COMPANION TO CANTO XLV
Annotations in the List of Works Cited:
Contributor name. The Online Companion to The Cantos of Ezra Pound, IV: n.gloss number. The Cantos Project. Web. Date of access.
Example: Preda, Roxana. The Online Companion to The Cantos of Ezra Pound, IV: n.13. The Cantos Project. Web. 5 September 2016.
(Contributor name, OCCEP IV: n.no).
Example: (Bressan, OCCEP IV: n.3). If no name is indicated, the gloss or translation was written by Roxana Preda. In this case, the citation will have this format: (OCCEP IV: n.13).
References to The Cantos
As The Cantos Project is numbering the lines of The Cantos, references to cantos already glossed will be by canto number and line(s), as standard with classical works. Example: III: ll.7–17.
For cantos that are not yet glossed within the project, the references will be by canto number slash page number, as standard in the research on the poem. Example: III/12. The page number refers to the American edition of The Cantos by Ezra Pound. New York: New Directions, 1998.
©Roxana Preda. Canto XLV, 18 February 2020.
LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS
Pound, Ezra. ABC of Reading. . New York: New Directions, 1987.
Araujo, Anderson. A Companion to Ezra Pound’s Guide to Kulchur. Clemson: Clemson UP, 2018.
Pound, Ezra. Ezra Pound’s Economic Correspondence, 1933-1940. Ed. Roxana Preda. Gainesville: U of Florida P, 2007.
Pound, Ezra. A Memoir of Gaudier-Brzeska. . New York: New Directions, 1970.
Pound, Ezra. Guide to Kulchur. New York: New Directions, 1971.
Pound, Ezra. ‘I Cease Not to Yowl’: Ezra Pound’s Letters to Olivia Rossetti Agresti. Eds. Demetres P. Tryphonopoulos and Leon Surette. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press 1998.
Pound, Ezra. Ezra Pound’s Poetry and Prose. Contributions to Periodicals. 11 vols. Eds. Lea Baechler, A. Walton Litz and James Longenbach. New York: Garland, 1991.
Pound, Ezra. The Selected Letters of Ezra Pound 1907-1941. . Ed. D. D. Paige. New York: New Directions, 1971.
Pound, Ezra. The Spirit of Romance. [1911, 1929]. With an introduction by Richard Sieburth. New York: New Directions, 2005.
- With – Canto 45 is annotated in considerable detail by Pound himself, who, writing to his Italian translator Carlo Izzo in January 1938, clarified the ways in which he understood certain lines. About the first line he said:
“‘With’ in English derives from Ang-Saxon and has oppositive aroma. As in ‘withstand’ meaning ‘stand against.’ I don’t mean that it means ‘against,’ but ‘Tollerando’ has a sonorous body that helps the line” SL 303, see Calendar.
This nuance was taken up by Mary de Rachewiltz, who rendered it into Italian as “Contro l’Usura.”
The letter to Izzo also makes clear that Pound did not consider “With Usura” a title, or a motto, but understood it to be the first line of the poem:
“You could leave the ‘con usura’ in various places, but I think ‘tollerando’ better in opening line and in line 2 for the repeat.”
Usura – L. “usury.” Pound uses the Latin word to extend its range of reference and bring out its universal condemnation by the Catholic Church.
Pound made clear in canto 42 that the Monte dei Paschi Bank in Siena demanded “legitimate interest” at 5½%. In March 1936, he wrote to Henry Swabey: “Usury is an evil; above 8% it becomes a punishable criminal offense” (SL 278, see Calendar).
In the canto, “Usura” is not just “usury,” (the demand of excessive interest on loans, or in Pound’s terms, over 8%), but is understood to define market economy as a whole, affecting professions, social relationships, mentality and morals as well as the quality of art. See Pound’s letter to Ibbotson in the Calendar. See also Hesse 74.
Pound’s warnings in this poem are not merely historical but relevant to our own time. “Usury” lacks a contemporary name but is completely normalized and accepted in the practices of capitalism, past and present: Every form of industrial production is funded by loans whose interest is paid by the consumer as a component of price; the difference between the interest banks usually offer for deposits and the interest they demand for loans has become ever greater; credit cards at high interest have become the normal way people pay for current consumption, whereas going into overdraft is punished by fees and/or high interest rates; 25-year mortgages double or triple the price of a house over time; “payday” loans at over 100% interest are advertised on TV; education has an ever higher price tag, and can only be financed by loans at various degrees of interest stretched out over 25 years and beyond; health care and insurance costs have escalated to levels impossible to pay by individuals, often leading to re-mortgaging one’s house or selling it to pay for medical and/or old age care. The decline of skills (due to the industrial production line outpricing the handmade), the erosion of family relationships (caused, among other things, by normalized unpaid overtime and lack of economic safety); the decline of fertility, (as women, knowing that children are an obstacle and a danger to jobs, postpone marriage, family, even steady sex relationships) are developments we see in the twenty-first century. Pound mentions the bread like “stale rags” in the canto, yet our situation has gone way beyond the bad bread we know all too well: since Pound’s time, we have come to struggle with chemicals in food and gene modified meat and vegetables; sugar, known to be unhealthy, has become a universal ingredient and unavoidable. Moreover, the ubiquity of “fast,” industrially produced food has created the global obesity problem and spread a broad palette of illnesses. Family, education, health, good nutrition, even sex have become luxuries and objects of lifelong struggle.
- house of good stone – Pound’s interest in architecture and his efforts to define its positive attributes are built into his earliest cultural interests (see Romer 2019.) As a flaneur and art critic, Pound often compared Italian to London buildings and discriminated between the style and architectural care of churches, which were built for permanence, and the slipshod, tasteless quality of civil building. However, his early writings show just an aesthetic bent, mostly against industrially produced façade ornaments. By the time he wrote canto 45, he was more interested in the kind of economics and legal arrangements that produced the London cityscape he hated:
He wrote in Guide to Kulchur:
“The London ground rents and entail, lease system etc. have defiled English building. A man will be very hesitant to build permanent beauty if he knows that someone else can bag it at the end of 9 or 99 years. As “B. H. Dias” I spent my odd time for several months observing the decadence of wood-carving, fanlights over London doors.
Economics is NOT a cold subject. Any more than the study of spirochetes was without bearing on human happiness (245).
A “house of good stone” is a durable house, whose successive owners maintain, develop and modernize. This however is not likely to happen with the English so-called “leasehold” system, whereby a house is not sold for ever, but for a period of 99 years, after which time it reverts to its original owner, who holds it in “freehold.” The leasehold system was active in Pound’s time and is still current today. See Hoa.org for detail.
Pound was equally critical of the Paris cityscape:
“It is a very pretty economic problem. Paris is irritating to any one who has ever seen any real architecture. A real building is one on which the eye can light and stay lit. The detail must bear inspection. The French had some stone-cutters once, long ago” (“Paris Letter,” 1 January 1923. P&P IV: 278).
See also Pound’s letter to Ibbotson in the Calendar; Hesse 74 and CGK 265-6 for further insights.
- painted paradise – reference to François Villon’s line “Paradis peint, où sont harpes et luths” (Grand Testament) Pound commented in ABC of Reading (1934):
“Villon, the first voice of man broken by bad economics, represents also the end of the medieval dream, the end of a whole body of knowledge, fine, subtle, that had run from Arnaut to Guido Cavalcanti, that had lain in the secret mind of Europe for centuries […]
The hardest, the most authentic, the most absolute poet of France. The underdog, the realist, also a scholar. But with the mediaeval dream hammered out of him” (ABCR 104).
“Through it all is the elegy, the lament that we lack a ‘chef d’orchestre’; that painting ought to be part of architecture; that there is no place for sculpture or painting in modern life; that painters make innumerable scraps of paper. This is true. The stuff is vendible or non-vendible, it is scraps, knick-knacks, part of the disease that gives us museums instead of temples, curiosity shops instead of such rooms as the hall of the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena or of the Sala di Notari in Perugia” (Ezra Pound. “Paris Letter.” The Dial 1 January 1923 in P&P IV: 277).
The motif of the “painted paradise” first appeared in canto 20, which shares with 45 the wealth of references to art. It would reappear in canto 74, where Pound exclaims:
pouvrette et ancienne oncques lettre ne lus
I don’t know how humanity stands it
with a painted paradise at the end of it
without a painted paradise at the end of it (LXXIV/456)
harpes et luz – OF. “harps and lutes.” The harps and lutes of angels in paradise painted on the church wall. From François Villon’s “Ballade requested by his mother to pray to Our Lady.” In ABCR, Pound declared that he could not translate Villon (104-5); in his chapter on the French poet in the Spirit of Romance, Pound quoted Rossetti’s translation:
Femme je suis pauvrette et ancienne
Qui riens ne sais; oncques lettres ne lus.
Au moutier vois, dont suis paroissienne,
Paradis peint, où sont harpes et luths,
A pitiful poor woman, shrunk and old,
I am, and nothing learned in letter lore
Within my parish-cloister I behold
A painted Heaven where harps and lutes adore (SR 174).
