SiStan ChapLee

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Ummah (1)

At this point, the Gerusalemme Conquistata (not so the Liberata) provides a summary of the history of Islam during the first centuries of its spread in the Mediterranean area. In a different context, and with the help of a specialist, it would be interesting to examine these stanzas from a documented historical viewpoint; not here and now, however. Here we will choose some passages that are either useful for the understanding of the plot or significant for a general insight into Islam according to the Christian/European culture of the Renaissance. The setting is a -- fictional -- gathering of Muslim armies in Gaza from all over the Ummah Islamiyyah before the final battle for Jerusalem during the First Crusade in the year 1099. Such military shows, as in Homer, were usual in the Renaissance poems of chivalry too. The octave translated below assembles history, mythology, and Biblical references in an attitude that is typical of the late production of Tasso, see his long poem Il Mondo Creato.

[GC 17: 7]

Abuthan il nipote a l'aspro giogo
Le provincie vicine indi costrinse
Insin là dove la Fenice ha il rogo,
Ché tutte un duce suo le vide e vinse;
E poi fondò, nel fortunato luogo
Dove Menfi di tempio i mostri cinse,
Il Cairo, ch'il suo nome anco riserba,
Nova adversaria di Babel superba.

Abuthan, his grandson, (*) subjugated the neighboring provinces to his hard yoke, up to the place where the Phoenix burns, (**) as one of his captains saw and defeated (***) all of them. Then, in the prosperous place in which Memphis encircled its monsters with a temple, he founded Cairo, still named like that -- the new competitor of superb Babel. (****)

(*) A descendant of Abdalà, Abdullah, the first Caliph of Egypt (stanza 5); that is, Abul Abbas as-Saffah, or spelled differently in western languages. Abuthan's name will be modified into Abuthanin in the final printed text of the poem, a form actually closer to Abu Tamim (932-975).
(**) Heliopolis in Egypt, see Il Mondo Creato; now a suburb of Cairo.
(***) Quoting Julius Caesar's famous sentence Veni, vidi, vici.
(****) "Monsters" indicates the animal-headed gods of Ancient Egypt, see again Il Mondo Creato. Babel is identified with Babylon, superba meaning both superb and proud. Cairo becomes both the successor and the adversary of "Babylon" as the new international center of a non-Christian civilization.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Milton? Che roba è, se magna?

click to enlarge

On November 3, 1929, an old, famous cultural weekly printed in Florence, Il Marzocco, published this article about "Milton in an Italian book." Prof. Giuseppe Saverio Gargano, while reviewing a book by G. N. Giordano Orsini, Milton e il suo poema [M. and His Poem], set the topic in a larger context. The first paragraphs significantly read:
Milton studies are not as much honored in Italy as they would deserve both because they concern one of the few universal poets who belong to the heritage of any cultured nation and because in the greatest works of this colossal personality there circulates, so to speak, the air of our own Renaissance. Our critics, I think, have always been conditioned by an immediate, superficial impression provoked at first sight---to limit ourselves to his main work---by the pages of Paradise Lost: the apparently theological and Puritan nature of the poem. Theology in general, and Puritanism in particular, are not very attractive to our ordinary consideration. . .

Sorry to observe that things have not improved much since then. The same reason, even more so, explains why The Pilgrim's Progress (see) is basically unknown in Italy.
The newspaper is a gift from a dear friend, an antique book dealer (website).

Sunday, February 26, 2017

The 7 Days of CryAction 5: 866-927

by Selkis + ilTM

Some create communities
and cooperate in clubs
as in close citizenship
under a king; no kingdom
[870] other species can stand
so they adopt anarchy.
Let us follow the former
and learn their lifestyle.
The bees build cities
with wax walls and cells;
they share expeditions
and works and meadows
as well as the larvae
a painless pregnancy
[880] without lascivious sex
that makes men sweat:
their children are chosen
out of fresh flowers.
Gathering all together
under one order they
follow a gracious queen,
no one will ever exit
towards fields and flowers
before the queen okays.
[890] She is not chosen
by chance or fortune that
unleash the unworthy
nor ideological election
nor as the spoilt successor
of some mean monarch
puffed up with pride
softened by luxury and
devoid of doctorates;
Nature gives her governance
[900] and storied insignia
in gold to glorify her
charming carriage
and meek management.
She does exhibit a sting
but not as a truncheon
for laws are not written
on paper or parchment
nor sculpted on stone
but nailed in the minds:
[910] where power ranges
clemency is called for.
Just, any rebellious bee
against the queens Acts
will soon subside and
hit itself by its own
Orwellian sting, and—well,
a sour self-punishment
as it happened in Persia
resorting to suicide.
[920] No Japanese emperor
in past or recent periods
saw as much awe
in his pious people
as does in her beehive
Her Mellifluous Majesty
who can avoid employing
gas against her subjects.

