I worked on my first translation from Il Mistero dell’Amor Platonico in a period I meant to translate only the part strictly concerning the Eleusinian Mysteries,

gabriele rossetti mistero amor platonicoand just briefly summarizing what found in the antecedent chapters. Now, after a long interruption, I realized to have done a superficial work: not only I did not take into consideration parts which, instead, were definitely worth to be scrupulously analyzed, but I did not really understand that Rossetti was not what I expected, that’s to say a historian of Medieval Italian literature, but a writer himself. More, an erudite writer with a very specific and desperate goal. A goal not apparent from a first superficial reading.

Unfortunately, Gabriele Rossetti’s work is not an easy reading even for a native Italian reader. As I wrote in my repudiated first article  “…..his writing style is the stilted and redundant one of the first half of Italian ottocento, so some considerable pruning would be in any case needed. The amount of pages, averaging more than three hundred and fifty for each of the five volumes, would be really hard to deal with for an average reader. So expect a collection of notes I deemed interesting……”. But it wasn’t simply like that, as Rossetti was much more complex than a lyrically pompous author. He was a banned author. In fact his Il Mistero dell’Amor Platonico was written and published in London in 1840.  Which thing I should have not underestimated, when frustrated by the disguises of his real thinking diluted in a verbose ocean of repetitions, while keeping himself within the boundaries of a prudent and boring Christian panegyric.

I should have been warned by a quote from Plato’s Phaedrus, which Rossetti inserts in the incipit to his first volume: “non semper ea sunt quae videntur: decipit frons prima multos“, or not always things are what they appear: the many are turned away by the first appearance. A sentence I admit to have soon passed over, expecting a stockpiling of beautifying Latin quotations. I just asked myself why he had translated into Latin an original Greek sentence: in all the five volumes of his monumental work one can hardly found a single word in Greek, and only when a correct translation into the cynical Latin language was unavailable. But that’s really unusual, not only for a classics scholar but moreover for a scholar of his time, when among historians there was the fade of most ancient Greek writing. A title for all is Aglaophamus, 1839, by Christian August Lobeck, a book I personally can consult only in its Latin parts. And that was not a mere fade, but a tradition started among Romans themselves, who used their language just for legal and technical reasons.

Additionally, and surprisingly, in the end of the first volume Rossetti places an appendix in which earnestly, and sadly, reveals to young generations that once upon a time there was an Italian pre-Christian “età dell’oro”, golden age, when writers could, if not overtly at least cryptically, hand on the secret knowledge to young crops, provide they were willing to do the little effort of an easy decryption. Today, says Rossetti in 1840, in Italy we are brought up in the ignorance and foolishness, the best weapons against any intellectual curiosity. But why does Gabriele Rossetti feel so bitter? A work of his,  Sullo Spirito antipapale, or on the Anti-Papal spirit, a treatise on the esotericism in Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio, was actually banned and ended up in the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, or the list of the books banned by Vatican. And that despite  Sullo Spirito Antipapale did not contain a slightest unorthodox part like his not even conceived then Il Mistero dell’Amor Platonico, not to mention all the his usual cautions. And all the other works he wrote on Dante’s mysticism procured the Vatican ostracism. To cap it all, he was engaged in “Carbonari” secret societies in promoting political revolution. And once he knew to be sought by police, Rossetti managed to flee to England where was nominated professor of Italian literature at King’s College in London. And where he is almost known for being father of painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti and poet Christina Rossetti.

ll Mistero dell’Amor Platonico is dedicated to S**** K****, Esq., but in the fifth volume the dedicating acronym disappears to let room to the full name of Seymour Kirkup, a British painter, scholar and Medieval Italian literature enthusiast living in Florence in the first decades of 19th century. To Kirkup’s efforts we owe not only the Giotto’s drawing of Dante’s portrait (then ruined), but also a great number of ancient manuscripts on Divina Commedia then sold to lord Ashburham, and from the latter to Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana. The abbreviation “Esq”, seems a short for “knight”, cavaliere in Italian. A suffix given to enrolled to Academies and para-masonic societies in Italy. For instance Cesare Ripa was a “cavaliere”.

gabriele rossetti dedication to seymour kirkup amor platonico

Rossetti’s preface is presented in form of a letter to Kirkup, in which he puts on display all his bitterness, sorrow and fear for what was a real persecution against his studies. He also mentions a German critic W.A. Schlegel who put a question how on earth a book published in England was written in Italian and, because of that,  foresaw a sad destiny to the work. Rossetti replied that an Italian topic must be easy read for Italian people, and added that an interesting book soon found those who would translate it. Sadly, the German critic was right and the Italian writer was too much of optimist. The book has never been translated into English, and Italians have largely neglected it. For these very reasons I will keep the following excerpt from the preface  as untranslated, as those bitter words are addressed to Italian people. And that’s an entirely Italian privilege:

Gabriele Rossetti“Signore Ornatissimo, mi arrendo alle vostre premure, e traggo finalmente dal torchio gli ultimi fogli d’un lavoro ch’io voleva condannare alla oscurità. Ciò che voi dite è giusto; e……….IL MISTERO DELL’AMOR PLATONICO non sarà più un mistero. …….quantunque nel trattar “Dello Spirito Antipapale, e della segreta Influenza che esercitò nella Letteratura in Europa” avessi in parecchie centinaia di pagine favellato di Amore Platonico, pure non ho fatto che appena aprire il vestibolo di quell’inacceso santuario, da cui esce tremenda voce che grida, Procul este, profani! Coloro che ravvisarono l’importanza dell’argomento bramarono la continuazione dell’opera, e me ne espressero la più viva sollecitudine; ma il loro numero mi parve si scarso, ch’io non potei desumerne bastevol coraggio all’ardua impresa. Vi ho detto altra volta che io mi trovo ad avere accatastate più migliaia di carte; e che io le avrei già messe in ordine e date alla luce, se il genio del nostro secolo, il quale ribollente tutto di vertiginosa politica avea non ha guari in fastidio la pacata letteratura, non m’avesse alor persuaso che il mettere in mercato un tal cibo, da voi tanto appetito, sarebbe stato un far nausea a stomachi mal disposti…….Credetemi pure, è un frutto fuor di stagione quello che a voi par si gustoso. Il mondo vuol oggi o politica o romanzi, quella per occupazione, e questi per passatempo: dal resto o torce il grifo o nol guarda neppure……..così fermo rimanea nel mio animo il divisamento di seppellir nell’ombra i voluminosi manoscritti intorno a cui mi era si lungamente affaticato. Desio di pace producea risoluzion di silenzio; poichè vedere le mie idee intorno a Dante così diverse dalle altrui mi facea sentire che il mostrarmi discorde da quasi tutti avrebbe eccitato  contro me antagonisti non pochi. E quantunque le ripetute analisi mi confermassero vie più ne’ precedenti risultamenti, pure non già scarsa fiducia nel mio successo mi lasciava pressochè morto fra le mani il lavoro. Lo seppellii.

Primo motivo. Non professando io facoltà teologica, non oso entrare in lizza con gli oppositori del culto latino; ma nell’evitare la controversia  credo di poter fare una distinzione. Io piego reverente la fronte innanzi al dogma, ma non fò così riguardo alla gerarchia; poichè se quello insegna misteri che non è lecito scrutinare, questa introdusse abusi ch’è dovere denunciare.

Secondo motivo. Alcuni di costoro han creduto, e han voluto far credere, che le mie sposizioni non fossero uno schietto risultamento di esame imparziale, ma un’ industria maliziosa di odio cupo contro la corte romana; e che perciò io mi fossi andato sforzando  di far parlare ai più venerati classici italiani quel medesimo linguaggio che m’era dal mio livore dettato. Chi mi conosce sa che fu esattamente il contrario; e può far testimonianza delle ansietà che circa un tal punto ho in vari tempi significate.

Terzo motivo. Quantunque l’argomento da me ventilato sia critico-letterario, pure esso porta nel suo grembo tanto mescolamento di teologico-dogmatico ch’io non mi sentiva omeri da tanto peso.

………..Terribili, quasi falange ordinata, insorsero da varie bande per piombarmi addosso con tanto accanimento che parvero aver giurato la mia rovina. Ponendo in moto le loro forze, e impugnando gli strali che più potessero vulnerarmi, e tutti, dal sillogismo alla beffa, dall’ironia all’esacrazione, contro di me scagliandoli, mi fecer bersaglio delle ire loro. Non contenti di trattarmi da fantastico e infatuito, si credettero in dritto d’inventar favole ingiuriose e storielle insultanti, per aver il piacere di chiamarmi calunniator di Dante e venditor di bubbole.  Nè tali imputazioni apparvero in libri  che pochi leggono, ma in giornali pubblici le sparsero quasi a suon di tromba, Nè rimasero nelle mute carte fin ad arrivare nella capitale del mondo cattolico……..”

But, I repeat, with a superficial reading Rossetti may even appear erratic and ambiguous in his purpose. The system he adopts is to keep his work within the boundaries of a prudent Christian panegyric, and using the ancient classics authors he quotes them as those “personages” of a commedia della finzione who, alone, were allowed to tell the truth, while he seems to declare himself not guilty of the erudition of the ancient.  So we will read quotations from Homer, Plato, Pindar, Vergilius, Servius, Ovidius, Plutarch, Synesius, Olympiodorus, Dante Alighieri, Boccaccio, Petrarca.


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