SiStan ChapLee

Friday, March 31, 2017

[GBM] Love's scheme

Andrea Mantegna, Parnassus

Encouraged by Fortune, Adonis gets in the boat and starts to coast the eastern side of the Mediterranean Sea. Meanwhile, Love reaches his own father Vulcan in the island of Lemnos: he will use Vulcan's laboratory to forge a special arrow that will make Venus fall crazily in love with Adonis. (Love does not. . .  love his father at all; he despises him because Vulcan is uncouth. So does Venus.) After that, the winged god flies to Neptune's palace, underwater south of Greece, for he needs a storm to drive Adonis to Cyprus, Venus' home.


Love comes, and from its dark springs
the sea rises, crimped, white with foam;     with a sexual hint
its ends on both sides it lifts like
mountains, dividing in the middle;     see Moses
and unveiling its bottom bridges, dry,
it opens the gates of the great palace.
He enters the realm where his mother     Venus
was born, the place of fish and waters.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Ummah (5)

And now, in this endless military parade, look at a personage that has become a legend especially thanks to Marco Polo:

[GC 17: 31]

Venne con gli Assasini il vecchio Mastro,
Che tra' fenici per honor s'elegge;
Al cui fero pugnal non valse impiastro,
Mentre seguiva ancor la falsa legge.
Et altri, che lasciȃr la zappa e 'l rastro
O pur abandonaro armenti e greggie,
Guida Aldïel, che presso i salsi gorghi
Vote fece restar castella e borghi.

With his "Assassins" the old Master came,
By honor chosen among the Phoenicians;
Against whose fierce dagger poultice was useless --
As long as he followed the false religion. (*)
And others, who left their hoes and rakes
Or abandoned their cow and sheep herds
Were led by Aldiel, who by the salt waters
Emptied of people castles and villages. (**)

(*) Tasso seems to assume that, later on, the sect of the "Assassins" would convert to Christianity.
(**) The words castella and borghi are used in their Medieval sense: the houses built within the walls of a castle, and those in the surrounding area.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

The 7 Days of CryAction 5: 1177-1243

for the whole "DantEsq." set: here

Many species moreover
do not need any males,
females are air-fertilized
[1180] tho with sterile sons:
no grandchildren cheer
Notos, Auster, and Eurus.
Without that sweet sweat
vultures also proliferate
and live a long life
whose astonishing span
covers one century.
Some mock the mystery
of undefeated faith:
[1190] an untouched matrix
hosting Theou Hyios
who saved her virginity.
Well, here zoology lends
a guarantee to God;
what vultures can
He also is able to.
Those flyers can foresee
thanks to a sixth sense
the death of soldiers:
[1200] they escort squadrons
expecting the carnage
the business of battle.
What about the abhorred
leagues of locusts?
As at a Sieg!-signal
thousands take off
then encamp endlessly
all over the landscape
but they taste no fruit
[1210] before the boss’ OK.
More: In summertime
balm-crickets by means
of their inward lyre
make forests resound.
And against the sun
under shadowy shelters
there hides Athena’s
beloved bird—or bat,
which exhibits teeth and
[1220] possesses four feet
(the ostrich only needs
two, however heavy)
using two to walk, while
spreading its skin wings.
United to one another
they create a chain:
Nature teaches by this
the ligaments of love.
As blind as a bat’s are
[1230] the eyes of scholars
who want earthly wisdom:
Chiropterans perfectly see
in the night but light
destroys their sight,
seemingly smart minds
trust in vain thoughts but
Light liquidates them.
A living alarm clock
[1240] summons the sun
and awakens wayfarers
to their trip, farmers
to reap ripe sheaves.

(to be continued on Apr. 2)

Friday, March 24, 2017

[GBM] Adonis' Horoscope

the author: her website

Fortune in person discloses to Adonis his future. Since we, from mythology, already know Adonis' destiny (but he does not), we can see that she is partially deceiving him---or at least, she uses a typical gimmick of horoscopes: this will "surely" happen "if you. . ." Adonis will listen to other horoscopes in the poem, to no avail anyway. In canto 11, Mercury will read the stars to him, but Venus will try to convince Adonis that astrology is rubbish. Then, in canto 15, Venus herself disguised as a gypsy will read his hand! Once again Giovan Battista Marino was playing with fire because, precisely in the early 17th century, the Catholic Church hurled the final attack against astrology. On these interesting as well as puzzling and quite inconsistent facts, see here.


