I’m examining a caccia by Giovanni da Cascia (also known as Giovanni da Firenze, Johannes de Florentia, and others), titled “Chon brachi assai”. Its text is written in Italian circa 1390; my best direct transcription from the original manuscript, with the help of some recent editions (1, 2; all sources will be cited in full at the end of this question), is the following:

Chon bꝛachi aſſai e cho͂ molti ſpaᷣue​ꝛi
Uccellaua͂ ſu peꝛ la ꝛiua dada
e qual diceua da da e
e qual ua cia uaꝛin toꝛna picciolo
e qual pꝛe͂dea le quagle a uolo e uolo
quando co͂ gꝛan tempeſta unaqua venne

Ne coꝛſeꝛ may peꝛ champa͂gna leuꝛieꝛi
Come facea ciaſchun ꝓ fuggiꝛ lacqua
e qual dicea da qua
damil ma͂tel e tal damil chappello
quandio ꝛicoueꝛai chol mio uccello
dove una paſtuꝛella il coꝛ mi punſe

Sola eꝛa li onde fꝛa me dicea
eccho la pioggia
echo dido et enea

Based on the latter of the two editions and on the text (on this page) of a different caccia by a different composer (which has the same title and clearly derives from the same source), I have an initial “modernized” and punctuated version. Words that will come up later are in bold.

Con bracchi assai e con molti sparvieri
uccellavàm su per la riva d’Adda,
e qual diceva «Da, da!»
e qual «Va qua, Varin, torna, Picciòlo!»
e qual prendeva le quaglie a volo a volo,
quando con gran tempesta un’aqua venne.

corser mai per campagna levrieri
come faceva ciascun per fuggir l’aqua,
e qual diceva «Da qua,
dammi ’l mantello!» e tal «Dammi ’l cappello»,
quand’io ricoverai col mio uccello
dove una pasturella il cor mi punse.

Sola era lì, onde fra me diceva
«Ecco la pioggia! Ecco Dido et Enea!».

While I’m mostly satisfied with that, there are some lingering questions. Actually I must first confess that I don’t really know any Italian. I’m OK with Spanish and Latin and with Romance linguistics in general. For Spanish philology I know of an excellent source of information, but I couldn’t find a similar easily-accessible resource for Italian.

Now I will address the four bold words.

  • uccellavàm. Evidently this is some form of uccellare, but “-vàm” is not a regular (or irregular) verb ending. The closest is the first-person plural imperfect form uccellavamo, and that is the meaning conveyed in the two English translations I’ve been able to find (1, 2). So is it an apocopic variant of uccellavamo, with the grave accent indicating that the stress stays on the -am-?
  • Va qua. These two words are taken from the text of the other “Chon brachi assai”. Unfortunately, the manuscript is rather unclear here, and the modern editions are no help. The manuscript appears to contain “ua cia”, but it could conceivably read “ua qua” just as well. One edition suggests that the intention is one word: “Vacia”; the other contains “Va cià”. I haven’t been able to verify that “Vacia” or “Va cià” are valid Italian at all. The meaning “Come here” makes the most sense, so “Va qua” is quite reasonable; are the other options viable?
  • corser. Every version of the text includes this word, even though it doesn’t seem to exist in Italian. The closest is probably corsero, the third-person plural remote past form of correre. If this is correct, then is an accent called for (thus “corsèr”)?
  • pasturella. The translations say that this means “shepherdess”, but it is a rare term (one occurrence is in a poem from the thirteenth century). The word pastora is far more common for “shepherdess”. Either pasturella was (is?) an alternative to pastora with an extra syllable (good for poetry), or pasturella predates pastora.
  • One last note: The words I have spelled “diceva”, “faceva”, and “prendeva” were written “dicea”, “facea”, and “prendea” in all versions except for the manuscript (which has “diceua” etc.). Is there a reason for this?

The primary question:

Is my rendering correct Italian and moreover a correct reading of the source material?


The main work at question is Giovanni da Cascia’s “Chon brachi assai”, which is apparently found in a manuscript known as “Panciatichiano 26”, held in Florence’s Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale. I don’t have access to the whole manuscript, but a scan of “Chon” can be found at IMSLP. There is another piece, also a caccia called “Chon brachi assai”, by Magister Piero. Piero’s caccia is quite different musically, but the text is almost identical to that of da Cascia’s piece. Let’s say that the “Chon brachi assai” by da Cascia is “Chon A” and the “Chon brachi assai” by Piero is “Chon B”.

David Daolmi’s I Visconti e la musica page has some leads on both pieces. There is a modern version of Chon B’s text, and several links to other pages and editions.

La Trobe University’s Medieval Music Database has pages for both works: Chon A, Chon B. The page for Chon B contains the Italian text (differing very slightly—the wording is identical—from the text on Daolmi’s page) along with an English translation by Giovanni Carsaniga; the page for Chon A contains only references to other publications.

The scores of Chon A and Chon B in modern notation can be found in W. Thomas Marrocco’s Fourteenth-century Italian Cacce, The Medieval Academy of America publication no. 39. The second edition from 1961 is available online as a PDF. Chon A’s score begins on page 16 of the publication, which is page 40 of the PDF; Chon B’s score begins three pages later.

Another version of Chon A in modern notation occurs in the book A Treasury of Early Music: Masterworks of the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and the Baroque Era, edited by Carl Parrish. An English translation accompanies the score. This book is not freely available in its entirety, although the parts about Chon A are readable in a preview on Google Books. Daolmi hosts a more accessible PDF version of just the score.

There is at least one more published Chon A score, found in David Fenwick Wilson’s Music of the Middle Ages: An Anthology for Performance and Study. I know this because of a YouTube video (“12. Music of the Middle Ages; da Firenze and Landini” by Bartje Bartmans) that shows the score along with a (very good) recording.

The other occurrences of pasturella were found in Guido Cavalcanti’s “In un boschetto trova’ pasturella”, read via Wikisource.

The page about Spanish history cited above is a part of Ian Mackenzie’s “The Linguistics of Spanish” website. I especially recommend the information about the history of the Spanish verb. Sadly I don’t know of any comparable online sources for languages besides Spanish.

  • 1
    Welcome to Italian.SE! – Charo Nov 26 '20 at 21:32
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    To the user who has downvoted this question: please, consider reading this Meta discussion. – Charo Nov 27 '20 at 9:19
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    In the second stanza, Da qua should be Da' qua (imperative). The modern spelling is acqua, instead of aqua. – egreg Nov 27 '20 at 10:51
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    What a wonderful question! It has given me a happy couple of hours. Thank you. – Ben Nov 27 '20 at 18:39

First of all, congratulations for your great background work and your interpretation, even more so since you don't know well Italian. I'm quite sure that nobody here is even remotely as knowledgeable as you are in philological matters. What I (and others who'll want to chime in) can provide as a native Italian speaker, I'm happy to do.

  1. uccellavàm. “So is it an apocopic variant of uccel[l]avamo, with the grave accent indicating that the stress stays on the -am-?” That's exactly what it is, and I couldn't have said it better. This kind of apocopes are very frequent, especially in poetry. See, just in your text, ciascun and fuggir. The explicit accent isn't indispensable.

  2. Va qua. This is, for me, the most mysterious item: I have no better guesses than yours, which seems consistent with the context.

  3. corser. This is indeed an apocope for corsero and the accent on “e” is not necessary since corsero and corser are stressed on the first “o”.

  4. pasturella. It is perfectly understandable but in fact a little unusual. “Pastorella” would sound quite more natural, at least to a modern ear; but I can't say much about a 14th-century ear, except that it seems that one continuously stumbled upon young shepherdesses, in Italy and in Provence. You can find more occurrences of pasturella (or of whatever you want) in the Grande Dizionario della Lingua Italiana.

  5. The modern form is just diceva (and the corresponding ones for the other verbs), but in older Italian the variants without “v” were more frequent. (As a personal note, the forms in -ea seem to scan better in this text.) Treccani dictionary describes this elision of vs between vowels, still alive in modern Florentine dialect, in its article about the letter v:

[In alcuni casi] una v intervocalica è caduta (es. rivo e rio, nativo e natio): fenomeno che nell’uso antico o poetico s’estende a tutti gli imperfetti in -e(v)a, -e(v)ano, -i(v)a, -i(v)ano (es. dicea per diceva, diceano per dicevano), e nel moderno vernacolo fiorentino si estende praticamente a tutti i casi di v tra vocali, o tra vocale e r (es. arò per avrò, la oglia per la voglia).

Let me add something which might be completely irrelevant. In modern use, uccello (and its orthographic variants), besides its general meaning “bird”, is also slang for “penis” (a bit like “cock” in English). Apparently this use dates back a least to your author's times, since the aforementioned Grande Dizionario quotes, among other ones, an example from Giovanni Sercambi (1348–1424).

  • Thank you for the excellent answer (and for catching the uccellavamo typo). I assumed that Italian stress was like Spanish stress and so I thought that corsero would be stressed on the second syllable. Your remark about how the forms without “v” scan better made me realize that I had not really considered the text as poetry. I'm not yet very knowledgeable about Italian pronunciation, accent, meter, etc. I can dig through sources and historical data all day, but it's no substitute for actually speaking the language. Thanks again. – texdr.aft Nov 26 '20 at 22:36
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    The impression I get is that "va va" (or perhaps "wa wa") and "va cia" are supposed to be onomatopoeic renderings of the birds' screeches, which accounts for why they don't seem to make sense as words. – Denis Nardin Nov 27 '20 at 7:07
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    @DenisNardin Could that va cia part be in a dialect from Veneto? Would it have a meaning then? If I read correctly, the author was from Tuscany but lived in Verona and composed for the local lord. (The song is set on the banks of the Adda, apparently, a river that flows in yet another region, but I speak some of the Bergamo eastern Lombard dialect and nothing springs to my mind). – Federico Poloni Nov 28 '20 at 8:24
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    @FedericoPoloni Nothing comes to mind (but the dialect of Verona is different from my own, as it is influenced by Eastern Lombardy, perhaps egreg knows better) – Denis Nardin Nov 28 '20 at 12:31

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