jerusalem.

[7: 1]

Ma d'altra parte le rinchiuse genti
Sperano in stato dubbio e malsicuro,
Ch'oltra il raccolto cibo, integri armenti
Son lor dentro condotti al cielo oscuro;
Et han munite d'arme e di instrumenti
Di Borea inverso Borea il forte muro:
E là 'nde più lunga fatica alzollo
Non mostra di temer percossa o crollo.

But, on the other side, the enclosed people 
Hope, though in a dubious and insecure state;
In fact, besides the gathered food, whole herds
Were brought inside under cover of darkness;
And with weapons and instruments, they
Fortified the strong North wall northward: (*)
Where they have built it with longer labour,
It will not fear damages from blows or tremors.

(*) In the final printed version, these two lines were then modified: E di machine e d'arme e fochi ardenti / Munito fia verso Aquilone il muro, "And with devices and weapons and burning fires / they fortified the Northern wall," also using a different wind name to indicate the North, Aquilone instead of Borea.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Un(s)even: A strange star over Bethlehem

(by Selkis; a detail)

Ancient Bible scholars interpreted the Star of Bethlehem either as an unusual astronomical phenomenon or as an angel. Torquato Tasso, with one of his strokes of genius, anticipates the concept of "singularity" in Physics: that event -- he says -- had no parallels, was something unique.

In a couple of weeks it will be Christmas. This picture would do as a beautiful greetings card, but we will exchange 'official' wishes some days before the actual date.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Dante's CV in 3 easy steps

That is, the law of 25's:

Inferno 25
Dante's job that would make him famous: a poet as great as, or greater than, Ovid. He succeeded.

Purgatorio 25
Dante's would-be job: as a physician. He quit.

Paradiso 25
Dante's dream job: to be called back to Florence as a Culture minister. He failed.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

1, 2, 3, 4, 5

[6: 119.1 - 120.2]

Quivi discende un rio, non lunge al ponte,
Da l'un de' cinque fonti, anzi dal primo,
Ché cinque son, pur come gradi in monte,
Per cui s'ascende al sommo insin da l'imo.
L'altro rio si rivolge al propio fonte
Lucido, puro, netto e senza limo;
Così quel corre a l'alto, e questo al fondo.
O sacra meraviglia ignota al mondo!

Ma l'uno e l'altro pur torce, e deriva
Misero error fra l'opere terrene.

Here, not far from the bridge, a river flows down from one of five springs -- the first one in fact, as there is five of them, like natural stairs in a mountain, letting you climb it from the base to the top. The other river turns back towards it own spring: shiny, pure, clean, mudless. Therefore, the former flows upward and the latter downward, O holy wonder, unknown to the world! But both keep turning, and create miserable errors among the earthly works.

These five mysterious, all too clearly symbolic rivers did not appear in Gerusalemme Liberata; they have been added in the Conquistata, both here and later on, when a more detailed description will be provided. Scholars have interpreted them as a reference to the Thomistic doctrine of knowledge, but there might be more to it, in the light of the importance attached by the poet to their cosmic meaning. Anyway, imho, this is the most unconvincing section in GC.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Un(s)even: Satan, Sin, Death

(a bit cropped)

In Tasso's Il Mondo Creato we find a brief description of Death popping out of Sin, and Sin out of Satan, that, while reworking passages from the New Testament (James, Paul), paves the way to Milton's powerful and "drama-acting" conversations between the three dark powers.

Directly from Paradise Lost, modifying it on purpose and not without humor, is William Blake's personal version of this imagery in his long poem Milton:

[Leutha, a "Daughter of Albion," speaks]
. . .  entering the doors of Satan's brain night after night
Like sweet perfumes, I stupified the masculine perceptions
And kept only the feminine awake.(*)  . . .

I sprang out of the breast of Satan, over the Harrow beaming
In all my beauty . . .

But when the Gnomes refus'd to labour more, with blandishments
I came forth from the head of Satan! Back the Gnomes recoil'd
And called me Sin, and for a sign portentous held me.  . . .

[The Bard sings: Once in Palamabron's bed,]
In dreams she bore the shadowy Spectre of Sleep & nam'd him Death.

(*) Apparently with temporary homosexual consequences, as Satan falls in love with Palamabron.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Sunday Guest: the Giant Carter

From Dino Buzzati's novel Il segreto del Bosco Vecchio. A dark, giant carter, leading a huge horse and a coffin-shaped cart, wanders about the Old Wood. What may he be transporting? Butterflies, butterflies, thousands of tiny butterflies - - - of processionary moths.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Sisters' Acts

In 1592, when Tasso was workig on his long poem Il Mondo Creato, the Catholic Bishop of Perugia, Italy, "visited" -- i.e., in canon law parlance, checked the cloister of St. Agnes (still existing), where some 70 Franciscan nuns then lived. The community had had big troubles twenty years before because they had not immediately accepted the reform required by the Vatican, that basically consisted in turning them into an enclosed Order and sending them parish priests as spiritual guides instead of Franciscan monks. Why? Because anything had happened in such places in the previous centuries.

The Council of Trent, which ended in 1564, had given very general guidelines in this sense, but left the actual decision to the local Church leaders (once again, the difference between the Renaissance approach and the one-sided, ideological approach of the Enlightenment Era and later, up to the Vatican Council II). Well, Perugia was unlucky, probably because the relations between the Umbrian city and Rome were quite nervous. In 1571, the Papal Visitor Paolo Mario Della Rovere acted very harshly against the St. Agnes nuns. In 1592, Bishop Napoleone Comitoli would adopt a more 'conciliatory' style. He listened carefully to the Mother Superior, then the Vice Superior, and finally all the sisters, one by one, writing down some unofficial notes in Italian, that are now a precious witness of that time.

Their stories, quickly sketched by Mons. Comitoli, their very different personalities and backgrounds, their hopes and fears, their friendships or gossip, their daily activities from praying to feeding the chickens, their devotion and religious studies, or the lack of them, have been collected by learned and nice Prof. Luigi Tittarelli in his essay ". . . è bona sora devota, et garbata": La visita del vescovo Comitoli al convento di S. Agnese in Perugia nel 1592, Perugia: Deputazione di Storia Patria per l'Umbria, 2005, pages 90, with 7 photos of pages from the manuscript.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Let he who loves me follow me (4)

[6: 118]

D'intorno a l'acque tepide et immonde
De l'horribil palude, ovunque allaghi,
Habitan l'infelici antiche sponde
(Sì come è vecchia fama) e maghe e maghi.
Altri ne le spelunche ivi s'asconde,
Pur come siano orsi e leoni e draghi;
Altri occulti palagi alza d'intorno.
Fe' in mezzo Armida il suo edificio adorno.

