The poem is a spiritual epic of the soul’s journey toward God but is also the swan song of mediaeval history, religion, and literature; the poetry is symbolic and full of breathtaking images both ethereal and horrific; and the poet and his classical guide through the nine circles of Hell are two of the world’s most gifted and most lauded poets of all time. Dante Alighieri’s Commedia was so well received that the adjective Divina was added to its title during the Renaissance. The Divine Comedy is tripartite: Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso. So Heaven awaits. Meanwhile, as we follow Dante and Vergil, we will meet familiar mythic characters, well known historical figures, and even some of Dante’s deceased contemporaries, all of whom were sinners and who now are suffering punishments in the afterworld consonant with their sins in this world, e.g., murder, adultery, usury, and so forth. The wages of sin have never been so dramatically and exquisitely expressed. The Hollanders’ erudite translation—he’s the scholar, she’s the poet—is superb, eminently readable, and destined to endure; their notes are always on target and uniformly helpful; and we can even check the original Italian if we so desire. Reading and discussing Dante’s Inferno will surely be an enjoyable and enlightening experience that will resonate with each of us for a long time.
Daniel Taylor ‘63 is the Hiram A. Jones Professor and Chair Emeritus of Classics at Lawrence University. He is the author of three books and dozens of articles. He was named Lawrence’s Outstanding Teacher in 1998, Wisconsin’s Distinguished Foreign Language Educator in 1990, and was nationally acclaimed for Excellence in Teaching the Classics in 1983. He is a two-time yearlong National Endowment for the Humanities Research Fellow and a Fulbright Distinguished Chair in Italy. Now retired, he and his wife Donna live in Summit County, CO, and have organized and led four Björklunden Seminars Abroad to Greece and Italy. “Dr. Dan” revels in the Björklunden experience and is looking forward to his 28th Björklunden seminar.
Required Reading: "Inferno" by Dante Alighieri, translated by Robert and Jean Hollander.
First of all, if you are reading this, you are either interested in or have already signed up for our 2017 Bjorklunden Seminar on Dante’s Inferno. I am happy to welcome you on our journey to and from Hell. In the days and weeks and months ahead I will be posting “blogs” just below our course description and my PR bio on the Bjorklunden web site. So I invite you to check in regularly to see if there’s something new for you to read. I also invite you to ask questions of me or of our group or to point out something that just blows your mind. Whatever. Odds are that we’ll have a few more fellow “infernals” join us before the seminar gets started.
Today I’d like to address our actual reading of the text and to suggest a few tips on how to make that process more enjoyable and less arduous than it might seem at first. After all, La Divina Commedia is one of the three or four greatest works of literature in history. Our translation of the Inferno is accurate and elegant, but so is Longfellow’s. The latter lacks notes, however, and that just won’t do. There’s a prose translation out and about also, but it’s not elegant and also lacks notes. The notes, as I shall explain later, can seem burdensome, but I will try to convince you otherwise. Let’s get started.
Hollander’s introduction is a bit stuffy, but it’s a genuine attempt to introduce us to a specific work of serious literature. He makes a big deal out of symbols, and symbolism or allegory has been the downfall of many a would-be reader of highly artistic poetry such as Vergil’s Aeneid, which obviously plays a major role in the Inferno and which is really the first, long symbolic poem in Western literature. But here’s the key. For a symbol to work it must first be itself. Thus if we miss the symbolism or the allegory, we can still understand what’s going on. I don’t mean to be dismissive of symbols, but I do mean to suggest that they are not the be-all and end-all of the Inferno or the Aeneid. So when Hollander points out some symbols or an allegory, we should just go along with him and try to appreciate the object itself and then its extended meaning. Paolo and Francesca are overcome with love for one another, and that’s what we need to know first and foremost. Yet we must also realize that they were both married—she to his brother—and thus they are both apt symbols for adultery.
You will have noticed that the Inferno consists of 34 cantos, each of which is fairly short, fairly self-contained, and fairly easy to read. We don’t have to read them all at once. Indeed, spreading out our reading is an added pleasure, isn’t it? So read a canto without looking at the notes (unless you feel that you just can’t read another word until you have checked to see what Hollander has to say about whatever is arousing your intellectual curiosity). You can put check marks or question marks in the margin, underline lines or phases or words that seem significant or strange or curious to you, and in general just set about “owning” the book.
