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Friday, September 30, 2016

Whatcha gonna do now, Tancred? (6)

[16: 38]

Né sotto l'arme già sentir gli parve
Caldo o fervor come di foco intenso;
Ma pur se fosser vere fiamme o larve
Mal poté giudicar sì tosto il senso:
Perché repente, a pena toccò, sparve
Quel simolacro, e giunse un nuvol denso
Che portò notte e verno; e 'l verno anchora
Si dileguò con l'ombra in picciola hora.

Nor did it seem to him, under the armor,
To feel the heat of any powerful fire.
But whether those flames were true or fake,
His own senses had no time to verify:
Suddenly, as soon as he touched it, that
Image disappeared, and a thick cloud came,
Which brought night and cold -- and the very cold (*)
Vanished with its shadows in a moment.

(*) With a faint echo from Dante, Inferno 3: 87.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

100 new pics for Dante

Inferno 1: Forest Gump

In the Flickr folder DantEsq. (go) a new series of illustrations is being published that will represent all 100 cantos of the Divine Comedy in a modern key. The folder will be updated every day or so, as regularly as possible anyway. Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Whatcha gonna do now, Tancred? (5)

[16: 37, Tancred speaks]

Pur, gli altri che diran? S'indarno io riedo,
Quale altra selva ho di troncar speranza?
Né intentato lasciar vorrà Goffredo
Mai questo varco: hor, s'oltre alcun s'avanza?
Forse l'incendio, che quo sorto io vedo,
Fia d'effetto minor che di sembianza.
Ma sia che può; se fosse ancor l'inferno,
Io 'l passo! - O degno adir di nome eterno!

"But, what will they say? If I fail and go
Back, which other wood will I ever fell?
Nor will Godfrey leave this opportunity
Unattempted. . . So, what about advancing? (*)
Maybe this fire that I see here burning
Will actually prove weaker than it seems. (**)
So be it. It might be hell itself: I go!"
Oh bravery deserving eternal fame! (***)

(*) In Gerusalemme Liberata the wording was the same, but with a plainer punctuation: Hor, s'oltre alcun s'avanza, forse l'incendio. . ., "Now, if you move forward, maybe this fire. . ." Is the new punctuation simply a matter of style, or does it suggest a different meaning? That is, "Now, what about somebody else advancing [and acquiring glory instead of me]? Well, maybe this fire. . ."
(**) See, in part, Dante, Purgatorio 27, especially lines 16-18, 25-27.
(***) Possibly ironic, in the light of the following events.

Monday, September 26, 2016

But O O O O that Shakespearean Troy

by ilT + Selkis

One of the great cultural achievements of the Renaissance was the rediscovery of Homer's "original" poems in Greek (thanks to Byzantine scholars who fled from the Turkish Conqueror) in Western Europe. This Homeric material, soon translated into Latin, was then reused in a number of manners. Torquato Tasso, for example, stuffed his Gerusalemme Conquistata with a lot of new episodes -- not included in the Liberata -- directly borrowed from the Iliad, as well as the Aeneid. Riccardo (Richard), the Conquistata version of the Liberata hero Rinaldo, is patterned after Achilles in both his rage and his bisexuality; that were, incidentally, two features of Tasso, too.

William Shakespeare choose a completely different approach in his unconventional drama Troilus and Cressida, written probably in 1600 or 1601 but fully appreciated only after World War II. He drew on the Homeric texts but especially on Medieval lore to create a story that, while perfectly a Renaissance one in its courtesy, humor, and armors, recalls Homer because of its fierceness, the omnipotence of Fate and, in depth, a feeling of desperation. The drama also contains what is possibly one of the best puns in literature, which summarizes the whole plot and, more than that, might convey the Late Renaissance worldview in general: Ariachne's broken woof.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