"Then, worship me, and onto the top     N.B. see Matthew 4.8-9
of my wheel you will soon ascend!
To the throne whence you were driven away
by your mother's ungodly trick I'll lead you.    Myrrha secretly loving her father
Just, in the place where Fate exalts you,
be wary so as to keep yourself,
for often by foreseeing one's dangers
caution could break ill fortune."

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The End of Deism

According to Raimon Panikkar, the Catalan-Indian philosopher (1918-2010), Deism is seldom mentioned nowadays, for the simple reason that it basically triumphed everywhere: even the Christian God is often described as the cool-minded origin of natural laws, that He then permits to work according to their own dynamics. See e.g. the Catholic Church leaders' comments on the recent earthquakes in Italy.

Jesse Jacobs' graphic novel By This Shall You Know Him provides an innovative, healthy rediscovery of a Biblical approach (the Canadian author's name suggests a Jewish root). Here the Supreme God is literally a maze, and what we can glimpse of the divine powers that shape the universe does not make things easy but puzzling. As in the Hebrew Bible -- though not in the New Testament, influenced by Greek culture -- life is shown as a bundle of needs, fear, eating, defecating, reproducing, helping one another, building and destroying, in a difficult balance between frailty and violence. Religion, either in a temple or in a comic strip, demands fighting with God; asking questions rather than expecting answers.

Significantly enough, the Italian version of Jacobs' book twists its title making it more New Age-ish, 'harmless' and 'acceptable': E così conoscerai l'universo e gli dèi, "By this you will know the universe and the gods."

Update. The author has been so kind as to reply: "Thanks for showing me that, Dario! I think it's a great take on my comic!"

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Ummah (4)

Following with the description of all the peoples who (fictionally) took part in the First Crusade on the Muslim side. A group of stanzas describes an immeasurable army coming from Egypt.

[GC 17: 23]

E quella insieme aventurosa plebe
A cui i vicini campi il Nilo inonda,
Con l'acque sue stagnando, e nere glebe
Onde verdeggi poi bagna e feconda;
Insin là dove fu l'antica Tebe,
Nel terren che di viti ancora abonda
E d'oppio che richiama il grave sonno
Ne gli egri e stanchi, che dormir non ponno.

And together with them, that lucky people  
Whose fields are inundated by the Nile
Which stagnates with its waters, and irrigates
And fertilizes the soil making it green;
Up to where the ancient Thebes lay, (*)
In that land still rich with its vineyards
And opium, that calls back Sleep to those
Who are infirm or tired, and cannot rest. (**)

(*) The area with Karnak and Luxor.
(**) An autobiographical reference, as well as an example of the Renaissance interest in medicine. Opium poppy, however, is considered to be originating from Middle East and Turkey, not Egypt.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

The 7 Days of CryAction 5: 1088-1176

Galleria Sabauda, Torino --
turkeys were a novelty in the Renaissance

The small sea halcyon
builds a ball-like nest
[1090] with underwater weeds;
her chicks in mid-winter
emerge from the eggs on
the littoral where she laid
her welcome load.
This occurs when cruel
winds whisk the sea
which white with foam
breaks against the rocks,
but at her delivery
[1100] Aelous deflates
the waves lay flat
the clouds are clipped
and a serene sky
now blesses birds:
seven delightful days
she broods her babies
and seven, feeds them.
Halcyonian fortnight”
old sea dogs saywhose
[1110] candid clearness
makes them remarkable.
May this comfort us in
our evening prayers: If
a little thing is granted
the oceans cease-fire
in the cold solstice and
the sea’s surrender,
what will God grant us?
He who gave us Jesus
[1120] His certified copy.
A widow turtledove
seeks no second spouse
but lives solitary on
a dead branch, drinking
from a poor puddle
to honor her husband.
She chooses chastity
and follows fidelity
since Klotho cannot
[1130] break the holy bond
she wove with “I will”;
may human widows too
shun second weddings
not plunging into Lethe
their inhumed honey.
The educator eagle is
a most strict master, he
rejects two out of three
with his wing hits and
[1140] takes care of the third—
to have enough food,
or a higher reason perhaps
he has: not shortage
but a stern test to show
he doesn’t love layabouts
therefore drags them
towards the sun. The one
who stares at its rays
defeating its dazzle with
[1150] proud perseverance
is chosen, not discarded
like those idle eaglets
deserving a great refusal.
But outcasts are welcomed
by the bone-breaking eagle
(a mongrelized group
or with hybrid ancestors)
who friendly feeds them
together with her team.
[1160] So ferocious fathers
disclaim their children
or tyrannize them.
All cutlass-clawed ones
as soon as their sons
timidly try to fly
with feathers too soft,
fling them off the nest
and if some resist
they are whipped with
[1170] their sire’s remiges.
We will rather praise
the crow’s approach
who as a meek mother
leads her children in
their first feeble flights
nor does she skimp.

