SiStan ChapLee

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Wisdom, Ancient Rome to XVIII century


On the Renaissance in general
Civil life [la repubblica], extinguished by the barbarians [during the Middle Ages], after many decades was rebuilt [in the Renaissance] on the same orders [as in Ancient Rome], that is, that the turf of philosophers was the Probable, of mathematicians was the True. Therefore, all the arts and disciplines of honesty, comfort, and human pleasure were given back their old glory, and in some fields, even more than back then.
Now, however, those orders have been upset [by Cartesian dogmatism, etc.] once again, and what should be considered the Probable has usurped the place of the True. “Demonstration” has been turned into a mean word. . .

On (Baroque) art
In the imitation-based arts, such as Painting, Sculpture, Pottery, Poetry, the most excellent authors are those who embellish the archetype, taken from the commonly known Nature, with not common, but new and amazing details; or, what had already been expressed by another artist, they resume in a personal and better way, making it distinct as their own work.

From Giambattista Vico's book De antiquissima Italorum sapientia, “On the most ancient wisdom of the peoples of Italy,” i.e., even before the Romans; first published in 1710. The passage on art, from the book itself, is in Latin, while the excerpt on Renaissance comes from the author's “Replies” to some objections, and was written in Italian. In the bilingual edition shown in the photo above, published by Diogene Edizioni, the afterword by Claudia Megale deals with the success of Vico's ideas in psychoanalysis, especially Jungian.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Portrait of the Theologian as a Young Dog

Naples for President:
G. B. Marino and G. Bruno

The author, if you happen'd to meet 'im, you'd say he got such a bewilder'd count'nance: he always looks like one contemplatin' the very pains of hell, looks like he's been under a press as a [felt] bar, one who laughs only to behave as all th'others 'round do; yea, you'll mostly see 'im annoy'd, an' standoffish, an' bizarre, never happy about no thin', baulkin' just like another eighty-year-older, weird like a dog mangy after a thousan' blows, a fella all too well fed with onions.

__Giordano Bruno, Candelaio [The Candle Seller], from the "Anti-prologue"

The play is written in a lively, delightful mixture of highly refined Italian and the dialect spoken by common people in Naples during the Renaissance; the translation clumsily tries to render it. Bruno is probably the most interesting 16th century author in Italian, in an epoch when most Italian thinkers wrote in Latin. The "candle" hints at the male organ. Onions are sour, but eating them (with bread: pane e cipolla) also refers to an Italian phrase meaning that somebody is very poor. Bruno wrote the Candelaio after having to flee from Naples (1576), where he had studied Divinity at the same religious school as Thomas Aquinas and Tommaso Campanella did.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Dante's glory day, and the day after

"The big Sun of Hiroshima"?
See Revelation 10.1 and 16.8?

To put it in a simplified way, the Divine Comedy experienced two major phases of free interpretation: 1. In texts by authors of the 16th and 17th centuries, and, 2. In works of art of the 19th and 20th centuries. 1. In the long poems especially by Ludovico Ariosto and Giambattista Marino, a lot of quotations from Dante can be found, but often reused in a new context, so the very same words take on a completely different meaning. Many examples have been shown in this blog. 2. The first artist who illustrated the Divine Comedy in order to convey a personal worldview, quite unlike Dante's, was probably William Blake. In contemporary art, Salvador Dalí produced 100 illustrations, virtually one for each canto; but as a matter of fact, he depicted some episodes more than once, then changed the titles of some of them so as to have them fit other subject matters, and even added pictures that had nothing to do with the poem.

Still more interesting is the case with an Italian artist, Aligi Sassu (1912-2000). Over the years 1980-86 he made 112 paintings in acrylics, covering almost all of the main episodes in the Divine Comedy. On some occasions, two illustrations refer to different scenes in one canto. But here too, the 'official' titles are misleading sometimes. Sassu also made double versions of the same subject, e.g. the Minotaur, the Centaurs; then shifted one version to another place in the poem, taking advantage of swift hints made by Dante. But, on other occasions, he apparently changed his mind about the subject he had depicted, and gave it an alternative name. For example, the guardian angel at the gate of Paradise/Purgatory (Genesis 3.24; Purgatorio 9.76-84) moved to Paradiso 14, where Dante mentions Archangel Gabriel, who however should not exhibit a fire sword. The supposed meeting of Dante and Virgil with Homer (Inferno 4) looks rather like their dialog with Cato (Purgatorio 1). And so on.