(to be continued on March 5)

Saturday, February 25, 2017

[GBM] Staying in touch

In the Garden of Love that blooms in his long poem Adonis, G. B. Marino describes Touch as the most important, most complete and "truest" sense. This scientific article recently published by The New Yorker proves him right: read

Friday, February 24, 2017

[GBM] The Beautiful and Damned

Apollo tells Love that it would be great to make Venus fall in love with Adonis because it would restate Love's power over her. Moreover, as a 'philosophical' side effect, it would join the goddess of beauty and the most beautiful (rather than handsome) man in the world, with a triumph of physical perfection "on earth as well as in heaven": a subject that is only hinted at here but will often surface as one of the main themes in the poem. At the same time, Apollo underscores the sad condition of Adonis' life, just omitting to add that he himself will make Adonis' condition sadder though apparently happier, and in the end will conspire to his brutal death.


"So lordly, so beautiful features
my own clear, shiny eye never saw.     the Sun's eye
An unlucky teen, to whom the stars     Adonis is 15 y.o.
showed harshness rather than light:
cruel influences against him a mean
sky prepared even before he saw it
for (the one rising, the other falling)     Dante, Inferno 25.121; a key canto to GBM
at his mom's death the son was born."     when she was already a tree (myrrh)

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

A trip to the Gaza Strip (5)

[GC 17: 2]

Presa fu la città dal Re d'Eggitto,
Con altre molte, in lacrimosa guerra
Quando a l'Imperio già de' turchi afflitto
Tolse ei gran parte de la siria terra
Insino a Laodicea (sì com'è scritto),
Che d'alte mura s'incorona e serra;
Ma Gaza parve più opportuna parte
Da raccor varie genti e schiere sparte.

The city [of Gaza] was conquered by the King of Egypt, together with many others, in a distressing war when he took a great part of the Syrian land away from the afflicted Turkish Empire -- up to Laodicea (as it is written), crowned and enclosed by high walls. But Gaza [among the other conquered cities] seemed the most fitting place where to gather all those different peoples and armies.

Tasso and/or his sources make some historical mess. Gaza was conquered in 634 by Caliph Umar, who however was not the "King of Egypt," and did not take away the city from the (then non-existent) "Turkish Empire" but from Christian Byzantium. Egypt would be ruled by the Arabs starting from the year 641, therefore later than Palestine.
Moreover, in the time period in which the poem is set, i.e. the end of the First Crusade in 1099, Gaza experienced a phase of decadence.
The word "Syria," as was often the case during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, means the Middle East in general.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Fuseli sees (himself in) the Renaissance

Henry Fuseli's (i.e. Johann Heinrich Füssli's) Aphorisms are mainly devoted to the Italian art of the 16th and 17th centuries: Leonardo Da Vinci, Raffaello, Michelangelo, Tiziano, Tintoretto, Paolo Veronese, Guido Reni, Caravaggio, the Carraccis, Guercino, Parmigianino, etc. With interesting side forays into literature, especially Homer and Shakespeare.

As it has been remarked by editors,* it is a little difficult, at first sight, to recognize Fuseli's own art in the aesthetic criteria he lists. But, by collecting his favorite subjects, and adding a "guilty conscience" method that takes into consideration the authors he seems to reprimand, or at least tolerate, there emerges a self-portrait as follows: the female beauty (see especially the Venetian artists), light and shadow, the splendor and misery of humankind (see Caravaggio), a morbid imagination (see Goltzius), the strength of alternative representational patterns (see Jan Lievens' Raising of Lazarus). No aphorism deals expressly with William Blake, but Fuseli's defense of visionary, independent, despised artists should suffice.

