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CHAPTER 26

Delights for the Ingenious:

A Collection of Emblems

for three days Roberto remained with his eye glued to the ship’s spyglass (blaming himself that the other, more powerful one was now useless), staring at the tops of the trees on shore. He was waiting for a glimpse of the Orange Dove.

On the third day he roused himself. He had lost his only friend, he was himself lost on the farthest of meridians, and could feel no consolation unless he saw a bird that perhaps had fluttered only in the head of Father Caspar!


He decided to explore again his refuge to learn how long he could survive on board. The hens continued laying their eggs, and a nest of baby chicks had been hatched. Of the col­lected vegetables not much was left, they were now too dry, and he would have to use them as feed for the fowl. There were still a few barrels of water, but if he collected rain, he could even do without them. And, finally, there was no short­age of fish.

But then he considered that, eating no fresh vegetables, he would die of scurvy. There were those in the greenhouse, but they would be naturally watered only if rain fell: if a long drought were to arrive, he would have to water the plants with his supply of drinking water. And if there was a storm for days and days, he would have water but would be unable to fish.

To allay his anxieties he went back to the water organ, which Father Caspar had taught him how to set in motion: he heard always and only “Daphne,” because he had not learned how to change the cylinder; but he was not sorry to listen hour after hour to the same tune. One day he identified Daphne, the ship, with the body of his beloved Lady. Was not Daphne after all a creature who had been transformed into a laurel—an arboreal substance, thus with an affinity to that with which the ship had been made? The tune hence sang to him of Lilia. Obviously, the chain of thought was entirely inconsequent—but this is how Roberto was thinking.

He reproached himself for having allowed himself to be distracted by the arrival of Father Caspar, for having followed him in his mechanical frenzies and having forgotten his own amorous vow. That one song, whose words he did not know, if it ever had any, was being transformed into the prayer that he intended to make the machine murmur every day: “Daphne” played by the water and wind in the recesses of the Daphne, in memory of the ancient metamorphosis of a divine Daphne. Every evening, looking at the sky, he hummed that melody softly, like a litany.

Then he went back to his table and resumed writing to Lilia.

In doing so he realized that he had passed the previous days outdoors and in daylight, and that he was again seeking refuge in the semidarkness that had been his natural ambiance not only on the Daphne before finding Father Caspar, but for more than ten years, since the days of the wound at Casale.

To tell the truth, I do not believe that during all that time Roberto lived, as he repeatedly suggests, only at night. That he avoided the excesses of the blazing noonday sun is probable, but when he followed Lilia, he did so during the day. I believe this infirmity was more an effect of black bile than a genuine impairment of his vision: Roberto realized that the light made him suffer only in his most atrabiliar moments, but when his mind was distracted by merrier thoughts, he paid no attention.

However it was or had been, that evening he found himself reflecting for the first time on the fascinations of shadows. As he wrote, as he raised the pen to dip it into the inkwell, he saw the light either as a gilded halo on the paper or as a waxen fringe, almost translucent, that defined the outline of his dark fingers. As if the light dwelt within his hand and became man­ifest only at the edges. All around, he was enfolded by the affectionate habit of a Capuchin, that is to say, by a certain hazel-brown glow that, touching the shadows, died there.

He looked at the flame of the lamp, and he saw two fires born from it: a red flame, part of the consumed matter, which, rising, turned a blinding white that shaded into periwinkle. Thus, he said to himself, his love was fed by a body that was dying, and gave life to the celestial spirit of his beloved.

He wanted to celebrate, after some days of infidelity, his reconciliation with the dark, and he climbed onto the deck as the shadows were spreading everywhere, on the ship, on the sea, on the Island, where he could now see only the rapid darkening of the hills. Remembering his own countryside, he sought to glimpse on the shore the presence of fireflies, live winged sparks wandering in the shadows of the hedges. He did not see them, and pondered on the oxymorons of the antip­odes, where perhaps nightjars appeared only at noon.

Then he lay down on the quarterdeck and began looking at the moon, letting the deck cradle him while from the Island came the sound of the backwash, mixed with cries of crickets, or their equivalent in this hemisphere.

He reflected that the beauty of day is like a blond beauty, while the beauty of night is a dark beauty. He savored the contradiction of his love for a blonde goddess which consumed him in the darkness of the night. Remembering the hair like ripe wheat, which annihilated all other light in the salon of Arthenice, he would call the moon beautiful because it diluted, fading, the rays of a latent sun. He proposed to make the reconquered day a new occasion for reading in the glints on the waves the encomium of the gold of that hair and the blue of those eyes.

But he savored also the beauties of night, when all seems at rest, the stars move more silently than the sun, and you come to believe you are the sole person in all nature intent on dreaming.

That night he was on the point of deciding that he would remain on the ship for the rest of his days. But, raising his eyes to Heaven, he saw a group of stars that suddenly seemed to reveal to him the shape of a dove, wings outspread, bearing in its beak an olive twig. Now it is true that at least forty years before, in the austral sky not far from Canis Major, a con­stellation had been identified and named the Dove. But I am not at all sure that Roberto, from his position then, at that hour and in that season, saw those same stars. In any case, though the observers who had seen in them a dove (like Jo­hannes Bayer in his Uranometna Nova, and then much later Co-ronelli in his Libra dei Globi) possessed far more imagination than Roberto, I would still say that any arrangement of stars at that moment would have seemed to him a pigeon, a dove, a turtle, whatever you like. That morning he had doubted its existence, but the Orange Dove was driven into his mind like a nail— or, as we shall see, a golden spike.