There is a certain variance as to “luz” in various editions of the canto. Faber followed the original spelling in Pound’s drafts and the first printing in Prosperity with “luthes.” Since 1970, New Directions has “luz.” It was changed in the Faber edition in 1970 by Eva Hesse (Eastman 75).
- virgin receiveth message – Pound may here refer not only to the common them of the Annunciation, but more specifically to the work of Fra Angelico, whose images of the Virgin were often painted in fresco on the church wall. See also n.20 below.
- halo projects from incision – probable reference to the work of Agostino di Duccio, whose designs in bas-relief at the Tempio Malatestiano are made by “incision”: a very delicate cut and tracery in stone. The incision is a mark of Duccio’s original style, as characteristic of his artistic profile as Fra Angelico’s Annunciations painted in fresco.
More specifically, Pound may have had in mind Duccio’s relief of Diana, goddess of the moon, whose rich mantle blown back by the wind gives the impression of a halo.
Gonzaga his heirs and concubines – Fresco by Andrea Mantegna (1431-506) in the so-called “Camera degli Sposi” (Wedding Chamber) of the Ducal Palace in Mantua. Mantegna entered the patronage of Marquess Ludovico III Gonzaga in 1460 and stayed on as court painter during the reign of Ludovico’s successors, Federico I and Francesco II. The fresco decoration was finished ca. 1474 and is painted on the wall of the Marquess’ room, where he worked and slept.
Pound mentioned the deterioration of the fresco as early as 1917 in his Ur-canto II:
“Send out your thought upon the Mantuan palace,
Drear waste, great halls; pigment flakes from the stone;
Silk tatters still in the frame, Gonzaga’s splendour,
Where do we come upon the ancient people”
Pound insists on frescoes in this canto, because the technology of mounting painted pieces of wall to make them mobile and saleable did not yet exist in his time. A fresco was not marketable and meant to be forever bound to its original “house of good stone,” be it church or palace. See also his statement in The Dial quoted in n.4.
Pound also stresses the advantages of lifelong patronage, whether ecclesiastical, public, or private. The patron ensures the artist can work unencumbered by time pressure or economic insecurity. This was Mantegna’s case with the Gonzaga family in Mantua, Giovanni Bellini’s in Venice, Duccio’s with the Malatesta in Rimini, Fra Angelico’s with the Church and the Medici in Florence.
- mountain wheat – Pound became interested in the story of wheat by reading Paul De Kruif’s Hunger Fighters (1928), which recounted the story of Alfred Carleton, an American botanist who introduced strains of pest-resistant wheat from Russia into the American Midwest. Although Carleton’s contribution to the alleviation of poverty and hunger is so important that it cannot even be gauged today, he was constantly in debt and under the pressure of his creditors. Pound reviewed Hunger Fighters for the New English Weekly in December 1934 and started a correspondence with De Kruif (1934-36). He was particularly moved by the idea that Carleton’s wheat was an element of what in Social Credit terms could be called “cultural heritage,” an active, beneficent factor that never ceases to bear fruit (EPEC 260-1; 264).
In the canto, we find a ramification of Pound’s interest in the value of wheat for civilization, namely “mountain wheat,” or emmer, an ancient grain cultivated in the Middle East, which was widespread in Levant and Europe, but has generally gone out of use. In Italy, emmer has been known, protected, and, under the name of “farro,” used in cuisine, especially in Tuscany. Emmer is “grano duro” and universally praised for the good taste of the bread that can be made out of it: at present, it is slowly being rediscovered and offered either in health stores or as luxury grain in the better supermarkets.
Wheat, as symbol of civilisation based on agriculture, is the central element of the Eleusinian rites to which Pound refers at the end of the poem: as a result of the ritual marriage between the hierophant and priestess, an ear of wheat was produced and shown to the initiates. See l. 48. See also Marsh 2019.
- line grows thick – In matters of painterly aesthetics, Pound often affirmed his preference for the well-defined line, a preference which he did not consider merely subjective. In Pound’s opinion, usury avoids the strict delimitation and clarity of line in painting, in the same way it disfavours the precision of verbal statement. Usury also rewards the mixing and confusion of colours. Historically, Pound observed the change of artistic practice from clear lines and pure colours in the quattrocento to developments of the chiaroscuro and baroque in the 16th and 17th centuries and aligned these with the gradual acceptance of usury in ecclesiastical circles and the economy as a whole. See Ozturk 2012 for detail.
“I suggest that finer and future critics of art will be able to tell from the quality of a painting the degree of tolerance or intolerance of usury extant in the age and milieu that produced it” (GK 27).
