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Thursday, March 7, 2019

In their humble (and useless) opinion


G. B. Marino, The Massacre of the Innocents, canto 2. The Council "of Bethlehem" follows a pattern that, starting from Homer but also the Bible, will be constantly re-employed by the Renaissance poets, and then, in a new, surprising way, by John Milton for the "Pandaemonium" in Paradise Lost. In spite of many differences between authors, the opinions expressed by the contrasting characters during the debate before the king, or equivalent, belong basically to two trends: wisdom/peace vs. violence/war. And as it happens in 1 Kings 12, and in real life, the leader (here, Herod) finally OKs the opinion that from the beginning was in line with his own mood.

Marino felt personally involved with this subject: in fact, his father meant to have him study at the university in order to become a lawyer, not a poet (the same familiar strife as Ovid had had). Marino refused because that would have meant to devote his entire life to silly quarrels on the basis of laws that were -- and are, in Italy at least -- conceived precisely so as to make people dependent on lawyers. It was the epoch, the early 17th century, skilfully rebuilt by Alessandro Manzoni in his novel I Promessi Sposi, where the character nicknamed "Azzeccagarbugli," the Tangle-maker, has become proverbial.

The first speaker, already introduced in the last stanzas of canto 1 in The Massacre of the Innocents, is an old Jewish priest, Urizeo, who "traveled much and saw much," like Odysseus. We will listen to his reasoning in the next post.

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