|NUMBER 3||FALL 1988|
Lectura Dantis, eliminating the Presentation, assigns this page to eventual editorial communications and, space permitting, to «filler» annotations, extraterritorial in nature, that is, allowed to exceed the strict limits of LD's self-definition as «research and interpretation». __ LD holds a section at the AAIS Conference (Spring 1989, Lowell); papers will be selectively published in the Journal. Proposals are welcome (& urgent; to LD); lecturae on the Inf (esp. canti 3, 7, 14, 16, 21-23, & 30) are preferred. __ A Dante seminar for community college and highschool teachers will be sponsored by NEH (participants receive a stipend) during June 1989 in Charlottesville, Virginia. Candidates from all teaching fields are encouraged to apply. Address inquiries to Prof. Evelyn Edson, Piedmont Virginia Community College, Route 6 Box 1-A, Charlottesville VA 22901. __ The University of Virginia now offers travel grants for ABDs who are working on Dante-related theses and are willing to come to UVa to give a talk on their researches. Send proposals to LD.
Consider the translator's sudden delight in finding his version (though quite 'literal') coincident with something mysteriously preestablished in the «target» language. «Oscura e profonda era e nebulosa...». The rough alliterative Saxon monosyllables take off and begin to murmur a wooden tune of their own, laboriously assuming the solemn cadences of the most solemn text in the English language: the Hymn to Light. Did blind Milton recall Dante's first sight of Hell when forging his rough pair of adjectives for the Primeval Chaos, «the rising world of waters dark and deep»? Chaucer probably did when singing of «Of Pluto's Kingdom dark and deep below». But «oscura e profonda» keeps sending echoes even more recent, incongruously so; the snows of New Hampshire appear, a nightly woodscape, a horse with a little bell: «The woods are lovely, dark and deep...». Frost would never have dreamt of it, but (since words can never completely leave behind their contexts) those promises to keep and the still hours-long ride into the night get vaguely tinged by a new, vicarious, anxiety __ harking back, through Milton's violoncello and Chaucer's basson, to the double bass of «oscura e profonda» which accompanied the Pilgrim's astonished glance into the Chasm.
Polysemia is generally admitted for the «femmine da conio» of Inf. XVIII, 66 __ as far as «coin» and «coiner» (the minting rod, used to «punch out» the bas-relief) go (Lat. cuneus, Old Fr. quin); and some commentators go even as far as to suggest, if not spell out, an attractive shadow of impropriety in the piston-like operation of the latter. Ottimo proposes the lame «cheating» (i.e., deceiving into prostitution), from false coinage; but he, and others, by multiplying meanings seem to register merely their own uneasiness before an expression that obscurely hints at something even more nasty. After all the whole canto is an experiment in lowly language, puttana, merda, merdoso; and the variant etymology, Lat. cunnus, Fr. con, Sp. coño (with, I am told, Italian cognates surviving in dialect), unavoidably adds a third (or fourth) ingredient to the kaleidoscope of the obscene fiend's obloqui: «Get on, pimp, here there ain't no wench to crack». Difficulty: «da» in the sense of, perhaps, «making profit of» or, maybe, «nothing but a», or the like, must be a hapax. At any rate, apart from considerations (currently at a low ebb) of Authorial Intention, one feels that Alighieri, great fancier of the «due in uno e uno in due», must have welcomed the linguistic twist whereby one combination of letters could be put to use toexpress, in virtue of divergent derivations, both male and female anatomy. The two items being «fused», in our case, by suggestions of commercialism and deceit.
At the kolossal hoopla for Bloomsday (no, not at Yale for Harold; at the Cini for Poldy: June 16) the reporter from La repubblica waylaid us __ maybe she mistook me for someone important, the guy who hands out NEH money (or at least meal tickets). In the published interview, later distributed among the congressisti, I came across as a heathen lost among the howling dervishi (the 400 Decipherers of Joycespeak). Well, for the record: I did happen to recall the adventures of Dante at the hands of his Numerologists, and did quote the discovery of the «poet's number at the center». I also mentioned the short response by a mathematician who, armed with probability theory, showed how the same (or any other) pattern could be discovered in any artifact __ in our case anything from Gilgamesh to Joyce. Now in the interview this range of masterpieces was summed up as «Cappuccetto Rosso». I am sure I did mention this favorite of mine __ but not to the exclusion of all the other Great Coded Tales. At any rate, I do not doubt that our mathematician could pull out those numbers from Little Red's Hood, too.
Speaking of LRRH. Great Northern U once asked me to «outsider» read a Ph.D. thesis on Dante. Its 500 pp. «attempt to show» that the Comedy is not only a remake of the exodus story, not only a Replay of the Christ Event, but also the story of Creation. The author having no Aramaic, Hebrew, Greek, or Latin, ransacks the English of the first few chapters of Genesis and finds (you bet he does) «parallels» (which later become «allusions», then direct references) in Inferno One. Creation is directly mentioned there, mind you; Eve is like the Leopard; the Wolf... I spend a cheerless night writing an evaluation, showing that Canto One is not a replay of Genesis but of Little Red Riding Hood. In fact, see the references to the Dark Wood, find the two Wolves, etc. I hint that the red hood too is present: use your common psychoanalytic sense. I don't recall what happened to the thesis, but if future scholars dig deep into Great Northern's files they may find my «Inf. I: The Grandmother Event».