My wife and I are approaching the end of Hearing Secret Harmonies, the twelfth and final volume of Anthony Powell’s series of novels A Dance to the Music of Time (begun last November, and contrary to Christopher Culver’s warning in June, we have not found a “drastic decline in quality with the last two volumes,” although I agree they aren’t up to the level of the earlier ones), and among the things that have intrigued me is his discussion of Ariosto, an author I knew had once been famous and much read but whom I had never paid attention to. The more I read about Ariosto, the more interesting he sounded; from Wikipedia:
Throughout Ariosto’s writing are narratorial comments dubbed by Dr. Daniel Javitch as “Cantus Interruptus”. Javitch’s term refers to Ariosto’s narrative technique to break off one plot line in the middle of a canto, only to pick it up again in another, often much later, canto. Javitch argues that while many critics have assumed Ariosto does this so as to build narrative tension and keep the reader turning pages, the poet in reality diffuses narrative tension because so much time separates the interruption and the resumption. By the time the reader gets to the continuation of the story, he or she has often forgotten or ceased to care about the plot and is usually wrapped up in another plot. Ariosto does this, Javitch argues, to undermine “man’s foolish but persistent desire for continuity and completion”. Ariosto uses it throughout his works.
That reminded me of Veltman, who similarly drops plotlines for many pages, and then I remembered Veltman had actually written a story called “Неистовый Роланд” [Orlando Furioso] (see this post from last year), and I realized Ariosto must have been quite important to Veltman and I should really give him a try. So I’m reading the version that’s easily available online, the one translated by William Stewart Rose in 1823-31 (and no, I’m not going to try reading it in Italian, this is a side interest and I want to get an idea of it, not linger over its poetic qualities), and I’m enjoying the unexpected bonus of Rose’s recondite vocabulary. Here’s a stanza from the first canto:
There, lodged by Charles, that gentle bonnibel,
Ordained to be the valiant victor’s meed,
Before the event had sprung into her sell,
And from the combat turned in time of need;
Presaging wisely Fortune would rebel
That fatal day against the Christian creed:
And, entering a thick wood, discovered near,
In a close path, a horseless cavalier.
Bonnibel! The OED (not fully updated since 1887) defines it as “Fair maid, bonny lass,” says it’s “apparently < bonny adj. + belle adj. and n.; but possibly < French bonne et belle good and fair,” and gives four citations, the first from 1579 (Spenser Shepheardes Cal. Aug. 62, “I saw the bouncing, Bellibone; Hey ho Bonibell”) and the last from 1823 (J. G. Lockhart Vow Reduan in Anc. Spanish Ballads ii, “But bid a long farewell..To bower and bonni~bell, thy feasting and thy wooing!”), just when Rose was doing his translating. And the third line flummoxed me completely: “Before the event had sprung into her sell”? The event had sprung… what? Then I realized the subject was the gentle bonnibel, with “before the event” an adverbial phrase modifying the action, but what the dickens was a sell? Turns out it’s an old word (from French selle < Latin sella) that originally meant “A seat, a low stool” but came to mean “A saddle” (latest citation 1885 R. F. Burton tr. Arabian Nights’ Entertainm. I. xx. 198 “He bade one of his pages saddle him his Nubian mare-mule with her padded selle”). Ods bodikins!
Addendum. Having gotten the Penguin translation by Barbara Reynolds from the library (thanks, Songdog!), I might as well provide her version of the stanza above for comparison:
Angelica did not prolong her stay.
She, who was promised as a victor’s bride,
Into the saddle leapt and straight away,
Choosing her moment well, set out to ride.
She had foreseen the fortune of the day
Would bring disaster to the Christian side.
Along a forest glade she took her course
And met a cavalier without a horse.