SiStan ChapLee

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Rebel With a Cause (1)

[6: 30] The tragedy looms

Hor quivi allhor che v'è turba più folta,
Pur come è suo destin, Riccardo accusa,
E quasi acuto strale in lui rivolta
La lingua, del venen d'Averno infusa;
E vicino è Guiscardo, e quasi ascolta,
Ma pur l'ira tenendo in sé rinchiusa,
A lui s'appressa e dice: - A te concedo
L'alto grado, Signor, se troppo io chiedo.

Here, when the place is most crowded,
As his fate leads him, he(*) blames Richard,
Pointing his tongue as a sharp arrow,
Dipped in hell's poison, against him.
Guiscard is nearby, and partly listens,
But, keeping his wrath closed in himself,
He approaches and says, "I will grant you
This rank, Lord, if I don't deserve it."

(*) Gernand. As to his adversary's name, in the GC manuscript, Tasso keeps dithering between "Richard" and "Guiscard," as a tribute to the Medieval warlord Robert Guiscard (whom Dante mentions in Paradiso 18: 48 together with Godfrey of Boullion), and sometimes he even writes "Rinaldo" as in the Liberata. In the final version of the poem, his name will definitively be Richard.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Off Topic: The Confidence-Whale

Ahab Turambar

Something more on Herman Melville's last novel The Confidence-Man (1857), that has been mentioned yesterday in reference to the literary and religious theme of the Serpent. The Confidence-Man belongs to the list of underrated masterpieces: deep and humorous -- or "genial," to use a word often employed in the book --, a fairy tale and a Miltonian sequel, a story full of subtle allusions and symbols as well as very concrete remarks on society, both that of the mid-19th century and our own with its multinational companies, the world financial power, the shallow culture of mass communication, etc.

Who is the Confidence-Man? The character himself continually forces readers to ask this to themselves. If he happens to be one, his personality is split into two like Jekyll and Hyde's (see the dialogue between Frank and Charlie, even taking place two times). As a personal hypothesis, based on the whole of the plot and on the carefully chosen wording employed by Melville, he is . . .  Moby-Dick.
Yeah, That Thing is no longer underwater, now he has come aboard, and he can think and speak. Cf. Lady Arabella in Bram Stoker's last novel The Lair of the White Worm (1911). Like the Confidence Man, Moby-Dick also was a "mask," according to Captain Ahab at least; and in fact, the characters who oppose the cheater on board of the steamboat Fidèle have some features in common with "Old Thunder."
So, is the Confidence-Man the devil? He is, probably, in the same measure in which the Whale was and/or was not.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Otello Ciacci, Dante scholar, passed away

He was a great expert and a careful researcher, especially well-known at the University of Perugia, Italy, for his lively controversies against other scholars as to the correct interpretation of passages and characters in the Divine Comedy. And honestly, he was right.

Sunday Guest: the Green Witch

From: CS Lewis' The Silver Chair (The Chronicles of Narnia)

The quote: Her arms appeared to be fastened to her sides. Her legs were interwined with each other, and her feet had disappeared. The long green train of her skirt thickened and grew solid, and seemed to be all one piece with the writhing green pillar of her interlocked legs.

Green Witch Village: The description of this metamorphosis has a long and venerable tradition. The wording basically comes from Dante, Inferno 25, who in his turn had drawn on Ovid in order -- as he himself declares -- to outclass his Latin colleague. The Dantean verses were later reused by Ludovico Ariosto for the witch Manto turning into a snake in Orlando Furioso; by Torquato Tasso, Gerusalemme Liberata, for a group of knights being changed into fish by the witch Armida; and by John Milton, twice, for Satan entering the Serpent and then Satan being actually changed into a huge snake, a dragon.

In Herman Melville's last novel The Confidence-Man, 1857, it is practically impossible to define the "hero," or even to decide whether it is about one "person" or more, or maybe all the people involved. According to one hypothesis, he should be the devil; in which case, it is interesting to notice that, on the occasions in which the writer seems to give some clues as to the Confidence-Man's elusive identity, he often hints at Milton's Satan entering the Serpent. On the other hand, that Inferno 25 was among Melville's favorite Cantos in the Divine Comedy can be inferred from his novel Pierre; or, The Ambiguities, published one year later than Moby-Dick. So, Dante would provide him with the equation Satan = Serpent = Man = thief, as this is what any Confidence-Man proves to be.