Now you can assail the notes. You will undoubtedly be pleased with yourself when you notice that many of his notes are to words or passages that you questioned or underlined or checked for one reason or another. That’s good. In fact, that’s excellent, for you are reading the text as you should. You will also undoubtedly notice that the notes are of two general sorts: some are designed to help us readers, others are directed at Hollander’s fellow scholars. Don’t let yourselves get bogged down in the latter! That said, some of those scholarly disputes are quite interesting, some are nasty, and some simply reek of the ivory tower. That’s just the way it is. We can pick and choose as we see fit.
Now it’s time to go back and re-read the canto armed with the knowledge we have gained from our first reading and from our reading of the notes. This is the time for you to say “Wow”! Or “I didn’t notice that the first time!” Or “So that’s what he’s getting at!” These moments are to be cherished. Hopefully they will increase in number as you get deeper into the Inferno.
Our own journey into the ins and outs of the Inferno will be much less terrifying than Dante’s. Indeed, it could be one of the most memorable trips we’ve ever made!
I’ll be back with some tips on where you can find Dante if you happen to visit Firenze (Florence) between now and our Bjorklunden Seminar.
Ciao di nuovo,
If you’ve been to Firenze, Florence, or Florentia—they’re the same city, just different names-- then you’ve seen numerous statues, frescoes, paintings, and probably post cards of Dante Alighieri, our newly and dearly beloved poet. If you are going to Firenze soon, then you’ll see…well, you get the idea. Dante is all over the magnificent city of flowers on the banks of the Arno, and that’s ironic in many ways.
The Duomo—Santa Maria del Fiore—is the center of Florence’s religious life, and the artistic centerpiece on the wall of the cathedral is a huge fresco of Dante and La Divina Commedia shedding light on the city of Florence with Brunelleschi’s dome in the background, lots of sinners in Hell to Dante’s right, and behind the poet luckier ones ascending through Purgatory to Paradise at the top. One of the first sins is arrogance, and the dome is a perfect example of arrogance.
The Florentines had built a cathedral so large that it needed a dome larger than any other dome in Christendom. “It couldn’t be done,” said others, but the Florentines were confident that one of their architecturally inclined citizens would figure out a way to put a dome upon their cathedral, which would be the largest in Christendom. That’s arrogance, at least civic arrogance. Brunelleschi went to Rome, studied the Pantheon, officially a Christian church then but obviously a pagan structure in origin, which had the largest dome in the world at the time (and the largest until the invention of reinforced concrete), figured out how to do it, and did it. Dante’s favorite word for Florentine civic life was arroganza. To put an exclamation point on the fresco, we only need remember that Dante died well before Brunelleschi was even born. But of course Domenico di Michelini was praising Florence as much as he was Dante and wanted all viewers to think of Dante, who was by then the most famous poet in the western world, as Florence’s favorite son—more civic arrogance.
In any case no viewer of the Dante fresco can fail to associate the poet with the city, which is so readily identifiable, and that’s the historical point, an ironic one at that. The Florentines sent Dante into exile for eternity. Seriously. He was offered several opportunities to return and be forgiven, but he refused the outrageous conditions imposed by the offer. So he stayed away the rest of his life rather than return to his home town, which he deeply loved but where he would be burned at the stake. The order has never really been rescinded. Seriously. In 2008 Florence’s city council decided to forgive him and retract the exile. That’s more arrogance and another irony, for the vote was so contentious and the debate so acrimonious that Dante’s 20th generational descendant refused to attend the ceremony and to accept a Golden Florin representing an official civic apology. Irony and arrogance abound in the Inferno, as Hollander’s notes make abundantly clear.
Across from the Duomo is the Baptistry, where Dante was baptized. The huge ceiling mosaics are so superb that art historians suppose that Venetian mosaicists were brought to Florence just for the purpose of executing them. The figure of Christ rendering the Last Judgment is unforgettable although, as I can testify from personal experience, college students tend to focus more on Lucifer torturing the damned in Hell. That latter mosaic, according to one guide book, “seems to prophesy the not-too-distant world of Dante.” Certainly the poet would have had that image in mind since he would have seen it many times.
