SiStan ChapLee

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Off Topic: Madness requires intelligence

The already classic comic-strip version of HP Lovecraft's 1931 novel At the Mountains of Madness [SelfMadeHero, 2010; in Italian, Le montagne della follia, MagicPress, 2013] by I. N. J. Culbard is all the more striking because, to tell a cosmic horror story, it starts from a style that is just slightly more 'adult' than Hergé's Tintin. And yet, you are completely captured by the events, even if you have been long familiar with the HPL nightmares.

Well, right this is the secret, as it was recommended by the Providence writer, on the other hand: the setting is as normal and daily as possible, and this makes the foray of the supernatural all the more shocking. Culbard uses with a wonderful talent the basic means of comic art: the expressions of the faces and the postures of the bodies, the lights and shadows, a documented accuracy, the timing, the framing. One's empathy with the main characters and the succession of gigantic, empty, silent rooms convey a sense of anxiety that is then suddenly "lighted" by the appearance of alien creatures or dismembered corpses. Surely John Carpenter drew much on Lovecraft's novel for his 1982 movie The Thing, but Culbard, in his turn, could draw on Carpenter. Tout se tient.

It is significant to compare this Lovecraftian operation with Alberto Breccia's. The two artists follow opposite strategies: ligne claire (clear-cut lines) vs. collage, etc. As long as Breccia, surreal and experimental as he may be, carried on his superb skills in the rendering of the human shape and feelings, as well as of the environment, he was practically unbeatable. When he became a bit too self-referential, twisting all elements alike, he made the overall effect weaker instead of strengthening it. But this was a problem that emerged mainly after his historic HPL comic book.

One last remark on the Italian version -- a detail that is often left aside -- is that it is well and pleasantly translated by Giorgio Saccani.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A fine reward! (1)

[6: 65]

Così disse ei, né 'l suo parlar sofferse
Più lungamente il cavalier feroce:
- E chi sì pronto (soggiungea) s'offerse
Al cenno suo, senza aspettar la voce,
Incontra genti armene, assirie e perse,
E 'n ogni parte ove spiegò la Croce?
Di ciò m'accusa e più d'altro si sdegna,
Né par che mia buona opra a lui sovvegna.

So spoke Godfrey. The fierce knight (Richard) could not stand his words any longer: "Who else," he replied, "has ever been so ready to obey his(*) signals, without waiting for his voice, against Armenian, (**) and Assyrian, and Persian peoples, and anywhere he unfolded the Cross flag? But now he blames me for doing so, indignant more than any other, and none of my good deeds seems to come back to his mind! . . ."

(*) Godfrey's
(**) As in the manuscript; they will become "Lydian" in the printed version. Tasso probably remembered, or was reminded by his editor, that the Armenians were Christians.

 * * *

Dear friends, in the purest Italian tradition, according to which August if often the time of vacation, or at least of slowing down (web) activities, in the following month this blog will provide posts only twice a week:

on Wednesdays, with a virtual tour to a wonderful Renaissance-to-20th-century building;

on Sundays, with the remaining illustrations based on CS Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia.

The translations from, and comments on, Torquato Tasso's Gerusalemme Conquistata will restart on September 2. Of course, unplanned "Off Topic" posts may pop up at any time.

Have a nice summer!

Monday, July 28, 2014

The best ghost stories

"Clorinda Dream": outline by dhr, colors by Selkis

One of the finest ghost stories in Western literature is the episode in which Clorinda appears in a dream to Tancred in both of Tasso's Jerusalem-poems (Gerusalemme Liberata, 1581, and Gerusalemme Conquistata, 1593). She was a Muslim knight, he a Christian knight during the First Crusade in Jerusalem; he was in love with her, she was not in love with him; he will finally baptize her on her request, but just after having wounded her to death by mistake in a nocturnal duel. And appearing to him in a dream after her death, she will say . . .  No, these things cannot be summarized, they must be read. Anyway, much better than the words of the dead Beatrice to Dante.

