Imagens das páginas

Meliboeus. The invitation was declined on political grounds, Bologna being anti-imperial. The professor, however, very insistent, repeated the invitation in an eclogue promising Dante, among other delights, an opportunity of meeting the poet and historian, Albertino Mussato. Even this prospect failed to move Dante, and, in a second eclogue, he again courteously refused the offer. Apparently there was a lion in the path. "Quis Polyphemon, ait, non horreat?" Romeo dei Pepoli, or King Robert of Naples, or one of the Caccianimici {Inferno, xviii. 48) may have been Polyphemus.

It is hardly worth while to dally with the Seven Psalms, the Profession of Faith, and the rest of the apocrypha; but it is well to state that the Quccstio de duobus Elementis, received by Gaspary as authentic, is almost demonstrably the fabrication of a later age. On this point the arguments of Dr Scartazzini are practically conclusive; but recently the matter has been taken up afresh by Mr Paget Toynbee in the columns of Literature, and with the same result.

We come at last to Dante's greatest work—the Commedia. The topic is so vast that it is impossible to do justice to it in any number of pages that might be set aside for the purpose in the present volume; but I will attempt to deal with, at least, the essentials. And first let me try to correlate the Commedia with other works of Dante already described. In the sixteenth canto of the Purgatorio are plainly audible echoes both of the Conmvio and the De Monarchist,, and of those passages in the treatises to which I have directed particular attention:—

"Forth from the hand of Him who fondles it
Before it is, like to a little girl
Weeping and laughing in her childish sport,

Issues the simple soul, that nothing knows,
Save that, proceeding from a joyous Maker,
Gladly it turns to that which gave it pleasure.

Of trivial good at first it tastes the savour;
Is cheated by it, and runs after it,
If guide or rein turns not aside its love.

Rome that reformed the world accustomed was
Two suns to have, which one road and the other,
Of God and of the world, made manifest.

One has the other quenched, and to the crosier
The sword is joined, and ill beseemeth it
That by main force one with the other go.":

Lines like these are more than chance reminiscences of past studies. The ideas therein expressed are the informing principles, the invisible structure which lies behind the outer adornment. The Commedia is, in truth, "fearfully and wonderfully made," and it is not surprising that partial and, so far, inaccurate views have obtained as to its scope and meaning. But it has always been recognised, even by those who have themselves failed to penetrate beyond the "literal sense," that it is inspired by a profound purpose, and is something more than a sequence of boldly drawn or softly shaded pictures,—that it has bonta as well as bellezza. It is an illustration on a gigantic scale of fourfold senses, literal, allegorical, moral, and anagogic. The force of the last adjective, "that which leads

1 Longfellow's tr.

up to God," is easily seen in the light of the Commedia,

Ere it concludes, the great poem conducts

Qundrnplicity. .

us to the very throne of the Eternal; and it typifies, in its several stages, the steps by which the soul, on departing from sin, becomes holy and free. The Commedia is distinctly, and before all, an edifying work. It has also a moral aim. It aspires to render men, not only saints, but good neighbours and worthy citizens. Thus it may be regarded as a didactic treatise, a long ammaestramento, a Whole Duty of Man. Thirdly, it is a study of the human soul, its virtues and its vices, its powers and its defects, and, in obedience to the fashion of the day, Dante translates his ideas into object-lessons, concrete examples, embodied truths, overt signs, and pregnant hints, woven harmoniously into a simple vast plan. This is the allegory, the symbolism of the Divine Comedy, the nice decipherment of which has proved a fountain of strife to generations of subtle and ingenious, bellicose and opinionated commentators.1 Lastly, there is the literal sense, which any one can see is the destiny of man hereafter.

Looked at from another point of view, the subject of the poem is Dante himself—Dante the exile, of rhcrmonoi whom Florence was unworthy, and who, eUvimt. amidst his woes and wanderings, continually asks himself, What am I? Whence?

1 Biagioli is perhaps the worst. He calls Venturi "sozzo can vituperate," while Zuni <le' Ferranti calls him "quel grammatico inurbano."


Whither? Bereft first of his mistress, then of his city, to which he was attached almost or quite as passionately, he had lost as it were his significance. He was alone. In such circumstances the realm of imagination, to which he had always more than half belonged, became paramount, absorbing. But henceforth imagination was for Dante a consecrated thing; it was vision. The busy scenes around, Florence, Italy, the world, all took their colour, and derived their meaning, from the contemplation of the eternal truths of which the Commcdia was to be the storehouse. To adopt a phrase of Spinoza, Dante beheld things "sub specie seternitatis."

But Dante believed in an eternal world topically as well as tropically. Once by the bier of Beatrice he had entered within the veil; and now when all earthly occupations, all secular interests, had in a sense dropped away from him, the future, the great future wherein the loose threads of time and space—the sundered ties, the temporal losses, the inexplicable failures, the injustice, the ingratitude, the pain — would be ravelled up into luminous consistency, stared him perpetually in the face. Boccaccio tells us that when some women of Verona saw Dante pass, one of them observed, "See you the man that goes to Hell, and returns when he lists, and brings up news of those below?" "Forsooth," replied a gossip, "you must speak truth. Don't you see what a crisp beard and what brown hair he has, through the heat and smoke down there?" The story is not all a parable.

Dante's motives, then, were certainly personal, and

they were mainly two—love of Beatrice and all that Beatrice connoted, and that sense of justice

Nebula;. ......

which in his passage through life had suffered so many rude shocks and contradictions. This, however, does not preclude the possibility that others may have been possessed by these or similar feelings in an inferior degree. The seclusion of the cloister provided just that aloofness from the world, just those opportunities for reflection, that Dante was afforded in his bitter exile. Certain it is that the state of men's souls after death had occupied the attention of numerous writers before Dante, and not only of speculative theologians but of poets. Some critics, attaching too much importance to the fable, have looked for the germ of the Commedia in one or other of the productions of the mediaeval eschatologists. The true germ was beyond question those impalpable reveries, those liquid visions of the Vita Nuova. But it cannot be denied that the Commedia differs from these in its solidity, in its abundance of "hard fact." In other words, the poem has a history independent of the poet. ,

During the Middle Age, certain Irish compositions —Irish by virtue of their birthplace, but written in

Latin—had achieved considerable vogue.

Antecedents. , '.> n Ti i 1

Such were the Purgatory of St Patrick, the Voyage of St Brandon, and the Vision of Tundale. Both Herr Gaspary and Signor Pio Rajna have been much impressed with the resemblance of the Vision to the Commedia, and the Italian critic is convinced that Dante had read the work either in Latin or the ver

« AnteriorContinuar »