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ther deficient in grammar or numbers should be produced by chance, and without its author being conscious of it. Let the present passage then be received as direct proof that Dante was tolerably versed in Hebrew: for although I know not to what amount his reputation as a poet may be concerned in the matter, it is certain that the conviction of his having been an Oriental scholar will assist us much in our criticisms, by letting us know where we are to seek for the elucidation of many a disputed phrase in his Divina Commedia, and in his version of the psalms for many a variation from the Vulgate. Let dispute about this passage end for ever: and if (as the Ab. Lanci'swords imply) there be still a public Professor sufficiently shallow and pedantic to play the witling before his juvenile audience, and (God give him modesty!) attempt caricaturing this speech of the ancient bard, let him learn that henceforth such buffoonery can only have the effect of exposing his own want of taste and prudence, as well as of erudition. It is great, the Ab. Lanci's merit in doing this tardy service to the memory of his mighty countryman, and to his country, and (may I not add? ) to the world at large; for can any be quite uninterested in the removal of an aspersion from so eminent a fellow-creature, as Dante? Whether he composed this verse himself, or borrowed it from some work that he had perused, it equally follows that he must have had a very competent familiarity «with the language. In the first supposition indeed this would he more striking; for to combine in so narrow a compass so much force and pomp of thought, so perfectly adapted to the speaker and the occasion , and such a conflux of guttural letters and accurate syntax with a subserviency to the Italian rhjme, argues a person very conversant with the tongue which he employs. Heretofore when Orientalisms were averred to be detected occasionally in his phraseology, it used to be urged that he might have had them from the Paladins and Saracens then frequenting Europe. But this reply avails little or nothing ; for in the first place, there is no reason to believe that those Paladins and Saracens had themselves any tincture of Hebrew; and even if they had, it must have been quite too small for the occasion . It could indeed have been only an oral smattering picked up among the Jews; though this supposition, of Mahometans and soldiers taking the trouble to do it, is less probable fcom the reflection that it was totally unnecessary for the purposes of common life , since the current dialect of those African Jews themselves was Arabic , not Hebrew. But to effect what is here performed (compose a Hebrew verse adapted to the occasion and write it in Roman characters) it were necessary that those rude soldiers knew not only Hebrew, but Italian perfectly ^wll: and to what incongruous a thesis that would lead, needs no notice. If the line was borrowed
from some book (a suspicion which I own myself inclined to indulge, though unable to verify) then its energy and grandeur, proving it to be from an Author nowise adapted to the capacity of a beginner, and the fact of no such book being known either to the learned Abate or to his readers , are both demonstrations of Dante's intimacy with Hebrew. In fact where is the wonder in his having studied the eastern tongues? He had more need of them than Milton; and Italy offered as many, or greater facilities towards acquiring them then than England in the seventeenth century. In the very year of Dante's birth ( tiG5) a treaty between Pisa and Tunis was first drawn up in Arabic, and then turned by a Pisan into Latin. A short period earlier another Italian had translated an Hebrew tale, Culita and Duina; and another composed what argues vast Arabic erudition, a confutation of the Koran. In the middle of the twelfth century an inhabitant of Cremona translated Arabic treatises on Geometry and physics to the prodigious extent of 66 volumes, viz, the works of Avicen and Ptolemy. But what most clearly demonstrates the fact of Oriental acquirements being more common in Italy previous to ia00, than they have ever been since, is that up to that time the best Aristotles of the schools were in Arabic; for it was in that very year ( as is recorded ) that the first Greek Aristotle was imported into Italy, to S. Thomas A qui nas's great delight, who, being himself both a
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Greek ( for he had translated some of the Fathers and part of Plato into Latin) and Oriental scholar, saw at once the superiority of that Greek version over all the vulgar Arabic ones (0. Then what was in every other sense a revival of letters in Italy, in nowise contributed to one very noble study, that of the languages of the East, primary source of civilization; or rather it had a quite contrary effect, by turning public attention towards Greece and Rome exclusively; so that in almost as rapid a career as the other arts and sciences advanced, the knowledge of Hebrew and Arabic died away. Of the literary triumvirate, Dante alone seems to have retained any thing of it; for Petrarch and Boccaccio, immersed in the elegant philosophy of Socrates and Tully, neglected both the Bible and the Koran in their originals; or wholly taken up with the praises of a Sappho or a Lesbia, knew little or nothing of the Virgins of Paradise or the rose of Sharon. In this their meritorious, but too circumscribed devotion to the Classics, not only their immediate followers made it a point to rival them, but the bright spirits of Leo x, and indeed all Italian scholars (with a few exceptions) even down to the present day. Still allowing, that, at the sight of Rome in this her night making a discovery that had escaped notice in that her glorious .sun-shine of the sixteenth century, we may feel
(i) Hell, Comment, Canto It. p. %5t. —and Tiraboschi and Gradenigo, passim. — AndreaLetteratura, vol. 5. p. 5ao.
amazement, it can produce none, that Dante should have composed Hebrew at the epoch in which he lived, if there be now a Roman capable of inter preting it. Up to the birth of the former, the Oriental tongues were, as we have seen, to a considerable extent at least, a popular attainment in Italy, and this they never have been in England. Nevertheless Milton, when projecting his Christian poem, deemed it requisite to obtain a previous knowledge of Hebrew and in spite of innumerable difficulties did obtain it: then for Dante, who resolved upon not merely a Christian poem far longer and more peculiarly religious than the Paradise lost and regained, but on what necessarily demanded a thorough acquaintance with gennine Scriptural lore, a translation of the psalms, it was still more natural to desire to learn Hebrew, than for the other; and also easier for him to learn it, from the circumstances of the age (0. Milton, we know, became so ready with regard to that tongue that in his blindness he had a chapter of the Hebrew Bible read aloud to him ever)' morning:
(i) Non ilird, ch'eglr tale lingun col «uo studio ensuriite, ma diro che non l'ignorava del tutto. Dotato di utiaordinario ingeguo, volendo eternare la memoria di se coo una letteraria impress , nella quale ogni savere apparisse, forse cbe dovea sgomentarsi di attendere anche a sua bella posta alcun poco alia cognizione di quell* lingue clie dotte si appellano? Dante studio tanto la Bibbia, che molte tue locuzioni, e forse le piu poetiche sono tolte dalla espressione nrientale... • ben lo cotiosce cbi quel linguaggio aatapora . Dissertations dell' Ah: M. A. Lanci, p. 3It.