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Friday, October 31, 2014

What about Armida? (1)

[6: 92]

Hey, had anybody forgotten about her? ---> the previous episodes

Di procurar fratanto il suo soccorso
Non cessò mai l'ingannatrice rea
C'humilïato havrebbe il cor d'un orso,
Tanto l'ingegno e la beltà potea.
Ma quando i suoi destrier sospinse al corso
La Notte, che 'l gran carro in ciel volgea,
Ella hebbe tregua di sospir co 'l sole,
Qual donna c'honestate honora e cole.

Meanwhile, the evil deceiver did not stop
To pursue her own her purposes -- she
Who could tame the heart of a bear,
So powerful were her mind and beauty.
But as soon as the Night galloped her steeds
Turning her chariot throughout the sky,
And the sun set, Armida also ended her sighs
Like(*) a woman who did honor decency.

(*) that's not the same as "as"

P.S. A timely return, today that is Halloween ^////^

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Un(s)even: Gnosticism

(a bit cropped)

Tasso was, in theory, against this old and new doctrine assuming an evil God as the Creator of the material world, but at same points in the poem he goes quite close to it.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Un(s)even: the Holy Trinity

(a bit cropped)

The new English version of Torquato Tasso's long poem Il Mondo Creato will have two series of illustrations: bigger ones, summarizing a whole Canto (like the ones that have been shown so far), and smaller ones, referring to specific episodes. Here's the very first picture, as the poem starts with an ode to the Holy Trinity. The Greek lettering ΛΟΓΟΣ means Logos, the Word.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Don't name the messenger (3)

[6: 91]

A ragion (dico) le superbe corna
Fiaccò del folle e temerario orgoglio,
Tal ch'ogni suo nemico hor se ne scorna;
Ma se 'l bando obliò, di ciò mi doglio -.
- Vada (disse Goffredo), e se non torna,
Ei fa gran senno; et erri. Io qui non voglio
Che sparga seme tu di nuove liti:
Deh, sian gli sdegni vostri anco forniti -.

[Rupert speaks] "Rightly, I say, did Richard break the proud horns(*) of that furious and rash self-conceit, so much so that all his enemies have now gotten off their high horses. I am only sorry that he forgot your order." (**) 
"So, let him go," said Godfrey. "Let him be wandering; if he does not come back, it will be a wise choice. But I don't want you to saw the seeds of new clashes here: let the wrath of you both calm down!" (***)

(*) A solemn Biblical expression. Tasso will ironically echo it by adding, with a popular saying, that now Richard's enemies are scornati, literally "hornless"; it has been rendered as "getting off one's high horse."
(**) Forbidding duels in the Christian camp.
(***) In stanza 90, Rupert had declared that he was ready to "show, with this hand of mine," that Richard was right. The word forniti in the sense of appeased, ended, etc., -- referring to wrath -- comes from Dante; in current Italian it means something being provided, supplied.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Un(s)even: Day Seven, by dhr

(a detail)

In describing the Armageddon, Tasso presents the angels -- coming to rescue the righteous and take them to heaven -- as pilots of flying vehicles. Sort of UFOs already appeared in both his Jerusalem-poems: they were based on the super-powered "clouds" of classical mythology, but highlighting the sci-fi element in a surprisingly modern way.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Don't name the messenger (2)

[6: 87-88] Talking to Guelf, or rather Tancred, or rather Rupert, Godfrey once again stresses that he cannot justify Richard's behavior. The young Norman will have to submit, and accept to be imprisoned -- with the only privilege of coming himself freely, instead of being arrested.

[6: 89]

Così disse, e Ruperto a lui rispose:
- Anima non potea, d'infamia schiva,
Ascoltar le parole ingiurïose
E non farne repulsa ove l'udiva.
E se 'l duro adversario a morte ei pose,
Chi è che 'l segno a giusta ira prescriva?
Chi conta i colpi, o la dovuta offesa,
Mentre arde la tenzon, misura e pesa?

So spoke Godfrey; and Rupert replied, "An infamy-shunning soul could not listen to those insulting words [by Gernand] without rejecting them on the very spot. And yes, he did kill his fierce adversary, but who can fix a limit to just wrath? Who can count the strokes, or measure and weight how many attacks be allowed as long as the battle rages?"

