[Milton-L] The TeaM: Phoenix, Saudi Arabia

Dario Rivarossa dario.rivarossa at gmail.com
Wed Jul 20 01:32:50 EDT 2011

Or a te mi rivolgo, e tu supremo
Fra gli altri onore avrai ne gli alti carmi,
Immortal, rinascente, unico augello.

_____Torquato Tasso, Il Mondo Creato 5.1278-1280

I now address you, and you will receive
The greatest honors in this high song,
You immortal, rebirthing [*], unique bird.

Starting from these verses in the fifth Part, about the fifth day of
Creation, a “long poem within the long poem” begins, wholly dedicated
to the legendary phoenix. It will take some 350 verses i.e. like two
cantos in the Divine Comedy. The main reason being quite clear, as the
phoenix is a traditional symbol of Christ, dying and resurrecting;
already v. 1280 leaves little room to doubts, in case.
But, since the “short long poem” develops for so many verses, it
becomes much more than a bare list of symbols. Just the main events in
the life of the “unique bird” show in fact a relationship to the Son’s
saga: Tasso will moreover display all of his skills in describing
fantastic Eastern landscapes etc. Maybe he also needed a lyrical pause
after writing down hundreds of de-structured pages without a “hero.”

As far as PL is concerned, it is worth noticing that, even though the
bird is called the Arabian phoenix, Arabia is the place where it [**]
goes in order to die, once in one thousand [***] years, but it has its
homeland on a mysterious plateau in the far, far East, sharing the
most common features of Eden. It is not called “Eden,” though, and it
shows no trace of any former human inhabitant. In Part 7, Tasso will
wonder where Adam’s paradise could have been; he presents a lot of
conjectures, then quits.

In the following chapters we will be briefly examining some peculiar
passages in the story of the phoenix.

[*] How to translate the simple Italian adjective “rinascente” proved
a tough nut to crack. It literally means “going to be born again
(after dying),” but a brief word was needed, nor could I choose “born
again” because it currently conveys a completely different idea. It
could then be rendered as “ever-again-born,” or the like, but that
would suggest sort of a reincarnation, whereas the Italian word
alludes to Jesus’ resurrection, i.e. not the process of undergoing a
repetition of one's life, but acquiring a supernatural condition, as
Tasso explains in vv. 1292-1297. “Reviving” seemed too weak to me: it
was important to keep the image of birth. And “(re)nascent” means
something else. I finally opted for a (not brand new) neologism. But
maybe it proves awkward here. Replies will be welcome.

[**] Maybe it would be more correct to address the bird as “he,” as
people do with the pets they love, and especially because of its
Christological symbol. The problem is, “phoenix” in Italian is a
feminine word, so that Tasso writes “ella” (she) etc., not because the
bird is a female one (it is said to be beyond any sex) but just for
syntactical reasons. So, I will cling to “it.”

[***] Instead of 500, as it is generally assumed by most poets.

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