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Registered User
(4/21/01 6:54:33 am)
Italian myth, folklore, and fairy tales
Luciana, you wrote (in the "Color of Death" thread):
"…I must bring up Italy again…I hope I do not sound too much like a broken record. But it is my heritage, my father's birthplace and the time I spent there last year deeply affected me."

There are those of us here who are more than happy to have you bring up Italy again, and to prove it, I'd like to start a new thread on topic. To get us rolling, here's a quote from Italo Calvino:

"For two years [while he worked on his book Italian Folktales] I have lived in woodlands and enchanted castles, torn between contemplation and action: on the one hand hoping to catch a glimpse of the beautiful creature of mystery who, each night, lies down beside her knight; on the other, having to chose between the cloak of invisibility or the magical foot, feather, or claw that could metamorphose me into an animal. And during these two years the world about me gradually took on the attributes of fairyland, where everything that happened was a spell or metamorphosis, where individuals, plucked from the chiaroscuro of a state of mind, were carried away by predestined loves, or were bewitched; where suddenly disappearances, monstrous transformations occurred, where right had to be discerned from wrong, where paths bristling with obstacles led to a happiness held captive by dragons. Also in the lives of people and nations, which until now had seemed to be at a standstill, anything seemed possible: snake pits opened up and were transformed into rivers of milk; kings who had been thought kindly turned out to be brutal parents; silent betwitched kingdoms suddenly came back to life. I had the impression that the lost rules which govern the world of folklore were tumbling out of the magic box I had opened.

"Now that the book is finished, I know that this was not a hallucination, a sort of professional malady, but the confirmation of something I already suspected -- folktales are real.

"Taken all together, they offer, in their oft-repeated and contantly varying examinations of human vicissitudes, a general explanation of life preserved in the slow ripening of rustic consciousness; these folk stories are the catalog of the potential destinies of men and women, especially for that stage in life when destiny is formed, i.e., youth, beginning with birth, which itself often foreshadows the future; then the departure from home, and, finally, through the trials of growing up, the attainment of maturity and proof of one's humanity."

-- Italo Calvin, from the Introduction to his volume of Italian Folktales, c 1956

Edited by: Terri at: 4/21/01 6:55:48 am

Unregistered User
(4/22/01 7:46:21 am)
Okay Terri, I'll help you get this topic going. I love the Calvino quote by the way - which is now tacked to my bulletin board.

Luciana, yes, please tell us more about your experiences in Italy. I've only been to Italy as a tourist - it must be extraordinary to go there as part of a family and community. What a rich folkloric heritage you have! Which you share with fairy tale historian Marina Warner, who is, I believe, half Italian.

When I think of Italian fairy tales, Italo Calvino and Marina Warner's work immediately comes to mind, for it is through them that I became aquainted with Straparola and Basile. Does anyone know whether English editions of the Straparola and Basile volumes are available (as opposed to individual tales found in collections edited by Calvino, Zipes, and others)? I particularly like the "earthy" quality of the Italian tales, as opposed to the courtly powder-and-wigs they were dressed up in by the French in the following century. Midori captures that earthy quality beautifully in her Italian novel, The Innamorati. (As well as unearthly qualities. I shall never forget the city made of coral....fabulous!) Another good modern Italian fairy tale is Ellen Steiber's story "The Cats of San Martino" published in - wait, I have to go check - ah, in Black Heart, Ivory Bones, the last of the Datlow-Windling collections. Have other people here read this? It's a tale with the classic good sister-bad sister motif, although in this case Ellen recasts the pair as good lover-bad lover. Fascinating. (Ellen, are you still on this board?)

Though not precisely based on fairy tales, I've also enjoyed Michaela Roessner's two novels set in Italy - The Stars Dispose and The Stars Compel - in which magic is all bound up with art and food. Not quite as rich a feast as The Innamorati (few things are), but very enjoyable reading nonetheless.

Unregistered User
(4/22/01 8:28:46 am)
Just about a month ago I found an English translation of the Basile Pantamerone in an old book shop, having looked for years. It is a translation by Sir Richard Burton!!! (No, not the actor.)

