Imagens das páginas

<n*ro i1.

that lofty region of light and happiness whither their spirits are gone. We all, I hope, share such a pleasing though melancholy persuasion . Dante then, in expressing it, did nothing but what was natural; and, if there is any singularity in his doing so, it is only that he is singularly true to nature. It was an encomium on his own virtue as well as theirs, to represent the three females whom he had admired on earth as become three Saints in Paradise. One of them, he tells us, is there a personification of supreme Philosophy; and what virtues the other two personify (or whether any) he does not say. The first explanation was necessary for his literary purposes; the others were not. Gentucca and Lucia may be held to symbolize Charity and Grace, or any other divine attributes, at the reader's good pleasure. No confusion is produced by it. But what is manifest, is, that they, as well as Beatrice, were once earthly charmers and are now celestial Saints. This is highly poetic, because highly tender, natural and sublime. There is nothing in this hard to understand; and this, and no more than this, is in the text. If the comments on it are unintelligible, that is the fault of those who wrote them, and not of the poet. Were it true then, that this were 'the most difficult and least intelligible passage in the Divine Comedy,' no eminent poet were ever less liable to a charge of obscurity than Dante.


In the last-cited comment are noted the verses which Alfieri had transcribed from this poem; and it is certainly not uninteresting to be thus informed of the opinion of so distinguished a personage as AI fieri : although that opinion is much qualified by his declaration, on a re-perusal of the Divine Comedy some years later, that if he were then to write down every line in it that struck him as worthy of remark, he would not omit 'a single iota of the whole composition; being persuaded more is to be learned from even its very errors, than from the beauties of others(0.' The triplet before us is one of the transcribed. Nothing in fact can be more finished aud elegant; and it exhibits a fair proof, that, if harmony and polish are not the characteristics of Dante, it is because he chose they should not be so;and threw them designedly into the back-ground, in order that his sublimity and learning might stand more prominent.

(i) piu »' iinpara negli erroii di questo, cbe utile bellezze

degli .lltri . Biagioli. Comcuto. Prcf. p. xxxiv.




1 have already said the preceding Cantos are introductory: so that here properly begins Hell, or the first of the three parts, or Canticles , into which the Divine Comedy is divided . Within the infernal gate lies the vestibule, whose inner boundary is a stream named, with classical deference, Acheron; over which the souls are ferried by an old man, who, with the same ingenuous respect for antiquity, is called Charon. After some difficulty, this latter is persuaded to embark our travellers; and, when they appear to be about entering his bark, Dante falls down in a stupor. Such is the subject of this Canto: whose resemblance to the opening of the sixth book of the Aeneid is perceived at once. The vestibule in both is represented as a place of sorrow and frightful sights:

Vestibulum ante ipsum primisque in fauribus Orci
Luctus et ultrices posuere cubilia curae etc. (')

(i) Lib Vi. T *-i

curio in.

although it in both be the road that leads to a sweet region of repose, as well as to the receptacles

of pain and guilt, to Elysium and Limbo, as

well as to Tartarus and the bottomless pit. But it is time to say something of the form of Dante's

hell a previous acquaintance with which is an

almost indispensable requisite. For he here really employed those nine circles, which (groundlessly perhaps) were attributed to the Aeneid by Servius; and I suppose he did so in consequence of having studied that commentator. This then is one of the radical differences between the two poems, (the Aeneid and the Divine Comedy) that an infernal topography is a necessary preliminary to the understanding of the one, and not of the other. Virgil possibly never imagined such divisions, and they may be the mere inventions of the critics; but Dante certainly did: to whom a clear order was, in this particular, of more moment; since he determined on dedicating two thirds of his work to the elucidation of a subject only cursorily introduced in the Aeneid, and therefore dispatched there in a portion of one single book out of twelve.

Substracting all its expiatory punishments (that is the second, third, fourth, fifth, seventh, and eighth of the commentator's circles, which, as I before said (0, make in reality one homogeneous

(i) Hell, Comment Onto ii. p. t'(«.


inrro in.

division, answering to the Infernus purgandorum of Catholics, and are therefore treated of separately in the canticle, Purgatory ) the remainder of the Virgilian hell ( in substance forming three divisions, that accurately resemble the Infernus puerorum , Infernus sanctorum Patrum , and Infernus dam natorum, of the Romish Church) is the subject of the present canticle. The region then of which it treats is, like that of Virgil, placed within the bowels of our earth; and also divided, as that of Virgil's is represented to be, into a vestibule and nine circles. That the Sybil led down Aeneas by one subterraneous passage, and returned back by another, comprises the whole information there given of the infernal site: and, since they came out close to the spot whereby they had entered, it is impossible to pronounce as to the extent of their peregrinations in the interior; so that it seems to have been the Author's intention, that in this instance the literal sense should be nearly quite lost in the allegorical. Dante, on the contrary, has explained his descent with somewhat of geometrical precision. He too makes his entrance by one door, and his exit by another; but he lets Us know that in his way he completely traversed the globe; descending from this our hemisphere, and coming out at last at the antipodes. The exact geographical position of the cave by which he entered is not mentioned (although there have not been wanting some annotators who busied them

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