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Un(s)even: Day Seven, by Selkis

(a detail)

The seventh day in Genesis refers to God's rest, but Tasso uses Canto 7 of his poem Il Mondo Creato to deal with the end of the world, that in traditional theological parlance would be the eighth day, and to throw in a number of subjects or explanations he had 'forgotten' to say in the previous Cantos. In practice, a mess that is the epitome of the Tassean worldview, including a lot of very interesting things.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

An Inkling in Italy

Dino Buzzati, Il segreto del Bosco Vecchio, Milan: Oscar Mondadori, 2010, pages 152, euros 8.40. The title means "The Old-Wood Secrets," but unfortunately it looks like no English edition exists.

Written in 1934, when Buzzati was only 28 years old, it already displays that deep melancholy that would become one of his main literary -- and not only literary -- traits in his later years. And precisely this is one of the features making Buzzati's fantasy books different from Tolkien's and Lewis', which were being worked on by the two Britons in those same years. Admittedly, Tolkien's stories (or episodes, in The Lord of the Rings) also are often gloomy, but in a different mood: the horror of the battlefield or the black mantel of cosmic evil, rather than the partially sweet sadness of autumn sunsets, the feeling of vanishing ideals and joys.

This highlights the main difference between Buzzati, on the one side, and the Inklings, on the other: the former had no Christian faith. Not that he was anti-Christian, but his references to religion are taken from everyday folklore rather than from the Bible, as it especially happens with Lewis. Buzzati's fantasy characters and events are not the vehicles of a renewed revelation, but the phenomena of a world that shows itself as merry and grim, exciting and boring, playful and cruel, but to no final purpose except death. The Divine is only invoked in cries of wrath or desperation: "By God!," "Madonna!"

A consequence on his fantasy imagery is that, instead of re-shaping the traditional themes: wizards, dragons, etc., as the Inklings do, he creates his own mythology, though of course on the basis of ancient lore. For example, in Il segreto del Bosco Vecchio the age-old trees are inhabited by sprites who can appear in human shape, magically heal wounds, and who die if their trees are felled; in practice, something midway the dryads and the elves, but they are called genî, Geniuses (jinns), and simply look like resigned villagers, sharing nothing of the majesty, beauty, light, superiority of Tolkien's elves. Or again, the Five Nightmares remind us of Surrealism or Japanese spectres, rather than Medieval fairy tales.

What remains unconveyable in this English summary is Buzzati's language, style, and atmospheres, that are deeply Italian, and more specifically, they witness that cultural transition in Italy when the Technological -- and "vulgar" -- Era was not yet there but coming soon, ready to 'fell' not simply the old words but a whole world.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Don't name the messenger (1)

[6: 86]

Poi che partendo il cavalier feroce
Da' cari amici suoi prese congedo,
Non indugia Ruperto, anzi veloce
Va dove estima ritrovar Goffredo.
Lo qual, come lui vide, alza la voce:
- Signor (dicendo), a punto hor te richiedo,
E mandato pur dianzi a ricercarti
Haveva i nostri araldi in varie parti -.

After the fierce knight (Richard) has gone away taking leave of his dear friends, Rupert(*) does not tarry, he indeed hurries where he thinks he may find Godfrey. And as soon as the latter sees him, he speaks and says, "Milord, I was precisely in need of you, I had just sent our heralds to look for you everywhere."

(*) This is the name we read in the printed version, but the manuscript had "Tancred," showing, once again, that only in the second place did Tasso decide to introduce the new character Rupert, with all the premises and consequences.
Usually, when such discrepancies occur in Gerusalemme Conquistata, the older text version simply echoed the wording of Gerusalemme Liberata, but this is not the case: in fact, in the corresponding passage in GL (5: 53), the messenger who here met Godfrey was not Tancred but Guelfo/Guelf, a member of the German branch of the Este family, and fictionally the uncle of Rinaldo -- who meanwhile has been renamed into Riccardo/Richard. Guelf was based on a historical personage, who however did not take part in the Crusade, probably.
Summing it up, the man who pleaded on behalf of Richard was (1) his good uncle, then (2) his best friend, and finally (3) his secret lover. A quite significant shift.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Un(s)even: Day Six, by Selkis

(a detail)

A picture with a true Renaissance feature: anachronism. Or rather, mono-chronism: All times are One. Tasso himself was already interested in such 'anachronistically' future fields of research as geology and evolution.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Man's-Necklace Yew ("Torquato Tasso" in English)

To avoid the 'swamps' of standard Italian Tasso criticism, one has to go back to Giacomo Leopardi's 19th century Dialogues (see) or read essays written by foreign scholars. For example, very interesting are the -- however brief -- remarks on Tasso made by CS Lewis while studying Milton in A Preface to Paradise Lost. Here the Italian poet is not described as a madman nor as the author of 'unbearably boring Christian stuff' as it is often the case in this neighborhood, but as the learned and brilliant poet he was, together with a lot of precious materials on Renaissance culture in general. Dante also is dealt with by Lewis in a quite different manner from the standard pattern in Dante's home country.