Possibly, however, Japan is one of the countries whose ghost lore is most fascinating. Some very fine -- and true -- stories have been collected by Tom Bauerle in the international anthology Emanations: Foray into Forever. Here is a passage from an autobiographical kanashibari phenomenon being reported by a young woman:
. . .  I was lying on the bed but couldn't move . . .  She was wearing a white western-style dress. She was looking down and standing with her shoulders hunched. She was slowly moving her body back and forth.
I closed my eyes immediately and then I felt the mattress sinking next to my legs, so I knew the ghost girl had sat down. I thought, "Oh my God! Now she's going to attack me!"
Then I could feel the girl kneeling on the bed with her hands on either side of my body. I felt her hands slowly inch up on either side of my body to where the girl had to have been staring straight into my face.
At that moment I screamed at the top of my lungs.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Sunday Guest: Shift

From: CS Lewis' The Last Battle (The Chronicles of Narnia)

The quote: In the last days of Narnia, far up to the west beyond Lantern Waste and close beside the great waterfall, there lived an Ape.

The impression: It's just a fairy tale, OK, it's just an ape, alright, but I found Shift's words and actions frightening. One of the most remarkable villains in literature, with atmospheres like What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

Friday, July 25, 2014

Highlander (5)

[6: 64]

The reactions to John's 'much experienced' counseling. Godfrey of Bouillon first:

Tacque, e rivolto a lui dicea Goffredo:
- O d'etate e d'honore a tutti padre,
Che tu habbi detto il vero a te concedo;
Ma questo, vago sol d'opre leggiadre,
Tinto del sangue pio con gli occhi hor vedo,
E 'l vidi spesso conturbar le squadre.
Hor la prigione ricusa, anzi il perdono,
E gloria de le colpe aspetta, e dono -.

He stopped talking. Godfrey addressed him and said, "O father of us all by virtue of your age and honor, I won't deny that you told the truth. BUT this fellow [Richard], who only longs for 'noble' deeds, I here see stained with the blood of a just man, and I have often seen him upset the ranks. Now he rejects the jail, and even my forgiveness, expecting to receive glory and a reward for his faults!"

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Something has not Mutated in these past 500 years

At last, Luca restarted to devote time to drawing, and more than that, to the restyling of super-heroes and the like, who -- as it has been said on various occasions in this blog -- are the only, true heirs of the heroes of Renaissance poems.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Highlander (4)

[6: 62-63, John speaks]

"Listen (Godfrey), the first in honor and power, you, who rule many undefeated peoples from all over the world: Insofar as your dignity exceeds all others, all the more so should you exert leniency. And you (Richard), so full of juvenile boldness, whose hand is too quick and whose wrath too burning, do not dispute with him, because no King ever had a juster or worthier scepter or reign than him.

Even if your strength cannot be matched by any other man among those who crossed seas and mountains, you also have the duty to obey him as the other Chiefs do. No warring power will ever make one's glory raise higher towards Heaven.  Obedience, not insane rage, will exalt a good warrior in the battlefield up to the upper ranks."

Monday, July 21, 2014

The virtues and vices of the last Renaissance artist

Dalí come non lo hai mai visto ["Dalí as you had never seen him before"; but the original title was simpler, This is Dalí, Laurence King Publishing], Milan, IT: Electa, 2014, pages 80, euros 14.90

The biography written by Catherine Ingram is well documented, shedding light especially on the dark sides of the artist's -- and his wife Gala's -- life and personality. Just, one may wonder why Ingram wrote a book on Dalí if she feels no sympathy at all with the subject, simply describing him as a little spoiled Prince and a Nazi. The focus is one-sided (e.g. Dalí kept Francisco Franco quiet, but meanwhile sent money to the illegal Catalan Government in exile) and the keys being provided for his art are basically commonplace (he had a much deeper culture than what emerges here; whole chapters of his career have been left out, and almost completely so after the 1950s).

