Eva Colombo, Bestiario dannunziano, capitolo quinto: L'ombra del cavallo
Eva Colombo, D’Annunzio’s bestiary, fifth chapter: The shadow of the horse
From Notturno’s pages d’Annunzio tells us that when he was a child his best friend was a little Sardinian horse, Aquilino. In its company d’Annunzio experiences for the first time the presence of the “lyrical demon” within himself and feels for the first time “ the magic meaning of life”. By being present to Aquilino’s agony and death, for the first time the future poet gazes at death’s eyes and he becomes aware that death has left its indelible mark upon him. The great gift that the little horse leaves to little Gabriele is the initiation into the mystery of death: and not by chance, being the horse an animal sacred to Hecate, the mistress of the Underworld. Horse’s shadow will cast itself on the whole literary production of d’Annunzio. Tullio Hermil ( male protagonist of L’innocente [ The Intruder ] ), seeking a relief from the ache caused by the awareness of the adulterine pregnancy of his wife, rides at full gallop along the perilous bank of a deadly river: the horse is the most suitable vehicle to run along the slippery border between life and death. Giorgio Aurispa ( male protagonist of Il Trionfo della morte [ Triumph of Death ]) needs to breath the fresh air of a moonlight night as a relief from the wearisome atmosphere of his father’s house. He stands on the balcony drinking the freshness of the May night, delighted by the Arcadian peace that seems to reign over that little town in Abruzzo. But suddenly something breaks the delightful silence: it is a pawing horse. Giorgio looks at that direction: a lit up window, weaving shadows framed by that window. Aunt Gioconda, arrived unexpectedly, tells him that Don Defendente – a neighbour – is dying behind that window: the pawing horse reveals the existence of death even in that Arcadian town. From the writings related to the Great War emerges a d’Annunzio’s self – portrait which is an equestrian one. In the outskirts of Palmanova a fabulous meadow “secluded, sweet and silent” hosts the poet’s ride. The rhythmic gallop of the horse is the cadence of the poet’s “musical melanchony”: its melody says that is tempus moriendi, “time of dying”. The darkness of the Notturno’s pages – the darkness in which the poet is plunged after the aviator accident that has ripped off his right eye – is swarming with vivid hallucination of horses. This hallucinate swarm brings the memory of other horses, those seen by the poet in Versailles during the 1915 summer. The Great War is at the beginning: the horses, requisitioned for the troops, turn Versailles into an “equine city” plunged into the “melancholy of an infinite Hades”. The Great War soon sweeps these doomed horses away: the “stone – dead forest” of the horses killed during the Marna battle is the mantle that Death spreads over the sweet French prairies. From the pages of the so – called Libro Segreto [ Secret Book ] d’Annunzio confesses that he has thrown into Garda lake ( nearby the Vittoriale, the last abode of the poet ) a silver casket which bore on the cover the portraits of three Arabian horses that cheered up him during the stay in Egypt with Eleonora Duse in 1898. The memory of the three Arabian horses dragged the poet down into a lake of melancholy, it made him trembling with cupio dissolvi : they were three “death’s horses” and the poet, in order to exorcize their deadly call, drowned their images almost in a ritualistic manner into the waters of the lake preventing himself from drowning not in a metaphoric way into the waters of that very lake. Traditionally the dark side of the horse, its funereal physiognomy of “death’s horse” matches an even more disquieting trait: that one of “devilish horse”. As nightmare, the devil rides human beings while they are sleeping. According to the Cretans, one of the aspects of the Spirit of Evil was an horse - headed monster. The Christianity too considered the horse a devilish incarnation, especially the black one ( the black horse of Parsifal, for instance ). In the novel Forse che sì forse che no the two faces of the dark side of the horse become one thanks to the theme of the equestrian journey to the Underworld. The setting is Volterra, the Tuscan city founded by the Etruscans which d’Annunzio describes as a circle of Dante’s Hell. Approaching Volterra, Isabella and Paolo are “greeted” by three black horses: they are pasturing on what the writer defines “the edge of a Dante’s circle”. Vana and Aldo dream about committing suicide while they are contemplating the “death’s horses” that lead souls to the Underworld on the Etruscan funeral urns. Aldo makes an attempt to kill Paolo while they are “pleasantly” riding through a zone called “Balze” rich in deadly sulphurous puddles. Again through the pages of the writings related to the Great War, again in the outskirts of Palmanova: one moonlight night the sleepless lieutenant d’Annunzio joins a foot brigade led to the trench by a sinister captain who is riding an enormous black horse. This captain is wearing an ample mantle and his face is hidden by an hood, but it is clearly distinguishable the over - human strength of his body. His horse is “black as Hell” and he is leading a noisy company of soldiers, a “torrent of mortal flesh” which drags the poet – soldier within its deadly flow: these soldiers are “nocturnal people” that singing and laughing go to death. Indeed it is as if they were already dead: they cross the river Ausa and Ausa “is like the river Lethe: who crosses it is a dead person”. This foot brigade that singing and laughing in the night is led to the Hell of a trench of the Great War by a devilish captain who is riding a “black as Hell” horse, this people that cross a river which is “like the river Lethe” are similar to a nocturnal procession of ghosts involved in a beating of what is known as “wild hunt”: a crazy nocturnal horde led by a devil that drags into its deadly flow anybody who would run into it. The black horse is a leit motiv of the “wild hunt”: being at the same time a “death’s horse” and a “devilish horse” is the most suitable mount for the devil that leads the “wild hunt”, is the most suitable mount for the devilish captain that leads a brigade of ghostlike soldiers in the night of the war.