The 7 Days of CryAction 4: 722-801

Tiny data can describe
everything that exists on earth
and in the sea and sky
(unlike infinite numbers
that division can’t diminish).
Now, who dares digitize
the list of pure intellects?
Don’t you mark how many
[730] rays the sun has, while
is itself one ray of Ra?
How many resplendent rays
how many spiritual sparks
develop from Divinity!
No tongue no thought can
express the endless number
of transcendent trains.
Surely some high reason
moved the Maker to
[740] make more perfect
creatures than defective.
The fierce beasts are few
in the solitary forests
and impervious valleys
while hundreds of herds
and flocks in the fields
follow their shepherds.
Adam’s descendants
occupy Europe and Earth
[750] that is a small mass
compared with the cosmos.
And heaven hosts more
inhabitants than stars,
and almost not content
with its first settlers
it welcomes immigrants
from muddy mundus,
offering them a home
guiding them and adding
[760] them to its towns.
Adam’s cursed children
are actually not aliens:
heavenly is the origin
of their souls, serenely
heading back home
from the dark dwelling
of this poor pilgrimage.
Man’s fleshly figure
comes from Adamic mud
[770] but he became re-born
in baptism and Pneuma
and as a honored heir
asks for the Iron Crown.
Wait, I’m carried away
by philanthropy beforehand!
Let’s go on considering
the circuit of sidera
whose appointed starters
are those sublime minds—
[780] not as a psyche proper
but a steering charioteer.
Thence the sky’s motions
either right to left or
the other way round,
where “right” implies East
the spring of Sky One
that then draws all others
in spite of themselves.
Left” I call the West
[790] the origin of all others:
the sun looks easterly simply
because of the tractor beam
that heads it back home.
In one light-and-dark day
the first sphere completes
one wheel, while the others
circle contrariwise
like an insect that settles
on a moving millstone
[800] and meanwhile walks
slowly against the stream.

(to be continued on Oct. 2)

Friday, September 23, 2016

Whatcha gonna do now, Tancred? (4)

[16: 36]

Allor s'arretra, e dubbio alquanto resta:
- Che giovan qui (dicendo) o forze od armi?
Fra gli artigli de' mostri e 'n gola a questa
Devoratrice fiamma andrò a gettarmi?
Non mai la vita, ove cagione honesta
Del comun pro la chieda, altri risparmi,
Né prodigo ancor sia d'anima grande:
E tal è ben, se qui la versa e spande.

Then he withdraws and remain uncertain,
Saying, "Can strength or weapons here avail?
Shall I throw myself into monsters' claws
Or into the mouth of devouring fire?
Where the sound reason of Common Good
Requires it, let nobody spare his life,
But not even waste(*) a great soul, either!
And such it would be, by being shed here."

(*) In the final printed text, the Italian adjective prodigo, literally "prodigal, lavish" (with one's own soul) was changed into troppo largo: a synonym, probably chosen because prodigo could -- and can -- also be meant in a positive sense as "very, very generous."
Tancred's doubt would sound like a vulgar excuse in the mouth of a knight less valiant than him, but here epitomizes the complex balances required by the values of chivalry between different duties, or official duty and private accomplishments, especially in the fields of love and/or honor. See, e.g., Orlando Furioso 2, stanzas 27 and 65, with opposite solutions -- it is also true, however, that precisely by pursuing her private ends, Bradamante will fulfill the Big Plan.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Whatcha gonna do now, Tancred? (3)

[16: 35]

Vassene il valoroso in sé ristretto,
Tacito e solo al pauroso bosco,
E sostien de la selva il fero aspetto,
Qual novo inferno spaventoso e fosco:
Né per tuon sbigottisce il forte petto
O per belva che spiri o fiamma o tosco.
Trapassa; et ecco in quel selvaggio loco
Sorge improviso la città del foco.

The valiant knight now goes all alone
And silent to the frightening wood, (*)
Withstanding the forest's fierce appearance,
Like a novel hell, dark and appalling:
His strong heart does not fear the thunders
Nor the beasts that spit flames or venom. (**)
He passes; and lo! in that wild place
The city of fire suddenly pops up.

