Eva Colombo, Bestiario dannunziano, capitolo terzo: Le bestie di Leda
Eva Colombo, D’Annunzio’s bestiary, chapter third: Leda’s beasts
La Leda senza cigno [ Leda without swan ] is a short novel written by Gabriele d’Annunzio in 1913 in France, precisely in Arcachon, a small town next to the Atlantic Ocean. The author himself defines this work a << mysterious short novel >> in which he gave to death, the << dominant thought >>, a << stupendous woman’s face >>. The plot is weak: at the beginning of April, in Arcachon, Desiderio Moriar ( transparent alter ego of D’Annunzio ) meets by chance a smartly dressed young lady in a bleak concert – hall, during a harpsichord concert. Behind superficial chat a charming desperation emanates from her but Desiderio Moriar doesn’t have success in deepening the acquaintance: soon afterwards the concert she disappears by car. Exactly one year later in the same concert – hall Desiderio Moriar meets her again by chance. She is waiting for her lover, a musician doomed by tuberculosis, who is listening to the concert seated at his side: in this way Desiderio Moriar discovers that his friend musician is the young lady’s lover. The next day, during a lunch in his house, Desiderio Moriar extorts from this drunken friend information about that mysterious young lady: she is an unlucky adventuress slave of a disgusting pimp, limed in mean intrigues. He can’t believe what he hears: for a year he dreamed of her imagining her as a sort of reincarnation of mythological Leda! Short afterwards she comes to his house by car to accompany the musician in sanatorium and Desiderio Moriar shows her his greyhounds. The vulgar portrait sketched by musician’s chat vanished in front of his eyes: the glow of the sky at sunset reveals a divine creature who has the power of crossing borders and mixing natures. Desiderio Moriar will never see her again: that very night she will commit suicide.
Who is this mysterious young lady ? Desiderio Moriar baptizes her Leda thanks to her evident predisposition to an eroticism that demolishes every kind of border, the author himself defines her a personification of death. In Nordic mythology Valkyries are death – goddesses ( they wander across battle – fields giving the kiss of death to dying fighters ) that are also swan – goddesses. Swan symbolizes light’s epiphany and so divine’s epiphany. It is androgynous because it incarnates two kinds of brightness: male and solar, female and lunar. It has twin nature because contains both the human and the divine. Swan is the mythological manifestation of etymological isomorphism between light and sound: swan song is the sound of light or the light of sound, the primordial vibration that created the cosmos.
As Valkyries, the mysterious young lady is a personification of death with swan’s characteristics and correlated symbolism. Swan is androgynous, mysterious adventuress is androgynous too: Desiderio Moriar is struck at the first glance by the peculiar beauty of that woman with large shoulders and the face similar to that of a shepherd king engraved in basalt. Swan is androgynous because it incarnates both solar and lunar brightness: the young lady protagonist of our short – novel radiates the same twofold brightness. When Desiderio Moriar, during a lunch in his home, is hearing from his friend information about the girl’s bleak life is conducted by instinct to look repeatedly at an Apollo’s statue placed upon a shelf of books: mind’s eyes of Desiderio Moriar superpose that statue golden by sunset’s light representing the solar god of Greco – Roman pantheon to her face. But these mind’s eyes perceive the lunar side of that girl too: moon’s silver shines in her eyes, her movements recall the leap of some fishes curved like crescent moon. Swan is connected with sound: our adventuress appears for the first time in the short – novel during a concert, for the second time during another concert and for the last time soon afterwards the performance of a Beethoven’s sonata for pianoforte. Swan contains both the human and the divine: Desiderio Moriar perceives immediately the twofold nature, human and divine, of that girl. At the first glance he is struck by hieratic impenetrability of her eyes, eyes similar to those of a god.
Both times that Desiderio Moriar speaks to the young lady she is in limine mortis. During the first chance encounter the man notices that the girl is carrying a bright revolver: one year later he hears from his friend musician that she tried to commit suicide that very night shooting herself << because of love’s imagination and impatience of stupid life >>. The last chance encounter between Desiderio Moriar and the adventuress happens exactly one year later, at the begging of April: in his house the girl passes an amusing moment among beautiful greyhounds. That very night she has finally succeed in committing suicide. The adventuress is then hanging on the border between life and death, between this world and the hereafter: a border that she is ready to cross as if it was << a door, a threshold, a step >>. The mysterious female protagonist of La Leda senza cigno [ Leda without swan ] seems to assume the face of a border’s goddess, border that at the same time divides and unites realities opposite and complementary. We can’t help thinking of Hecate, the Greco – Roman goddess of crossroads: a paradoxical goddess who conciliates opposites, patroness at the same time of death and birth, of night and light.
Dogs were sacred to Hecate: they were sacrificed to her in crossroads, she was even represented with dog’s head. The last time that Desiderio Moriar has the chance of meeting the adventuress is because she wants to see his greyhounds: to them she reveals a real erotic rapture. Hecate is represented also on horseback and according to Hesiod she protects horsemen. Adventuress is tightly connected with horses and horsemen: her father owned a famous stable, she is since childhood a skilled horsewoman who falls in love with horses rather than with related horsemen. Hecate is a ghost – goddess, a nightmare which rides its victims. Nightmare and horse are connected: it seems to be an etymologic nexus between nightmare and mare. The adventuress rides as a nightmare her victims: the musician friend of Desiderio Moriar is a lover of her who defines himself as a designated victim of her “usual trick”, he says literally that she “weighs heavily on you as a fault that you have to bear on your back – bone”.