Quite peculiar to Sassu are the references to contemporary society. A well-known Italian Minister of the past decades appears among the damned souls in the circle of squanderers (Inferno 13), who in their turn are turned into a pack of werewolves. Minos (Inferno 5) has the face of Yasser Arafat, the then leader of PLO, who in the 1980s was often described as an instigator of terrorism. A subtler clue seems to be meant in Sassu's illustration for the heaven of the Sun (Paradiso 12; see picture above). The desperate crowds, the birds, the rainbow recall the Flood in the Bible (Genesis 6-8). Here however the destruction is brought about not by water, but by fire, therefore mirroring the fear, widespread back in the Eighties, of an apocalyptic nuclear war. See e.g. the movies The Day After and War Games, both 1983.

Monday, November 18, 2019

The metamorphoses of Transfiguration


One of Giambattista Marino's abortive mega-projects in the early 17th century was a remake of Ovid's Metamorphoses. This Greek word played a remarkable role in Christian tradition, anyway.

The so-called Second Letter of Peter in the New Testament was written, according to internal and external clues, in the late first century AD; therefore, when the apostle Peter was already dead. One of its core topics is the controversy against some masters who, within the Christian community, started to preach doctrines that denied the Second Coming of Christ. Against them, the author of the Letter presents himself as a more reliable source insofar as he allegedly eye-witnessed Jesus' Transfiguration, though he actually quotes from the Gospel of Matthew 17.1-8.

But here is an interesting detail: "Peter" does not call it Transfiguration. He uses a complex circumlocution instead, including the word megaleiotes (in the genitive, megaleiotetos) that means greatness, majesty, magnificence. In fact, what he aimes at is attacking people who follow "cunning myths." So, using the word "transfiguration" would have been self-defeating because the Greek word for it is the same as metamorphosis, that also provided the title of the famous pagan masterpiece. In a way, the self-styled first Pope thought he had to normalize Matthew the evangelist by clearly differentiating the Gospel from Ovid's long poem. Well done, or not?

Friday, November 8, 2019

The Cloud of Unknowing

Torquato Tasso, Gierusalemme Conquistata 4.18

Fra gli infedeli intanto un huom che guarda
Antica torre, e scopre i monti e i campi,
La già minuta polve alzarsi guarda,
Onde par che gran nube in aria stampi;
Par che baleni il nuvol denso et arda,
Come fiamme nel sen rinchiuda e lampi;
Poi lo splendor de' lucidi metalli
Distingue, e scerne gli huomini e i cavalli.

Meanwhile among the infidels, a man
Watching from an old tower over hills and fields
Sees that that very thin dust is now rising:
A big cloud seems to be printed in the air,
And the thick mass seems to flash and burn
As if it contained both flames and lightning.
Then the radiance of shiny metal armors
He recognizes – makes out the men and horses.

Literally, the man (a Muslim soldier) is said to be "watching the old tower," rather than "from" it; but meaning that he watched that area of Jerusalem, in that direction.


Sunday, November 3, 2019

Let's Twist Again

In the Catechism of Trent (published in 1566) some powerful descriptions of the evils of society appear. For example, in commenting the words "Give us this day our daily bread" in the Lord's Prayer, the Catholic leaders stress:
It is a sure sign of death approaching when people can no longer eat food, or no longer store in themselves the food they ate. In the same way, it is a great evidence for the end of any hope of salvation when people no longer look for God's Word, or if it is given them, they do not tolerate it, and raise that ungodly cry against God, "Depart from us, for we do not desire the knowledge of your ways!"

That is taken from the Book of Job 21.14. Just, if we read the text in its context (lines 7-15, KJV), we will see that Job's polemic speech aimed at precisely the opposite end:
"Wherefore do the wicked live, become old, yea, are mighty in power?. . .
Their houses are safe from fear, neither is the rod of God upon them. . . .
Therefore they say unto God, Depart from us; for we desire not the knowledge of thy ways.
What is the Almighty, that we should serve him? and what profit should we have, if we pray unto him?"

Whom were they trying to fool with such a twisted quote? Surely not their main adversaries, the Lutherans, who were accustomed to read the Bible very carefully. Their own Catholic faithful, then, by providing them with 'any weapons,' accurate or not? Maybe. But, it is probably more promising to remember that that was the Renaissance, when the art of quotation -- from the Greeks, from Dante, from the Bible -- reached a high level in refinement and freedom. First of all, in order to amuse the learned. But more in depth, to convey a worldview that was no more the predictable Medieval one. The Council Fathers were not guys like Ludovico Ariosto, let alone Giambattista Marino, but willy-nilly, belonged to the exciting civilization of the 16th-17th centuries.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

There was a reason to say so


". . . because it is not a different God, the One of whom the rich and the kings were born (again), and by whom the poor and the people under the kings' power have been created. There is in fact only one God, the Father and Lord of all."

