Saturday, November 11, 2006


Well about effing time: I finally got my hands on a decent copy of "La Divina Commedia". This particular edition was published in Milan by Ulri in 1925, edited by G. Vandelli with the commentary provided by G.A.Scartazzini (and used to belong to Anton R. Krchnávek Esq., a public notary from Žilina). Due to the abundance of allusions and richness of references, reading and understanding Dante's magnum opus is much like a walk in a dark forrest and one would be quickly lost without a guide, even at 27. Virgil is not available, I'm told, but luckily, Scartazzini appears to be a reliable replacement - a bit on the skeptical side, but that is just fine with me.
And so as I was skimming through the pages one afternoon (on the loo, because that's the only time I'm actually not working these days), the following verses caught my attention:

Purgatorio, Canto VII, v.97-102

L’altro che ne la vista lui conforta,
resse la terra dove l’acqua nasce
che Molta in Albia, e Albia in mar ne porta:

Ottacchero ebbe nome, e ne le fasce
fu meglio assai che Vincislao suo figlio
barbuto, cui lussuria e ozio pasce.

Translation by Longfellow:

The other, who in look doth comfort him,
Governed the region where the water springs,
The Moldau bears the Elbe, and Elbe the sea.

His name was Ottocar; and in swaddling-clothes
Far better he than bearded Winceslaus
His son, who feeds in luxury and ease.

The words "Molta" and "Albia" caught my eye and I immediately identified them as geographical names "Malta" and "Albania", re
spectively. Upon second glance, however, I quickly realized I had been wrong - after all, what would Malta do in Albania and both of them in (or into) the sea? And once I spotted the names "Ottachero" and "Vincislao", I knew where I was - in Bohemia, where Vltava (German: Moldau, Latin: Moldavia, Multavia) merges with Labe (German: Elbe, Latin: Albis).
The Ottachero referred to is none other than Přemysl II. Otakar (Ottokar II, 1230 - 1278), king of Bohemia, duke of Austria, Styria, Carinthia and Carniola, also known as the "Iron and Golden King", a fascinating fella. But the most interesting bit here is the information concerning his son Václav. No, it's not his beard, nor his taste for the fine things. It's the commentary identifying him:

101. Vincislao: Vencoslao IV., detto il Pio o il Buono, nato nel 1270, successo al padre nel regno di Bohemia al 1278, eletto nel 1300 re di Polonia, genero di Rodolfo imperatore, morto al Buda nel 1305. (p. 384)

Apparently, signore Scartazzini confuses two bearded Václavs known for their love of wine: Václav II (1271-1305), the son of Přemysl II. Otakar, and Václav IV (1361-1419), the second son of the legendary Czech king Karel IV (Charles IV, 1316 - 1378). It is quite clear that Dante could have only meant Václav II, as he reigned during Dante's lifetime. Václav II's substance abuse, however, is not something immediately associated with him. Much unlike in case of Václav IV, who was even impeached and deposed as the Holy Roman Emperor in 1400 due to, among other things, his incompetence and his general preference for wine and hunting over affairs of the state. Add to that his notoriety thanks to the the whole Jan Hus affair and the Hussite wars and it's not surprising that it was his name that popped up in connection with "luxury and ease".
The moral of the story? Erare humanus est. And I should think about a career change. Being able to only read on the loo sucks.


Anonymous said...

Erm... am I ruining some hidden joke when I say "errare humanum est"...? :-]

bulbul said...

Yes indeed, you are! :o)

Languagehat said...

I shudder to think where you're typing these entries...

bulbul said...

I shudder to think where you're typing these entries...
I don't have a laptop, so don't worry. And I always wash my hands afterwards :o)

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