The Contrasts in Dante

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The Contrasts in Dante



ON 24th OCTOBER, 1906



Accademico Corrispondente della Crusca in Italy.


The Contrasts in the Divina Commedia, and especially that between

Count Guido da Monte-
feltro, the father, lost,
(Inf. XXVII., 1-132).
and Buonconte da Monte-
feltro, the son, saved,
(Purg. v.).


There is no question which students of Dante oftener put to each other than this: "Which do you like best, the Inferno, the Purgatorio, or the Paradiso?"

The enquiry is a very natural one, for what greater contrast can there be than between the dark and hopeless terrors of the Inferno, the tender consolations of the Purgatorio, and the serene splendours of the Paradiso, the very Holy of Holies of the Divine Comedy, where hope is no longer needed, because it has been already realized? In the Purgatorio alone does Hope exist, for be it remembered that Dante's examination on Hope by St. James in the Paradiso does not refer to either of the three Kingdoms of the dead, but only to Man living on earth. My answer then to the question would be the counter-question: "When you look at a grand landscape by Cuyp, by Ruysdael, by Rubens, or by Hobbema, which do you most admire, the dark shadows, the brilliant highlights, or the free and spirited middle-tints?" My questioner would of course retort: "How can one separate a complete picture into the various strata which go to make up one single and harmonious entirety? In a perfect whole there must of necessity be contrasts; variety, not sameness. In music, discords in one place bring out beauties and harmonies in another." It is this natural law that Dante has evidently wished to follow in the Divina Commedia, which is the mighty conception of such a master mind as has rarely been observed in the whole history of the human race. As we move from the Inferno to the Purgatorio, and pass on to the Paradiso, we read the record of the wandering, the awakening, the disciplining, and the emancipation of a soul.

I find it difficult, if not impossible, to believe that Dante ever sat down to write, first the whole Inferno, then the whole Purgatorio, and finally the whole Paradiso, consecutively one after the other. It is far more likely that when he began to write the first Canto of the Inferno, he had already decided, in his symmetrical mind, that there were to be one hundred Cantos in the Commedia, thirty-three to each Cantica, with Canto I. of the Inferno as the Introduction to the entire subject-matter of the Poem.

He had probably composed many hundreds of verses, including the leading passages, before he took the work in hand as a whole, during the last ten years of his life. In this way some of the now disputed readings may have originated in Dante himself; the earlier reading having been composed during the period of preparation, and the variant substituted later on by himself as better expressing the meaning of the passage. A notable instance of this is to be found in Inf. XIII., 63, where Pier delle Vigne tells Dante that he so gave up his whole being to the faithful discharge of the duties of his great office of Chancellor to the Emperor Frederick II,, that he lost his veins and his pulses (le vene e i polsi). But veins and pulses are practically synonymous terms, and the variant (lo sonno e i polsi) is considered by Dr. Moore to be by far the preferable reading, as it gives a much more appropriate sense to Pietro's speech. His devotion to his noble office was such as to destroy, not his life (lo vene e i polsi), but his repose by night, and his strength and mental power by day. Let us suppose then that lo vene e i polsi may have been composed by Dante during his period of preparation, and lo sonno e i polsi substituted by himself later, as better expressing the special point of his narrative.

During the twenty-four hours I have been in Manchester, I have seen another variant, i sensi e i polsi, in two magnificent manuscripts, the one in the Rylands Library, and the other at the house of my kind host, Dr. Lloyd Roberts, which belonged to Mr. Hughes.

We may also notice the remarkable way in which at times the number of a Canto in one Cantica, corresponds with the number of a Canto in another Cantica, when the subjects in both offer a parallel or a contrast. Take, for instance. Canto VI. of the Inferno, where Ciacco censures the inner condition of Florence; Canto VI. of the Purgatorio, where Dante declaims against the intestine feuds which rendered Italy powerless in the world; and contrast these with Canto VI. of the Paradiso, where the Emperor Justinian extols the glories of the Roman Eagle, which had of yore carried the pre-eminence of Italy over the whole world. Take the darkening of night in Canto II. of the Inferno, and contrast it with the lovely dawn in Canto II. of the Purgatorio. Take the bad Pope in Inf. XIX., and contrast with that passage, the description of the good Pope in Purg. XIX.

