Le terze rime di Dante

From Florentine publisher Leo S. Olschki’s September newsletter – a new facsimile edition of the 1502 Aldine press edition of the Commedia. The press release is here. Only some is Englished so the first part is hastily put below, as is a closer up photo of my just arrived copy.

It is thanks to Aldus Manutius if the exile Machiavelli was able to read Dante and Petrarch during the halts in his walks in the woods surrounding Sant’Andrea in Percussina, on the border of Florence. The production of “handheld books”(enchiridia) was inaugurated with Virgil in 1501. The format (8vo) was until then dedicated to devotional texts. These small books lack commentary – the reading should run easily for the reader – and are free from the scholarly frills essential for other types of editions. For the Divine Comedy specifically the title – strangely, considering tradition – is not even explained: Dante’s Three Poems

From shore they well may glimpse the bottom, but not once out upon the open sea

A passage of Dante’s (Paradiso XIX 40-66) I was reminded of while reading of Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris, partially for the ocean metaphor and partially for the intellectual humility (whether taken in a religious sense or otherwise). Here are Charles Singleton’s prose – because it is clearest – and Robert Hollander’s verse versions (online here). The Italian is at bottom.

Then it began, “He that turned His compass round the limit of the world, and within it marked out so much both hidden and revealed, could not so imprint His power on all the universe that His word should not remain in infinite excess; and this is certified by that first proud one [Lucifer], who was the highest of all creatures and who, through not awaiting light, fell unripe; from which it is plain that every lesser nature is too scant a vessel for that Good which has no limit and measures Itself by Itself. Thus your vision, which must needs be one of the rays of the Mind with which all things are replete, cannot of its own nature be of such power that it should not perceive its origin to be far beyond all that is apparent to it. Therefore the sight that is granted to your world penetrates within the Eternal Justice as the eye into the sea; which, though from the shore it can see the bottom, in the open sea it sees it not, and none the less it is there, but the depth conceals it. There is no light unless it comes from that serene which is never clouded, else is it darkness, either shadow of the flesh or its poison.

Then it began: ‘He who with His compass
drew the boundaries of the world and then, within them,
created distinctions, both hidden and quite clear,
‘did not imprint His power so deep
throughout the universe that His Word
would not with infinite excess surpass His making.
‘In proof of this, the first and prideful being,
who was created highest of all creatures,
by not waiting for the light, plummeted unripe.
‘And thus it is clear that every lesser nature
is too small a vessel for that goodness
which has no limit, which is measured by itself alone.
‘Thus your vision, which must be
but a single ray of many in the mind
of Him of whom all things are full,
‘by its nature must not have such power
that it should not perceive its source
as lying far beyond all it can see.
‘Thus, the vision granted to your world
may make its way into eternal justice
as deep as eyes may penetrate the sea.
‘From shore they well may glimpse the bottom,
but not once out upon the open sea,
and yet it is there, hidden in the depths.
‘No light is never overcast unless it comes
from that clear sky which always shines. All others
darken in the shadow or the bane of flesh.

and the Italian:

Poi cominciò: “Colui che volse il sesto
a lo stremo del mondo, e dentro ad esso
distinse tanto occulto e manifesto,

non poté suo valor sì fare impresso
in tutto l’universo, che ‘l suo verbo
non rimanesse in infinito eccesso.

E ciò fa certo che ‘l primo superbo,
che fu la somma d’ogne creatura,
per non aspettar lume, cadde acerbo;

e quinci appar ch’ogne minor natura
è corto recettacolo a quel bene
che non ha fine e sé con sé misura.

Dunque vostra veduta, che convene
essere alcun de’ raggi de la mente
di che tutte le cose son ripiene,

non pò da sua natura esser possente
tanto, che suo principio non discerna
molto di là da quel che l’è parvente.

Però ne la giustizia sempiterna
la vista che riceve il vostro mondo,
com’ occhio per lo mare, entro s’interna;

che, ben che da la proda veggia il fondo,
in pelago nol vede; e nondimeno
èli, ma cela lui l’esser profondo.

Lume non è, se non vien dal sereno
che non si turba mai; anzi è tenèbra
od ombra de la carne o suo veleno.

