Thursday, February 9, 2012

Not a lot sperto (Automatic Translation, Part 2)

This sign is a good example of why I prefer reading Italian materials in Italian. The churchgoers who speak Italian are treated to a whole list of things not to do, and even the French and German speakers get more detail than English speakers. Although the terse English comment does rather sum it all up, as well as (perhaps) illustrating an Italian attitude toward English-speaking tourists.

But we were speaking of Automatic Translation (A.T.), as opposed to efforts, however inadequate, by a human being. Let's see what A.T. comes up with when translating a bit of literary criticism, in this case Lorenzo the Magnificent's assessment of the poetry of Guido Cavalcanti (below, sitting on the tombstone):

A vague, sweet and weird style

"As the body was beautiful and graceful, like blood very polite, so I 'do not know that his writings more than any other beautiful, kind and resembled weird, shrill and inventions, wonderful, wonderful, very serious in its judgments, and copious detected in the order, composed, wise and prudent, all of which his blessed virtue of a vague, sweet and weird style, as precious as are adorned."

Wonderful, wonderful indeed. Let's try a more modern critique of Guido's work: "...gentle light that may seem trivial... the vocabulary used by engineers drawn from the absence of dicing, pauses, syntactic inversions." One wonders what the critic would have said, no doubt in an engineer's vocabulary, in the presence of dicing.

Lest Guido suffer his weirdness alone, let's also look at a brief discussion of the famous tenzone (an exchange of poetic insults) between Dante and Forese Donati: "In this combat, built according to the Convention and the stylistic comic-realistic poetry of the time, the two poets reproach each other defects and meanness of all kinds, using slang, if not scurrilous. Dante to Forese blames the lack of sexual prowess, debt, greed food, habits, and the violent birth uncertain, while Forese to Dante criticizes a state of poverty and begging, its origins, some with his father kept making mistakes." Dante's dad wasn't the only one.

And one more before we move on from literature. The Sienese poet Cecco Angiolieri's work is described thus: "The woman-angel becomes a creature on earth, even vulgar. Is catapulted into nightclubs... the presence of a father because of his stingy that parsimony does not allow to squander Cecco to win the beautiful women. The protagonists are his wife, gossipy, sullen, and the lover Becchina, sensual and mean..." It is a rather arresting image, the woman-angel being catapulted into nightclubs, don't you think?

Now let's move on to a historical incident, the violent demise of Corso Donati (remember Run Donates to You, from the last post?):

Trying to escape from his horse:
Death of Run Donates to You

"... was pierced by the lance of one of his guards, while trying to escape from his horse and dropping, dropping, he was caught in a stirrup and his body was dragged and torn from the animal in race." This unfortunate incident is compared to "how the sinners in hell were taken directly from galloping horses and the penalty of drag in a ponytail that municipal statues prescribed for traitors." I am now imagining Corso, in drag and with a ponytail mandated by the Commune. I suspect this is not what was intended.

Not only was poor Corso said to be known for his "banter and insult-prone ways," he apparently was thought to be responsible for early computer viruses. This next quote tells us that Corso was "most cruel... body beautiful, pleasant speaker, adorned with beautiful costumes, subtle wit, his mind always intent on malware... many arson and robbery he did a lot to do..."

Corso was said to have plucked his sister Piccarda out of a convent and forced her to marry Rossellino della Tosa, but it was all right, because " is said that providentially died of plague before the wedding is consumed, but it is a legend."

A.T. occasionally seems to damn by faint praise, even when the original meaning was much stronger and more laudatory. Thus, Corso's enemy Vieri dei Cerchi (aka Circles, or Wheels) is said to have "had moments of very favorable", and Dante's ethereal Beatrice is described as "most likely a very nice lady."

