Imágenes de páginas

lot merely poetically related and described, is, for example, in the Iliad of Homer or he Jerusalemme Liberata of Tasso, or the )rlando Furioso of Ariosto, but serves :verywhere as a foundation only for philoophical and theological ideas, which are tiled under the form of profound allegoy, and at the same time are difficult to be inderstood. It is perhaps best then to crm it an allegorical, philosophical epos if world and church history.

The whole poem consists of three parts —Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise, {Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso.) Each of these Kirts consists again of nine subdivisions and hirty-three songs or cantos. Hell, howevT, is prefaced by a canto as a general introluction to the whole, so that the poem consists altogether of one hundred cantos >nd 14,230 verses. The system of versification chosen by Dante for the expression if his thoughts was the Tenia Rima, which combines the character of earnestness and wlemnity with that of gracefulness and nusical fullness, and is admirably adapted o the contents of the poem. Each terza ima is composed of thirty-three syllables. Everywhere then we meet with the num)er three. It is the symbolic number of divinity. The whole Paradise is full of he praise of the Triune. The superscripion of Hell, consisting of three verses, Canto iii. 1-9,) reminds us already of lim with fearful earnestness, and the whole )oem closes in the 33d Canto of Paradise, villi seeing him face to face. Even with Aristotle everything consists of beginning, niddle, and end. According to Thomas Aquinas and Dante, this fundamental idea f Christianity pervades the whole constiution of the world. The name of the Holy Vinity is written upon creation and tamped upon eternity. Our poet even reiresents Satan with three faces, as the terri>le antitype of the Triune God. The fact hat the whole consists of one hundred songs ias reference to the perfection of the work, vhich the poet would wish to have conidered complete in itself, as a true picture T copy of the harmonious universe. The lumber ten is the symbol of perfection— mraero perfetto, as Dante himself desiglates it in his Vita Nuova—and its square, me hundred, (numero perfettissimo,) designates absolute perfection or completion. l'o show how strictly he made it his object

to reach an even measure, or to make use of a certain economy in the form, we may mention the circumstance that each of the three parts closes with the word "stelle," or stars; for these are, according to him, the blessed abodes of peace, whither his view is ever directed, and to which he would also gladly draw with him his readers. It is with still deeper meaning that he always makes the name of Christ to rhyme only with itself, using it of course for this purpose three times* in every case. The reason of this cannot be that the Italian language affords no rhymes to the word Christo. Such are numerous, as acquisto, misto, visto, &c. It is his intention rather to indicate the matchlessness ana singleness of this name, which is exalted above all names, and beside which there is no name given whereby men can saved. It is remarkable also that Christ does not come forward at all in Hell under this name, (for the damned cannot endure it,) but is only distantly indicated.! The language of the poem is everywhere made to correspond with the character of the thoughts: in Hell it is awfully earnest; in Purgatory affectingly pensive; in Paradise transportingly charming; always full of images, and graphic, powerful, and melodious, simple and noble, chaste and worthy of the subject, solemn and elevated. Dante was the creator of Italian poetry, as Boccaccio of Italian prose.

II. This interesting form now is but the body of still more interesting contents—the silver shell of a golden fruit.

The poet chose the highest and most comprehensive theme for his poem, even eternity itself with its three domains. He exhibits to us the world as it exists there, with its doings and sufferings; the bad damned by Divine Justice, the good made happy by Divine Love. In the full consciousness of his poetical power, he ventures to assign his cotemporaries, and the mighty dead of past centuries, according to their moral worth, a place in one of the three divisions in which, according to the Catholic faith, men must take up their abode hereafter, and thus undertakes to

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survey the course of the great judgment of the world. In doing this he does not permit himself to be influenced by any subjective feelings or personal considerations, but by his conception of Divine Justice alone. Thus, with incorruptible severity, in the fifth Canto of the Inferno, he assigns a place in Hell to the beautiful Francesca of Rimini, who had been guilty of adultery with her brother-in-law, Paolo Malatesta, although he was under great obligations to her' friends, and especially her nephew, in whose house he breathed his last. Resolute belief had not yet come to be confounded with the idea of uncharitable bigotry.

In the case of an ordinary mind, the mere thought of such an undertaking would have been considered ridiculous impudence. In a spirit like that of Dante, it is the evidence of a great and noble boldness of genius. The successful execution of the idea proves that Dante had an internal call to such a work, that he acted under a commission from the spirit of history and the Church. In this great picture we meet with the most distinguished personages that flourished before and during the time of Dante, famous either for their vices or their virtues, and who were thus a blessing or a curse to humanity. He leads us in succession by poets and learned men, heroes and conquerors, princes and kings, monks and priests, prelates and popes, as by so many statues of brass; illumines them by the glance of his fancy and the doctrine of the Church ; exhibits to us the irreversible result of their life upon earth as the just doom of God ; and fills us with horror in view of the sins and punishments of the inhabitants of Hell, with tender sympathy for the penitent in Purgatory, and with an earnest and holy longing for the bliss of the pure and blessed in Paradise. We may say indeed that a grander theme never entered into the imagination of a poet. But it well suited the character of his age, which, in all its strivings, aimed at the infinite. As little able as our age would be to create the conception of a dome like that of Cologne, or a cathedral like that of Strasburg, so little could it give — birth to a "Divina Commedia."