All around the lukewarm and filthy waters
Of the horrid swamp, wherever it flows,
The ancient, unblessed shores are inhabited
(As old fame reports) by witches and wizards.
Some hide themselves in the grottoes there
As if they were bears or lions or dragons;
Others built secret palaces all around.
Armida set her rich palace in the midst.

The imagery of the swamp inhabited by witches has a long tradition: it appeared in Beowulf, for example. More directly, Tasso draws on the story of the witch Manto, the legendary founder of the town of Mantua in Italy, as recounted by Dante (Inferno 20: 79 ff) and Ludovico Ariosto (Orlando Furioso 43, stanzas 96-98; but noticeably, Ariosto terms Manto a "fairy," showing her as a positive character, even defending witches in an era in which they were fiercely persecuted).

Thursday, December 4, 2014

That Narrative Strength

CS Lewis' That Hideous Strength is possibly, in spite -- or precisely because -- of its flaws, his best novel. It was first published in 1945, but written in 1943 just after the Battle of Stalingrad, when the Second World War was not officially over, but Lewis already takes it for granted that the Nazis have been defeated . . .  or not? In fact, to paraphrase a famous sentence, Germania capta ferum victorem cepit: The post-war world, in England itself, is described as the fulfillment of Hitler's wildest dreams, with its inhuman technology and 'scientific' medicine, joined with black magic and a longing for destruction. Only apparently a paradox, actually a prophetical insight into our current society controlled by multinational corporations that do behave like that. (Quite odd to say this in a blog provided by one of them for free.)

The third part in Lewis' Space Trilogy, That Hideous Strength is quite different from the previous two episodes, as well as much longer. Like in Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra, the main narrative trait is a brilliant mix of fantasy and science fiction; but, unlike them, THS is full of extra materials that are not strictly needed in the plot. But after all, the whole story hinges on a laboratory, so, not inconsistently, is itself a "laboratory."

As for the Christian message, it is even clearer and stronger than in most or all of Lewis' other novels. The "moral preaching" proves sometimes a bit heavy, especially in the mouth of Ransom, whose personality has become overloaded with powers of any kind and somewhat unpleasant, as it is the doom of many "goodies" in literature. But there also appear some very interesting reprocessings of episodes from John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, and especially, the Question is led to its crucial point: Are you with the crucified Christ or against him?

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

"Il mio bel San Giovanni"

A detail of the mosaics on the inside of the dome of the Baptistery in Florence. In general, they date back to the late 13th century, though many areas (including the one shown here above) have undergone restorations throughout the ages, from the 14th century even to the early 20th century, mainly because of water seepage. The whole series of mosaics pictures Bible episodes from Genesis to the Gospels, namely: Creation to Noah, the lives of Joseph the Patriarch, of Jesus, of John the Baptist. The first two series were interpreted as prophecies of man's salvation in Christ.

It is a fine example of Byzantine, or rather, Byzantine-like art in Italy, and in a very important place, in fact it was the main monument in Florence up until the late 14th century, before the Basilica was completed, not to speak of the Renaissance works to come. Here Dante himself was baptized, and he would praise "my beautiful Saint John" in the Divine Comedy. For some reason, however, except for the area with the Dante-inspiring Hell, these mosaics are very seldom reproduced in art books, while much more famous are the 'parallel' ones in Monreale, Sicily.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Let he who loves me follow me (3)

[6: 117]

Se da l'arida terra alto germoglia
Arbor talvolta in sventurati campi,
Maturi pomi infra la verde foglia
Son quasi tocchi da fulminei lampi,
Che non guastando la purpurea spoglia,
Avien che quel di dentro arda et avampi,
E da l'ira del ciel così destrutto,
Cenere ne l'aprir somiglia il frutto.

If from that dry soil a tree ever sprouts
And grows in those accursed fields,

The ripe fruits among its green leaves
Seem to have been struck by lightning,
Which, while leaving the red peel intact,
Burns and sets ablaze the inner parts;
So that, destroyed by heaven's wrath,
The opened fruit will look like ash.

Sodom, i.e. Armida's place, recalls an inverted Eden. This description will probably be echoed by John Milton in Paradise Lost 10, when Satan and all devils with him are punished by God for the Fall of Man by turning them into snakes and forcing them to eat fruits whose pulp turns out to be ash. And another landscape like that will appear in Lovecraft's masterpiece The Colour Out of Space.

Monday, December 1, 2014

How to make geniuses harmless

William Blake, Milton, edited and with a commentary by Kay Parkhurst Easson and Roger P. Easson, Boulder, CO: Shambhala, in association with Random House, New York, 1978, pages 178, cm 16 x 24. It includes a reproduction of the complete series of the original plates and a printed version of the text.

In Milton, possibly the masterpiece of his masterpieces, Blake presents the ripe fruit of his worldview by re-writing Paradise Lost, and glorifying his 17th-century colleague as no poet had ever done before, not even Dante with Virgil. Blake's insights into Milton's poetry and theology, but also into Swedenborg's thought, is here much more complex than in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, whose revolutionary ideas have unfortunately become shallow commonplace meanwhile.

One of Milton's strong points is that it describes Blake's most striking visions. We can define them the way we like best: hallucination, schizophrenia (cf. Nobel-Prize-awarded John Nash, or 'our' Tasso), but what matters is that he is reporting experiences, rather than creating fiction. At the same time -- and this is the mark of genius -- he learns from these visionary flashes, and uses them as telescopes to explore the mysteries of the universe and God.

The big flaw in this gorgeous edition of the book is the commentary, in which Blake's universe is explained as the anatomy of the human eye. That might be a cute suggestion, deserving a one-page paragraph; but, stretched as the key for the poem, it makes the impression of trying to water it down, making its religious and social message harmless. It is true, in fact, that precisely in Milton Blake calls, "Rouze up, O Young Men of the New Age!", but the New Age consists in destroying the false, hypocritical, violent civilization built by Bacon, Newton, Voltaire, etc., and re-establish "the Sublime of the Bible." "Suffer not the fashionable Fools!"

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Sunday Guest: the Shadow

From Dino Buzzati's novel Il segreto del Bosco Vecchio. Against commonplace, Colonel Sebastiano Procolo's shadow is not a symbol of his dark side, but the 'embodiment' of the nobler part of his soul.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Let he who loves me follow me (2)

[6: 115]

Giunsero alfine al loco in cui discese
Fiamma dal cielo in dilatate falde,
E di natura vendicò l'offese
Sovra le genti in male oprar sì salde;
Fu già terra feconda, almo paese,
Hor acque son bituminose e calde,
E steril lago; e quant'innonda e gira,
Compressa è l'aria e grave odor vi spira.

They reached the place where a fire
Once fell from heaven in large layers,
Thus punishing the sins against nature
On those people so addicted to evildoing.
It had been a fertile land, mother of life;
Now, only hot and bituminous waters,
A barren lake; all around its perimeter
The air is heavy, full of a foul smell.

The knights who follow Armida do not actually reach her alleged "city," but her own enchanted castle on the banks of the Dead Sea. Renaissance and later maps (e.g. in Christian Adrichom, The Twelve Tribes of Israel, 1628) even reported the position of Sodom under the lake's surface.
To strengthen the hellish atmosphere, Tasso inserts some quotations and echoes from Dante, see Inferno 14: 29, 6: 15, 9: 31.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Un(s)even: St Anne's Asylum

(a bit cropped; reworked from Delacroix)

In Il Mondo Creato there are some hints at the seven horrible years (1579-1586) that Tasso spent at St Anne's "Hospital" -- actually an asylum and a jail -- in Ferrara. The only sources describing him as having gone insane come from Alphonse II of Este, the Duke of Ferrara, who imprisoned him, and the documents parroting Alphonse's. As a matter of fact, during those years (except the very first one, in total seclusion) Tasso wrote letters and essays that witness all of his intelligence, his culture, his interest in the historical and political events. As it has been highlighted and documented by Fabio Pittorru in his 1982 biography of the poet, Tasso's "fault" consisted in having threatened to reveal the corruption of the Court, which would have involved a powerful Cardinal. He was not internalised because he was crazy, but in order to drive him crazy. Basically, the punitive methods that would be adopted in the USSR too.

St Anne's Hospital was used as a setting by the 19th century poet and scholar Giacomo Leopardi for his Dialogue between Torquato Tasso and his Home Genius (see here an English translation of the whole text), probably the most brilliant insight into Tasso's worldview in the history of Italian criticism, which usually feeds on commonplace and ideology.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Magic/witchcraft in the Middle Ages and Renaissance

Let he who loves me follow me (1)

[6: 109]

Parte la vincitrice; e que' rivali
Quai prigionieri al suo trionfo avanti
Seco n'adduce; e tra speranze e mali
Lascia la turba poi de li altri amanti.
Ma come uscì la notte, e sotto l'ali
Menò il silentio e i levi sogni erranti,
Secretamente, com'Amor gli informa,
Molti seguir d'Armida i passi e l'orma.

She won, and now she leaves, preceded
By all those rivals as prisoners at the head
Of her Triumph(*) -- leaving the throng of
Other lovers between hopes and sorrows.
But when Night came, under her wings
Driving silence and soft, errant dreams,
Secretly, as Love had taught them all,
Many followed Armida's steps and prints.

(*) Recalling the classic Renaissance imagery of the Triumph of Love, especially as described in Francesco Petrarca's Triumphus Cupidinis. In the previous octave, here not reported, Tasso had even parodied Petrarca's famous verse Erano i capei d'oro a l'aura sparsi ("Laura's golden hair was loose in the air," with a pun between l'aura, the breeze, and Laura) saying that Godfrey's words of advice to the knights to be careful while escorting Armida were a l'aura sparse, "scattered in the air." In current Italian there still exist the phrase parole al vento, "words [spoken] to the wind." Armida, before leaving the Christian Camp, had shrewdly suggested to many excluded knights that she could hardly do without them.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Un(s)even: the "new" pagans

(by Selkis; a detail)

The cultural shock in the Discovery of America did not only consist in finding out that a whole Continent -- not a couple of faraway islands -- had gone unnoticed until then, but that the place was inhabited by peoples with their own histories and religions. And their religions were both "natural," e.g. having the Sun as the main god, and "heathen" in the worst Biblical sense, e.g. including human sacrifices. The clock of Christianity had been turned back by 1,500 years, what about now?

Tasso's started to write his long poem Il Mondo Creato in 1592. In a way, it is a sort of "taking stock of the situation" of Western civilization one century after Columbus' enterprise. With reference to the religions of natives, Tasso implores them to embrace Christianity, but does not call for forced conversions.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Sunday Guest: Wind Matthew

From Dino Buzzati's novel Il segreto del Bosco Vecchio. Wind Matthew is an entity whose behavior recalls the elves by Tolkien and, even more, by CS Lewis in That Hideous Strength: he is neither good nor evil according to human standards. In fact, he can both be a friend to little Benvenuto and try to kill him.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Un(s)even: the monster of the lake

(a detail)

Tasso was fascinated with water creatures. In Il Mondo Creato, he even mentions a huge reptile supposedly living in a Norwegian lake, what we nowadays would call a "cryptid," like the Loch Ness Monster, the mokele-mbembe, Bigfoot, etc.

(The picture is obviously based on Spinosaurus, a dinosaur that has become a must-draw of paleoart after some recent discoveries; see also here.)

Friday, November 21, 2014

Two remarkable guys

In GC 6: 105, in the list of the "chosen ones" who will "fight for Armida" (in every sense of the word), two names are worth attention. One is a certain Conano, almost surely an Italianized form of ------ Conan. That's something more than mere coincidence because, as it has already been pointed out, Gerusalemme Conquistata modifies the Liberata so as to make it more "barbarian" in both senses: Normans and even Vikings are added to the Christian troops, including the main hero Richard, and the battles turn into bloodbaths, no longer refined Renaissance duels.

The other interesting guy is Tranquillo / Tranquil, a' dolci studi amico, "fond of sweet studies." His name echoes "Torquato"; in fact, this is a brief role that Tasso carved out for himself, as Alfred Hitchcock always did in his movies. Even more remarkably, Torquato will have Tranquil, i.e. himself, killed by the beautiful she-knight Clorinda. A literary and sweet way to commit suicide, as the poet was often tempted to, and "only my Christian faith prevented me," he confided to a friend.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Which is a witch?

Jadis, the alien Witch-Queen

In Mere Christianity (bk 1, ch. 2), the usually trustworthy CS Lewis defines witches as "people (. . .) who had sold themselves to the devil and received supernatural powers from him in return and were using these powers to kill their neighbours or drive them mad or bring bad weather." Nowadays -- he explains -- we don't execute witches any longer not because our moral patterns have changed, but because "we do not believe there are such things."

The syllogism might stand, but is the major premise true? The definition, in fact, summarizes the worst prejudices of the late Renaissance, in line with the infamous Malleus maleficarum. But what about Ariosto (Orlando Furioso 43) calling the legendary witch Manto a "fairy," and defending her against persecutions?

Quite unexpectedly from him, here Lewis falls into a short-sighted and patronizing Enlightenment/liberal attitude when he 'saves' witches by saying, as a matter of fact, "Leave them alone! They are just fools." In The Great Divorce (ch. 9), by the mouth of George McDonald, he explicitly mocks "the poor daft women [why only women?] ye call mediums" the moment he states that their experiences with ghosts are real . . .