__The Catechism of Trent (1566), commenting on the word "Our" in the Lord's Prayer

Sunday, October 20, 2019

An overreaching prophecy

Torquato Tasso, Gierusalemme Conquistata 4.10

Sorgi, Gierusalem, co' raggi illustri,
Perch'il tuo lume e l'altrui gloria hor vene;
La gloria del Signore onde t'illustri
Nasce in te, perch'il duolo in te serene.
Ecco, dopo tanti anni e tanti lustri
Che l'ombre e le caligini terrene
I popoli coprîr ne l'Orïente,
De la gloria divina il Sol nascente.
. . .

Rise, O Jerusalem, with shining rays,
Because your Light and human glory now comes;
Now the Lord's glory, that makes you shine,
Is born inside you to cheer your sufferings up.
Lo, after so many years and decades
In which the earthly shadows and darkness
Kept covering the peoples in the Orient,
Here comes the rising Sun of divine glory!
. . .

A partly free translation of Isaiah 60.1-2, based anyway on the then official Latin version for Catholics (the Vulgate), not on the original Hebrew text. Tasso reinterprets God's glory coming back to Jerusalem as the victory of the European armies in 1099 AD during the First Crusade, rather than Jesus being born, as it was usually the case in Christian tradition. See e.g. John Milton's ode On the Morning of Christ's Nativity.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Pecca fortiter!


Giambattista Marino's long poem Adonis was condemned by the Inquisition in 1623. The reasons can be traced back to the Council of Trent, more precisely its Fourth Session, held on April 8, 1546. In this case, the target of the attack was not Martin Luther. And, well, ha ha, basically all the 'sins' listed by the Council will be found in Adonis:

. . . temeritatem illam reprimere volens, qua ad profana quaequae convertuntur, & torquentur verba, & sententiae sacrae Scripturae, ad scurrilia scilicet, fabulosa, vana, adulationes, detractiones, superstitiones impias, & diabolicas incantantiones, sortes, libellos etiam famosos . . .

"[The Council] means to repress that foolhardiness by which the words and sentences in the Holy Scripture are changed and twisted into something profane, that is, lewd, imaginary, vain, as well as flattery, insults, ungodly superstitions and devilish enchantments, fortune-telling, even pasquinades . . ."

Saturday, October 12, 2019

And this guy, what's he?


. . . And in the decay of those who drink beneath his statue, martyrdom is not over for the Dominican monk. . .

"And this guy, what's he?"
"Obi-Wan Kenobi, I guess."


__Roberto Recchioni featuring Il Muro del Canto, RSDIVG: Roma sarà distrutta in un giorno [It will take just one day to destroy Rome], Milan, Italy: Feltrinelli, 2019

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

How did it end up with the Muslims?


The 'not always easy' relationship between the Christian and Muslim countries during the 16th and 17th centuries was a major topic in the literature and art of that time. It is, in fact, a frequent tag in this blog too. Now, when was the word "end" put to the long anxiety of Europe toward the Ottoman power, that had started in 1453? Surely not with the Battle of Lepanto, 1571, but with the Battle of Vienna, 1683. Now a thin as much as rich book recreates the events of that memorable siege, made by the Turks and their allies, and finally undone by the Western countries, especially the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Poland. The text, based on sources of that epoch in different languages, also provides precious insights into the political theater, the rivalry between the European countries, the penetration of the Turks into Central Europe, the paradoxical situation of the Tartars, the war techniques of both armies, etc. With just one small flaw: while focusing on the decisive role played by the Polish King, John III Sobieski, the books curiously fails to even mention a very important Italian leader in the Christian army, Prince Eugene of Savoy, a monument of whom can be seen in Vienna itself.

Lorenzo Mori, L'assedio di Vienna. Gli ottomani alle porte d'Europa e l'intervento polacco, Avellino, Italy: Il Terebinto, 2019, pages 112, with 11 photos, euros 12

Monday, October 7, 2019

Your life written in somebody else's dreams


The biography of the top Renaissance publisher, Aldo Manuzio in Venice, is told by following the 173 engravings in the most famous book published by him, the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, "Poliphilus' Dream-Fight for Love." The book appeared anonymous in 1499, though most critics as well as this novel consider him to be a certain Francesco Colonna.

Angelo Dolce, Il sogno di Aldo Manuzio [Aldo Manuzio's Dream], Zermeghedo, Italy: Edizioni Saecula, 2015, pages 278 with all of the Hypnerotomachia engravings and many B&W photos of Venice, euros 15

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

All the friends of Myrrha


In the Christian reinterpretation of Greek myths, Myrrha's defenders seem to be much more numerous than her accusers, at least among poets. One accuser is Dante, who in canto 30 of his Inferno (Longfellow version) describes her as "the ancient ghost / of the nefarious Myrrha, who became / beyond all rightful love her father's lover," where scellerata rather means evil in some obscene way.
But, in the early 17th century, Giambattista Marino takes her into consideration as the mother of the main character in his long poem Adonis; and in the end, she will be publicly, even morally reconciled with the whole society.
Some decades earlier, Luís de Camões also used kind words referring to her, while directly identifying her as the myrrh (the two words are spelled identically in languages other than English). In fact, in canto 4 of his poem The Lusiads, stanza 63, he says that Portuguese envoys explored "the scented Sabean coasts, / which the handsome Adonis' mother honored so much."