See also Pound’s letter to Carlo Izzo in Calendar and Hesse 75.
- stonecutter is kept from his stone – In his Memoir to Gaudier-Brzeska, Pound remembered that the sculptor could not afford to buy marble; he used to remark regretfully how the precious material is wasted on gravestones. Pound bought a block for him to sculpt his bust (G-B 48).
“A few blocks of stone really carved are very nearly sufficient base for a new civilization. The garbage of three empires collapsed over Gaudier’s marble. And as that swill is cleared off, as the map of a new Europe becomes visible Gaudier’s work re-emerges, perfectly solid” (1934. G-B 140).
wool comes not to market – As Eva Hesse pointed out, the line was developed in canto 50 and may refer to a passage in Antonio Zobi’s Storia civile della Toscana I: 120-1:
“il germe della decadenza provenga dall’avidità de’ mercatanti Fiorentini, i quali per risparmiare le spese di trasporto delle lane greggie da lontani paesi, cioè, dove si smerciavano i panni, stabilirono lanificj in Fiandra, in Inghilterra ed altrove; dimodochè ben presto divennero tante scuole d’industria per quei popoli. I Fiamminghi furono i primi a profittarne; ma gl’ Inglesi conoscendo di possedere la materia prima ne proibirono l’estrazione. I lanificj pertanto andarono scemando in Toscana nella propozione che aumentavano nella Gran-Brettagna. La decadenza dell’ arte della lana fra noi risale al secolo XV, sebbene non se ne rendesse allora sensibile il decremento.”
(“the seed of the decadence comes out of the greed of Florentine merchants who, in order to save the transportation costs of raw wools from faraway countries, that is, the places where the clothes were sold, established wool mills in Flanders, England and other places; these became very soon schools of industry for these peoples. The Flemish were the first to profit; but the English, knowing they had the raw material, prohibited its export. Therefore, the wool mills in Tuscany declined to the extent they developed in Great Britain. The decadence of the art of wool with us can be followed back to the 15th century, although the decrease was not yet visible.”
“the first folly was planting factories for wool spinning
in England and Flanders
then England kept her raw wool, so that
damped down the exchanging
the arts gone to hell by 1750.” (50/246)
- sheep bringeth no gain – Animal farming and grazing have since ancient times been considered the foundation of prosperous property management, as they brought more wealth to the farmer than tilling.
Cicero, in the second book of his treatise De Officiis, relates the following conversation between an unnamed questioner and Cato [...] who, when asked what the most profitable feature of an estate was, replied: “Raising cattle successfully.” What next to that? “Raising cattle with fair success.” And next? “Raising cattle with but slight success.” And fourth? “Raising crops.” And when his questioner said, “How about money-lending?” Cato replied: “How about murder?”(2.89)
See also cantos 42-44 on The Monte dei Paschi, a bank founded in Siena in 1624 on the basis of tax revenue from pasture and still existing today.
- murrain – plague infecting cattle and other animals. For Pound, usury is a parasite on the richest and most reliable natural source of wealth. See also n. 11.
- Pietro Lombardo – Renaissance architect and sculptor (1435-1515). He built and decorated the interior of one of Pound’s favourite churches, the Sta. Maria dei Miracoli, in Venice (1481-89). The building of the church was financed by public donations.
Pound called Sta Maria dei Miracoli the “jewel box” and particularly admired Lombardo’s mermaids, with putti on their backs, sculpted into the plinths of columns framing the altar. See Hesse 78; Twitchell 10-1.
Pound brings Lombardo together with Agostino di Duccio, who decorated the interior of the Tempio Malatestiano in Rimini. Duccio and Lombardo were contemporaries, both carvers in marble, both involved in the revival of pagan culture within the ecclesiastical building. Pound referred to them in ABCR 151 and in Cantos 74/450; 83/548, 549.
- Duccio – Agostino di Duccio (1418-1481), Florentine sculptor who decorated the interior walls of the Tempio Malatestiano (1449-57) in Rimini. His tiles, each with a different design, cover the walls and columns of the Tempio and offer a concrete example to the more general statement at the beginning of the poem: “house of good stone /each block cut smooth and well fitting /that design might cover their face.”
Duccio spent a few years in Rimini (1449-57) under the patronage of Sigismondo Malatesta. Like all the artists mentioned by Pound in the canto, he worked on commission, not for the open market.
