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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

50% history, 50% Fantasia

Recap: 1099 AD, the attack against Jerusalem has begun. The Crusaders use powerful siege engines, that however are destroyed by the city defenders. The wood engines can obviously be rebuilt, but here comes a 'secret weapon' of the Muslim army: Wizard Ismen.

[Gerusalemme Conquistata 16: 1]

Ma cadde a pena in cenere l'immensa
Machina ch'espugnò l'ecclese mura,
Che di nov'arti Ismeno in sé ripensa
Perché più resti la città secura:
E 'mpedir la selva horrida e densa,
Ch'ebbe già lieta vista, hor l'ha sì scura,
Perché contra Sion, battuta e scossa,
Nova mole rifarsi indi non possa.

As soon as the enormous engine that
Overcame the high walls falls in ashes, (*)
Ismen already thinks about new tricks
To make the city of Jerusalem safer:
To "block" the thick, frightening forest
(So beautiful in past times, now so dark) (**)
So that against Sion, beaten and shaken,
No new powerful machines may be made.

(*) The Italian text reported above follows the manuscript (see the May 13 post for details); in the final printed version (1593) the wording was partly modified, but the meaning -- and the English translation -- does not vary.
(**) Selva [o]scura, "dark forest": Dante set the very beginning of his Divine Comedy in an imaginary, frightening landscape near Jerusalem (How did he arrive there? God knows). Now the Crusaders, in Tasso's half imaginary half historical poem, have the rare opportunity to see Dante's "dark forest" with their own eyes; and in a very modern approach, pragmatically use its wood to build war engines.