Just a few blocks from the Duomo is the Casa di Dante, now a museum that is worth the time, effort, and little money to visit even though it is not one of the several “don’t miss” museums in the city. The collection is a mixed bag with plenty of manuscripts, documents, pictures of buildings and places dating from Dante’s time, a death mask, and who knows what else. What I also like is the small, nearby church of Santa Margherita de’ Cerchi, also known as the Chiesa di Dante ‘Dante’s Church’. It’s just a few steps from the Dante House and is easily found because you can hear music emanating from inside. It’s here that Dante first saw Beatrice Portinari (not by the bridge as postcards suggest) when he was about 14 and she 9—young love). I seem to recall having seen her tomb here also, but my memory may be less that accurate. You can leave a note to your beloved in a basket, and you can also find another death mask. If you Google “Dante’s death mask”, you’ll find many pictures; pay attention to his nose, because it is a “cause celebre”. Nowadays the most famous death mask is the one in the Palazzo Vecchio, just a few blocks away toward the river, because it was featured in Dan Brown’s Inferno. It’s in a narrow hallway on the first floor—that would be the second floor here in the States—and overlooks the huge Hall of 500. You’ll need to pay to tour the historic rooms of the city’s historic city hall, the construction of which was only completed in 1322, two years after Dante’s death. So he only knew it as a construction site. If you do tour the palazzo, by all means look for the many turtles with a sail on their shells, for they are artistic symbols representing the first Roman emperor Augustus’ motto: Festina lente “Hurry slowly.” Neat, eh?
My very favorite Dante portrait is Giotto’s in the Bargello. So leave the Palazzo Vecchio via the main entrance, turn left and then left again. The hordes of people lined up are waiting to get into the Uffizi, which you have probably already visited and thus may have seen Castagno’s nice portrait of Dante therein. Walk down toward the back of the two great buildings and then take your first left; across the street you’ll soon see a street (via Vinegia) with its entrance actually covered by a building. Take it for one block, where you’ll run into another marvelous Florentine tradition, namely, Trattoria Anita, which serves very good food for a cheap, fixed price at lunch. We Taylors have eaten there dozens of times and have many stories to tell about its clientele and its staff. Go back to the main drag, turn right, walk past the Tribunale up to via della Vigna Vecchia and enter the big building at the upper end of the piazza (the entrance is just around the corner). It’s the Bargello, and it contains some of the most exquisite sculptures you’ll ever see. Michelangelo is in the first room on the ground floor. Next go out into the courtyard. Don’t be fooled by the wishing well, because it used to be the gallows where criminals were hanged; the Bargello was the police station, jail, and home of the police chief for mediaeval Florence. In the room to your right at the top of the stairs is the Donatello room. Be sure to check out Donatello’s David. As one of my students said, “It may be David in the front, but that’s a female butt.” I had to agree. Your next goal is the chapel dedicated to Saint Mary Magdalen where the condemned prisoners spent their last night and where during some later reconstruction they found Dante in a badly damaged fresco attributed to Giotto. The artist had met the poet and admired him. Dante’s nose seems to be more flat than the other sharply aquiline beaks accorded him by later artists, many of which you have already seen. Most masks seem to have been made from the horizontal statue of Dante on his tomb rather than from his actual face, and that is what seems to differentiate the nose. So take your pick, sharp and elongated or pudgy and not so angular.
Leave the Bargello and return to via della Vigna Vecchia and follow it for about three blocks to a small piazza with a small church across the way. Look at the big apartment / condominium on the corner to your left; it’s the former Palazzo Salviati and has foundation stones dating back to the 1500s; one of the Salviati girls married one of the Medici boys. Donna and I rented the corner apartment on the third floor for a month in 2014. It was perfect in all respects but one—the nighttime noise. Florence’s nightclubs that cater to foreign students studying in the city are down by the Arno, and at two or three in the AM all the drunken Italian guys who failed to hook up come strolling up the street to their cars parked in the nearby city-run parking garage and singing and shouting. It’s awful. It’s almost every night. Then too the Teatro Verdi is just across the street, and all the scenery for the operas and plays and all the musical instruments for concerts and so forth are delivered to the back doors right across the street from the palazzo between 1:00 and 5:00 AM. Last but not least the lady in the penthouse condo just above comes home late at night and walks across the floor time and time again in her spiked heels. We want to return to Florence for another month, but we’re looking for another location. If you turn right and walk a few feet, you can enjoy the best gelati in Florence at Vivoli, one of the oldest gelaterias in the city.