(*) A textual collage from Dante, see Inferno 23: 1 and 1: 6. The exact reference to Dante's wording, taciti e soli, is a stylistic improvement of Gerusalemme Conquistata.
(**) A dragon, at last, in this poem of chivalry! This detail also was absent in Gerusalemme Liberata: it has been added in the Conquistata, as a further confirmation that GC is a strengthened -- not a weaker -- version of GL.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The 7 Days of CryAction 4: 649-721

From year 1 after Adam
[650] awoke in the world
not so many mortals
by his sinful seed
have been brought about
as the winged warriors
born to God’s blessing
and perennial pleasure
which makes them tarry
in eternal laziness
devoid of despondency.
[660] Those who think that
angels undergo hard labor
like millstone mules
or anguished Ixion
who rolls restlessly
their brains do rave.
Swami Aristotle too,
followed by thousands
and following astrophysics,
foolishly (tho forgivable)
[670] tried to determine
the quantum of Choirs
and a narrow number
should suffice, he said:
As many the motions
in the seven skies,
that many the movers.
He wouldn’t worship or
know about additional
jobs or angelology
[680] for “without working
life is lazy and proves
useless even in heaven”;
therefore not more
numerous than ouranoi,
while all extra entities
he deemed vain idols
of Greece and Egypt.
His genius couldn’t conceive
that the Creator’s Court
[690] needed different duties
not only that of turning
the spheres of skies,
he dismissed the idea
that a higher goal may
touch the eternal intellects
than the only one
he assigned to angels.
To move matter is
in fact a bodily business
[700] and a low labor
compared with the condition
of the King’s knights.
A more privileged purpose
a more honored object
a more mystic ministry
a more fitting figure
is due to immortal minds.
Far be it from LORD
to have an empty palace
[710] as a solitary sovereign
against a world swarming
with people and pride.
He who endows emperors
with scepters and crowns
and subjects and squads
and so many armies across
the nations and seas
should not remain mean
though self-sufficient—
[720] that would spoil his status,
and matter doesn’t matter!

(to be continued on Sept. 25)

Friday, September 16, 2016

Whatcha gonna do now, Tancred? (2)

[16: 34]

Era il prence Tancredi intanto sorto
A seppellir la sua diletta amica,
E bench'in volto sia languido e smorto
E mal atto a portar elmo o lorìca,
Ma dapoi che 'l timor degli altri ha scorto
Ei non ricusa il rischio o la fatica;
Ch'il cor vivace il suo vigor trasfonde
Al corpo sì che par ch'esso n'abonde.

Prince Tancred meanwhile was devoting
Himself to burying her beloved friend. (*)
Although his face looks very pale and weak
And he can scarcely wear any armour,
As soon as he perceives the others' fear (**)
He does not refuse either risk or toil --
His hot heart conveys in fact its energy
To the body and makes it seem stronger. (***)

(*) Clorinda, who has become a "friend," or sister in faith, to him after her baptism. We also recall that Tancred is a historical personage, while Clorinda is not.
(**) Before the enchanted forest, that makes it impossible to provide the wood they need for the siege devices.
(***) Tasso's interest in physical, biological, psychological phenomena is well documented by his long poem Il Mondo Creato, on which he was working in practically the same period as he wrote these lines in Gerusalemme Conquistata. But it had always been a typical attitude of his; these remarks on Tancred's psychosomatology had already been made many years before in Gerusalemme Liberata. It is worth noticing that, in Homer's poems, warriors get suddenly stronger because of a direct action from a god, or more often a goddess, rather than their own psyches -- though, of course, we can interpret the gods in this key nowadays.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Knight fishing

photo by Elena Colombo

Eel fishing is a typical job in the lagoon area of Comacchio, near Ferrara, NE Italy. A friend, who happens to be on vacation there, discovered a marble plaque in honor of Tasso: In Gerusalemme Liberata, in fact, he compares Tancred's entrapment in Armida's fake castle to an eel being caught in the labyrinth of nets in Comacchio. The parallel text in Gerusalemme Conquistata had been reported and commented here.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Whatcha gonna do now, Tancred? (1)

A performance in Rome, 2012


The posts on Gerusalemme Conquistata in this blog are based on Tasso's handwritten text, where however one third of the pages, more or less, have gone lost. Among the episodes that have been passed over, there is the most famous one (together with Rinaldo/Riccardo in Armida's garden): The nocturnal duel between Tancred and Clorinda.

