Skip to main content

Full text of "Dante"

See other formats



$B m M3E 


THE BRmm^i^Mm/LY (^^> 






Professor Edmund G. Gardner 

[From the Proceedings of the British Academy, Vol, X} 


Published for the British Academy 

By Humphrey Milford, Oxford Univereity Press 

Amen Corner, E.G. 




Read May 3, 1921 

L' Italia cerca in lui 11 segreto della sua Nazionalita ; 1' Europa^ il segreto 
deir Italia e una profezia del pensiero moderno. — Mazzini. 

Benedeito Croce, at the beginning of his recent volume, La poes'ia 
di Dante, asks the pertinent question : ' Is there any reason for which 
the poetry of Dante should be read and judged with a different method 
from that applied to every other poetry ? ' The answer that he gives 
amounts to a qualified negative ; but it is obvious that, when speak- 
ing of Dante as one of those master-minds whose grasp has embraced 
the civilization of an entire epoch, whose intuition not only interprets 
what is of permanent significance in its own past and present, but 
seems, as far as may be, to reach out to the future, we are called upon 
to consider his work from a more comprehensive standpoint than that 
of aesthetics. In so doing, we do not forget that it is as poet, as 
supreme poet at least of the Latin races if not of the whole modern 
world, that Dante ' beacons from the abode where the Eternal are ', 
and can never, in his own phrase, 

perder vita tra coloro 
che questo tempo chiameranno antico. 

It is, indeed, a testimony to the power of inspiration, the irresistible 
vocation of poetry, that she could claim as her own, and compel to 
utterance in her medium, the ripest scholar and the deepest political 
thinker of his age, * theologus Dantes nullius dogmatis expers', a man 
of action as well as of contemplation. The Divina Commedia — 

il poema sacro 
al quale ha posto mano e cielo e terra — 

came from the mind that had traversed every field of knowledge and 
of experience accessible to one who was born ' de li cristiani del terzo- 
decimo centinaio \^ 

And, to these * cristiani del terzodecimo centinaio ', the century had 
been one of spiritual adventure as well as literary development. In 
its first years, from among the mountains of Calabria, had rung out 

* Vita Xuova xxix. 
X F 2 



the prophecy of Joacliim of Flora, announcing the advent of the third 
epoch, the epoch of the Holy Ghost, the kingdom of love in which 
men would live according to the spirit in the dispensation of the 
Everlasting Gospel. Swiftly upon this had followed the rise of 
St. Francis, as a mystical sun from Assisi, his espousals with Lady 
Poverty, the mystery of La Verna. Simultaneously, in the intellectual 
sphere, had come the recovery for western Europe of the works of 
Aristotle, opening menu's minds to new possibilities of scientific attain- 
ment, giving them a fresh and less imperfect method, supplying reason 
with an armoury of new weapons for defence, should need arise, against 
the oppression of tradition and authority. The great schoolmen, 
Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas, had seized upon this method 
and these weapons for the cause of orthodoxy, and had restated and 
systematized the philosophy and theology of the Church in a synthesis 
which, in appearance at least, had harmonized reason and revelation 
by assigning to each its own respective field. The secular struggle 
between Papacy and Empire had left both powers weakened, sunk far 
below the ideal heights to which an Innocent HI or a Frederick II 
had lifted them, both alike to be soon confronted with the new claims 
of nationality, then mainly represented in the Latin world by France ; 
while the Latin continuity, that key to the civilization of Italy 
throughout the centuries, was kept unbroken in the peninsula in the 
life of the Italian cities, in the study of Roman law, in the educative 
work of grammarians and rhetoricians — those masters of the ars die- 
tandi whose influence upon Dante has not yet been fully examined, 
Rome herself — Latiale caput as Dante, echoing Lucan, calls her — still 
held her unique sway over heart and imagination, and not alone to the 
poet were * the stones that are fixed in her walls worthy of reverence, 
and soil where she sits more worthy than can be preached and proved 
by men \^ Those children of Rome in the linguistic sphere, the 
romance or Neo-Latin tongues which are the continuation and develop- 
ment of her speech, were becoming aware (to adopt a phrase of 
Croce's) of their own power. The prose and poetry of France, the 
lyrics of the Provencal troubadours, had been followed by the develop- 
ment of a vernacular literature in Italy herself: the lyrics of the 
Scuola siciliana dealing exclusively with love, those of its Tuscan 
successors extending the subject-matter to political and ethical themes 
as well, those of the doke stil nuovo wedding the sentiment and 
experience of love with the new scholastic philosophy ; the impassioned 
mystical latide of Umbria, the fierce factional serventesi of Romagna, 
the didactic poems of Lombardy. More slowly and tentatively, 

* Convivio iv. 5. Cf. Epistola viii. 10. 


