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Friday, February 21, 2014

Leopardian Interlude (4)

[Giacomo Leopardi's Dialogue between Torquato Tasso and His Home Genius, 1824; follows]


TASSO   Some comforter you are! A dream instead of truth.

GENIUS   What is truth?

TASSO   Pilate didn't know it less than I do.

GENIUS   Well, I will answer for you. You must know that there is no other difference between truth and dream except that the latter can sometimes be much more beautiful and sweet than the former may ever be.

TASSO   So, a joy one dreams about would be the same as a true joy?

GENIUS   I think so. Indeed, I know about a man who, when the woman he loves happens to appear to him in some gentle dream, carefully avoids meeting and seeing her for the whole following day. He knows, in fact, that she couldn't stand comparison with the image impressed upon his mind by the dream, and that truth, by deleting the false image, would deprive him of the extraordinary joy he takes from it. Therefore, you shouldn't blame the ancient ones -- much quicker, wiser, and more ingenious than you(*) as to any kind of pleasures viable to human nature -- if they used to stimulate, in many ways, the sweetness and joyfulness of dreams; nor can Pythagoras be blamed for forbidding to eat broad beans, which were believed to disturb the quietness of dreams and cloud them. And you should excuse the superstitious people who, before going to sleep, used to pray and make libation to Hermes, the dream-bringer, so that he may bring happy dreams to them; and to this purpose, they carved his portrait on the edges of their beds. So, since they could find no happiness during the hours of their wake, they tried to be happy while sleeping. And I think that, in part and someway, they succeeded in doing it; and that Hermes granted their wishes better than the other Gods.

TASSO   Therefore, since man is born and lives only for pleasure, either of his body or mind; and since, on the other hand, pleasure can be only or mainly found in dreams; it ensues that we should live in order to dream. To which, honestly, I can't adapt.

. . .  to be continued . . . 

(*) That is, you Westerners believing in, or at least influenced by, Christianity.