Take also the following contrasts: —

The Forest of Hell (Inf. XIII.) versus The Divine Forest (Purg. XXVIII.).
The pathetic tale of the impure woman (Inf. V.) versus The pathetic tale of the pure and saintly woman (Par. III.).
The Demon Pilot of Hell (Inf. III.). versus The Angel Pilot of Purgatory (Purg. II.).
The Proud Florentine in Hell (Inf. X.). versus The Proud Florentine in Heaven (Par. XV., et seq.).

And greatest of all contrasts: that of the two Montefeltros, of which more anon.

Who would venture to affirm that these are mere coincidences of figures and facts, and not designedly a part of that marvellous symmetry which runs through every bit of work to which Dante set his hand?

Of the several occasions in the Divina Commedia in which contrasts may be observed between one episode and another, there is none which is so conspicuously striking, as the differing fate which befell the two Da Montefeltro, the father and the son, as related in the passages which I venture to submit to you this evening. Here and there among other episodes, we have been able, by our own observation, to discern some remarkable contrasts, but in the present one, beyond all question, the contrast has been designedly traced by Dante himself. In their exalted rank, in their military distinction, and in their personal bravery, the two leading figures in this highly-coloured double picture, both great Ghibelline Captains, are seen to closely resemble each other. But there the likeness ends. Buonconte da Montefeltro would seem to have been a plain, blunt soldier, whereas his father, Count Guido, had been known as one of the most astute, crafty and unscrupulous statesmen of his time. We shall see that he is described as having been carried away from St. Francis by the Devil for a single word of evil counsel which annulled all the fruits of his penitence; whereas after a similar contest between the Angel of God and the Devil for the spirit of the son, one single sigh uttered to the Virgin in the moment of death decided the contest in favour of the Angel. The brave soldier who fell at Campaldino, and the crafty counsellor of Pope Boniface, abide in Dante's mind, united, coupled together, and then disjoined. The qualities of the one excite one's feelings of aversion, those of the other a sentiment of respect and admiration.

Before I deal with the immediate subject of my lecture, I wish to call your attention to a matter of vital importance to all students of Dante, which is that Dante was a Florentine, and wrote chiefly for Tuscans. Their beautiful language, with its boundless wealth of idioms and matchless grace of pronunciation, was that of his divine Comedy. Every word of his great poem had a set purpose, and must be investigated from the Tuscan point of view, rather than from that of the poorer language of Piedmont and Lombardy . The most homely utensils of domestic furniture in Tuscany were brought in to serve the purpose of his simile. Take one instance,—the familiar conca, the well-known earthenware vessel used in every Tuscan household, either for washing clothes, or for storing oil, or as a vase for orange or lemon trees, the conical shape of which serves him to describe the shape of Hell (Inf. IX., 16). Take the rosta; the wattle-screen used on the Pistojan hills, which guards the chestnut crop in the woods from being swept away by a sudden mountain flood, but which in the Forest of Woe (Inf. XIII., 117) is represented as insufficient to withstand the unhappy shades of the Society of Spendthrifts (Brigata Spendereccia), the wanton squanderers of their own substance. These are but two instances taken at hazard, the one from the domestic life of the townspeople, the other from that of the peasantry of Dante's ever-remembered, ever-regretted country. In Inf. XXIX., 74, he compares the fever-stricken shades of the Falsifiers of Metals, propping themselves one against the other, to a group of saucepans (tegghie) standing close together over the fire. This simile is not borrowed from the kitchens of great people. Dante did not write for such as Lucullus and Apicius only, and his comparisons had to be taken from the most common objects. Again, when describing the grievous torment these shades were undergoing from the irritation of skin disease, he likens their frantic efforts to get relief, to the curry-combing of a horse by a groom, or to the scaling of a fish by a cook. The familiar aspect, existing to this day in Italy, of blind beggars sitting on the ground outside the doors of the churches, leaning against each other, comes back to his mind when in Purg. XIII., 61—63, he depicts the blinded spirits of the Envious sitting in that very attitude. The malaria of the Tuscan Maremma, and the futile attempts (of those days) to cure it by drainage, are cited, as in another place the insalubrious valley of the Chiana, whose sluggish course found marshes so pestiferous that, in Dante's time, not only had branch hospitals to be established all over the district, but we are told that these became so overcrowded, between July and September, that the sick used to he laid along the sides of the roads. In Purg. XXII., 49, the word rimbeccare, a term in Italian Tennis (Pallone) for " to return the ball " (Fr. riposter), may suggest to Dante's readers that he was familiar with the ancient game of Pallone, from which Tennis was certainly derived. In Inf. XXVI, (opening lines) the fireflies (lucciole) on a summer night are described with such accuracy as well-nigh to make one believe oneself on a Tuscan hill-side.