The book's importance lies especially in the very enjoyable and useful illustrations and maps by Andrew Rae, plus the further documentary sources: photos, paintings.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Sunday Guest: Grendizer & his enemies

Other personal versions of characters taken from the 1975 manga drawn by Go Nagai himself (completely different from the anime the Japanese, French, and Italian guys of our generation watched on TV when they were kids) can be seen here:

the UFO monster Gil-Gil 

Blacky aka Hydargos

Gandal -- and Lady


Dol-Dol (with a side tribute to Kriminal)

Gepper, a bodyguard working as a strategist


. . .  and as the guest of a guest, Iczer-3

Friday, July 18, 2014

Highlander (3)

John's words to Godfrey and Richard; an English translation will be provided on Tuesday 22.

[6: 62-63]

Tu che d'honor sei primo e di possanza,
E varie affreni invitte e strane genti,
Quanto la degnità tutte altre avanza,
Tanto più la clemenza usar convienti.
E tu, che pien di giovenil baldanza,
Troppo hai pronta la mano e l'ire ardenti,
Non contender con lui, che scettro o regno
Non hebbe mai Re giamai più giusto o degno.

E se la forza tua nïun pareggia
Degli altri che passâro il mare e i monti,
È dritto pur che tu obbedire il deggia,
Ché gli altri Duci ad ubbedir son pronti.
E nïuna virtù di chi guerreggia
Fa che più l'altrui gloria al ciel sormonti;
L'obbedïenza a' primi gradi estolle
Nel campo il buon guerrier, non l'ira folle.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Off Topic: Till We Have Faces

photos by Giancarlo Pastonchi

An exhibition on storekeepers in Perugia, Italy. Resta aperta fino al 20 luglio -- ma in concreto anche dopo -- all'Open Space for Arts di via dei Priori 77 a Perugia, la mostra (R)esistenza Lavorativa. In esposizione, le immagini di tutti i commercianti della strada, in quello che è uno dei vari quartieri in decadenza della città, ma anche uno dei quartieri che sta facendo cose interessanti sul piano sociale e culturale per rialzarsi. Autore degli scatti è Giancarlo Pastonchi (sito web), fotografo professionista e creatore dell'Open Space, che ha immortalato prima gli ingressi dei locali con i gestori di fronte, e poi i singoli personaggi con magnifiche foto artistiche in bianco e nero.

L'Open Space è spesso teatro di incontri, conferenze, happening un po' fuori dagli schemi e di alto livello. Di recente, ad esempio, si è parlato di magia nell'Antichità con la conferenza di un esperto accompagnata da una (letteralmente) "ammaliante" performance da parte di un'attrice e una danzatrice (vedi).

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Off Topic: Second-Hand Time Machine

"Se avvenimenti politico-militari non affretteranno ancor più le cose, la prima officina lunare dovrebbe già funzionare verso l'anno 1995, ed essere in grado subito dopo la fine del secolo di rifornire la stazione spaziale con materiali vari, ed i razzi interplanetari con propellenti."

If political-military events don't push things even faster, the first factory in the Moon should already be working in about 1995, and be able, at the very beginning of the 21st century, to supply the Space Station with various materials, and the interplanetary rockets with fuel.

Walter Greiling, Come vivremo? Problemi e compiti del nostro tempo, Florence, IT: Sansoni, 2nd ed. 1962, pages 322, with 16 photos [orig. Wie werden wir leben?, 1954]

Highlander (2)

[6: 61] John the Tricentennial Man speaks

De' fortissimi già contesa e guerra,
E tra Sassoni io vidi, e tra Lombardi;
Ché fortissimi allhor l'antica terra
Produsse i corpi, hor son più frali e tardi.
Pur il nostro parer, ch'hor via men erra,
Udivan quei possenti e que' gagliardi,
Però s'a voi d'udirmi anchora aggrada,
Ceda a grave consiglio acuta spada.

"The strongest men's battles and wars
Among Saxons and Longobards I saw,
As the Ancient Mother Earth then produced
Very strong bodies -- now frailer and slower.
And yet my opinion, then more erroneous,
Was listened to by those valiant, powerful men;
So, if you still wish to be listening to me,
Let the sword give in to some grave advice."

