Translation from the Italian by Michael S. Howard, July 2013
The poetic ideal of Alessandro Sappa (Alessandria 1717-1783) is in clear opposition to the aristocratic individualism of Vittorio Alfieri. "The Chronicles of Turino refer to a fiery public debate in which Alessandro Sappa. in the course of launching the Agenzia Poetica Torinese [Turinese Poetic Agency], threw out a vigorous challenge to the entire sleepy subalpine literary intelligentsia, stating that the first task of poetry was to test in concrete everyday action and then in the living body of the story all the possibilities for individual and collective liberation. On that occasion Alfieri challenged him to a duel and Sappa wisely demurred, launching the famous and superb quip in the dialect of Asti [Alfieri’s birthplace]: "Pisa pi curt, falabrac!" [Make a beautiful thing, piss shorter] Sappa’s forward-looking enlightenment modernism led him to theorize a poetry of occasions, full of all the moods of the impending industrial revolution and the inevitable rise of the masses onto the stage of history" (1).
In Volume Two of the Rime del Signor Cavaliere D. Alessandro Sappa, Patrizio Alessandrino ed Accademico Immobile, [Poems of Signor Cavaliere D. Alessandro Sappa, Patrician of Alessandria and the Immobile Academy], published in Alessandria in 1772, we find a very nice ironic satire focused on the game of tarot, called by the author Bagattultimo, having taken the figure of the Bagatto as the emblem of the game. The satire is apparent in the title, as there is praise, yes, but in a negative sense. The poet makes a paladin - knowing from that moment that he would not be emulated: “Vò cantar (e sarò l' ultimo) Vò cantar di Bagattultimo" [“I want to sing (and I'll be the last) I want to sing of Bagattultimo”] - a "revolt" against a game that he feels is obviously a waste of time.
The author does not know where the Bagatto, called the Father of Heroes - “Questi è 'l Padre degli Eroi / (Degli Eroi però di carta)":"This is the Father of Heroes / (Heroes but of cards)"] - was invented: some say Naples, but it could be Milan. Certainly his mother's face was so bad as to be immediately compared to that character. Bastard son of the Quadrille [an Italian variant of chess] or of the one who invented chess? It does not matter. All of you are so devoted to him: "Si fa largo in ogni sito, Viene accolto, e riverito / Da Signore, e Cavalieri, / Da gravissimi Messeri" ["He makes his way to every place, he is welcomed and revered / By Lord and Knights / by the most grave Scholars"]. He is even loved by women, and not only by Damsels, but also Grannies: "Non Donzelle sol, ma Nonne / Dal lavor nojate, e stanche / Depor vidi in sulle panche / I nodetti, e l' arcolajo, / L'ago, il fuso, od il telajo / Per istar al tavoliere, / E a lui dar ogni pensiere; " ["Not Damsels alone, but Grannies / From work annoyed and tired / Seen putting down on their benches / their knotters and winder, / Their needle, spindle, or loom / In order to be at the table, / And tit give it any stray thoughts". If one is ever heading for marriage, wishing also to have the means for determining whether his wife is really in love with him, the author would immediately place the following condition: "Vorrei dirle: primo patto, / Io non vò veder Bagatto" ["I would say, first covenant, / I do not want to see the Bagatto"]. The satire continues onto those who go crazy and get angry during games. It is nice, where he reveals that the cards would have no reason to complain of loneliness, since "Nel Paese di Bagatto, / Che si chiama Mitigatto / Ogni Re ha una Regina, / O consorte, o concubina: / Fino al Papa, o indegnità! / La Papessa ivi si dà".["In the Country of the Bagatto, / That is called Mitigatto [three-handed tarot] / Every King has a Queen, / Or wife, or concubine / Up to the Pope, O unworthiness! / The Popess gives herself here"]. Only the Bagatto likes to live in chastity: "Sol Bagatto onesto Figlio / Vive casto come un giglio: / Ne sarà che mai s'invoglie / (Mi cred'io) di menar moglie". "Only the Bagatto is an honest Son / Lives chaste as a lily [giglio, with perhaps a pun on “gigolo”]: / He will never want / (I believe) To take a wife".
It is a poem, after all, a pleasant read where the satire is manifested through targeted poetic references, sometimes expressed with a real ability to write comedy and invention.
In praise of the Delightful Game commonly called Bagattultimo
Of the son of Peleus and the Trojans
Sings Homer, and the Mantuan [Virgil]:
Sings well the great Torquato [Tasso]
Of freeing from the Sepulchre;
And of crazy old Orlando
Sings well Ser Ludovico [Ariosto]:
I, knowing how foolish
Are the Muses that feed me,
Want to sing (and I'll be the last)
Want to sing of Bagattultimo.
He is the Father of Heroes
(Heroes but of cards)
Not of those who in their time
Rome was, and Sparta saw:
But I do not want to make comparisons [paragone],
[With] a half crazy paragon,
Of Pausanias, or Scipio
With my paper Bagatto.
No, I respect them all
All the rest more than him.
Of his country, and his cradle
I cannot tell you anything.
Some say he’s from Naples;
Some say he was born in Milan:
I know enough to tell you that his mother
Did not go among gentlefolk;
Because to us she was a whore,
Who has a horrible face
Usually we just say
That she is the Bagatto’s mother.
There are some that believe him the son
(But however a bastard child)
Of the very oldest Quadrillo,
Who it seems to me was Lombard.
Otherwise I believe the author was
That Signor, who diebus illi [those days]
(He certainly was a nuisance)
To expel the crickets from the head
Invented the game of chess,
Which I would indeed see in the fire.
