Curing himself of adhesions in the lungs by polevaulting and dropping himself on the rocks below

Some Sternean conversational wit, from a footnote in the first volume of the Florida Editions Letters (pg. 150)

Dr. Hill had reported that, at a dinner hosted by Charles Stanhope, Sterne had ridiculed a “pedantic medicine monger” (Monsey?), who was lecturing on the “difference between the phrenitis and the paraphrenitis,” by telling a cock-and-bull story about curing himself of adhesions in the lungs by polevaulting and dropping himself on the rocks below (see Cross, Letters 1:43-45)

The bookful blockhead, ignorantly read

Alexander Pope’s The Bookful Blockhead.  

Such shameless bards we have; and yet ’tis true,
There are as mad, abandoned critics too.
The bookful blockhead, ignorantly read,
With loads of learned lumber in his head,
With his own tongue still edifies his ears,
And always list’ning to himself appears.
All books he reads, and all he reads assails,
From Dryden’s fables down to Durfey’s tales,
With him, most authors steal their works, or buy;
Garth did not write his own Dispensary .
Name a new play, and he’s the poet’s friend,
Nay showed his faults — but when would poets mend?
No place so sacred from such fops is barred,
Nor is Paul’s Church more safe than Paul’s Churchyard:
Nay, fly to altars; there they’ll talk you dead;
For fools rush in where angels fear to tread.

Or let my Lamp at midnight hour

From John Milton’s Il Penseroso

Or let my Lamp at midnight hour,
Be seen in som high lonely Towr,
Where I may oft out-watch the Bear,
With thrice great Hermes, or unsphear
The spirit of Plato to unfold
What Worlds, or what vast Regions hold
The immortal mind that hath forsook
Her mansion in this fleshly nook:

Nimium amator ingenii sui

From a letter of Laurence Sterne’s of Jan 1, 1760, responding to an unknown addressee’s cautionary remarks about Tristram Shandy.  There are three significantly enough different versions of this letter that the editors of the Florida Edition printed them separately, numbering each 35A, B, and C.  I’m pulling from A.

I know not whether I am entirely free <of> [from?] the fault Ovid is so justly censured for – of being nimum ingenij sui amator.  the hint however is right – to sport too much with a Man’s own wit is surfeiting: like toying with a man’s mistress, it may be delightful enough to the Inamorato but of little or no entertainment to By-standers.   in general I have ever endeavour’d to avoid it, by leaving off as soon as possible whenever a point of humour or Wit was started, for fear of saying too much…

The criticism of Ovid is from Quintilian 10.1.88:

Lascivus quidem in herois quoque Ovidius et nimium amator ingenii sui, laudandus tamen partibus…

Indeed Ovid is too sportive/playful/roguish/badin [lascivus] even in his heroes and too great a lover of his own talent/temperament – but nevertheless he must be praised in certain areas…

On Homer and the epic hypertext

From Pietro Pucci’s The Iliad: The Poem of Zeus (pg 182) – in his discussion of the scene where Hera seduces Zeus to distract his attention from the battlefield and her plan to help the Achaeans.  This seemed the most soberly presented summary I’ve found of his approach to the epics generally – stretching back to his earlier Song of the Sirens and Odysseus Polytropos where he, by virtue of reading the Iliad and Odyssey against each other, feels himself on firmer ground for making what sometimes end up – for me – too strong assertions of linkage, reference, reworking, and subversion.  Here, forced to a conceptual rather than specific justification, his practice appears less extreme.

The Iliadic text recalls for its contemporary audience a traditional episode from the Heracles saga: they may know and recall it, or find it new, in the wake of analogous stories in the large mythical-epic panorama which they control.  The text gave the Narratees the privilege of measuring the differences in narrative details and tone between the passage and the Iliadic exploitation of it.  For instance, in Hypnos’ version of Hera’s first request, it is not indicated whether she made love with Zeus before Hypnos’ intervention.  A textual game was proposed to the Narratees, in which they enjoyed the emotional repetition of the scenes and savored the critical use that the Iliad made of its borrowings.  If they found the episode new, they enjoyed the invention of the story that enriched their mythical-epic panorama.  We have lost the ability to confirm this possibility and cannot be sure whether our perception that the text re-channels a story from another epic poem is certain, and, if it is true, how that story is elaborated by our text.

It remains appealing to question what the critical purpose or effect is that the text aims at by re-channelling certain old stories about Zeus, some of them being unedifying, even if entertaining.

The best option seems to me that the narrative quotes, integrates, or simply echoes traditional stories with the intent of granting them new edifying perspectives or of making fun of the traditional versions.

How a Friar’s Breeches became Sacred Relics

After nearly two years on my shelves – which is, sadly, not altogether outside the typical – I finally began Christopher Celenza’s The Intellectual World of the Italian Renaissance: Language, Philosophy, and the Search for Meaning and there discovered, amongst other things, Poggio Bracciolini’s Facetiae.  While I wait for my Belles Lettres Latin/French edition to arrive I’ve been reading a 1928 English edition translated by Edward Storer.  I have the sense he skipped a few of the more obscene tales but I’ll find out shortly.

How a Friar’s Breeches became Sacred Relics

A pleasant story which ought to have its place among these little tales happened some time ago in Amalia.

A married woman, moved it would seem by piety, went to confess her sins to a friar of the minor orders. The friar, listening to the woman’s confession, was moved with desire, and plied her so with words and youthful supplications that finally he won her to his passion, and it only remained between them to arrange the manner of their meeting.

They made their plan out of the light-heartedness of their youth, that the woman should feign a great sickness, and should call her confessor to her bedside. It is the custom to leave confessor and penitent alone together for the greater liberty of the soul.