He, the Christian champion, is secretly in love with her, the Muslim heroine -- so secretly, in fact, that not even she knows about it. Clorinda takes part in a foray into the Christian camp. Tancred does not, and cannot, recognize her; he challenges her, and after a fierce duel just outside the walls of Jerusalem, wounds her mortally. This is not the sole surprise. Not much time before, Clorinda had discovered that she was the daughter of the Christian King of Ethiopia; but immediately after her birth, she had been entrusted to a Muslim servant because, since her skin was perfectly white, her mother feared she might be accused of adultery. So, at the point of death, when Tancred unties her helmet, Clorinda asks him to baptize her.

He obeys. She will even appear to him in a dream to thank him, but Tancred is tormented by guilt. And now, he is about to face his worst nightmare.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The 7 Days of CryAction 4: 577-648

by ilT, Selkis, and illustrious collaborators

While red-colored comets
that terminate tyrants
and crack kingdoms
[580] enjoy a short existence
then die in two years;
as briefly as a baby does
the fearful flash live that
terrorizes our towns.
This doesn’t abide between
Capricorn and Cancer
and before it booms
the sun dissolves it.
Beyond the round route
[590] of planets it passes
navigating northwards
then unties its tresses
or its burning beard
and frightfully-faced
threatens death.
Such a dire danger
was termed a star
in spite of its spawn;
never innocent even
[600] if seemingly harmless
against Emperor Nero
but that proved just PR as
the comet catastrophically
spared a super-villain—
why didn’t it kill him?
Shall we classify among
these the especial escort
of the camel Magi?
He only knows this who
[610] manufactured that flame
voluntarily voyaging
as if equipped with IQ:
a theological item for
a prodigious purpose.
Others already existed
and were given Begriff
by the celestial smith.
Their life does not rely
famishing on food
[620] running after the air
and seas for exhalations
as Milton maintains
following old philosophers:
No, angel life is glorious
eternal by eyeing God
through Logos and Love.
These major minds were
delivered on Day One
before the sun and stars;
[630] on Day 4 the Forger
put them in their places
like trustworthy warriors
detailed to defend
a stronghold or tower.
Others moreover rolled
unforced unfatigued
the shining spheres.
Others He ordained as
the Hulks of humans
[640] for a divine duty,
of his thelema on Tellus
who constantly carry
quick graces from God
or slow sighs from Man.
And others obedient
in his service encircle
Him numberless.

(to be continued on Sept. 18)

Friday, September 9, 2016

Trees are tough (9)

Godfrey of Bouillon is informed that "there's something strange in the neighborhood. . . Who ya gonna call?"

[16: 32.7 - 33.8]

Poi disse: - Ciò che fia? forse prestigi
Son questi, o di male arte opre, o prodigi?

Ma s'alcun v'ha cui nobil voglia accenda
Di tentar que' selvaggi aspri soggiorni,
Vadane pure, e tutto veggia e 'ntenda,
E messaggier più certo a noi ritorni -.
Così disse egli; e la gran selva horrenda
Tentata fu ne' duo seguenti giorni,
Ma ciascuno affermò che fiero incanto
L'haveva in guardia, e non si diè più vanto.

And he said, "What's this? Hocus-pocus, (*)
Or the works of black magic, or miracles?
But if someone, burning with noble desire,
Wished to examine those wild places,
Let him go, and watch everything there,
And come back with more certain news."
He spoke, and the great and hideous forest
Was combed for the two following days;
But they all said a fierce incantation
Shielded it, and they all stopped to brag.

(*) Jugglers etc. were common in the Middle Ages too, but Tasso had the Renaissance feasts in his mind, which were cheered up by masquerades, pageants, fireworks, mobile structures and all kinds of special effects. Even Leonardo Da Vinci designed some.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

What's the hell in the casting?