* In this case J. H. Füssli, Aforismi sull'arte, edited by Maurizio Barletta: Rome, Robin Edizioni, 2013.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The 7 Days of CryAction 5: 795-865

Galleria Sabauda, Torino

Deep differences distinguish
birds in size and shape
and colors and customs
with hundreds of habits.
Let us omit the many with
[800] split or linked feathers
or enveloped in leather
or unusually soft—and
consider clean and unclean.
The clean kinds, the meek,
feed on herb and seed;
the unclean are killers
fond of flesh and blood
hence hook-bills and claws
as weapons and swifter
[810] wings so as to grip
and break the bones.
The latter form no flock
but are solitary snipers;
they only make mating
for the sake of offspring.
The former do flock
keen on company, though
absolutely not safe
from predators pillaging.
[820] Among these the doves
with natural necklaces
of shot silk and gold;
and cranes and starlings.
Some serve no empire
while live in liberty
under an ethnical ethos;
some rely on leaders
to be obeyed in battle;
some love their lands
[830] others fly far away
up to alien habitats
asking for a friendly sun
or arrive already much
before summer starts.
Thrushes in autumn come
back to beloved places
where inhospitable traps
are laid, or allured by
fool-catching cages
[840] or misled by mistletoe
or entangled in nets.
When storks are seen
Spring raises her flag.
Some are accustomed
to the hands of humans
and beak their bread.
Some are shy, others
twist nests on walls;
some, more unsociable
[850] live in loneliness.
A great variety of voices
becomes the birds
either talkative or not
either making music
or not; and noticeably
skilled in counterfeiting,
taught by Nature and art
some sing elasticly
while unlearned species
[860] produce perpetually
identical voice tones.
Rooster, peacock proud
dove slow and lustful
partridge perfidious
who helps the hunters.

(to be continued on Feb. 26)

Friday, February 17, 2017

[GBM] Myrrha Case reopened

Apollo has been asked to join a coalition against Venus, who dared spank her omnipotent son Love. For a starter, the solar god tells Love he better stop crying like a little, silly baby. Then (1.28, line 3) gives him a 'good' piece of advice, again in a Freudian-like key: volgere il duolo in ira, "to channel pain/sorrow into wrath." How, concretely? Look. . .


"Over there in the rich, happy land     the Sun watches the whole Earth
of beautiful Arabia, the young Adonis,
almost a competitor of the phoenix,     competitor in the original text too
unmatched in beauty, lives alone---
Adonis, born of her who was joined     of her: Myrrha
by the maid in one bed with her own dad;     Cinyras
her who, turning into a tree, still distills    the myrrh (both spelled mirra in Italian)
her sorrows into tear-shaped scents."

The tragic story of Myrrha, a symbol of scandal and sin (see Dante, Inferno 30.37-41), makes one of the most interesting subplots in the poem, from the condition of outcast to moral and social redemption. The importance of mentioning here Myrrha's wet nurse, then maid and procuress, will become clear in the final section of the poem.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

A trip to the Gaza Strip (4)

Quite unusually, after the poetical, "fading out" ending of canto 16, canto 17 of Gerusalemme Conquistata restarts from the same subject -- Gaza -- with a "technical" description. The description, based on second-hand reports, is not very accurate anyway, since the Gaza hill is not high at all. But this wrong detail makes the city's look more fascinating, also recalling Jerusalem.

[GC 17: 1]

Gaza è città de la Giudea nel fine,
Su quella via ch'inver Pelusio mena,
Posta in un alto colle, et ha vicine
Deserte solitudini d'arena;
Le quai, com'Austro suol l'onde marine,
Mesce il turbo spirante, ond'a gran pena
Ritrova il peregrin riparo o scampo
Ne le tempeste de l'instabil campo.

Gaza is a city at the border of Judea, along the road that leads to Pelusium [in Egypt]; it rises on a high hill and is encircled by lonely places of sand which, as the South wind does with the sea waves, are whirled by blowing swirls, so that a traveler can hardly find shelter or refuge among the storms in that unstable field.

Monday, February 13, 2017

[GBM] Prince of Outcasts

A casual flash forward all the way up to canto 16, stanzas 197-228 in the plot of G. B. Marino's Adonis to introduce a very interesting character: Tricane dal Dente, that could be translated as "Tridog O'Tooth." He will pop up as a competitor against Adonis in the beauty contest arranged to (!) choose the new king of Cyprus---well, not in his real shape (see picture) but magically appearing as a handsome young man. We won't deal with these events now, however.

What matters here is that Tricane's story is an impressive mix of humor and horror. He is the son of a dwarfish queen who has been deceived by a foreign conqueror: the man makes her believe he means to marry her, then seizes the power and has her raped by his own dog. So Tricane is half man and half beast, and further misshapen, i.e. lame, because of a childhood accident.

