Imagens das páginas

This "divisible-indivisible world" is the forest of the Commedia, which expresses in concrete terms what "Bead the great English poet in his later years EzekieU" essayed to define in philosophic language — the bewildering incoherence of this perpetually changing congeries of atoms, the coexistence in the same object of identity and difference, baffling the human intellect. But where Tennyson speaks of a shore, Dante uses the figure of a valley. This image is quite in keeping with the terminology of the Convivio, where a "substantial form " is said to descend into matter. There can be little doubt, however, that the valley of this first canto is Ezekiel's Valley of Dry Bones. If any one will examine the thirty-seventh chapter of the sacred book, he will speedily recognise the point of the comparison. The orthodox anagogic interpretation of the prophecy is that the Valley of Dry Bones represents the world of unredeemed and unregenerate humanity. Without impugning this view, which indeed is essential to the completeness of the analogy, it is clear that the prophecy had a simpler, more immediate application—an application that concerned the political condition of the Jewish nation divided into the rival kingdoms of Judah and Israel, and doomed to captivity among the heathen. A brighter prospect, however, is in store for the hapless race. "And I will make them one nation in the land upon the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king to them all: and they shall be no more two nations, neither shall they be divided into two kingdoms any more at all. . . . And David my servant shall be king over them; and they all shall have one shepherd." It is hardly needful to insist how well all this suits with the state of contemporary Italy, the land of Guelfs and Ghibellines, specially as viewed by one with Dante's imperialist longings. There are numerous passages in the Corn/media proving how illfounded he deemed the papal claim to temporal dominion, and how injurious in its effects. And we have already seen that, according to Dante's philosophy, the welfare of humanity depended on unity of rule, Peter being supreme in his sphere, and Caesar in his.

"Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark."

The word "found" is important. It indicates Dante's awakening to the consciousness of his real predicament. Though he knew it not, he had been in the dark forest all his life until the year 1300, which is approximately the date of the commencement of the poem, and ostensibly of its entire action. The great work, however, occupied him many years. Very likely, as Scartazzini suggests, it was composed at a variety of times and places. When at length it was approaching completion, the whole of the events connected with Henry of Luxemburg's ill-fated expedition belonged to the past. But Dante still adhered to the pretended date of his mysterious travel, and, indeed, takes advantage of it to assume the language of prophecy. His David is the unlucky German prince, whom he rewards with a heavenly throne, but with regard to whom, in his purely earthly role, he is compelled by dire necessity to forgo the sanguine and confident tone of the prophet of old.

In seeking to escape from the dismal valley, Dante comes to a hill up which he endeavours to climb. But The three the hill is steep, and each time his efforts beauts. are frustrated by the appearance of a wild beast—first, a leopard; then, a lion; and, finally, a wolf. The hill, what does it typify? Not true happiness, probably. For that we must wait till the end of the next cantica and the glorious vision of the Earthly Paradise. The Mount Delectable of the proem symbolises, I believe, rather than happiness itself, the mirage of happiness, the delusive pleasures of mere worldly prosperity to which moral goodness contributes not a jot. Observe, the moral and anagogic senses are here inextricably entwined. Dante is not only a representative man; he is also a representative Italian, and these symbols possess a political as well as a spiritual meaning. Indeed, the political application is, of the two, the more obvious and distinct. The leopard is the Florentine democracy; the lion, the royal house of France; and the wolf, the Papacy. But the emblems have a wider significance. They were borrowed in the first instance—so, at least, it would appear—from Jeremiah v. 6: "Wherefore a lion out of the forest shall slay them, and a wolf of the evenings shall spoil them, a leopard shall watch over their cities, every one that goeth out thence shall be torn in pieces." In these words we seem to have clearly expressed the right interpretation of the signs. The lion is Violence; the wolf, Avarice; and the leopard, Treachery. The two interpretations are perfectly consistent, one being involved in the other. Scartazzini's notion that the beasts symbolise the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life appears to rest on what I believe to be a total misconception of the passage. That the Mount Delectable typifies worldly prosperity, not true happiness, seems proved by the key-lines already quoted:—

"Of trivial good at first it [the soul] tastes the savour;
Is cheated by it, and runs after it,
If guide or rein turns not aside its love."

And now, at the moment when Dante, recoiling before those terrible beasts, sinks back into the no less terrible forest, a guide shows himself. The hapless poet descries a shadowy form, and though unresolved whether he beholds a man or a shade, accosts it. It is Virgil. By an extremely poetical touch the laureate of the Caesars is depicted as hoarse through long silence. This, of one dead a thousand years, is a very felicitous thought; but, of course, Dante means more than that. He alludes to the neglect of those lofty studies of which Virgil was once and now Dante himself is a chosen vessel. The "accomplishment of verse" is not, for his Florentine admirer, Virgil's supreme claim to reverence. Outwardly a poet, he is inwardly a moral philosopher, a prophet, and—mark it well!— the grandest representative hitherto of the imperial idea. Virgil, however, is not in those savage glades by accident. Unknown to Dante, a little drama has been enacting in Heaven, and all on his account. Blessed women, transformed into ministering angels, have discovered his woeful plight and borne the news to Beatrice, who hastened to Virgil, where he abode "lord of the song pre-eminent" among those in suspense (i.e., in Limbo), and tearfully besought his aid. The story has so much real pathos that it seems like sacrilege to rob it of its simplicity, its tender human interest. Yet it is certain that the poet designed it for a parable, and Gaspary has admirably observed that just as the Vision of God was the guerdon and goal of Dante's weird pilgrimage, so a ray of light divine, typified by Beatrice, was necessary to kindle his zeal and prompt his fainting courage. Eeason, philosophy, would not suffice for this, though, once the task was attempted, it would guide him a certain distance along the way. That way lay through the endless horrors of Hell and the stern but salutary discipline of Purgatory, which Dante, in the vesture of the flesh, was to behold unscathed, for his edification and enlightenment.

In defining the precise shape of the prison-house of the lost, authorities employ different terms. Fenini likens it to an inverted cone, Gaspary to a funnel, while Leigh Hunt describes it as a "funnel graduated in circles." "Funnel" is a good word, but we must take care that we do not misunderstand what is intended. It is, perhaps, natural to think of the funnel of an English steam-engine, but that is not the idea at all. The funnel proper is a hollow conical vessel with a slender pipe issuing from its vertex, and used for conveying liquids into receptacles with a small

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