As costas odoríferas Sabeias,
Que a mãe do belo Adónis tanto honrou,
Cercam. . .

In the late XVIII century, Vittorio Alfieri will write a whole tragedy about Mirra, in which, once again, the author will side with the "nefarious" female character. In this case, however, the girl 'only' burns with desire toward her father, the King of Cyprus, without actually making love to him. -- So, no Adonis will be born, either.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Dante Fantasy Sud Story

(Post text in Italian since the book is only available in that language) 

Ovvero: che mi hai portato a fare sopra a Posillipo, se ancora leggi Dante come facevano nell'Ottocento? Esce, dopo sette anni, una nuova edizione del saggio sugli "inattesi" lati fantasy della Divina Commedia. Testo ricorretto, aggiornato con nuovi dati, e arricchito di illustrazioni digitali, opera dell'autore stesso in team con Selkis... a parte la copertina che, va da sé, è di Gustave Doré. Oltre a svelare dove Dante ha nascosto, anzi lasciato in bella evidenza personaggi come elfi, lupi mannari, vampiri e quant'altro, la nuova edizione offre qualche ipotesi alternativa sulla biografia del poeta, in particolare il perché e percome dell'esilio. E getta un'occhiata sull'uso che fecero della Divina Commedia i grandi poeti del Cinque e Seicento: Ludovico Ariosto, Torquato Tasso, Giambattista Marino, John Milton. Prefazione di Carlo Crescitelli.

Dante fantasy può essere
1) ordinato presso l'editore Il Terebinto di Avellino qui
2) trovato o ordinato nelle librerie del Sud Italia
3) ordinato presso qualunque libreria Feltrinelli
4) scaricato in formato Kindle qui

- - -

Errata corrige
Palli > Palii
Rinaldo e Alcina > Ruggiero e Alcina

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Medusa has changed her job

But, who will be able to free himself
from the snares Love so sweetly lays
in human roses and the purest snow,     the woman's breast
and gold, and transparent alabaster?     and hair, and face
Who can, from so rare and new beauty?
Or rather, from Medusa's very face,
which changes the heart, its prisoner,
into stone – oh, no, into wild desire.

__Luís de Camões, Os Lusíadas 3.142. From Portuguese, a language I actually don't know, but here the words are basically the same as in Italian. "Rare and new" in line 5 renders peregrina, with the same meaning it had in Medieval and Renaissance Italian. In the last three lines, with a typically Baroque agudeza (witty subtlety), Medusa's psychological effect on sex – see Greek mythology, then Freud – is twisted the other way round.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

The New Traveller's Almanac


Volume 2 of Alan Moore & Kevin O'Neill's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen has just been published in Italy (BAO Publishing). Both plot and art are wonderful. The story is set in England, 1898. The League includes Mina Harker/Murray, from Bram Stoker's Dracula, currently a divorcée; Allan Quatermain, the now 70-year-old explorer, her lover; Captain Nemo, clearly identified as a Sikh guerrilla; Mr. Hyde, here a sort of Incredible Hulk; and Hawley Griffin, i.e. Herbert George Wells' Invisible Man. Also starring: Sherlock Holmes' fat brother, and Doctor Moreau, who turns out to be still alive. They have to fight against an invasion from Mars, or rather, aliens coming from Mars after having invaded it from another planet. The evil extraterrestrials recall H. G. Well's War of the Worlds, while the native, heroic Martians are fantasy people like in Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter. Things get even messier when Griffin "disappears". . .

But especially, as far as the subject matters of this blog are concerned, the second section of the book provides us with The New Traveller's Almanac dealing with the strangest places all over the world. The text is said to come from the archives of the UK secret services, with documents belonging to the first three decades of the 20th century. It reports passages from the travel journal of Mina Murray, as well as Nemo's logbook, and the diary of an alternately male or female character, Orlando/Roland, the famous Medieval knight in one of his/her incarnations across the centuries. The chapters, Continent after Continent, lead us to visit places that were described in the legends from ancient times to the modern era, Atlantis to Mu, Sindbad's adventures to King Kong's island; Homer and Lucian of Samosata to E. A. Poe, H. P. Lovecraft, J. R. R. Tolkien, J. L. Borges. Some characters date back to the 16th and 17th centuries, e.g. Alcina, the witch in Ludovico Ariosto's long poem Orlando Furioso, Prospero from William Shakespeare's play The Tempest, Christian from The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan. Italian readers will be delighted to find references to our modern literature too: Carlo Collodi (Pinocchio), Emilio Salgari (I misteri della jungla nera, I segreti dei naviganti della Meloria), Dino Buzzati (Il deserto dei tartari), Umberto Eco (L'isola del giorno prima).

