Saturday, August 18, 2012



A few days ago I mentioned that a book containing Folengo's macaronic poetry was among Primo Levi's indispensable possessions. By a happy coincidence, a kind reader just gave me a copy of Umberto Eco, The Infinity of Lists, tr. Alastair McEwen (New York: Rizzoli, 2009), in which I find the following on pp. 245, 249 (ellipsis in original):
A phantasmagorical collection of all forms of devilish ugliness is found in Baldus. Written by Teofilo Folengo under the pseudonym of Merlin Cocai, Baldus is a heroic-comic, grotesque, goliardic poem, and is both a parody of Dante's Comedy and a forerunner of Rabelais' Gargantua and Pantagruel. Among the main character's and his friends' various picaresque adventures there is, in the second part (Book 19), a battle with a host of devils, who appear in a collage of animal forms: bat, dog, goose, serpent, ox, ass, billy goat, with tusks, blood dripping down their breasts, fetid slobber, and sulphurous emissions from the sphincter. In the end Baldus and his friends chop the devils into such small pieces than [sic, read that] when Beelzebub tries to reassemble the one hundred and seventy thousand chunks he has been reduced to, he glues together foxes without tails, bears and pigs with horns, mastiffs with three paws, bulls with four horns, wolves' mouths in giant' heads, birds with the beak of an owl and the limbs of a frog...It's not difficult to compare in this collage, capable of producing an infinity of creatures, to verbal equivalent of Hieronymous Bosch's visions of hell—and how Bosch's infernos do not represent a simple taste for the fantastic and the teratological but are an allusion to the vices of the day, the corruption of social mores, and the disintegration of a world.
One of the passages referred to by Eco (Baldus, Book XIX, lines 96-111) can be found in Teofilo Folengo, Baldo, ed. and tr. Ann E. Mullaney, Volume 2: Books XIII-XXV (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2008), p. 201:
Four enormous horns stand up on his head: two cover his ears like those on a ram, two stick straight up like those on a bull. His muzzle is like that of a Molossian dog; from his mouth fangs hang out on both sides, horrible to see. No griffin has a nose nor any harpy a beak as hard and as solid and as good for piercing armor. His beard, like that of a billy goat, befouls his chest with rotten blood and reeks with the foul stench of his slobber. He turns his ears—which are longer than an ass's—this way and that, and from his cavernous eye sockets he brandishes two eyes of burning coal that block out the stars with their fierce glares. The unmentionable part in front is the head of a serpent; and the unmentionable part in back wags a nasty tail. His spindly legs are borne on goosefeet, and he spews forth an odor of sulfur from his scrawny butt.
Here are Folengo's ipsissima verba, a curious combination of Latin and Italian (Mullaney, p. 200):
Quattuor ingentes stant alto in vertice cornae,
binae coperiunt montonis instar orecchias,
binae incastrati surgunt bovis instar aguzzae.
Mostazzus canis est Morlacchi, cuius ab ore
hinc atque hinc sannae vista panduntur acerba.
Non griphonus habet nasum, harpyaque becchum,
tam durum, sodumque, aptumque forare corazzas.
Barba velut becchi marzo de sanguine pectus
concacat, et magno foetet puzzore bavarum.
Plus asini longas huc illuc voltat orecchias,
deque cavernosis oculis duo brasida vibrat
lumina, quae diris obscurant sydera sguardis.
Serpentis caput est pars vergognosa davantum,
codazzamque menat pars vergognosa dedretum.
Gambae subtiles pedibus portantur ochinis,
sulphureumque magro culamina spudat odorem.
For another taste of Folengo, see this post by fellow blogger Tom Turdman.

A detail from Hieronymus Bosch, Visions of the Afterlife

<< Home
Newer›  ‹Older

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?