Page:The Works of Lord Byron (ed. Coleridge, Prothero) - Volume 2.djvu/539

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CANTO IV.]
495
CHILDE HAROLD’S PILGRIMAGE.

which happened in 1321. He was buried ("in sacra minorum æde") at Ravenna, in a handsome tomb, which was erected by Guido, restored by Bernardo Bembo in 1483, prætor for that republic which had refused to hear him, again restored by Cardinal Corsi, in 1692, and replaced by a more magnificent sepulchre, constructed in 1780 at the expense of the Cardinal Luigi Valenti Gonzaga. The offence or misfortune of Dante was an attachment to a defeated party, and, as his least favourable biographers allege against him, too great a freedom of speech and haughtiness of manner. But the next age paid honours almost divine to the exile. The Florentines, having in vain and frequently attempted to recover his body, crowned his image in a church,[1] and his picture is still one of the idols of their cathedral. They struck medals, they raised statues to him. The cities of Italy, not being able to dispute about his own birth, contended for that of his great poem, and the Florentines thought it for their honour to prove that he had finished the seventh Canto before they drove him from his native city. Fifty-one years after his death, they endowed a professorial chair for the expounding of his verses, and Boccaccio was appointed to this patriotic employment. The example was imitated by Bologna and Pisa, and the commentators, if they performed but little service to literature, augmented the veneration which beheld a sacred or moral allegory in all the images of his mystic muse. His birth and his infancy were discovered to have been distinguished above those of ordinary men: the author of the Decameron, his earliest biographer, relates that his mother was warned in a dream of the importance of her pregnancy: and it was found, by others, that at ten years of age he had manifested his precocious passion for that wisdom or theology, which, under the name of Beatrice, had been mistaken for a substantial mistress. When the Divine Comedy had been recognised as a mere mortal production, and at the distance of two centuries, when criticism and competition had sobered the judgment of the Italians, Dante was seriously declared superior to Homer;[2] and though the preference appeared to some casuists "an heretical blasphemy worthy of the flames," the contest was vigorously maintained for nearly fifty years. In later times it was made

  1. So relates Ficino, but some think his coronation only an allegory. See Storia, etc., ut sup., p. 453.
  2. By Varchi, in his Ercolano. The controversy continued from 1570 to 1616. See Storia, etc., edit. Rome, 1785, tom. vii. lib. iii. par. iii. p. 187.