Pound commented on Duccio in his review of Adrian Stokes’s Stones of Rimini published in April 1934:
“As for the triumph of Agostino di Duccio, the actual work has gamut from registration of, so far as I am concerned, a concept of absolute physical beauty, achieved in its proportion, having nothing to do with Milo or Greece, say Italic beauty and sanity. This at its apex, down to simple botch, and physical figures so defective that they wouldn’t get by a simple Atlantic City or Ziegfield judging committee.
And thank heaven, there is nothing, utterly and completely nothing that theory can now do to it; or about it” (P&P VI: 160).
Pier della Francesca – Piero degli Franceschi (1420-92) Tuscan painter who painted the fresco “Sigismondo before St. Sigismund” in the Tempio Malatestiano. He also painted Sigismondo’s portrait, now at the Louvre.
Piero’s name can be considered a “verbal signature” pointing to what Pound considered the ideal form of patronage, as evident from a letter of 1449 from Sigismondo Malatesta to Giovanni de Medici: Pound translated, lineated and quoted from it at length in canto 8. The letter was offering patronage to a “maestro di pentore,” generally assumed to be Piero:
And tell the Maestro di pentore
That there can be no question of
His painting the walls for the moment,
As the mortar is not yet dry
And it wd. be merely work chucked away
But I want it to be quite clear, that until the chapels are ready
I will arrange for him to paint something else
So that both he and I shall
Get as much enjoyment as possible from it,
And in order that he may enter my service
And also because you write me that he needs cash,
I want to arrange with him to give him so much per year
And to assure him that he will get the sum agreed on.
You may say that I will deposit security
For him wherever he likes.
And let me have a clear answer,
For I mean to give him good treatment
So that he may come to live the rest
Of his life in my lands---
Unless you put him off it---
And for this I mean to make due provision,
So that he can work as he likes,
Or waste his time as he likes
(affatigandose per suo piacere o no
non gli manchera la provixione mai)
never lacking provision. (VIII/28-9)
- Zuan Bellin – Giovanni Bellini (“Zuan Bellin” in the Venetian dialect) (1430-1516). During his lifetime, Bellini was acknowledged by the Venetian Signoria as the most prominent painter of the republic. The testimony of this was the “sansaria,” a lifelong income from taxes that the Venetian Senate awarded to its most prestigious artists. Pound regarded Bellini’s Pietà, initially held in the Tempio, (now in the Rimini City Museum), as Bellini’s “best bit of painting.” The work is dated “1470” which means post-Sigismondo’s time (he died in 1468). Pound however, considered it to be Sigismondo’s purchase.
“In a Europe not YET rotted by usury, but outside the then system, and pretty much against the power that was, and in any case without great material resources, Sigismundo cut his notch. He registered a state of mind, of sensibility, of all-roundness and awareness.
He had a little of the best there in Rimini. He had perhaps Zuan Bellin’s best bit of painting. He had all he cd. get of Pier della Francesca” (GK 159).
- La Calunnia – It. “The Calumny of Apelles” (ca. 1495), allegorical painting by Sandro Botticelli. The picture, created after the Medici were forced to leave Florence in 1494, was not made on commission but for his own pleasure, and gifted to a friend Vasari 3: 254.
- Angelico – Guido di Pietro (1387-1455), also called Fra Angelico (“the angelic friar”), Florentine painter famous for his Annunciations and altarpieces. In all his mentions of Fra Angelico, Pound associated him with his frescoes in Cortona churches. See GK 113; SL 300; cantos 76/482; 52/258. See also Twitchell 14. See also n. 6.
Ambrogio Praedis – Ambrogio de Predis (1455-1508), Italian painter in the service of the Sforza family in Milan.
Jeffrey Twitchell offers the following comment on Praedis’ role in the canto:
“Court painter for Duke Ludovico Sforza of Milan, Praedis did portraits of the Duke, his wife Beatrice d’Este, his niece Bianca Maria and her husband, the Emperor Maximilian I. […] Maximilian was tempted into marriage with Bianca Maria by the payment of an enormous dowry by Duke Ludovico and the hope of crushing Venice. The prostitution of marriage is not only implied in Canto 45 but is often referred to throughout the early cantos (e.g., Canto 4 and 30/148). Maximilian’s ambitious and belligerent designs to extend his Empire embroiled him in perpetual wars and a consequent shortage of funds. His active but unrealized desire to reclaim Italy for the Empire involved him in various schemes between 1493 and 1516，including a major role in forming the League of Cambrai against Venice [which Pound refers to at the end of canto 51, the pair of 45 and the finale of the Fifth Decad.] […]
Whether or not Pound associates all this historical context with Praedis, he was certainly well aware that the rich and extravagant court of Ludovico was at the very center of the intrigues and power plays which would plunge Italy into a particularly gruesome half century of war and rapine, resulting in her subjection to other European powers for the next three centuries” (Twitchell 14-5).
