Cecco Angiolieri and "S'i fosse foco"


Cecco Angiolieri (1260-c.1312) was a Sienese poet. He is best remembered for his wonderful sonnet "S'i fosse foco". The poem is interesting from a philosophical point of view. It is a series of nine subjunctive conditionals. While the first eight have false (in most cases, necessarily false) antecedents ("if I were fire," "if I were death," etc.) the final conditional has a true, indeed a necessarily true, antecedent ("if I were Cecco"). The strangeness of a subjunctive conditional with a true antecedenct is emphasized because Cecco inserts after it the only verbs (literally, "as I am and was") in the poem that are not subjunctives or conditionals.

Below are the original (which exists in several textual variants) and a translation by me.


S'i' fosse foco

S'i' fosse foco, arderei 'l mondo;
s'i' fosse vento, lo tempesterei;
s'i' fosse acqua, i' l'annegherei;
s'i' fosse Dio, mandereil' en profondo;

s'i' fosse Papa, allor sarei giocondo,
che` tutti cristiani 'mbrigarei;
s'i' fosse 'mperator, ben lo farei:
a tutti taglierei lo capo a tondo.

S'i' fosse morte, andarei a mi' padre;
s'i' fosse vita, non starei con lui:
similmente faria con mi' madre.

S'i' fosse Cecco, com'i' sono e fui,
torrei le donne giovani e leggiadre:
le zoppe e vecchie lasserei altrui.

 Medieval illumination


If I were fire

If I were fire, I would consume the world;
If I were wind, then I would blow it down;
If I were water, I would make it drown;
If I were God, t'would to the depths be hurled.

If I were Pope, I'd have a lot of fun
with how I'd make all Christians work for me;
If I were emperor, then you'd really see -
I'd have the head cut off of everyone.

If I were death, then I'd go to my father;
If I were life, I'd not abide with him;
And so, and so, would I do to my mother.

If I were Cecco - as in fact I am -
I'd chase the young and pretty girls; to others
Would I leave the lame or wrinkled dam.