Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The 17th Century

Baroque, Counter-Reformation and Science The English-speaking world has a pivotal year in the history of its language: 1611, when the Authorised Version of the Holy Bible, also known as the King James' Bible was finished. A year later another great work reached was published in Italy: it was The Vocabolario degli Accademici della Crusca. The purpose of the first Italian dictionary was to establish a norm and catalogue old and new words. The Accademia della Crusca had been founded in 1583 in Florence with an aim to protect the budding Italian language and encourage Italians how to use it correctly. 
Its motto is taken from Petrarch: "Il più bel fior ne coglie'' means, in English, "it picks of the most beautiful flower", that is, it (the Crusca Academy) selects and preserves the best of the Italian language. Curiously, the Sala delle Pale (Lit. "The Hall of Shuffles"), where the board meet, has chairs whose backs look like big shuffles. 

Their shape hints at the act of "separating the wheat from the chaff". After undergoing a big revision in 1623, the 1691 edition made the Vocabolario the biggest dictionary ever compiled in the Western World. Indeed, the 1600s were not without accomplishments. 

This was the Age of Milton, who also contributed to the development of Italian studies on his visit to Italy before the English Civil War. It was also the time when a Florentine scientist invented the telescope. By watching the stars, Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) proved that Keptler's theory that the earth revolved around the sun. 

Visionaries under Inquisition Galileo's findings discredited Ptolomeus's theories endorsed for centuries by the Catholic Church. Dante himself in his Commedia had put the earth at the centre of the universe, surrounded by invisible spheres, each them carring a planet, all of them enclosed by the empiraeum, a bright sphere containing the Paradise. 

Philosopher Giordano Bruno had, too, intruduced new, revolutionary concepts in the later 1500s, assuming there could be intelligent creatures living on other planets similar to the earth. But his unorthodox theories, adding to his homosexuality attracted the attention of the Inquisition. 

Spain ruled over most of Italy: it was the worst of times to be a visionary. In fact, the century opens with an ominous warning to free-thinkers: Bruno is burnt at the stake in the spring of 1600 in the Campo dei Fiori. A few years later, Galileo would be subjected to a long trial by the Inquisition for having published his Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems (Dialogo sopra i due massimi sistemi del mondo, 1632) under the auspices of the pope but widely condemned by the Jesuits. 

His work, basically an illustration of the heliocentric theory and the introduction of the modern trial-and error system of scientific enquiry, was not just a giant milestone for science. It was one of the major books written in the Italian language. Galileo's contribuition to scientific prose His contribution to Italian prose is significant, especially at a time when scientific treatises were still being written in Latin. 

Unfortunately, this was the book as earned him a trial by the Inquisition (1633) and a life sentence (after he had recanted all his theories), commuted to house arrests in Florence thanks to the help of influential friends. Such a sentence must have been hard upon him, who was already old and ill when he wrote the Dialogue. He died shortly after, being even denied medical care for his hernia and having lost his sight, in 1642. 

Galilei is widely remembered for his pioneering work in the field of science, but his contribution to modern Italian is often overlooked. His scientific background contributed a style which though quite faithful to Bembo's standard couple clarity of expression with many new technical words then widely ignored for not belonging in literature or poetry. 

Here is an excerpt about sunspots, in which it is proven, against Ptolomoeus's theory, that the sun rotates around its axis: 

Fu il primo scopritore ed osservatore dele macchie solari, siccome di tutte l'altre novità celesti, il nostro Academico Linceo; e queste scopers'egli l'anno 1610, trovandosi ancora alla lettura delle Matematiche nello Studio di Padova, e quivi ed in Venezia ne parlò con diversi, de i quali alcuni vivono ancora: ed un anno doppo le fece vedere in Roma a molti Signori, come egli asserisce nella prima delle sue Lettere al Sig. Marco Velsero, Duumviro d'Augusta. Esso fu il primo che, contro alle opinioni de i troppo timidi e troppo gelosi dell'inalterabilità del cielo, affermò tali macchie esser materie che in tempi brevi si producevano e si dissolvevano; che, quanto al luogo, erano contigue al corpo del Sole, e che intorno a quello si rigiravano, o vero, portate dall'istesso globo solare, che in sé stesso circa il proprio centro nello spazio quasi di un mese si rivolgesse, finivano loro conversioni: il qual moto giudicò sul principio farsi dal Sole intorno ad un asse eretto al piano dell'eclittica, atteso che gli archi descritti da esse macchie sopra il disco del Sole apparivano all'occhio nostro linee rette ed al piano dell'eclittica parallele (...) 