Continue on via della Vigna Vecchia to its end at the next intersection, turn right and walk a few meters, and then look to your left at the piazza and church of Santa Croce. As I’m sure you will readily recognize, the statue at the left of the church is that of Dante. The façade is lovely but 19th century whereas the basilica dates back to the 13th and was consecrated in 1443. Some of you will have read about Santa Croce in November of 1966, because that’s when the Arno flooded and wreaked havoc on both sides of the river and its neighborhoods. Santa Croce and the National Library just beyond the right of the church were arguably the worst hit. Cimabue’s magnificent wooden Crucifixion became the symbol of the devastation. It has been restored, but the damage is undeniable. The basilica charges an entrance fee these days, mainly because it is the national cemetery, so to speak, of Italy since so many of Italy’s great literary and political geniuses are buried here. In my opinion Santa Croce deserves far more time and attention than the average tourist accords it. Why? I’m glad you asked.
Santa Croce has the tombs of Galileo, Michelangelo, Machiavelli, and Dante, of course, but also of Leonardo Bruni, the first real historian since Roman antiquity and whose tomb is the archetype for so many later Renaissance tombs all over Europe; of the composer Rossini, whose William Tell overture was familiar to all little boys and girls who watched The Lone Ranger on their black and white tvs back in the early fifties and whose Barber of Seville is still one of the best loved operas of all time; and many other gorgeous tombs and monuments to famous Italians, including Gino Capponi, the statesman and historian who gave his name to the elementary school which both our daughters attended. Then there is the art, o my goodness, the art: Donatello’s Annunciation in sandstone and his Crucifixion that Brunelleschi criticized for making Christ look too much like a peasant. Giotto’s frescoes are among his best. My favorite is the one depicting St. Francis—it is a Franciscan church after all—on his death bed. The grief in his fellow friars’ facial expressions and body language is awesome. You will note, however, that one and only one brother notices the saint’s soul ascending to heaven. Then there’s the wooden panel featuring what is the closest thing to a photograph of St. Francis, i.e., it might be based on an eye-witness description of what he actually looked like; it dates to the mid-13th century and is the oldest work of art in the church. All of this is in the church itself, and we haven’t even entered the cloisters where the Bardi Chapel contains beautiful Della Robbia ceramics of the four evangelists, whom you can recognize by their iconography--the angel, lion, bull, and eagle. The last place to visit is the museum, which features Cimabue’s restored Crucifixion. All too many tourists miss much or even most of this because they hurry through to the Leather School and buy some of the best-made and most beautiful leather goods in Florence.
Let’s go back to Dante’s tomb and look at the main inscription, which is in Latin as are most of the texts chiseled into the stone of the many funerary tombs. It reads as follows in English: “To/For Dante Alighieri the Tuscans happily constructed (this) honorary funerary-monument, decreed three times in vain by (our) ancestors, in 1829.” Dante was exiled from Florence in 1302 and never returned to the city he loved so much in either life or death. So who’s in this “tomb”? Nobody. It’s a cenotaph. Most tourists can’t read the Latin and haven’t read their Florentine history and therefore think that they are viewing the tomb of one of the world’s greatest poets. Ah, the irony! But where’s the arrogance? It’s in the behavior of the Florentine city fathers who, not once, not twice, but thrice voted down the resolution to honor Dante with a monumental cenotaph. On other occasions they did try to get his body back, but they were unsuccessful. So where is Dante and who managed to retain possession of his bones? Ravenna and its Franciscans.
