Poliziano’s ‘Orfeo’ was dedicated to Messer Carlo Canale, the husband of that famous Vannozza who bore Lucrezia and Cesare Borgia to Alexander VI. As first published in 1494, and as republished from time to time up to the year 1776, it carried the title of ’La Favola di Orfeo,’ and was not divided into acts. Frequent stage-directions sufficed, as in the case of Florentine ‘Sacre Rappresentazioni,’ for the indication of the scenes. In this earliest redaction of the ‘Orfeo’ the chorus of the Dryads, the part of Mnesillus, the lyrical speeches of Proserpine and Pluto, and the first lyric of the Maenads are either omitted or represented by passages in ottava rima. In the year 1776 the Padre Ireneo Affo printed at Venice a new version of ‘Orfeo, Tragedia di Messer Angelo Poliziano,’ collated by him from two MSS. This play is divided into five acts, severally entitled ‘Pastoricus,’ ‘Nymphas Habet,’ ‘Heroicus,’ ‘Necromanticus,’ and ‘Bacchanalis.’ The stage-directions are given partly in Latin, partly in Italian; and instead of the ‘Announcement of the Feast’ by Mercury, a prologue consisting of two octave stanzas is appended. A Latin Sapphic ode in praise of the Cardinal Gonzaga, which was interpolated in the first version, is omitted, and certain changes are made in the last soliloquy of Orpheus. There is little doubt, I think, that the second version, first given to the press by the Padre Affo, was Poliziano’s own recension of his earlier composition. I have therefore followed it in the main, except that I have not thought it necessary to observe the somewhat pedantic division into acts, and have preferred to use the original ‘Announcement of the Feast,’ which proves the integral connection between this ancient secular play and the Florentine Mystery or ‘Sacra Rappresentazione.’ The last soliloquy of Orpheus, again, has been freely translated by me from both versions for reasons which will be obvious to students of the original. I have yet to make a remark upon one detail of my translation. In line 390 (part of the first lyric of the Maenads) the Italian gives us:—
Spezzata come il fabbro il cribro spezza.
This means literally: ’Riven as a blacksmith rives a sieve or boulter.’ Now sieves are made in Tuscany of a plate of iron, pierced with holes; and the image would therefore be familiar to an Italian. I have, however, preferred to translate thus:—
Riven as woodmen fir-trees rive,
instead of giving:—
Riven as blacksmiths boulters rive,
because I thought that the second and faithful version would be unintelligible as well as unpoetical for English readers.
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EIGHT SONNETS OF PETRARCH