Monday, June 6, 2011

Dante Alighieri

Dante Alighieri (1265 – 1321) was a Florentine poet, best known for his masterwork — The Divine Comedy. Often referred to as the greatest work written in Italian, it is divided into three books: Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso. In these epic poems, Dante is led through hell and purgatory by the Roman poet Virgil, and then through heaven by Beatrice — a girl Dante had briefly met when in childhood, had idolized all his life, and had mourned for when she died decades before the writing of Paradiso.

In this allegorical picture of life after death, Dante was able to comment on life in Florence — particularly on political rivals and the wrongs of his society. One scene in Inferno (Canto XIX) shows errant popes — shoved head-first into holes, with their legs sticking out, and the soles of their feet on fire — punished because they “take the things of God, / that ought to be the brides of Righteousness, / and make them fornicate for gold and silver!”

Since The Divine Comedy was not written in Latin, Dante was able to influence the development of the Italian language as readers of various dialects studied his work. Italian is a particularly easy language to rhyme in (being the original language of the sonnet form). Dante’s epic follows a terza rima rhyme scheme (aba, bcb, cdc, ded, etc.) which is too prohibitive in English. Robert Pinsky, in his 1995 verse translation of Inferno, takes an intermediate approach, using partial rhyme. The translation of The Divine Comedy into English has been taken on many times, including by Longfellow, and by Dorothy L. Sayers. Numerous poets, including William Blake, have been greatly influenced by it.

Dante was caught between striving factions in 1302 and became exiled from his home in Florence, to which he never returned.

from Paradiso--------Canto VII

---------------[M]ankind lay sick, in the abyss------------28
of a great error, for long centuries,
until the Word of God willed to descend
---to where the nature that was sundered from---------31
its Maker was united to His person
by the sole act of His eternal Love.
---Now set your sight on what derives from that.--------34
This nature, thus united to its Maker,
was good and pure, even as when created;
---but in itself, this nature had been banished----------37
from paradise, because it turned aside
from its own path, from truth, from its own life.
---Thus, if the penalty the Cross inflicted----------------40
is measured by the nature He assumed,
no one has ever been so justly stung;
---yet none was ever done so great a wrong,-------------43
if we regard the Person made to suffer,
He who had gathered in Himself that nature.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: