In the Valley of Dying Stars

Pianist Benjamin Powell performs a programme of classical music by candlelight. 27 no. 2 'Moonlight' Debussy - Suite Bergamasque Debussy - L'isle Joyeuse Since winning the British Contemporary Piano Competition in Benjamin.

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Two basic ideas with which she begins and to which she repeatedly returns are that: 1 in Dante's world view, the stars are concrete representations of eternal ideas, exempla of the spiritual order that governs the universe by the power of love; and 2 Dante's astronomy is not simply aesthetic but also ethical, inasmuch as it demands a personal application and interpretation. The constellations are invitations to virtue, serving to remind us of what we ought to do and requiring us to opt for the good.


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The volume is divided into an introduction, eight chapters, and a brief conclusion. The chapters are generally based on the explication of a single astronomical invocation or a short series of related references. Aristotle posited a First Mover who set the cosmos in motion by being desired. The behavior of the material universe is analogous, in the microcosm, to the human appetitive faculties. With each description of the celestial wheels, "the reader is made to stand before the universe [. Chapter 2 takes on the date of the pilgrim's journey and the apparent discrepancy between Dante's astrology and the "real" positions of the planets on Maundy Thursday , showing how Dante's "false" astronomical description of spring yokes the journey's fictional beginning to Easter and to the anniversary of the creation of the world.

Chapter 3 discusses three literary references to farmers as readers of the stars Inferno 20, 24, and 26 which stand as symbolic positive alternatives to antiquity's deluded soothsayers and rash sailors whose excessive curiosity led them to precipitous disaster. Chapter 4 analyzes the elaborate astronomical periphrase at the opening of Purgatorio 9 which refers to the contemporaneousness of nighttime in Purgatory and dawn in Italy, on the other side of the world, inviting the reader to compare "there" and "here," the corrective afterlife with our present sinful state.

In Chapter 5, Cornish moves on to the Paradiso, where the astronomical descriptions generally lose their function as time-markers, to become metaphorical representations of spiritual abstractions. In Chapter 6, she examines the imaginative exercise, in which the poet asks the reader to participate in Paradiso 13, of reshaping selected stars into a new configuration in order to activate the image of the Trinity in the individual soul.


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  • Chapter 7 examines, rather, the relation between the traveler's vision of nine concentric circles wheeling around a fixed point in Canto 28 and the homocentric Aristotelian universe. The astronomical image focuses on the momentary balance of two planets on the horizon, one rising and one setting, corresponding to the undecided state in which both sets of angels hesitated momentarily before making the single, irrevocable decision that set the universe in motion.

    This final discussion brings Cornish neatly back, in the book's conclusion, to her original emphasis on observed celestial phenomena as texts that are open to different personal interpretations, and that demand the reader take a stand, choosing virtue and love.

    If this book has a limitation, it is that it gets a little bogged down at times in dry, technical discussions. Despite the admittedly ambiguous nature of some of his imagery, Dante is almost always shown to think rationally, like a scientist or philosopher, and just what distinguishes him from his scholastic contemporaries may not always be adequately explained.

    La Scommessa di Prometeo (Italian Edition)

    But the fault may also lie in this reader's perhaps too-short attention span for issues that obviously fascinated both the poet and his contemporaries. Cornish's contribution is, without a doubt, an extremely useful and supremely original addition not a small feat in such an overcrowded field!

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    Andrea da Barberino and the Language of Chivalry. Gainesville: U of Florida P, Although the subject of this interesting study has never quite sunk altogether out of scholarly sight, it is probably safe to say that there will be relatively few readers outside Italy, other than specialists in his period c.

    In Italy, narratives based on his writings have at least enjoyed a prolonged afterlife in popular culture. Even the specialists, however, have still not found decisive answers to many of the fundamental questions that might be asked about the output of any late medieval author: exactly which texts can safely or plausibly be attributed to him? What are the defining stylistic features of his writing?

    Operette morali

    What precisely are the relations among the various manuscript witnesses to the dissemination of his works? What are the generic and thematic connections of those works with their literary and cultural matrix? Thanks to Gloria Allaire's lucid and meticulous account of her pioneering work on Andrea's manuscript tradition, we are at last in a position to begin to answer all of these questions, and indeed to come to Andrea's work not only better informed but more sensitive to both its cultural significance and its specifically literary value.