Before going to Ravenna, however, I want to take you to Michelangelo’s tomb, for it is a success story. He was buried in Rome, as most of you probably know. His brother, however went down to Rome, stole his body, and brought his corpse back to Florence, much to the delight of the Florentines and the dismay of the Romans. Or so we would think, but the arrogant city fathers at first denied the Buonarroti request to bury their most famous scion but then relented. Giorgio Vasari, who painted the interior of the huge and magnificent dome of the cathedral and who later turned into a biographer of artists—many of us think that he is a better writer than artist—designed Michelangelo’s beautiful and informative tomb in Santa Croce. So, all’s well that ends well. But it isn’t all well, or at least it wasn’t when I was last there. The three sculptures personifying painting, sculpture, and architecture are or were misidentified in the little descriptions of the tomb enclosed within plastic covers and written in English and Japanese. Oh well, the readers are only tourists, and you can’t expect them to know much of anything. More arrogance.
Dante died in Ravenna some time during the late PM or early AM of September 13-14, 1321, and the city fathers there have dedicated an entire zone to Dante. The marble mausoleum is small and simple but elegant. It’s at the end of a small street and therefore hard to find, but it’s worth a visit. The tomb itself is on the wall facing the door by which we enter. The poet’s body was first (?) in the wall of a Franciscan cloister, but when Pope Leo X, a Medici and Florentine, demanded it be returned to Florence in 1519, the Ravenna Franciscans refused the order, dug into the back of the wall, removed the bones, and hid them in their monastery. They sent an empty coffin to Florence. Next the remains were hidden in another church wall near where the tomb is today. The bones were not found again until 1865. Below the chest containing Dante’s remains is a bronze wreath placed there by the victorious Italian army after WWI, and above it is a gold cross given by Pope Paul VI in 1965. The statue of Dante has him at a lectern, and I like that. The inscription reads in an English translation: “The rights of monarchy, heavens and infernal lakes of the Phlegethon that I visited I sang, as long as mortal destiny decreed. But my soul was taken to a better place and reached its creator among the stars. Here I lie buried, Dante, exiled from my birthplace, a son of Florence, that loveless mother.” Irony trumps arrogance.
A dopo (Later), Dan
P.S. In a few days I’ll post the text of the subscriptio, i.e., the words written below the picture of Dante in the Duomo, along with my literal translation and two would-be poetic translations that in my opinion butcher both Latin and English.
Ciao per la terza volta,
As I indicated in my last “blog”, I managed to find the Latin text of the subscriptio to the portrait of Dante and La Commedia enlightening Florence. Unfortunately, it contained two spelling errors, which I have corrected. The text follows and is itself followed by three translations, the third and last of which is a literal translation that I did in hopes that you could then make some sense out of both the Latin and the two English translations.
Qui coelum cecinit, mediumque imumque tribunal,
Lustravitque animo cuncta poeta suo,
Doctus adest Dantes, sua quem Florentia saepe
sensit consiliis ac pietate patrem.
Nil potuit tanto mors saeva nocere poeta
Quem vivum virtus, carmen, imago facit.
Who sang of Heaven, and of the regions twain,
Midway and in the abyss, where souls are judged,
Surveying all in spirit, he is here,
Dante, our master-poet. Florence found
Oft-times in him a father, wise and strong
In his devotion. Death could bring no harm
To such a bard. For him true life has gained
His worth, his verse and this his effigy.
Behold the poet, who in lofty verse
Heav'n, hell, and purgatory did rehearse;
The learned Dante! whose capacious soul
Survey'd the universe, and knew the whole.
To his own Florence he a father prov'd,
Honour'd for counsel, for religion lov'd.
Death will not hurt so great a bard as he,
Who lives in virtue, verse, and effigy.
The poet who sang of Heaven and the middle and lowest tribunal
And who illuminated all with his mind is here, the learned Dante.
His own Florence deemed him father, thanks to his wisdom and piety.
Savage death is unable to harm so great a poet, whom virtue, poetry,
And this painting keeps alive.
Notes: This is a literal translation. The word for Heaven is coelum, which is a common mediaeval spelling of caelum ‘sky, heaven’. The ‘thanks to’ is a “grammatical translation” of the ablative of cause in consiliis and pietate; please feel free to substitute “because of” if you feel so inclined. Latin consilium has numerous meanings, e.g., ‘purpose’, ‘counsel’, ‘judgment’ et cetera; the first translation understands it as an intellectual term, and I like that. So I have rendered it by ‘wisdom’ even though it’s a plural in the Latin. You might want to take a stab at finding a better noun, preferably one that makes sense in the plural. The verb of the final clause is facit, which is singular and which I have retained even though it has three subjects.
