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Popes it is advanced ; and with what warmth holy zeal is wont to reprehend the profanation of holy things.
As I have premised, my explanation is not entirely new; though its detailed developement certainly is so. How, it may he inquired, could such an important discovery have failed to have been made long ago by the numerous commentators? But these, it is avowed, are guilty of many errors (some of which are pointed out every day) and therefore it is no hardiness to assert, they may err here: their verbose elucidations are too frequently not at all lucid; many of them were ignorant of their author's meaning; and, if some had penetrated it, they were unwilling, or unable to
hazard its publication, for reasons not unap
pareut to an Italian historian. Both of Dante's sons show the utmost embarassment on the matter, and evidently labour with either complete ignorance of their father's intention, or fear to avow it: and Boccaccio himself, when interpreting the three wild beasts, as voluptuousness, ambition and avarice, said he did so in conformity with popular fame, rather than his own conviction; and his expressions seem even to disclose a kind of mysterious dislike of hazarding any individual opinion (0. Nor is this as strange as what is observed of the pastorals of Virgil, compositions studied
(i) Com. vol. i. p. 7.
• UTS I
during ages and unimplicated with faction,
that, up to the days of Dryden , « the only riddle they contain had never yet been solved by any of the commentators » . (0 Nothing obstructed the full explication of the pastorals; no antagonists political or theological, no charges of Ghibellinism or irreverence. An allegory is only a longer riddle. Yet Dante might not have aspired to much mystery; but might have deemed, that even the considerations adduced by me were enough to unveil his intent; and no doubt but, at the period when he wrote, there were others still more evident. He did not foresee what an oblivious effect timidity, party and professional scruples were to have over a poem destined, by its very nature, to have churchmen for its critics. Should it please any one, however, to prefer either of the interpretations of others, there is nothing in my translation more than in the Original to prevent him; and, in the course of these comments, he has been iuformed what both those interpretations are. Yet to reconcile the whole is nut hard; only let the text and history be kept in view together. One is a single allegory, a Canto which is merely an introduction to the poem; but the latter is to be our guide throughout the whole poem. However each beast be understood, the historical facts remain the same; and it is with these I wish to impress
(i) Preface to Drydeo't translation.
the reader. Explain the forest as you will, still it is true, that in i3oo (the year in which the poem opens) Dante was involved in political tumults; whatever be the panther, Florence, like it, was noted for beauty, voluptuousness, and cruelty; whatever the lion, it was with the ambition of France, Dante long struggled, and to which he at last fell victim; and whatever the she wolf, the Papal court was the one characterized in that age as essentially avaricious, and inimical to both Dante and his native country . Ambition , avarice and voluptuousness were the three favourite daughters left by our Cceur-de-lion, on his departure for the East, to « the Templars and the English Prelates (0 ». They seem however to have been too royal a patrimony for any but sovereign powers; and so, in about the lapse of a century, we thus find it divided between a diadem, a coronet and a tiara.
The silence of the sun is from the luna silet, and silentia lunae of the Latins: thus Milton
The sun to me is dark
The text is amendui i parenti miei. But parente in Italian, like the french parent, means, not a father or mother, but any relation; and an illiterate Italian would not know what the.text meant, for he would construe it 'my two relations'. Parenti here then, as well as frequently in Dante, is a latinism, answering to our parent, a word that preserves its primitive, latin signification. Dante has been criticised for making Virgil call his parents, Lombards (0: but, although this name was unknown in Virgil's life, it was well known to him at the time he was now speaking; and to make him use it towards his pupil exemplifies kind condescension.
Virgil, according to Donatus (»), was born during the first consulship of Pompey the great, and Crassus; that is, while Caesar was still an obedieut ser vant of the State and General in Gaul. Some, referring 'though late' to Caesar's dictatorship , make Virgil express a regret at his not having been born under it; for, as I just said, his birth preceded by several years Caesar's usurpation . Others will have Virgil apply 'though late' more immediately to himself, and lament that his birth had been too
late, to permit him to enjoy Caesar's juvenile triumphs; for, it is clear, some of these took place before Virgil existed, and some while he was too infantile to be conscious of them. But,I think, the
sentiment suggested by me sorrow for not
having been born much earlier, before the first disasters of the Republic (0 more characteristic of
Dante; and even of Virgil, who (as Dryden well observes ) was too sincere a commonwealth's man to refrain, in the very book recited in the presence of \ugustus, from blaming his uncle, Caesar, albeit in a covert, courtly guise, by the borrowed lip of his fabulous forefather, Anchises (a). Thus to represent Virgil as proud of having been born under the glorious Julius Oesar, yet as regretting he had not seen still more glorious times, those of undefiled freedom, was natural; whether we attend to the sentiments of that Roman poet himself, or to those of the Tuscan republican, Dante. Here however, as elsewhere, I only propose my opinion, without allowing it to interfere with my translation; for my 'though late' retains all the uncertainty of the original —ancorche fosse tardi; and, in this, I obey Ascensius, who, in speaking of a disputed passage in the Aeneid , affirms it is sometimes an artful beauty to arrange a phrase so,
(i) Hos utinam inter heroas natum tellus me prima tulisset!
Hor. Sat. a. Lib. ».
(3) Proice tela mann , sanguis meat!
Dryd. Notes. line ii4 J.