It was pubbed in 1927 by Horace Liveright and is very very ornate in prose, almost unreadable in fact! But worth the effort.


Unregistered User
(4/22/01 11:12:29 am)
I'm really in a dilemma here--my most favorite of topics comes up and I am suffering under the weight of my thesis which must be turned in and defended in the coming week! Aargh. I shall be brief for now...but I will be back!

Jenna, a great collection of Italian tales can be found in "Italian Renaissance Tales" translated and edited by Janet Leavarie Smarr published by Solaris Press, 1983. It's a really nice scholarly but readable edition of a handful of known and less known story tellers and collectors of the 15th and 16th century. As for studies my favorite is the work of Nancy Canepa: "From Court to Forest: Giambattista Basile's Lo Cunto De Li Cunti and the birth of the Literary Tale" or her other work,
"Out of the Woods: The Orgins of the Literary Tale in Italy and France". More recently I have been reading on 16th c. erotic poetry in a great study about Italian erotic literature called "Taking Positions: on the Erotic in Renaissance culture" by Betty Talvacchia which hepls in understanding some of the subtext of the early literary tales of someone like Basile.

As for the Burton may well be worth reading it as a Victorian curiosity, but it's woefully inaccurate as a translation of Basile's amazing Neopolitan dialect. Not entirely Burotn's fault as Basile's dialect and his playfulness with the language make some of the puns, rhythms and alliterations impossible to render into English with the same robust character. Smarr's selected translations are excellent and you can tell the difference almost immediately between an Anglicized rendering of humor and an Italian sensibility which is a helluva lot lighter and earthier all at the same time.

My notebooks on Italian folktales (which have begun a maddening Siren's song since this post was started--thanks Terri!--) are stuffed away until I finish this damn thesis...even though belle parole non pascono i gatti! (beautiful words don't feed the cats.)

Registered User
(4/22/01 2:39:38 pm)
new translation ...
Good luck on your thesis, Midori!
On the subject of the Pentamarone; at the Literary Fairy Tales conference at Princeton (sorry for not describing that, by the way - it was fascinating, but I've been swamped), Nancy Canepa mentioned that she's hard at work on a translation (considering how great _Out of the Woods_ was, it should be fantastic). Gives us all something to look forward to, hmmn?

Unregistered User
(4/22/01 5:20:00 pm)
Basile Translations
Two of Nancy Canepa's English translations of Basile tales have appeared in Marvels & Tales in recent years.

Registered User
(4/23/01 7:57:07 am)
Re: Italian myth, folklore, and fairy tales
I have read Calvino's Italian Folktales from cover to cover countless times - it really is a wonderful collection.
Jane -
I think I know the Basile Pentamerone you mentioned - I found an edition in the RISD library while doing research. I'm afraid that I got some good giggles from the language…but it was still interesting to read.

I would very much like to read Janet Smarr's translations, Midori! It sounds like fun. I also wanted to mention that I read your series of letters from Italy on the Endicott site the day after returning from Italy and I was so homesick for Italy! I confess to being intensely jealous that you and your family got to spend a year there! And I had read "The Innamorati" before my trip. I loved it and was very sad when we did not have time to get to Venice. I wanted to see the masks so much!

I am actually 100% Italian…though my mother was born in the Bronx. My dad was born in a little town near Monte Cassino - the site of a vicious battle during WWII. And since he was born towards the end of that war, he spent his first few years of life in caves as my grandmother hid her family to escape the destruction. I have become fascinated with all this and I am trying to compile stories. I mean, my dad grew up in a town where there were Roman ruins in the valley below, and the church was built in the 13th century and once attacked by Saracens! He lived in a medieval walled city! We would walk through the city and gave in amazement - I kept asking my dad, "You really grew up here?" The old women sitting out on their front steps would watch us and laugh to themselves. "All they do is walk around and look at everything," I heard them say. They found our behavior quite amusing.

I want to go back! I find myself wanting to paint huge canvases…normally I work no larger than 9 x 12 inches!

I want to say that it is such a treat to share my ideas and listen to others' thoughts and inspirations with this wonderful group of people. Heidi, you deserve much praise for making this possible. So many stories, so little time!


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