(Galileo, Dialogo, III, 438) 


Linceo, our Academician, was the first to discover and observe sunspots, as well as all the other novelties of the heavens, and these he discovered in the year 1610, while he was a lecturer in mathematics in the Faculty of Padua, and it was here as well as in Venice that he discussed the issue with a number of people, some of whom are still living: and, one year later, he showed them to several gentlemen, as he states in the first of his letters to Mister Marco Velsero, Augusta's Duumvir. He was the first who, against the opinions of those who were too timid and jealous of the immutableness of the heavens, said that such spots were substances that were no sooner made than dissolved; that, as far as their location was concerned, belonged to the body of the sun and revolved around it, viz carried by the very globe of sun which turned around its center in about a month and that ended up revolving around it: which motion he first thought to be caused by the sun turning around an axis at right angles in respect to the plane of the ecliptic, giving that the arcs produced by such spots on the sun disk looked to us like straight lines parallel to the plane of the ecliptic (...) (Galileo, Dialogues, III, 438) "

Galileo trusted the vernacular with his far-reaching and sophisticated science. Linguistically, he has knowingly coupled the heritage from his native Tuscany with the "polished" manners of literary tradition...with the "mechanic" lexicon, also by endorsing such clarity...to those who did not know latin" (Salinari). 

Orthodoxy strikes at the Italian language One of the most noticeable characters of the 17th century is that, unlike the Renaissance, it is a century of paradox: one the one side, the orthodox (purist in language and moralistic in literature), on the other, the rebels who strove to did the opposite and shock traditional society, disregarding the linguistic and moral establishment, from Marino's scholarly, but sensual and exotic verse to much vernacular literature whose writers used words from dialect or just vulgar language if only to shock and dazzle the audience. 

The academic environment of Counter-Reformation was hostile to innovation, and not just in what might appear to endanger Catholic dogmas. This conservatism in linguistics, implied dictating taste rather than discuss it, to catologue words rather than create new one. Less than three century had passed from the lively, stimulating discussions about the future of Italian and the creative work of those who had literally invented a new language.

The attitude of humanists in the 1600s is quite different and transpires in almost all aspects of Italian life. The linguists seem more interested in stockpiling old words rather than keeping the language fresh and up-to-date, while a large group of Baroque writers disseminate a host of new words that the establishment refuses to admit they even exist. 

Most of the intellectual élite refused to acknowledge it was imperative to add new technical words (Galileo was a remarkable exception ) to the Dictionary though science, then rapidly evolving, needed them badly. It is something that has not only been observed by Migliorini et al. but noted by Manzoni in his masterpiece novel set in the early 1600s, for which he did a lot of research about the 1600s. 

The Betrothed (see the speech of the notorious attorney Azzecca-Garbugli, asked to defend Renzo's case, but in fact evading most of the his problems with his most obscure and rhethorical language. There are other such characters who express themselves in that manner, and are those who actually slow down Renzo's efforts to rescue Lucia from her kidnapper.) 

The Age of Baroque This is, however, a great century for the visual arts: baroque, San Peter's Cathedral and Bernini's architecture being one of the biggest accomplishments. Baroque literature, however, though linguistically original and innovative in a number of ways, does not either produce any great works able to rival those of the past centuries. Rather, it is replete of bad imitations of Dante and Petrarch. 

The word manierismo, "mannerism" dates appropriately to the final decades of the Renaissance and anticipates some of the fashions which Baroque will take to excess. Writers who try their best to pump new blood into the drying literary vein often produce texts that are either unintelligible for their abundant rhetoric or so full of extravagant embellishments that it takes the big Vocabolario and a scholarly knowledge to get a grasp of the meaning. 