The idea that the men of ancient eras were much more muscular than now has a Greek origin. It has been followed and reflected on as a true anthropological datum up to the early 19th century by the Italian poet and scholar Giacomo Leopardi, see his Zibaldone (scattered thoughts, making a very thick volume) and Operette Morali (brief dialogues on "morals" i.e. human condition). The physical decadence went in parallel with the general decadence of civilization; see also Dante, Inferno 14: 94 ff.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Sunday Trip: Eden

From: CS Lewis' The Magician's Nephew (The Chronicles of Narnia)

The quote: But now Aslan was speaking again, almost in a whisper:
"That is what would have happened, child, with a stolen apple. It is not what will happen now. What I give you now will bring joy. It will not, in your world, give endless life, but it will heal. Go. Pluck her(*) an apple from the Tree."

The Progress:  Apples were they with which we were beguiled;
Yet sin, not apples, hath our souls defiled.
Apples forbid, if eat, corrupt the blood;
To eat such, when commanded, does us good.
Drink of His flagons, then, thou church, His dove,
And eat His apples, who are sick of love.

(*) Digory's seriously ill mother

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Grendizer: The Original

Crazy, extreme, visionary, not absolutely for children (as most Italian parents tended, and still tend to think that anime are). After less than 40 years -- 39, in fact -- the original Grendizer stories written and drawn by Go Nagai are available in Italian, published by J-Pop in one volume, only 7.50 euros. As in the purest Nagaian style, gorgeous cartoons alternate with quite badly drawn ones, and brilliant, prophetical ideas with inconsistent or nonsensical situations.
That's why we all love you, Mr Go!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Highlander (1)

[6: 58.7-8 and 60]

Così dicean, quando chetò il bisbiglio
Del vecchissimo Duce il buon consiglio.
. . .
Ma udite i miei consigli e i miei conforti,
Ché de gli egri mortali hoggi il più antico
Son io, che vissi con gli Heroi più forti
Che me non disprezzâr giovene amico;
Né vedrò mai qual io già in guerra ha scorti
Carlo, Orlando, Egerardo, Anselmo, Enrico,
E Regi, e Duci tributari, e tanti,
Simili a Marte, cavalieri erranti.

They were speaking so, when their murmur
Was stopped by the oldest chief's advice,
" . . . 
But listen to my advice and my comfort,
As I, currently the oldest of the weak mortals,
Lived together with the strongest Heroes,
Who did not despise me as a young friend.
Never again, in a war, will I see people like
Charlemagne, Roland, Gerard, Anselm, Henry,
And Kings, and tributary leaders, and many
Knights errant who looked like Mars."

The character
John (Giovanni) is a three-hundred-year-old knight who did not appear in the Gerusalemme Liberata; Tasso introduces him for the first time here in the Conquistata. His personage is based on Homer's Nestor, but the new historical and cultural setting turns him into a sort of "Highlander" like in the 1986 movie. Somehow, John's personal experience links back Tasso's poem to its predecessor and 'rival,' Ludovico Ariosto's Orlando Furioso.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A Hero's CV (2)

[6: 58.1-6]

E dicean: - Parea questi al dubbio varco
Horatio sol contra Toscana tutta,
Senza colpo temer di lancia e d'arco;
E forse quella gente havria destrutta
Se del corsier non era il grave incarco
Caduto ove la riva è meno asciutta -.

They said, "In that dangerous passage, he
Looked like Horatius against whole Tuscany,
Fearing no blows from lances or arches.
He would perhaps destroy all that people,
But was blocked under the weight of his horse,
Who fell where the bank was less dry."