Let me now close this missive with what may seem like a reductio ad absurdum. As some of you may know, I am unabashedly addicted to reading Donna Leon’s mysteries featuring Commissario Brunetti of the Questura in Venice. In fact, I have never been a fan of Venice even though I’ve been there many times, but after discovering the author and her policeman I now want to spend some quality time, maybe even a month, in her, his, and now my beloved Venezia. I read Leon with a Streetwise Venice map by my side, because she constantly refers to vaporetto stops, piazzas, churches, streets, calle, and other place names. In her latest novel, her 25th, I discovered something that might interest you.
On page 226 of The Waters of Eternal Youth we read the following. “Brunetti found himself thinking of Dante’s belief that heresy was a form of intellectual stubbornness, the refusal to abandon a mistaken idea.” Needless to say, that struck a responsive chord in my often unresponsive memory, and off I went to our text. The reference is to Canto X, line 35, but the note on page 196 is crucial. Brunetti is a learned man married to an even more learned wife who teaches English at the University and is intellectually enamored of Henry James. He, however, reads Greek and Latin texts, especially historians like Tacitus, but in this novel he is reading Apollonius Rhodius’ Argonautica, which treats the voyage of the Argo and the love affair of Jason and Medea. No wonder I love these mysteries so much!
P.S. I bring to your attention a new book, which you will surely not want to buy or even read but which testifies to the enduring interest in Dante’s Inferno. Now available from John Benjamins BV in Amsterdam, the publisher of my three books and numerous articles in Historiographia Linguistica, for the paltry sum of $128.00 is To Hell and Back: An anthology of Dante’s Inferno in English Translation (1782-2013) by Tim Smith and Marco Sonzogni of the Victoria University of Wellington. The blurb in Benjamins’ latest catalogue reads as follows. “Though Dante Alighieri (1265-2013) maintained that translation destroys the harmony of poetry, yet his Commedia has been translated into English time and again. At last count, 129 different translations have published at least one canticle of the Italian masterwork since the first in 1782. Smith and Sonzogni have assembled and annotated two complete translations of Dante’s most popular canticle, Inferno: 68 cantos each translated by a different translator in this celebratory volume.”
I first became acquainted with and fond of Dante Alighieri when I read his little treatise entitled De Volgari Eloquentia “On Vulgar Eloquence.” The ‘Volgari’ in the title does not mean ‘vulgar’ in its usual English sense; rather, it refers to the spoken language, the vernacular, the language (or dialect if you prefer) spoken by the ‘vulgus’ or ‘common people’. Up until Dante wrote this little book, probably no one had ever modified the noun ‘eloquence’ by the adjective ‘vulgar’. So the title would have come as a shock to his contemporaries if any of them desired to read it, but see below.
In the DVE Dante argues that literature written in the vernacular can be every bit as good, every bit as worth reading, and every bit as eloquent as anything written in Latin, the language of all official civic and ecclesiastical discourse, all scholarly publication in theology and philosophy and science, and all literary expression. Despite being “the first piece of scientific literary criticism in the modern world and the first serious treatment of the literary use of a vernacular”, it does not seem to have attracted all that much attention, perhaps because it was not finished—Dante refers to a fourth book, i.e., chapter, but the treatise ends in mid-sentence in book II—or perhaps it was not even published in any real sense. Only four manuscript copies exist, none of which dates to Dante’s lifetime, and the first translation only appears in 1529. Did you get that word ‘translation”? Dante wrote the De Volgari Eloquentia in Latin! After all, if he wanted the right people to read such a text, he had to write it in Latin. But as we all know, “the proof is in the pudding,” and the pudding is La Commedia, which was later rechristened as La Divina Commedia because it was so eloquently and elegantly written—and in the vernacular!
What I am suggesting—and you are all invited to disagree completely with me—is that Dante’s Divine Comedy did far more to elevate the Italian language to a literary language than did his scholarly arguments in the De Volgari Eloquentia. In any case I was sufficiently impressed at the time to begin translating the DVE. I managed to finish one entire page before abandoning the task. (Two new translations had just appeared.) I’ll bring the only translation I have just in case anyone wants to peruse it.