Where science is not directly concerned, form overwhelms in weight content itself and, like Baroque decoration, is often more imposing than the underlying architecture, the statues, the arches that should be the center of attention. Baroque in the visual arts and literature Today, when an Italian refers to an obscure text, he or she may say it is concettoso. 

And it is the use of 'concetti', inherited from medieval literature, that abounds in Baroque works, and to a good extent, in Metaphysical Poetry. When used moderately, such devices may add value to a poem. But many Baroque writers abused them, making their text so obscure and their speeches so long-winded looking like riddles, being so full of imagery and metaphors as to suggest a game of mirrors or even the deliberate use of cryptic language. 

The masque is a constant in Baroque theatre, and script writers enjoy creating characters who change in shape and identity, such as mythological figures often playing on sexual ambiguity or double identity. Such ambiguity also reflects in language and style. 

Baroque literature can juggle with words as much as Baroque decorations distort geometry and volumes: as you walk past the long columnade in St. Peter's Square and head for the obelisk you get the feeling that outer rows of the round square slide magically on each other to dwindle in one row when you get to the monument. You see them moving but they do not. 

Michelangelo's Moses looks like he is turning his torso because of the optic effects applied to the
marble. A similar philosophy was applied to language, with mixed results. While the Crusca's stand on language was uncompromising and close to Galileo's scientific prose, many writers rebelled not just to academic, but classical conventions, calling for absolute freedom in the name of originality and creativeness. 

As a result, their period may take a zig-zag pattern, moving from one image to another without any apparent link between sentences, the phrase may be overburdened with adjectves to impress the reader. Oxymorons and hyperboles may be compared to the optic illusions of Bernini in Saint Peter's Square. 

Gianbattista Marino, one of the greatest poets of the age, exemplifies the new taste in his Adone, a narrative poem in octaves. I have italicised the concetti and the Baroque imagery in both the original and my translation: 

Sotto questa fontana a chiome sciolte 

su 'l bel fitto meriggio aveano usanza 
le Napee del bel loco in un cerchio accolte 
vaghe caròle esercitare in danza. 
Com'Ila in lor le luci ebbe rivolte, 
D'infiammarle tra l'acque ebbe possanza, 
onde nel vivo e lucido cristallo 
rotto nel mezzo abbandonaro il ballo 
Come la stella nel mar divelta cade 
da l'azzurro seren del ciel estivo, 
o qual strisciando per oblique strade 
fende il notturno vel raggio festivo, 
così la rara e singolar beltade 
rapita in giù dentro quel gorgo vivo, 
precipitando tra le chiare linfe 
trovossi in braccio alle gelate Ninfe. 


Under this fountain, their hair loose 

In a thick shade the Nymphs did use 
Of that beautiful place in a circle gathered 
Carols sublime sing on their dances. 
As Ila her lights to them had pointed 
She could enflame them out of water 
So that that living and bright crystal 
Once broken in its middle they stopped dancing 
Like a star falling in the sea 
From the azure serene of summer sky 
Or, when crawling along its oblique way 
Breaks the night's shadow the festive ray 
So that rare and striking beauty 
Once ravished down that living funnel 
Having fallen down those clear fluids 
Found herself embraced by the cool symphs 

In the Baroque everything is changing and moving: curiously, the love of masks, stage-machines, lighting effects and ballets of bizarre and mythological figures are the flip-side of the same religious art that inspired Bernini and Michelangelo. 

The words of Marino dazzle the mind much as much as St. Peter's columnade dazzles the eye: its great power lies in that it can hardly pinned down by reason. Rather, it enchants and persuades without it. It can produce great religious prose: Donne, as some Italian preachers, created powerful sermons that still move and enthrall readers. 

Comedians were particularly successful in turning traditional rhetoric figures as calembours, oxymorons, assonances, chiasms to achieve grotesque effects. A notorius device recurrent in satirists is tonodidactics, consisting of taking a common sentence and replacing some its morphemes: as to make it sound like the original though the spelling tells quite another thing: the producer made a film > the producer met a Phil Baroque's dazzling language If the extragavant use of concetti could not produce high-brow literature, Baroque writers could nonetheless pride themselves on inventing some remarkably odd words. 

