In the final years of the twelfth century, from twilight of dawn to twilight of dusk, a leopard looked upon some wooden planks, some vertical iron bars, men and women who were always different, a thick wall and, perhaps, a stone trough filled with dry leaves. The leopard did not know, could not know that what he craved was love and cruelty and the hot pleasure of rending and the odor of a deer on the wind; and yet something within the animal choked him and something rebelled, and God spoke to him in a dream: You live and will die in this prison, so that a man I know may look at you a certain number of times and not forget you and put your figure and your symbol in a poem which has its precise place in the scheme of the universe. You suffer captivity, but you will have furnished a word to the poem. In the dream, God enlightened the rough beast, so that the leopard understood God's reasons and accepted his destiny; and yet, when he awoke, he felt merely an obscure resignation, a gallant ignorance, for the machinery of the world is overly complex for the simplicity of a wild beast.
Years later, Dante lay dying in Ravenna, as little justified and as much alone as any other man. In a dream, God revealed to him the secret purpose of his life and labor; in wonderment, Dante knew at last who he was and what he was and blessed his bitter days. Tradition holds that on awakening he felt he had received and then lost something infinite, something he could not recuperate, or even glimpse, for the machinery of the world is overly complex for the simplicity of men.
By Jorge Luis Borges
Translated by Anthony Kerrigan
The only translation
of The Inferno
that I have is Robert Pinsky
's, wherein a leopard
prances through lines 25-27 of Canto
And suddenly -- a leopard, near the place
The way grew steep: lithe, spotted, quick fo foot.
Blocking the path, she stayed before my face.
This is right at the beginning, before Dante
bumps into Virgil
in the woods; the leopard
is the first of the series of fierce beasts
which drive him down the hill, into Virgil
's arms so to speak.
Lines 31-33 in the original are as follows:
Ed ecco, quasi al cominciar de l'erta,
una lonza leggera e presta molto,
che di pel macolato era coverta;
is totally flummoxed
by that. I'm guessing that "leggera" or "lonza" might be leopard
; anybody here speak Medieval Italian
? Hm, The Bantam New College Italian and English Dictionary
has "lonza" as a poetic
term for a leopard
, and "leggera" as "light, nimble
". It works for me
. I'll guess "spots" for "macolato", just on sheer unaided ignorance and bravado