But he’s a bit of what you want,
That one knows, you know;
I know it, everyone knows it,
And those will know it who are to come:
Bagattultimo to this day
With pomp and show
Makes his way to every place,
He is accepted and revered
By Lord and Knights,
By most grave Masters
Often I saw the Elders [eminent ones]
And Graduates of great prestige
Those who think themselves Learned, and the Chamberlains,
And the Gowned, and Military men
For relief, and refreshment
From their public duties,
Passing from serious troubles
To cheerful and legitimate medicine;
Not getting perturbed,
Staying with him for hours.
How many times I saw even Women
Not only Damsels, but Grannies
From labor annoyed and tired
Put down on the benches [also pews]
their knotters and spinning wheels,
Their needle, spindle, or loom
To be at the board,
And give him any stray thoughts;
As falls very slowly
The twilight vespers,
And though he is a little strong-limbed,
In fact a little too clumsy,
Stout, and wiry,
So to say he looks like a lout:
I want to say that although he fills the hands
Of those who get him
No one has therefore any reason to be nervous:
Those who left him soon got him again
Those who were his enemy now love him
Those who scorned him now crave him.
And the hands delicious
Of the delicate Ladies
I see always wheedling him
And caressing him fìne-fine
And feeling him without gloves
So that he angers lovers,
Who bite their fingers
On seeing imparted
So much grace, and such joy
To a churl made of paper.
And to say the truth, if at my great cost
A woman I loved one random day
(Please Heaven, I’d sooner
have my nose stretched the length of an arm)
And this one looked at me
With the eyes of a lizard;
So to see if she still loved me
(Which in truth would be bizarre)
I would say, first covenant:
I do not want to see the Bagatto.
Indeed he keeps in his service
Always three or four whomever,
But the Bagatto by my faith
Stays by himself, on his own;
I’d go away as far as I could
Not to compete against so great a rival
Dear to the old and to maidens,
Who raise him to the stars:
And whose many, many virtues
Give notable privileges.
And at first he is so quiet
That where he is no one speaks
And it would be indiscreet
To play the bagpipes [which are loud];
Shrewd and prudent
He tries to stay hidden
In order to more easily
Ambush the unwary,
And at last outwit the table,
Whose playing is bedeviled.
It is useless to predict
His aims, he yields to time [i.e. he waits];
And then is docile
When he gets things done well
Having laid aside all coyness,
He communes with his peers
And he only tries his luck
When he has more than a little hope.
Of putting the beak on the goose [finishing his job well; from Goose]
And then comes the mold in the nose [he gets angry]
When engaged by chance [i.e. games with no strategy].
If taken into the spider’s web
By the error of his guide,
One who sees him complains [of him]
And in his heart mumbles and shouts;
And accusing the leader [the Bagatto]
Of reprehensible judgment
He turns afflicted in his thought
To cruel Bagatt-icide [the Bagatt’s murder] ,
Which then is made clear
To the Masters of the country. [those who have mastered the game]
These then tease him [the erroneous player]
For not being alert;
Or because he is too stingy:
For a Page of his Companion
He let go into ruin
The tarot’s ringleader [the Bagatto]:
Or perhaps because feeling exalted
But feeble of memory,
He made a confusion
Between [“Fra il,” also “Among the”] twenty-one and twenty-two.
To me, this happens often:
And then I, O so many quips,
From so many people, listening to
The vile name Dunce
(So vile, as to make Facciolati
Blush, and Calepino,
Who sent it to the printer) [Calepino published a dictionary translating Latin into seven languages, which Facciolati later expanded]
This name accursed
Every night to me is told.
Only the Bagatto in his cloth
Stays humble in much trouble;
And although so he is abused,
He volunteers, and as a good soldier
A thousand times back in the hands
Of the unwary Captain:
He seems always to have in his heart
To cling to the worst:
He seems to enjoy staying with the one
Who has the weakest brain.
For example’s sake, and he enjoys much
To be with me: though often
I abandon him in the midst of trouble;
While others would like him
As their prey [would like to take advantage of him]
In order to increase their money;
So that the Wretched One is seen
Among the commoners of the tarot
In the ignoble quinternion [group of five]
Subject to others’ acts of ridicule and derision.
In the Country of the Bagatto,
Which is called Mitigatto [a tarot game among three players]
Every King has a Queen,
Or wife, or concubine:
Up to the Pope, o unworthiness!
The Popess gives herself here [to the Pope].
Only the Bagatto is an honest Son
Lives chaste as a lily [giglio]:
He will never wish
(I believe) to take a wife.
O you. by Solons [those who imagine themselves wise] too much courted
And you. too much caressed
Resounding Tricki-Tracki [Italian game],
You want to be first,
And he will always be last,
And so that no one will esteem him
He has himself called Bagattultimo:
Therefore I believe most truly
Of a eulogy he is most worthy.
But now I cannot say more:
Because it is time to end;
Already more than one presents himself as a friend
Who then from behind puts it to me there;
And will give me to his comfort.
Here illusions, and there San Biago [martyrdom]
If so it is, as I believe,
As I see and almost touch [i.e., it is a familiar reality]
I guess I'll stop my mocking,
For fear I'll get a knocking.
1 - Description reported in the notes illustrating the volume Poetry of Painting (Feaci Edizioni [Phaeacians Editions]) from which we learn that in 1776 the Cavalier Alessandro Sappa founded the Agency Poetica Torinese. See the link http://www.feaciedizioni.it/inMargine2.htm