Imagens das páginas

- can ore wri. 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 (1265) a treaty between Pisa and Tunis was first drawn up in Arabic, and then turned by a Pisan into Latin. A short period ear. lier 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 1200, 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 Aquinas's great delight, who, being himself both a

[ocr errors]

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 (‘). 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

(1) Hell, Comment, Canto iv. p. 251. – and Tiraboschi and Gra. denigo, passin. - Andres Letteratura, vol. 5. p. 5 a.o.

QANTO v11. 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 interpreting 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 genuine 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 (). 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 every morning:

(1) Non diró, ch' egli tale lingua col suo studio esaurisse, ma diró che non l'ignorava del tutto. Dotato distraordinario ingeguo, volendo eternare la memoria di se con una letteraria impresa, nella quale ogni savere apparisse, forse che dovea sgomentarsi di attendere anche a sua bella posta alcun poco alla cognizione di quelle lingue che dotte si appellano? Dante studio tanto la Bibbia, che molte sue locuzioni, e forse le piu poetiche sono tolte dalla espressione orientale... e hen lo cor.osce chi quel linguaggio assapora. Dissertazione dell' Ab. M. A. Lanci, p. 38.

carro war. no such anecdote of Dante's private life has reached us, but by this Hebrew verse we may consider his proficiency to be proved equally well, as that of our own bard by his facility in understanding what he heard read by his daughters. As to internal evidence in their compositions, whatever Orientalisms the English of Milton may be held to contain, such vestiges are far less significant or numerous there, than in the Italian of Dante: for, not to anticipate many we shall hereafter find in this poem, nor to repeat any thing already noticed , it will suffice to observe that in his version of the psalms I have myself been able to discover above a dozen instances, in which he leaves the Vulgate to follow the original Hebrew. It were just to transport our imagination back to his age, before pronouncing on the propriety, or impropriety, of his inserting a variety of languages (as he has done ) into this poem. He found his country without a formed tongue, as well as without much real science; but it is not true that she was without the rudiments — the disjecta membra of multifarious literature; his duty as a good citizen was to put these together and make the most of them. Of the state in which he found and left natural and moral philosophy, this is not the place to speak: but as to languages, he found native Italian in the embryo of a quantity of dialects, many of them very rude and none of them grammatical, and the foreign tongues of Provence, - GAMto win. Greece, Rome and the East all extant in Italy, in some degree, though in various conditions. The first of them appears to have been a fashionable accomplishment in the different courts; of Latin and Greek we have already said something (), and shall more; and to Arabic our attention shall be drawn on a future occasion, when I shall have to comment a verse written in it. That he should have considered it right to enrich his style by the adoption of many Hebraic idioms, and to recommend by his example the continuance of a study already begun with some success ( that of the speech in which were to be found the purest and primitive sources of Christianity) was both equitable and highly decorous; and was not certainly to interfere with the other branches of learning, for all these have a close affinity. With regard to his translated Hebraisms, I presume there can be no diversity of sentiment; but that every one will avow he was as justified in employing them as the Spaniards were in adopting Arabic idioms: for thus in his country's language, which he found so meagre, he kneaded up with such care the best of it's own numerous dialects and many foreign ones, that he left it richer than any other of modern Europe. Whether his introduction of pure Hebrew into his Italian can be equally well borne out, may be questioned: but if, (for the sake of

(1) Hell, Comment, Cantos ill-iv-v pp. 199-251-279.

« AnteriorContinuar »