"The Divine Comedy is Dante himself. If there exists a work from which it is impossible to separate for one instant the presence of its author, it is indeed this one. Dante is unceasingly present—he is indeed scarcely absent in a single line—he is at the same time the hero and the chief actor in its scenes. He compels us to feel the full force of his wonderments and of his terrors, of his emotions of pity, as well as his moments of indignation and wrath. It is with him that we undergo the glare of the flames of Hell, with him that we shiver in the icy blasts of Cocytus. Were once his presence removed, in an instant the illusive image, which had kept our hearts and minds in subjection, would vanish likewise. It is among the torments of Hell and the penances of Purgatory that we see Dante in all his humanity. We mark his flight from the wild beasts; his horror on first witnessing the torments of the damned, which caused him twice, during his single night in Hell, to swoon away; his outbursts of rage against some of the most vile and contemptible characters; the rousing of his family pride on hearing his ancestors disparaged; his tender, gentle compassion for the renowned Imperial Chancellor, Pier delle Vigne (like himself the victim of Envy and Calumny); his sympathetic treatment of his old Mentor in science, Brunetto Latini, as well as of Brunetto's companions in guilt, the three great Florentines. In every one of these dramatic scenes Dante stands forth as one, at least, of the protagonists.

In Purgatory too we see Dante's humanity even more strongly exhibited. His sense of shame at being compelled to exchange his slow, dignified walk for a run; his breathlesshess when climbing up the lower slopes of the Mountain; his drowsiness on the approach of each successive night of the three days he spent on the Mountain of Purgatory; his self-consciousness of the sin of Pride; his swoon on being rebuked by Beatrice on the banks of the river Lethe—reveal him to us as the Man, with all a man's emotions, all his impulses, and all his feelings.

There is one quality moreover that he exhibits in himself, which is a singular contrast to the character tradition gives him of having fought as a brave soldier at the battle of Campaldino, and that is his pusillanimity (if the expression is not too strong) whilst journeying through Hell and Purgatory. He is always afraid; he is continually relating his fears. He clutches hold of Virgil in frantic terror, he hides himself behind his shoulders. For the supernatural terrifies even those who are bravest in presence of natural terrors; and we may well infer that these expressions of his terror are intended to heighten the horror of what he decribes.

Before reading the twenty-seventh Canto of the Inferno, we must pause for a moment, and endeavour to picture the scene. Dante and Virgil are standing on the crest of the lofty rock-bridge which overhangs the Eighth Bolgia of Malebolge. In the last Canto Dante had described the weird appearance of this valley, in which he could see flames darting about, which reminded him of the fire-flies (lucciole) with which one is so familiar on a summer night in Italy. He learns that in each flame is concealed the shade of a Fraudulent Chancellor. One of these flames has a double horn or apex, and in it are the shades of Ulysses and Diomede, with the fomer of whom Virgil has been conversing, and we shall now hear, in the opening words of the twenty-seventh Canto, that he, Virgil, has hid this double-horned flame depart; addressing the spirit of Ulysses in the Lombard dialect.

I will take the liberty of reading from my own prose translation:—

Now was the flame pointing straight up and (was) still, through not speaking any more, and already was it moving away from us with the permission of the gentle Poet; when another (flame) that was coming on behind it, made us turn our eyes towards its crest, by reason of a confused sound that was issuing from it.

By dritta in su we are to understand that the flame had ceased to wave about (crollarsi, XXVI., 86), and was directing its point straight up in the air. By queta is meant that it was no longer giving forth a sound (mormorando, Ib. 85).

The familiar accents of the North Italian tongue have attracted the attention of another shade, who, coming under the arch over which the Poets are leaning, entreats them to pause for a moment and converse with him. Dante compares the confused jumble of sounds within the flame, to the howls of anguish of the Athenian artificer Perillus, who, having invented a brazen bull in which Phalaris, the tyrant of Agrigentum, could roaat his condemned prisonera, was informed that he should himself be the first to teach the bull to bellow; and thus was the engineer "hoist with his own petard," Perillus being the first victim of his own invention.

