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Friday, November 25, 2016

The ancestor of NSA (3)

[16: 57.7 - 58.8]

- A Ducalto salute (era lo scritto)
Manda il grande admiraglio e 'l Re d'Eggitto.

Non sbigottir, signore, resisti e dura
Al terzo dì dopo l'ottavo e 'l quinto;
Ch'io vengo a liberar l'offese mura,
E vedrai tosto il tuo nemico vinto -.
Questo secreto allor breve scrittura
In barbariche note havea distinto:
Dato in custodia al messaggier volante,
Ché tai messi in quel tempo usò 'l Levante.

"To Ducat," the text read, "Egypt's supreme
General and King sends wishes of health. (*)
Do not be afraid, my Lord; resist until
The third day after the eighth and the fifth, (**)
For I will come and free the walls under siege:
You will see your enemies vanquished soon."
This secret message in a brief paper had
Been written in a non-Latin (***) alphabet
Then entrusted to the flying messenger,
As the East used such envoys in that time. (****)

(*) Emir Ducat, a historical personage, was the Muslim King of Jerusalem. As a matter of fact, the Sultan of Egypt did not take part in the First Crusade; but in Gerusalemme Conquistata Tasso turns the crusade into a World War, as we will see. The phrase "sending health" echoes the Latin salutem dicere, whence comes the current Italian verb salutare, "to greet."
(**) A couple of weeks, according to the final printed text. The manuscript had "until the fourth or fifth day," that probably would not have been enough.
(***) The text says "barbaric," to be taken in its original sense. The word distinto, literally "distinct," meaning something clearly written, comes from Dante, Paradiso 18: 96 ("inlaid" in the Longfellow version).
(****) Actually, it was still used in the Renaissance; and it would be up until the early 20th century in the West, too. But both Ariosto and Tasso liked to 'make as if' they were not dealing with their own world and era, though that was obviously their main focus.