Monday, 22 April 2019

Heaven, I'm in heaven...

...When we're laid together rotting feet to feet.

This rather ghoulish image will be explained in the fullness of time. It's a long story:
<autobiographical_note date="Summer 1973">
After my first year of Portuguese I went to a summer school at the Universidade de Coimbra, which gave me both a tan and a useful addition to my stock of adjectives-turned-nouns, as every day I caught o eléctrico to the University.
I've mentioned this before. In short, one of the engines of word formation is that people get
used to dropping the noun in an
<adjective-noun> pair. A peach is a Persian, and cheese is
or moulded in some languages.
For the full story, see here.
Um elétrico is a tram. 
Every Saturday the students were  taken on a guided tour led by a little man who was a geographer, and obsessed with land reclamation. So everywhere we stopped he gave us a lecture on the particular sand of the area. There are several sorts of sand in Portugal, but more than that I couldn't say – as the Portuguese spoken by the students wasn't up to his patter. 
The one other recurring theme of his lectures was the tragic love affair of the prince dom Pedro and his mother‘s lady-in-waiting (Don't queens EVER learn?) Inêz de Castro. One Saturday we visited the Monastery of Alcobaça, where the lovers are buried. The Atlas Obscura recounts:
...King Afonso IV, Pedro’s father, finally had Inês murdered before her children’s eyes. Pedro, heartbroken and enraged, rose up in open rebellion against his father, but ultimately failed in his quest for revenge and justice.  
Two years after Inês’ death, Afonso died and Pedro became king; and here’s where things go a little sideways:  
The tomb at Alcobaça
Legend holds that Pedro ordered Inês’ body to be disinterred, her corpse dressed in finery and propped up in the throne room. Pedro then ordered his vassals to pledge their obedience and loyalty to this corpse he called his wife and queen, and further demanded that they kiss her dead hand. 
Formalities thus dispensed with, Pedro had his corpse bride installed in a lavish tomb...


According to Camões (the author of the piece I‘m working on for the Stephen Spender Prize for Poetry in Translation) her burial place is no less weird – feet-to-feet with her prince, so that the lovers’ first sight (when ‘raised incorruptible’) would be each other....
Sounds odd to me (not that the whole thing is particularly unodd). I thought the God-fearing rules required the body to be buried a  particular way round. Besides, shouldn’t they have their minds on higher things? (If they had minds, of course).
...The notes to the World's Classics edition  say that the exhumation story "speaks of some derangement", going on
Yet his decree that they should be buried feet to feet... so that hers will  be the first face he sees at the resurrection, seems the action of a lover.
How old is this guy? Has he forgotten? Are passionate romantic love and derangement mutually exclusive?

I had come across the name Inêz de Castro in my study of Golden Age Spanish literature as the subject of a missing work by Lope de Vega (that 'missing' is shorthand for "well-we've-only-got-Lope's-word-for-it-that-it-ever-existed" – but he did write quite a lot of other stuff, so we've no reason to think he was just bumping up his cv by claiming to have written another work); but I thought no more of it at the time.

Interesting though this story is, it may not be suitable as an entry for the Spender Prize for Poetry in Translation. The rules restrict explanations to "a commentary of not more than 300 words". And as Os Lusíadas was first published when Shakespeare was only a
whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school
there are single phrases that call for 300 words of explanation. I've started the translation now though, so I'll finish.


Update: 2019.04.22.18:55 – Added inline PS.

No comments:

Post a Comment