(to be continued on March 26)

Friday, March 17, 2017

[GBM] Fortune speaks

by the School of Andrea Mantegna

Adonis is a hunter. While chasing a doe, he reaches the southern coast of "Palestine" (actually Phoenicia at "that time," but what time? Some years or decades after the war of Troy, as some episodes in the poem let us guess). There, he sees a boat abandoned by fishermen; and suddenly a strange woman comes towards him walking on the sea. She is one of the most important personages of Renaissance literature and art: Fortune. Her typical features are listed in the words by which Marino describes her and she introduces himself. But, as a matter of fact, her role will be a minor one because, in the whole poem, a great and arbitrary cosmic power will be mainly exercised by Love rather than her; and, in general, the lines marking the respective fields of Fortune, Love, Destiny, and Nature will prove quite blurred. Here is a passage, anyway, in which Fortune defends her honor:


"Even if the people's old opinion     the Christian theologians', rather
sees me as a false idol, a vain shadow;
'blind, foolish, the enemy of virtue'
calling me, as well as fickle and crazy;     like Love
according to others, a powerless tyrant
often defeated by human wisdom---
yet I am a fairy and goddess and queen:     N.B. the fantasy side
Nature obeys me, Heaven bows."

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Al cuore, Roland, al cuore!

[Once in a while a post in Italian, since the textbook is.]

Questo manuale per le scuole superiori, appena uscito a cura di una nota casa editrice, presenta storia, società e letteratura del Quattro-Cinquecento in maniera articolata e non banale. L'epoca viene affrontata nella sue diverse sfaccettature: la cultura delle Corti, la scienza, i viaggi, la politologia, la lingua, il mondo popolare e simil-popolare, ecc. Quanto alle chiavi di lettura, si mostrano i fenomeni nella loro complessità evitando i tristi luoghi comuni del tipo "Machiavelli ha fornito strumenti ai dittatori del Novecento" o "Torquato Tasso era pazzo". Gustose e significative le attualizzazioni, quando compaiono il ragionier Ugo Fantozzi o il Marchese del Grillo.

Unico appunto: c'è davvero troppo poco sull'incontro/scontro tra Europa e mondo musulmano, perfino nella sezione dedicata alla Gerusalemme liberata. Un rapporto che non era solo "scontro", e che all'epoca stava al centro dell'interesse di tutti, leader politici, poeti e artisti. E ovviamente sarebbe un tema di immensa attualità, sul quale abbiamo molto da imparare proprio dal Rinascimento.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Ummah (3)

The fictional, Homeric show must go on. Now, near Gaza, the King of Egypt reviews the many armies that have gathered from all over the Muslim world. Since Tasso "is not Charlie," he provides a powerful description of the Sultan.

[17: 14]

Lo scettro ha ne la destra, e per canuta
Barba è più venerabile e severo;
E dagli occhi, ch'il tempo ancor non muta,
Spira l'ardire e 'l suo valor primiero;
E mostra, s'ei risponde o pur saluta,
La maestà de gli anni e de l'impero;
Apelle forse o Fidia in tal sembiante
Giove formò, ma Giove allhor tonante.

The scepter he keeps in his hand, a white
Beard makes him more venerable and stern;
From his eyes, that time has not modified yet,
His old boldness and valor still radiate.
When answering or greeting, (*) he shows
The majesty of his age and empire:
Apelles maybe, or Phidias, did shape
Jove like that -- but Jove thundering, then.

(*) With a humorous echo from Dante's and Petrarch's stereotypes (their descriptions of Beatrice and Laura), using them in a completely different context.

Monday, March 13, 2017

On the Grendelization of Super-Villains

A trend in recent Marvel Comics stories seems to be a "Grendelization" of super-villains, i.e. changing them into huger and huger, wild, dark, misshapen -- and sad -- ogres who not only fight but (try to) eat the super-heroes. The phenomenon gets especially clear with Hulk and Venom; see e.g. Space Punisher and Thunderbolts, in addition to the two examples above.