Most likely a very nice lady

The city of Florence and its chaotic politics come in for their fair share of garbling. The "noble unravelled city" suffers in part because when A.T. doesn't happen to have a word in its dictionary, it simply leaves the Italian word in place, which results in jumbled paragraphs like this one: "The impotent ones were not help you, but the large ones offended to it, and cosi' the fat popolani that that they were in the ufici and become related to you with large: and many for money were defenses from the pains of the Common one, in that they fell. Waves the good popolani citizens were dissatisfied, and blamed the uficio de' Priori, perchu' the Guelfi large were getlteman."

I don't know if you feel any better informed after reading that; I didn't. But I can well imagine that "Then of tornarono with little fruit; because it was consumed to you much, with breathlessnesses of persons." Those breathlessnesses might explain a lot.

Noble unravelled city

A.T. can be particularly colorful when describing medieval warfare. Thus we learn, for example, that "...the war of Arezzo, pel granted favor da' Fiorentini to the Guelfi hunted from that city..." I had no idea that Pell Grants had anything to do with medieval Italian battles. Infantrymen are called "pedestrians," and we get lively descriptions like this one: "The Aretini vigorous attacked the field yes and with much force, than the formation de' strong Fiorentini it recoiled. The battle was much sour and hard one." No doubt it was.

The title of this post comes from a description of messer Amerigo di Nerbona, the young man left in charge of the Ghibelline forces before the Battle of Campaldino: "... its baron and kind man, the beautifulst young person and of the body, but not a lot sperto in facts of arms..." Had he been a tad more sperto, maybe the Ghibs would have won, but it was not to be.

Pedestrians go to war

We would be remiss to omit an example of the kind of stirring rhetoric that led these people to go to war in the first place. Here's Berto Frescobaldi, exhorting his fellows: "And therefore, getlteman, I council that we exit of this servitude. Prendiam the arms, and we run on the piaza: we kill friends and nimici, of people, how many we of it find, yes that already never we neither our boys are not from soggiogati they." As they say, with friends like that...

Who could fail to be moved by such words? Well, maybe messer Self-confident of Tosa, who rose and spoke next: "Getlteman, the council of savio the knight is good, if it were not too much risk; because, if our thought came lacks, we will all be dead men." Messer Self-confident proposed a sneakier course of action, and if you thought the above was confusing, you'll be pleased that I'm sparing you the rest of his advice.

It is sometimes difficult to figure out exactly who is doing what to whom, in A.T. Note, for example, the following: "19 years after his death, the bodies of Farinata and his wife Florence Adaleta underwent a public trial for the prosecution (posthumous) of heresy. For the occasion, their mortal remains... were exhumed for the celebration of the process... So all the property bequeathed to the heirs were confiscated by Farinata." Maybe if Farinata confiscated property from his own heirs, he had been celebrating the process a bit too much.

Even familiar proverbs get mangled. Take "When the shepherd is struck, the sheep will scatter." Logical enough, yes? A.T. renders it "Percosso the dispersed shepherdesses, fiano the sheep."

And the famous line uttered by Mosca dei Lamberti, " Cosa fatta capo ha," which is still in use in Italy, is usually thought to mean that once a thing is done, the matter is at an end. Compare, then, these A.T. versions:

"A deed done lias an end."
"What done is done."
"A thing done has."
"Cape has done what."
or the laconic "Thing done."

I leave you with this last incoherent morsel: "And holding this shape, it was great usefullness of the people: but I toast was changed, but that the citizens who entered in that uficio, not attendeano to observare the laws, but corrupting them."

Images in this post: sign photographed by Tim Heath; Guido Cavalcanti in a miniature from a manuscript housed in Paris, illustrating a story in Boccaccio's Decameron; miniatures of the death of Corso Donati and of the Battle of Montaperti from an illustrated manuscript of Giovanni Villani's Nuova Cronica in the Vatican Library; Beata Beatrix by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1864-70; view of Florence from the Madonna della Misericordia in the Loggia del Bigallo, Florence. The last five are public domain by virtue of expired copyright.

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