Pound may have seen in Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum the only signed picture by Predis, a portrait of Maximilian I, in which the triangular signature (Ambrosius de pdis mlanen [Maximilianen] pinxit 1502) can be paired with Adaminus’ column signature in the next line. The allusion to Predis may further suggest that the political criticism evident in Maximilian’s portrait [his nose looks like the beak of a hawk and his eyes are yellow] was possible in the conditions of court patronage. His signature is not only an assertion of pride and ownership, but also a token of political awareness and responsibility.
Adamo me fecit – L. “Adam made me.” The architect’s signature on a column in the cathedral of San Zeno Maggiore in Verona, built 967-1398. Pound saw the inscription when he visited the church with Edgar Williams, (William Carlos Williams’s brother), in 1911. The signed column was observed, deciphered and transcribed by John Ruskin in The Stones of Venice (I: 318) so it must have been known at least to Edgar, who was an architect (Witemeyer 1975). Pound’s reference to Adam’s signature thus underscores the strongly Ruskinian bent of the poem’s economic view.
Pound reminisced about his experience in his “Paris Letter” to The Dial, 1 January 1923:
“Ten years ago I was with Edgar Williams in San Zeno, and he came on Adamo San Guglielmo’s signed column. Adamo was the architect, and is said to have cut some or most of the stone himself. Williams looked at the two simple spirals of red marble cut in one block, and burst out, ‘How the hell do you expect us to get any buildings when we have to order our columns by the gross?’” (P&P IV: 278).
The inscription is made in the red marble capital and hardly visible. It is thus highly unlikely that an untutored visitor might see it by merely looking up. See also the reproduction in Hesse 79 and Hugh Kenner’s Pound Era 323-4.
- St. Trophime – Romanesque church in Arles well-known for its cloisters. It was built in the 12thcentury.
It is interesting to note that all the churches that Pound praises were built before St. Peter’s (1505-1526). Pound considered its extravagant style and gigantic dimensions as a visible expression of the decadence of Catholic faith and acceptance of usury in Christianity. St Peter’s was financed by selling indulgences: the protest against the practice started the Reformation.
- Saint Hilaire – Romanesque church in Poitiers, dating back to the 11th century.
- weave gold – Pound wrote to Carlo Izzo that “in Rapallo Middle Ages, industry of weaving actual gold thread into cloth (SL 304. See Calendar).
- azure has a canker – During the Renaissance, the colour blue was usually made from azurite, the upper oxidized portions of copper ore deposits. In time, azurite tended to degrade to a greenish hue, due to its proximity to the chemical composition of malachite, which Renaissance painters used as green pigment. Pigments Through the Ages.
Rich clients stipulated the pigments used by painters by contract and could pay for the use of ultramarine, a much more stable blue pigment derived from lapis lazuli, which was expensive and rare (Lane 122). Ultramarine (the pigment from overseas) was brought to Venice from Afghanistan and subject to various customs on its ways to Europe. The price of an ounce of the precious lapis was the same as for an ounce of gold. Due to the prohibitive price, painters would use an azurite basis with only a coat of ultramarine on top. Wikipedia.
cramoisi – Fr. “crimson.” Pound refers to “velours cramoisi” (“crimson velvet”) that he first suggested in canto XX ll.217-8: “Cramoisi and diaspre/ slashed white into velvet.” Renaissance painters often indicated the beauty, wealth and status of their sitters by painting the details of high fashion, such as the handmade embroideries on crimson velvet. The colour itself was a Venetian specialty and marketed throughout Europe.
Memling – Hans Memling (1433-1495), German painter who lived in Bruges and painted in the Flemish style of Jan van Eyck and Rogier van der Weyden. Memling had rich Italian patrons in Bruges, notably Tomasso Portinari, the director of the Medici Bank in the city. Portinari’s patronage decisions bore all the indications that he wanted to buy his way into paradise. He must have intuited that he needed special dispensation because his unwise financial decisions caused the ruin of the Medici branch in Bruges. However, it was not Portinari’s money that offered Memling the opportunity to paint emeralds and devise unusual variations of green, but the local Hospital of Saint John, for which Memling painted an altarpiece. The work, painted in 1473-79, made his reputation, both in Bruges and internationally. The tradition of painting in oils gave Flemish painters better support for precision, luminosity and detail than the use of tempera (pigment dissolved in egg yolk) that was practiced in Italy. Memling was a contemporary of Agostino, Pietro Lombardo, Botticelli and Ambrogio de Predis: his technical virtuosity and special painterly motifs influenced Italian artists like Raphael, Botticelli and Leonardo (Lane 199-213).