We must in fact ask ourselves why, after Father Caspar’s first hint of the many marvels the Island could offer him, Roberto chose to take such interest in the Dove.

We shall see, as we continue to follow this story, how in the mind of Roberto (whose solitude day after day made in­creasingly ardent) that dove barely mentioned at first, becomes all the more vivid the less he manages to see it, becomes an invisible compendium of every passion of his loving soul, his admiration, respect, veneration, hope, jealousy, envy, wonder, and gaiety. It was not clear to him (nor can it be to us) whether the bird had become the Island, or Lilia, or both, or the yesterday to which all three were relegated, for Roberto’s exile was in an endless today, whose future lay only in arriving, some tomorrow, at the day before.

We could say Caspar had recalled to him the Song of Sol­omon, which, as it happens, Roberto’s Carmelite had read to him over and over until the boy had almost memorized it; and from his youth he enjoyed mellifluous agonies for a crea­ture with dove eyes, for a dove whose face he could glimpse among the clefts of rock.... But this satisfies me only up to a point. I believe it is necessary to engage in an “Explication of the Dove,” to draft some notes for a future little monograph that could be entitled Columba Patefacta, and the project does not seem to me completely otiose, considering that others have devoted whole chapters to the Meaning of the Whale, that ugly black or gray animal (though if white, it is unique), whereas we are dealing with a rara avis, its color even rarer, and a bird on which mankind has reflected far more than on whales.

This in fact is the point. Whether he had spoken with the Carmelite or debated with Padre Emanuele, or had leafed through many books held in high esteem in that time, or whether in Paris he had listened to lectures on what were called Enigmatic Emblems and Devices, Roberto should have known something, however little, about doves.

We must remember that his was a time when people in­vented or reinvented images of every sort to discover in them recondite and revelatory meanings. It sufficed to see, I will not say a beautiful flower or a crocodile, but merely a basket, a ladder, a sieve, or a column, and one would try to build around it a network of things that at first glance nobody had seen there. This is hardly the place to discuss the difference between a Device and an Emblem, or to describe how in var­ious ways these images were complemented by special verses or mottoes (except to mention that the Emblem, from the description of a particular deed, not necessarily illustrated, de­rived a universal concept, whereas the Device went from the concrete image of a particular object to a quality or proposi­tion of a single individual, as to say, “I shall be more pure than snow,” or, “more clever than the serpent,” or again, “I would rather die than betray,” arriving at the most celebrated Frangar non Flectar and Spiritus durissima coqmf). The people of that period considered it indispensable to translate the whole world into a forest of Symbols, Hints, Equestrian Games, Masquer­ades, Paintings, Courtly Arms, Trophies, Blazons, Escutcheons, Ironic Figures, Sculpted Obverses of Coins, Fables, Allegories, Apologias, Epigrams, Riddles, Equivocations, Proverbs, Watch­words, Laconic Epistles, Epitaphs, Parerga, Lapidary Engravings, Shields, Glyphs, Clipei, and if I may, I will stop here—but they did not stop. And every good Device had to be metaphoric, poetic, composed, true, of a soul to be revealed, but even more of a sensitive body that referred to an object of the world. It had to be noble, admirable, new but knowable, evident but effective, singular, proportionate to its space, acute and brief, ambiguous but frank, popularly enigmatic, appropriate, ingen­ious, unique, and heroic.

In short, a Device was a mysterious notion, the expression of a correspondence: a poetry that did not sing but was made up of a silent figure and a motto that spoke for it to the eyes—precious in that it was imperceptible, its splendor hidden in the pearls and the diamonds it showed only bead by bead. It said more making less noise, and where the Epic Poem required fables and episodes, and History deliberations and ha­rangues, for the Device a few strokes and a syllable sufficed: its perfumes were distilled in impalpable drops, and only then could objects be seen in a surprising garb, as with Foreigners and Maskers. It concealed more than it revealed. It did not charge the spirit with matter but nourished it with essences. It was to be peregrine (a term then very much in use), and peregrine meant stranger and stranger meant strange.


What could be more a stranger than an orange dove? In­deed, what could be more peregrine than a dove? Ah, the dove was an image rich in meanings, all the more clever as each conflicted with the others.

The first to speak of the dove were, as is only natural, the Egyptians, as early as the most ancient Hieroglyphica of Hora-pollon, and above its many other qualities, this animal was considered extremely pure, so much so that if there was a pestilence poisoning humans and things, the only ones im­mune were those who ate nothing but doves. Which ought to have been obvious, seeing that this animal is the only one lacking gall (namely, the poison that all other animals carry, attached to the liver), and Pliny said that if a dove falls ill, it plucks a bay leaf and is healed. And bay is laurel, and the laurel is Daphne. Enough said.

