31 May, 2009


In Book 21 of Teofilo Folengo's Baldus (1517), a spoof epic in macaronic hexameters—that is, half Latin, half Italian, the latter frequently provincial—the eponymous hero and his friends find themselves in battle with a dragon or serpent (anguis, serpens, draco, drago, dragus, according to taste); finally, after one warrior rides its back and punches it to the ground, on the verge of death, it transforms into a formosa putina. . . cui nomen Smiralda fuit, de gente luparum, a beautiful girl by name of Smiralda, of the race of she-wolves. Falchetto, the dog-man leading the attack on the dragon, is about to duff Smiralda up too, but she entreats him:
Talibus ingannans, Falchettum porca carezzat
barbozzoque eius digitis putanella duobus
fat squaquarinellum, velut est ars vera piandi,
sive carezzandi menchiones atque dapocos. (ll. 446-449)
The putanella, little whore, fat squaquarinellum eius barbozzo duobus digitis: she does something to his chin [barbozzo in dialect, see here] with two fingers. The poem's recent translator, Ann Mullaney, renders the passage:
Tricking him with such words, the pig caresses Falchetto; the little whore takes his chin between two fingers and gives it a small tug, in accordance with the true art of getting and stroking dolts and low-lifes.
In Emilio Faccioli's 1989 translation into modern Italian, this squaquarinellus is given as 'con due dita gli va titillando il barbozzo'. Folengo's own phrase derives from the Mantuan idiom far squaquarin, which Cherubini paraphrases as far vezzi, that is, 'to fondle, caress, flatter'. The word seems to come in turn from the verb squaquarare, which appears three times in the poem: 1.144, 7.437, and 24.39, translated variously 'to sport', 'to live it up', and 'to soak up', where Cherubini offers ciarlare (to chat) and gozzovigliare (to carouse). The more usual meaning is 'to soften, quicken, loosen', also 'to shit, blurt out, reveal a secret', with connotations of both diarrhoea and soft cheese, two Dalinian motifs that occur throughout the poem.

At any rate, it strikes me that Smiralda's chin-pulling alludes to the well-known gesture made by Thetis when entreating Zeus at Iliad 1.501: she dexiterēi d' ar' hup' anthereōnos helousa, takes hold of his chin from below with her right hand, while at 8.371 Athena reports that Thetis ellabe cheiri geneiou, grasped [Zeus'] chin with her hand. (Compare 10.454, where the Trojan spy Dolon is about to do the same to Diomedes.) This gesture is illustrated in Ingres' rather garish and ungainly early painting:

Samuel Butler, in a notorious 1892 lecture arguing for the poem's female authorship, remarks, à propos of this passage, that 'it is still a common Italian form of salutation to catch people by the chin. Twice during the last summer I have been so seized in token of affectionate greeting, once by a lady and once by a gentleman.' Butler's holiday reminiscences aside, Thetis is not making the gesture as an 'affectionate greeting'—she is indicating her suppliancy. For Walter Leaf, who, like Butler, translated the Iliad, with a little help from his friends, the action suggests a beaten warrior who 'can only clasp his enemy's legs to hamper him, and turn aside his face so that he cannot see to aim the final blow, until he has at least heard the prayer for mercy'. R. B. Onians, in his fantastical Origins of European Thought (1951), disputes Leaf's interpretation, arguing that the chin (geneios), like the knee (gonu), is related to genus and generation: 'this would also explain why the chin, as if holy in the same way as the knee, was clasped by the Greek suppliant'.

Folengo's Smiralda, whose name has already been misheard as Smerdola two hundred lines earlier, is not humbly entreating Falchetto. Her gesture is instead ironic, a two-fingered teasing or chucking of the chin, softening Falchetto's heart and brain: a solicitative trollop, Thetis in burlesque.


Anonymous said...

Not only the case of Dolon, but even more importantly of Priam's son, Lykaon, who Achilles slew marking his inhumanness, amid supplication:

[the Chicago Homer along with its literal trans: http://www.library.northwestern.edu/homer/html/application.html ]

IL.21.114 ὣς φάτο,τοῦ δ'αὐτοῦ λύτο γούνατα καὶ φίλον ἦτορ:
IL.21.114 So he spoke, and of the other the knees and the inward

IL.21.115 ἔγχος μέν ῥ' ἀφέηκεν,ὃ δ' ἕζετο χεῖρε πετάσσας
IL.21.115 heart went slack. He let go of the spear and sat back, spreading

IL.21.116 ἀμφοτέρας: Ἀχιλεὺς ἐρυσσάμενος ξίφος ὀξὺ
IL.21.116 wide both hands; but Achilleus drawing his sharp sword struck him

IL.21.117 τύψε κατὰ κληῗδα παρ' αὐχένα, πᾶν δέ οἱ εἴσω
IL.21.117 beside the neck at the collar-bone, and the double-edged sword

IL.21.118 δῦ ίφος ἄμφηκες:δ' ἄρα ἐπ γαίῃ
IL.21.118 plunged full length inside. He dropped to the ground, face downward,

IL.21.119 κεῖτο ταθείς, ἐκ δ'αἷμα μέλαν ῥέε,δεῦε δὲ γαῖαν.
IL.21.119 and lay at length, and the black blood flowed, and the ground was soaked with it.

Achilles being redeemed when in finally allows the supplication of Lykaon's father, who grasps him about the knees and hands in the last book (24.478).

pedro said...

How fantastical? I never got around to reading it, after a bad experience with Snell.

Conrad H. Roth said...

Kvond: Yes, but Dolon, unlike Lykaon, goes for the chin.

Pedro: Oh, Onians is much better than Snell.

Anonymous said...

You are very right. There must be some sort of progression marking out a degree or quality of supplication. At the knees there is genuine and complete supplication. At the hands a kind of formal intimacy (Achilles' hands are murderous hands, murderous of Priam's seed-kin). But at the chin something more is going on. Dolon, δόλος (trick, cunning strategy), deceptively walking on all fours impersonating a wolf in its skin (Apollo's animal), foreshadowing Odysseus' own Trojan Horse dolon, certainly seems to express something of his character in going for the chin.

And yes, Thetis is more than just supplicant with Zeus, she is intimate, in the sense that, at least in other literature Achilles's birth represents the progency of their otherwise fated, and interrupted cloitus. In a sense, Achilles is Zeus after-child.

Some thoughts. I always got the sense that the "knee' (gonu) that is grasped is not just the knee, but the thigh as well (with its attendant association and proximity to the loins), the whole upper leg. I suspect anatomy was not divided quite so neatly as it is today, but rather was seen in parts clustered by the action and signification.

For instance, when Homer calls the "knees" the seat of strength or swiftness (Il.17.569; 22.204), it is not just the joint, but all above it. As when he speak of laying in the knees of the god (Il.17.514), he means the lap of a god. In a sense the joint indicates what is above it, the same we might say of the chin/beard.

Holding upon the upper leg, or holding the beard of a man, very different acts.

Your posts are excellent.

Raminagrobis said...

But what to make of this, which happened a couple of days ago? (Apologies for the source of the link, it was the only one I could find.) Perhaps the chin-pinch is also a signifier of imminent doom, like the kiss of a mafioso.

Anonymous said...

Unless of course "chin" is taken simply as a bawdy then-current euphemism or double entendre for male genatalia. In which case the "putanella's" two-fingered gesture becomes all too obvious.