Eczidenza or Azidenzia in PnD (Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, f. Ital. 972)

By Joseph Casazza and Elizabeth A. Cain

A. William Smith's Fifteenth-Century Dance and Music is a very useful and worthwhile book, but as often happens in undertakings of this magnitude, certain small problems are likely to remain unresolved in the finished product. On page 10 of volume 1, appears the obviously problematic transcription "erzadergia" at the end of line 24 of the transcription of PnD (Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, f. Ital. 972):

22 E nota ti che
23 vogliando operare questo motto per modo che tu no'l condugi per li extremi dico
24 questa arte zentille havere in se buntade per [insert] natura e molte per †erzadergia†
25 in sua operatione.

At least as early as Dante Bianchi's transcription in La Bibliofilia ("Un trattato inedito di Domenico da Piacenza," vol. 65, 1963, pp. 109 ff.), the reading "azidenzia" ("azidentia" in Bianchi's transcription) has been advanced as a possible solution of the problematic erzadergia. We believe that both the meaning of the passage and the form of the letters in the manuscript call for something different.

First, there is the problem of context. The author in lines 22-25 concludes a paragraph whose subject is moderation with an admonition to the reader to perform motion "per modo che tu no'l condugi per li extremi". Earlier, in lines 13-15, the author has adduced the Aristotelian argument that everything is corrupted and destroyed if it is performed "per le operatione extreme." (Here in line 13 there is another mistake in Smith's transcription, for the word which he transcribes as "avgunionta" is clearly "argumenta".) In the concluding sentence (lines 22-25) it is likely, then, that the author would have intended to remind the reader of the subject of the paragraph, moderation, with a contrast between the "buntade" which dance possesses "per natura" and "molte per †erzadergia†". We are expecting a conclusion to the admonition not to go to extremes. If the word whose transcription is in question were the suggested "azidenzia", the last sentence of this paragraph would be contrasting only the good things which are inherent in dance by nature with the many (presumably good) things which it possesses incidentally in its performance. Nowhere in the paragraph in question have we been prepared in any way for a distinction between that which dance possesses by nature and that which it possesses incidentally, nor do the citations from Aristotle in the paragraph in question concern this distinction (assuming both refer to the Nicomachean Ethics). Indeed, the following paragraph does not pick up the idea of a contrast between what dance possesses "per natura" and what it possesses "per accidentia", but speaks only about what the dancer needs to possess "per natura". The notion of "accidentia" is not met with until the second following paragraph, where "motti corporeali naturali e acidentali" are mentioned. It is only in this distinction between types of movement that the contrast of "natura" and "azidenzia" is met with in this treatise. The reference to "motti corporeali naturali e acidentali" later in the text undoubtedly suggested to Bianchi, Smith, and others the transcription "molte per azidenzia in sua operatione." We believe, however, that the concluding sentence of a paragraph about moderation in movement is more likely to be about moderation in movement than about the distiction between natural and incidental motions. Whatever the missing word in "per x in sua operatione" is, it must have something to do with "le operatione extreme" of line 15.

The second problem with understanding †erzadergia† is presented by the interpretation of "molte" required if the questionable word is read as "azidenzia." In such a reading, "molte per azidenzia in sua operatione", the word "molte" will have to be an adjective modifying an understood "cose", or, to stretch the language a bit more "cose buone," for it would otherwise have been "molto", much used substantively, precisely the transcription Bianchi chose, although the final letter of the word is certainly "e", or "molta" if modifying "buntade", understood from earlier in the sentence. A transcription which reads "molte per azidenzia," then, requires that this philosophical paragraph, which is admonishing us not to go to extremes, will conclude, "this refined art has in it goodness by nature and many things incidentally in its performance." The dissonance between the philosophical abstraction, "goodness," and the weak, almost meaningless, and rather pedestrian "many things" is striking. In our opinion, "molte" clearly is an abstraction to balance and contrast with "buntade." Effectively, this last sentence must be telling the reader, to simplify a bit, "I say this noble art has good in it by nature and bad in it if you take it to extremes." There is an Italian word that works in this context, "multe", meaning penalties, which requires no emmendation of the text. It provides the necessary abstract counterbalance to "buntade" and the expected close of the Aristotelian argument that one must not go to extremes in performance. The fluidity between Renaissance and modern interconsonantal "o" and "u" is nothing unusual, as is easily demonstrated by another word in the same sentence, "buntade" (mod. Ital. bontà).

Third, the word Smith transcribes as "erzadergia" in no way resembles the word "acidentia" (or "accidentia") used elsewhere in the manuscript. Such a difference might be accounted for by the apparent change of hand for the word in question, which has clearly been inserted and squeezed in at the end of the line. Allowing for this, there are still some things we can notice which will give us a better idea of the letters used to write the troublesome "erzadergia". Here are some examples from PnD for comparison:

The first letter of the problematic word
word in question from manuscript
cannot be an "a", as comparison with the final "a" of the same word will make clear, but it can certainly be an "e", given the loop at the top of the letter. Compare the "e" in the following examples:

  1. questa from line 68
    word questa from manuscript
  2. Presso from line 68
    word presso from manuscript
  3. the final "e" in porzendose from line 71
    word porzendose from manuscript

Moreover, there are clearly two letters that drop below the line in the problematic word
word in question from manuscript
and these letters must be "z", as comparison with porzendose from line 71
word porzendose from manuscript
shows, although probably in a different hand.

Finally, There must be a letter between the initial "e" and "z" in the problematic word
word in question from manuscript
This letter must be "c", although A. William Smith transcribed it as "r", an easy mistake, since in the writing of "c" in manuscripts of this period the lower curve of the letter is often greatly truncated or absent altogether.

Thus, we believe that the words Smith transcribes as "molte per erzadergia" should be transcribed "molte per eczidenzia" or, in modern Italian "multe per eccedenza." Compare our suggestion:


with the word as it appears in the manuscript
word in question from manuscript
The passage will now read, in English, "this refined art has in it goodness by nature and penalties for excess in its performance." It will complete the Aristotelian sentiment of what comes before, with "eccedenza in sua operatione" recalling "le operatione extreme" of line 15, and with the abstract "molte" (mod. Ital. multe) balancing and contrasting the abstract "buntade" (mod. Ital. bontà).

Last Update: December 4, 2003

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