Friday 27 October 2023

Stick to Writing about Eels

Francesco Berni (1497/8-1535)

Provai un tratto a scrivere elegante,
in prosa e in versi, e fecine parecchi,
et ebbi voglia anch’io d’esser gigante;
ma messer Cinzio mi tirò gli orecchi,
e disse:—Bernia, fa’ pur dell’Anguille,
ché questo è  il proprio umor dove tu pecchi:
arte non è da te cantar d’Achille
I tried once to write with elegance, making several attempts at prose and verse, and I even longed to be a giant,

but Mr. Cinzio pulled my ears, and said: ‘Berni: you keep writing about eels, because that is the proper subject  for you to mess about with: it is not your art to sing of Achilles.’

Francesco Berni, Rime, ed. by Giorgio Bàrberi Squarotti (Torino: Giulio Einaudi, 1969), pp. 152-53 (LV. Capitolo al cardinale [Ippolito] de’ Medici, 37-43). My translation. Emended prova to read prosa in line 38.

 ‘You are old,’ said the youth, ‘one would hardly suppose
    That your eye was as steady as ever;
Yet you balanced an eel on the end of your nose—
    What made you so awfully clever?’

‘I have answered three questions, and that is enough,’
    Said his father; ‘don’t give yourself airs!
Do you think I can listen all day to such stuff?
    Be off, or I’ll kick you down stairs!’

Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (New York: Random House, 1946), p. 55. Illustration by John Tenniel; coloured by Fritz Kredel.

John Tenniel - An eel on the end of your nose