Italian literary prose had come into being when the masters of the ars 
dictandi had turned, from setting models for elegant composition in 
Latin, to show how similar methods might be applied to the vernacu- 
lar. Nor is it, perhaps, without significance that the earliest transla- 
tion into Italian that, apart from rhetorical examples for letters and 
discourses, has come down to us from the thirteenth century, should 
be the story of the foundation of Rome and in the dialect of the 
Eternal City itself. 

It is to the last year of that century — the year in which he him- 
self shared for two months in the chief magistracy of the Florentine 
commune — that Dante, in later life, assigned the vision that, in the 
literal sense, was to be the subject of the Div'ina Commedia. 

Dante's earliest works — the Vita Nivova and the greater part of his 
lyrics composed before his exile — belong, not only chronologically but 
spiritually, to the thirteenth century. The imagery and motives of 
the Proven9al troubadours, or of his own Italian predecessors, are 
rehandled and given a more mystical colouring ; there is nothing 
essentially new ; but these traditions and this phraseology are employed 
to depict — or, at times, veil — a true personal experience of love, even 
as the Christian mystics, like Augustine and Bernard, had adopted 
the psychological terminology of the Neo-Platonists to interpret their 
own experience of eternity. There are regions of romantic feeling 
and romantic experience for whicli the Middle Ages had evolved the 
corresponding artistic utterance, and the lyrics which enshrine the 
mystical passion of Dante for Beatrice give technical perfection to 
the forms in which they had already found expression. Incidentally, 
in the comparatively rudimentary and tentative prose of the Vita 
Niwva, we perceive Dante already interested in questions some of 
which he will treat more fully later : the development of vernacular 
poetry, its legitimate sphere and relation with classical verse, the 
extent to which the use of figures and rhetorical colour is lawful with- 
out impairing the sincerity of the work.- 

Already in the Vita Nuova^ in the hint of 'una mirabile visione', 
and in the promise with which the book closes, to write of Beatrice 
* quello che mai non fue detto d'alcuna\ we recognize the germ — if 
not the first design — of the Divina Commedia. But there is as yet 
no anticipation that the work, thus vaguely foreshadowed, would be 
linked with the destinies of man and bear the weight, w-ith lyrical 
freedom, of all the knowledge of the age. It is in the early years of 
his exile, wandering * per le parti quasi tutte, alle quali questa lingua 
si stende, pcregrino, quasi mendicando ^^ that we first find Dante 

* Convkio i. 3. 


conscious of a mission. This is expressed in allegorical fashion in 
a canzone : Tre dnnne intorno al co7' mi son vemite. And its imagery 
is noteworthy. For Dante, the turning-point in history was the 
alleged donation by Constantine of imperial prerogatives and terri- 
torial possessions to the Church, the initial cause alike of the dis- 
union of civilization and the failure of Christianity to lead the world 
to its Founder. The supremely significant incident in the Middle 
Ages was, therefore, the mission of St. Francis and his marriage with 
Lady Poverty, as the attempted return to the primitive ideal of 
religion that Christ had left— although, in the poefs eyes, the PVan- 
ciscan movement itself had proved but a passing episode.^ So tiie 
canzone is based on the Franciscan legend, on the story of how Lady 
Poverty came to meet Francis as he journeyed on foot to Siena. Bat 
to Dante, instead of Poverty, comes Justice — she, too, with her 
spiritual offspring, cast out by men — that the poet, hearing the 
mystical promise of the triumph of righteousness and finding such 
high companionship in seeming misfortune, may declare : 

L' esilio, che m' e dato, onor mi tegno. 

Thus, even as Francis had been the bridegroom of Povert}^, Dante 
becomes the preacher of Justice : vir praedicans iustitiam (as he was 
to call himself in the famous letter refusing to return to Florence 
under dishonourable conditions) ; a man who has the charge laid upon 
him, as he says in the De Monarchia^ of keeping vigil for the good of 
the world.^ And in the De Monarchia itself, at the beginning of the 
second book, we have indicated yet another shaping force upon Dante's 
spirit : a conception, represented there as a kind of political conver- 
sion, of the meaning of Roman history, of the part played by Rome 
and her Empire in the providential design for the promulgation of law 
and the unity of civilization ; a conviction that Rome represented for 
the commonwealth of the human race that justice of which he, the 
poet, was the individual proclaimer. It can be deduced from the 
Convivio that this realization had come to him at an early date in his 

To the earlier years of his exile belong Dante's two unfinished prose 
works : the Convivio and the De Vulgari Eloquentia. The former — 
in the shape of a commentary upon his own canzoni — is, under one 
aspect, a vernacular encyclopaedia ; but distinguished from all other 
mediaeval works of the kind by its form, its artistic beauty, its per- 
sonal note. In part a popularization of the christianized Aristo- 

* Paraffiso xi. 55-75, xii. 112-26. 

