JF Ptak Science Books Post 2023
The progress of man/humankind has, in our dim antiquarian past, been represented in art in stages of ascending a mountain. The fine arts and sciences have been shown, in their various intellectual pedigrees, at various points on the mountain of the mind, usually with Philosophia sitting supremely at the top (with Astronomia and Mathematica generally not far underneath). This is mind, I came across another sort of progression to the Olympian heights, though it has no people in it, just the mountain, and a curious idea, ascending to faith, or truth.
The image is on the title page of a curious, little, early work by the pseudonymous “Grappa” (well-named for the drink), Cicalamenti de Grapps intorno al Sonetto…though its real nature is revealed in the subtitle,“dove si’ Cliarala allungo delle lodi delle donne et del mal francioso”, or “where one chats at length about women with The French [venereal] Disease”. It is also dedicated to a non-existent courtesan who was heralded as being lovely, generous, and deep in the seat of this same disease. Indeedy! This ribald, blustery, frank, coarse innuendo-laced tract (28 leaves long) was not terribly unusual when it was printed in 1545, celebrating as it does the low- and high-cultural private life of Renaissance Italy. Doctors, poets, gluttons, cheats and of course lots of beautiful women romp around ostensibly in an attempt to prove the usefulness of their sinful vices, relating it all somehow to the disease-improved poetic capacities of the STD-bestowed Petrarch, master of forlorn and unrequited love poetry and the father of Humanism (It relates in a way that I can’t explain to Petrarch’s Canzoniere, sonnet #88, mostly written, I think, about a girl/woman that he fell in love with in church, which is why we can see he needed to invent Humanism. He seems to say that the needs of love are strong, stronger than he could stand, evidently, and that one should flee, renounce it; he seems to for himself, the girl across the pew or across the great open space in the cathedral never weakening to him a bit. He pines over her, and announces his own amoroso intoppo, or "amorous fumblings", and would take flight from himself as well. Evidently the people in this work by Grappa do not take his warnings to heart, though they do seem to renounce the "love" part but not the "sex" part. I could be really wrong on this god knows; all I wanted to do was look at the pretty picture on the cover!)
Stumbling into things like this makes you remember that the Renaissance wasn’t all stuffy and main-springy; perspective-this and techno-that; they had their fun, too, even in 1545, and put it into print.
Back to the woodcut on the title page: it features a small, winding route up a mountain, the top of which is sanctified “fide”. Now considering what these folks were doing in this work I wouldn’t necessarily christen the end of the adventure with this word, particularly if it meant (as it does) the name of the World Chess Federation (FIDE). Seriously though fide means “faith”, as in bona fide (on good faith, by good authority), as opposed to mal fide (bad faith). I cannot determine what in the world the structure is on the top of the mountain, or what is in it.