A novelty in Lewis' episode is that the clothing too takes part in the metamorphosis.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Satan as you had never seen him before

Dante's Lucifer (Inferno, Canto 33) is notoriously a three-faced monster. He is usually thought of as having two faces more than due, but -- what about one face less? If he was a Cherub in heaven, he was supposed (see the Book of Revelation, John Milton, William Blake, etc.) to have four, so, because of his Fall, he literally "lost face." Dante had a front view of Lucifer; let's have a look at him from behind, we might find a leftover of his now missing feature.

click to enlarge

Friday, April 25, 2014

Il vero 25 Aprile

Ma quale festa della Liberazione! A parte il fatto che è stato un Soggiogamento, ma ok, ce la siamo andata a cercare . . .  Però oggi è soprattutto l'anniversario della "nascita al cielo", o più banalmente: morte, di Torquato Tasso (1595).

April 25 is Liberation Day in Italy, namely from Fascism in 1945. But, first of all, it has started a new kind of slavery -- all right, we deserved it. And especially, today is the anniversary of Torquato Tasso's "birth to heaven" or, more simply, death in 1595.

The Satanic Verses (4)

The 'Viking' warrior Gernand is -- translating Tasso's verses as literally as possible -- psychologically "abducted and moved, instead of his own spirit," by a devil. To be sure, he doesn't look like a possessed man: he doesn't scream, drool, etc. In fact, Tasso says something more than this. He says that the devil is now operating not "on" but "instead" of Gernand's own soul. That reminds us of some verses by Dante, Inferno 33: 129 ff:
"Know that as soon as any soul betrays
As I have done, his body by a demon
Is taken from him, who thereafter rules it,
Until his time has wholly been revolved.
. . .
In moat above," said he, "of Malebranche,
There where is boiling the tenacious pitch,
As yet had Michel Zanche not arrived,
When this one left a devil in his stead
In his own body . . . "
Dante says that betrayal / treason is such a monstrous sin that, as soon as one commits it, the soul is immediately damned, though the body apparently keeps living on earth, moved by a devil. But even this is not enough; in working out this theological novelty, Dante had surely a widespread medieval lore in his mind, namely vampires, undead people inwardly maneuvered by (d)evil entities. Non that Tasso maintains that Gernand is a vampire, but he constantly enriches historical situations by projecting them onto the fantasy-verse, all the more so in Gerusalemme Conquistata.

More about Dante and vampirism:

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Off Topic: Fred The Great Was Here

Castiglione del Lago, Umbria, central Italy: a wonderful town by the Lake Trasimeno, where Hannibal won his famous battle against the Romans in 217 BC. The castle in the picture was first built by Emperor Frederick II von Swabia / Hohenstaufen a couple of years before his death (1250). It was considered to be one of the most impregnable strongholds all over Europe. The 'hermetic' kites in the second photo come from an exhibition that is held every year in Castiglione.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Satanic Verses (3)

[6: 29]

Perch'il Demon, che lui rapisce e move
Di spirto in vece, e forma ogni suo detto,
Fa che gli ingiusti oltraggi ogn'hor rinove,
Esca aggiungendo a l'infiammato petto.
Loco è nel campo, chiuso, a tutte prove
De' valorosi Cavalieri eletto,
Dove otïosa la virtù non langue,
Benché cessin talhor le morti e 'l sangue.

. . .  Since the devil possessing and moving him(*)
As his own spirit, and shaping all his words,
Makes him keep renewing those unjust offences,
Adding more fuel to his burning heart.

There is a closed area in the Camp, chosen
To all types of games for the valiant knights,
Where valor does not lie listless, though
Often preventing death and blood.

(*) Gernand, against Richard.