Alan Moore plays joyfully and cleverly with these vast materials, on different levels: (1) "Recognize" as many things as possible from the books you have read, the movies you have seen, the legends you have heard of; (2) "In the end, what the hell happened to. . ." e.g. Lewis Carroll's Alice, Frankenstein's monster, E. T. A. Hoffmann's Olympia; and at the same time, (3) "You didn't expect" some crossovers or developments, e.g. where the kingdom of Prester John was, or the truth about Santa Claus. Moore also averts the risk of making an arid list of places by having some characters and ideas resurface and be knitted together through the almanac. Not to speak of many funny places completely invented.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Mixed feelings

Torquato Tasso, Gierusalemme Conquistata 4.6

Sommessi accenti e timide parole,
Rotti singulti e flebili sospiri
De la gente ch'in cor s'allegra e dole
Fan che per l'aria un mormorio s'aggiri;
Qual ne le sacre selve udir si suole
Dove Austro soffi sibilando e spiri,
O qual, spezzato infra gli scogli e' lidi,
Freme e si lagna il mar con rauchi stridi.

Humble tones, half-restrained words,
the broken sobs and feeble sighs
of people rejoicing in their hearts, and grieving,
now make a murmur whirl in the air
as in sacred woods you may hear
where Auster hissing blows and breathes;
or when, broken between the rocks and shores,
the sea throbs and weeps, shrieking hoarse.

A description of the Crusaders' reaction the first time they see Jerusalem from afar. Their deeply religious feelings are expressed with a quotation from. . .  Dante, Inferno 3.22-30!

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Going to war and asking for forgiveness (but, not the same people)

A translation of two excerpts from an Italian cultural magazine, Riscontri, N. 2/2019, that has just been published. See website.

Nowadays historical criticism has clearly recovered and reevalued the religious inspiration of the [First] Crusade; and Tasso's own standpoint [in Gierusalemme Liberata] appears more and more in line with the current interpretation of the spirit of the Crusade itself, i.e. much more unselfish and deeply religious than was maintained by critics with a positivist approach, who had considered merely or mainly material ends as its ground.
__Guido Tossani, Storia e poesia nella visione tassiana dell’islam, “History and Poetry in Torquato Tasso's Concept of Islam,” pp. 13-33
Women started going to confession more and more often, devoting much time to the practice of penitence, no longer afraid of malevolent looks from bystanders. Between confessors and female penitents a firm link of trust had now been created – as well as of psychological subjection, since the pattern according to which the sacrament was administered to women was definitely authoritarian. The priest led the dialog, and the penitents relied on him as on a father, giving raise to a steady, deep relationship with him. Quite often, in a society ruled by violent males, the confessor meant a saving anchor, or at least, a bulwark for the woman's individuality in a field, sexuality, in which women usually were at the mercy of men.
__Mario Sanseverino, Confessare gli italiani in età moderna, “How to Confess Italians in the Modern Era,” that is, in the Catholic Church in the decades after the Council of Trent, 16th-17th centuries, pp. 89-109

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Let's relax with bear hunt

Torquato Tasso, Gierusalemme Conquistata 3.39

Poi, quasi la vittoria allenti il corso,
Vedi fere cacciar, cacciar augelli
In lieta selva, o dove il molle dorso
Rigan d'un colle i lucidi ruscelli.
Miri Goffredo in fera pugna, e l'orso
Che di sua mano ha sanguinosi i velli;
E di sua mano ancor reciso e tronco,
L'horribil teschio è affisso a verde tronco.

Then, as if Victory had slowed down her running [that is, taking a break before the Crusade], you can now [in the tapestries] see them [the Christian knights] hunting beasts, hunting birds in a pleasant forest, or where gleaming brooks streak the soft back of a hill. You can see Godfrey [of Bouillon] fiercely wrestling, and a bear whose fur is stained with blood by his hands—then, cut and taken off by his hands, its frightening skull hanged to a green [ = mossy?] trunk. Punning on tronco, that means both "cut off" and "trunk," respectively in lines 7 and 8. A more significant ambivalence of the word "trunk" has been used by Neil Gaiman in his epic novel American Gods.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Apollos in Apollo's homeland, sort of

Torquato Tasso, Gierusalemme Conquistata 3.22

Altrove la città vedeasi intesta
A cui diè Costantin l'imperio e 'l nome,
Tre fronti alzando incoronar la testa,
Donna di genti tributarie e dome;
Quivi Goffredo e i duci han d'or la vesta
Sovra l'arme lucenti e d'or le chiome,
Quai Gretia le dipinse al biondo Apollo,
E d'oro hanno il monil, di latte il collo.