And yet, all in all, in spite of his statement that "it may be a great advance in knowledge not to believe in witches," he seems to miss them if he creates even three of them in his Chronicles of Narnia; three, considering Jadis and the White Witch as only nominally the same, but very different in almost everything. They increase to four if we add the Hag of Prince Caspian, who is the only 'hag' among them, while many readers have probably fallen in love with the beautiful and energetic Jadis.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Un(s)even: Sesostris

by Selkis; a detail

In Tasso's long poem Il Mondo Creato, Ancient Egypt is no longer the "symbolical" place being referred to in the Bible (and Dante), nor the fantastical setting of some episodes in Ariosto's Orlando Furioso, but the real thing: Egypt with its Pharaohs, gods, pyramids, hieroglyphs. For example, Tasso mentions Pharaoh Sesostris because of his majestic projects of hydraulic engineering. This rediscovery of Egypt during the Renaissance depended on the rediscovery of ancient Greek literary sources; a direct archaeological knowledge on the spot will come with the Napoleonic campaigns.

P.S. As it has been pointed out by Heinrich C. Kuhn in a different "site," in the Renaissance, artifacts and true Egyptian hieroglyphs could be seen (esp. on obelisks) in Italy. But, of course, the latter were symbolically interpreted without any knowledge of the actual Egyptian language.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

What about Armida? (6)

Canto 6, stanzas 101-105 (summary): In the end, they decide to draw for ten-not-more-than-ten knights who will follow Armida and help her regain the power in her own city, at least according to her version. Here Tasso amuses himself a lot by describing the reactions of the Christian warriors as the names are drawn from the box -- the reactions of both the chosen ones and the others. Paradoxically, while Ariosto loved to caricaturize the typical scenarios of the poems of chivalry, here the usually more austere Tasso caricaturizes Ariosto in his turn, since in Orlando Furioso the raffle was about no less than the duels among the main four Muslim knights to assert their respective rights on the ownership of special weapons and horses. Whereas in Orlando Furioso the parallel love affair between the Christian knight Rinaldo and the witch Alcina had nothing to do with any draw: he had chanced to reach her island by riding the hippogriff.

Monday, November 17, 2014

When René Met Hecate

Companions of Fear, 1942

René Magritte's art has been explained from different viewpoints: Freudian psychoanalysis (that he didn't like at all), the theories of language (that he liked more, and even encouraged), etc. What about the dynamics of fantasy -- with admittedly a bit of Freud? In spite of his atheism and unbelief in symbology, Magritte often pictured magic subjects and landscapes: sexy witches, enchanted forests, supernatural lights, metamorphoses, . . .  The very usage of language in his paintings seems to suggest a foray of words that are powerful precisely because they belong to a different level of reality, while not absolutely chosen at random.

After all, he did met Hecate, the goddess of witchcraft. He met her when he was 14: when his mother was mysteriously found dead in a river, her body naked, her face hidden in her nightshirt. A phantom who would haunt him from then on, enticing and frightening, opening his mind onto a "further" dimension that was not heaven nor hell.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Sunday Guest: Mr. Bernardi

From Dino Buzzati's fantasy novel Il segreto del Bosco Vecchio. Mr. Bernardi (his first name not being reported) belongs to the geniuses / jinns, who in this story are something halfway between elves and male dryads inhabiting the trees; they can also turn into animals. Mr. Bernardi however lives among humans and works as a forest ranger so as to be able to defend the rights of the Old Wood. He can heal both plants and people.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Un(s)even: Vasco Da Gama

by Selkis; a detail

Tasso knew and liked Camões Lusiads, the national poem of Portugal celebrating the enterprises of Vasco Da Gama, who discovered a new sea route to reach India so that direct "commercial" (to put it kindly) relationships between the Western Kingdom and the Indian States might be established. Tasso, who usually thinks on his head, in this case echoes the official propaganda and affirms that the imports from the newly discovered lands -- the "Indias," both in Asia and in America -- to Europe created a lucky balance, since "we" lacked goods and "they" had plenty of them, much beyond their needs.

More about Tasso, Camões, and Columbus: see here.

Friday, November 14, 2014

What about Armida? (5)

[6: 100]

Dunque, prima ch'a lui novella apporti
Romor di fama incerto, o certa spia,
Scelga la tua pietà, fra' tuoi più forti,
Alcuni pochi e meco hora gli invia;
Ché se non mira il ciel con occhi torti
L'opre mortali, o l'innocenza oblia,
Non fia ch'egli m'ancida o mi costringa
D'andar la state e 'l verno anco raminga.

[Armida speaking to Godfrey:] "Therefore, before any news about me might be brought to that tyrant by uncertain rumors or certain spies, let Your Mercy choose, among your strongest warriors, a few to be sent with me. In fact, if Heaven does not look askance at the works of mortals, or does not ignore innocence, the tyrant won't succeed in killing me, nor will he force me to go wandering forever. (*)"

(*) Literally, "in summer and in winter." The fact that Armida asks Godfrey to choose her "body guards" [who, in fact, will just long for having a close look at her body] himself implies that she knows that the election of the new captain of the mercenary troops has ended in a failure, in a tragedy indeed. To be noted, again, her nerve in invoking God as a witness, cf. here.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Dante, a would-be (and would have been a good) physician

. . .  of a holistic trend, as he showed in his handbook of medicine, commonly known as the Convivio. While Tasso mostly appreciated him as an astronaut.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Un(s)even: A symbol of human life

(a bit cropped)

Tasso sympathetically sees the myth of Arachne from the opposite point of view than Dante's.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

What about Armida? (4)

[6: 99]

E sendo giunto il dì che già prefisse
Il capitano a darle alcuno aiuto,
A lui se 'n venne riverente, e disse:
- Sire, il promesso giorno è homai venuto,
E se del mio refugio il vero udisse,
E de' miei preghi, il reo tiranno astuto
Prepareria gran forze a far difesa,
Né fora agevol poi la giusta impresa.

And since the day had come, which 
The Captain(*) had fixed to give her help,
She reverently came before him, and said,
"Lord, the promised day has arrived;
Besides, if he learned about my refuge
And my plea, that evil, shrewd tyrant
Would prepare great forces for the defence,
And the just enterprise wouldn't be easy."

(*) Then modified into il sommo duce, "the supreme leader." Godfrey had -- chivalrously if reluctantly -- promised to help Armida in her alleged family feud, actually a trap to weaken the Christian army.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The sex of angels, and the Art of paying tribute

To whom the Angel with a smile that glow'd
Celestial rosy red, Love's proper hue,
Answer'd. "Let it suffice thee that you know'st
Us happy, and without Love no happiness.
Whatever pure thou in the body enjoy'st
(And pure thou wert created) we enjoy
In eminence, and obstacle find none
Of membrane, joint, or limb, exclusive bars:
Easier than Air with Air, if Spirits embrace,
Total they mix, . . .

