Call of the Siren exclusive: Andrew Frisardi’s response

It isn’t criticism that irritates–we’re all adults here, right?–but what does is criticism that misinterprets and, in the process, misleads potential readers.

frisardi-dante-coverWhen poet and translator Andrew Frisardi was on the receiving-end of such treatment for his translation of Vita Nova (Northwestern University Press) in the pages of the Times Literary Supplement, he did what anyone would do. He wrote to the editors to set the record straight.

They haven’t printed his reply, but he’s graciously passed it along to Call of the Siren. Frisardi’s reply already appears in the comments thread of the post “Some painful reading,” but it also deserves special attention here. Why?  Because I think it’s a model example of how to respond if you’re ever caught in a similar situation.

Frisardi could very well have let his temper flare, but instead he offers a measured response that’s very much in the spirit of other TLS letters (so I can’t understand why the editors haven’t printed it) and that covers a lot of terrain in a short amount of space:


I agree with Adam Elgar’s disagreement with Paul Howard’s review of Anthony Mortimer’s and my editions of Dante’s ‘Vita Nova’. The review was off the mark in a number of ways, not least of which was his characterization of contractions such as ‘don’t’ as ‘modern’. Has Mr Howard read Shakespeare or Donne (who don’t hesitate to use ‘em)? Are the Elizabethans ‘modern’? Has he read Dante? Is he familiar with the very frequent speech-register Florentine diction—including contractions—even in the early poems? As for ‘cool’, the 1828 edition of ‘Webster’s’ says it means ‘manifesting coldness or dislike; chilling; apathetic; as, a cool manner’—a meaning still current, certainly an apt one for the context in the poem he cites, and hardly ‘modern’ or ‘politically correct’. Mr Howard criticizes the choice of adjectives in my translation of ‘Tanto gentile’, too, as being intrusively or self-consciously modern. I have the poem describing Beatrice as ‘open’ and ‘self-possessed’, which actually (as I explain fully in the notes section of the book) are truthful interpretations of the untranslatable words ‘gentile’ and ‘onesta’. Anthony Mortimer gives ‘gentle’ and ‘noble’ for the same words, thus ignoring altogether ‘onesta’, the thirteenth-century meaning of which can be given as ‘dignified’–or ‘self-possessed’. Instead he translates ‘gentile’ twice (and ‘gentle’ is questionable at best as a translation for that word). Neither Mr Mortimer nor Mr Howard ask themselves, apparently, why Dante says in the next lines of ‘Tanto gentile’ that people’s tongues tremble and their eyes don’t dare to look at her as Beatrice approaches. Would that be a normal reaction to someone who is merely ‘gentle and noble’, or was everyone in Florence prone to seizures? Rather, self-possession and openness certainly can be disconcerting, precisely because they are qualities of someone who is totally, vibrantly alive. This fits Dante’s view of Beatrice very well, despite the ‘seven centuries of reverence’ that Mr Elgar rightly points out throws a wet blanket over contemporary readings of the ‘Vita Nova’.

Andrew Frisardi
Castiglione in Teverina, Italy

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