Elsewhere woven, you could see the city
To which Constantin gave power and the name,
Her head crowned, raise three foreheads;
The Lady of peoples tributary and tamed.
There Godfrey and the chiefs wear gold
On shining weapons, their hair golden
As depicted by the Greeks to blond Apollo,
And gold their jewels, necks like milk.

The stanza describes one of the episodes shown in the representative tent of Godfrey of Bouillon (a fictional place). Constantinople, or Byzantium, is the current Istanbul in Turkey. The word intesta, literally "woven," may either simply mean "told," or more specifically refer to tapestry -- therefore, not a painting. During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the western world used to identify the Byzantine Empire with "Greece," that explains the reference to Apollo in the description. But possibly, the warriors' features also hint at the Bible, see Song of Songs 4.4, 11, 14, and 7.5, etc., reinterpreted in a homosexual key, as Tasso in fact was.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

A Baroque Ark of Covenant in the 11th century

In Gierusalemme Conquistata 2.80 ff the story of the miraculous finding of the Holy Lance is told. Data about this alleged relic can easily be retrieved online; it is currently past its glory days, anyway. On the basis of some sources of his own time, Torquato Tasso reports the visions that led to the discovery of the Lance during the siege of Antioch in the First Crusade (late 11th century), then describes it in the temporary shrine build inside the Christian encampment. There is an obvious hint at the Biblical Tent of Meeting where the Ark of Covenant was kept, but at the same time, it looks like a Baroque church. The devotion to the Precious Blood of Jesus was a Baroque "must-pray" too.

In mezzo a mille tende un templo s'erge
Con imagini sante e simolacri,
Che si leva e ripone e lustra e terge,
Perch'ivi il sacerdote a Dio consacri:
Quivi Simon di pianto il viso asperge
Al lucente splendor di lumi sacri,
Vista la lancia e 'l pretïoso sangue
Che noi riscosse, e lasciò Cristo essangue.

Among a thousand tents a temple rises, full of sacred pictures and statues; [from time to time] it is dismantled and reassembled, then cleansed and washed, so that the priest may consecrate there [the Eucharist] to God. Here [Bishop] Simon wets his face with tears before the shining brightness of sacred lamps, as he sees the Lance and the precious blood that redeemed us while leaving Christ bloodless.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Moses' messy mystery

Torquato Tasso, Gierusalemme Conquistata 2.45

Poi sale il Monte ove colui da lunge
Il promesso terren vedea mirando,
Ma prima a quel ch'è più vicino ei giunge,
Ove atra nube il circondò portando,
O sia rapto che l'alma a Dio congiunge,
O morte pur di cui si cela il quando.
Così, sparito da l'humana vista,
S'ascose in guisa d'huom ch'il Cielo acquista.

He [a Muslim prince called Corcut] climbs the Mount where [Moses] saw the Promised Land from afar in awe. But, before that, he reaches the nearer mountain, where a dark cloud surrounded him and took him away -- whether it was an abduction that united his soul to God, or death whose "when" has been kept hidden. So, disappearing from human sight, he hid himself as a man who attained Heaven. The speech form "as a man who," a so-called false simile, comes from Dante. Tasso apparently identifies Sinai with the unknown place where Moses died, and moreover mixes the episode with Prophet Elijah's ascension and Jesus' Transfiguration.

Friday, August 2, 2019

On holy tour in bloody places

Torquato Tasso, Gierusalemme Conquistata 2.47
Retrieving old posts, but with (hopefully) improvements in the translation, and new notes.

Questi il paese il qual dintorno ha cinto
L'alta città dove al Sepolchro huom poggia;
E la valle cercò di Terebinto
Là dove giacque in disusata foggia
L'empio Golia dal buon fanciullo estinto;
E 'l fero monte in cui rugiada o pioggia
Non destillò poi ch'a Saul fu tronco
Il nobil capo, e 'l busto affisso al tronco.