* ' Vt utiliter mundo pervigilem ' (De Monai-chia i. 1). 


telianism of 'Alberto della Magna' and ' il buono fra Tommaso 
d' Aquino \ it holds a unique place in the development of Italian 
prose, of the potentialities of which, as a literary medium no less 
efficient than Latin, Dante professes himself the exponent. It is, he 
declares, by its prose, rather than by its poetry, that the capacity 
and beauty of a language must be tested.^ The Convivio is full of 
passages of true beauty and insight, though at times obscured by 
excessive allegorization. Dante has made the discovery that man 
may love and pursue an intellectual ideal with a devotion similar to 
that which he offers to an adored woman. AVe have consequently the 
mystical conception of love as the yearning of the human soul to 
fortify its own being by union with God, or* with what in nature 
appears a revelation of the divine perfection, and the personification 
of philosophy whose body is wisdom and whose soul is love. This aids 
us to understand how, in the Divina Commedia, what might well be 
arid scholastic disquisitions so often become great poetry ; the inter- 
pretation of such themes is lyrical with Dante, because he can identify 
himself with them by approaching them in the spirit of a lover. 

The De Vulgan Eloqueniia is more original. If its opening chapters, 
in which, as Rajna observes, Dante appears as *il primo storico cosciente 
del linguaggio \ do not pass beyond the normal mediaeval circle of 
ideas, we are soon transported into a region where only occasional 
traces of specifically mediaeval thought remain. The Italy, through- 
out which he is seeking (in Mazzini's famous phrase) 'to create a form 
worthy of representing the national idea "*, is the Italy of to-day, and 
his examination and classification of the Italian dialects is an attempt 
so modern that it has only been fully accomplished in our own time 
by Graziadio Ascoli, that greatest of romance philologists whose 
native city of Gorizia is now happily redeemed for its motherland, and 
his more recent followers. Casini acutely observed that we owe to 
Dante the discovery that ' language is the symbol and character of 
nationality \ Like Aeneas, Italiam quaero patriam. Dante finds the 
symbol of the nation in her language, with all its then but partially 
realized possibilities of utterance for uplifting hearts and minds, and 
already he declares that, although their court in the body is scattered, 
the Italians ' have been united by the gracious light of reason \^ I will 
only add that the unfinished secrond book, with its lucid analysis of 
the art of the canzone, the highest form of Italian lyrical poetry, 
remains a masterpiece of intuitive criticism, indispensable still — not 
only for what it suggests, but also for its contents — to every student 
of early Italian poetry. 

^ Convivio i. 10. ' De Vulgari Eloquentia i. 18. 


We know how this epoch in Dante"'s life was cut short by the Italian 
enterprise of Henry of Luxemburg. It has been well said (by Zinga- 
relli) of Dante : * Egli, morto per Firenze, e risorto cittadino d' Italia \ 
The great Latin letter to the Princes and Peoples of Italy reveals a 
keen sense of this Italian citizenship, and is a landmark in the evolu- 
tion of the national idea in Italy. Rulers and subjects are addressed 
as members of one body, the advent of the potential deliverer from 
oppression and anarchy is announced tq Italy as a whole ; the writer's 
Italian nationality comes before his Florentine origin, when he sub- 
scribes himself : ' humilis italus Dantes Alagherii florentinus et exul 
immeritus '. 

The question as to when the three parts of the D'lvina Commedia 
were composed has hardly yet been definitely solved by Italian 
scholars. We gather from his first Eclogue — that genial and delightful 
poem in which Dante revived the bucolic muse of Virgil and inaugu- 
rated the Latin pastorals of the Renaissance — that the Inferno and 
the Piirgatorio had already been completed, and in some sort made 
public, and the Pai-adlso was still in preparation some two or three 
years before his death. It may be,taken for granted that, even if the 
composition was spread over various periods in his life, or if the 
second and third canticles were written at definable earlier epochs, 
the work took ultimate shape, and was crowned by the third canticle, 
after the failure and death of Henry of Luxemburg had shattered the 
poet's hopes of an immediate renovation of Italy and his own return 
to Florence.^ The Divina Commedia is the record of a life's experi- 
ence, in which the various threads that we trace in his other works 
are ultimately woven together, and lifted to a higher sphere. It 
combines the fulfilment of the promise that Dante had made of old, 
to say of Beatrice ' what has never been said of any woman ', with the 
fulfilment of the charge which he conceives laid upon him, of ' keeping 
vigil for the good of the world '. 