But doves, pure as they are, are also a very sly symbol, because they exhaust themselves in their great lust: they spend the day kissing (redoubling their kisses reciprocally to shut each other up) and locking their tongues, which has inspired many lascivious expressions such as to make the dove with the lips or exchange columbine kisses, to quote the casuists. And columbining, the poets said, means making love as the doves do, and as often. Nor must we forget that Roberto must have known those verses that go, “When in the bed, the ardent try their arts, / to nurture warm and lively yearning / just like a pair of doves, their hearts / lust and collect such kisses, burning.” It may be worthy of note, too, that while all other animals have a season for love, there is no time of the year in which the male dove does not mount the female.

To begin at the beginning: doves come from Cyprus, island sacred to Venus. Apuleius, but also others before him, tells us that Venus’s chariot is drawn by snow-white doves, called in fact the birds of Venus because of their excessive lust. Others recall that the Greeks called the dove peristera, because envious Eros changed into a dove the nymph Peristera, much loved by Venus. Peristera had helped defeat Eros in a contest to see who could gather the most flowers. But what does Apuleius mean when he says that Venus “loved” Peristera?

Aelianus says that doves were consecrated to Venus be­cause on Mount Eryx in Sicily a feast was held when the goddess passed over Libya; on that day, in all of Sicily, no doves were seen, because all had crossed the sea to go and make up the goddess’s train. But nine days later, from the Libyan shores there arrived in Trinacria a dove red as fire, as Anacreon says (and I beg you to remember this color); and it was Venus herself, who is also called Purpurea, and behind her came the throng of doves. Aelianus also tells us of a girl named Phytia whom the enamored Jove transformed into a dove.

The Assyrians portrayed Semiramis in the form of a dove, and it was the doves who brought up Semiramis and later changed her into a dove. We all know that she was a woman of less than immaculate behavior, but so beautiful that Scau-robates, King of the Indians, was seized with love for her. Semi­ramis, concubine of the King of Assyria, did not let a single day pass without committing adultery, and the historian Juba says that she even fell in love with a horse.

But an amorous symbol is forgiven many things, and it never ceases to attract poets: hence (and we can be sure Ro­berto knew this) Petrarch asked himself: “What grace, what love or what fate—will give me the feathers of a dove?” and Bandello wrote: “This dove whose ardor equals mine / is ar­dent Love burning in cruel fire / he goes seeking in every place / his mate, and dies of his desire.”

Doves, however, are something more and better than any Semiramis, and we fall in love with them because they have this other, most tender characteristic: they weep or moan in­stead of singing, as if all that sated passion never satisfied them. Idem cantus gemitusque, said an Emblem of Camerarius; Gemitibus Gaudet, said another even more erotically fascinating. And maddening.

And yet the fact that these birds kiss and are so lewd— and here is a fine contradiction that distinguishes the dove— is also proof that they are totally faithful, and hence they are also the symbol of chastity, in the sense of conjugal fidelity. And this, too, Pliny said: Though most amorous, they have a great sense of modesty and do not know adultery. Their con­jugal fidelity is asserted both by the pagan Propertius and by Tertullian. It is said, true, that in the rare instances when they suspect adultery, the males become bullies, their voice is full of lament and the blows of their beak are cruel. But imme­diately thereafter, in reparation, the male woos the female, and flatters her, circling her frequently. And this idea—that mad jealousy foments love and then a renewed fidelity, and then kissing each other to infinity and in every season—seems very beautiful to me and, as we shall see, it seemed beautiful to Roberto as well.

How can you help but love an image that promises you fidelity? Fidelity even after death, because once its companion is gone, this bird never unites with another. The dove was thus chosen as the symbol for chaste widowhood. Ferro recalls the story of a widow who, profoundly saddened by the death of her husband, kept at her side a white dove, and was re­proached for it, to which she replied, Dolor non color, it is the sorrow that matters, not the color.

In short, lascivious or not, their devotion to love leads Origen to say that doves are the symbol of charity. And for this reason, according to Saint Cyprian, the Holy Spirit comes to us in the form of a dove, for not only is this animal without bile, but also its claws do not scratch, nor does it bite. It loves human dwellings naturally, recognizes only one home, feeds its young, and spends its life in quiet conversation, living with its mate in the concord—in this case irreproachable—of a kiss. Whence it is seen that kissing can also be the sign of great love of one’s neighbor, and the Church has adopted the ritual of the kiss of peace. It was the custom of the Romans to welcome and greet one another with a kiss, also between men and women. Malicious scholiasts say that they did this because women were forbidden to drink wine and kissing them was a way of checking their breath, but the Numidians were consid­ered vulgar because they kissed no one but their children.

Since all people hold air to be the most noble element, they have honored the dove, which flies higher than the other birds and yet always returns faithfully to its nest. Which, to be sure, the swallow also does, but no one has ever managed to make it a friend of our species and domesticate it, as the dove has been. Saint Basil, for example, reports that dove-vendors sprinkled a dove with aromatic balm, and, attracted by that, the other doves followed the first in a great host. Odore trahit. I do not know if it has much to do with what I said above, but this scented benevolence touches me, this sweet-smelling purity, this seductive chastity.