A couple of notes
A rare example of an octave in two parts, the former completing a previous sentence, the latter introducing a new setting.
A sample of black humor is given in the final verses, where it is said that the "gym" may prevent the "athletes" from dying, but not always. In fact, it actually happened so in many tourneys, at least until the Late Middle Ages, when the excess of violence was finally forbidden by the Pope himself. In Ariosto's Orlando Furioso too such games could prove very dangerous for one's health and life.
But the most interesting detail in this stanza is the one we'll be dealing with on Friday, April 25.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Sunday Guests: "Strange Animals"

From: CS Lewis' The Silver Chair (The Chronicles of Narnia)

The quote: Here [in Underland] they passed dozens of strange animals lying on the turf, either dead or asleep, Jill could not tell which. These were mostly of a dragonish or bat-like sort; Puddleglum did not know what any of them were.

Jurassic Park: These undescribed critters clearly hint at 'vintage' dinosaurs as they were pictured in the early 20th century. See also Giovani Pascoli's 1904 science-fictional poem Il poeta degli iloti: " . . .  e in terra e in aria rettili deformi, / nottole enormi . . . ," "and in the air and on earth, misshapen reptiles, giant bats . . ." The dinosaurian nature of Lewis' "strange animals" will more clearly emerge in the final episode of the Narnia saga, The Last Battle. Lewis even used to humorously call himself "a dinosaur," though he didn't 'believe' in Evolutionism as a 'dogma,' see his essay The Funeral of a Great Myth in the posthumous collection Christian Reflections. He explained his intriguing alternative theory of evolution - mixing science, religion, fantasy, and science fiction - in Mere Christianity and in the novel Perelandra.

Puddleglum's doubts about "what any of them were" are understandable: in the origins of the 'Narniaverse' that Lewis has revealed / will reveal to us in The Magician's Nephew, no place for Underland and dinosaurs can be found. They are undeniably there, but where do they come from? Anyway, since today is Easter, don't worry: they are not dead, they are simply asleep, and they will rise again.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Satanic Verses (2)

Note 2
The final GC version is interesting insofar as it introduces the theme of piracy, which in that time -- i.e. Renaissance, not the fictional era of the poem -- was a true problem. More than that, Gernand levels his opponent, the Nordic and Christian knight Richard, to a Muslim sea marauder, namely The Enemy. This thing won't be without consequences.

But in the previous version (GL and GC manuscript) there was an element that it is worth highlighting. The phrase in the last verse, "serva Italia," servile Italy or subjected Italy, comes directly from Dante, Purgatorio 6: 76 ff, "Ahi serva Italia . . ." In the official teaching of the Divine Comedy in Italy, the one provided in schools after the country's National Unity (1861), this section of the poem has become a 'must,' a sort of prophecy of the ideals of Risorgimento. That is a completely twisted interpretation of Dante's political ideas. In fact, no one used to quote Dante like that earlier than the 19th century. Or rather, some political reuses of Dante's verses can already be found in both Ariosto and Tasso, but anyway referring to the need to react against the military attacks from abroad, especially France and Spain during the long war between Francis I and Charles V, add the mercenary troops from Switzerland, etc. -- surely not in the sense of having one monarchy ruling the whole country, and much less so the House of Savoy as it would happen in the Risorgimento.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Satanic Verses (1)

[6: 23, the devil speaks]

- Teco giostra Riccardo; hor tanto vale
Quel suo numero van d'antichi Heroi?
Narri costui, ch'a te vuol farsi eguale,
Le genti serve e i tributari suoi;
Vanti gli scettri, e 'n degnità regale
Paragoni i suoi morti a' vivi tuoi:
Ah quanto osa un signor d'indegno stato,
Signor che ne la serva Italia è nato!

"Richard vies with you . . .  Is that vain
Number of old heroes of his so valiant?
Let this guy, who tries to prove your equal,
List his subjected and tributary peoples!
Let him boast the scepters, and royally
Compare his dead to your living peers.
Ha, too bold is the Lord of an unworthy State,
A Lord who was born in servile Italy!"

Note 1
This octave is noteworthy for several reasons. First of all, the text in the manuscript (here reported) is the same as in Gerusalemme Liberata 5: 19, but the final printed version will wind up completely different, and it will run like that:

- Teco giostra Riccardo; a te s'agguaglia
Quel che si vanta pur degli avi suoi,
Quasi huom per corseggiare in pregio saglia,
E i ladroni del mar sien degni heroi.
Deh, quali arti di pace e di battaglia
Già fra gli Occidentali e fra gli heroi
Da lor usate ei narra? E non si scorna
Mentre de' suoi prede e rapine adorna?