    Allaire begins at the most traditional of beginnings with an account of Andrea's "Life and Works" She then undertakes an analysis of "Andrea's Narrative Style" , identifying such key features as a "striving for verisimilitude" 14 , a "chronicle-like texture" 16 , an abiding interest in geography and genealogy, a "varied use of registers, shaped according to the particular narrative needs of a passage" 21 , frequent reference more so than might have been expected in the genre to the Latin classics and the liturgy, characteristic use of particular narrative and rhetorical formulae, and the presence of determinable devices of grammar and syntax such as polysyndeton.

    Allaire is careful to acknowledge that several of these "hallmarks" 30 of Andrea's style are shared with many other late medieval authors and texts, and that their use as identifiers must therefore be subject to rigorous control. She is also under no illusions about the potential and potentially vast distance between author and manuscript, admitting, for instance, that the appearance of polysyndeton in a given text may easily have been created by a scribal rather than an authorial preference for, and insertion of, conjunctions Nonetheless, she makes a strong - because cautious - case for the definition of a recognizable style as characteristic of the authentic works of Andrea da Barberino, and, on that basis, sets out in subsequent chapters to determine several still controversial questions of attribution connected with his name.

    Here the eponymous case is especially tricky because, codicologically speaking, there is no "there" there: the only surviving manuscript of the Prima Spagna, found in a Roman library in the early nineteenth century, was lost some time thereafter and has never resurfaced literally: it went down with the ship that was carrying it to Germany.

    The only available evidence for its contents is therefore a set of rubrics transcribed from the manuscript before its ill-starred embarkation. Allaire examines these minutely, along with other surviving evidence of the manuscript's appearance, and concludes both that "[i]n addition to similarities of plot and characters, the lost Prima Spagna shares specific narrative motifs with the known works of Andrea" 36 , and that there is substantial evidence provided by the rubrics for the presence in the Prima Spagna of lexical items typical of Andrea's authentic works, but rarely if ever found in a control group of tre- and quattrocento Tuscan chivalric texts by other hands.

    The next chapter, "The Case for Ansuigi La Seconda Spagna " , likewise begins from the lost Roman manuscript, arguing that the Seconda Spagna it contained is probably identifiable with an extant Storia di Ansuigi, re di Spagna, which in turn can be attributed to Andrea on the basis of lexical and stylistic analysis and comparison similar to those conducted in the previous chapter.

    Allaire does some admirable philological spadework here, clearing the ground of misconceptions and confusions introduced by earlier generations of scholars, and consistently handling her sometimes evanescent textual material with critical acumen and sound common sense. She continues to exercise her skills in the following chapters, in which she argues first that the lengthy prose narrative known as the Storie di Rinaldo da Monte Albano is probably Andrea's, and then that the slightly less lengthy Libro di Rambaldo da Risa, occasionally assigned in the past to Andrea, probably is not.

    A brief conclusion expresses the hope that this book's establishment of more precise definitions of Andrea's style and canon will lead to "more thoughtful and comprehensive critical treatments" of his works which, it might be noted, Allaire herself would surely be very well equipped to provide. The volume is rounded out by useful appendices that list extant manuscripts of Andrea's texts and supply a diplomatic transcription of a key extract from the proem to one of them.

    They also analyze the content of the disputed Rambaldo in comparison with that of Andrea's undisputed works, as well as provide thorough notes and bibliography.

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    In every chapter, Allaire's basic method is to take a fine-tooth comb to the texts themselves, examining lexical and stylistic evidence with minute care, assessing individual texts in the light of a wide range of analogous contemporary material, taking full account of the variants and vagaries of the manuscript tradition, and restraining any impulse to push the ensuing argument beyond the limits of the possible, the likely, or the probable into the treacherous realm of the categorical.

    It must be conceded that there are points at which particular claims or applications of method seem open to question - given the nature of the subject, it could scarcely be otherwise. But Allaire herself is well aware of the limitations inherent in her chosen approach; as a result, the effect of her painstaking accumulation of evidence and her refusal to squeeze that evidence harder than it can bear is, in the end, impressive enough in its own terms.

    Unless they are prepared to deny the validity of the entire philological method itself which some, of course, will be readers who wish to challenge Allaire's conclusions will have to engage with the material in a fashion as methodologically responsible and as exhaustively detailed as her own, which they will not find easy.

    All in all, this book stands as a fine monument to a way of doing things in literary study which has fallen out of fashion in recent years, but whose value is likely to endure long beyond that of more modish forms of literary-critical practice that have taken its place.

