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THE LIFE AND GENIUS OF DANTE ALIGHIERI;
WITH AN ACCOUNT OF THE DIVINA COMMEDIA.
In Germany, which may be called the spirit as to make this foreign material his free-port and world-market of the litera- own inmost property, and to work out of ture of all ages and nations, Dante has these single elements of culture an indebeen made, since the commencement of pendent organic world-view. this century, a subject of serious study, In his wanderings through the halls of and, if that be not too strong an expres- science and art, he was accompanied by sion, of enthusiastic veneration. Schelling, the genius of a pure ideal love, that exerthe philosopher, and the two Schlegels, cised a moulding influence on his whole first recalled attention to him. Thereupon character and literary activity. It was followed a mass of translations and expo- when in his ninth year, that he saw for the sitions of the Divina Commedia, the most first time, on a festive May-day, under a successful among which were those of laurel tree, Beatrice, a Florentine maid of Kannegiesser, Streckfuss, Philalethes, the middle rank of life, of wonderful (Prince John, brother to the reigning King beauty and attraction. The impression of Saxony, and heir to the throne,) Ko- made upon him opened to his imagination pisch, and Graul. Almost every aspect of for the first time the rich fountain of pothis wonderful poem, poetical, historical, etry, and determined the whole character philosophical, and theological, has had of his life. The chaste and deeply earnest light thrown upon it with more or less character of his works, as well as the exsuccess, in larger works and in treatises, press testimony of his cotemporaries,* but always in such a way that much was compels us to believe that this mysterious eft to engage the attention and study of relation was throughout of the purest and uture scholars.
noblest kind. Dante himself has deIn the small compass allowed to us by scribed it in his Vita Nuova, in a tender, he limits of this article, we must content deep, and moving manner. urselves with endeavoring to present, in Beatrice was not destined to be the comutline, A GENERAL IDEA OF THE DIVINE panion of his life. They continued
separa te OMEDY, AND WITH
from each other, though united in spirit by
the bonds of a Platonic love. But seldom We will offer, first, a few remarks on was he so fortunate as to enjoy her smiling ne life and age of the poet, as some salutations, and as early as the year 1290 nowledge of these is necessary to an un- she was, to his deepest sorrow, torn from erstanding of his work.
his view by an early death. Still
, though Dante, or properly speaking, Durante, lost to him as far as her earthly form was e. the enduring, was descended from the concerned, her enrapturing image rose ncient, noble, and venerable family of again in his poetic imagination, transfigured, lighieri in Florence, where he was born as the symbol of Divine Wisdom and Love,
May, 1265, during the pontificate of or as Theology, and accompanied him in lement IV., a few years before the down- his Divina Commedia through the holy 11 of the illustrious imperial family of e Hohenstauffen. He prosecuted his udies in the Latin classics, especially * As, for example, that of Melchiore Stefano Coprgil, the Aristotelian philosophy, and pia who says of Dante, Moralmente visse ; and that
of Sebastiano Eagubious, who calls him inter hue scholastic theology of his age, first in mana ingenia paturæ dotibus corruscantem et native city, and afterwards in Bologna, testimony of Boccaccio in his Vita di Dante, 10 the
omnium morum habitibus rutilantem. The later dua, and Paris, with such energy and I contrary, is of no account.
KEY TO ITS
ROPER UNDERSTANDING IN DETAIL.
precincts of Paradise, until the sight of the grateful, but still warmly-loved native city, Triune God burst upon his view. Hence never more to see it, and to his family Uhland has beautifully sung:
which he was also compelled to leave be
hind him. With this commenced the third “ Ja! mit Fug wird dieser Sänger Als der Göttliche verehret,
and last period of his life. Dante, welchem ird'sche Liebe
From this time Dante wandered about Sich zu himmlicher verkläret !"*
through Middle and Upper Italy, poor,
restless, and ever longing for home; every After this beautiful period of learning where meeting friends and admirers, but and loving, our poet entered upon political enemies also and detractors ; nowhere life in the service of his native city. His finding rest, but in the profound contempublic career, and yet more the years of plation of Eternity, and its philosophic his banishment, were full of troubles and and poetic representations in the Divina storms. The trivial every-day world would Commedia. This was commenced, if not on this account call him unfortunate ; for it has not even the most distant conception after his banishment,* and amid all his
as early as the year 1300, at least soon of the secret and purely spiritual enjoy- sorrows was gradually completed. For ments of a deep-thinking genius, wearing
“Poesie ist tiefes Schmerzen, out his life upon the highest and noblest
Und est kommt das ächte Lied themes, who is raised equally far above for
Einzig aus dem Menschenherzen, tune and misfortune in the common sense Das ein schweres Leid durchglüht": of the terms. The Florentine republic was in that pe
Dante says himself, in the Concito, riod torn by the severest party dissensions
Truly I have been a vessel without sa between the Cerohi, or White, (Bianchi,) and without rudder, driven about upor and the Donati
, or Black, (Neri.) By far different ports and shores by the dry wind the larger portion of the city belonged to
that springs out of dolorous poverty; and the Guelph party; but the Ghibelline hence have I appeared vile in the eyes of families united with the Bianchi, and these many, who, perhaps, by some better retwo parties now mirrored forth again the port, had conceived of me a different imcontests of the Ghibellines and Guelphs, pression, and in whose sight not only bas a contest that continued itself throughout my person become thus debased, but a that whole period. By means of his unworthy, opinion created of everything
Hie talents Dante forced himself, in his twen- which I did or which I had to do." ty-fifth year, up to one of the highest
seems to have spent most of the years honors in the magistracy of Florence, to of his banishment in Rome, Bologna, P. the office of Prior, and was sent on several dua, and Verona. He sojourned for : embassies to the courts of Naples and time in Paris also, where he buried him Rome. But the hatred of his enemies in the deepest theological studies, and bei: soon accomplished his fall
. He joined a brilliant disputation. The report of to himself to the party of the Ghibellines, expedition of Henry VII. to Italy in 13.