"Richard vies with you . . .   He makes himself your equal, he who even boasts his ancestors as if someone may gain honor by practising piracy, and the sea thieves may be true heroes. Ha, which arts of peace and war can he talk about, among those employed by Westerners and heroes? Doesn't he feel ashamed at all, as he embellishes the plunders and robberies of his people?"

( . . .  to be continued . . . )

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sunday Trip: Underland

From: CS Lewis' The Silver Chair (The Chronicles of Narnia)

The quote: "Many fall down, and few return to the sunlit lands."

Edgar (not A. Poe): "Poor Tom, that eats the swimming frog, the toad, the tadpole, the wall-newt and the water; that in the fury of his heart, when the foul fiend rages, eats cow-dung for sallets, swallows the old rat and the ditch-dog, drinks the green mantle of the standing pool; who is whipped from tithing to tithing, and stock-punished and imprisoned . . ."

Saturday, April 12, 2014


by Selkis

Care amiche, cari amici / Dear friends
un salto nel Sole / a jump into the Sun!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Never mess with Vikings (4)

Web source reworked by Selkis

[6: 22]

Tal ch'il maligno spirito d'Averno
Ch'in lui strada sì larga aprir si vede
Tacito in sen gli serpe, et al governo
De' suoi pensieri lusingando siede;
E qui sempre lo sdegno e l'odio interno
Acceso infiamma, e 'l cor avampa e fiede,
E quasi nube che si squarcia e tona
Mesta voce ne l'alma a lui risona:
. . .

So much so that the evil spirit of Hell,
Who sees such a broad road open in him, (*)
Silently snakes into him, and flattering
Sits in command of his thoughts;
Here, he lights and inflames Gernand's
Scorn and hate, firing up, hurting his heart.
Like a cloud breaking and thundering,
A sad voice echoes in his soul,
. . .

(*) Gernand. Tasso 'exactly' -- as far as we can understand -- describes the process by which the devil enters someone's mind so as to orient it according to his will. The "discernment of spirits" was one of the main concerns in St. Ignatius of Loyola's method, linking spirituality and psychology, that marked Tasso's epoch. There is an obvious pun in the word "serpe," (to) snake.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Never mess with Vikings (3)

[6: 21]

Ma 'l barbaro Signor, che sol misura
Quanto il proprio valor oltra si stenda,
E per sé stima ogni virtude oscura
Cui titolo regal chiara non renda,
Non può soffrir ch'in ciò ch'egli procura
Seco di merto il cavalier contenda;
E se n'adira sì ch'a l'ira ei porre
Non pote il freno, e 'l suo furor trascorre.

But the barbarian Lord, (*) who only sees
How much farther his own valor reaches,
And deems all virtue, as such, worthless
When not made glorious by a royal title,
Cannot stand that, in an enterprise he asks
For himself as a merit, (**) this Knight (***) competes;
And he gets so angry that he cannot curb
His wrath -- and his fury overflows.

(*) Gernand
(**) to become the Captain of the mercenary troops
(***) Richard

Monday, April 7, 2014

Off Topic: Big Robot Strikes Back

Alberico Motta, Big Robot: La minaccia di Orkus, Bologna, IT: Kappalab, 2012, pages 192, euros 7.90

The comic strips here collected were originally published in Italy in 1980-81. The characters clearly draw on Go Nagai's Mazingers, Grendizer ( = Goldorak = Goldrake) and Kotetsu Jeeg Robot, but here aliens try to invade the Earth after it has been almost completely spoiled by a nuclear war. And once in a while, the armies of the cruel galactic Emperor, Orkus, are not interested in our planet at all: they just want a super-powered little girl, Alya, who landed on Earth by chance. The stories provide a special mix of humor, heroic battles, and sadness.

