SiStan ChapLee

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

The action starts in hell


G. B. Marino, The Massacre of the Innocents, canto 1. After the Prologue that summarizes the subject, and the dedication to a gentleman, Lodovico Rivaldi, the action starts in hell. The powerful, angry and sad character of Satan draws on Torquato Tasso's long poem Gierusalemme liberata (Jerusalem Delivered), that will also inspire John Milton for his Paradise Lost. Milton's poem, too, starts in hell with Satan plotting schemes -- just by chance? In the stanza below, the seven horns on the devil's crown, a clear symbol of the seven deadly sins, rework passages from the Book of Revelation; the mythological snakes recall Dante's Furies.
As the Judge of torment, King of tears,
he owns throne and garment of fire eternal:
garment, once a rich, luminous covering,
now woven with flames and darkness.
He carries (of his kingdom, the sole honor)
a seven-horned, high crown upon his head;
all around the royal diadem, green Hydras
make, with Cerasteses, horrid ornaments.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

The Massacre of the Innocents

from Hieronymus Bosch

In the next months, many chosen passages from Giambattista Marino's poem La strage degl'innocenti, of some 3,500 lines, will be translated here. The poem was first published posthumous in 1632 (Marino having died in 1625) and, according to online sources, remained a greatest hit up until the 19th century. The poem was mentioned by the author as early as 1605, then resurfaced as a "coming soon" project during the years, and evidences have been preserved that he himself used to read it to friends. As a matter of fact, the existing text seems to alternate Baroque fantasies of Marino's earlier phase and more mature, bitter considerations of his later years; sometimes, imperfect 'weld joints' between stanzas (of different epochs?) can be detected.

The poem, in six cantos, deals with a specific, almost Aristotelically unitary subject matter: the massacre of the babies supposedly planned by King Herod the Great in order to kill Jesus, whom he considered a rival for the throne, as in the Gospel of Matthew, ch. 2. But, as with all long poems then, its horizon is wider, in fact looking at the whole of human experience and history. The "whole" of it also includes the extramundane powers who influence humankind, namely Heaven and hell. The sources used by Marino, in either a clear or hidden way, will prove quite numerous.

The edition employed for the translation is the one published in Rome in 1633. In the introduction, they stress that they corrected many typos from the 1632 version; however, some mistakes also occur in this book, and will be indicated when needed.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Si salva nisciĆ¹no: Luther, Machiavelli, and Jesuits!


I spoke in the world of spirits with some doctors of the [Lutheran] church, about what they meant by “works of the law,” and what by “the law” under whose yoke, servitude, and condemnation they say they are not. They said they meant the works of the law of the Decalogue. And I then said, “What are the things decreed in the Decalogue? Are they not these: ‘thou shalt not kill,’ ‘thou shalt not commit whoredom,’ ‘thou shalt not steal,’ ‘thou shalt not bear false witness’? Are these the works of the law, which you separate from faith, saying, that ‘faith alone, without the works of the law, justifies and saves,’ and are these what Christ made satisfaction for?” And they replied, “They are.” And then there was heard a voice from heaven, saying, “Who can be so insane?” And immediately their faces were turned towards some diabolical spirits, among whom was Machiavelli, and several from the order of Jesuits, who permit all these things provided they guard themselves from the laws of the world. . .

__Emanuel Swedenborg, Apocalypsis Revelata, n. 578 (U.S.A. version, 1997)

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Off Topic: The Dwarfs Revealed

(picture from the Web)

JRR Tolkien would have probably been surprised to find out that 'his' Dwarfs had been prophesied in the Bible, in the Book of Revelation. In chapter 9, in fact, the mysterious "locusts" are described, whose bizarre features already made a big effect in the miniatures of Medieval manuscripts. But one of our beloved authors, Emanuel Swedenborg, succeeded in doing more than that. In his thick book Apocalypse Revealed (1766), n. 424, he stressed that the doomsday locusts actually looked like "dwarfs, which is evident also from their description, in that they had crowns on their heads, faces like men, hair like women, teeth like lions, breastplates of iron, and a king over them. . ."

So, not at all the funny, harmless Disney Dwarfs, but fierce and aggressive as in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Honestly, the Book of Revelation also says that they looked like horses, but Swedenborg explains this as meaning that they were ready to fight. And, ready they were! ;-)

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Luther and Machiavelli . . . together in hell


Emanuel Swedenborg's visions may be found intriguing -- or crazy -- for different reasons. Here, in a description of hell from Apocalypsis Revelata, n. 463, a controversy is made at the same time against Lutheran clergy and their theology, on the one hand, and political Machiavellism on the other. That would have looked quite obvious among 17th century Catholic thinkers, but much less so with an independent religious founder, whose father, moreover, had been an open-minded Lutheran bishop. The English translation adopted is John Withehead's from Apocalypse Revealed, West Chester (PA): The Swedenborg Foundation, 1997. It will be appreciated, at least, that Swedenborg's hell enjoys a dynamic exchange between "circles" that Dante's lacked.
(. . .) those of the clergy there, who altogether separate faith from charity and its good works, affirming in themselves that there is plainly no conjunction between them (. . .) There is an infernal society of them on the confines of the infernal society from the Machiavellists, and they sometimes enter from the one into the other, and call themselves companions; but they go away because there is a diversity, on this account, that there was with them something religious concerning faith in act, but none with the Machiavellists.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Michelangelo and a different Medici


A tribute to Caterina Medici, a 17th century lesser personage whose story can be read here. It may be added that her life and death as summarized in Alessandro Manzoni's novel I promessi sposi actually mix up data referring to two different women (as this picture also does, for the sake of symbols): a beautiful maid and a persecuted witch. The story was more accurately reconstructed by Leonardo Sciascia in the 20th century.

The digital collage reassembles and modifies details from the Sistine Chapel, the fresco showing The Brazen Serpent.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Schopenhauer's Sistine Madonna


On the Sistine Madonna
(Dresden, 1815)

She brings him to Terra; he horrified sees
her (*) atrocity of chaotic confusion,
her fury of a wildest frenzy,
her acts of madness never healed,
her spasms of a never sedated pain ——
horrified; yet calm, confidence and
victory shine from his eyes, announcing
the consciousness of salvation, eternal.


(*) “Her” is ambivalent as it refers to die Welt (world, Earth, Terra) but also indirectly to Mary as the Mother par excellence, so to speak; therefore, the universal Will.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Schopenhauer about Tasso


From Arthur Schopenhauer's Parerga and Paralipomena, vol. 2, n. 59. Below, "Tasso's supposed jail in Ferrara," with a plaque who 'supposedly' explains the facts, but actually does so in a biased way. See here for more information. In n. 50, Schopenhauer quotes from Goethe's play Torquato Tasso: "The laurel wreath, appearing to you, / is a sign of sorrow, rather than joy."