    By dint of great learning, subtle argument, and sheer hard work with texts, Allaire has been able to clarify confusion, dispel ignorance, and point the way toward deeper and more satisfying readings of a previously under-rated author. It is an achievement that any of us who call ourselves scholars might, and should, envy. Toronto: UP, Charles Klopp's Sentences: The Memoirs and Letters of Italian Political Prisoners from Benvenuto Cellini to Aldo Moro is an authoritative and insightful guide through the fascinating realm of confinement and its representation in literary expression.

    With laudable economy of detail, Klopp situates each author in his or her respective historical milieu, provides the reader with pertinent biographical information, and balances the often intimate revelations of his subjects with his own distanced yet discerning reflections. In his exposition of this literature that deals with some of humankind's darker moments, he highlights both its drama and pathos, while relieving his reader with an occasional amusing and even entertaining comment.

    His book, then, presents a kaleidoscopic vision of many separate and distinct portrayals of the experience of confinement, each linked by historical repetition and by a self-perpetuating network of intertextual allusions and themes. One might argue that all genres Klopp is treating several: the epistolary genre, the memoir, and poetry possess textual prototypes and traditions or they would not be defined as such.

    Would all writers then be "captives" to precedent models? Setting aside the somewhat forced metaphor, I do agree that the shared imagery and the tendency to identify with past models are outstanding features of prison discourse and, as such, substantiate its designation as genre while investing it with something of an eternal quality. This said, it should not be forgotten that prison writing is also influenced by the literary currents, trends, and values of the historical moment from which it emerges. Klopp has successfully integrated this notion into his discussion and thus illumined certain aspects of the Aldo Moro writings, for example, and those of Andrea Costa and the Communists.

    His book certainly whets the appetite for more of this type of analysis, which must obviously be minimized in a wide-ranging survey. Indeed, the strength of Sentences lies in its broad coverage of materials not easily accessed, but, nonetheless, brought forth with mastery.

    Pathways through Literature - Italian writers - Giacomo Leopardi

    The reader's understanding and appreciation of the more peculiar or distinctive tropes of prison narrative are advanced by Klopp's acute observations of the ordinary and extraordinary experiences of imprisonment. One such elucidation highlights the potentially paradoxical state of forced confinement in which bodily constraints may actually dispose the mind to a certain broadening, a heightened receptiveness, or even freedom. Klopp also points out that the reverse is possible, in that victims of confinement may be so traumatized, demoralized, or otherwise unable to adapt to captivity that they simply lose the powers of concentration or memory.

    In this same spirit of mental and physical interplay, Klopp presents an interesting discussion of the "textualization of the body and the accompanying corporalization of the text" As he demonstrates with numerous examples, the suffering body itself can become a medium of expression "able to authenticate or subvert an accompanying or competing text" Whether it be writing in blood or on soiled bandages, the visible scars of torture or illness, or in the "dialectic of substitution and replacement" , the pathology of the prisoner is a graphic fixture of prison discourse.

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    Klopp's elaborations on this theme are extremely important not only to the study of these particular texts, but in furthering, from a socio-cultural perspective, our understanding of the role of captivity in human society. Any interpreter of highly subjective material must be faithful to the content of the text, that is, to the words each author has chosen to convey his or her thoughts.

    Klopp tells us, though, that he and the reader must also see what is not stated in the text. He explains that prison writing consists of an ostensible text beneath which lies a "clandestine" or "unarticulated, secret" text which, in his view, is "more authentic" 10, than that which the author has in fact composed.

    Although I admire his line of reasoning and am equally intrigued by these authors' allusions to hidden or lost texts, suppressed emotions or ideas, censored fragments, and ineffable experiences, I do not agree that the unspoken text is somehow more authentic than the text which functions as its referent. If indeed a covert, though undefined, text is somehow implied within the overt text, the allusion itself must be seen as meaningful. In a sense, the author has, consciously or subconsciously, invited the reader to speculation. In the altogether different case of writings in symbolic language, cryptic alphabets, acrostics, or even invisible ink, which are intended for a specific recipient, the question is not one of authenticity but of simply recognizing the symbiotic function of a foil text or, literally, a pretext and the coded message it harbors.

    He repeatedly refers to "inexpressible passion," "ineffable suffering" , "unexpressed affection" , "inexpressible texts of suffering and desire" 10 as if these experiences, common to all people, surpass the limits of human expression.

    Dialogo di Plotino e di Porfirio di Giacomo Leopardi

    If that were the case, the world would have very few works of art, musical compositions, or books.