What does this Italian phrase from 1634 mean?
October 9, 2012 12:38 PM   Subscribe

Anyone know what the Italian in this quote from a book about Commedia dell Arte means? "Aldeano in 1634 expected these lawyers of Francolino to have an oily toga, loose hair, and 'habiti alla ciala bardessa'."

Given that the quote is from 1634, it's likely that the Italian is old and/or colloquial, and doesn't translate well into modern English. A friend of mine who is an opera director and speaks moderately good Italian guessed that it means, "Dressed in the body of a female bard", or "impersonating a female bard".
posted by starvingartist to Writing & Language (6 answers total)
Yes, bardessa is female bard or poetess. Habiti is archaic and plural of abito, dress. Ciala escapes me.
posted by francesca too at 12:58 PM on October 9, 2012

I'm guessing ciala bardessa is a specific style, as one might say, "Dressed like a Jersey Shore contestant" or "Dressed like a Brooklyn Hipster". I know that's not much help, but it's just to say that you probably don't want to be too literal.
posted by outlandishmarxist at 1:03 PM on October 9, 2012

Google translate claims that ciala means gladdened in latin, although I cannot figure out why - it's not a translation I'm finding anywhere else.

Ciala also means body in Polish, which is polluting my Google results.
posted by Wretch729 at 1:29 PM on October 9, 2012

Looking to the source of the quote, it appears to be from Ragionamento dello Academico Aldeano sopra la poesia giocosa de’ Greci, de’ Latini e di’ Toscani, apparently by one Niccolò Villani. On page 68 of the edition reproduced in google books, the quote runs: ‘le toghe inoliate, i capelli cascanti, e gli habiti alla cialabardessa de i iuriste da Francolino’ i.e. cialabardessa looks to be a single word. Not that I have any idea what it means…
posted by misteraitch at 1:38 PM on October 9, 2012

When something's left untranslated like that, sometimes it's well-known, sometimes it's hard to translate, and sometimes it's the scholar slyly leaving something vulgar a little unclear.

At some point in time, for some Romance language or dialect, bardessa seems to have meant abbess but also madam of a brothel (Google for bardessa abbess brothel). I don't have anything conclusive, but my guess is your author was amused by the colorfulness of the phrase.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 2:30 PM on October 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ciarlare means to chatter, to gossip, to rattle away non-stop (somewhat archaic - not much used in present-day Italian). So la ciarla badessa would literally mean the chattering poetess.

But beware: as Monsieur Crouton points out, some words at some point in history take on a slang meaning aside from their literal translation. Like the lupa (she-wolf) who reportedly suckled Romulus and Remus: there's a school of thought nowadays that lupa was probably slang for prostitute.
posted by aqsakal at 12:30 AM on October 10, 2012

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