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Thursday, July 20, 2017

E. T. A. Hoffmann translates Ludovico Ariosto

by Selkis + ilTM

In his experimental novel The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr (1819-21), E. T. A. Hoffmann inserts a stanza from Ludovico Ariosto's Orlando Furioso (31.1):
Che dolce più, che più giocondo stato
Saria, di quel d’un amoroso core?
Che viver più felice, e più beato,
Che ritrovarsi in servitù d’Amore?
Se non fosse l’huom sempre stimulato
Da quel sospetto rio, da quel timore,
Da quel martìr, da quella frenesia,
Da quella rabbia, detta gelosia

It basically says that nothing would be more pleasant than love if jealousy did not spoil it. Hoffmann himself translates the text into German like this:
Gab's süßres noch, gab's höheres Entzücken,
Als wenn das Herz entbrannt in brünstger Liebe?
Könnt den ein sel'gres Himmelslos beglücken,
Der in des mächtgen Gottes Fesseln bliebe?
Vermöchte nicht den Menschen zu berücken
Der finstre Geist Verdacht, der Furcht Getriebe,
Trostlose Qual, Wahnsinns wuchernder Same,
Der Hölle Furie, Eifersucht ihr Name!

His translation is a bit free and very interesting, especially with reference to lines 3-4. According to a plain English translation, Ariosto's words in fact mean: "What a happier, more blessed life / Than finding oneself in the servitude of Love?" But in Hoffmann's version, "Can a more blessed heavenly lot make him happy, / Who lies in the bonds of the powerful God?" -- that reinterprets the text in the atmosphere of German Romantic culture, and especially of Hoffmann's own worldview, where the "bonds of the powerful God" imply both Cupid and Destiny at the same time. Not to speak of a potential pun, since Himmelslos (heavenly lot) might be mistaken for Himmellos (heavenless).