Dark-skinned, as short as a pygmy or even shorter than that, Tricane does not frighten the people but makes them laugh when he suddenly appears as is. Mocked as a freak, despised in an attitude of racism, he becomes the most important symbol of social alienation in the whole poem. Is this just a modern, politically correct interpretation, or Marino's very key? The second hypothesis may stand. Tricane in fact is lame like the devil in many pictures, but, more properly in our context, lame like Vulcan, Venus' husband, whom she hates and betrays. The "demi-dog," for some unexplained reason, has tusks like a wild boar, and a monstrous, sexually excited boar will finally kill Adonis (this is not spoilering, eh?, this is trivial Greek mythology) in a sort of preventive parody of Beauty and the Beast. And especially, Marino himself might sometimes have felt like Tricane while desperately trying to convince the Roman Inquisition that they should not blame and convict him. But they did.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The 7 Days of CryAction 5: 716-794

by Nivalis70 (site)

Now from liquid fields
I soar to the atmosphere:
Who gives me wings
to cross the clouds
[720] and beat all birds?
May He by whom Man
was lifted lead me
in this stormy history
of flexible Fortune
who hosts tornados
snow and wind and fire
that shake the starlings.
Sky and sea were OK
woods and meadows green
[730] when Adonai asked
the struthia to take off
in the skythe storehouse
of humors that exhale
from our opaque orb
and they immediately
started to sing ’n’ fly.
If you were awake among
fish, among so many
songs will you sleep?
[740] Will you dare delay
the praise of our Provider
of food, whom we thank?
Twice a day, at dawn
and when the sun sets
and Orient fades off
they chant in chorus;
will now sunrise be silent
as well as twilight?
(Millet una notte,
[750] the bells welcoming
the mortals’ toils.)
Never! But the narrative
of Day Five follows.
Birds are re-formed fish,
swimming and winged
species are similar
in their natural tools:
they both cross currents
by feathers or fins
[760] twisting their tails
like oars and helms.
Fish however are fed
by wavering waves,
birds by stable soil;
therefore the former
didn’t develop the legs
the latter lean on.
Crocodiles that kill
along the Nile’s banks
[770] have lateral legs—
-ped” properly coming
from “pedon,” the soil.
While one ornithological
kind keeps carrying in
the air its fragile frame
insofar as it has no feet
as if meant by Nature
an example to noble souls
[780] who only aim at heaven;
it looks like a swallow
and on rearing rocks
makes a muddy nest
with a narrow entrance,
Greeks call it “kypselos.
Others do have toes but
are unable to attack
and capture their preys
in the air. Among these
[790] the nimble swallow
that hunts by flying low
and grazing the ground;
and Riparia that recalls
the grassy river banks.

(to be continued on Feb. 19)

Friday, February 10, 2017

[GBM] The Psychopathology of Heavenly Life

Galleria Sabauda, Torino

Still sobbing after having been spanked by his mother Venus, Love takes a decision that will condition the whole development of the plot: he goes and asks the Sun to join forces against Venus. The Sun at the beginning, in stanza 19, appears like a separate god, the original Helios; but, as it soon becomes clear, he is the same as Apollo (as in the later mythology), who will prove the most dangerous enemy of Venus throughout the poem. Why an enemy? Marino apparently provides an explanation that does not work, by referring to the famous episode of Vulcan's net in the Odyssey, canto 8. This, in case, would explain Venus' hate against Apollo, not the other way round. So what? Marino's words, and not for the last time, suggest a Freudian solution.


Apollo was strongly hostile to Venus
and hate still burned in his heart from
the day when, on high, he broadcast     verb: pubblicare
the indecent show of her adultery,
reported the stealthy predator     Mars
of the lustful bed to the black Smith     Vulcan, Venus' husband
and, with shame envied in heaven,     <----- N.B. "envied"
opened the veil to her sweet bonds.     with a sexual innuendo

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

A trip to the Gaza Strip (3)

[GC 16: 88]

Altre spiegar le vele al ciel sereno,
Altre i remi trattar veloci e snelle;
E da' remi e da' rostri il molle seno
Spumar percosso in queste parti e 'n quelle.
Molte, lentando al lungo corso il freno,
Parean lunge portar vere novelle
Dal Rosso Mare, e donde irriga e frange
I salsi lidi biancheggiando il Gange.