As the Sicilian bull, which had bellowed first with the moaning of him—and that was right—who had fashioned it with his file, bellowed with the voice of the sufferer, with such reality, that notwithstanding it was made of brass, yet did it seem transfixed with agony.

In the brazen bull there was no outlet for the voice, so that the cries of the victim made an inarticulate sound, and Dante now shows that the voice proceeding from the tormented shade was of the same description:—

"So (here the words of woe, from not having at their commencement any vent or outlet from the fire, changed themselves into its language. But after that they had found their way up through the point, imparting to it that vibration which the tongue (of the imprisoned shade) had imparted to them in their passage (through its lips), we heard say: "O thou to whom I direct my voice, and who wast but now speaking Lombard, saying: 'Now get thee gone, no longer do I urge thee': though I may perchance have come a little late, let it not irk thee to stop and talk with me : See it irks not me, and I am burning."

It was Virgil's voice that the spirit had heard speaking Lombard. In fact he probably did not know that Virgil had a companion, for in that mondo cieco everything was concealed from his view. The difficulty of articulation on the part of these sinners seems to have been somewhat analogous to that of the Suicides in Inf. XIII., who had no power of utterance until blood flowing from a wound carried their voices with it.

The shade now continues to call up to Virgil, asking him if he is Italian, because if so, they are fellow-countrymen, he himself being from the Romagna, as to the dissensions in which he asks for news.

"If thou art but now fallen into this blind world from that sweet Latin land, from which I bring all my guilt, tell me if the Romagnoles have peace or war; for I was from that mountain region there between Urbino and the chain from which the Tiber is unlocked (i.e., takes its source)."

Dante calls all Italians south of the Po, Latini; and all to the north of it, Lombardi. He never once uses the term Italiani. Time will not allow of my quoting the references (Convivio IV., 28, 61 et seq.; and Inf. XXII., 65). The hill country of Montefeltro lies between Urbino and Monte Coronaro in the Apennines, where is the source of the Tiber. The speaker is the former great Ghibelline leader, Count Guido da Montefeltro, one of the most prominent figures in the highly-complicated history of the Italian States in the time of Dante. He died in 1398, and according to some, was buried at Assisi, where, two years before, he had entered the Franciscan Order. Some have wondered why Dante in his earlier work, the Convivio, had so extolled a man, whom in this passage he depicts in such black colours. Possibly Dante spoke in Guido's praise before he became acquainted with the infamy of his deceitful counsel to the Pope. Let us take this view, and suppose that Dante was not sorry to bring to light one of the dark deeds that would blacken the memory of his old enemy Boniface VIII. He would seem too to relate with a certain amount of complacency the sins of Count Guido, who, while the ostensible head of the Ghibelline party, was constantly vacillating between the Papal Court and the Empire. No one can read this Canto without perceiving that there is wrath in Dante's soul against the man whose deeds were less those of the lion than of the fox.

In Dante's progress through the Inferno, it is noticeable that in any interview with Spirits of antiquity, Virgil is always the spokesman, and in the preceding Canto, when Dante had expressed a wish that he and Virgil should converse with the double-horned flame enclosing the souls of Ulysses and Diomede, Virgil had given an assent, conditional on being himself the one to address them. He now releases Dante from this imposed silence, and urges him to reply to the shade of Guido da Montefeltro. Dante would appear to have foreseen that he was to be the speaker, and is quite ready. He gives a terrible picture of the dissensions in the various great cities of the Romagna, and of the sufferings they are undergoing at the hands of their respective tyrants. The limits of this lecture will not admit of our doing more than giving a mere glance at this part of the Canto, as our subject this evening is not what Dante relates to Count Guido, but what Guido relates to Dante:

I was still listening attentively, and bent down (over the bridge), when my Leader touched me on the side, saying: "Speak thou, this is an Italian." And I who had my answer already prepared, without delay began to speak: "Spirit, that art hidden down there, thy Romagna is not, nor ever was, without war in the hearts of her tyrants, but open (war) I recently left there none."

There were at that time at least two rival factions in every city of the Romagna, which province became the prey of a number of petty local tyrants.

