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such a tender sentiment as filial piety dictated this verse, that tenderness is rendered still more striking from the severity of all the rest of the passage, and is an instance of those strong contrasts which our poet very often employs with success . That this tribute to the maternal shade is short, and as it were casual, and intended to be concealed from every one's consciousness but his own , accords perfectly with the reserve which the whole poem displays respecting its Author's domestic concerns: for his name is to be found in it but once, and then its insertion is excused with a plea of necessity; and when he introduced into it three of his female friends, we have seen them so enveloped in allegory as to be almost disguised from the public eye, not obtruded on it ('L
This fierce burst of exultation is rendered fiercer from its being a mis-application of the words which religion had consecrated to joy and harmony. They were poured forth by the angelic chorus who announced to the shepherds the birth of our Saviour "Glory be to God,etc. (»)."ln more violent contrast still is what follows the shrieking out of the victim's name, and his turning his teeth against himself. It must, in great part, have been such passages, that obtained popularity
(i) Hell, Comment, Canto u. p. iSa. (a) Luke ti. i4,
for poetry, whose learning aud condensity of mind seem adapted to but few readers. The meatiest of thepeopleknew a quantity of Dante verses by heart, and sung them up and down Italy. No poet's fame ever spread so quickly ; for as fast as the Cantos of his poem were published, they appear to have got amongst all classes of the people, the lowest as well as the highest. Thus, we are informed that this discourse took place between two poor women in Verona, as he passed one day under their
windows: "See!" (cried one) " See the man
who goes down and brings us news from Hell." "Indeed" ( replied her companion, with simplicity ) " and sore marks he bears of it too; observe how pale he looks, with his hair frizzled, for all the world as if it had been scorched. " Dante overheard them, and is said to have smiled: an infrequent occurrence with him; for his temperament disposed him to melancholy, and, if we cre-dit biographers, he was never seen to laugh out.
'Messer Filippo Argenti degli Adimari' (says the Riccardian M. S. ) 'was a man of gigantic stature, dark complexion, and violent passions; and he was named Argenti, because, being very rich and as unbridled in his expenses as in his choler, he he had his horse, a beautiful animal in which he took great pride, shod on one occasion with silver* it fece ferare d'argento. M. Ginguene professes
not to comprehend, why an individual so slightly distinguished should have been selected by Dante for condemnation. But the reason was the same which I pointed out when speaking of Ciacco. In this fifth Circle anger is punished , not the nefarious crimes which it too often causes; in the same way as in the third Circle intemperance is so , and not any of those lamentable excesses to which it generally leads. Argenti was chosen, because he was of a dangerous brutal impetuosity; which however had never betrayed him into any iniquity of the deepest colour, but many eccentric breaches of decorum . That ungovernable anger is at every time a wretched foible, and was peculiarly so, in a town so ripe for discord as Florence, requires no elucidation; and Argenti, in giving way to it, was perhaps as interiorly and truly guilty as men who had been led by the same passion into deeds of more apparent ferocity, than any attributed to him. But poets ( as well as legislators) are to pronounce on ostensible grounds . Dante was then most happy in his selection of Ciacco and Argenti to exemplify the odiousness of intemperance andcholer, even when uncontaminated by those direr atrocities to which they almost invariably lead. Perhaps Florence never since Dante's day, possessed a counterpart for Argenti; a character noted for so
much ire, and yet unaccused of any desperate malefaction . The wretch's biting himself is an idea repeated, by Dante in his version of the Psalms
E per dolore se medesmo morde (0. Argenti is the hero of one of Boccaccio's tales CO; in substance—— Messer Giacco (who, it is probable, was the same in Canto vi) and Biondello, two Florentine gentlemen , meeting in the fishmarket, Biondello, who had just purchased two fine lampreys, told Ciacco ( what was not true ) that they were for the Chief of the Blacks, Corso Donati. So to him the jocund Ciacco took care to go the next day, in expectation of a splendid dinner. He found there neither company nor lampreys, but a very sorry meal; so, perceiving the jest, he vowed retaliation . Some days afterwards he therefore called a porter , and giving him a flask, told him to go with it to M. Argenti and
say that ' he was sent by Bioudello, to have it
rubinated with some of his best wine, seeing Messer Filippo Argenti was universally reputed an excellent bottle-painter.' The porter did as he was ordered; keeping beyond the reach of Argenti* arm , which irritated him to madness. In the mean time Ciacco setting out in quest of Biondello, informed him, that his friend, Messer Filippo Argenti, was inquiring for him with sollicitude. Hence a ludicrous, but savage catastrophe. Both hastening to meet, one eagerly inquisitive, and the other boiling with rage at what he had interpreted a gross insult, little Biondello was kicked and cuffed
(i) Isette Salmi di D. A. i. 6.
(?) II Decamerone, Giorn. ix Nov. 8.
through the street, at such an unmerciful rate and so dragged through the kennel, by his gigantick ferocious antagonist, who continued vociferating, * I'll rubinate you, ' that if it had not been for the interference of a crowd , he had been murdered. This story was no fiction ; but, like many .of the Novelle, was a real event that happened in Florence a very short time before Dante's exile (0 . It most naturally recurred to him then to mention Argenti: and perhaps the more so (for who reprehends not more willingly the failings of his enemies, than his friends?) that Argenti belonged to a family, the Adimari, to whose enmity Sacchetti ascribes in a great degree Dante's exile (0.
(i) So Bcnvrmiti tells us — paulo ante cxpulsionem auctoris. Perhaps the whole is yet more amusing in Lis quaint Latin, than in Boccaccio's beautifully measured prose . . . Argent! stabat totus turbatus, et rodebat se ipsum in animo, existimans quod Blondellus ad postam alicujus fecisset sibi hanc truffam . . . Erat corpore magnus, fortis, et nervosus, iracuudus, et indignans , et dedit illi cum pugno magnum ictum in facieiu... Quid est hoc? quid est hoc?...Proditor , bene videbis quid est hoc. Quare ntbinare mittis tu ad me? Bene nibinabo te ... et, abjecto caputio, fulminabat manu et lingua super eum... Omne dixerunt quod fatue egerat Blondellus mittendo D. Philippo Argenti ribaldum cum fiasco et truffis , quia bene debebat scire quod O. Philippus non erat homo mottezandus . ap. Mur. Antiq. Ital. Vol. i. io43. (a) Dante bad one of the youths of that family severely fined , for prancing on horseback , and holding out his legs so widely, as to be a serious annoyance to the more tranquil passengers, particularly those on foot: — nor was such a slight annoyance at that wild period , when the narrow streets of Florence were barricaded, and full of armed men both borse and foot; and when the city, iu fine, was so far more populous than at present. Yet this action of Dante is said to have been sole cause for the hatred of the Adimari; and a principal one for the subsequent exile of Dante, under pretence of his being a Wltite.