I didn’t put that Arri in there

From A Day in a Medieval City by Chaira Frugoni:

One day in Florence Dante had left the house after eating, and while passing through Porta San Pietro, came upon “a smith who was beating iron on the anvil and singing Dante the way one sings a popular poem, and mixing his verses up, shortening some and lengthening others, so that it seemed to Dante that he was receiving a great injury from the fellow.” Without a word Dante went into the man’s workshop and threw his tongs, his hammer, his balances, and all his other implements into the street. When the smith remonstrated loudly at finding himself stripped of the tools of his trade and blocked from exercising his own special skill, the poet replied, “‘You are singing from my work, but not the way I wrote it; I have no other art, and you are ruining it for me.’ The irate smith, at a loss for words, gathered up his things and went back to his work; and after that, when he wanted to sing, he sang of Tristan and Lancelot, and left Dante alone.”
On another occasion we meet the poet in Florence wearing a full suit of armor – which we might think unusual, but which was actually not out of place in the dangerous streets of the city: “And wearing armor to protect his throat and his arm, as people then customarily did,” the poet saw a donkey driver transporting garbage, “who was going along behind the donkeys singing the book of Dante, and when he had sung for a bit, he hit the donkey and said ‘Arri (Giddyup).’ Dante accosted him and dealt him a forceful blow on the shoulder with his mailed fist, saying, ‘I didn’t put that Arri in there.'” A lively dispute ensured, with bad language and obscene gestures on the part of the donkey driver, and insulting remarks on the part of Dante.

Both stories cite another book for origin, Franco Sacchetti’s Il Trecentonovelle (pgs 299-302).

Who fishes for the truth and has not the art

From Paradiso Canto XIII (109 starting), with Charles Singleton’s (prose) translation. I’ve checked the several commentaries I have on hand and a number of others through Dartmouth’s Dante Project and can’t find a single line addressing the possible origins or background of the metaphor chi pesca per lo vero e non ha l’arte, only explanations of the metaphor itself. It feels so biblical but I guess I’ve just always assumed a reference on relation to ‘fishers of men’ and the like. I’ve included at bottom Singleton’s gloss on the philosophers and, for curiosity, Cristoforo Landino’s painfully detailed explanation of the metaphor from his 1481 commentary.

E questo ti sia sempre piombo a’ piedi,
per farti mover lento com’ uom lasso
e al sì e al no che tu non vedi:

ché quelli è tra li stolti bene a basso,
che sanza distinzione afferma e nega
ne l’un così come ne l’altro passo;

perch’ elli ‘ncontra che più volte piega
l’oppinïon corrente in falsa parte,
e poi l’affetto l’intelletto lega.

E di ciò sono al mondo aperte prove
Parmenide, Melisso e Brisso e molti,
li quali andaro e non sapëan dove;

Vie più che ‘ndarno da riva si parte,
perché non torna tal qual e’ si move,
chi pesca per lo vero e non ha l’arte.

And let this ever be as lead to your feet, to make you slow, like a weary man, in moving either to the yes or the no which you see not; for he is right low down among the fools, alike in one and in the other case, who affirms or denies without distinguishing, because it happens that oftentimes hasty opinion inclines to the wrong side, and then fondness for it binds the intellect. Far worse than in vain does he leave the shore (since he returns not as he puts forth) who fishes for the truth and has not the art. And of this Parmenides, Melissus, Bryson, are open proofs to the world, as are the many others who went on but knew not whither.

The philosophers:

Parmenide: Parmenides, an early Greek philosopher, was born at Elea in Italy ca. 513 B.C. He is the chief representative of the Eleatic philosophy, in which he was followed by his disciple Zeno; he and Zeno, according to Plato, met Socrates in Athens in ca. 448 B.C. Parmenides wrote in verse his philosophical views On Nature, of which only fragments are extant. Melisso: Melissus, a philosopher of Samos who flourished ca. 441 B.C., was a follower of Parmenides. Only fragments of his writings are extant. Brisso: Bryson was a Greek philosopher mentioned by Aristotle as having attempted to square the circle, a problem which apparently he tried to solve dishonestly by non-geometrical methods (Soph. elench. I, 11, 171b; Anal. post. I, 9, 75b).