It is really a pity that Lewis seems to be familiar only with the Gerusalemme Liberata and not the Conquistata, let alone Il Mondo Creato, otherwise his cross-references with Milton would have been even more poignant, though probably his admiration for Tasso might have dimished. On the other hand, A Preface to Paradise Lost is highly recommendable for its insights into a number of different subjects, from the Church Fathers to Napoleon to the Disney cartoon movies.

Friday, October 17, 2014

A temporary farewell to arms (7)

[6: 85]

Parte, e porta un desio d'eterna et alma
Gloria ch'a nobil core è sferza e sprone;
A magnanime imprese intenta ha l'alma,
E pensa di trionfi e di corone,
E tra feri nemici o morte o palma
Per la fede acquistar d'aspra tenzone;
Veder le porte Caspie e gli aspri monti
Del Caucaso, e del Nil l'ascose fonti.

He leaves, longing for an eternal and noble(*)
Glory which is the heart's lash and spur.
His soul aims at magnanimous enterprises:
He thinks about triumphs and crowns,
About gaining death or victory for Faith
With hard battles among fierce enemies;
Seeing the Caspian gates, the rugged mounts
Of Caucasus, the hidden springs of the Nile.

(*) Actually alma meant "life-giving," from the Latin verb alere, to feed; see "aliment." But, as a matter of fact, in poetry it finished by meaning any noble connotation of anything. Cf. alma Roma in Dante's Inferno 2: 20, simply translated as "great Rome" by Longfellow. Here, moreover, Tasso makes a pun between alma as an adjective and the noun alma as a poetical form of anima, soul. Incidentally, alma does mean "soul" in Spanish.
Richard is a good example of the so-called "restlessness (and annexed bellicosity) of the Indo-Europeans," though the events will soon take a different turn.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Never mess with God


Gnosticism coming true: The "God of this world" took his revenge against Blake by making his revolutionary ideas look like commonplace in the current, shallow religious market . . .

He anyway stands out as possibly the greatest master of illustration, both with big subjects (the Bible, Milton, etc.) and with 'secondary' authors; a job that did not absolutely clip his wings, but showed what the art of illustration can achieve by expressing one's own soul, skills, and favorite imagery at the same time as one adorns and exalts the work of somebody else.

Werner Hofmann (ed.), William Blake, the catalog of an exhibition held in Hamburg, Germany, in 1975, Munich: Prestel Verlag, pages 248, cm 23 x 24, with more than 200 pictures -- of which only 16 in color, unfortunately -- showing basically all of his art.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Un(s)even: Day Six, by dhr

(a detail)

Adam as . . .  Tasso won't show you. In his de-constructivist approach in Il Mondo Creato, Man is handled as a laboratory specimen to be examined: his sense organs, lungs, etc. Adam has no personality of his own, he won't even say a word except one quotation from the Bible. And yet, Tasso provides a revolutionary insight into original sin.

Some more literary references here.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

A temporary farewell to arms (6)

[6: 83, Richard speaks]

Ma restar non m'è dato e non mi lice,
Né condur meco voi nel grave essiglio.
E prego che reggiate ambo in mia vice
Le genti che Lucia promette al figlio;
E 'n più nobile impresa e più felice
Vittoria habbiate: io cerco altro periglio,
Né so quel ch'averrà di rischio in rischio,
O se Fortuna pur m'attende al vischio.

"But it is not granted me to stay, nor can I --
Nor(*) to bring you with me in my sad exile.
I ask you both, please, to rule in my place
The people that Lucy(**) promised her son.
May you be the winners in a nobler
And happier enterprise: I take another risk,
Ignoring what will happen in so many chances,
Or whether Fortune waits for me with birdlime."

(*) In the final printed version, was changed into the preposition di, so that the sentence is plainer: "But staying is not granted me, nor can I bring you with me . . ."
(**) His mother, who will pop up in the final part of the poem -- and, quite unexpectedly, in a sci-fi context.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Beyond Tasso's wildest dreams


Tasso was absolutely fond of sea life and sea mysteries. He would die to see this!

