Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Happy Birthday, Dante

Però ne la giustizia sempiterna
la vista che riceve il vostro mondo,
com’ occhio per lo mare, entro s’interna;
che, ben che da la proda veggia il fondo,
in pelago nol vede; e nondimeno
èli, ma cela lui l’esser profondo.

Therefore the sight that is granted
To your world penetrates within the Eternal Justice
As the eye into the sea; for though from the shore it sees the bottom,
In the open sea it does not,
And yet the bottom is there but the depth conceals it.

–Dante Alighieri, Paradiso canto xix, lines 58-63 (ca. 1315)

The exact year of Dante's birth is unknown, although it is generally believed to be around 1265. This can be deduced from the biographic allusions in Vita Nuova, "the Inferno" (Halfway through the journey we are living, implying that Dante was around 35 years old, as the average lifespan according to the Bible [Psalms, 89, 10] is 70 years, and as the imaginary travel took place in 1300, Dante must have been born around 1265). Some verses of "the Paradiso" also provide information about the day he was born, stating that he was born under the Gemini sign, i.e., the period between the 21st of May and the 21st of June ("As I revolved with the eternal twins, I saw revealed from hills to river outlets, the threshing-floor that makes us so ferocious", Paradiso canto XXII, lines 151-154). Dante died on or about September 13-14, 1321.

His birthday is celebrated on May 21.

Dante's central work, the Divina Commedia (originally called "Commedia" and later called "Divina" by Boccaccio hence "Divina Commedia"), is considered the greatest literary work composed in the Italian language and a masterpiece of world literature. In Italian he is known as "the Supreme Poet" (il Sommo Poeta). Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio are also known as "the three fountains" or "the three crowns." Dante is also called the "Father of the Italian language." The first biography written on him was by Giovanni Boccaccio (1313–1375), who wrote the Trattatello in laude di Dante.

I just bought a copy of Vita Nuova, and am anxious to start it.


NOTE: Information regarding Dante's life is from Wikipedia, edited to meet our (oh, let's pretend) exacting standards at S@4A.M.

The painting (at top) is "Dante and His Poem 'The Divine Comedy'," by Domenico di Michelino (1465).


Blogger Busstogate said...

I teach the Inferno to sophomores at my prep academy. Of course, they struggle with the language, antiquated references, and the geographical interludes. However, they really lock into the whole justice element and it helps them put impulsiveness into perspective.

I counted up that I have now made it a dozen trips through the dank with Dante and Virgil.

To top it off, I am taking a grad course on the Inferno and other "hell" literatures for the summer. Should be fun.

A recent comtemporary poet who studied Dante at length would be Bill Allegrezza.

He seems like a nice guy.

8:31 AM  
Blogger Joseph Hutchison said...

Greg, you may be someone who can answer a question I've puzzled over more than half my life. Why do we refer to Dante as Dante instead of "Alighieri"? We don't call Boccaccio just "Giovanni," after all. Of course, Michelangelo and Leonardo are known by their first names—which leads me to think it must be some sort of Italian tradition. Any ideas?

10:41 AM  
Blogger Talia said...

Here's my idea: Dante is much easier to say and spell.

10:43 AM  
Blogger greg rappleye said...


J.H.: I don't know why we call the poet by his first name, and not his last. It is a tradition that seems to have started early, however. In Boccaccio's "Life of Dante" he pretty much refers to "Dante" rather than "Dante Alighieri" throughout.

At least, in the translation I have (A.N. Wilson's, 2002).

There may be something to what Talia suggests--witness Cher and Madonna, in contemporary culture.

BTG: I will check out Alegrezza's blog. Thank you for the information.

6:14 PM  
Blogger greg rappleye said...

By the way, I just got my hands on the Boccaccio.

6:18 PM  

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