And Landino:

Viè più che ‘ndarno: la sententia è questa: possiamo dire che uno sia arriva, quando anchora non ha pensato se la chosa è vera o no; ma quando comincia a investigare, allhora si parte da riva et entra nel fiume. Adunque chome el pescatore se si parte da riva et non ha l’arte del pescare nè anchora gli strumenti apti si parte indarno per che non pigla, chosì chi si mette a investigare el vero sanza dialectica et philosophia et senza le scientie che gle ne possono mostrare s’affaticha indarno. Ma è anchora peggio perchè oltra al perdere la faticha, entra nello errore nel quale non era prima. Adunque è peggio che ‘l pescatore, perchè lui non piglando torna tale quale si partì. Ma chostui torna in piggior grado perchè ha falsa opinione la quale non havea prima.

L’acqua ch’io prendo già mai non si corse

The opening of Paradiso Canto 2, in the Longfellow translation.

O Ye, who in some pretty little boat,
Eager to listen, have been following
Behind my ship, that singing sails along,

Turn back to look again upon your shores;
Do not put out to sea, lest peradventure,
In losing me, you might yourselves be lost.

The sea I sail has never yet been passed;
Minerva breathes, and pilots me Apollo,
And Muses nine point out to me the Bears.

Ye other few who have the neck uplifted
Betimes to th’ bread of Angels upon which
One liveth here and grows not sated by it,

Well may you launch upon the deep salt-sea
Your vessel, keeping still my wake before you
Upon the water that grows smooth again.

Those glorious ones who unto Colchos passed
Were not so wonder-struck as you shall be,
When Jason they beheld a ploughman made!

O voi che siete in piccioletta barca,
desiderosi d’ascoltar, seguiti
dietro al mio legno che cantando varca,

tornate a riveder li vostri liti:
non vi mettete in pelago, ché forse,
perdendo me, rimarreste smarriti.

L’acqua ch’io prendo già mai non si corse;
Minerva spira, e conducemi Appollo,
e nove Muse mi dimostran l’Orse.

Voialtri pochi che drizzaste il collo
per tempo al pan de li angeli, del quale
vivesi qui ma non sen vien satollo,

metter potete ben per l’alto sale
vostro navigio, servando mio solco
dinanzi a l’acqua che ritorna equale.

Que’ glorïosi che passaro al Colco
non s’ammiraron come voi farete,
quando Iasón vider fatto bifolco.

Quick! quick! so that the time may not be lost by little love!

From Salvador Dali’s series of woodblock prints for the Commedia. This is Purgatory XVIII, the terrace of the slothful. I liked it less than others at first (Inferno 1 and Purgatory 2 are my favorites) but it has grown on me over time.

But taken from me was this drowsiness
Suddenly by a people, that behind
Our backs already had come round to us.

And as, of old, Ismenus and Asopus
Beside them saw at night the rush and throng,
If but the Thebans were in need of Bacchus,

So they along that circle curve their step,
From what I saw of those approaching us,
Who by good-will and righteous love are ridden.

Full soon they were upon us, because running
Moved onward all that mighty multitude,
And two in the advance cried out, lamenting,

“Mary in haste unto the mountain ran,
And Caesar, that he might subdue Ilerda,
Thrust at Marseilles, and then ran into Spain.”

“Quick! quick! so that the time may not be lost
By little love!” forthwith the others cried,
“For ardour in well-doing freshens grace!”

Ma questa sonnolenza mi fu tolta
subitamente da gente che dopo
le nostre spalle a noi era già volta.

E quale Ismeno già vide e Asopo
lungo di sé di notte furia e calca,
pur che i Teban di Bacco avesser uopo,

cotal per quel giron suo passo falca,
per quel ch’io vidi di color, venendo,
cui buon volere e giusto amor cavalca.

Tosto fur sovr’ a noi, perché correndo
si movea tutta quella turba magna;
e due dinanzi gridavan piangendo:

“Maria corse con fretta a la montagna;
e Cesare, per soggiogare Ilerda,
punse Marsilia e poi corse in Ispagna.”