Some ships unfurled the sails in the clear sky;
Others, swift and tapered, employed the oars;
Hit by oars and bows, he(*) saw, the liquid
Bosom foamed on this and the other sides.
Many, hastening after their long course,
Seemed to be delivering the true news (**)
From the Red Sea and whence, white with foam,
The Ganges waters and breaks salty shores. (***)

(*) Vafrino
(**) With a quotation from Dante, Inferno 32: 111.
(***) The adjective salsi, "salty," replaces in the final printed text the evocative but impossible tanti, "many," in the manuscript. The -- fictional -- connections of the Muslim army in Jerusalem with Egypt and India stress Tasso's treatment of the First Crusade as a "first world war." But especially, in this last octave of the canto the description of war preparations fades out into a romantic sea vision, that is quite typical of Tasso's poetry.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

The 7 Days of CryAction 5: 675-715

16th century history, by ilTM + Selkis

Sweet wind, serene
breeze whispers making
the sea like silver foam
among the rocks while
like shiny sapphires is
[680] its depth and reddish
its surface in the sun.
Sails fan out faraway
white in hundreds
faster than steeds.
Painted ships display
banners and break
billows with beaks;
fish dart, dolphins
bend their backs.
[690] Merrily there ring
arsenals and harbors
full of fancy ships,
an ancient Admiral
carries the knights
annihilating Neptune;
and winners, rewards
I see! and bow before
the Spanish ensign.
Now like those who dive
[700] into an Italian sea
for a famous festival
and undersea search
the hardest rocks and
the sea secrets so as to
get a gem thrown by
a distinguished Doge—
I’ll finally resurface
from gloomy gulfs
with Truth brighter
[710] than the Ruling Ring,
Truth who tarried but
presently pops up,
and I bring her bare
to all of you without
any veil or vestment. 

(to be continued on Feb. 12) 

This is the 1,000th post! yay! 

Friday, February 3, 2017

[GBM] The power of Love

Max Ernst, The Blessed Virgin
Chastising the Infant Jesus

The plot of Marino's Adonis starts with Juno 'classically' furious because of the nth high jinks of Jove. This time, she charges Love (Cupid) with it before his mother, Venus, who in her turn reacts by spanking her son. Throughout the whole poem the personality of Love will oscillate between a bad boy and the all-powerful cosmic energy.


"Alas, how come," the Cypriot goddess said,
"I can never have one hour of peace with you?
Is any cerastes more vicious and spiteful
than you bred by the Nile's desert sands?
What insane Fury, what bloodstained Harpy
is as much rabid in the caves of Styx?
Whence the venom by which you infect
all hearts? Speak, serpent of Paradise!"

The last insult clearly refers to Genesis. It would be misguiding to simply label it an "anachronism." As it had already been remarked in the previous GBM post, the mix of pagan sources and Christian theology / spirituality is in fact a major feature of the poem, although the latter aspect is often less apparent. The reflection on the meaning of this fusion -- that proved quite scandalous at that time -- will constantly accompany us in the reading of Adonis. In this case, the ambivalence of Love is further stressed as the source of all joy and all evils in human life. Marino, besides, implies that the story he is telling us is no fairy tale, no pastime, but the grand, sacred history of humankind, whose deep dynamics have been conveyed by the different literatures.

Precisely one century before, about the 1520s, Ludovico Ariosto too did love to entwine classical and Christian elements; but in the 17th century this was no longer an 'innocent play,' all the more so as Marino even outclassed Ariosto.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Church of Shame

[photo from Tripadvisor]

The church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, in Rome, is famous nowadays especially because of the elephant-and-obelisk monument designed by Bernini, placed in the little square in front of the building and, inside, because of the grave of Fra Angelico. Moreover, it contains the remains of St. Catherine of Siena. But inside the church a "scandalous" sculpture by Michelangelo (and disciples) is also kept, the Risen Christ. Scandalous since the Savior was completely naked, in fact a golden loincloth has been added, nor has it been removed even if the loincloths in Michelangelo's Last Judgment have.

But there is more to it. In this very building in November 1623 Giovan Battista Marino, in spite of the powerful friends he had in the circles of culture and international politics and even of the Church, before the eyes of the Apollonian Christ had to recant his long poem Adonis. Now, the logical object of the verb "to recant" is a theory or an idea, not a poem! The reason would be clearly expressed in 1627 by the head censor of the Papal State, Fr. Niccolò Riccardi, who charged Marino (who had died meanwhile) with irreligiosas hiperboles, profanum usum sacrarum vocum, "ungodly imagery, and the profane/blasphemous [read: erotic] use of religious terms." That was- - -  simply true, as we have seen in part, and will have many opportunities to see. But the opposite is true as well: a sacred use of profane terms.