Incidentally, it is a pity that Beowulf was made available again in print no sooner than 1833: Renaissance authors would have loved it! But, in a sense, they did use materials from Beowulf insofar as they drew on the large stock of classical sources and Medieval folklore that inspired the old English poem too. And the other way round, the super-powered knights of the poems of chivalry paved the way to Marvel characters as well as to the success of Beowulf nowadays.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The 7 Days of CryAction 5: 1003-1087

Who taught to them
such job or charity?
Who will reward them
or try as deserters if
they leave their place?
Now learn O mortals
learn from the rooks
[1010] how hospitality
works, let no host
deprive the pilgrims
of their bed or bread
if for foreign birds
our birds fight in battle
and share their troubles.
For this very reason
Sodom was destroyed
by showers of sparkles
[1020] after abusing both
courtesy and sexuality.
Pitiful Providence
the master of storks
can convince children
to help their parents:
When a stork is old
and lowers his wings
and frail feathers, his
sons surround him now
[1030] practically plucked
to warm him up with
their prosperous plumage,
furnish him with food
and lift the grey loon
on their wings, therefore
he can afford a flight
with extra energies.
Aren’t we loath to help
our failing fathers?
[1040] Who will take on this?
It does seem mythology.
We’ll rather entrust him
to some East-European
underpaid nurse.
Let’s come to a comely
example of motherhood:
Don’t fear the future
or the pains of poverty
if you look at the lifestyle
[1050] of the smart swallow.
Her anatomy is thin
but her senses sublime;
tho in straits, her nest
she plans by herself
richer than China, for
all treasures are useless
compared with the Club
of Wisdom. She wisely
retains fly-freedom
[1060] while bringing up
her tender children
safe from the ferocity
of preying species
under the roofs of Man,
fostering friendship.
Amazing is the art by
which she builds without
any smith or engineer:
she chooses the straws
[1070] mends them with mud
to compress the mass—
if her feet prove not fit
she washes her wings
and wallows in dust
manufacturing mud;
she gathers and glues
the straws into a loft.
If a chick is pricked
by mistake, she makes it
[1080] see thanks to medicine.
If you mourn money
see the swallow and
pray God who gave her
such a great genius that
poverty and fortune
and their tragedies can
be balanced by thrift.

(to be continued on March 19)

Friday, March 10, 2017

[GBM] Enter Adonis

Gustave Moreau, Jason

Starting from Adonis 1.41, we are provided the first description of the protagonist---that is, here as well as throughout the whole poem, not the actual description of his features but the general impression they create in the observer. Adonis lives in northwest Arabia, where his mother Myrrha has been exiled after her incestuous love. She was the princess of Cyprus, though, and Adonis is about to go back there very soon.


Such a great treasure of Nature and Love
gathered in himself he seems to neglect
while, with his beautiful eyes and face,     lit., eyelash
he tries to cloud the sun, mortify April;     lit., make April (flowers) look ugly
but, either frowning and threatening or
walking unkempt, he cannot be but gentle
and, however rustic and a little proud,     sdegnosetto, typical -etto form; hypocorism
he will look lovely in spite of himself.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Cat-o-Bard

One of the most fascinating experiences in literature is when "a genius analyzes a genius": see William Blake dealing with John Milton, Primo Levi (unexpectedly) with Alessandro Manzoni, Arthur Schopenhauer with Immanuel Kant. Here is Shakespeare's life and works recounted in 1953 by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, the author of the novel Il Gattopardo, first published in Italy in 1958. The title has been translated into English as The Leopard, but it is rather a humorous deformation of the heraldic beast's name, like "The Cat-o-pard." A novel that destroyed all commonplace about the standard history of the National Unification of Italy (1861), and more than that.

Tomasi di Lampedusa describes Shakespeare basically as a rascal, and that's why he admires him -- the Bard's name, he says, is "the most glorious in the history of humankind." One more shove against the official culture of Italy, where the epithet "The Poet," after the Unification, has always been referred to Dante. Similarly, in the still bigoted Italy of the 1950s, Tomasi enjoys lingering over Shakespeare's homosexuality. His comments on the characters of the Bard's plays let us already glimpse the main characters in the Gattopardo. But especially, a surprising paragraph worth being translated concerns the issue of language:
What I would like to stress about Mercutio is that, most luckily, here Shakespeare passed down to us the parlance, the humor, the imagination of a young Italian gentleman of the Renaissance; one of those gentlemen of whom Tiziano and Lorenzo Lotto preserved the portraits for us, but of whom the awful Italian literature of the 16th century had neglected to report the very soul and way of speaking. (Maybe, just maybe, some hints in the Orlando Furioso.)

