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Into the woods young Actaeon unleashed

His mastiffs and his hounds, when fateful force

Set him upon the bold incautious course

Of following the track of woodland beasts.

Behold, the sylvan waters now display

The loveliest form that god or man might see;

All alabaster, pearl, and gold is she;

He saw her; and the hunter turned to prey.

The stag who sought to bend

His lightened step towards denser forest depths

His dogs devoured; they caught him in their trap.

The thoughts that I extend

Toward lofty prey recoil and deal me death,

Rending me in their fell and savage snap.


       —The Heroic­ Frenzies 1.4

          Giordano Bruno 1583 [trans. Ingrid D. Rowland 2010]











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2.9  Worst stag party ever—or, “not all trees are bandits”


 In comparison to prior translations, Rowland’s verse is quite shrewd—despite that she omits a most crucial detail from Diana’s theophany: the “sylvan waters” do not display the totality of Truth and Nature in and as her “loveliest form” but rather reflect the sub­-total summa in her “countenance and breast” (trans. Memmo 1964). That is, our thaumaturge reveals by hiding—or, in tragicomical terms, she discloses Truth’s privative partiality by foreclosing Nature’s private parts. So did Ovid’s bathing beauty taunt our frenzied hero, “Now you may tell of having seen me naked—if you can tell at all.” Alas, qua metamorph, he cannot. Perhaps less prurient, Bruno turns to didactics mid­-sonnet, lest we seat him with those Petrarchian poets “who glory in a perpetual perseverance of vulgar physical love, in a pertinacious madness”—for his “Actaeon represents the intellect intent upon the capture of divine wisdom and the comprehension of divine beauty.” Yet despite having transgressed but abstract limits, both man and morph paid a gruesomely concrete toll.

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