He [a character called "Floridoro" in the manuscript, and "Celebino" in the published text] searched the land surrounding the high city, where by walking uphill you reach the [Holy] Sepulcher; and the Valley of Terebinth [ = Valley of Elah in English Bibles] where, in an exotic armor, the ungodly Goliath had lain, killed by the good boy [David]; and the desolate mountain on which dew or rain didn't fall anymore since Saul's noble head was cut off, and his bust hanged to a tree. With a pun, tronco meaning both "cut off" and "tree trunk." Saul's body, however, was fastened by the Philistines to the walls of Beth-shan, not to a tree (1 Samuel 31). For the dew and rain "no more falling" on the place of his death, see 2 Samuel 1.21, also quoted by Dante in Purgatorio 12,40-2.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

A news report called "Satires"

Renaissance craftsmanship

Between 1517 and 1525, Ludovico Ariosto -- the author of the most important long poem of the early Renaissance, Orlando Furioso -- sent his Satire, sort of  "letters in verse," to relatives and friends on the occasion of key changes in his life. Their length is in the order of 200 to 300 lines, in terzine (groups of three lines) like the Divine Comedy: a feature that, at the same time, makes the satires more solemn, and plays wittily with Dante's poem. That's precisely like Ariosto. The underlying model, as for the general mood, was the Latin poet Horace.

Though covering a relatively short span in the author's lifetime, the Satire provide a basically complete view on his own biography. Ariosto in fact expanded the starting point both backward and in other directions, adding insights into his earlier years, even childhood, as well as into the surrounding society. Free from the high-sounding praises that were mandatory in official poems, here he could describe the authorities, Dukes, Cardinals, Popes, exactly as he saw them; and, his portraits are definitely not glorious. Interestingly enough, even if Ariosto worked for the Este court in Ferrara, he often refers to the lords of Florence, the Medici, of whom he happened to have a personal knowledge, two Popes included: Leo X and Clemens VII. In spite of this, or rather, because of this, their glory comes out debunked. But, these poems are also rich in details about everyday life, from studies in humanities to women's cosmetics, from the ubiquitous bribing to food, from physical handicap (his brother Gabriel) to the priests' sex and his own secret love, from fairy tales to the job as a commissioner in a problematic area (Garfagnana), the 'workplace' Ariosto was appointed to for three years.

Yeah, the fact is, his Este lords were not very interested in Ariosto's skills as a poet, so he had to deal with all sorts of court duties. Throughout the satires, an original reuse is made of materials from classical sources, Dante, Renaissance culture. Unexpected guests pop up, e.g. Martin Luther, with whom he feels "not much indignant / because, when the intellect soars high / to see God, it should not seem strange / if it sometimes falls, blind or disoriented" (6.45-8). He wrote this in 1524 or 1525, when Luther had already been excommunicated.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Art, women, Bible, desecrations

click to enlarge

The collage starts from a video installation on a lesser Baroque artist, Cesare Franchi aka "il Pollino." The woman on the left (but on the right on the original screen) has been modified to make her look a little more like. . . a woman, since small breast, double chin, and half baldness kept her a bit too far from our ideals. Small breast and double chin, however, together with large hips, did belong to the canons of female beauty in some Renaissance circles -- it is important to stress "some," eh? Think of Rubens.

At the same time, the picture pays tribute to a desecrating tradition that in Italian poetry and art started from the Middle Ages, then was developed by Ludovico Ariosto and Giambattista Marino, continued by Giuseppe Gioachino Belli in the 19th century, then obviously by many authors in the 20th and 21st centuries. The subject, in the digital collage though not in the original miniature, is the wedding night of Tobias and Sarah, from the Book of Tobit in the Bible; more precisely, Catholic Bibles, since the book, as relatively recent, was rejected first by the Jewish Rabbis and later by the Protestant Churches. This notwithstanding, it was quoted by John Milton in Paradise Lost 4.166-71. Because of its devout attitude, the Book of Tobit was often used as a source for Catholic art in the 16th and 17th centuries. Here, with a 'Blakean' twist, it is supposed that Sarah, all in all, preferred the devil Asmodeus to her all too good husband Tobias.

But, with a sad final note: Cesare "Pollino" Franchi was sentenced to death in Perugia, then in the Papal States, because of a murder he had committed. It was 1595, the same year in which Torquato Tasso died.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

By Jove! That is Milton!

from a vintage illustration
for Paradise Lost

In Giovanni Pascoli's Hymn to Rome, 1911, originally written in Latin, one of the most fascinating sections deals with the Roman gods being replaced by Christ. Their idols, that have been thrown away and lie in warehouses, grumble. Jupiter starts a speech that is apparently inspired by Satan's orations in John Milton's Paradise Lost, especially from Book (= canto) 2, plus perhaps Paradise Regained 4.382-8.
“O you, the once powerful in sky, earth, and Hades!
We were. Now chased from our kingdom, we fled, but
still can hope in turnovers. This parvenu god to whom
we unwillingly gave way: a refugee, misshapen, poor,     Isaiah 52.14
whose throne is an evil cross, and crown the thorns. . .”