In the description that follows here, of the arms of the reigning princes of Ravenna, Forlì, and Rimini, Dante has evidently intended to draw a marked distinction. The Eagle of the Da Polenta covers Ravenna and Cervia under its feathers, as a bird does its own brood, implying that the rule of the Da Polenta was a paternal and beneficent government, whereas by the rapacious claws of the Ordelaffi lion at Forlì, and by the pitiless fangs of the Malatesta mastiff at Rimini, a detestable tyranny is plainly indicated.

The city (la terra) which not long since endured the protracted struggle (i.e., siege), and of the Frenchmen made a gory pile, still finds itself under the Green Paws.

The arms of the Ordelaffi were a Lion, Vert, on a field, Or. After a long siege (lunga prova) which the City of Forlì sustained against an army principally of Frenchmen under the leadership of the Comte Jean de Apia, sent by Pope Martin IV., Count Guido da Montefeltro led the enemy into a craftily-devised trap and defeated them with tremendous slaughter (sanguinoso mucchio). One of the meanings of terra in the Middle Ages was "città, cartel murato." Virgil uses terrae in the Aeneid in the sense of "fortified towns." The late Sir James Lacaita told me ten years ago, that in the South of Italy one fellow-citizen will say to another about the chief town in their district (capoluogo in Italian and chef-lieu in French) "Andiamo alia terra," meaning, "let us go to the city." The error of rendering terra as "land" to entirely due to certain English translators, who are by far greater culprits than those of any other nationality. One of them actually translates the two first lines of Inf. X,, "By a secret path, between the wall of the land and the torments," instead of "By a retired path between the wall of the city (of Dis) and the torments."

The old Mastiff of Vernicchio, and the young one, who wrought the ill-usage on Montagna, there, where they have been wont, make an auger of their teeth.

The city of Rimini was at that time groaning under the tyranny of the two Malateaia, father and son, called Mastiffs (Mastini) on account of their ferocity, and notably so as recently exercised upon Messer Montagna de' Parcitati, a young man of noble family, the head of the Ghibelline faction in Rimini, and whom they put to a cruel death. Their castle was Verrucchio. The elder of the two was the father of Gianciotto and Paolo, the husband and the brother-in-law of the hapless Francesca da Rimini. Another reason perhaps for their being styled mastiffs was because there was a dog displayed upon their coat-of-arms.

Dante next mentions the cities of Faenza, Imola, and Cesena, the two first under the dominion of Maghinardo de' Pagani di Suainana, (whose arms were a Lion, Azure, upon a field, Argent), while the latter city, Cesena, was having alternate experience of tyranny and freedom.

The cities of Lamone and Santerno the young lion on the white lair (lit. nest) governs, who changes sides from the summer to the winter. Maghinardo de' Pagani was a Guelph in Tuscany, and a Ghibelline in Romagna. Faenza was situated on the river Lamone, Imola on the Santerno, and Gesena on the Savio.
And that (city, Cesena), whose flank the Savio washes, lives between tyranny and freedom, even as it is situated between the plain and the mountain.

Dante concludes by asking the shade of Guido to tell him who he is, addressing him with tu. Up to this point Dante has not known to whom he is speaking, and as soon as Guido has finished the sad tale which he is now about to relate in answer to Dante's question, the flame in which he is enveloped sweeps him away, thereby preventing the change to the (then) more respectful voi, which Dante would undoubtedly have made on finding himself in the presence of a Ghibelline leader and statesman of such exalted dignity and renown.

"Now I pray thee to tell us who thou art: be not more unyielding than another has been (to thee), so may thy name maintain its front in the world."

Time will not allow me to enlarge, as I should have liked, upon the respective uses of tu and voi in Dante's time as compared with the custom of the present day. In mediaeval times tu was the ordinary mode of address from one individual to another, irrespective of sex or age; while voi was used in addressing personages of superior rank or dignity as a mark of respect. At the present day voi is nearly universal in South Italy and Sicily; but the ordinary address in other parts of Italy, and especially in Tuscany and Rome, is the third person Lei. The use of tu at the present day is confined to extreme intimacy, and from superiors to inferiors. Its uses are complicated, and would require to be explained at length. It will be noticed that Dante has asked Guido to tell him who he is, but Guido in his answer only tells Dante who he was.

"Io fui uom d'arme, e poi fui cordelliero."

He never once mentions his name, or, like the Emperor Justinian, who in Par. VI., 10, tells Dante "I was Cæsar, I am Justinian," he would probably have said; "I was Count of Montefeltro, I am Guido." Buonconte, Guido's son, does so in Purg. V., 88:

"Io fui di Montefeltro, io son Buonconte."