William Beebe, Mille metri sott'acqua [orig. tit. Half Mile Down], Milan: Editore Valentino Bompiani, 1935, pages XXV + 384, cm 16.5 x 24 x 4.5, with 124 pictures (i.e. b&w ones, both photos and drawings) and 12 color illustrations (mainly by Else Bostelmann, wonderful)

Supplier: Nuova Atlantide Antique Bookstore

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Sunday Guest: Dino Buzzati


Oil on cardboard, 35 x 25 cm, painted in 1957. The hand-written text all along the frame reads: In Saluzzo(*) there was a giant tree, of an unknown species, at whose feet, in the fitting evenings, the phantoms gathered to celebrate their usual rites. It was 43 meters high from top to base, and 44 meters from base to top!

(*) A small town in Piedmont, N-W Italy, whose national fame comes from having been the hometown to Silvio Pellico, a 19th century patriot. Moreover, Piedmont has a rich lore as for witches, etc. Dino Buzzati (Belluno, 1906 - Milan, 1972) has been the most important fantasy writer and artist in 20th century Italy.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Un(s)even: Day Five, dy dhr

(a detail)

Dealing with the creation of fish and birds, Tasso, in a surprisingly modern scientific attitude, highlights the anatomical analogies between the two Classes, their differences being caused -- on the other hand -- by different diets and the respective ways to get their food. As a matter of fact, this "jump forward" is but the consequence of a typical Renaissance "jump backward" into the works of Classical Antiquity, maybe via the Church Fathers.

Friday, October 10, 2014

A temporary farewell to arms (5)

[6: 82, Richard speaks]

- O fratello, e compagno amato e caro,
Me lungi porterà cavallo o barca
Da questo campo, ov'il mio Duce avaro,
Anzi il mio fato ha man severa e parca;
Né forse havrò più dì sereno e chiaro,
Né per me bianco filo invida Parca
Dove a te si recida; e son vicine
L'hore del pianto e 'l troppo acerbo fine.

"Oh, brother, and you dear, beloved comrade, (*)
A horse or a ship will now take me far away (**)
From this Camp, where my stern Captain,
Or rather my Fate has a severe, sparing hand.
Maybe I will enjoy no more clear, serene days,
Nor will the envious Parca have any thread
Left for me after cutting yours; (***) close at hand
Is the time of weeping, the too bitter end."

(*) As we already know, Rupert is Richard's (be)loved comrade/mate in the 'strong' sense of the term. But this becomes clear only on second reading.
(**) Oddly enough, although these verses have been added by Tasso in Gerusalemme Conquistata, the reference to a ship would have fitted in with the Liberata, not here.
(***) Richard means his own death, but actually forebodes Rupert's: a tragedy that will activate the events in the whole final section of the poem. In part, and in a very different context, Richard's words echo St. Paul's farewell discourse in Acts of the Apostles 20: 22-25.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

When Fantasy Met Science Fiction


A whole set of illustrations on CS Lewis' SF+fantasy novel Perelandra can be seen here.
The shift from fantasy to science fiction took place precisely in the Renaissance, when e.g. Ludovico Ariosto in his long poem Orlando Furioso described a duel, set in the 8th century, in which one of the knights used a rifle.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

A temporary farewell to arms (4)

[80: 7 - 81: 8]

Qui giunge anchora Eustatio, e i detti approva,
E vuol che senza indugio indi si mova.

Ai lor consigli la sdegnosa mente
De l'ardito garzon si volge e piega,
Tal che, cedendo, di partire repente
Lunge dal campo a' fidi suoi non nega.
Molta intanto vi tragge amica gente,
E seco andarne ogn'un procura e prega.
Ei Ruperto e 'l fratel ricusa anchora,
E 'n disparte con lor si lagna e plora:
. . .

Eustace(*) also has come, and approves of those words; and he urges Richard to leave without delay. To their advice the haughty mind(**) of the bold young man does pay attention, so much so that he gives in, and does not deny his faithful comrades the plan of going immediately away from the Camp. Meanwhile many friends have gathered there, each of them begging Richard to let them come along. But he does not even accept Rupert or his own brother, while complaining and crying with them aside: . . .

(*) Godfrey of Bouillon's lesser brother, as well as a member of the mercenary troops, of which Richard should have been appointed the leader. Precisely the clash with Gernand for that leadership, that ended with the killing of Gernand in a brawl, is the reason of Richard's "exile." See the posts titled Rebel With a Cause (click)
(**) The phrase sdegnosa mente recalls Dante's self-description as alma sdegnosa, "haughty/disdainful soul," in Inferno 8: 44.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Sunday Guest: Christian the Pilgrim

Christian vs Apollyon

John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress, possibly written about 1676, is imho one of the most fascinating works in Western literature. It may suffice to remember that it inspired a lot of episodes in Tolkien's and CS Lewis' novels.

