[Milton-L] The TeaM: Web Pride

Dario Rivarossa dario.rivarossa at gmail.com
Wed Dec 15 01:31:19 EST 2010

[…] Oh sciocca e stolta
Sapienza mondana, ond’uom si gonfia
Di vano fasto e di superbo orgoglio,
Simile a tela d’infelice aracne […]

_____Torquato Tasso, Il Mondo Creato 2.729-732

[…] O fool and silly
Earthly wisdom, so that Man swells
With vain pomp and haughty pride,
Like the web of wretched Arachne […]

Hope the Milton-List-eners will forgive me if some # are not strictly
linked to PL. In The TeaM, as anticipated in the Foreword, I would
like to follow a Gestaltish approach, e.g. showing the cultural
background that was common to Tasso and Milton. Any scholar,
afterwards, will easily see the relationship / difference between
Tasso’s and Milton’s ways of reusing the “raw materials”.

V. 732 should be translated: “Like the web of a poor / wretched
spider”, since “aracne” is written in small letters, and the following
verses will simply deal with arachnids whose frail webs are destroyed
by a stone. But, Tasso writes “aracne” (fem.) instead of “ragno”
(masc.) because he is clearly quoting Dante here, Purgatorio 12.43-45:
O folle Aragne, sì vedeva io te
Già mezza ragna, trista in su gli stracci
Dell’opera che mal per te si fè.

O mad Arachne, I could see you [portrayed in marble]
As a half-spider already, wretched upon the rags
Of that needlework, woe!, you had made.

Dante shows her as an example of “punished pride” (the weaver Arachne
challenged Athena, the goddess of Technics, therefore she was changed
into a spider by her), and that provides a further link to the verses
by Tasso above.
Once again, however, Tasso reduces the myth to its natural basis: the
ancient poets had turned the spider’s behavior into the myth of
Arachne, whereas he brings back the character Arachne to her origin as
a spider.
And – once again – I cannot remember if Milton ever mentions this
myth. But it is meaningful the way it developed through time.
According to the ancient Greek and Roman poets, those who challenged
the gods were heroes, their doom notwithstanding. Vice versa, the
Medieval christian Dante approved of the weaver’s punishment. Then,
Ludovico Ariosto described his own long poem Orlando Furioso as a
“great needlework” like Arachne’s: he turned the Medieval values
upside down, anticipating Nietzsche (or rather, Nietzsche made the
Renaissance topical). Tasso sees Arachne’s history _both_ as a symbol
of human pride, to be punished, and sympathetically as a symbol of
human tragedy. A double-sided anthropology which is a major feature of
his philosophy, as well as Milton’s.
More about that in some following chapter.

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