      When in Eternity Man converses with Man, they enter
      Into each other's Bosom (which are Universes of delight)
      In mutual interchange, and first their Emanations meet
      Surrounded by their Children. If they embrace & comingle
      The Human Four-fold Forms mingle also in thunders of Intellect
      . . .

Once in a while, William Blake did not find John Milton's angels to be boring  ;-)

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Sunday Trip: the Old Man's Horn

From Dino Buzzati's novel Il segreto del Bosco Vecchio. Almost surely, Vecchio (Old Man) is a 'safe' way to call the devil, since it was often considered of ill omen to name him directly. Less probably, il Corno del Vecchio might be a short phrase meaning "the horn-shaped rock rising above the Old Wood." But, as a matter of fact, the Horn is linked with Wind Matthew who, as we will see, has something in common with the devil.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Praying Order

SANCTIFICETUR NOMEN TUUM. Quid a Deo petendum, quove ordine id agendum sit, ac Dominus omnium docuit et imperavit. Nam cum studii et desiderii nostri nuntia sit et interpres oratio, tum recte et ratione petimus cum postulationum ordo sequitur ordinem rerum expetendarum.

HALLOWED BE YOUR NAME. The Lord of all also taught and commanded what must be asked from God, and in what order it should be done. In fact, as prayer is the messenger and the interpreter of our efforts and desires, we only ask God rightly and reasonably when the order of our requests follows the very order of things [ordo rerum, ṛta, cosmic order] as they must be asked for.

__from the Catechism of the Council of Trent, 1566

When ecumenical Hindus say that, okay, the Gospel is so cute and all, but Christians aren't just able to pray, it is comforting to remember that Christianity hasn't always been as it has been for the past fifty years.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Off Topic: Dougal Dixon is alive today!

Dougal Dixon, Dan Green, If Dinosaurs Were Alive Today, London: Octopus Publishing Group, 2007, 2013 [I dinosauri sono tra noi, Milan: Mondadori, 2014, pages 96, euros 11.90], with pictures by Leonello Calvetti, Frank DeNota, Andrew Kerr, Simon Mendez, Peter Scott, Franco Tempesta

Dougal Dixon, the cult author of such "must have" books as After Man and The New Dinosaurs, as well as well as a BBC production on alternative fauna, after many years in which he has often wasted his genius on trivial kids' books, is back with a project up to his standards. The question is not 100% original, as it had already been asked in Jurassic Park: What about dinosaurs interacting with our world? And, not all species presented here are top-carefully rendered. But these are the secondary sides of it, because the book answers the question with the intelligence, the humor, and even the bit of poetry that mark a true "must have" item.

What about Armida? (3)

No way, Armida does not succeed in seducing Godfrey. So, she tries with somebody else, but it looks like it is her unlucky day . . .

[6: 97]

Ma contra sue lusinghe invitto almeno
Tancredi hor fu, ch'arse già a dramma a dramma;
Però ch'altro desìo gli accende il seno,
Tal che di novo incendio hor non l'infiamma;
Ma come guarda l'un d'altro veneno,
Tal d'amore fiamma d'amorosa fiamma.
Questi soli non vinse, o nulla o poco;
Avampò ciascun altro al dolce foco.

But unconquered by her enticements stood
Tancred now, who already burned ounce by ounce; (*)
In fact, another longing(**) lights up his bosom,
That's why she won't ignite him with new fire,
But, as a drug(***) defends against poison,
So does a flame of love against another. (****)
These only she could not, or not completely, defeat;
All others did burn up with that sweet fire.

(*) From Dante, Purgatorio 30: 46, 48.
(**) For the Muslim she-warrior Clorinda. An interesting example of interfaith 'dialogue.'
(***) Literally, poisons acting against one another; but here the Greek term pharmakon is implied, meaning both venom and medicine. On a similar occasion, Ariosto used a phrase that is still common in Italian: chiodo scaccia chiodo, "one nail drives out another."
(****) In the final printed version the wording will be a little different, but amounting to the same thing: Tal antica d'Amor da nova fiamma.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Un(s)even: Dagon

(a bit cropped)

The (undescribed) god of Philistines in the Bible, then turned into a devil by John Milton in Paradise Lost, but much more famous after having been re-launched by HP Lovecraft. Since it was conceived as half man half fish, here it has been portrayed by keeping in mind a sea species that fascinated Renaissance naturalists and artists, namely the ray, also known as "devil fish."

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

What about Armida? (2)

[6: 93]

E benché sia mastra d'inganni, e i suoi modi
Gentili, e le maniere accorte,
E bella sì che 'l ciel prima né poi
Altrui non diè maggior bellezza in sorte,
Onde i più scelti e più famosi Heroi
Del suo piacer già presi havea sì forte
Che tutti vanno indietro altri diletti,
Non adivien che 'l pio Goffredo alletti.

But, although she is a master of deception,
And her manners all courteous and kind,
And she is so beautiful that never had heaven
Given a greater beauty to any other woman, (*)
Therefore the most selected and famous Heroes
Have been caught by her appeal so strongly (**)
That they have left behind all other delights,
She cannot allure(***) the pious Godfrey at all.

(*) Tasso reserves this praise to Armida, and in part to Herminia/Nicaea, while in Ariosto's Orlando Furioso a lot of women were described as "the most" beautiful ever. And unlike Ariosto's Alcina, Armida's gorgeous beauty is real, not a delusion created by magic. It may be worth recalling that, in Gerusalemme Conquistata, Armida is a "mermaid" not by way of saying but literally.
(**) Echoing Dante, Inferno 5: 104, where Francesca Da Rimini speaks.
(***) Possibly with a pun, since the verb allettare -- in current Italian, at least -- also means "to have someone go to bed" (letto).

Monday, November 3, 2014

"And . . . they are named Jerusalem"

A facsimile edition (Florence, Italy: Giunti Gruppo Editoriale, 1994; original ed. by The Tate Gallery and the William Blake Trust, 1991) of William Blake's long poem Jerusalem. The handwritten marginal notes are the marks left by a study that has been carried on for a dozen years now. This poem, on which Blake worked throughout the first two decades of the 19th century, can be termed the last sacred long poem of Christianity, a genre that enjoyed its heyday in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance -- by a curious chance, Tasso's main poems were both titled Gierusalemme, the Liberata and the Conquistata. In Jerusalem, the great Briton offers his final, personal, brilliant, surprising version of:

* The Bible, Genesis to Revelation;
* Classical art, mythology, and literature;
* Fantasy lore;
* Gnosticism -- as a "mood," rather than any specific "school";
* Dante, but just in dribs and drabs;
* Traditional Catholic art, and even spirituality sometimes
* Milton;
* Swedenborg, willy-nilly;
* Modern philosophy, science, and history;
* The comparative history of religions, a field that fascinated 19th century scholars, though from a quite twisted point of view, at least according to our current criteria;
* His own previous works, both poetry and artwork; where it clearly emerges that Blake's now-commonplace ideas about religious ecumenism and free love are parts of a much more complex worldview;
* His own biography, but in such a hidden way that one needs to read some 'external' essays in order to be able to grasp the 'inside' hints.