He hope and interceded for them with Pope Boni- recalled him to his fatherland. face VIII., but without success.
from him the overthrow of the Guelfposite party prevailed. Led by blind and exhorted him, in a letter of 1311. passion, and assisted by the Pope just employ energetic measures. But Hear iamed, they robbed the poet, among many and died in 1313.
could accomplish nothing against Flores Athers, in the year 1302, of his property,
With his dealb i. ind banished him from Tuscany for two hopes of the banished Florentines in rears; and subsequently, for contuma
the Ghibellines in general, were tua,
crushed. iousness, he was sentenced to be burnt live, in case he should ever return. With orrowful heart he bid farewell to his un
* See, on this point, the investigation oi b in his thorough and instructive anicle oe I' in Ersch and Gruber's General Encyclope
the Sciences and Arts, (a truly colossa: * ** Yea! with reason is this singer honored as the compass and contents,) Sect. I.,
Part 2, E, Divine Dante !
7 " Poetry is deep sorrow; and the un Those earthly love transformed itself into heav- comes alone out of the human heart, through enly."
glows an intense gries,”
Dante now retired to Ravenna, whither placed him in his Disputa on the Holy Sahe caused also his children to be brought. crament, between Thomas Aquinas and His daughter Beatrice retired to a con- Duns Scotus, and in his Parnassus, between vent. According to a notice, which is not, Virgil and Homer. however, sufficiently authenticated, he The age of Dante presents to us the himself became a monk of the Franciscan transition of the middle ages from the order. In this city, and in the neighbor- time of their highest glory over into the ing monasteries, he completed his great period which led the way to the reforpoem, and died on the day of the Holy mation. That wonderful structure, the Cross, the 14th September, 1321. The Romano-German Catholicism, had become honor which his fellow-citizens denied to complete in the thirteenth century. The him while living, was now shown to him papacy reached its consummation in the by strangers, when dead. His patron, person of Innocent III., and then waved Guido Novello da Polenta, the Lord of its bishop's crosier over all the lands and Ravenna, caused his corpse to be carried nations of Europe. Opposite to this stood to the chief church by the most respected the Germano-Roman empire as the greatcitizens of the city, and to be interred in a est secular power, which was most vigormarble coffin in the church of the Minorously upheld by the Hohenstauffen, and ites. Only lately (1830) has Florence which, after repeated attempts at emancicompensated the injustice done to the pation, was again compelled to lay down greatest of her sons, by erecting to his its crown at the feet of the Pope. The memory in the church of Santa Croce, the scholastic, by which we mean the church pantheon of Italian geniuses, a costly mon- theology of the age, as resting upon the ument, between those of Michael Angelo Aristotelian philosophy and Catholic traand Alfieri, with the inscription : Onorate dition, had found in Thomas Aquinas its l' altissimo poeta, (Honor the most exalted most genial and profound representative :
and had sought to show that its doctrines Dante was of middle stature, somewhat the absolute truth, even to the bent in later years, yet full of dignity in smallest particulars. At the side of this his general appearance. His countenance, in the way of supplement, stood the syswhich has been preserved for the future tem of the Mystics; in which, with the world, by his friend the celebrated painter neglect of dialectic thought and disputa Giotto, is very characteristic: a noble po- tion, it was attempted to enter into com etical brow, a bold aquiline nose, a proudly munion with the original fountain of life prominent lower lip; conveying the expres- by a bold act of direct consciousness and sion of nobleness and earnestness, and of a love-inspired feeling; according to th contemplative and commanding disposition. maxim of Bernard of Clairvaux : Tantun One reads Eternity enstamped upon these Deus cognoscitur, quantum diligitur features, and does not wonder that the Monkery had also reached its highest point women of Verona pointed at him, with in the formation of those colossal monas the words: Eccovi ľuom oh' è stato all' tic orders, the Franciscans, Dominican inferno! (Behold the man that has been in &c., which surrounded the moral life Hell!) He was of a melancholy tempera- the nations as with a net, and introduce ment. He lived buried in profound thought, the practical ideas of Catholicism into tb and brooded over the past. Hence he poorest huts. In the same century wer appeared tiresome to spiritless and com- erected the most celebrated of those Goth mon-place minds. Prince