``Inspired by a passage in Dante's Divine Comedy.'' Words to that
effect often as not accompany any introduction to this comic masterpiece.
The passage in question, from Canto XXX of the Inferno, runs as
- Ma né di Tebe furie né troiane
- si vider mäi in alcun tanto crude,
- non punger bestie, noncheé membre umane,
- quant'io vidi in due ombre smorte e nude
- che mordendo correvan di quel modo
- che 'l porco quando del porcil si schiude.
- L'una giunse a Capocchio, e in sul nodo
- del collo l'assannò, sì che, tirando,
- grattar li fece il ventre al fondo sodo.
- E l'Aretin che rimase, tremando,
- mi disse: ``Quel folletto è Gianni Schicchi,
- e va rabbioso altrui così conciando.''
- ``Oh,'' diss' io lui, ``se l'altro non ti ficchi
- li denti a dosso, non ti sia fatica
- a dir chi è, pria che di qui si spicchi.''
- Ed elli a me: ``Quell' è l'anima antica
- di Mirra scellerata, che divenne
- al padre, fuor del dritto amore, amica.
- Questa a peccar con esso così venne,
- falsificando sè in altrui forma,
- come l'altro che là sen va, sostenne,
- per guadagnar la donna de la torma,
- falsificare in sè Buoso Donati,
- testando e dando al testamento norma.''
- Rage so merciless was never seen,
- Either at Thebes or Troy - nor yet again
- When beasts, or human limbs, are gashed with wounds -
- As that I saw, in two pale naked shades
- Who, biting, ran about in that strange way
- A boar will do, when loosened from his pen.
- One, seizing on Capocchio, fixed his teeth
- So firmly in his neck, he dragged him down,
- Making his belly scrape along the bottom.
- He of Arezzo, who stood trembling by,
- Said to me: ``That mad soul is Gianni Schicchi
- Who mangles others in his frenzied rage.''
- ``Oh,'' I replied, ``so may that other spirit
- Never attack you! Pray do not disdain
- To tell us who it is, ere it departs.''
- And he to me: ``That is the ancient shade
- Of the abandoned Myrrha, who became
- Her father's mistress in unhallowed love.
- 'Twas by deceit she came to sin with him,
- Assuming for the nonce another's form -
- Even as that other frenzied shade once dared,
- That he might gain the fairest of the stud,
- To counterfeit the person of Donati,
- Making a will in proper legal form.''
- translation by Lawrence Grant White
The spirit of Forzano's and Puccini's comical gem is scarcely hinted
at in this brief and grim allusion to an obscure event in the social
history of Dante's Florence. The true source of the libretto is in
fact the ``Commentary on the Divine Comedy by an Anonymous Florentine
of the 14th Century'', a work which appeared in print in 1866. That
commentary provides the following detail:
``This Gianni Schicchi was of the Cavalcanti of Florence, and the story
is told of him that: Messer Buoso Donati being mortally ill, he wished
to make a will, as he had much to leave others. Simone his son put him
off with words, so that he could not do so, and kept putting him off
until he died. Simone concealed his death, afraid that there might
be a will he had made before his illness. Simone, not knowing what to
do, called on Gianni Schicchi for counsel. Gianni knew how to mimic
everyone in words and actions, especially Messer Buoso, whom he had
known well. He said to Simone: Call a notary, and say that Messer
Buoso wishes to make a will: I will get into his bed, we'll hide him
behind it, I will cover myself well, putting on his nightcap, and I
will dictate the will as you wish: and see to it that I profit as well.
Simone agreed with him: Gianni gest into bed, appears to be in pain,
and imitates the voice of Messer Buoso so that he appears to be him,
and begins the will, saying: I leave 20 soldi to the works of Santa
Reparata, and 5 lire to the Little Friars, and 5 to the Preachers,
and so on, distributing to God, but in very small amounts. To Simone,
who was to profit from this deed, he said, and I leave additionally
500 florins to Gianni Schicchi. Simone says to `Messer Buoso': this
needn't be put in the will; I'll see that he gets them- Simone, I
will leave what is mine to whom I please: I will leave you enough,
that you will be happy- out of fear, Simone kept quiet. He continues:
And I leave to Gianni Schicchi my mule (for Messer Buoso had the
best mule in Tuscany). Oh, Messer Buoso, said Simone, he doesn't
care anything for this mule: I know what Gianni Schicchi wants better
than you. Simone begins to be consumed with rage, but keeps silent
out of fear. Gianni Schicchi continues: And I leave to Gianni Schicchi
the hundred florins that my neighbor owes me: and the remainder I
leave to Simone, on this condition, that he execute all my bequests
within fifteen days; otherwise, I leave everything to the Little Friars
of the convent of Santa Croce; and the will being complete, everyone
departed. Gianni gets out of bed, Messer Buoso's body is replaced,
and they rise up, and weep, and say that he has died.''