Benedetto Croce has observed that the Po^^a- Vate is a poet of aspecial 
character: one who,* animated by a strong ethical spirit, proposes to his 
fellow-citizens, to his fellow-countrymen, or to men in general, a direc- 
tion to follow in life. His poetry, then, is the objective rendering of 
a desire of moral force, whether for conservation or for revolution '. 
Such poets, he says, give expression to the aspiration of an epoch or 

* For a masterly presentment of the view that an earlier date must he assigned 
to the hifeimo and Purgatorio, the reader is referred to the two studies of 
E. G. Parodi, La data del/a composizione e le teorie politiche delP ' Inferno ' e del 
* Purgatorio ', republislied in his Foesia e storia nella ^Divina Commedia ' (Naples, 


of a people, and he notices how certain Italian poets, Alfieri and 
Cardiicci, who stand consciously in a symbolical relation to their age, 
claim this title for themselves. But Dante, while perfectly fulfilling 
Croce'*s definition of the Poeta-Vate, to our minds represents some- 
thing more ; something more nearly akin to the Old Testament idea 
of a prophet. The development of the prophetic element in Dante's 
works can be traced from the canzone of the Tre donne through the 
political letters to the Divina Commedia, He has grasped the 
special weapon of the Hebrew prophets : the conviction of the retri- 
butive justice of God. He is consciously renewing for the Rome of 
the new dispensation and for Christendom the moral and religious 
lessons, the terrible warnings, the Messianic and national hope that 
the Prophets had uttered for Jerusalem of old. From the beginning 
to the end of the Divina Commedia he makes their language his own. 
A comparison with Ariosto is possible. The first and last lines of the 
Orlando Furioso are modifications of lines in the Divina Commedia, 
which likewise echo the opening and concluding lines of the Aeneid, 
Dante knew and loved Virgil better than did Ariosto, and followed 
more closely in his footsteps ; but the starting-point of the Inferno, 

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita, 
is from Isaiah ; the final image of the Paradiso, symbolizing the 
assimilation of the powers of the soul with the Divine Will, 

si come rota ch' egualmente e mossa, 
has its ultimate source in the wheels of the divine chariot in Ezekiel's 
vision of the four living creatures. 

But Dante is the successor, not only of the Hebrew prophets, but of 
the Latin poets as well. The Divina Commedia is at once the pro- 
phetic book of the Middle Ages and the first poem of modern times 
to claim equality with the masterpieces of classical antiquity. If, in 
the Paradiso, Dante can apply to himself the words of the Lord to 
Jeremiah,^ he has already, in the Inferno, found himself bidden to be 
one of the band of classical poets : 

E piu d'onore ancora assai mi fenno, 
ch'esser mi fecer della loro schiera, 
si cli'io fui sesto tra cotanto senno.^ 

Nowhere does the debt of the mediaeval and modern world to the 
literature, the law, the civilization of ancient Rome find nobler 
expression than in the Divina Commedia, And the imagery of 
her poets — Virgil and Lucan in particular — often becomes a thing 
of more subtle beauty and significance in Dante's hands. Their 

^ Cf. especially Paradiso xxvii. ^ Inferno iv. 100-2. 


influence, more notably that of Virgil, is all-pervading, mingling even 
with the impassioned mysticism of Bernard's prayer to the Blessed 

Virgin : 

Ed io, che mai per mio veder non arsi 

piu ch"" io fo per lo suo, tutti i miei prieghi 
ti porgo, e priego che non sieno scarsi, 

perche tu ogni nube gli disleghi 
di sua mortalita coi prieghi tuoi, 
si che il sommo piacer gli si dispieghi ;^ 

and heard in the words with which Dante expresses his supreme 
experience of Eternity beyond space and time : 

Qual e colui che somniando vede, 

che dopo il sogno la passione impressa 
rimane, e V altro alia mente non riede ; 

cotal son io ; che quasi tutta cessa 
mia visione, ed ancor mi distilla 
nel core il dolce che nacque da essa. 