The dove is not only chaste and faithful, but also simple (columbina simplititas; Be ye therefore wise as serpents and harmless as doves, says the Bible), and for this reason it is sometimes the symbol of the life of the convent and the cloister. And how does that fit with all these kisses? Never mind.

Another source of fascination is the trepiditas of the dove: its Greek name, treron, derives certainly from tree, “I flee, trem­bling.” Homer, Ovid, Virgil all speak of this (“Timorous as pigeons during a black storm”), and we must remember that doves live always in terror of the eagle or, worse, the hawk. In Valerian we read how, for this very reason, they nest in inaccessible places for protection (hence the device Secura nidi-ficaf); and Jeremiah also recalls this, as Psalm 55 cries out, “Oh that I had wings like a dove! for them would I fly away, and be at rest.”

The Jews said that doves and turtledoves are the most persecuted of birds, and therefore worthy of the altar, for it is better to be the persecuted than the persecutor. But according to Aretino, not meek like the Jews, he who makes himself a dove is eaten by the falcon. But Epiphanius says that the dove never protects itself against traps, and Augustine repeated that not only does the dove put up no opposition to large animals, stronger than it, but is submissive even toward the sparrow.

A legend goes that in India there is a verdant leafy tree that in Greek is called Paradisian. On its right side live the doves, who never move from the shade it spreads; if they were to leave the tree, they would fall prey to a dragon, their enemy. But the dragon’s enemy is the tree’s shade, and when the shade is to the right, he lies in ambush to the left, and vice versa.

Still, trepid as the dove is, it has something of the serpent’s cunning, and if on the Island there was a dragon, the Orange Dove would know what to do. It seems a dove always flies over water, for if a hawk attacks, the dove will see the raptor’s reflection. In short, does the bird defend itself or not?

With all these various and even extraordinary qualities, the dove has also been made a mystic symbol, and I need not bore the reader with the story of the Flood and the role played by this bird in announcing peace, calm, and newly emerging land. But for many sacred authors it is also an emblem of the Mater Dolorosa and of her helpless weeping. And of her it it said Intus et extra, because she is pure outside and inside. Sometimes the dove is portrayed breaking the rope that keeps her pris­oner, Effracto libera vinculo, and she becomes the figure of Christ risen from the dead. Further, the dove arrives, it seems certain, at dusk, so as not to be surprised by the night, and therefore not to be arrested by death before having dried the stains of sin. And it is worth mentioning, as we have already indicated, the teaching of John: “I saw the Spirit descending from Heaven like a dove.”

As for the other beautiful Columbine Devices, who can say how many Roberto knew? Like Mollius ut cubant, because the dove plucks out its feathers to soften the nest of its young; Luce luadior, because it shines when it rises towards the sun; Quiescit in motu, because it flies always with one wing folded so as not to tire itself. There was even a soldier who, to crave indulgence for his amorous excesses, chose as his emblem a helmet in which a pair of doves had nested, with the motto Arnica Venus.
In short, the reader may think that the dove has all too many meanings. But if a symbol or hieroglyph must be chosen as something to die for, its meanings should be multiple, oth­erwise you might as well call a spade a spade, an atom an atom, a void a void. Something that would please the natural philosophers Roberto met at the Dupuys’ but not Padre Emanuele—and we know that our castaway was inclined to be influenced by both. Finally, the wonderful thing about the Dove, at least (I believe) for Roberto, was that it was not only a message, like every Device or Emblem, but a message whose message was the undecipherability of clever messages.

When Aeneas must descend to Avernus—and also find the shadow of his father and therefore somehow the day or days now past—what does the sibyl do? She tells him, true, to go and bury Misenus and to make various sacrifices of bulls and other livestock, but if he really wants to perform a feat that no one has had the courage or the luck to attempt, he must find a leafy, shady tree on which there is a golden bough. The wood hides it and dark valleys encircle it, and yet without that “auricomus” bough no one can penetrate the secrets of the earth. And who is it that enables Aeneas to discover the bough? Two doves, who are also—as we should know by now—ma­ternal birds. The rest is familiar to the bleary aged and to barbers. In short, Virgil had never heard of Noah, but the dove bears a warning, points to something.

It was thought, moreover, that doves acted as oracle in the temple of Jove, where he replied through their mouth. Then one of these doves flew to the temple of Ammon and another to that at Delphi, whence it is clear that both the Egyptians and the Greeks told the same truths, even if darkly veiled. No dove, no revelation.

But today we are still here, asking ourselves what the Golden Bough meant. A sign that doves carry messages, but the messages are in cipher.

I cannot say how much Roberto knew about the kabbalas of the Jews, which were, however, very fashionable in that period, but if he saw much of Monsieur Gaffarel, he must have heard something about these arcana: the fact is that the Jews constructed whole castles based on the dove. We referred to this, or, rather, Father Caspar did: Psalm 68 mentions the wings of a dove covered with silver and her feathers with yellow gold. Why? And why, in Proverbs, does a similar image recur when “a word fitly spoken” is likened to “apples of gold in settings of silver”? And why in the Song of Solomon, address­ing the girl “who has doves’ eyes,” does the speaker say to her, “O my love, we will make thee circlets of gold with studs of silver”?