As for the reading activity, probably the best thing is simply to relax, enjoying each gorgeous episode without caring about a search for Blake's "System" or a 100% consistency. All the more so as Blake himself, each time he mentions the many characters of his original mythopoiesis, makes it always clear whether they are to be seen as good or evil -- or both.

Just one detail. The subject matter of Plate 99 (see) is often captioned as the final embrace of God and Jerusalem, i.e. the Soul, or rather, true Humankind. On closer inspection however, especially comparing it with Plate 96 (see), the action shown here is clearly a rape in a hellish atmosphere. It might be based on the heathen god Zeus' 'adventures' (two references to the story of Leda can be found in Jerusalem) and/or on Eve's dream/nightmare in Milton's Paradise Lost, or even better, a hard-core version of Blake's Plate 11 (see) for The Book of Job. Anyway, the Plate 99 picture brings into question the whole text in the final section of the poem: Is it really meant as a happy ending?

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Sunday Guest: Uncle Antonio Morro

. . .  or rather, his wooden monument, as described by Dino Buzzati in his 1934 novel Il segreto del Bosco Vecchio. The statue has been sculpted by the elves, here called "geniuses." On November 2, in the Catholic Church there falls the Commemoration of the Dead, so it was worth paying a visit to this 'forgotten personage,' whose doom is a clear universal symbol.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Un(s)even: Light

(by Selkis; a detail)

A topic that engaged thinkers from the Middle Ages (see Robert Grosseteste, Dante) to the Renaissance (see Milton): When we speak of God's "spiritual light," is it simply meant as a metaphor, or is there any ontological relationship between it and the physical light? Usually, the answers are not very clear in their turn, but this makes the question all the more fascinating. Tasso for example, almost surely in the wake of ancient authors, defines God as "the Sun of the sun."

The complete separation between the two types of light would only be brought about in the 18th century, when the once holistic cosmology split in two: one-sided scientism on the one side, and intimist, weepy devotion on the other.

And speaking of spiritual light: today is All Saint's Day, as well as my beloved wife's birthday. All the best!

Friday, October 31, 2014

What about Armida? (1)

[6: 92]

Hey, had anybody forgotten about her? ---> the previous episodes

Di procurar fratanto il suo soccorso
Non cessò mai l'ingannatrice rea
C'humilïato havrebbe il cor d'un orso,
Tanto l'ingegno e la beltà potea.
Ma quando i suoi destrier sospinse al corso
La Notte, che 'l gran carro in ciel volgea,
Ella hebbe tregua di sospir co 'l sole,
Qual donna c'honestate honora e cole.

Meanwhile, the evil deceiver did not stop
To pursue her own her purposes -- she
Who could tame the heart of a bear,
So powerful were her mind and beauty.
But as soon as the Night galloped her steeds
Turning her chariot throughout the sky,
And the sun set, Armida also ended her sighs
Like(*) a woman who did honor decency.

(*) that's not the same as "as"

P.S. A timely return, today that is Halloween ^////^

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Un(s)even: Gnosticism

(a bit cropped)

Tasso was, in theory, against this old and new doctrine assuming an evil God as the Creator of the material world, but at same points in the poem he goes quite close to it.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Un(s)even: the Holy Trinity

(a bit cropped)

The new English version of Torquato Tasso's long poem Il Mondo Creato will have two series of illustrations: bigger ones, summarizing a whole Canto (like the ones that have been shown so far), and smaller ones, referring to specific episodes. Here's the very first picture, as the poem starts with an ode to the Holy Trinity. The Greek lettering ΛΟΓΟΣ means Logos, the Word.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Don't name the messenger (3)

[6: 91]

A ragion (dico) le superbe corna
Fiaccò del folle e temerario orgoglio,
Tal ch'ogni suo nemico hor se ne scorna;
Ma se 'l bando obliò, di ciò mi doglio -.
- Vada (disse Goffredo), e se non torna,
Ei fa gran senno; et erri. Io qui non voglio
Che sparga seme tu di nuove liti:
Deh, sian gli sdegni vostri anco forniti -.

[Rupert speaks] "Rightly, I say, did Richard break the proud horns(*) of that furious and rash self-conceit, so much so that all his enemies have now gotten off their high horses. I am only sorry that he forgot your order." (**) 
"So, let him go," said Godfrey. "Let him be wandering; if he does not come back, it will be a wise choice. But I don't want you to saw the seeds of new clashes here: let the wrath of you both calm down!" (***)

(*) A solemn Biblical expression. Tasso will ironically echo it by adding, with a popular saying, that now Richard's enemies are scornati, literally "hornless"; it has been rendered as "getting off one's high horse."
(**) Forbidding duels in the Christian camp.
(***) In stanza 90, Rupert had declared that he was ready to "show, with this hand of mine," that Richard was right. The word forniti in the sense of appeased, ended, etc., -- referring to wrath -- comes from Dante; in current Italian it means something being provided, supplied.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Un(s)even: Day Seven, by dhr

(a detail)

In describing the Armageddon, Tasso presents the angels -- coming to rescue the righteous and take them to heaven -- as pilots of flying vehicles. Sort of UFOs already appeared in both his Jerusalem-poems: they were based on the super-powered "clouds" of classical mythology, but highlighting the sci-fi element in a surprisingly modern way.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Don't name the messenger (2)

[6: 87-88] Talking to Guelf, or rather Tancred, or rather Rupert, Godfrey once again stresses that he cannot justify Richard's behavior. The young Norman will have to submit, and accept to be imprisoned -- with the only privilege of coming himself freely, instead of being arrested.

[6: 89]

Così disse, e Ruperto a lui rispose:
- Anima non potea, d'infamia schiva,
Ascoltar le parole ingiurïose
E non farne repulsa ove l'udiva.
E se 'l duro adversario a morte ei pose,
Chi è che 'l segno a giusta ira prescriva?
Chi conta i colpi, o la dovuta offesa,
Mentre arde la tenzon, misura e pesa?

So spoke Godfrey; and Rupert replied, "An infamy-shunning soul could not listen to those insulting words [by Gernand] without rejecting them on the very spot. And yes, he did kill his fierce adversary, but who can fix a limit to just wrath? Who can count the strokes, or measure and weight how many attacks be allowed as long as the battle rages?"