Cosi la neve al sol si disigilla, 
cosi al vento nelle foglie lievi 
si perdea la sentenza di Sibilla.^ 

Further, the successor of the Hebrew prophets and the Latin poets 
is the interpreter of the great thinkers of the ages that followed the 
decay of classical Rome. The theologians and the mystics — Augus- 
tine with his philosophy of history, Dionysius with his Neo-Platonic 
raptures, Boetiiius with his philosophic ardour and devotion, Richard 
of St. Victor and Bonaventura with their minute investigation of the 
steps taken by the soul in her spiritual ascent, Albertus and Aquinas 
with their vast synthesis of human thought in the terms of the 
Aristotelian wisdom — have all contributed vital nutrimento to 
the sacred poem. The new christianized Aristotelianism, that 
great philosophical achievement of the thirteenth century, receives its 
apotheosis in those cantos of the ParadisOy where Dante — with a 
certain triumphant intonation — cites the Metaphysics of the Stagirite 
as Reason's argument for the existence of God as first Mover, as 
Supreme Good and therefore supreme object of l^ove.^ In wedding 
the thought and aspirations of centuries to the music of the Divina 
Commedia, the poet treats what he thus receives as an independent 
thinker, interpreting its abiding significance in the light of his own 
personal experience, bearing in mind that * the whole as well as the 
part was conceived, not for speculation, but with a practical object'.* 

1 Cf. Aeneid ii. 604-6. » Cf. Jeneid iii. 441-52. 

' Paradiso xxiv. 130-2, xxvi. 37-9. Cf. xxviii. 41-2. 

* * Non ad speculandum, sed ad opus inventum est totum et pars ' {Epistola x. 
16). I quote Dr. Paget Toynbee's text and translation (Dantis Alagherii Epistolae, 
Oxford, 1920). 

DAxNTE 11 

It is inevitable that, in Dante's figuration of the classical world by 
tl)e reconstruction of classical character, there should be traces of 
mediaeval anachronism, but there is immeasurably less of this pure 
mediaevalism than we should have anticipated from a man of his 
century. His profound and loving study of the Latin poets, his 
unique power of spiritual intuition, lifted him in this respect incom- 
parably above all his predecessors and contemporaries. A notable 
example is his attitude towards Virgil and Virgil's poetry. We 
cannot regard his conception of the fourth Eclogue as a sheer ana- 
chronism, for — apart from the traditional interpretation dating from 
the fourth century — it is probable that the poem has a real, if indirect, 
connexion with the prophecies of Isaiah. Comparetti was, I think, 
assuredly right in urging that Dante entirely ignored the mediaeval 
legends, and that there is not the slightest trace of Virgil the magician 
in the Virgil of the Divina Commedia, who is a character constructed 
in the main from a prolonged and devoted study of his poetry. There 
is little that is purely mediaeval in Dante's representation of V^irgil : 
a thoroughly human and perfectly realized personality ; ineffably 
tender, courteous, and sensitive ; a hater of all that is evil or un- 
worthy ; so oblivious of self in his devotion to his disciple's welfare 
that only on rare occasions does he give utterance to his own ' immortal 
longings ', the infinite unrealizable yearning of those who * without 
hope live in desire '. 

As a rule, Dante reconstructs classical characters from the pages of 
the Latin poets. In some cases the result is little more than a tran- 
script. Capaneus, lying prone on the burning plain of the violent 
against God, Curio, appearing among the sowers of scandal and 
schism, come directly from Statins and Lucan respectively. In the 
striking instance of Brutus, Dante shows his complete freedom in 
conception of character, in ethical judgement, when his sources are in 
conflict with his own convictions : freedom, not in his treatment of 
what he regarded as historical facts, but in what seemed to him their 
moral or political significance. Further, Dante inevitably approached 
his task in the spirit in which Albertus and Aquinas had turned to 
the interpretation of Aristotle, and the result is at times somewhat 
similar to that christianizing of Aristotle which those great school- 
men had effected. The two chief examples of this are Cato and 
Statins in the Purgatorio. The one is exalted from the Pharsalia 
into a type of something greater than he represented on earth, a 
higher conception of virtue than that of the Stoics, a truer liberty 
because spiritual instead of political ; the other is depicted as a secret 
convert to Christianity, through the adaptation of an early mediaeval 


legend (referring to another person) in the Acta Sanctorum to the 
poet of the Thebaid, in the light of the magnificent passage in its 
twelfth book — even as poetry standing alone in Statins — describing the 
ara clementiae, the * altar of mercy', with phraseology strikingly in 
accordance with the language of the Gospels and the address of 
St. Paul to the Athenians. In a third case, poetically the most 
splendid of all, the story of Ulysses and his last voyage, where we 
can only in part trace his sources, Dante has — perhaps with greater 
freedom than elsewhere — brought his own imagination and invention 
into play, evolving a situation in accordance with his own philosophy 
of life. Ulysses, eager for experience and conceiving nobly of man's 
destiny, perishing on the shore of the purgatorial mountain on the 
summit of which is the Earthly Paradise, is for Dante the type of the 
pagan world ; like the Platonists, in the Confessions of Augustine, 
who saw only the goal of vision, without knowing 'the way which 
leadeth, not to behold only, but to dwell in the beatific country \ 

