Saturday, September 13, 2008

Dante Alighieri

... love and tend the noble poet whom We do not hesitate to call the most eloquent singer of the Christian idea.
— Pope Benedict XV, In Praeclara Summorum 1921

D(ur)ante Alighieri*1265, †1321 was the creator of literary italian. He is the italian poet, perhaps he is the poet. His poetic rendering, of heaven and hell, is understood to be a culmination of mediæval thought on the cosmos. This poem was the fruit of his exile. He was involved in the political life of Florence in Tuscany and belonged to a losing faction. His exile and death penalty was rescinded recently (June 2008) by the city’s council 19 - 5.

On this night, Dante entered to his eternal reward. His erudition and breadth of learning suggest he was a schoolman, but his academic route is lost to us. The comedy was written during his twenty years in Ravenna. The plot of the poem, as in the Odyssey, is going home, but the main character is the poet himself. He meets with the souls of the dead, some whom he knew, many notables of history. His enemies ended up in hell. He descends through the many levels of hell, and sees the torments and tormentors of the lost souls. He then travels to purgatory, where souls are being cleansed and have hope. Finally he visits heaven, and finds joy and radiance, the closer he gets to God, the greater the good.

Roberto Benigni, the actor that will be remembered in America for walkimg on top of seats to get to the Oscar stage, is a Danteïst scholar. His television programme, Tutto Dante, of lectures and recitations on the Divine Comedy was highly viewed. His live performances fill large venues. Can anyone in the US believe, that, a middle aged man, reciting the poetry of seven centuries ago, could outsell a teen idol whom dances to lip-synced music? Our gnomish buffoon, turned scholar, rhapsodises on the fifth canto of the Inferno, the story of the adulterous lust of Paolo and Francesca. The complete comedy is one hundred cantos.

In recent years, Dante’s skull has been graphed and imaged, so as, to recreate his appearance. A very, few years ago, the bones of Count Ugolino have been examined. In the poem, Ugolino is portrayed as being a man who ate the flesh of his fellow, imprisoned relatives. The surviving evidence casts doubt on that tale. So many passages are of continuing interest, especially the infernal descriptions.

In the infernal canto xxviii, we find the moslem heresiarch, split from chin to fundament. If this were to be written, two centuries on, Dante could have the protestant heresiarch, whom so much was consumed with fundamental concerns, join him in the same condition. There, is a church, in Bologna, that has the scene painted, obscurely, on the ceiling. This church has received bomb threats. Dante still invites strong feelings.

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita

mi ritrovai per una selva oscura,

ché la diritta via era smarrita.

Midway upon the journey of our life

I found myself within a forest dark,

For the straightforward pathway had been lost.

I Canto I, 1-3

Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate.

All hope abandon, ye who enter in.

I Canto III, 9

E quella a me: «Nessun maggior dolore

che ricordarsi del tempo felice

ne la miseria; e ciò sa ’l tuo dottore.

And she to me: “There is no greater sorrow

Than to be mindful of the happy time

In misery, and that thy Teacher knows.

I Canto V, 121-123

E’n la sua volontade è nostra pace.

And in His will is our peace.

III Canto III, 85

L’amor che muove il sole e l’altre stelle.

The Love which moves the sun and the other stars.

III Canto XXXIII, 145 (final line)

Longfellow translation

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