But suddenly, quite rudely, the former lord of Olympus is interrupted by the ancient Carmenta, goddess of prophecy, who states that the new religion will never fall in its turn because “He is human suffering, the only immortal god among all of us.”
Pascoli himself then translated the poem into Italian, often modifying it through cuts or expansions. Here, the sentence Regno depulsi fugimus ipsi, “Chased from the kingdom, we ourselves fled,” is developed by further stressing the meaning of ipsi, “we ourselves, we too.” So the Italian version literally reads: “We chased others from the throne, now someone else chases us.” In this case, however, the parallel with Paradise Lost is lost.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

The bible of Baroque poetry is in the Bible

collage by ilTM

Giambattista Marino's long poem Adone, published in 1623, is one of the main sources of inspiration for this blog. But it took rereading John Milton to realize that Adonis is 'mentioned' in the Bible, namely Ezekiel 8.14 (KJV): "Then he [God] brought me to the door of the gate of the Lord's house which was toward the north; and, behold, there sat women weeping for Tammuz."
And this is how Milton translates, paraphrases and explains the Prophet's verse in Paradise Lost 1.446-57, since the story of god Tammuz is considered a variation on the same myth, and Adonis was used as the name of a river, nowadays Abraham River in Lebanon:
. . . Thammuz came next behind,
Whose annual wound in Lebanon allur’d
The Syrian Damsels to lament his fate
In amorous dittyes all a Summers day,
While smooth Adonis from his native Rock
Ran purple to the Sea, suppos’d with blood
Of Thammuz yearly wounded: the Love-tale
Infected Sions daughters with like heat,
Whose wanton passions in the sacred Porch
Ezekiel saw, when by the Vision led
His eye survay’d the dark Idolatries
Of alienated Judah. . . .
P.S. Since the first letter in the Biblical name of the Mesopotamian god is Tau, not Teth, by spelling it "Thammuz" Milton, who knew Hebrew, followed a different criterion for thansliteration than the currently used one.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Fairy days for Future

by Selkis (site)


Often revolutionary and ahead of his time, John Milton already showed this feature in his early masque Comus, of 1634. Here are two interesting details. For a starter (lines 447 ff), an interpretation of the myth of Medusa as would be proposed by Sigmund Freud:
What was that snaky-headed Gorgon shield
That wise Minerva wore, unconquered virgin,
Wherewith she freezed her foes to congealed stone,
But rigid looks of chaste austerity. . .?

Later on (lines 768 ff), we hear a call to ecology and social justice much before Greta Thunberg:
If every just man that now pines with want
Had but a moderate and beseeming share
Of that which lewdly-pampered Luxury
Now heaps upon some few with vast excess,
Nature's full blessings would be well-dispensed
In unsuperfluous even proportion. . .

In a 1645 sonnet in praise of Henry Lawes, who wrote the music for Comus, Milton would even say:
Dante shall give Fame leave to set thee higher
Than his Casella, whom he wooed to sing,
Met in the milder shades of Purgatory.

That materially is a mistake because Dante met Casella not in the upper woods of the island/mountain of purgatory, but at the very beginning while still on the shore (canto 2). The mistake anyway is revealing, as Milton would find inspiration for his own Eden in Paradise Lost precisely in Dante's natural descriptions in the second cantica of the Divine Comedy.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Off Topic: Cave canem, et saurum


Shotaro Ishinimori's 1971 manga Genshi shonen Ryu, "Ryu the Cave Boy," has been published in Italy. Better late than never. A famous TV cartoon was based on it in the 1970s, that is among the dear memories of many people of my generation. But on some rare occasions, like this, reality is better than memory. In fact, the TV version simplified the story quite drastically, not only by making Ryu's adventures less brilliant than in the original comic, but also by having the episodes actually set in the Stone Age, though with dinosaurs, or rather one dinosaur in the neighborhood: the super-villain. It was called "Tiràno" in the Italian dubbing, but its name was simply "Saur/Reptile," that sounds like ryu in Japanese. The Doppelganger and nemesis of the cave boy. Powerful and fierce, but only loosely resembling a tyrannosaur, Saur rather pays tribute to Godzilla.

Ryu's time, anyway, is much more complex, at the same time prehistoric and not. In 550 pages, Shotaro Ishinomori succeeds in assembling a lot of 1960s must-sees, from Atlantis to the Yeti, from the Earth just recently photographed from space to the UFOs, to the mysteries in the Inca temples. Some scenes may have influenced Jurassic Park. Witty references and humor are interwoven with heroism and tragedy. Very interesting are the literary and artistic sources reworked by the author, including western ones such as E. R. Burrough's Tarzan, Walt Disney's Fantasia, and -- the true surprise -- H. Melville's Moby Dick. Not only does Kiba, the hero's adversary then right-hand man, remind us of Queequeg, but, moreover. . .