Dante's unfailing touch upon the unchanging factors of human 
character and drama, his revelation of the passions and motives of the 
men and women of his own day, have given us a unique interpretation 
of contemporary history. There are naturally many figures and 
episodes for which he drew from immediate and personal knowledge, 
but there are others in which we can only vaguely surmise what 
direct sources of information the poet may have possessed, over and 
above the often scanty records that have come down to us. We may 
draw analogy from Shakespeare. In Plutarch's account of the death 
of Cleopatra there is naturally nothing from the moment when the 
Queen has the doors closed upon her and the two women to that 
when Octavian's messengers break in and find her dead upon her 
couch of gold ; but Shakespeare's creative imagination penetrated 
those closed doors, and gave us one of the most wonderful and moving 
scenes in literature. In like manner, Dante passes into the room at 
Rimini where Gianciotto Malattsta slew Paolo and Francesca, into 
the secret chamber where Pope Boniface took council with Guido da 
Montefeltro, into the locked-up dungeon tower of Count Ugolino and 
his sons, or reveals for us the mystery of the death of Buonconte and 
the last moments of Manfredi. 

There are times when we can trace the construction of some of 
Dante's more dramatic episodes, and conjecture of what slight hints 
they may be the elaboration and interpretation. In his notable 
essay, // soggettivismo di Dante, Egidio Gorra urged that the poet 
regarded history, tradition, popular sentiment, as having rights which 
he respected or, at least, seldom intentionally opposed ; but he 


reserved to himself the right of examining, shifting, and selecting, in 
accordance with his own feelings, his poetic instinct and aesthetic 
purpose. Recent research tends to show that Dante, with his supreme 
creative imagination, in general refrained from invention. He pre- 
ferred to adapt to his purpose the records and legends that reached 
him, whether already written, or celebrated in the songs of the 
giuUari, or passing on the lips of the people, — contenting himself 
with interpreting them in the light of his knowledge of the human 
heart, and illuminating them with his own characteristic dramatic 
touches. The damnation of Pope Celestine, as a dread possibility 
should he not accomplish his high mission, had been already indicated 
by Jacopone da Todi ; Dante's instant recognition of the shade of 
him *che fece per vilta lo gran rifiuto ', whom he had never seen in 
life, is a satirical comment upon one of the miracles attributed to the 
hermit-pope alter his renunciation. There is evidence, as Novati 
showed, that the repentance and salvation of Manfredi, when he fell 
at Benevento, had already become a tradition. Let me take two of 
the most famous episodes of the Inferno. Documents for the life of 
Guido da Montefeltro are copious, and chronicles— before the Divina 
Commedia — had dealt with his career ; the words of evil counsel were 
already attributed to him. We may surmise that the Pope's summons 
to the old soldier turned friar is a historical fact. The interview 
would have been secret, but the surrender and destruction of Pales- 
trina that followed would have thrown sinister light upon it, the 
whole story becoming summed up in the lunga promessa con Vattender 
cojio, ' ample promise with scant fulfilment \ placed upon Guide's lips. 
In this form it would have reached Dante, who expanded it, in 
accordance with the conception that he held of the character of 
Boniface, into the amazing dramatic scene of seduction, hardly rivalled 
elsewhere in the Divina Commedia itself. On the. other hand, there 
is no trace of any previous legend or tradition concerning Francesca 
dd Rimini. A few isolated documents incidentally naming the three 
chief actors in the drama are all we find before the poem, and these 
documents merely enable us to infer that, after a certain year, Paolo 
disappears from view and, by another year, Gianciotto has another 
wife. That Francesca and Paolo were lovers, and met their death at 
Gianciotto's hands, is simply deduced from Dante's lines. The 
wonderful passage, that closes the story, reveals with poetic insight 
the secret that lay hidden in the grave with the two protagonists. 
Nevertheless, as Torraca first suggested, Dante did not rely upon 
imagination alone, but turned to the legend of Tristram, to the scene 
on the ship that is bringing him and Iseult to Cornwall from Ireland, 


substituting the reading of the romance of Lancelot by Paolo and 
Francesca for the playing of chess by Tristram and Iseult, the fatal 
kiss for the drinking of the magic potion. It is the interpretation of 
contemporary history with the aid of mediaeval romance. Such con- 
siderations do not detract from Dante's originality, but show him 
a more complete interpreter of the spirit of his age. 