- Brought palsy to bed – Pound explained to Carlo Izzo: “‘Brought palsy to bed.’ I.e., palsied old man. Shakespeare’s language is so resilient.” See SL 304 and letter to Izzo in Calendar.
- CONTRA NATURAM – L. “Against nature.”
The thought that usury is against nature derives from Aristotle, who maintained that money is and should only be a means of exchange that replaces barter; it is thus barren, and does not multiply itself naturally, like plants and animals:
“usury is most reasonably hated, because its gain comes from money itself and not from that for the sake of which money was invented. For money was brought into existence for the purpose of exchange, but interest increases the amount of the money itself (and this is the actual origin of the Greek word: offspring resembles parent, and interest is money born of money); consequently this form of the business of getting wealth is of all forms the most contrary to nature.” (Aristotle Politics Book I: III.23 p.51). See more detail in Liebregts 175.
Pound owned the bilingual Heinemann edition of the Politics, which is now preserved in the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. Tim Redman, who included it in his catalogue of Pound’s library described it as heavily marked. Please see a 1959 reprint of this edition in Sources.
whores for Eleusis – Pound’s metaphor for the way usury turns sex, which the ancients understood to be a natural and sacramental act, into a commercial transaction. It is a shorthand for the corruption of the temple by the market. The most important religious rituals of the Greek ancient world were the mysteries of Demeter and Persephone in the temple at Eleusis near Athens. Festivities took place for several days in spring and autumn: only carefully chosen initiates who were sworn to secrecy were allowed to witness the mystery in the temple. Pound’s main source of information on the rites of Eleusis was an Italian book, Sacerdotesse e danzatrici nelle religioni antiche [“Priestesses and dancers in the ancient religions”] edited by Edoardo Tinto. Pound referred to it approvingly and translated from it in his article “Terra Italica,” published in 1931 (SP 54-60). See the book in Sources.
The author of Sacerdotesse spells out the importance of the feminine roles in the mysteries, both as priestesses officiating the divine marriage with the hierophant within the temple and as dancers taking part in the processions and festivities outside. Eleusis was a fertility mystery, enacting the sprouting of the wheat seed in the dark earth: copulation was thus imitating the processes of nature, to support and reinforce the rebirth of plants in spring and their bearing fruit in autumn.
Pound’s source affirms that outside the temple, sacred prostitution was a part of the celebrations, but did not state that about Eleusis specifically, but about the rites of Aphrodite’s temple at Paphos, as well as similar sites of religious homage to the goddess of love and fertility in Babylon, Carthage and India. The author of Sacerdotesse waxed lyrical about “the triumph of love,” the beauty of the natural setting of trees and flowers as well about as the religious consecration of the “fruit of the womb” to the goddess. He emphasized girls were groomed by their families for their participation in the rites (4-5). See also parallel account in Frazer 330-3.
Pound conflated these practices of sacramental sex under the verbal signature of “Eleusis,” suggesting that replacing virgins with prostitutes at the fertility celebrations was a sign of corruption whereby commercial procedures and family monopoly over the virgin body worked together to replace the sacred coitus. His belief in the sacred nature of sex is best presented in canto 47 and stated plainly in an unpublished typescript, starting with the words “Coition a sacrament.” See it in Resources.
In his letter to Carlo Izzo, Pound implied that marriage, which traditionally sold a woman’s fertility to a single man, and was sanctified by Christianity, is also the opposite of “Eleusis” and hence, a component of usury (understood more generally as market ecoomy). Pound wrote:
“‘Eleusis’ is very elliptical. It means that in place of the sacramental ---- [fuck] in the Mysteries, you ’ave the 4 and six-penny ’ore. As you see, the moral bearing is very high, and the degradation of the sacrament (which is the coition and not the going to a fatbuttocked priest or registry office) has been completely debased largely by Xtianity, or misunderstanding of that Ersatz religion.” See also Calendar.
