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gaRTO i. relation with the Florentine chroniclers of that time, and with various legal documents still extant. It was for this I said, that the forest personified not exactly his Priorship, but his political scene in general: for his Priorship only began in June 13oo, when he was about a month entered into his thirty-sixth year; whereas we here find him in the forest in the preceding April, when consequently he was yet in his thirty-fifth; having been born in May, as I said before. Such precision is not required in a poem, and still less in an allegory; yet when it occurs it may be noticed: and no composition, in prose or metre, with which I am acquainted, is so remarkable for it as this. The minute consistency of its chronology is most characteristic, and singularly accordant with the apparently casual expressions in Dante's own mi. nor works, as well as with the historians and critics n early, or altogether, his contemporaries: (1) whereas the case is quite the contrary with more modern commentators. Read with the former, the Divine Comedy displays an accuracy, as to dates, unknown to poetry and seldom known even to history; read with the latter, it seems a heap of incongruous anachronisms.
(1) Boccaccio, Benvenuti of Imola, the Riccardi M. S., Villani, Dino Compagni, the Priorists and the comments, one in Italian and the other in Latin, of Dante's own sons, Peter and Jacob.
It is an excellent mode of commenting to com
pare different passages of this poem with each other; that is, to interpret those which are become
a little obscure by those whose meaning is obvious: but not, vice versa, to quote a disputed verse
when that at present under consideration is quite clear; for this solves not the difficulty where there
is one, and introduces a difficulty where there
was none. I shall not therefore make any reference
here to a paragraph of a future Canto, as is the custom; and then what is there in the text to puz
zle us? Verbally it runs thus: 'the gay skin of that wild beast, the hour of the day and the sweet sea
son all gave me cause to hope'. And who ever took
a walk of a spring morning without feeling hope?
And was it not still more natural at sight of a
lovely creature personifying home? I do not however reject the suspicion of this hope, whose date is so carefully noted, alluding to some political
appearances then well known, but long since ir
reparably sunk into oblivion.
The lion is held by some commentators to represent ambition in the abstract; and by some the ambition of Dante himself. But neither of them can be maintained without the introduction of much mysticism, or without turning away our earnto 1. heads from History, instead of always looking
towards it as a guide. The fact is, that Dante, far from avowing himself to be an ambitious citizen, always took care to aver the contrary: and, as to allegorising at length an abstract affection of the mind, it is not his style at all; for we shall find his poetry remarkable for its evidence. To say nothing of the monstrous egotism of a person pretending that his own ambition appeared to terrify the very air, or the hardship of making him accuse himself of a vice, which were sufficient cause for the exile , of which he always complained as unjust; to describe an ambitious man as scared by his own ambition, is a dubious, if not a contradictory position. Such a one were rather pusillanimous than ambitious. To represent him as frightened by ambition in the abstract, is, to me at least, little less unintelligible. To strike terror, that passion seems to require embodying, and , since the shape of a lion is merely figurative, we must seek for the real body in which it was inten. ded to be drawn. If we look at that passage in the Bible, of which, as I have observed, this whole allegory is a copy: & A lion out of the forest shall slay them, a wolf of the deserts shall spoil them, a leopard (or panther) shall watch over their cities; every one that goeth out thence shall be torn in pieces of — we find the lion interpreted King Nebuchadnezzar and army (). Elsewhere in the
(1) Jeremiah v. 6.
t, AN to t. same Prophet are similar personifications; and in another of the sacred scribes we read: — » her Princes within her are roaring lions » (). The lion in Daniel (2) is said, by sir Isaac Newton, to denote the kingdoms of Babylonia and Media. In fine, it is an animal employed throughout the Bible to personify great realms and Monarchs. It being then so probable, that here too it represents some powerful crowned head at that time in Europe, there is none to whom it can with any plausibility be applied but the King of France; whose house were active persecutors of Dante, and whom we shall find Dante's muse does not spare. But, to set the matter at rest, we have Dante's own word for it; and he tells us plainly who the lion is, when, addressing one of the French Princes, he speaks of his elder brother, the Sovereign, as 'a still loftier lion’ (3). Indeed the ambitious views of the French Court had been long calculated to inspire every Florentine patriot with dread; and, a few years later, brought the Republic to ruin, by invading it under the pretence of amity. Since one of the most ancient scholiasts here remarks, that the lion resembleth, in one particular, the most timorous of all animals, the hare, for both of them sleep with their eyes open (4), it is possible,
(1) Zephaniah 3. 3.
(2) Observations on the Prophecies. Chap. 4. — Dan. vii. 4. (3) Più alto leon. Parad. Canto v1. (4) Bib. Ricc. M. S. Cod. or 6.
c.A.N.To t. that, this observation being common in Dante's day, there might be a sarcasm here implied, which is now not obvious. Although I must not pretend to develope my author's character in this incipient comment, but shall often have to beg of my readers to concede for a while positions, that shall be clearly proved hereafter, (otherwise I should have to write a volume on this first Canto) yet when I demy, not only that Dante ever avowed he was an ambitious citizen, but also that he was one, it may be necessary to cite something as cursory evidence of his patriotism and general morality — qualities precluding ambition: meaning, of course, selfish, iniquitous ambition , and not an honorable love of fame ; for to this he was always tremblingly alive. Now listen to Philelso speaking an oration in the Florentine cathedral, by the side of the high Altar, to an audience, who well knew Dante's moral reputation, and would not certainly (whatever they might think of his poetry) have tolerated an exaggerated encomium of the man whom their fathers had proscribed. "There are, as you are aware, O my fellow-townsmen, four principal virtues that concur to the human welfare: prudence, justice, temperance, and for. titude. In the first of these, consisting, according to Tully, in the knowledge of good and evil, I do not hesitate to pronounce that no philosopher of either Greece or Rome, excelled I do not say, but