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pear, to Verona; whither, as I have often repeated, he went in i3o8. He seems at that period to have been wandering without a single attendant. 1 He was on his road to cross the Appennines'( writes Ilarius ) ' when , either through respect to the place, or from some other motive, he entered our cloisters . Neither 1, nor any of my brother friars knew who he was. So, I asked him what he wanted. He replied not a word, nppearing to be wholly intent on observing the architecture of the building. I spoke to him a second time, to learn what he wanted . He then turned round, and, seeing so many friars with me, answered Peace. This made me but the more curious to know who it could be. And taking him by the hand I led him aside; and then 1 learned that he was a man with whose face indeed I was unacquainted, but whom I had long known by reputation . When he perceived I was so entirely attracted by his manner and affectionately melted by his accents, he drew forth from his bosom a little book, and, with the most friendly courtesy handing it to me, said: Here is a part of my Work, which you have probably never seen. I give it to you to keep in memory of me. After I had pressed the little volume to my heart, as a dear thing, I opened it; and, in his presence, began to look over it with fond feelings. And seeing it was not in Latin , but in the vulgar tongue, I suppose I betrayed a look of surprise; for he asked me why I stopped. I answered that I was astonished Gajtto mi.
at the language: for it appeared to me a wondrous difficulty to treat so arduous a theme in the dialect of the vulgar; and even scarcely proper that so mighty a production should he attired in the garb of the populace.To this he replied verbatim thus: what you think is very just. Know even, that when the first seeds of this poem ( which were, perhaps, infused in my mind by heaven) began to spring up, I did not fail to select the idiom which is best adapted to my theme: nor did I only select it in idea, but actually began to compose my verses in it, thus:
Ultima regna canani, etc. (0 But when 1 considered better the state of the present age, and saw how neglected lie the compositions of the most illustrious Latin poets; and that on this account people of rank, for whom in happier ages such writings were composed, have (and with grief I say it) thrown aside the liberal arts,
"(i) These are precisely the same that are given bv Boccaccio too in his Vita di Darute, as was noticed before (Hell, Comment, Canto i. p. II ). There*is then no doubt but such was the begiuning of his version; and not any other. How far Dante went on with this his Latin version, we do not know: only three lines of it are in print. May I avow ( with the most profound respect) that these three lines do not make me much desire to see any more ? The same reasons , here given to tlarius for not writing in Latin , are given still more at length in the Convito. John de Virgilio (so named from his supposed resemblance to Virgil) blames Dante much for condescending to write in Italian — nec premeCastalias indigni veste sorores: and Dante in bis reply mildly vindicates his own choice, and probably with the less force, because he did not chuse to displease his friend, John ; who seems to have been inflated with pretensions to Latinity. Eel. i. Jobannis de Virgilio— Id. Dantis. ap. Dionisi, Aneddoti, No. It
and left them to others of plebeian birth; I quickly renounced the little lyre on which I had begun to strike with some confidence, and prepared for myself this other more adapted to the ears of modern gentlemen. For it is in vain to offer solid food to infants that are at the nurse's breast (0.'
Virgil is supposed to allude not to any of the fabulous descents of antiquity, but to that of our Saviour when he came to lead away the ' original man ' and his companions, as before remembered in Canto the fourth. I may add, that the resistance of the demons at the entrance of hell on that occasion , their impotent attempt to stop the Redeemer at the gate whose scroll we read in the vestibule, his breaking of that gate and the 'rifting of its hinges' ( senza serrame ) all recall a homily of S. Austin's: Christus ad inferna descendit; legiones Principis mortis perturbavit; portam inferni et vectos ferreos confregit; et omnes justos absolvit (*). A celebrated Catholic Theologian, with whose works Dante was most familiar , had held ( as I remarked formerly (3) ) that our Saviour went no lower in hell, than the first circle; ever since which event, the worst portion of the retreat
(i) Ap. Laur. Mehus. Vita Ambr. Camald. p. 3ai. — Dionisi, Saggio di Critica , cc. p. iS. (a) Op. Lib. 3. cap. a4. (3) Hell, Comment, Canto Iv. p. a43.
01 WTO TilI.
ed fiends are described by Dante as keeping hold
in Dis; a city, I repeat, that makes a kind of
great division in Tartarus; for the#circles within its wall, although they continue deepening in horrors as they descend to the central pit, are all of them incalculably more horrific than any thing that lies outside. Virgil then says, that the fiends' reckless audacity is not new; for that they displayed it once against Messiah himself at the gate of the
Vestibule which still lies broken down the gate
over which was seen the deadly scroll. The introduction of Fhlegyas, followed closely by this allusion to the Messiah's adorable victory, is among the abundant instances that prove the co-existence of the Christian and the Pagan symbols of belief in Dante's mind, whenever he composed poetry. This union of the imagery of Christianity and Polytheism , forms the one primary hue in which he dipt the whole woof of his Creations, whatever other bright colours he intended to disperse here and there over it. His commentator may therefore merit pardon, if, in anxiety to impress this truth, he should fall into repetitions. It is the fine thread which guides through all the varied mazes, and into the most secret recesses, and up to the fountain-head of Dante's poetry; it is the only light in which his pictures can be distinguished completely, exhibiting their multifarious groups in perfect harmony; it is the cup, of which he who has not quaffed will find little in the Divine r. \kto vi i r.
Comedy but confusion and extravagance incongruous metaphors to deck still more incongruous opinions, and a perpetual medley of pedantry and superstition.
This approach of the Angel who is to force the entrance of Dis ( for such we shall Hnd him ) brings to recollection that of Raphael:
Eastward among those trees, what glorious shape
Comes this way moving (0! Yet the passage in Dante may be interpreted in two ways: either the Angel is for an instant visible on the skirt of one of the upper circles, as he is descending, and is lost to sight in the obscurity of the lower ones; or Virgil predicts what he is only conscious of, without seeing it. This latter is the common interpretation ; but the former is the more picturesque , aud , in my mind , the
true one always recollecting that the ' celestial
messenger ' after that momentary apparition , becomes again invisible. In his viewless approaching we have the Aeneid:
At Venus ohscuro gradientes aere saepsit,
Et multo nebulae circum Dea fudit amictu,
Cernere ne quis eos... (a).
(i) Paradise Lost, Book ?. (a) Lib. i. v. 4ii.
End Of Vol. I.