Dante not only asks Guido to tell him his name, but also to relate the history of his life. Dr. Carlyle remarks that Dante speaks to Guide with a child-Iike tenderness and pity.

It is with obvious reluctance that Guido allows himself to be persuaded into relating his history. The secret plotter, who all his life had worked in hidden ways, feels great repugnance to utter a word about himself that might be made public on earth. It must be remembered that the Count had left behind him in the world a highly honourable reputation for piety following on to deep penitence, and he would naturally shrink from having this dark tale of his fraudulent counsel, hitherto unknown, brought to light. He turns over in his mind the pros and the cons, and without questioning the Poets, decides the matter for himself, but decides wrongly, by coming to the conclusion that both are spirits, and that any secrets he may utter will be quite safe. His intuitive power of nice discrimination has left him. He commences his relation, which lasts to the end of the Canto.

"S' io credesai che mia risposta fosse
A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
Questa flamma steria senza più scosse:
Ma perocchè giammai di questo fondo
Non tornò vivo alcun, s'i'odo il vero,65
Senza tema d'lnfamia ti rispondo.
Io fui uom d'arme, a poi fui cordelliero,
Credendomi, sì cinto, fare ammenda:
E certo il creder mio veniva intero,
Se non fosse il gran Prete, a cui mal prenda,70

Che mi rimise nelle prime colpe;
E, come e quare voglio che m'intenda.
Mentre cli'io forma f ui d'ossa e di polpe,
Che la madre mi die, l'opere mie
Non furon leonine, ma di volpe. 75
Gli accorgimenti e le coperte vie
Io seppi tutte ; e si menai lor arte,
Ch'al fine della terra il suono uscie.
Quando mi vidi giunto in quella parte
Di mia etade, ove ciascun dovrebbe 80
Calar le vele e raccoglier le sarte,
Ciò che pria mi piaeeva, allor m'increbbe,
E pentuto e confesso mi rendei;
Ahi miser lasso! e giovato sarebbe.
Lo Principe de'nuovi Farisei,85
Avendo guerra presso a Laterano,
E non con Saracin, ne con Giudei ;
Chè ciascun suo nimico era Cristiano,
E nessuno era state a vincer Acri,
Nè mercatante in terra di Soldano;I90
Nè sommo offizio, ne ordini sacri
Guardò in se, nb in me quel capestro
Che solea far li suoi cinti pi& macri.
Ma come Constantin chiese Silvestro
Dentro Siratti a guarir della lebbre,95
Cosi mi chiese questi per maestro
A guarir della sua superba f ebbre :
Domandommi consiglio, ed io tacetti,
Perchè le sue parole parver ebbre.
E poi mi disse : * Tuo cor non sospetti :100
Finer t'assolvo, e tu m'insegna fare
Si come Penestrino in terra getti.
Lo ciel poss'io serrare e disserrare,
Come tu sai; pero son due le chiavi,
Che il mio antecessor non ebbe care.'105
Allor mi pinser gli argomenti gravi
Làve il tacer mi fu awiso il peggio,
E dissi : 'Padre, da che tu mi lavi

Di quel peccato, ov'io me cader deggio,
Lunga promessa con l'attender corto110
Ti farà trïonfar nell'alto seggio.'
Francesco venne poi, com'io fui morto
Per me ; ma un de'neri Cherubini
Gli disse: ' Non portar, non mi far torto.
Venir se ne dee giù tra'miei meschini,115
Perchè diede il consiglio frodolente,
Dal quale in qua stato gli sono a'crini;
Ch'assolver non si può chi non si pente,
Nè pentere e volere insieme puossi,
Per la contradizion che nol consente.' 120
O me dolente! come mi riscossi,
Quando mi prese, dicendomi: ' Forse
Tu non pensavi ch'io loico fossi.'
A Minòs mi portò : e quegli attorse
Otto volte la coda al dosso duro,135
E, poi che per gran rabbia la si morse,
Disse : ' Questi è dei rei del foco furo:'[1]
Perch'io là dove vedi son perduto,
E sì vestito andando mi rancuro."
Quand'egli ebbe il suo dir così compiuto,130
La fiamma dolorando si partio
Torcendo e dibattendo il corno acuto.