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Un(s)even: Day Seven, by Selkis

(a detail)

The seventh day in Genesis refers to God's rest, but Tasso uses Canto 7 of his poem Il Mondo Creato to deal with the end of the world, that in traditional theological parlance would be the eighth day, and to throw in a number of subjects or explanations he had 'forgotten' to say in the previous Cantos. In practice, a mess that is the epitome of the Tassean worldview, including a lot of very interesting things.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

An Inkling in Italy

Dino Buzzati, Il segreto del Bosco Vecchio, Milan: Oscar Mondadori, 2010, pages 152, euros 8.40. The title means "The Old-Wood Secrets," but unfortunately it looks like no English edition exists.

Written in 1934, when Buzzati was only 28 years old, it already displays that deep melancholy that would become one of his main literary -- and not only literary -- traits in his later years. And precisely this is one of the features making Buzzati's fantasy books different from Tolkien's and Lewis', which were being worked on by the two Britons in those same years. Admittedly, Tolkien's stories (or episodes, in The Lord of the Rings) also are often gloomy, but in a different mood: the horror of the battlefield or the black mantel of cosmic evil, rather than the partially sweet sadness of autumn sunsets, the feeling of vanishing ideals and joys.

This highlights the main difference between Buzzati, on the one side, and the Inklings, on the other: the former had no Christian faith. Not that he was anti-Christian, but his references to religion are taken from everyday folklore rather than from the Bible, as it especially happens with Lewis. Buzzati's fantasy characters and events are not the vehicles of a renewed revelation, but the phenomena of a world that shows itself as merry and grim, exciting and boring, playful and cruel, but to no final purpose except death. The Divine is only invoked in cries of wrath or desperation: "By God!," "Madonna!"

A consequence on his fantasy imagery is that, instead of re-shaping the traditional themes: wizards, dragons, etc., as the Inklings do, he creates his own mythology, though of course on the basis of ancient lore. For example, in Il segreto del Bosco Vecchio the age-old trees are inhabited by sprites who can appear in human shape, magically heal wounds, and who die if their trees are felled; in practice, something midway the dryads and the elves, but they are called genî, Geniuses (jinns), and simply look like resigned villagers, sharing nothing of the majesty, beauty, light, superiority of Tolkien's elves. Or again, the Five Nightmares remind us of Surrealism or Japanese spectres, rather than Medieval fairy tales.

What remains unconveyable in this English summary is Buzzati's language, style, and atmospheres, that are deeply Italian, and more specifically, they witness that cultural transition in Italy when the Technological -- and "vulgar" -- Era was not yet there but coming soon, ready to 'fell' not simply the old words but a whole world.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Don't name the messenger (1)

[6: 86]

Poi che partendo il cavalier feroce
Da' cari amici suoi prese congedo,
Non indugia Ruperto, anzi veloce
Va dove estima ritrovar Goffredo.
Lo qual, come lui vide, alza la voce:
- Signor (dicendo), a punto hor te richiedo,
E mandato pur dianzi a ricercarti
Haveva i nostri araldi in varie parti -.

After the fierce knight (Richard) has gone away taking leave of his dear friends, Rupert(*) does not tarry, he indeed hurries where he thinks he may find Godfrey. And as soon as the latter sees him, he speaks and says, "Milord, I was precisely in need of you, I had just sent our heralds to look for you everywhere."

(*) This is the name we read in the printed version, but the manuscript had "Tancred," showing, once again, that only in the second place did Tasso decide to introduce the new character Rupert, with all the premises and consequences.
Usually, when such discrepancies occur in Gerusalemme Conquistata, the older text version simply echoed the wording of Gerusalemme Liberata, but this is not the case: in fact, in the corresponding passage in GL (5: 53), the messenger who here met Godfrey was not Tancred but Guelfo/Guelf, a member of the German branch of the Este family, and fictionally the uncle of Rinaldo -- who meanwhile has been renamed into Riccardo/Richard. Guelf was based on a historical personage, who however did not take part in the Crusade, probably.
Summing it up, the man who pleaded on behalf of Richard was (1) his good uncle, then (2) his best friend, and finally (3) his secret lover. A quite significant shift.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Un(s)even: Day Six, by Selkis

(a detail)

A picture with a true Renaissance feature: anachronism. Or rather, mono-chronism: All times are One. Tasso himself was already interested in such 'anachronistically' future fields of research as geology and evolution.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Man's-Necklace Yew ("Torquato Tasso" in English)

To avoid the 'swamps' of standard Italian Tasso criticism, one has to go back to Giacomo Leopardi's 19th century Dialogues (see) or read essays written by foreign scholars. For example, very interesting are the -- however brief -- remarks on Tasso made by CS Lewis while studying Milton in A Preface to Paradise Lost. Here the Italian poet is not described as a madman nor as the author of 'unbearably boring Christian stuff' as it is often the case in this neighborhood, but as the learned and brilliant poet he was, together with a lot of precious materials on Renaissance culture in general. Dante also is dealt with by Lewis in a quite different manner from the standard pattern in Dante's home country.

It is really a pity that Lewis seems to be familiar only with the Gerusalemme Liberata and not the Conquistata, let alone Il Mondo Creato, otherwise his cross-references with Milton would have been even more poignant, though probably his admiration for Tasso might have dimished. On the other hand, A Preface to Paradise Lost is highly recommendable for its insights into a number of different subjects, from the Church Fathers to Napoleon to the Disney cartoon movies.

Friday, October 17, 2014

A temporary farewell to arms (7)

[6: 85]

Parte, e porta un desio d'eterna et alma
Gloria ch'a nobil core è sferza e sprone;
A magnanime imprese intenta ha l'alma,
E pensa di trionfi e di corone,
E tra feri nemici o morte o palma
Per la fede acquistar d'aspra tenzone;
Veder le porte Caspie e gli aspri monti
Del Caucaso, e del Nil l'ascose fonti.

He leaves, longing for an eternal and noble(*)
Glory which is the heart's lash and spur.
His soul aims at magnanimous enterprises:
He thinks about triumphs and crowns,
About gaining death or victory for Faith
With hard battles among fierce enemies;
Seeing the Caspian gates, the rugged mounts
Of Caucasus, the hidden springs of the Nile.

(*) Actually alma meant "life-giving," from the Latin verb alere, to feed; see "aliment." But, as a matter of fact, in poetry it finished by meaning any noble connotation of anything. Cf. alma Roma in Dante's Inferno 2: 20, simply translated as "great Rome" by Longfellow. Here, moreover, Tasso makes a pun between alma as an adjective and the noun alma as a poetical form of anima, soul. Incidentally, alma does mean "soul" in Spanish.
Richard is a good example of the so-called "restlessness (and annexed bellicosity) of the Indo-Europeans," though the events will soon take a different turn.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Never mess with God

Gnosticism coming true: The "God of this world" took his revenge against Blake by making his revolutionary ideas look like commonplace in the current, shallow religious market . . .