Devils, witches & Co. became major characters of Italian literature in the Renaissance. "Are you kidding?" someone may say, "What about the Divine Comedy!" It actually offered something different: those people and critters were all shown in hell, that is in a context that was not everyday life. In the 16th century, on the contrary, characters belonging to the realms of the supernatural, magic, fantasy, horror started to "play a role" side by side with human personages in events that were -- at least -- fictionally described as historical. Satan, wizards, monsters of all types could be "seen," and sided with or fought, in common environments; they also developed personalities of their own. Ludovico Ariosto, for example, enjoyed creating pretty and clever witches. Torquato Tasso had a darker and more 'Michelangiolesque' outlook, so that he 'sculpted' a powerful king of hell who would inspire no less than Milton's Satan. While Dante's "Dis" in Inferno 34 had been reduced to a brainless machine, Tasso's Satan speaks theatrically and takes part in the vicissitudes of men by sending his 'soldiers' and 'spies' to the battlefield (the First Crusade).

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Beowulf "Conquistato"

An impressive example of the same kind of operation by which Torquato Tasso transformed his long poem Gerusalemme Liberata (first published in 1581) into Gerusalemme Conquistata (1593) is provided by Santiago García & David Rubín's graphic novel Beowulf (2013; 2015 in Italy). In both cases, the "remake" means: more action, more intricacy, more violence, more blood, more fantasy, more science fiction, more psychological darkness, more sexuality -- and homosexuality, at that. Tasso accomplished after a dozen years what here has been accomplished after a dozen centuries :-)

As for the "Spanish Beowulf," the most remarkable novelties concern some Freudian sides of the story, and the appearance of the monsters: Grendel, its/his mother, and the dragon. In fact, all three of them recall -- but originally, powerfully -- the absolute protagonists of contemporary sci-fi aesthetics, i.e. Alien, Predator, Venom. More in depth, they are basically the same creature that gets bigger and bigger, more and more dangerous. Our cheer for arrogant Beowulf is redoubled.

Cherry on top, the Italian translation by Francesca Gnetti is very well made.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Trees are tough (8)

[16: 30]

O quanti appaion mostri armati in guarda
De gli alti merli, e 'n che terribil faccia!
De' quai con occhi biechi altri il riguarda,
E dibattendo l'arme altri minaccia.
Fugge egli al fine, e ben la fuga è tarda,
Qual di leon che si ritiri in caccia;
Ma pur è fuga, e pur gli scote il petto
Timor, sin a quell'hora ignoto affetto.

How many armed monsters appear, watching
The high battlements with frightening faces!
Some look at him with sinister eyes, while
Others threaten him by shaking their weapons. (*)
He flees in the end, and quite slowly so,
Like a chased lion who withdraws gradually,
But he flees nonetheless, his heart shaken
By fear -- a feeling unknown up till now.

(*) Dante's devils were armed with whips, hooked poles, or swords, though not the devils watching the walls of the City of Dis. Here bows, crossbows, and spears seem to be meant; maybe catapults, too -- and guns and cannons? When Tasso wrote these lines, the first forts had already been built in America.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Father and Son, Greece to Renaissance to Pop Art

During the Renaissance, Hercules was often seen a symbol of Christ especially insofar as he fought against the monsters that threatened humankind. More in depth, however, Hercules' story contains some tragic questions about the stressing relationship between sons/children and fathers, all the more so when the "father" is the or a Ruler, either positive or negative, of the universe.

The subject is so fascinating that is still nowadays reworked in one of the most significant fields of Pop Art and mass communication, namely comics. The picture above is freely based on Hellboy, a character created by Mike Mignola in the 1990s, also starring in two fantastic movies directed by Guillermo Del Toro: The son of Azzael and a witch, he rebels against his father and helps a team of special agents to fight against all sort of hellish monsters, though periodically 'temped' to get back to his 'native calling' as a devil. -- Italian readers might remember Geppo!

In the picture, things have been messed up a bit more. Hellboy/Hercules possesses the power of lightning like his father Zeus, who in his turn exhibits a blood stain on his forehead that recalls the Son, the Crucifix (based on the Holy Shroud kept in Turin, Italy). These details were not preprogrammed, they came out in the process as is always the case with Surrealism, which has its roots precisely in the 16th century. So, what may all this mean?