The power of Dante's characterization is more generally felt in the 
great episodes of the Inferno and in the tender humanity of the 
Purgatorio, for in the Paradiso the personalities of the souls in bliss 
are somewhat subdued to the universal background of light and love. 
But Piccarda Donati and St. Bernard, at least, are perfectly realized 
human characters; and it is noteworthy how admirably Thomas 
Aquinas and Bonaventura are individualized in the fourth heaven. 
Aquinas throughout is the great university professor of the thirteenth 
century, even in Paradise speaking in the tone of the master to the 
pupil in his class ; Bonaventura is far more aloof from the poet, whom 
he does not address directly, and delivers himself in a different style, 
in the manner of the head of a religious order rather than a lecturer. 

For the rest, the Paradiso, in its highest flights, brings us to a pro- 
«blem which is not purely one of poetry in the light of the claim made 
by Dante himself in the letter to Can Grande ; the claim, profoundly 
impressive in its reticence, that the final cantos at least are the 
attempted expression of one of those experiences, common to the 
mystics of all creeds, to the psychology of which so niuch attention 
has been directed in our own day, in which the mind seems brought 
into contact, here and now, with what it believes to be the ultimate 
reality, and to attain fruition of what it takes to be God. If we are 
believers in mysticism, there need be no difficulty in reconciling this 
claim with the obvious fact that much of the form, in which what 
"would be the preparation for this experience is set forth, is to modern 
notions unthinkable except as a poetic fiction. Dante's realization of 
the evil of sin finds expression in an Inferno which is not only 
mediaeval, but employs the machinery of classical mythology ; his 
yearning for the soul's purification is represented by a Purgatorio 
which, although absolutely original in conception, is materialized into 
an impossible region on earth ; his sense of passing spiritually 
upwards, through successive stages of ever-increasing knowledge and 
ever-increasing love, is symbolized by the passage through nine 
moving spheres of the Paraetito according to an obsolete cosmography. 
But this inevitable appeal to the comprehension of his contemporaries, 
this representation in accordance with mediaeval conceptions and 
mediaeval ideas of the universe, no more invalidates the claim that 


a true mystical experience inspired the Divina Commedia than the 
use of troubadour traditions and imagery, the personifications of love 
and the like, need prevent us from holding firmly that the love story 
of the Vita Ntu)va had its basis in reality. And for the consumma- 
tion of the vision, once granted the mystical possibility that Dante 
postulates, the possibility that there can be one to say truthfully of 


lo, che al divino dalPumano, 

air eterno dal tempo era venuto ; 

that a soul can so transcend human limitations as to see, contained 
within the depth of the eternal light, 

legato con amore in un volume, 
cio che per V universo si squaderna ; 

once granted this, it is hard to conceive how human language could 
approach more nearly to the adequate utterance of such an experience 
than in certain passages of the closing cantos of the Paradwo, 

It is needless to repeat the famous passage in the De Monarchm 
concerning the two ends that Divine Providence has set before man : 
blessedness of this life, which consists hi the exercise of his natural 
powers ; blessedness of eternal life, which consists in the fruition of 
the sight of God. This dual scheme, the two ends and the two 
corresponding guides, is transferred in the Divina Commedia from the 
sphere of Church and Empire to the field of the individual soul. 
The De Monarckia, whenever written, is the supplement to the 
Divina Commedia, We know Augustine's distinction of the two 
cities : ' the two cities, the eai-thly and the heavenly, which in this 
intermediate age are, as it were, enwound and intermingled with each 
other \ The earthly city is of higher significance for Dante than it 
was for Augustine, and its attainment is the function proper to 
humanity as a whole, the function 'for which the totality of men is 
ordained in so great multitude ^ the goal of human civilization. And 
this goal is the realizing or actualizing, the bringing into play, of the 
whole potentiality of the human intellect. This is the proper work 
of the human race, and, for it to be realized, the first requisite is 
universal peace, ' the best of all those things which are ordained for 
our blessedness "*, and the second is freedom, , ' the greatest gift con- 
ferred by God on human nature \^ We know how constantly the 
words liherta and pace are upon Dante's lips in the Divina Commedia. 
* Liberta va cercando' is the key-note of the Purgatorio ; 'Tu m'hai 
di servo tratto a libertate ' is the lyrical salutation to Beatrice m the 
Empyrean, itself the ' vita intera d' amore e di pace \ Liberty and 
* De Monarchia i. 4, i. 12. 