He anyway stands out as possibly the greatest master of illustration, both with big subjects (the Bible, Milton, etc.) and with 'secondary' authors; a job that did not absolutely clip his wings, but showed what the art of illustration can achieve by expressing one's own soul, skills, and favorite imagery at the same time as one adorns and exalts the work of somebody else.

Werner Hofmann (ed.), William Blake, the catalog of an exhibition held in Hamburg, Germany, in 1975, Munich: Prestel Verlag, pages 248, cm 23 x 24, with more than 200 pictures -- of which only 16 in color, unfortunately -- showing basically all of his art.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Un(s)even: Day Six, by dhr

(a detail)

Adam as . . .  Tasso won't show you. In his de-constructivist approach in Il Mondo Creato, Man is handled as a laboratory specimen to be examined: his sense organs, lungs, etc. Adam has no personality of his own, he won't even say a word except one quotation from the Bible. And yet, Tasso provides a revolutionary insight into original sin.

Some more literary references here.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

A temporary farewell to arms (6)

[6: 83, Richard speaks]

Ma restar non m'è dato e non mi lice,
Né condur meco voi nel grave essiglio.
E prego che reggiate ambo in mia vice
Le genti che Lucia promette al figlio;
E 'n più nobile impresa e più felice
Vittoria habbiate: io cerco altro periglio,
Né so quel ch'averrà di rischio in rischio,
O se Fortuna pur m'attende al vischio.

"But it is not granted me to stay, nor can I --
Nor(*) to bring you with me in my sad exile.
I ask you both, please, to rule in my place
The people that Lucy(**) promised her son.
May you be the winners in a nobler
And happier enterprise: I take another risk,
Ignoring what will happen in so many chances,
Or whether Fortune waits for me with birdlime."

(*) In the final printed version, was changed into the preposition di, so that the sentence is plainer: "But staying is not granted me, nor can I bring you with me . . ."
(**) His mother, who will pop up in the final part of the poem -- and, quite unexpectedly, in a sci-fi context.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Beyond Tasso's wildest dreams

Tasso was absolutely fond of sea life and sea mysteries. He would die to see this!

William Beebe, Mille metri sott'acqua [orig. tit. Half Mile Down], Milan: Editore Valentino Bompiani, 1935, pages XXV + 384, cm 16.5 x 24 x 4.5, with 124 pictures (i.e. b&w ones, both photos and drawings) and 12 color illustrations (mainly by Else Bostelmann, wonderful)

Supplier: Nuova Atlantide Antique Bookstore

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Sunday Guest: Dino Buzzati

Oil on cardboard, 35 x 25 cm, painted in 1957. The hand-written text all along the frame reads: In Saluzzo(*) there was a giant tree, of an unknown species, at whose feet, in the fitting evenings, the phantoms gathered to celebrate their usual rites. It was 43 meters high from top to base, and 44 meters from base to top!

(*) A small town in Piedmont, N-W Italy, whose national fame comes from having been the hometown to Silvio Pellico, a 19th century patriot. Moreover, Piedmont has a rich lore as for witches, etc. Dino Buzzati (Belluno, 1906 - Milan, 1972) has been the most important fantasy writer and artist in 20th century Italy.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Un(s)even: Day Five, dy dhr

(a detail)

Dealing with the creation of fish and birds, Tasso, in a surprisingly modern scientific attitude, highlights the anatomical analogies between the two Classes, their differences being caused -- on the other hand -- by different diets and the respective ways to get their food. As a matter of fact, this "jump forward" is but the consequence of a typical Renaissance "jump backward" into the works of Classical Antiquity, maybe via the Church Fathers.

Friday, October 10, 2014

A temporary farewell to arms (5)

[6: 82, Richard speaks]

- O fratello, e compagno amato e caro,
Me lungi porterà cavallo o barca
Da questo campo, ov'il mio Duce avaro,
Anzi il mio fato ha man severa e parca;
Né forse havrò più dì sereno e chiaro,
Né per me bianco filo invida Parca
Dove a te si recida; e son vicine
L'hore del pianto e 'l troppo acerbo fine.

"Oh, brother, and you dear, beloved comrade, (*)
A horse or a ship will now take me far away (**)
From this Camp, where my stern Captain,
Or rather my Fate has a severe, sparing hand.
Maybe I will enjoy no more clear, serene days,
Nor will the envious Parca have any thread
Left for me after cutting yours; (***) close at hand
Is the time of weeping, the too bitter end."

(*) As we already know, Rupert is Richard's (be)loved comrade/mate in the 'strong' sense of the term. But this becomes clear only on second reading.
(**) Oddly enough, although these verses have been added by Tasso in Gerusalemme Conquistata, the reference to a ship would have fitted in with the Liberata, not here.
(***) Richard means his own death, but actually forebodes Rupert's: a tragedy that will activate the events in the whole final section of the poem. In part, and in a very different context, Richard's words echo St. Paul's farewell discourse in Acts of the Apostles 20: 22-25.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

When Fantasy Met Science Fiction

A whole set of illustrations on CS Lewis' SF+fantasy novel Perelandra can be seen here.
The shift from fantasy to science fiction took place precisely in the Renaissance, when e.g. Ludovico Ariosto in his long poem Orlando Furioso described a duel, set in the 8th century, in which one of the knights used a rifle.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

A temporary farewell to arms (4)

[80: 7 - 81: 8]

Qui giunge anchora Eustatio, e i detti approva,
E vuol che senza indugio indi si mova.

Ai lor consigli la sdegnosa mente
De l'ardito garzon si volge e piega,
Tal che, cedendo, di partire repente
Lunge dal campo a' fidi suoi non nega.
Molta intanto vi tragge amica gente,
E seco andarne ogn'un procura e prega.
Ei Ruperto e 'l fratel ricusa anchora,
E 'n disparte con lor si lagna e plora:
. . .

Eustace(*) also has come, and approves of those words; and he urges Richard to leave without delay. To their advice the haughty mind(**) of the bold young man does pay attention, so much so that he gives in, and does not deny his faithful comrades the plan of going immediately away from the Camp. Meanwhile many friends have gathered there, each of them begging Richard to let them come along. But he does not even accept Rupert or his own brother, while complaining and crying with them aside: . . .

(*) Godfrey of Bouillon's lesser brother, as well as a member of the mercenary troops, of which Richard should have been appointed the leader. Precisely the clash with Gernand for that leadership, that ended with the killing of Gernand in a brawl, is the reason of Richard's "exile." See the posts titled Rebel With a Cause (click)
(**) The phrase sdegnosa mente recalls Dante's self-description as alma sdegnosa, "haughty/disdainful soul," in Inferno 8: 44.