The Jews commented that the gold here is scripture and the silver refers to the blank spaces between the letters and words. And one commentator, whom perhaps Roberto did not know but who was still an inspiration to many rabbis, said that the golden apples in a silver setting mean that in every sen­tence of Scripture (and surely in every object or event in the world) there are two faces, the evident face and the hidden face, and the evident one is silver, but the hidden one is more precious because it is of gold. And he who looks at the picture from a distance, with the apples surrounded by its silver, be­lieves that the apples too are of silver, but when he looks closer, he will discover the splendor of gold.

All that the Sacred Scriptures contain prima facie shines like silver, but its hidden meaning glows like gold. The inviolable chastity of the word of God, hidden from the eyes of the profane, is as if covered by a veil of modesty and remains in the shadow of mystery. It says that pearls must not be cast before swine. Having the eyes of a dove means not stopping at the literal meaning of words but knowing how to penetrate their mystical sense.

And yet this secret, like the dove, eludes us, and we never know where it is. The dove is there to signify that the world speaks in hieroglyphics, and there is a hieroglyph that itself signifies hieroglyphics. And a hieroglyph does not say and does not conceal; it simply shows.

And other Jews said that the dove is an oracle, and it is no accident that the Hebrew word tore, dove, recalls Torah, which is their Bible, sacred book, origin of all revelation.

The dove, as it flies in the sun, seems simply to sparkle like silver, but only one who has been able to wait at length to discover its hidden face will see its true gold or, rather, the color of a shining orange.

From the time of the venerable Isidore, Christians have recorded that the dove, reflecting in its flight the rays of the sun illuminating it, appears to us in different colors. It depends on the sun, and its Devices are Dal Tuo Lume i Miei Fregi (From Your Light Comes My Ornament) and Per te m’adomo e splendo (Through You I Am Adorned and Shine). Its neck is sheathed in the light of varied colors, and yet the dove remains always the same. And thus it is a warning not to trust appearances, but also to find the true appearance beneath the false ones.

How many colors has the dove? As an ancient bestiary says:


Uncor m’estuet que vos devis

des columps, qui sunt blans et bis:

li un ont color aienne,

et li autre I’ont stephanine;

li un sont neir, li autre rous,

li un vermel, I’autre cendrous,

et des columps i a plusors

qui ont trestotes les colors.
What, then, will an Orange Dove be?
To conclude, assuming that Roberto knew something about it, I find in the Talmud that the powerful chiefs of Edom, Israel’s enemies, decreed that they would tear out the brain of any man wearing phylacteries. Now Elisha put them on and walked out in the street. A guardian of the law saw him and pursued him when he fled. When Elisha was over­taken, he took off the phylacteries and hid them in his hands.

The enemy said to him: “What do you have in your hands?” And he replied: “The wings of a dove.” The other man forced open his hands. And there were the wings of a dove.

I am not sure what this story means, but I find it very beautiful. And so must Roberto have found it.
Amabilis columba,

unde, unde odes volando?

Quid est rei, quod ahum

coelum cito secando

tam copia benigna

spires liquentem odornn?

Tam copia benigna

unguenta grata stilles?
What I mean to say is this: the dove is an important sign, and we can understand why a man lost in the Antipodes might decide he had to train his eyes carefully to understand its meaning.

The Island beyond reach, Lilia lost, his every hope beaten, why should the invisible Orange Dove not be transformed into the golden medulla, the philosopher’s stone, the end of ends, volatile like everything passionately wanted? To aspire to some­thing you will never have: is this not the acme of the most generous of desires?


It seems so clear to me (Luce lucidwr) that I have decided to proceed no further with my Explication of the Dove. Now back to our story.

CHAPTER 27

The Secrets of the Flux and

Reflux of the Sea

the next day, at the first light of the sun, Roberto stripped completely. In the presence of Father Caspar, out of modesty, he had lowered himself clothed into the water, but he realized that clothing weighed him down and encumbered him. Now he was naked. He tied the rope around his waist, climbed down the Jacob’s ladder, and he was again in the sea.

He remained afloat: that much he had already learned. He now had to learn how to move his arms and legs, as swimming dogs move their paws. He ventured a few strokes, continued for some minutes, and realized he had moved only a few ells away from the ladder. Moreover, he was tired.

He knew how to rest, so he turned supine for a while, letting the water and the sun caress him.

He felt his strength return. Clearly, he should move until he tired, then rest like a dead man for a few minutes, then resume. His progress would be slow, the time very long, but this was the proper way to do it.

After a few trials he came to a courageous decision. The ladder descended on the right-hand side of the bowsprit, to­wards the Island. Now he would try to reach the western side of the ship. He would rest there, and afterwards he would come back.

The passage below the bowsprit was not long, and the sight of the prow from the other side was a victory. He let himself float, face up, arms and legs wide; on this side, he felt, the waves cradled him more comfortably than on the other.

At a certain moment he felt a tug at his waist. The rope was stretched to its full extent. He returned to the canine position and took stock: the sea had carried him north, many ells beyond the tip of the bowsprit. In other words, a current flowing from south-west to north-west gained in force a little west of the Daphne. He had not noticed it when he made his immersions on the right, sheltered by the bulk of the fluyt, but moving to the left, he had been caught in the current, and it would have borne him away if the rope had not held him. He had thought he was lying motionless, but he had moved, like the earth in its vortex. Hence it had been fairly easy for him to round the prow: it was not that his skill had increased; rather, the sea had enhanced it.