peace are perfectly attainable only when the soul has come from time 
to the eternal, and the whole potentiality of the human mind is 
realized in the fulfilment of its entire capacity of love and knowledge, 
when the goals of the two cities become one, in that eternity which is 
*the completely simultaneous and perfect possession of unlimited life 
at a single moment', as the famous definition of Boethius has it. 
There will be that * novissimum liberum arbitrium \ of which 
Augustine paradoxically wrote that it will be more potent than the 
free will first given to man, * inasmuch as it shall be unable to sin ' ; 
there will be that fuller paa^ romana, where the soul shall be 

sanza fine, cive 
di. quella Roma onde Cristo e romano. 

But, relatively, here and now, this realization of the potentialities of 
the human mind, in liberty and in peace, is the goal of the human 
race ; for felicity of this life is in some sort man's right ; * ch' e quello 
per che Y uomo e nato \^ 

Now the obstacle that is keeping man from this goal is cupiditas ; 
greed of territory and economic advantage. 'Greed is the- sole 
corrupter of judgement and impeder of justice.' * Inasmuch as the 
human mind does not rest in the limited possession of land, but ever 
desires to acquire territory, as we see by experience, discords and 
wars must needs arise between kingdom and kingdom. These things 
are the tribulations of cities, and, through the cities, of districts ; and, 
through the districts, of households ; and, through the households, of 
man ; and thus felicity is impeded.' ^ Given the mediaeval organization 
of society, Dante saw no association capable of ensuring peace and 
liberty except the Empire, and hence that idealistic imperialism of 
his, sketched in the Convivio, worked out and developed in detail in 
the De Monarchia, represented allegorically in many passages of the 
Dlvina Commedia. The Empire was established 'to abolish these 
wars and their causes ', to ' keep the kings contented within the 
boundaries of their kingdoms, so that there shall be peace between 
them '. The Emperor, be he who he may, is but the servant of the 
commonwealth. He is to devote his powers and energy chiefly to 
one purpose: 'that, on this threshing-floor of mortality, life may be 
lived in freedom and in' peace '.^ For this, as the highest judge, he is 
to represent a permanent court of international justice, a supreme 
and impartial tribunal of international arbitration, to which the 
quarrels of princes and peoples must be submitted. Guided by his 
rule to peace, nations and kingdoms and cities — within this restored 

* Convivio iv. 4, ' De Monarchia i. 13 ; Convivio iv. 4. 


unity of civilization — will freely and peacefully develop in accor- 
dance with their own conditions and laws.^ It is abundantly clear 
that the unity of civilization, to which Dante looked, anticipated 
Mazzini's United States of Europe and the ideal towards which we 
are now striving under the name of the League of Nations, 

And the centre of Dante's eaithly city, the nucleus of such a 
restored unity of civilization, was Italy. Mazzini wrote: * Italy seeks 
in him the secret of her nationality ; Europe, the secret of Italy and 
a prophecy of modern thought'. The * garden of the Empire', the 
* noblest region of Europe ', Dante interpreted her historical mission 
in the past, revealed her national genius, looked forward to her lead- 
ing Europe towards that goal of peace and liberty upon which his 
own eyes were set ; for, with him no less than with Mazzini, la parola 
della unita moderna could come from 9,ome alone. Within that 
greater unity, it may be that her political unification was not directly 
envisaged by him, but her ideal unity — a part of her heritage in the 
sacred name of Rome — he most clearly saw and described. In 
celebrating this sexcentenary, in honouring Dante as the sovereign 
representative of her race, we offer our homage to Italy herself, 
' mother of all men's nations ', recognizing that the j^iw grande Italia^ 
the Greater Italy that the post already foresaw, is — even as he said 
of the Roman Empire of old — * necessary for the well-being of the 
world '. 

^ De Monarchia i. 12, iii. 16, i. 10, i. 14. I have generally availed myself of 
Dr. Wicksteed's translation. 



This book is due on the last date stamped below, or 

on the date to which renewed. 

Renewed books are subject to immediate recall. 


' - im 

"(S^^T^^^ 0„.v«/,^£i{g>S,nia 



Monufocturad by 

SyrocuM, N.Y. 

Stockton, Calif. 

YC 01054