After that the flame had roared for a while in its peculiar way, it moved the sharp point to and fro, and then breathed forth in such wise: "If I thought that my answer were addressed to one who would ever return to the world, (his flame should remain without further quiverings (i.e., should speak no more) : but inasmuch as none ever returned alive from this depth (meaning this Bolgia)—if I hear the truth — without fear of infamy I answer thee, I was a man of arms, and afterwards I was a Cordelier (i.e., a Grey Friar girded with, the cord of St. Francis), trusting thus cinctured to make amends, and assuredly my trust was on its way to fulfilment, had it not been for the Great Priest (Pope Boniface VIII.), whom may evil seize, who put me back into my former errors; and how, and why, I wish thee to hear from me."

He says his trust was in process of being fulfilled, giving the force of the imperfect tense. It is like a passage at the beginning of the Iliad (I., 5), where Homer says that the will of Jove was being accomplished ("Διὸς δὲ τελειέτο βουλή"). In this exordium Guide has given Dante a brief summary of what he has got to tell him. He was first a warrior, then a penitent, then a monk; he had reached a state of salvation, was thrown back into sin, and by the Pope; he is now going to relate how it all came about, and in what manner the sin was caused (come e quare). He first deals with the quare, i.e., the " why." Why did the Pope turn specially to him for counsel? Because of his world-renowned craft.

While I was the form of bones and flesh that my mother gave me (i.e., when I was alive), my deeds were not those of the lion, but of the fox. The subtle wiles and the covert ways, I knew them all; and so applied their art, that to the far end of the earth the sound went forth. When I saw myself come to that period of my age, when everyone ought to lower the sails and gather in the tackle (i.e., give oneself up to God), that which before had pleased me, then gave me remorse, and. after repentance and confession I dedicated myself (to God by becoming a friar). Ah! hapless me! and it would have availed!

The late Professor and philologist Nannucci told my father (Lord Vernon), being his Secretary at the time, that rendersi, by itself, means "to become a monk," "farsi frate," and is derived from the Provencal se rendre, with the same meaning. In the fourth book of the Convivio, cap, 24, Dante asaigns four agea to the life of a man, namely:—

  (a) Adolescence from birth till 25 years old.
  (b) Youth till 45 years old.
  (c) Old Age till 70 years old.
and (d) Senility after 70 till death.

Guido here means that he had reached the fourth period of his life, Senility or Decrepitude. In Convivio, IV., cap, 28, there are continual allusions to the metaphor of an aged man lowering his sails that he may enter the Heavenly Port.

Guide now tells Dante the strange combination of events which brought him into the counsels of Boniface. Martin IV. was dead, and the timid Celeatine V. had given way to Boniface VIII,, who now aat upon the Papal Throne. His election had been opposed by the Cardinals Giacomo and Pietro Colonna, and the new Pope's wrath culminated in a fierce civil war, in which he proclaimed a Crusade against them. He succeeded in depriving them of all their possessions, with the exception of the mountain stronghold of Paleatrina (the mediseval name for which was Peneatrino, from the ancient name Praeneate). Being baffled in his attempts to take it by force, the Pope suddenly bethought him of the well-known cunning and strategy of the Franciscan Friar, who had been the most astute statesman and military leader of his day, and we shall hear how he sought him out, and partly by persuasion and partly by intimidation, obtained from him the counsel he required.

The Prince of the modern Pharisees, having war near the Lateran, and not with Saracens nor with Jews; for every enemy of his was Christian, and none had been to conquer Acre, nor to traffick in the Soldan's territory. Neither his exalted office, nor his Holy Orders did he regard in himself, nor in me that cord which used to render those begirt with it more emaciated.

The palaces of the Colonna with whom the Pope was at war, were near the Lateran; and the war itself was not a holy Crusade for the cause of religion, but one for Pope Boniface's own personal interests. The old Commentators believed that Count Guide's repentance had been, up to a certain time, very real. He conformed most rigidly to the rule of the Minor Friars, donning their garb, and begging his bread publicly in the streets of Ancona. It is related that on one occasion he was riding on an ass into the city of Fano, and near the gate of that town a number of asses began to bray, and the bystanders to laugh. Whereupon the Count, for all that he was a Friar, lost his temper, and said: " There was a time when I have been round Fano with more hundreds of mounted men-at-arms than there are asses here," and he spoke the truth; for as long as it had been in his power, he had always been a standing menace to Bomagna.

