SiStan ChapLee

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The conspiracy (4)

Cairo in G. Dore's illustrations
for Ariosto's Orlando Furioso

The description of Vafrino's mission is interrupted for some stanzas: after organizing the Muslim army, the Sultan of Egypt goes back from Gaza to his own country, so Tasso takes the chance to describe his magnificent royal palace in Cairo. As it had already been indicated by Ludovico Ariosto in Orlando Furioso, the city of Cairo was famous in the Christian world because of its splendor and its incredible extent, possibly the biggest metropolis during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

[GC 63.1 - 64.4]

Out of white marbles, the generous springs
Pour -- as he(*) has been told -- waters so clear
As to be envied by the highest mountains
Or the nicest river flowing seaward.
There, of the most unknown species of birds 
Many, beautiful, and varied appear, (**)
As our Western world has never seen, though
It depicts Harpies, the Sphinx, and Pegasus --
And animals hidden to our senses 
Roam about that refined and shady place,
Among the fountains and marble arcades,
Without using their claws, or teeth, or venom. (***)

(*) Vafrino; but the parenthetical element would be changed into a more general "as they say" in the final printed text of the poem.
(**) See the specimens from America, that immediately became a must-show in European art in the Renaissance.
(***) Transferring to the Sultan's enclosure the alleged features of Eden, as was usually done when 'describing' the Fortunate Islands, a major element in Renaissance imagination, that partly stimulated the exploration of the New World -- the main cause, from the very beginning (Columbus included), being however the search for gold. Noticeably, the very word "Paradise" comes from Persian pardesh, "garden with animals."

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