In Händel's Giulio Cesare in Egitto, the libretto to Cleopatra's famous aria reads:

E pur così in un giorno
perdo fasti e grandezze? Ahi fato rio!
Cesare, il mio bel nume, è forse estinto;
Cornelia e Sesto inermi son, né sanno
darmi soccorso. O dio!
Non resta alcuna speme al viver mio.
Piangerò la sorte mia,
sì crudele e tanto ria,
finché vita in petto avrò.
Ma poi morta d'ogn'intorno
il tiranno e notte e giorno
fatta spettro agiterò.

The opera was written during the baroque period at the end of the 18th century, but I'm assuming the libretto is older, though not very much older. The author of the libretto is Nicola Francesco Haym, who based them on a libretto by Giacomo Francesco Bussani, whose text was used no earlier than 1676. Am I assuming wrongly that this is unlikely to still be old Italian? What, then, is the Italian of this era called and what is the appropriate translation for the phrase? The translations I have seen (French, English, and German) simply do not translate the phrase.

You may wish to listen to a recording of the aria from 'Ma poi morta' onwards. I retrieved the libretto from Stanford Opera Glass, which is usually a reliable source.


2 Answers 2


«D'ogn'intorno» means something like «every which way», with a sense of going around (compare with Cherubino who, according to Figaro in Da Ponte's libretto for Le nozze di Figaro, won't go anymore «notte e giorno d'intorno girando»). Cleopatra is saying here that she, as a spectre, will torment the “tyrant”, night and day, wherever he will go.

I am puzzled by the question about “old Italian”. In Italian language there are not distinct phases comparable to Old English, Middle English etc. Written, literary Italian is quite unitary since the prevailing of Florentine dialect with Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio, and indeed their works are still mostly readable today.

  • 1
    The reason why I assumed this to be "old Italian" (wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn?s=old%20italian) is because I asked a native Italian friend about this, and she said she didn't understand what it meant, that it didn't "mean anything" and that it simply seemed "completely wrong," which perhaps reflects the difference between spoken and literary Italian, rather than different phases.
    – Constantin
    Dec 15, 2014 at 15:48
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    There are several "poetic" terms in your quotation, but "d'ogn'intorno" is not particularly hard to understand for any Italian when thinking about the words which make it. Certainly you wouldn't use it in spoken Italian or even modern prose.
    – Nemo
    Jan 23, 2015 at 8:24

Just take out the apostrophes and replace them with the corresponding vowels: "da ogni intorno" = "from all around" A rough rendering, but quite understandable in both languages.

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