Cangrande of ic domes, which by a wonderful and pro Verona once asked him, why he could found symbolism represented the reconci not entertain his court so well as a certain iation of heaven and earth, and formed a buffoon, who happened to be present. image of the hierarchy itself. Dante replied, with sarcastic pride : Perche Finally, the greatest crusades were no ciascuno ama il suo simile, (because every accomplished, in which whole hosts ne loves his like.) His works, more espe- soldiers, peasants, princes, and prelates cially his Divina Commedia, exhibit a rare the Occident, had, at the command of t) union of the philosopher and the poet. successor of Peter, left their homes, fan Hence Raphael, with genial grasp, has lies, trades, property, and possession
for all ages.
devoting themselves to the greatest sacri- ' of that time, whose vibration was still felt fices and difficulties, not for the sake of in the fourteenth century, collected themworldly advantage, but to be enabled to selves in this wonderful work, to receive weep, at the grave of their Redeemer, their poetical consecration, and to repretears of repentance and gratitude, and to sent a picture of human life under the rescue it from the profane hands of the character of Eternity. A thorough knowl. enemies of Christianity.
edge of that age, especially of the schoThink as one may of this age. no im-lastic theology and philosophy, is hence partial historian will venture to deny, that indispensably necessary for the full underit bears the character of gigantic power standing of Dante. One may call him the and boldness, a devotion to the objective poetical Thomas Aquinas, who was, so to interests of the church almost without speak, the Christian Aristotle, and the parallel in history, ruling as it did all the proper church theologian of the thirteenth relations of life at the time. And such a century. wealth of romantic poetry lay in all these We have thought proper to premise thus events, that one would have been aston- much before entering upon a consideration ished, had Providence not taken care to of the poem itself. We will now, in the provide a master-hand to embody them in first place, contemplate its external form, a worthy manner, in indelible lineaments then seek to gain a clear conception of its
“ The owl of Minerva,” says contents and object, and lastly, examine its a deep thinker, with reference to the rela- relation to Catholicism and Protestantism. tion of philosophy to life, which she rep- I. Dante himself, in accordance with resents, commences her flight with the the somewhat strange phraseology of the first blush of dawn." The lyre of Apollo, time, termed his poem a comedy, * partly we may add, sounds mellowest and clearest on account of its contents, commencing as in the cool evening. So the singer of me- it does in a sad strain, with the contemdiæval Catholicism made his appearance, plation of Hell, and ending joyfully with not in the moment of its highest bloom Paradise ; partly also on account of its and power, but when the dissolution of form, because it is written in the common the gigantic edifice was visibly approach- language of the country, (locutio vulgaris) ing, and was filling the friend of the Past Its additional name, « The Divine," has with deep sadness, but at the same time been added by an admiring posterity, also calling him to gaze, full of hope, into a with reference both to its form and conbetter Future. As the setting sun casts tents. It is difficult to decide to wist his loveliest and softest glance yet once class of poetry it properly belongs. R
> more upon the tops of the mountains, or senkranzt regards it as an allegorical poet. into the mirror of the ocean, to make his Generally, however, it is considered as bedeparture more heavily felt, and to waken longing to epic poetry. Solger calls it a more lively desire for his return, so the didactic epos. The materials are mere philosophy, theology, and religion of the tainly not drawn from the subjective firmiddle ages, were reflected yet once more ings as in lyric poetry, but are objective before their departure, in a poem fully and historical. But on the other hand, worthy of its high subject.
this epic matter is not merely a single si We have thus designated the historical or a series of events, but the whole worldstand-point from which we must proceed, history, so to speak; and then again, it is if we would reach a proper understanding of the Divine Comedy. It is the swan- * In his dedicatory letter to Cangrande della Sera, song of the thirteenth century, and with and again in the poem itself, lof. xvi. 128, per le sue
di questa commedia ; xxi. 2, la mia commedia. it, of mediæval Catholicism in the fullness + Manual of General History of Poetry, Haibe of its world-power." All the great ideas 1832, Part II. p 221.