^Mijet us follow the daring poet on the

ley which, in spirit and in a vision, he

1 through the other world. We will

tarry longest in Hell, because this part of the poem has generally been considered the best.

He commenced his journey in the yew 1300, at the dawn of a new century, in the middle of his life,* that is, in his thirty-fifth year; for in Psalm xc. 10, the eitent of human life is said to be threescore years and ten. The day was Good Friday, the day of the death of our Lord.f Two days he spent in Hell, precisely as long as Christ remained in spirit in the lower world, according to Thomas Aquinas, who for this purpose combined the two passages, Luke xxiii. 43 and 1 Pet iii. 19. He needs one day to pass from Hell to Purgatory. On Easter morning he agiia rises to the light, in four days of tote ascends the mountain of Purgatory, and flies through Paradise in one day. The duration of the whole journey then is eight days, which Dante, by a significant fictioa, has distributed into the week of our Lord'; passion and resurrection.

The poet transports us first into i gloomy forest, which is to represent the human heart as lying in sin and error, a-; at the same time the condition of the worW in the age of Dante. With the dawn rf day he reaches its end, and seeks now U ascend a mountain illumined by the TO the symbol of divine revelation, but in vsis, for he is confronted and driven back bj three animals, a deceitful leopard, a haurtty lion, and a ravenous wolf.J These an intended to represent three sins, which, besides being actualized in every hunus heart, were also prominently displayed'' the chief powers of that age; namefr Cunning, which had its seat then espeffily in Florence, Violence, which was th« threatening the Church from the direeM of France, from Philip IV., and Avmvt. which had its seat in Rome, in the wtr$£ ly-minded and domineering popes, suet- * Boniface VIII. According to this. At allegory has not only a moral but also • h^ torical sense.§ Just as the poet b abes turning back again into the gloomy forest, the singer of the ^Eneid, sent by Beatrice, suddenly appears to him, predicts, under the form of a grayhound, a reformer in the Church, and invites him to make a journey through Eternity in his company. He himself would attend him through Hell md Purgatory, in order to view in the first '.he terrible consequences of sin, and in the iccond the voluntary sufferings of those vho desired to escape the wrath of God ind to be saved. Through Paradise he hould be conducted by a worthier spirit, 3eatrice herself.

» Inf. i. 1.

t Inf. xxi. 112. The subject of the ifurmaaom of the dales of the poem has been fuHy iBwrajp^by JCannegitter, in his German tr»nsUiio» ■ *• Divina Commedia, Vol. I. p. Iviii.

f Doubtless he had in mind here (he {»—f j Jeremiah v. 6: "Wherefore a lion out Of (be fc» shall slay them, and a wolf of the errmif ■> spoil them, a leopard shall watch o«r th»ir e**»

§ Dante himself distinguishes between ta* fc?*


Dante determines to undertake the jourey, under the guidance of his honored aaster Virgil. Passing through a portal, >ver which the meaning of Hell and the oom of its inhabitants is inscribed in fearally sublime characters, they reach the oraain of Hell itself. This, according to •ante, is situated in the centre of the earth. a this respect he followed the view of uugustine, Thomas Aquinas, and the preliling conceptions of his Church, which robably arose from taking in its literal mse the article of the Apostolic Creed, sscendit ad inferos. Besides, he could at well devise any other locality for Hell, nee he held the Ptolemaic view of the orld, that the earth formed the centre of e universe, and that all the bodies by hich it was surrounded belonged to one

the different heavenly regions. In like (inner he gives Purgatory and Paradise •o a definite locality, as we shall see reafter. This is plainly in much better cordance with the nature of poetry, lich should always give us concrete ;ws, than the method chosen by Milton, 10 removes his spiritual scenes into an defined and abstract infinitude, in which 3 fancy speedily tires, like a bird on the san, that, wearied by his flight, finds no

resting place for his feet. Hence, with all the undeniable sublimity, the tiresomeness also of the poetry of Milton and Klopstock, whom few even of their most enthusiastic admirerssucceed in reading through; while Dante keeps the fancy constantly enchained in a lively interest by the fixed and clearly defined outline of his figures.