“Ratto, ratto, che ‘l tempo non si perda
per poco amor,” gridavan li altri appresso,
“che studio di ben far grazia rinverda.”

Qui si ribatte il mal tardato remo

From Purgatorio 17 (84-90 and 124-132). I would expect to spend most of my time on the terrace of the slothful.

“Say, my sweet Father, what delinquency
Is purged here in the circle where we are?
Although our feet may pause, pause not thy speech.”

And he to me: “The love of good, remiss
In what it should have done, is here restored;
Here plied again the ill-slackened oar;*

But still more openly to understand,
Turn unto me thy mind, and thou shalt gather
Some profitable fruit from our delay.
This threefold love [of the proud, the envious, and the wrathful] is wept for down below;
  Now of the other will I have thee hear,
  That runneth after good with measure faulty.

Each one confusedly a good conceives
  Wherein the mind may rest, and longeth for it;
  Therefore to overtake it each one strives.

If languid love to look on this attract you,
  Or in attaining unto it, this cornice,**
  After just penitence, torments you for it.

“Dolce mio padre, dì, quale offensione
si purga qui nel giro dove semo?
Se i piè si stanno, non stea tuo sermone.”

Ed elli a me: “L’amor del bene, scemo
del suo dover, quiritta si ristora;
qui si ribatte il mal tardato remo.

Ma perché più aperto intendi ancora,
volgi la mente a me, e prenderai
alcun buon frutto di nostra dimora.”
Questo triforme amor qua giù di sotto
si piange: or vo’ che tu de l’altro intende,
che corre al ben con ordine corrotto.

Ciascun confusamente un bene apprende
nel qual si queti l’animo, e disira;
per che di giugner lui ciascun contende.

Se lento amore a lui veder vi tira
o a lui acquistar, questa cornice,
dopo giusto penter, ve ne martira.

*For il mal tardato remo I replace Longfellow’s ‘ill-belated’ with Singleton’s ‘ill-slackened’.

** Singleton’s rendering is clearer here – “If lukewarm love draws you to see it or gain it”

Guardate che ‘l venir sù non vi nòi

From Purgatorio 9.76-93, with the Longfellow translation. I have a soft spot for Threshold Guardians in myth.

vidi una porta, e tre gradi di sotto
per gire ad essa, di color diversi,
e un portier ch’ancor non facea motto.

E come l’occhio più e più v’apersi,
vidil seder sovra ‘l grado sovrano,
tal ne la faccia ch’io non lo soffersi;

e una spada nuda avëa in mano,
che reflettëa i raggi sì ver’ noi,
ch’io dirizzava spesso il viso in vano.

“Dite costinci: che volete voi?”
cominciò elli a dire, “ov’ è la scorta?
Guardate che ‘l venir sù non vi nòi.”

“Donna del ciel, di queste cose accorta,”
rispuose ‘l mio maestro a lui, “pur dianzi
ne disse: ‘Andate là: quivi è la porta.’”

“Ed ella i passi vostri in bene avanzi,”
ricominciò il cortese portinaio:
“Venite dunque a’ nostri gradi innanzi.”

I saw a portal, and three stairs beneath,
Diverse in colour, to go up to it,
And a gate-keeper, who yet spake no word.

And as I opened more and more mine eyes,
I saw him seated on the highest stair,
Such in the face that I endured it not.

And in his hand he had a naked sword,
Which so reflected back the sunbeams tow’rds us,
That oft in vain I lifted up mine eyes.

“Tell it from where you are, what is’t you wish?”
Began he to exclaim; “where is the escort?
Take heed your coming hither harm you not!”

“A Lady of Heaven, with these things conversant,”
My Master answered him, “but even now
Said to us, ‘Thither go; there is the portal.'”

“And may she speed your footsteps in all good,”
Again began the courteous doorkeeper;*
“Come forward then unto these stairs of ours.”