This epos may be called a didactic one,
much as it starts from a scientifie, dogmatic stans * Hence Carlyle's otherwise striking judgment point. The most important, however, is the re must be corrected accordingly : “Dante is the lation of the idea through the universe, where spokesman of the Middle Ages; the thought they the poem on the whole becomes allegorical, in lived by, stands here in everlasting music. These at the same time it has quite a mystical change, sublime ideas of his, terrible and beautiful, are the inasmuch as the symbol coincides altogether fruit of the Christian meditation of all good mea the allegory.” (Lectures on Æstheties,
Leips sho had gone before."
1829, p. 293.
not merely poetically related and described, to reach an even measure, or to make use as, for example, in the Iliad of Homer or of a certain economy in the form, we may the Jerusalemme Liberata of Tasso, or the mention the circumstance that each of the Orlando Furioso of Ariosto, but serves three parts closes with the word “ stelle,” everywhere as a foundation only for philo- or stars ; for these are, according to him, sophical and theological ideas, which are the blessed abodes of peace, whither his veiled under the form of profound allego- view is ever directed, and to which he ry, and at the same time are difficult to be would also gladly draw with him his readunderstood. It is perhaps best then to ers. It is with still deeper meaning that term it an allegorical, philosophical epos he always makes the name of Christ to of world and church history.
rhyme only with itself, using it of course The whole poem consists of three parts for this purpose three times* in every -Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise, (Inferno, case. The reason of this cannot be that Purgatorio, and Paradiso.) Each of these the Italian language affords no rhymes to parts consists again of nine subdivisions and the word Christo. Such are numerous, thirty-three songs or cantos. Hell, howev- as acquisto, misto, visto, &c. It is his iner, is prefaced by a canto as a general intro- tention rather to indicate the matchlessduction to the whole, so that the poem ness and singleness of this name, which is consists altogether of one hundred cantos exalted above all names, and beside which and 14,230 verses.
The system of versifi- there is no name given whereby men can cation chosen by Dante for the expression saved. It is remarkable also that Christ of his thoughts was the Terza Rima, which does not come forward at all in Hell under combines the character of earnestness and this name, (for the damned cannot endure solemnity with that of gracefulness and it) but is only distantly indicated. The musical fullness, and is admirably adapted language of the poem is everywhere made to the contents of the poem. Each terza to correspond with the character of the rima is composed of thirty-three syllables. thoughts: in Hell it is awfully earnest ; Everywhere then we meet with the num- in Purgatory affectingly pensive ; in Paraber three. It is the symbolic number of dise transportingly charming ; always full Divinity. The whole Paradise is full of of images, and graphic, powerful, and methe praise of the Triune. The superscrip- lodious, simple and noble, chaste and tion of Hell, consisting of three verses, worthy of the subject, solemn and eleva(Canto iii. 1-9,) reminds us already of ted. Dante was the creator of Italian him with fearful earnestness, and the whole poetry, as Boccaccio of Italian prose. poem closes in the 33d Canto of Paradise, II. This interesting form now is but the with seeing him face to face. Even with body of still more interesting contenls—the Aristotle everything consists of beginning, silver shell of a golden fruit. middle, and end. According to Thomas The poet chose the highest and most Aquinas and Dante, this fundamental idea comprehensive theme for his poem, even of Christianity pervades the whole consti- eternity itself with its three domains. He tution of the world. The name of the Holy exhibits to us the world as it exists there, Trinity is written upon creation and with its doings and sufferings; the bad stamped upon eternity. Our poet even re- damned by Divine Justice, the good made presents Satan with three faces, as the terri- happy by Divine Love. In the full conble antitype of the Triune God. The fact sciousness of his poetical power, he venthat the whole consists of one hundred songs tures to assign his cotemporaries, and the has reference to the perfection of the work, mighty dead of past centuries, according which the poet would wish have con- to their moral worth, a place in one of the sidered complete in itself, as a true picture three divisions in which, according to the or copy of the harmonious universe. The Catholic faith, men must take up their mumber ten is the symbol of perfection abode hereafter, and thus undertakes to numero perfetto, as Dante himself designates it in his Vita Nuova—and its square,
* For ex. Paradiso xiv. 101, 103, 108; xix. 104, one hundred, (numero perfettissimo,) de- 106, 103 ; xxxii. 83, 85, 87. signates absolute perfection or completion.
t Inferno iv. 53, 54, un possente con segno di vit
toria incoronato ; xxxiv. 115, fu l'uom che nacque To show how strictly he made it his object le visse senza pecca.