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A. William Smith

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BACKGROUND

Information: A. William Smith, author of books about Renaissance dance.


COMMENTS

[e(t/r/s)z(a/i)d(en/ar)(z/g)ia] "accidentali" or "accidentia" or "azadenzia" or "azidenzia" or "eccedenza" or "eczidenzia"

I would like to get back to the phrase in Domenico of Piacenza's treatise for which Joseph Casazza and Elizabeth Cain have a solution which differs from that of A. William Smith. It is important, I think, that Rendance readers see that the transcription of early manuscripts can be open to different interpretations. When there are doubts, the transcriber should probably consult other experts and make a note of the problem in his/her publication. Since my own reading did not agree with that of Joseph Casazza and Elizabeth Cain, I decided to seek the opinion of Alessandro Pontremoli. Alessandro is best known for his book (together with Patrizia La Rocca) Il Ballo Lombardo which, despite its being published in 1987, is still the most complete work on Italian 15th-century dance. Alessandro also made a transcription of a Venetian collection (fragment) of 15th-century dances (see his and La Rocca's La Danza a Venezia nel Rinascimento, 1993) which differs from Smith's transcription made for the Guglielmo Ebreo conference in Pesaro in 1987.

Alessandro is a Rendance subscriber but his computer was out of kilt during our Domenico exchange. I sent him the correspondence and have his permission to quote his reply (he also okayed my translation):

"In my opinion the problem simply doesn't exist. Aside from the formation of the first letter (in the 15th century a/e are often confused by the scribes), the phrase has its sense in the aristotelian contrast between what is natural and what is accidental: Domenico says that it is always necessary to keep the perfect mean in all things, following the aristotelian precept. The dance, inasmuch as it involves both body and "accidentia," nature and "accidentia" (a late latinismo for "accidental things, artificial, not natural"), is an art expressing the mean and thus good in itself. My critical transcription is the following:

"'dico questa arte gentile avere in sé bontà per natura e molte [bontà] per accidentia in sua operazione (in its performance of dancing)'."

–Barbara Sparti


Smith transcribes the letter between the initial "e" and "z" as "r." This is a fairly easy mistake to make, since the "r" anc "c" have very similar forms. Smith earlier mistakes "r" for "v" in the word "argumenta" in line 13, which he transcribes as "avgunionta." Likewise, the end of the word, "-enzia" might fool some into seeing "-arzia", but the first vertical stroke belongs to the "n."

The word in question must be part of the phrase "per x in sua operatione" with "x" representing the word in question. Only a noun, noun phrase, or its equivalent will do here. The word is too short for much of a noun phrase, and it does not end in the usual infinitive ending, so is likely a noun ending in -ia and not a noun phrase or equivalent. And, of course, the word "et" as a separate word won't work here, first because "per et x in sua natura" is not likely, whatever "x" might be, and because if "et" stands in the first position the second word should start with a vowel, which it clearly does not. If "et" were a ligature for just the first syllable of the word, one would be in the difficult position of finding an Italian word beginning etcz- or etrz-.

The slight variation in the form of the "z" is no more than one would expect in a handwritten document. Similar differences in the form of "g," for example, elsewhere in this manuscript can be found, some with the bottom loop more open, some with it nearly closed, and there are instances of "z" elsewhere in this manuscript with a more rounded or more angular lower bout.

I think there can be little doubt of the forms of the letters: eczidenzia, and little doubt, too, that we are dealing with one word.

Further, there are only a few possible words which would make sense here, given the context. Our problem with the proposed "azidenzia" in context is that the author has not been talking about the contrast between what is inherent in the nature of movement versus what is incidental – this does not appear until later in the treatise, when "accidentia" is clealry used – he has, instead, been talking about avoiding excess. Using our suggestion of "eczidenzia (mod. It. "eccedenza"), the author says, to paraphrase, "Aristotle says everything is corrupted if you go to extremes. I do not want you to perform movements in such a way that you go to extremes, so I say to you that this art has goodness in it by nature and penalties (molte, mod. It. multe) for excess in its performance." Oh, no! Penalties for excess! Well, we certainly won't do that!

How much less sense it makes to accept "azidenzia" and have the author say, again in paraphrase, "Aristotle says everything is corrupted if you go to extremes. I do not want you to perform movements in such a way that you go to extremes, so I say to you that this art has goodness in it by nature and many good things incidentally in its performance." Not much of a reason not to go to extremes!

–Joseph Casazza, Elizabeth Cain


> Smith transcribes the letter between the initial "e" and "z" as "r." This is a fairly easy mistake to make, since the "r" anc "c" have very similar forms.

I don't agree with this statement. To pen an "r" and a "c" are two very different actions. However I do concede that to pen an "ec" in ligature could very well produce the effect in question and possibly lead to mistaking the "c" for an "r" particularly if the word were penned in a cursive fashion as appears to have been the case.

> "-enzia" might fool some into seeing "-arzia", but the first vertical stroke belongs to the "n."