The shape of Hell is that of a vast funnel, constantly narrowing, its apex standing exactly in the central point of the earth. The inside of this funnel, or inverted cone, consists of different circular terraces, which, with the increasing depth, also grow narrower and narrower. These terraces are occupied by sinners, according to the grade of their wickedness; the lowest place of all, the apex of the funnel, being assigned to the Devil. This form of Hell corresponds with the nature aud progress of sin, which consists in ever narrowing and contracting selfishness. As the number of slight and ordinary sinners is larger than that of great transgressors, the upper circles are broader and more densely crowded. It is also very expressive, that over these regions of Hell there reigns a constant darkness,* growing denser with the depth. Still, a faint gleam of light overspreads the gloomy terraces; and the lower portions are illumined by the unquenchable fire,f but only to increase the horror of the damned, by rendering their misery mutually visible. Thomas Aquinas also permits the inhabitants of Hell to see their misery sub quadam umbrositate.J

In consequence of the deep meaning of the number three, reaching as it does even to the lower world, Dante divides Hell into three regions, each one comprising three of the before-mentioned circular terraces, so that it consists on the whole of nine circles; to which must be added also a preliminary circle, the vestibule of Hell. The different regions are separated from one another by the windings of a large stream, which flows in circles through Hell. Of these circular windings there are four. The first, separating the forecourt from Hell properly so called, is the joyless Acheron, the second the marshy Styx, the third the burning Phlegethon, and the fourth the cold Cocytus. The stream ends at last in an icy lake, in the centre of which sits the Devil. This is probably intended to represent the stream of Belial, mentioned in 2 6am. xxii. 5, as encompassing the dead in Hell. It rises, according to Dante, in the island of Crete, from the confluence of all the tears which the human race has ever wept in consequence of sin, and will yet weep during the different ages of its existence, which increase in wickedness, and find their representatives in these four streams.

1 spiritual sense of his poem, and divideB this
er again into an allegorical one, (in a narrower
st> of the term,) which has reference to Faith,
oral one, which has reference to Love or Chris-
i Action, and an anagogicat one, which has re-
■nce to Hope.

Littera gesta refert, quid credat, allegoria
Moralis, quid agat, quid tperet, anagogia.
(See his letter toCangrande.)

he fact that the poem is intended to convey so
iy different meanings makes it difficult to be
erstood, and injures its simplicity and natural-
s, but is in accordance with the spirit of that
, and especially its theology.

* See Matt. viii. 12.

t Comp. Mark ix. 44, Matt. iii. 12.

% Milton too sings:
A dungeon horrible, on all fides round,
As one great furnace, uani'd; yet from those flames
No light, but rather darkness visible,
Sery'd only to discover sights of woe,
Kegions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace
And rest can never dwell, hope never comes
That comes lo all, but torture without end
Still urges, and a fiery deluge, fed
With ever-burning sulphur unconsumed.

Pae Lost, Book I. v. 61. et seq

In the division of the sins our poet follows Aristotle, who divides the bad into three classes, namely, incontinence, («x£«tfia,) wickedness, (xaxi'a,) and violence or beastly wildness, (dtifiorrif).* But, in accordance with his Christian stand-point, Dante differs from Aristotle in that he places wickedness, or as he terms it, cunning, (froda,) lowest in the scale. The first kind of sin, that of incontinence, is human; the second, violence, is bestial; the third, • cunning, is demoniacal. Each of these genera comprises again a number of distinct species. Under incontinence, for example, he ranks licentiousness, avarice, prodigality, wrath, &c.; under violence he includes murder, blaspherfty, <fec.; under cunning especially the different forms of treachery.

The punishments of the damned are, according to Dante, not only spiritual but bodily also. The spiritual punishments consist chiefly in an impotent hatred towards God, in envying the happy condition of the blessed, in dissensions among themselves, and ip a continual lust for sin without the power or prospect of satisfying it. This everlasting torment also expresses itself externally, and Dante loves most to tarry in describing these bodily punishments. In doing this, he follows in general the principle laid down in Wisdom xi. 17, "Wherewithal a man sinneth, by

* Ethics, vii.l.

the same also shall he be punished." A similar thought was supposed to be izplied in the assertion of our Lord: "Wii what measure ye mete it shall be measure to you again." Mark iv. 24; Luke vi. S> Sin itself, in the other world, is the peishment of sin. Sinners flee from the pi* ishment but desire the sin; the deart s present, but its satisfaction unattaiiut.e the desire itself has become a tormed^ sting. This general idea of the Ciom collection between sin and the form c' a punishment is, however, carried out, not: a pedantic and literal, but in a very ft* and manifold way. The lazy, for eiwnfi roll themselves about in mire; the L-tious are driven to and fro by a storm-*iai the irascible smite each other in the vnZ] Styx ; the Archbishop Ruggieri, who upa earth had denied food to Count UgoiH is doomed to have his head chewed P3 stantly by him in Hell.

