August/September are often quiet months for translators; sometimes there’s a little spurt as folk finish off what they didn’t manage to get done before the holidays before everything goes quiet. I’m fully occupied dusting my books, which I should do continuously like the painting of the Firth of Forth bridge (but don’t). And now it’s high time as the air in my home office was not sweet.
The project goes slowly, interrupted by the discovery of buried treasure from yester year, half-remembered or half-forgotten projects. Two cards on a shelf fight for attention, one by Carl Spitzweg /1808-1885), The Poor Poet, showing the bohemian poet lying in bed protected by an umbrella against the leaking roof. The other card is from Dante’s Inferno XV 29 showing Dante looking at the burned features of his “teacher” (source Robert Hollander (Princeton University), 20 August 2001.
“The task is not just to understand the world but to change it” was tattooed on my brain when a callow youth. This I tried for some years until I lost my way, narrowed the struggle to loosening my own chains, became a serial reproducer and latterly also give tender loving care to my cerebral orphanage of unwanted information. But I look at the two cards and think what did I become, what should I have become, what did I turn my back on?
In fact, the comparison limps as the Dante picture is complicated Under my own steam, I had only got as far as recognising Dante.
Robert Hallander is refreshingly undumbdowned. He writes “As Dante’s readers are aware, this verse is usually printed as “chinando la mano alla sua faccia”, a reading that has been, as we shall see, intelligently questioned in the recent past, but which, restored to its suspect glory by Petrocci (1966) has returned to nearly unanimous favor. The problem is for once, a simple one and can be described as follows: Dante, looking down at the burned features of his “teacher”, Brunetto Latini, either extends his hand toward that face or else lowers his own face in the direction of Brunetto’s, followed by three pages analysing the likelihood of Dante extending his hand or lowering his face and the wording of Dante’s Inferno.
This is heady stuff for a translator and chaser of intellectual rabbits emeritus like me. I realise that it is not enough to have read and poorly understood Proust and Joyce. I have to tackle Dante’s Inferno too!
And, like the poor poet, surrounded by books, with Teach Yourself Bengali, Saratchandra Chattopadhyay’s (Chatterjee) short stories), the Fair Maid of Perth, a history of Lever Brothers soap emporium and land ownership in Scotland, Dorset churches as well as various weighty works on imperialism, whose nature I am trying to penetrate, and almost 100 pictures of St Jerome I need to work on, I feel the approach of another major project. Like poor King Midas who changed everything he touched to gold, everything I become interested in becomes a potential PhD. Probably not a curse in my case but to do with poorly functioning frontal lobes…
There’s another picture by Spitzweg which I like, called The Bookworm. (Der Bucherwurm).
It’s in the Museum Georg Schäfer in Schweinfurt in Bavaria. According to Wiki, Georg Schäfer ran an important ball bearing factory and was a Nazi city councillor, as well as having a fine art collection (some of doubtful provenance). But that’s another story and I probably shouldn’t get into it if I’m going to finish dusting my books.