A personal restyling

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Sunday Guest: Giants

From: CS Lewis' The Silver Chair (The Chronicles of Narnia)

The quote: " . . .  Look at that one, now! You could almost imagine that the lump on top was a head. It would be rather too big for the body, but it would do well enough for an ugly giant. And all that bushy stuff -- I suppose it's heather and birds' nests, really -- would do quite well for hair and beard. And the things sticking out on each side are quite like ears. They'd be horribly big, but then I dare say giants would have big ears, like elephants. And -- o-o-oh! --"

What the thunder said: Here is no water but only rock
Rock and no water and the sandy road
The road winding above among the mountains
Which are mountains of rock without water
. . .
There is not even solitude in the mountains
But red sullen faces sneer and snarl
. . .

Friday, April 4, 2014

Never mess with Vikings (2)

In the GC manuscript, Tasso was uncertain between "è da Gran Re Norvegi," like in Gerusalemme Liberata, and "fu da Gothi Regi" (descended from Goth kings) as it will appear in the final printed text. What remains unaltered is the Nordic origin of the character Gernand, while Richard ( = Rinaldo in GL) turns from being the forefather of the Italian Este family to a Norman knight whose ancestors also came from Scandinavia. So, Tasso succeeds in moving Norse warriors to the Middle East, recreating the geographic setting -- Norway, Sweden, and Gothia i.e. Finland -- of his Shakespearean tragedy Il Re Torrismondo in his last masterpiece. Besides, the era of Il Re Torrismondo was the seventh century, in countries that were not clearly described as pagan or Christian, precisely like in Beowulf.

And why is this? Gerusalemme Conquistata, unlike the still basically Ariostesque Liberata, is a modern 'pulp' story, in which the combats often look like having been written by Robert E. Howard. To be sure, many battles come from Homer and Virgil, but Tasso adds further violence and gore. No more elegant duels but splatter. In fact, we will soon see Richard go berserk.

The reason why Tasso expunged the Ferrarese Este family from Gerusalemme Conquistata obviously was a 'thanksgiving' for the 'treatment' -- to internalise him in an asylum -- they had subjected him to.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

"Jerusalem Delivered" at Kent State University

Young Clorinda by Nivalis (GL, Canto 2)

The International Authors anthology Emanations: Third Eye has been chosen by Prof. Donald Hassler at Kent State University, Ohio, among the readings for his students. The anthology, among many other things, includes a new English translation of selected passages from Tasso's Gerusalemme Liberata, plus comments -- especially linking Tasso's poem to Milton's Paradise Lost -- plus eight original pictures by the Magic Trio.

Further details here.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Never mess with Vikings (1)

[6: 15.3 - 16.8]

. . .
Allhora il lascia Eustatio, e va piegando
De' suoi compagni al suo voler gli affetti.
Ma chiede a prova il principe Gernando
Quel grado, e bench'Armida in lui saetti,
Men può nel cor superbo amor di donna
Di quel desio d'honor ch'in lui s'indonna.

Sceso Gerando è da gran re norvegi,
Che di molte province hebber l'impero,
E le corone d'oro e i scettri regi
E del padre e degli avi il fanno altero.
Altero è l'altro de' suoi propri fregi
Più che de l'opre ch'i passati fêro,
Anchor che gli avi suoi cento e più lustri
Stati sian chiari in pace e 'n guerra illustri.

Then Eustace leaves him [Richard] and starts to bend his comrades' feelings according to his plan. But that grade is asked for by Prince Gernand too; even though Armida does shoot love arrows into him, in his proud heart the love of a woman is less powerful than the desire for honor, which rules(*) it. Gernand descends from great Norwegian kings, who were the Lords of many lands, and the gold crowns and royal scepters of his own father and his ancestors make him arrogant. While his rival [Richard] is proud of his own deeds rather than those of past people, in spite of his ancestors having been famous in peace and glorious in war for centuries.

(*) Tasso here uses the verb "s'indonna" that was invented by Dante, literally meaning "becomes the Mistress of" ("si in-donna," from Latin domina). Just, in Dante this verb obviously depended on a feminine noun, while Tasso here oddly uses it in reference to "desio" (desire), that is masculine. This, consciously or not, has the side effect of stressing the rivalry between two loves, Honor and Armida.