Tasso keeps 'hinting' at events in the life of Richard the Norman that he has never described, nor will he do so.
The most noticeable thing, from a literary point of view, is that these few verses are packed with quotations or echoes from Dante: "Toscana tutta" (whole Tuscany), "senza colpo temer" (fearing no blows), "gente . . .  destrutta" (destroyed people), "grave incarco" (heavy weight).
The word Tuscany, 'attracted' here by the Dantesque gravity, is not completely exact: in 509 BC in Rome, Horatius Cocles fought against the Etruscans, who lived in central Italy in an area just south of Tuscany, more or less the current Umbria. The Etruscan city walls of Perugia, in Umbria, were built precisely in that time period; they can still be admired there. As to this way of updating geographic names, Dante himself made Virgil say he was born in Lombardia, the "Land of Longobards," using the Medieval name of the area in Italy in which Mantua is; and called Hannibal's men "Arabians" because they came from Northern Africa.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Sunday Guest: Jadis Strikes Back

From: CS Lewis' The Magician's Nephew (The Chronicles of Narnia)

The quote: There, only a few yards away from him, stood the Witch.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

A small personal contribution to world peace ^__^

One Heart: Pope Francis and the Unity of the Church. The Preface of Cardinal Walter Kasper has been translated from German by you-guess-who.
Many will remember that a book of Cardinal Kasper had been 'advertised' by the Pope immediately after his election. This new book collects Jorge M. Bergoglio's ecumenical encounters and declarations in his first year of pontificate.
N.B. Here "ecumenism" is taken in its strict sense as the relations between the different Christian Churches worldwide (in Greek, oikoumene [ge] meant "the inhabited earth"), therefore not including the interfaith dialogue with other religions.

Friday, July 4, 2014

A Hero's CV (1)

[6: 57.3-8]

Così parlò crollando altera fronte,
E sul pugnale havea la man sinistra.
Molti membrâr qual già sembrò sul ponte
Quando da' Franchi ei difendea Murmistra,
E 'ngombrato de' corpi al fiume il fondo,
Il fe' correr più tardo al mar profondo.

So he(*) spoke, shaking(**) his proud forehead,
His left hand already lying on the dagger.
Many remembered his appearance on that bridge
As he defended Murmistra against the Franks;
By obstructing the whole river with corpses,
He made it flow more slowly towards the sea.

(*) Richard the Norman. His enterprises follow 'standard' patterns taken from classical sources (see the next post) and poems of chivalry. The most interesting detail is that, as mentioned by Godfrey, in a previous phase of the war Richard fought against the Franks, and fiercely so. Unfortunately, as the critical edition of Gerusalemme Conquistata is not yet available, or rather, no edition is available in Italy, it is hard to get a better understanding of the events here told. "Murmistra" is probably Mumistra in current Turkey (Tasso was a learned man, but he sometimes tended to misspell names). And Richard probably had to defend it "against" the Franks because the Crusaders used to occupy the lands they crossed, even those ruled by Christian leaders! Something more about this will be revealed later in the poem, with reference to Tancred, who -- unlike Richard -- was a historical personage.

(**) "Crollando," a verb of Dantean origin. An unusual feature of this section of the poem, from a linguistic viewpoint, is that the narrative rhythm does not follow the formal division in octaves; with a sort of super-enjambements, so to speak. Tasso loved this stylistic device, which he called inarcatura.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Coup de théâtre (4)

[6: 56.1 - 57.2]

Ma più di lui turbato allhor Riccardo,
Con faccia irata e come notte oscura,
Gli rispondeva, e con feroce sguardo
Da spaventare ogni anima secura:
- Non hai, Goffredo, a' merti miei riguardo
Né del mio buon servir giusta misura,
Né grato d'opre sei d'alto coraggio,
Ma tua somma giustizia è sommo oltraggio.

Io già sofferir non voglio oltraggi ed onte
Di gente vile, al tuo rigor ministra -.

Then, even more upset than him, Richard,
His countenance angry and as dark as night,
Replied to Godfrey -- and his eyes were so
Fierce that would frighten the bravest,
"You have no regard for my own merits(*)
Nor a just judgment of my good service,
Nor gratitude for so many courageous deeds:
Your supreme justice is supreme injustice!
I do not mean to suffer dishonor and shame
From such base executors of your severity."

(*) Injured Merit! Milton's Satan well knew about it, or that was his opinion, at least. See CS Lewis' Preface to Paradise Lost.