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Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The oldest "Road Map" for Jerusalem

from William Blake's illustrations
for Paradise Lost (recolored)

Gierusalemme distrutta, "Jerusalem Destroyed," is a Baroque long poem long promised by Giambattista Marino, and never realized but for a 'tiny' part, i.e. more than 700 lines, like six whole cantos of the Divine Comedy. The subject should have been the tragic events of 70 AD, when, after the Jews' rebellion against the Empire, the Holy City was seized and razed to the ground by the Romans, who would build a heathen colony in its place, Aelia Capitolina. In brief, a prequel -- and a competitor -- to Torquato Tasso's Gierusalemme liberata.

Quite interestingly, the remaining canto is not the first, but the seventh. And quite interestingly, it does not deal with battles or other historical episodes, but a dialog in heaven. God looks down onto the war being waged on Earth, where the devil is causing havoc, so He also decides to intervene; a scene of far Homeric origin, more directly based on Gierusalemme liberata. Here, the Almighty opens the book of Destiny, where it is stated that Jerusalem must be destroyed forever because of its "rebellion" against the divine will (i.e. not embracing Christianity). King David, who is among the blessed, is shocked, and implores Virgin Mary to avert that fate. Mary prays her Son, and Christ in his turn shows his mercy to God the Father. God accepts to spare the Holy City; He will just send Archangel Michael to break the devil's plans; and here the canto comes to an end. An important part of the plot is missing, since Jerusalem was actually destroyed, so some unexpected (even by God?) development must have occurred (or, did God only 'make if' He had changed his mind?).

More remarkable than the plot is the style. Marino drew on Tasso as John Milton would, and Milton also read Marino, whose Jerusalem stanzas were published posthumously in 1633. Well, an amazing similarity leaps out between Gierusalemme distrutta and the parallel sections in Paradise Lost -- except for the Catholic devotion, of course. Effects of light and shadow, majesty and paradoxes, colors and music and flowers, dizzy detailed descriptions, belligerence and tenderness, golden curls and shiny armors, Biblical quotations and theatrical phrasings. . .  At the same time, Marino cannot help adding his trademark, especially in the dialog of Mary and Christ. Here, the words exchanged between the Virgin and her Son have an erotic undertone that cannot be wholly justified as Baroque sentimentalism. By the irony of fate, sanctimonious readers of the 17th century hoped that Gierusalemme distrutta would be completed.