The 7 Days of CryAction 4: 520-576

He also sowed stars
after forging the firmament
unadorned in Day 2.
Stars,” some dare deem,
are not only the lofty
almost eternal lights
but include comets
and flaming figures
that appear in the air
or in the Sphere of Fire
[530] lower than Luna.
These however never
have a certain shape
or frame, in a flash
they will vanish
and melt in mid-air
like exhalations exiting
from Earth’s hystera.
If Gea doesn’t give
them dry dross, they
[540] will scarcely survive
and soon pass over:
one day, or they even die
as soon as they surge.
The famous mayfly
(a bug from Bug River)
sees one sun, not more,
and disappears at sunset;
with it Nature and Heaven
acted so avariciously!
[550] Well, its fate I prefer
to those fiery forms’.
But folks put the falling
stars in the same bundle
and ask nonsensically
if they factually fall
tho theoretically eternal
or the like—whose life
should cross the centuries.
Here “falling” is a figure
[560] of speech for stupids.
But among those images
sculpted with light
some have a certain site
and such a long life
that they are true parts,
and stupendous, of the sky.
See the Galaxy lane
gleaming lactescent
and full of fixed stars
[570] which leads to the lofts
of Pantheon and provides
a passage to human souls
bouncing into their bodies
then bouncing back
towards their own stars
(according to the ancients).

(to be continued on Sept. 11)

Friday, September 2, 2016

Trees are tough (7)

Self-styled valiant Alcasto (draft) or Drogo (final text) reaches the haunted forest, where however a "firewall" suddenly stops him.

[16: 29]

Cresce il gran foco, e 'n forma d'alte mura
Stende le fiamme torbide e fumanti
E ne cinge quel bosco, e l'assecura
Ch'altri gli arbori suoi non tronchi o schianti.
Le maggiori sue fiamme hanno figura
Di castelli superbi e torreggianti;
E di machine ardenti anco ha munite
Le torri sue questa superba Dite.

The great fire grows, stretching its flames
In the shape of very high, smoking walls
That surround the whole wood and prevent
All from cutting or felling its trees.
Its most developed flames have the shapes
Of magnificent and towering castles,
While burning devices also defend
The towers of such a superb Dis.

The reference is to Dante's City of Dis in hell, see Inferno 9: 67-75, but here more technologically advanced according to the military developments in the Renaissance -- that is, the time period in which the poem was written, not the period in which it is set (late 11th century).
The Italian adjective superbo, and inflected forms, may mean both "superb, magnificent" and "proud," hinting at the devil.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Hilde & JB Show

digital background (sky) by Selkis; Venom by ilT;
also starring: Michelangelo, Arnold Böcklin

Two of the most fascinating visions of our world have been worked out by two very different people, a woman and a man. She is St Hildegard of Bingen; he is Giambattista Vico. She: a 12th century nun, preacher, mystic, physician, and musician from cold Northern Europe. He: an early 18th century legal expert and philosopher from hot and hot blooded Southern Italy. Both conformist Catholics, both absolutely nonconformist.

Hilde offered a holistic view of the universe and, directly linked, human psychology and spirituality. JB rewrote the history of humankind from actual Australopithecus [though not yet called so, of course] to Ancient Rome. Their main ideas can be retrieved in encyclopedias and online, and may be accepted or not, but the true pleasure is to enjoy their surprising descriptions in detail. In one way or another, after reading their works, you won't look at the world, body, Nature, society, culture, etc., in the same manner as before.

With reference to Vico, it is interesting to report the opinion of Giuseppe Ferrari (Italian philosopher and politician, 1812-1876): "His starting point was the 16th century. . .  From his deep respect toward the ancient authors to his ignorance about the events in modern Europe, to the Machiavellian loop that chains him to a never-ending repetition of the Old; to the hope that does enliven him when he sees the European civilization fall, because out of its ruins Rome and the Greece will rise again; to his very language, now Latin, now based on Latin syntax, . . .  from all this we realize that Vico belonged to the Renaissance."