Our limited time will not permit n= i tarry separately in the different circles I Hell. Dante has here brought togetb-r variegated mass of pictures from all y< and ranks. Poets, learned men, pM*1 phers, heroes, princes, emperors, m *i priests, cardinals, and popes—in short i that truth and history, poetry and myth-J gy, have been able to afford of distingi-sins and vices, he causes to pass beforen living, speaking, and suffering; until en come with fear and horror, we feel com;* led to bow ourselves in deep reverencei>.:J the judgment-seat of that just God. whom every sin is an abomination. Tbrf< opened here to the careful reader a rJ field of the most interesting histo^ psychological, metaphysical, theokf1 and edifying observations. We shall able only, by the way of example, to f* template the beginning and the esi Hell, the lightest and the heaviest sin-<! fore passing over to Purgatory.

In front of Hell properly so callrf its vestibule or outer court, Dante '< characteristically places the indife* those lukewarm, honorless souls who \t no desire for the good and no coura^ i the bad, who live rather like the irrai-1 and slavish vegetable and animal *"' and on this account are rejected »lib Heaven and Hell. As companions, l<signs them those angels who in the p original apostacy remained neutral.

Cacciarli il oiel, per non esser men belli,

Ne lo profondo inferno li riceve

Che alonna gloria i rei avrebber di elli."»

The biblical foundation of this representor! rests upon Rev. iii. 15, 16: "I would Iou wert cold or hot. So then because Iou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor 5t, I will spue thee out of my mouth." be names of these contemptible beings ive been lost ; they are never spoken of. !ence Virgil exclaims to Dante,

'Non ragionam di lor, ma guarda e passa !" j

e recognizes but one shade, that of one his cotemporaries, who from fear peritted himself to be led astray into the great refusal," (il gran rifinto.) Comcntators have generally understood this refer to Pope Celestine V., who knew )thing of the government of the Church, id took no interest in it, and who was ;nce easily persuaded by his cunning iccessor, Boniface VIII., to abdicate the tpal power only a few months after his ection in the year 1294, and to retire rain to his quiet monkish life. If this inrpretation be correct, Dante comes here in rect collision with his Church, which has trolled Celestine among its saints. The poet, in company with Virgil, passes ■pidly by these miserable beings tormentl by flies and wasps, their truest reprentatives. He is then, in sleep, safely ansported across Acheron by a divine iracle; and a boundless cry of woe, soundg up from the deep abyss, announces to m that now he is indeed in Hell. The first rcle, which he describes in the fourth song, Limbus, the abode, according to the docines of the Romish Church, of unbaptized tildren and of heathen, and hence of Virgil so. Here the fathers too of the old covemt originally abode, but were released and ised to blessedness by Christ, when he sscended in triumph into Hell, i. e. into is limbus patrum, between his death and s resurrection. Among these, Dante aws attention to those (v. 55 ff.) who present the different stages of develop

* " Heaven thrusts out the hateful companions as stain; the deep Hell rejects them, else might the arts of the wicked swell with pride." Inf. iii.

t " We will not speak of them; look only, and


ment in the hope of the Messianic salvation, namely, Adam, Abel, Enoch, Moses, Abraham, Jacob, (together with Rachel and his children,) and lastly David. These became the first partakers of the everlasting, salvation, but only after the completion of the atonement.

In the first circle we do not yet meet with sin properly so called and fully developed, for this can only be perfectly unfolded in opposition to the positive and written law of God, and against the preached and known grace of Christianity. These are yet in the natural state of man as affected by original sin, but at the same time endowed also with a certain natural virtuousness, and are such as have not yet come into any contact with the Church. Their condition hence is only that of negative punishment, the being deprived of seeing God, (poena damni,) the absence of blessedness, and an indefinite longing for it. The poet first meets with a forest-like crowd of unbaptized children and undistinguished heathen. But he soon perceives in the distance those of the heathen world who were "rich in honor," the heroes of natural virtue. A glimmer of light beams around them, but it is only the reflection of their own glory, this highest aim of the heathen according to the maxim of Cicero: "Optimus quisque maxime gloria ducitur." So also in the other world honor is still the element in which they live, and hence they are constantly complimenting one another, enjoying themselves in the remembrance of their glorious deeds. Hence their countenances also bear the stamp of a lofty self-feeling, and a stoical indifference, which is neither joy nor sorrow. He first sees the shades of the four poets, Homer, Horace, Ovid, and Lucan. So soon as these perceive Virgil again, they bow themselves reverently before this their colleague and exclaim:

"Onorate 1' altissimo poeta!"

After a short conversation they also receive Dante into their midst as the sixth of the tuneful band. Next in order they reach the heroes and sages of antiquity, who remain forever upon an open and verdant oasis, the reflection of Elysium:

"With slow and solemn eyes, And great authority in their countenance, Who speak but seldom with soft,pleasant voices."

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