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Jupiter only a secondary cause and evidently believed in. one superior, whom he seems to denominate Fate; toa consideration of whose essencehis Muse does not attempt ascending: but he could not have imagined such a Being without surrounding him with unequalled fairness anxl bliss. Therefore Olympus was not the Homeric Paradise, using this won!, Paradise, (which I shall continue to do ) as synonimous with the imagination of highest happiness, if then, with regard toTIell, Purgatory and many parts of the pagan creed, the two chief poets of Greece and Rome are adequate authorities, with regard to Paradise, (on which they are nearly silent) we must consult the prose writers; and the Dream of Scipio includes most of what is to be learned from them. We there find, that the final retreat of souls beatified, or in the latin phraseology deified, for their virtues, (that is Paradise) extended as far as the milky-way downwards; and how much higher, beyond the fixed stars, is not said: but this is clear, that neither Olympus, nor any thing terrestrial, formed part of it. That visible firmament too was only figurative of something
invisible, Nam si quid de his assignare co
nantur, quae non sermonem tantummodo, sed cogitationem quoque humanam superant, ad similitudiues et exempla confugiunt (0, in the same
ei simulacrum cum diis aliis conslitueretur, finxil antiquitaa.
Com. in Som. Srip. 1. t.
fi) Id. Id.
Hi WTO I.
way as even the worthier conceptions of Christianity are but figures of that which « cannot en. ter into the heart of man » (0 .
A splendid illustration of the goodness of the Creator it assuredly is, that the human race, not-' withstanding their numerous iniquities, were enabled , partly by imperfect traditions, and partly by the mere force of unaided understanding, to retain so many vestiges of truth, that, after a similar preparation , nothing but corruption of heart, it would seem, could have prevented them from eagerly hailing the truth of truths, Christianity, the instant it was revealed to them. Hence to collate the multiplied religious allegories that have appeared on earth, and to reduce them to their real signification , as gathered , not from vulgar opinion but from their most enlightened professors, would he a discussion of great piety: for, as an illiterate man sees nothing in foreign tongues hut confusion, while an expert linguist deduces order from their apparent disorder, and, possibly, arrives at the conclusion, that they have all sprung from a single root; so may a superficial consideration of dissonant creeds lead to infidelity, but, on the other hand, it appeared long ago to profound thinkers, that, that very diversity was a striking argument in favour of there being one true one (a).
Such a work as I have hinted at, though a proper accompaniment to this poem, were obviously incompatible with comments, that, even without it, are likely to be too long. Yet shall I not fail, from time to time as the text suggests them, to enter into some cursory elucidations of my proposition: because the combination of allegories is one of the chief characteristics of Dante , particularly in the present Canticle; and because he has been arraigned for it, by some critics as irreligious, and by others as guilty of bad taste. But how it can be bad taste to bring in review the beautiful parables of Antiquity, I am at a loss to imagine: or how a writer, who dedicates his Muse to a confessedly orthodox exposition of the dogmas of his Church, can be condemned as deficient in religion ; merely because he lavishes on it every artifice of decoration, and, faithful to its spirit, makes even those extraneous ornaments assist its lessons of benevolence and toleration, that social virtue too
frequently, too calamitously transgressed, and of which he was one of the early Apostles.
Y . .emu.
I take the liberty of using Duke continually in the sense which Dante gives to the Italian Duca, the old latin one of Dux, leader.
Our poet himself, in his dedicatory epistle to Can grande, expresses, as succinctly as can well be, the object of this entire, sacred poem j 'under
slood literally, it treats of the state of souls after death, and allegorically it shows how man, being endowed with freewill, can merit, or by his good or his evil deeds, either reward or punishment':
Totius operis literaliter sumpti est subjectum
status animarum post mortem; allegorice sumpti, homo prout merendo et demerendo per arbitrii libertatem est justitiae praemiandi et puniendi obnoxius (0i
Here I cannot withold the general observation, that the old commentators were much more conversant with the minor works of Dante, than many people suspect: for not only the words of his which I have just cited, but almost the whole production from which I borrow them, may be found in Boccaccio's comment; although he either did not choose or did not think it necessary to tell his audience he was translating the latin of his Author 00. This dedication to Can was hailed as a discovery, and critics used it as something new when quoting it as evidence in the long contested dispute about the title, Divine Comedy: but had people relied, as they ought, on the authority of Boccaccio, they would have possessed Dante's own ideas on the matter from the beginning; for they are all in
(.) p. 35.
(a) t. dunque il suggetto, seeondo il senso litterale, lo »tato delle snime dopo la morte; seeondo il senso allegorico, e, come l'uoino, per il libero arbitrio montando e disinontando, e alia giustizia di guidardonare e di punire obbligato. Comento. vol. i. p. 3.
the comment of Boccaccio, who, indeed, did little else than faithfully construe the latin before him into Italian, and fairly transcribe the Romanwritten Greek into its proper Greek Characters . 'Comedy' (says Dante) 'means a country song , and therefore I call my poem a comedy; because it is written in no polished, learned language, but in the rude,living tongue intelligible to the lowest of the peasantry' Comaedia dicitur a Comos villa et Oda. cantus; unde comaedia quasi villanus cantus. (0 Per hoc patet quod Comanlia dicitur prasens opus: nam humilis est loquendi modus, quia locutio vulgaris, in qua et mulicrculae communicant. But he raised Italian from that abject state: and the Italians have raised the title of his poem by adding to comedy the epithet divine. The Comkdy Of Dante Alighieri, A Florentine By Nation, Not Morals: was the title-page composed by the Author, who, not even on such an occasion, could refrain from proclaiming his home with the affectionate pride of a patriot, though, at the same time, stigmatising the perverse factions that then dishonored it. This simple Comedy was long retained; at length some editors changed it into The Comedy Of The Divine Poet, and others into The Comedy Of The Most Divine Theologian Dante Altghieri; and at last, by shifting the adjec
(i) Comedia vuol dire Canto di Villa , da Hw^ villa et wJ>j canto.
Bocc. Comento. vol. i. p. 5.