So I hope that you have been glancing at the Italian on the facing page, because it really is exquisite. Of course it’s not like any Italian you or I have ever seen, and it is quite difficult to read even without all the elisions and archaic vocabulary. But it did engender a total revolution in the history of literature, for other authors, most notably Geoffrey Chaucer, began writing what turned out to be great literature in their own native languages. So Dante is more responsible than anyone else for the death of Latin as a literary language. Latin continued to be the language of the four professions that produced “doctors”, namely, philosophy, law, medicine, and religion, for centuries. Neo-Latin is still alive and probably has more speakers than some native languages do, but don’t ever get the idea that I speak it! What is most important is that Dante’s exquisite Italian, which is full of Tuscan and Florentine expressions, is right in front of our eyes as we travel to and from his vision of the Inferno.
In fine, I trust that you are all are either finished with your first reading or well along with doing so. I’m slightly over halfway through another reading, and I am reading the entire Inferno quite rapidly without attending to the endnotes, which I have already copiously annotated. I recommend that you do the same. Experiencing a great work of literature in a relatively short amount of time is something to be treasured. Here’s wishing you a magnificent treasure.
P.S. Apparently there is a new movie out entitled “The Little Hours” that, according to a Washington Post reviewer and Denver Post headline writer, is based on “Bocaccio’s Decameron.” Ignorance is indeed bliss. For those of you who did not study the Decameron with me last year and who may never have seen the author’s name, it is spelled B-o-c-c-a-c-c-i-o. Giovanni’s last name was misspelled consistently throughout the article. The review appeared in what is euphemistically called the “Life & Culture” section, which in this case is further proof of the decline of Western culture. Aaaarggghhhh!
Donna and I are in Paris, which is as wonderful as always. As I am sure that I have said on any number of occasions, I love coincidences. In fact, I consider coincidences to be the puns of life. Yesterday brought a many-faceted set of coincidences. We took my “Godsend” to lunch. Six years ago at a small dinner party here I passed out and came to with Odile holding my right wrist and saying “dix-neuf”, which I knew meant “19” and which I knew was my pulse rate and which I knew meant that I was in trouble. Believe it or not, I relaxed completely. The rest is history, and I owe my life to Odile, a retired gastroenterologist, and to my pacemaker, which the surgeon assured me was an American one (Medtronic), not that I really cared at the time or even now. That Odile is well educated, speaks excellent English, and is absolutely delightful is a bonus of extraordinary proportions.
So at lunch, which lasted for two hours, she mentioned the Delacroix museum, which is quite close to our apartment and which we found on our evening stroll. Later at home I checked out the museum in my DK eyewitness guide to Paris and, lo and behold, I found an image of Delacroix’s painting of Dante and Vergil, which is in the Louvre and which we will enjoy in due time. So there’s Odile, Dan, Dante, and Vergil all in one lovely coincidental complex.
Upon reflection, the Dante connection gets even better. In the Musee d’Orsay yesterday I went looking for and quickly found a copy of Rodin’s statue of Ugolino and his boys (Canto 33) and a bit later a reproduction of his Gate of Hell. The originals are, I am pretty sure, in the Musee Rodin, which along with the d’Orsay, Louvre, Marmottan Monet, and Picasso, is one of our very favorite museums here in the city of light.
The crowning touch of these coincidences, which I immediately noticed upon entering our apartment a week and a half ago, may well be the two black ink sketches that flank the credenza in our living-dining room. One is obviously of Dante, and the other is surely Beatrice although neither is identified. The two subscriptiones (the plural of subscriptio, a Latin word you learned in my third missive) are in a 19th century Italian hand that I find almost impossible to read and that seems to refer to details of ownership and so forth. Apparently one owner’s zio ‘uncle’ is involved. More than that I cannot decipher, but Donna and I are both happy to be living with Dante and Beatrice.
Much to my own surprise I brought a copy of the entire Commedia to Paris with me, and I am rereading the Inferno for a third time. Moreover, I am doing so in the “not elegant” and note-less prose translation that I mentioned in my first blog. Even more to my surprise I am enjoying doing so. I hope that you too are enjoying another reading of Dante’s journey to the Inferno.
A bientot, Dan