Worried, he chose to try returning to the Daphne with his own strength, and paddling a little, dog-like, he moved a few inches closer, but realized that the moment he paused to catch his breath, the rope tautened again, a sign that he had been carried back.

He clung to the rope and pulled it towards himself, re­volving in order to wind it around his waist, thus in a short time he was back at the ladder. Once on board, he decided that any attempt to reach the shore by swimming would be dangerous. He had to construct a raft. He looked at the supply of wood on board the Daphne and found he had no implement with which to shape even the smallest log, unless he spent years hacking at a mast with his knife.

But had he not reached the Daphne bound to a plank? So it was simply a matter of unhinging a door and using it as a raft, propelling it perhaps with his hands. For a hammer there was the hilt of his sword, and inserting the blade as a wedge, finally he managed to rip one of the wardroom doors from its hinges. At the end, the blade snapped. Small harm done; he no longer had to fight against human beings, only against the sea.

But if he lowered himself into the sea on the door, where would the current take him? He dragged the door towards the left side and managed to throw it into the sea.

At first the door floated slothfully, but in less than a min­ute it was far from the ship, heading to the left, more or less in the direction he himself had floated, then towards north­west.

Now it was proceeding as the Daphne would have, had its anchor been weighed. Roberto managed to follow it with his naked eye until it passed the cape, then he had to use his spyglass to see it still moving very fast beyond the promontory. The door sped, as if on the bosom of a broad river that had banks and shores in the midst of a sea that lay calmly on either side of it.

He reflected that if the one-hundred-eightieth meridian ex­tended along an ideal line that linked the two promontories halfway down the bay, and if that stream’s course changed immediately after the bay and flowed north, then beyond the promontory it followed precisely the antipodal meridian!

Had he been on that door, he would have navigated along the line separating today from yesterday—or from the yester­day of his tomorrow....

At the moment, however, his thoughts were elsewhere. Had he been on that door, he would have had no way to oppose the current except with the movement of his hands. It took a great effort just to guide his own body, so he could imagine how it would be on a door without prow, poop, or tiller.

On the night of his arrival the plank had brought him beneath the bowsprit thanks only to the effect of some wind or secondary current. To predict a new event of this kind he would have to study carefully the movements of the tides for weeks, perhaps months, flinging into the sea dozens and doz­ens of planks—and even then, who could say...

Impossible, at least with the knowledge he possessed, hy­drostatic or hydrodynamic as might be. Better to continue placing his hopes in swimming. To reach shore from the cen­ter of a current is easier for a dog that kicks than for a dog in a basket.

So his apprenticeship had to continue. And it would not suffice for him to learn to swim between the Daphne and the shore. In the bay, too, at different times of the day, and ac­cording to the flux and reflux, minor currents were present: and therefore, at a moment when he was confidently pro­ceeding to the east, a trick of the waters could drag him first to the west and then straight towards the northern point. So he would also have to train himself to swim against the cur­rent. With the help of the rope, he should be able to defy the water to the left of the hull as well.
In the days that followed, Roberto, staying on the side with the ladder, remembered how at La Griva he had seen not only dogs swim but also frogs. And since a human body in the water, with arms and legs outspread, recalls more the shape of a frog than that of a dog, he told himself that perhaps he should swim like a frog. He even assisted himself vocally, cry­ing croax, croax as he flung out his arms and legs. He stopped croaking when those animal utterances had the effect of giving too much energy to his forward bound, causing him to open his mouth, with consequences that an experienced swimmer might have foreseen.

He transformed himself into an elderly, decorous frog, ma­jestically silent. When he felt his shoulders tiring, through that constant outward movement of the hands, he returned to more canino. Once, looking at the white birds that followed his ex­ercises, vociferating, sometimes diving only a few feet from him to snatch a fish (the coup de la mouette!), he tried also to swim as they flew, with a broad wing-like movement of his arms, but learned that it is harder to keep a mouth and nose closed than it is a beak, and he gave up the idea. At this point he no longer knew what animal he was, dog or frog; perhaps a hairy toad, an amphibious quadruped, a centaur of the seas, a male siren.

However, in all these various attempts, he noticed that he was moving, more or less. In fact, having begun his journey at the prow, he found himself beyond the halfway point of the side. But when he decided to reverse his direction and go back to the ladder, he realized that he had no more strength, and he had to allow the rope to tow him.

What he lacked was correct respiration. He could manage to go but not to come back... He had become a swimmer, but in the manner of that gentleman who made the entire pilgrimage from Rome to Jerusalem, half a mile each day, back and forth in his own garden. Roberto had never been an ath­lete, and the months on the Amaryllis, always indoors, then the strain of the wreck and the waiting aboard the Daphne (except for the few exercises imposed on him by Father Caspar) had enfeebled him.

Roberto shows no awareness of the fact that through swimming he would gain strength, and he seems instead to think he must strengthen himself in order to swim. Thus we see him swallow two, three, even four egg yolks at a time, or devour a whole chicken before attempting another dip. Luckily there was the rope. Once he was seized by such convulsions in the water that he could hardly climb back on deck.