As a starting point, it might have just been an edifying allegory after the manner of Medieval theater; but Bunyan succeeded in making his characters as lively and captivating as even Dante seldom did (the dialogue in Inferno 27: 112-123 is a masterpiece, but the allegorical women in Purgatorio 31: 103 ff look quite 'cold'). Moreover, in The Pilgrim's Progress the religious symbols coming from the Bible are reworked in a fantasy narrative style, see devils, dragons, giants, knights, witches. The Pilgrimage here has nothing to do with NewAgeish stuff and its sugary and harmless wisdom: though not without a perfectly British sense of humor, it confronts the reader with the hardness of the Cross, which is hardly compatible with "this world." The Second Part, telling the adventures of Christian's wife Christiana, is even more interesting insofar as the events of the First Part are "re-counted" with many significant changes, and the whole atmosphere has become different, permeated with the memory of a man who is now known to be dead.

This is another book that is basically impossible to find in Italy / in Italian.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Un(s)even: Day Four, by dhr

(a detail)

Question: Do the Sun, stars, etc., move because of physical laws, or because Spirits drive them? The philosopher of science Paul Feyerabend was right when he said, against Popper, that new theories do not provide "better" answers, they simply delete old questions. As to Tasso, he made no clear choice between the two cosmological patterns.

Friday, October 3, 2014

A temporary farewell to arms (3)

[6: 79]

Ma se nova prigion tu pur ricusi
E del severo imperio il grave pondo,
E seguir vuoi l'opinïoni e gli usi
Che per legge d'honore approva il mondo,
Io sarò quel che ti difenda e scusi.
Tu lontano ricovra a Boemondo,
Ch'ivi secura anchor d'ingrato oltraggio
Splenderà tua virtù con vivo raggio.

[Tancred speaks to Richard:] "But if you reject this unprecedented jailing and the excessive weight of a stern command, and choose rather to follow the opinions and customs which the world accepts as the Law of Honor, I will be the one who will defend and excuse you. You meanwhile seek refuge far from here, at Bohemond's(*) Court, where your valor will vividly shine, safe from any odious outrage."

(*) Norman prince, the eldest son of Robert Guiscard; he had conquered Antioch and now ruled it. In Tasso's poem, Antioch is often described as a safe place . . .  but, for one reason or another, nobody -- let alone Richard -- ever goes there to find shelter. Noticeably, Tancred first tries to instill Christian principles in Richard, then resorts to the "law of honor," that was much more deeply felt, and not only among soldiers. See even Dante, Inferno 29: 18 ff.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Renaissance as a Golden Age


This item of goldsmithery comes from 16th century Germany. The upper part of the cup is not a shell nor a coconut, though both materials were actually used for this kind of objects; it is part of the horn of a rhinoceros. Not by chance, both rhino horns and big exotic shells and Indian coconuts (that however were considered sea fossils) and eagle claws were linked with medical and/or magic powers.

This leads us to the discovery of a "truer" Renaissance, i.e. not the one conveyed by the art of Raphael, Leonardo Da Vinci, and Michelangelo, as it usually the case, that means classical or Biblical (but classically shaped) personages clad in 16th century clothing. The Renaissance -- as it is clearly shown in the long poem Il Mondo Creato by our friend Torquato Tasso -- in its marrow was an era of questioning, experiments, paradoxes, ambiguity, irrationality, or rather, different and alternative but coexisting patterns of understanding.

The picture above is taken from the book Di natura e d'invenzione. Fantasie orafe dal Rinascimento al Barocco [From Nature and Invention: Fantasies in Gold, Renaissance to Baroque], the catalogue of an exhibition that took place in Arezzo, Italy, in 1993, showing some 40 works of craftsmanship.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Un(s)even: Day Four, by Selkis

(a detail)

The Biblical account on the origin of the universe may sound "primitive," absurd, etc., from a scientific viewpoint, but on the other hand it is very modern, or rather post-modern, insofar as it is non-intuitive: stars and galaxies are the fourth thing appearing, not the first. Tasso underscores the paradox by saying that the Sun is younger than the grass.
Indeed, among his many jobs, Tasso had even been an Astronomy Professor. He did not accept the Copernican revolution (that anyway had not yet become a "case": Galileo Galilei would make it break out later on), or rather, he did not accept its "letter" but its "spirit," in the sense that in Il Mondo Creato man is no longer the center of the universe.