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Ummah (2)

As already remarked, it is not historically true but a detail fictionally added by Tasso that the Sultan of Egypt took part in the First Crusade. A symbolic figure, as he used to be "The" Sultan during the Middle Ages, but of course in Tasso's times the main and most dangerous Muslim center of power had shifted to Constantinople. So, the following portrait of the Sultan of Egypt mirrors the mixed feelings that 16th century Europe harbored towards the Turks.

[GC 17: 11]

Ancor guerreggia per ministri, et have
Tanto vigor di mente e di parole
Che de la monarchia la soma grave
Non sembra a lui soverchia mole.
Sparsa in minuti regni, l'Africa pave
Tutta al suo nome, e 'l remoto Indo il cole;
E gli porge altri volontario aiuto
D'armate genti, ed altri ampio tributo.

He still wages wars through his ministers,
Having so much strength in his mind and words
That the heavy weight of monarchy does not
Seem to be an excessive load to him.
The many small kingdoms of Africa
Tremble at his name, India worships him;
To him, some grant voluntary subsidies
In armed people; while others, large tributes. (*)

(*) There are some echoes from the "fabulous" descriptions of Solomon's kingdom in the Bible, see 1 Kings 5: 1, 14; or also from the legend of Prester John.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

The 7 Days of CryAction 5: 928-1002

by ilTM + Selkis

Listen O Christians
followers of Forgiveness
[930] to eradicate evil!
Mind this high example
to bee imitated! They
in providing provisions
do not damage the others
and have homes made with
wax from the meadows.
Flowers and plants
spreading sweet smells
form the foundations
[940] of a spacious palace
sprinkled with a wet
then sticky substance;
the wax works out walls
between separate cells
(surmounted by empty
vaults) whose vicinity
connects them within
a most solid structure
thanks to that cement.
[950] This counters collapses
so that the house holds
and honors the honey.
The engineer insect proved
an amazing architect
upgraded and updated
with appropriate apps:
he conceived the cells
in hexagonal harmony
not perpendicularly put
[960] but the lower lay in
correspondence to the upper
and everything fits in.
Oh how can you recount
the brilliance of birds?
Peregrin cranes carrying
a stone in their phalanges
can balance their flights
when on cloudy occasions
they leave our lands
[970] and cross Our Sea
to nidify by the Nile:
the same as the ballast
used in waves and winds
by an exploring ship.
Cranes also have escorts
who when sleep is set
walk thru the whole camp
to watch over the winds
and the night enemies;
[980] when their turn ends
as if a siren sounded
they wake co-workers
and naturally nap while
the others take over.
Their flights have a leader
who—say—bears the banner
then withdraws in due time
and lets a fellow lead.
Intelligence and talent
[990] have the storks, starting
together their flag-dressed
trip towards our countries
while crows accompany
and even defend them
as bold bodyguards
against jihadist attacks
as France and Russia do
or international leagues.
Nowhere during that duty
[1000] you can detect crows:
they’ll reappear red-feathered
because of war wounds.

(to be continued on March 12)

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Enlightened by Tasso

photo: Manuela Acito

A dear friend and colleague found this quote from Tasso used as an ad for a lamp shop in Bastia Umbra, Italy. That is all the more surprising as Tasso's 'stocks' are currently low in Italian culture. The text says:
Beauty is
a beam
of most clear light
and you cannot say
how much it shines
nor what it is.
Who wishes to
depict Beauty
with one's words
and one's colors--
let 'em try to paint the sun!

Friday, March 3, 2017

[GBM] Destiny's Child

The Metternich Stela

Among the worthy effects of the Love-story between Venus and Adonis, Apollo lists the birth of their daughter, Beroe, who will marry Neptune. This corresponds to the typical dynastic prophecies that were included in the poems of chivalry and the like, see the Este family in Ariosto's Orlando Furioso or King James in Shakespeare's Macbeth. But with some oddities in Marino's work. First of all, even if Venus and Adonis have a lot of sex together in the story, the goddess will never be described as pregnant of him, except for one brief hint at her milk in 18.123. Moreover, Beroe's descendants obviously do not belong to any noble family of the poet's own time: once in a while, love has not a political meaning. In the following passage Apollo, the god of divination, speaking to Love, reads about Beroe in the stele of Destiny.


"There, what will follow from all this
can be read as in written sheets: Such
a child will be born of this fine graft
that you won't regret partaking in it.     he will
In her, like gems in a precious cloth,
all the graces of heaven will be set;
O you blessed for such a marriage!
Fate promises her to the sea boss."