Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

CtftTO III.

it seems not unreasonable to describe the prisonhouse of the guilty as subterranean; in spite of Cicero.' That in Dante's and Boccaccio's day the Ptolemaic astronomy was still in fashion; and that in consequence our globe was deemed the centre, or inmost kernel, of the multifarious universe, which (like a ball containing divers balls ) spins in the moveless, empyreal heaven, I have already said (0. According to this system, the only possible mode of descending from the surface of this sphere that we inhabit, were to descend into it: whence it follows, that to some region supposed to lie within it, and to nothing beside, could the sacred scribes of either the old or the new Testament have intended to refer, when they told us of a descent from earth to hell. Herein then necessarily agreed not only Virgil and'some illustrious Christians,' but all those followers of Ptolemy who,as poets, imagined, or, as philosophers and religionists, inculcated the actual existence of an infernal abode,— Greeks, Romans, Jews, or Moslem. Milton was led into a vague and, for that very reason, a sublimer notion by the revolution which had newly taken place in astronomy: one does not see whereabouts he fancied his hell; which is thus veiled in a mystery as conducive to poetry, as to reason . But Dante conformed to what were then the undivided sentiments of the learned ; and, in

(i) Hell, Comment. Canto ii. p. i37.

r.iHTO in.

placing hell within the earth, did no more than unite the popular creed with the astronomical principles set forth hy the best among his predecessors and his contemporaries in science and literature.

D. XT. Tuque invade viam ....

Nunc animis opus, Aenea, nunc pectore firmo (l).

E. XT1II.

We are told in the Convito, on the authority of Aristotle, what is the good of the intellect, viz: truth CO. Here then Jehovah, the well-spring of truth, is designated by the intellectual Good; whom the wicked have lost for ever.

I cannot assert that this passage, however powerful, is equal to this fine one of which it is an evident copy:

Hinc exaudiri gemitus et saeva sonare
Verbera: turn stridor ferri tractaeque catenae.
Constitit Aeneas strcpitumque externals bausit:
Quae scelerum facies? O virgo, effare; quibusve
Urgentur pcenis? Quis tantus plangor ad auras? (*)

[ocr errors]

euro iii.

In the copy however we find one of those peculiar touches which Dante seldom fails to introduce into his most avowed imitations of the classics,

the 'sound of hands'

Voci alte e fioche e suon di man con elle —— a figure not inferior to any in his original, and a worthy companion of the scriptural stridor dentium.

Error instead of horror is the usual reading; but I am induced to adopt the latter without reserve, not because it seems to me the most intelligible and poetical, and much less because it is authorized by Velutello and Lombardi, as cited by Mr. Gary, (for these would be to me no authorities at all, when opposed to the Academy) but'on what I take to be the very best, possible authority, that of Boccaccio (0: and I am surprised

M. Biagioli's good taste did not rather make him do so too than praise the expression of ' binding the head with error,' which is surely more abstruse than beautiful (»). But people are so prone to discover beauties in what they can't understand!

H. - xxxvn.

It is the nature of our poet's hell to become worse in torment the farther you descend; circles

[ocr errors]

after circles deepening in horror as they narrow down towards the focus of the pit, where Lucifer is impaled. Thus we shall find the first Circle an Elysian abode; and the circles immediately following places of sorrow, it is true, but yet not of excessive torment, nor altogether unallayed by a residue of human feelings. But to this system the vestibule is an exception; for in it we find sufferings so severe, that those exposed to them would prefer to undergo any others. Why such an anomaly? It is indeed an imitation of Virgil, whose crowd of unburied ghosts wander undistinguished "Just in the gate and in the jaws of hell:"

Hcec oronis quam ocruis inops inhumataque turba est: Matres atque viri def'unctaque corpora vita Magnanimum heroum, pueri inuptvque puellse (0. But Virgil had formed no graduated scale of descent and corresponding woe; he had not laid out his infernal region like an amphitheatre increasing in torment step by step as you go down to its arena : and therefore nothing prevented his shifting the scenes as chance or fancy dictated: so that he even represented in separate portions that region which, consisting not of eternal but expiatory punishments, forms in substance but one indivisible state answering, as I have said(a), to the Purgatory of the Bomish Church; and entered

(i) Aeneid. Lib. vi. v. 3o5.

(a) Hell, Comment. Canto n. p i38.

[ocr errors]

some of them, viz: where the/also damnatiate to be

seen and such asprojecere animas and the

lugentes campi and the arva quae hello clari

frequentant before Elysium; and some of them

after it, viz: those where souls exercenturpcenis —• and where some, after drinking of Lethe, are condemned to return and live again on earth,

which is only another kind of purgation. Dante did not allow himself the same liberty; the plan adopted by him was to exhibit bitterer sights the lower he proceeded; the more profound the circle, the more aggravated the guilt and anguish. Why then thus infringe it at the very outset? It is the only instance in which he does so: it is quite out of the natural order, and therefore a peculiar mark of degradation. It was intended for those pusillanimous egoists upon whom our republican poet was desirous of affixing the brand of consummate opprobrium. It would have been hard to do so in any circle of hell: for in the upper ones there were too good company for them and the inflictions were not severe enough; while in the profound abyss it were not easy to deprive them of something of the dignity inseparable from great endurance

For it were glory there to dwell. To place them in this hellish outskirt, devoured by vermin and with such a sense of their degraded state that they would rather undergo any curse beside; and to consign them for ever to those

« AnteriorContinuar »