Here he is at evening, meditating on this new contradic­tion. Before, when he could not even hope to reach it, the Island seemed always within reach. Now, as he was learning the art that would take him there, the Island was receding.

Indeed, as he sees it distant not only in space but also (backwards) in time, from this moment on, whenever he men­tions that distance, Roberto seems to confuse space and time, and he writes, “The bay, alas, is too yesterday,” and, “How hard it is to arrive over there which is so early,” or else, “How much sea separates me from the day barely ended,” and even, “Threatening rainclouds are coming from the Island, whereas today it is already clear....”

But if the Island moves ever farther away, is it still worth the effort to learn to reach it? Over the next few days Roberto abandons all attempts at swimming, while he renews his search with the spyglass for the Orange Dove.

He sees parrots among the leaves, he distinguishes fruits, from dawn to sunset he follows the quickening and the ex­tinction of different colors in the foliage, but he does not see the Dove. Once more he is tempted to think that Father Cas­par lied to him, or that he was a victim of a Jesuitical joke. At times he is convinced that even Father Caspar never existed—since he finds no trace of his presence on the ship. He no longer believes in the Dove, but neither does he believe now that on the Island there is the Specula. He finds this a source of consolation, because, he tells himself, it would have been irreverent to corrupt the purity of that place with a machine. And he thinks once more of an Island made to his measure, or, rather, to the measure of his dreams.

If the island rose in the past, it was the place he had to reach at all costs. In that unhinged time he was not to find but to invent the condition of the First Man. Not the site of a fountain of eternal youth but itself a fountain, the Island could be the place where every human creature, forgetting his own melancholy learning, would find, like a child abandoned in a forest, that a new language could be born from a new contact with creation. And with it would rise a new and the only genuine science, from the direct experience of Nature, with no adulteration by philosophy (as if the Island were not father transmitting to son the words of the Law, but, rather, mother teaching him to stammer his first names).

Only thus could a reborn castaway discover the rules that govern the course of celestial bodies and the meaning of the acrostics they trace in the sky: not flailing among Almagests and Quadripartites but directly reading the approach of eclipses, the passage of the argyrocomate meteors, and the phases of the stars. Only a nose bleeding because struck by a falling fruit would really allow him to understand, at one blow, both the laws that draw the grave to gravity and de motu cordis et sanguims in animalibus. Only after observing the surface of a pond and poking it with a twig, reed, or one of those long and rigid metallic leaves, would the new Narcissus—without any dioptric or sciatherical computing—grasp the alternating skirmish of light and shadow. And perhaps he would be able to understand why the earth is an opaque mirror that swabs with ink what it reflects, and water a wall that makes diaph­anous the shadows imprinted on it, whereas images in the air never find a surface from which to rebound, and so penetrate it, fleeing to the farthest limits of the aether, only to return sometimes in the form of mirages and other ostents.

But was possession of the Island not possession of Lilia? And then what? Roberto’s logic was not that of those recreant, caitiff philosophers, intruders into the atrium of the lyceum, who affirm always that a thing, if it is seen in one form, cannot also be of the opposite form. By an error of the errant imag­ination characteristic of lovers, Roberto already knew that the possession of Lilia would be, at once, the source of every rev­elation. To discover the laws of the universe through a spyglass seemed to him only the longest way to arrive at a truth that would be revealed to him in the deafening light of pleasure, if it were granted him to lay his head on the lap of his beloved, in a Garden in which every shrub was the Tree of Good.

But since—as even we should know—to desire something that is distant summons the spirit of someone who will steal it from us, Roberto had to fear that into the delights of that Eden a serpent had also crept. He was then gripped by the idea that on the Island the quicker one, the usurper, Ferrante, was awaiting him.

CHAPTER 28

Of the Origin of Novels



lovers love their misfortunes more than their blessings. Roberto could think of himself only as separated forever from the one he loved, but the more he felt separated from her, the more he was obsessed by the thought that some other man might not be.

We have seen how, accused by Mazarin of having been somewhere he was not, Roberto got it into his head that Fer­rante was present in Paris and had on some occasions taken his place. If this was true, then while Roberto was arrested by the Cardinal and conducted on board the Amaryllis, Ferrante remained in Paris, and for everyone (including Her!) he was Roberto. Now Roberto had only to think of Her at the side of Ferrante, and lo, his marine Purgatory was transformed into a Hell.

He knew that jealousy is generated outside of any reference to what is, is not, or perhaps will never be; that it is a transport that from an imagined sickness derives real pain; that the jeal­ous man is like a hypochondriac who sickens for fear of being sick. Beware, then, of allowing yourself to be caught by this tormenting gossip that obliges you to picture Her with a Him, and remember: Nothing more than solitude encourages sus­picion, nothing more than daydreaming transforms suspicion into certainty. However, he added, as I am unable to avoid loving, I cannot avoid jealousy, and unable to avoid jealousy, I cannot avoid daydreaming.