They were always looking for the strangest espressions to surprise and shock their audiences, and ransacked the dialects when they could not find any good Italian ones. Many more neologisms have come to us from the arts and crafts as well, though not officially acknowledged by scholars: regulations and instruction manuals for artisans were also widely printed in Italian, and only technical terms in current use had to be included in glossaries so that artisans and engineers could earn their living. 

Obviouly this met with the purists opposition, but it could not be helped. The Crusca's conservatism The Accademia della Crusca expunged those technical terms from its dictionary. As a result, non-natives coming to Italy on business often complained about not being able to find in the Dizionario any explanation for the commonest words Italians used in the workplace. 

Some of these were only added much later, when this conservative attitude no longer prevailed: the ideal purpose of the Dictionary was to present its readers with a range of words recommended for academic debate or polite usage and the grammar rules to follow in that context. 

Despite the Crusca's conservatism, Tuscany was the most open to change: more resistance came from other states: the Vatican, for eg. continued to discourage the use of the Italian though virtually no one spoke Latin except during the mass. 

It would be unwise, however, to infer that the ban received unanimous support even in the highest hierarchies of the Church. Spelling reform The 1600s witnesses the introduction of some spelling changes that had been proposed one century earlier as the graphic distinction between U and V. 

One would no longer write sentences as: l'vomo vero è vno solo, but "l'uomo vero è uno solo". No longer would writers use Xs in words (compare: exemplo with essempio, esempio), It. e and ed instead of et, and -zi /-zzi were used instead of previous -ti or -tti (compare gratie with grazie, actione with azione). 

Such changes were to remain in present-day Italian. t and c replaced th and ch in Greek words, in which the h, only etymological, not sounded, disappeared (compare theatro with teatro, christiano with cristiano). Milton, Italian Scholar Most would not expect to find John Milton in the
History of Italian

But as he could rival or even oustrip his Italian contemporaries in the art of sonnet-writing I will not just call him an English, but an Italian poet. He spoke Italian, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew with great ease, and it is virtually impossible find a blemish in his Italian Songs and Sonnets he left us.

He was befriended by the great Florentines of the time, who soon recognised his literary genius. In Florence, Milton was welcomed as their peer.by the Accademia degli Svogliati, where he stopped for some time on his tour of continental Europe in 1638-9. 

That was the time when he also visited Venice, Siena, Naples and the Vatican, probably paying a visit to Galileo then at house arrests at Arcetri (Florence). But his stay was unfortunately short, as the Puritans' campaign against James II soon recalled him to London. 

The Renaissance was known almost a century later in many European countries, and having playwrights as Shakespeare, Jonson, and of poets like Donne and Milton working in the early 1600s may explains why Elizabethan and Jacobean Literature looks more to Mannerism and
Baroque than the Italian Renaissance of the mid 1550s. 

Let us have a look at Sonnet 3: 

Qual in colle aspro,  al imbrunir di sera 

L'avezza giovinetta pastorella 
Va bagnando l'herbetta strana e bella 
Che mal si spande a disusata spera 
Fuor di sua natia alma primavera, 
Cosi Amor meco insù la lingua snella 
Desta il fior novo de strania favella, 
Mentre io di te, vezzosamente altera, 
Canto, dal mio buon popol non inteso 
E'l bel Tamigi cangio col bel Arno. 
Amor lo volse, ed io a l'altrui peso 
Seppi ch'Amor cosa mai volse indarno. 
Deh! foss'il mio cuor lento e'l duro seno 
A chi pianta dal ciel si buon terreno. 

Which you can read in William Cowper's translation: 

As on a hill-top rude, when closing day Imbrowns the scene, some past'ral maiden fair Waters a lovely foreign plant with care, That scarcely can its tender bud display Borne from its native genial airs away, So, on my tongue these accents new and rare Are flow'rs exotic, which Love waters there, While thus, o sweetly scornful! I essay Thy praise in verse to British ears unknown, And Thames exchange for Arno's fair domain; So Love has will'd, and oftimes Love has shown That what He wills he never wills in vain. Oh that this hard and steril breast might be To Him who plants from heav'n, a soil as free.

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