Leon Surette argued that “Eleusis” is “synoptic,” “a machine designed to give flesh and ligature to Pound’s worship of beauty,” a term for his vision of the good, with life, love and light at its centre, a “metaphorical structure which has prevented [the poem] from flying apart” (67, 68).
corpses to banquet – In her annotation to the canto, Eva Hesse pointed out that the line should be understood as the opposite of Thomas Jefferson’s belief that “the earth belongs to the living” first expressed in one of his letters to James Madison (6 September 1789) and repeated to John Taylor in 1816:
“The system of banking we have both equally and ever reprobated. I contemplate it as a blot left in all our Constitutions, which if not covered, will end in their destruction, which is already hit by the gamblers in corruption, and is sweeping away in its progress the fortunes and morals of our citizens. Funding I consider as limited, rightfully, to a redemption of the debt within the lives of a majority of the generation contracting it; every generation coming equally, by the laws of the Creator of the world, to the free possession of the earth He made for their subsistence, unencumbered by their predecessors, who, like them, were but tenants for life.” WTJ XV: 18.
In the first publication of the canto in Prosperity, Pound had additional lines that throw light on the meaning he intended and seem to confirm Hesse’s Jeffersonian angle:
For this they have built vaults and cellars
To make tomb for the living
To set corpses at their banquet,
to set cadavers for banquet.
The corpses are met for feasting,
The young lands are made ready for funeral
at behest of usura.
See original text of poem in Sources.
- N.B. – L. “nota bene” (“note well”) (Minière 88). The term is an admonition to heed and pay attention to important information. Pound used the abbreviation also in a letter to Olivia Rossetti Agresti (L/ORA 38).
- Usury – The note is derived from Pound’s reading at the beginning of the 1950s, especially Raymond de Roover’s The Medici Bank: Its Organization, Management, Operations and Decline (New York: New York UP, 1948). The book prompted him to draft his own definition of usury in one of his notebooks in September 1952. Pound introduced his definitive formulation into a letter to Olivia Rossetti Agresti in September 1953; it was published by Hugh Kenner in Poetry a month later. The note was first introduced into a poetry volume at the end of the Selected Poems edition of 1957 and moved to its current position under canto 45 when New Directions revised their edition of the cantos in 1970 (Eastman 75; Sieburth 323). See detailed timeline in the Calendar.
We may observe that the note did not re-appear in the successive editions of The Cantos during the late 1950s and 1960s. In 1966, Pound edited his own selection of Cantos for Faber. This edition of Selected Cantos did not include the note under canto 45, although there was enough space for it on the page. Nor did the volume include the note at the end of the cantos text, as a supplement, the way it did in the Selected Poems of 1957.
Pound remarked at the start of the volume:
“I have made these selections to indicate main elements in the Cantos. To the specialist the task of explaining them. As Jung says: ‘Being essentially the instrument for this work he (the artist) is subordinate to it and we have no reason for expecting him to interpret it for us. He has done the best that is in him by giving it form and he must leave interpretation to others and to the future’” (9).
- Medici Bank (1397-1494) – the bank of the Medici family was founded in 1397 by Giovanni di Bicci (1360-1429) who belonged to the guild of the “medici” (apothecaries). The bank reached its greatest extent and influence during the life of Giovanni’s son, Cosimo, also called Cosimo the Elder (1389-1464). By the end of Cosimo’s life, the branches in Europe, especially those in London and Bruges, started having difficulties. Cosimo’s son, Piero the Gouty (1416-69), tried to get control of the accounts and consolidate. After Piero’s death, his surviving son, Lorenzo the Magnificent (1449-1492), made significant losses by delegating bank affairs to improvident managers so that at his death, the bank was de facto bankrupt. Two years later, his son Piero (1453-1503), was expelled from Florence under the pressure of the King of France and the bank was dissolved.
The single most evident thread that shows in the bank decline is the loss of interest in banking and lack of bank training showed by successive generations of the Medici. Giovanni di Bicci was exclusively a banker; his son Cosimo was an astute banker but also a Florentine statesman; Piero was ill with the gout, with no training in banking – his reliance on advisers almost cost him his life; Lorenzo had no will or training to engage in banking, but was like his grandfather Cosimo, first and foremost a statesman.
In the usury note, Pound implicitly dissociated the Monte dei Paschi in Siena from the Medici Bank: the Monte, a bank which survived from 1624 to our day, was conceived as a public bank designed to assist investment without restricting it by social status, a fact that Pound stresses in canto 42: the magistrate was to “give his chief care that the specie/ be lent to whomso can best use it USE IT/ (id est, piú utilmente) /to the good of their houses, to benefit of their business/ as of weaving, the wool trade, the silk trade” (XLII: ll.28-32). The Medici was a private bank that made loans to popes, kings, and the nobility. These loans often had no productive value and were used for consumption, or else to finance wars. Loans could be repaid out of taxation, or by concessions on trade in wool or foodstuffs but the political situation in Europe was so bellicose and volatile that loans made to monarchs and aristocrats were left unpaid, often because of political upheaval and deaths on the battlefield.