In fact jealousy, among all fears, is the least generous: if you fear death, you can take comfort in the thought that you may nevertheless enjoy a long life or that in the course of a voyage you may find the fountain of eternal youth; or if you are penniless, you may take comfort in the thought of discov­ering a treasure. For every feared thing there is an opposing hope that encourages us. Not so when you love in the absence of the beloved. Absence is to love as wind to fire: it extinguishes the little flame, it fans the big.

If jealousy is born from intense love, he who does not feel jealousy of the beloved is not a lover, or he loves lightheart-edly, for we know of lovers who, fearing their love will fade, nourish it by finding reasons for jealousy at all costs.

The jealous man (who still wants his beloved to be chaste and faithful) can only think of her as worthy of jealousy, and therefore capable of betrayal, and thus he rekindles in present suffering the pleasure of absent love. Also because your imag­ining yourself in possession of the distant beloved—well aware it is not true—cannot render the thought of her, her warmth, her blushes, her scent, as vivid as the thought of those same gifts being enjoyed by an Other. Of your absence you are sure, but of the presence of the enemy you are if not sure then at least unsure. The amorous contact imagined by the jealous man is the only way he can picture with verisimilitude the beloved’s connubiality, which, if doubtful, is at least possible, whereas his own is impossible.

Hence the jealous man is not able, nor does he have the will, to imagine the opposite of what he fears, indeed he can­not feel joy except in the magnification of his own sorrow, and by suffering through the magnified enjoyment from which he knows he is banned. The pleasures of love are pains that become desirable, where sweetness and torment blend, and so love is voluntary insanity, infernal paradise, and celestial hell —in short, harmony of opposite yearnings, sorrowful laugh­ter, soft diamond.

Thus Roberto, suffering but remembering that infinity of worlds which he had discussed in previous days, had an idea or, rather, an Idea, a great and anamorphic stroke of genius.

He thought, namely, that he might construct a story, of which he was surely not the protagonist, inasmuch as it would not take place in this world but in a Land of Romances, and this story’s events would unfold parallel to those of the world in which he was, the two sets of adventures never meeting and overlapping.

What would Roberto gain by this? Much. By inventing the story of another world, which existed only in his mind, he would become that world’s master, able to ensure that the things that happened there would not exceed his capacity of endurance. On the other hand, as reader of the story whose author he was, he could share in the heartbreak of its char­acters: for does it not happen that readers of romances may without jealousy love Thisbe, using Pyramus as their vicar, and suffer for Astree through Celadon?

To love in the Land of Romances does not mean experi­encing any jealousy at all: there, that which is not ours is still somehow ours, and that which in this world was ours and was stolen from us, there does not exist—even if what does exist there resembles what in existence we lost or did not lose.

So, then, Roberto would write (or conceive) the story of Ferrante and of his loves with Lilia, and only by constructing that fictional world would Roberto forget the gnawing of his jealousy in the real world.

Further, he reasoned, to understand what happened to me and how I fell into the trap set by Mazarin, I must reconstruct the History of those events, finding the causes, the secret mo­tives. But is there anything more uncertain than the Histories we read, wherein if two authors tell of the same battle, such are the incongruities revealed that we are inclined to think they write of two different conflicts? On the other hand, is there anything more certain than a work of fiction, where at the end every Enigma finds its explanation according to the laws of the Realistic? The Romance perhaps tells of things that did not really happen, but they could very well have happened. To explain my misadventures in the form of a Novel means assuring myself that in all the muddle there exists at least one way of untangling the knot, and therefore I am not the victim of a nightmare. An Idea insidiously antithetical to the first, for in this way the invented story will be superimposed on the true story.

And finally, Roberto continued to argue, mine is the tale of love for a woman: now, only stories, and surely not History, deal with questions of Love, and only stories (never History) are concerned with explaining the thoughts and feelings of those daughters of Eve who from the days of the Earthly Para­dise to the Inferno of the Courts of our time have always so influenced the events of our species.

All reasonable arguments when considered individually, but not when taken together. In fact, there is a difference between a man who writes a story and one who suffers jeal­ousy. A jealous man enjoys picturing what he wishes would not happen—but at the same time he refuses to believe that it can happen—whereas a storyteller resorts to every artifice to see not only that the reader enjoys imagining what has not happened but also that at a certain point he forgets that he is reading and believes it really did happen. It is a source of the most intense suffering for a jealous man to read a story written by another, because whatever is said seems to refer to his per­sonal story. So imagine a jealous man who pretends to invent the story that is his own. Is it not said of the jealous that they give body to shadows? So, however shadowy the creatures of a romance may be, as the Romance is a full brother to History, those shadows appear too corporeal to the jealous man, and even more so if they are his own.

On the other hand, for all their virtues, romances have their defects, which Roberto should have known. As medicine teaches also about poisons, metaphysics disturbs with inoppor­tune subtleties the dogmata of religion, ethics recommends magnificence (which is not of help to everyone), astrology fosters superstition, optics deceives, music rouses lust, geome­try encourages unjust dominion, and mathematics avarice— so the Art of the Romance, though warning us that it is pro­viding fictions, opens a door into the Palace of Absurdity, and when we have lightly stepped inside, slams it shut behind us.

But it is not in our power to keep Roberto from taking this step, since we know for sure that he took it.

CHAPTER 29






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