Looking at the word in question again I don't think you can claim this with certainty. It could still either be an "ar" or "en."

> "Aristotle says everything is corrupted if you go to extremes. I do not want you to perform movements in such a way that you go to extremes, so I say to you that this art has goodness in it by nature and penalties (molte, mod. It. multe) for excess in its performance."

> How much less sense it makes to accept "azidenzia" and have the author say, again in paraphrase, "Aristotle says everything is corrupted if you go to extremes. I do not want you to perform movements in such a way that you go to extremes, so I say to you that this art has goodness in it by nature and many good things incidentally in its performance."

It would seem that your argument has merit when taken in context with what the author is trying to say. In the first case, don't go to extremes for if you do there are penalties. In the second instance the meaning may be don't go to extremes for there is no need to do so.

Either version makes sense, but the former I suppose more so. (Also given the fact that I find it very hard to see the word in question starting with an "a.")

–Richard Krajewski


I see the word in question clearly enough as "azadenzia" – or possibly "azidenzia" – allowing for the top of the "i" to have begun rather close to the top of the "z" and a slight smudge (!) at its base. However, I would accept the first reading.

The other nterestiong aspect is that both the key words – natura and acidentia – have been added after the rest of the line. It seems clear that the scribe, for some reason, was not clear himself and stopped at buntade – left a gap – perhaps then wrote "e molte" with a slight smudge ovr his "l" and finshed the paragraph on the following line. Subsequently, either he (with different quill!) or someone else added the two "technical" words. I feel that giving them that "technical" connotatin helps to understand them and the original scribe's difficulty.

So, therefore, I would translate the whole rather differently, since "accidentia" seems to bear a meaning, referred to by some in this correspondence, in contrast that given to "natura." For me (and most, I expect), this appears most clearly in Domenico's description of the basic steps and his statement that the movements are either "naturali" or "acidentali". As I understand the difference, he is stressing that some are natural – that is they happen "on the beat of the music" and the others are ornamental, used as decoration.

Thus I would tend to translate the passage in question as – the art has goodness or excellance in it by nature (possibly implying a rhythmic validity as well as a type of physical training – the "scienctific" part of the art of dance) and much by ornament (the additional and decorative skills of "gratia" or gracefulness, not to mention "agilitade and maniera") in its performance.

–Diana Cruickshank


Domenico does indeed state that "movements are either 'naturali' or 'acidentali'," two paragraphs after the one in question, and in an entirely different context, as he begins discussion of the "constructo de questo zentille mestiero." In fact, in neither of the two citations (assuming they are citations to the Nicomachean Ethics) in the paragraph we are concerned with does Aristotle mention the distinction between natural and accidental, so it is hard for us to see what the distinction would be doing here. The first citation from Aristotle does, however, refer to the degeneration of all things done to excess, so the antithesis of goodness by nature with penalties (i.e., degeneration) for excess, as we have suggested by our rendering "eczidenzia" (mod. "eccedenza"), makes perfect sense in the cited Aristotelian context. Indeed, in the paragraph immediately following, Domenico continues talking about what a person is required to have "in se de natura," reinforcing our interpretation that the preceeding paragraph also concerns nature alone. Indeed, never in this treatise is "accidentali" or "accidentia" ever applied to anything except the classification of the types of movements. We also think that rendering the alternative, "azidenzia" as "ornament" is stretching the language quite a bit.

–Joseph Casazza, Elizabeth Cain


In all this discussion of "acidenzia" or "eczidenzia," etc., the interpretation suggested by Joseph Casazza and Elizabeth Cain of eccidenzia is based on a reading of "molte" as "multe" which I find is stretching a point inasmuch as "molte" is very clearly written and the term "multe" never appears in any of the 15th-century dance treatises.

–Barbara Sparti


Yes, this is true (although not too much stretching needed on our part, as I hope to show), but "penalties" are likely to show up only in certain contexts in connection with dance, and there is at least room for believing that this is one of those contexts. As for the form, the o-u variation is not uncommon. Witness the form "buntade" in this same treatise (mod. bontà) for slippage in the other direction. We will attempt to find something more certain for this particular word (molte-multe).

Although I do not wish to push the Aristotelian connection too far (after all, Domenico says Aristotle is talking about movement in the 10th book of the Ethics – assuming again Nicomachean Ethics – when in fact he is talking about pleasure and countering the claim that it is a type of movement in general terms, and not really talking specifically about movement in, for example, dance at all), in the 10th book of the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle does talk about how "people obey necessity rather than argument, and punishments rather than a sense of what is noble" (from the W. D. Ross translation of chapter 9) in the context of asking how one obtains the right training for youth, and in the process of moving from his consideration of pleasure to that of legislation. I also feel I must repeat that, in spite of what Domenico says in lines 73-75, Aristotle does not, as far as I can find, refer to the distinction between goodness "per natura" and goodness "per accidentia" in the tenth book of the Nicomachean Ethics, which Domenico cites. Another warning to us not to take the Aristotelian connection too far.

–Joseph Casazza


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