*I’ve touched up Longfellow’s poorly aging ‘courteous janitor’

For it is always one and the same beauty that binds and trammels me

A very Proustian sentiment in a sonnet of Cino da Pistoia‘s – explaining his apparent inconstancy. Rime CXV in the Barbi edition with the Boyde and Foster translation:

Dante, ever since harsh exile made me a wanderer from my birthplace and put a distance between me and the most exquisite beauty that ever the infinite Beauty fashioned, I have gone grieving about the world, a poor wretch disdained by death; but when I’ve found near me any beauty like to that one, I’ve said it was this one that wounded my heart. Nor – though I expect no help – have I ever left those first pitiless arms from which a well-grounded despair releases me: for it is always one and the same beauty that binds and trammels me; and this perforce delights me in whatever is like it in beauty in many different women.

Poi ch’i’ fu’, Dante, dal mio natal sito
fatto per greve essilio pellegrino
e lontanato dal piacer più fino
che mai formasse il Piacer infinito,

io son piangendo per lo mondo gito
sdegnato del morir come meschino,
e s’ho trovato a lui simil vicino,
dett’ho che questi m’ha lo cor ferito.

Né da le prime braccia dispietate,
onde ’l fermato disperar m’assolve,
son mosso perch’aiuto non aspetti;

ch’un piacer sempre me lega ed involve,
il qual conven che a simil di beltate
in molte donne sparte mi diletti.

Et j’ai deux fois vainqueur traversé l’Achéron

Spiralling associative chains, beginning with the Sybil to Aeneas (6.135):

Quod si tantus amor menti, si tanta cupido est,
bis Stygios innare lacus, bis nigra videre
Tartara, et insano iuvat indulgere labori,
accipe, quae peragenda prius.

In Ahl’s Oxford Classics:

Yet, if there’s love so strong in your mind, so mighty a passion
Twice to float over the Stygian lakes, twice gaze upon deep black
Tartarus, if it’s your pleasure to wanton in labours of madness,
Grasp what you must do first.

And moving to Gerard de Nerval’s El Desdichado:

Je suis le ténébreux,- le Veuf, – l’inconsolé,
Le Prince d’Aquitaine à la tour abolie:
Ma seule étoile est morte, et mon luth constellé
Porte le soleil noir de la Mélancolie.

Dans la nuit du Tombeau, Toi qui m’as consolé,
Rends-moi le Pausilippe et la mer d’Italie,
La fleur qui plaisait tant à mon coeur désolé,
Et la treille où le Pampre à la rose s’allie.

Suis-je Amour ou Phoebus ?…. Lusignan ou Biron ?
Mon front est rouge encor du baiser de la Reine ;
J’ai rêvé dans la grotte où nage la Sirène…

Et j’ai deux fois vainqueur traversé l’Achéron :
Modulant tour à tour sur la lyre d’Orphée
Les soupirs de la Sainte et les cris de la Fée.

And in the Penguin Selected Writings translation by Richard Sieburth:

I am the man of gloom – the widower – the unconsoled, the prince of Aquitaine, his tower in ruins: My sole star is dead – and my constellated lute bears the Black Sun of Melancholia.

In the night of the tomb, you who consoled me, give me back Posilipo and the Italian sea, the flower that so pleased my desolate heart, and the arbour where the vine and the rose are entwined.

Am I Amor or Phoebus? … Lusignan or Biron? My brow still burns from the kiss of the queen; I have dreamed in the grotto where the siren swims …

And I have twice victorious crossed the Acheron: Modulating on Orpheus’ lyre now the sighs of the saint, now the fairy’s cry.

And back to the beginning, a Homeric hapax from Odyssey 12.21, Circe to Odysseus:

σχέτλιοι, οἳ ζώοντες ὑπήλθετε δῶμ᾽ Ἀίδαο,
δισθανέες, ὅτε τ᾽ ἄλλοι ἅπαξ θνῄσκουσ᾽ ἄνθρωποι.

Unwearying, you who alive go down to the house of Hades,
twice-dying, when other men die once.

Closing with an unrelated echo from Dante, Inferno 24 4. Which commentaries tell me is also a hapax suggested by Jude’s (12) ‘arbores…. bis mortuae’ (trees twice dead).

e l’ombre, che parean cose rimorte,
per le fosse de li occhi ammirazione
traean di me, di mio vivere accorte.

And the Longfellow translation:

And shadows, that appeared things doubly dead,
From out the sepulchres of their eyes betrayed
Wonder at me, aware that I was living.