So the woman feigned her malady, and put herself to bed, complaining of a mortal pain, and asked for her confessor, who entered her chamber alone, everyone else having carefully retired.

And the two of them played Cupid’s game not once but several times. The confessor’s visit was so protracted that some one came into the room to see if all was well, whereat the friar took his leave of the woman, saying that he would return the next day to hear the remainder of the confession, for it was very long.

He returned next day, and was left alone with the woman. Removing his breeches, he laid them over a chair, and continued to hear the confession in the same manner as on the previous day.

The husband, who was not at all suspicious, nevertheless marvelled at the length of the sacrament, and suddenly entered the room. The friar slipped away, leaving his breeches behind him in his haste.

The husband protested loudly, saying that the man was not a friar but an adulterer, and he went to the prior of the monastery and made a great disturbance, violently threatening the guilty man with death.

The prior, who was an old man, sought to calm the man’s ire, saying that his loud-mouthed anger and violent reproaches turned little to the honour of his family, and that it was best to keep quiet about everything, and hide it.

The husband argued that the thing was manifest enough on account of the breeches, and could not be hidden, but the old prior found a way out of this, too, saying that the breeches could pass for those of St. Francis, which the friar had taken as a holy relic to cure the wife. He would come and fetch them back with great solemnity and pomp.

So the prior convoked the monks, and, dressed in their sacred vestments, and with a large Cross at the head of the procession, they repaired to the man’s house, and took the breeches away devoutly as if they were a holy relic, and they placed them on a silken cushion, and made the husband and the wife kiss them, as they did all they met on the way.

With chants and prayers and ceremonies, they bore the breeches back to the monastery, and placed them with the other relics.

But later, the facts were discovered, and a commission of inquiry was sent from Rome to look into the sacrilege.

S’eo mordo ‘l grasso, tu ne sugi ‘l lardo

Cecco Angiolieri, Sonnet CII, addressed to Dante:

Dante Alighier, s’i’ so bon begolardo,
tu mi tien’ bene la lancia a le reni,
s’eo desno con altrui, e tu vi ceni;
s’eo mordo ‘l grasso, tu ne sugi ‘l lardo;
s’eo cimo ‘l panno, e tu vi freghi ‘l cardo:
s’eo so discorso, e tu poco raffreni;
s’eo gentileggio, e tu misser t’avveni;
s’eo so fatto romano, e tu lombardo.

Sì che, laudato Deo, rimproverare
poco pò l’uno l’altro di noi due:
sventura o poco senno cel fa fare.
E se di questo vòi dicere piùe,
Dante Alighier, i’ t’averò a stancare;
ch’eo so lo pungiglion, e tu se’ ‘l bue.

Dante, if I’m a garrulous fool, I swear
You run a tilt against me quite as hard;
If I dine out with friends, you supper there,
And if I chew the fat, you suck the lard.
I shear the cloth, the nap is yours to raise;
And if I go too far, you’re much too free;
If I have noble, you have learned ways;
If I’m for Rome, well, you’re for Lombardy.
Then, thank the Lord, there’s little to be said
By one against the other as things stand:
From want of wit or luck we take our knocks.
And if you’ve more to say upon this head,
Dante, I’ll wear you down; just understand;
That I’m the gadfly now and you’re the ox.

So much of motion, is so much of life, and so much of joy

From Tristram Shandy, as Tristram dashes through France:

‘Make them like unto a wheel,’ is a bitter sarcasm, as all the learned know, against the grand tour, and that restless spirit for making it, which David prophetically foresaw would haunt the children of men in the latter days; and therefore, as thinketh the great bishop Hall, ’tis one of the severest imprecations which David ever utter’d against the enemies of the Lord—and, as if he had said, ‘I wish them no worse luck than always to be rolling about.’—So much motion, continues he (for he was very corpulent)—is so much unquietness; and so much of rest, by the same analogy, is so much of heaven.

Now, I (being very thin) think differently; and that so much of motion, is so much of life, and so much of joy—and that to stand still, or get on but slowly, is death and the devil—


As sour as my wife, and so I hate it

Sonnet LXV of Cecco Angiolieri, in the co-translation of C.H. Scott and Anthony Mortimer.  Which is a curious way of phrasing Mortimer’s revision of Scott’s edition from ~1920, ranging from no changes to full re-renderings.  I find Cecco’s Italian bewildering but not so much that I can’t tell how far from the letter – if not the sense – these translations range.

 Tutto quest’anno ch’è, mi son frustato
di tutti i vizi che solìa avere;
non m’è rimasto se non quel di bere,
del qual me n’abbi Iddio per escusato,
ché la mattina, quando son levato,
el corpo pien di sal mi par avere;
adunque, di’: chi si porìa tenere
di non bagnarsi la lingua e ’l palato?
E non vorrìa se non greco e vernaccia,
ché mi fa maggior noia il vin latino,
che la mia donna, quand’ella mi caccia.
Deh ben abbi chi prima pose ’l vino,
che tutto ’l dì mi fa star in bonaccia;
i’ non ne fo però un mal latino.

Throughout this year I duly have restrained
Every habitual vice excepting drink,
From which, it’s true, I have no quite refrained,
But god’s forgiven me for that, I think.
Each morn it seems to me when I arise,
As if my body were filled up with salt;
Then say who would forbear, however wise,
From washing out his mouth? It’s not my fault.
I only want Vernaccia or Greek wine,
I loathe your common house wine, which is sour,
As sour as my wife, and so I hate it.
God bless the man who first improved the vine,
To which I owe full many a happy hour;
I’ll never say a word to denigrate it.