Guido compares the Pope's application to him for counsel to the legend that the Emperor Constantino once sought out Pope Sylvester in the caverns under Mount Soracte to cure him of his leprosy.

But as Constantine besought Sylvester within Soracte to cure him of the leprosy, so did he (Boniface) beseech me as a physician to cure him of the fever of his arrogance (i.e., to gratify his heated desire to be revenged upon the Colonna); he asked of me counsel, and I kept silence, because his words seemed drunken.

The word Maestro, in its primary sense, means an expert in anything, whether trade, or science, or handicraft. Buti and many of the old Commentators interpret it here as "medico," (a doctor), and in. the Decameron Boccaccio wes it continually in that sense.

To remove Guide's scruples, the Pope promised him absolution beforehand for any sin he might commit.

And then he said to me: "Let not thy heart misgive thee: from this moment I absolve thee, and do thou teach me so to contrive that I may hurl down Palestrina to the ground, I have the power, as thou knowest, both to close and to open Heaven; for which purpose two are the keys (committed to me) which my predecessor held not dear."

Guido goes on to relate how he yielded to the Pope's persuasions, which moreover, he hints, were of so cogent and authoritative a nature, that it would probably have cost him his life or his liberty to have resisted them.

Then did his weighty arguments impel me to that point where to be silent seemed to me to be the worst counsel, and I said; " Father, since thou dost cleanse me from that sin into which I now must fall (this is my advice). Long promise with short (i.e., only partial) keeping will make thee triumph on the High Seat."

There is a terrible irony in these words, when one thinks of the last vindictive humiliations that Boniface himself underwent at the hands of Sciarra di Colonna, and which moved even Dante to pity his fallen foe. We are left to infer that Guido deluded himself into a false security from the absolution given to him beforehand, and that he lived on in this delusion for the remaining year of his life as in a dream, from which he was rudely awakened by the reality of finding that the Fiend had triumphed over St. Francis in the contention for his sonl. If he had not been fully persuaded of the efficacy of the Pope's absolution, he would have obtained it anew after due contrition and penitence.

Francis came for me afterwards, as soon as I was dead, but one of the black Cherubim (interposing) said to him: "Bear him not away; defraud me not. He has got to come down among my minions, because he gave the fraudulent counsel, from which time I have been (clutching) at his hair. For he who does not repent cannot be absolved, nor is it possible to repent and to will at the same time, by reason of the contradiction which allows it not." Ah wretched me! how I' re-awakened (i.e., how my eyes were suddenly opened) when he seized me, saying to me: "Thou didst not imagine perchance that I was a logician!"

Observe the force of the fiendish dialectic! No one can be absolved from a sin unless he has repented of it. Guide could not assuredly repent by anticipation of the sin which he had the will in his soul to commit; therefore the absolution was null and void, and he died in sin. Man repents of what he would not willingly have done; but to repent of a trespass, and to will to trespass, is the same time as repenting and not repenting at the same time; which involves a contradiction.

There is little more for Guide to tell Dante. The Demon's action is exceedingly prompt, and the routine of Dante's Hell has little variation, except that even in Minos the enormity of Guide's crime would seem to have aroused especial indignation.

"To Minos he bore me: and he round his stubborn back eight times did coil his tail, and then when from great fury he had bitten it, said: This is one of the sinners of the thievish fire (i.e., the flame which conceals its prey): wherefore I, where thou seest, am lost, and going thus attired, I bemoan me."

Guido's story is now told. He has no wish to be recalled to memory, and as he utters his last mournful words, he hurries away, whereupon the Poets pass on to the top of the bridge that overhangs the next Bolgia.

When he had thus completed his tale, the flame in anguish speeded away, twisting and flapping its sharp horn.

Benvenuto da Imola thinks the chief cause of Quido's anguish was the thought of how little all his wisdom and cunning had availed him.

Among the lost souls in Hell, some have entreated Dante to mention their names on earth, as, for instance, Ciacco, in Inf, VI.; Pier delle Vigne', Canto XIII.; Brunetto Latini, Canto XV.; and the three noble Florentines in Canto XVI.; but the fallen great man, to whose grievous tale Dante has been listening, has no wish to be remembered, nor, having died apparently in the odour of sanctity, desires that his reputation should be tarnished by it being recorded that Dante had seen him in nearly the lowest depths of Hell.

Buonconte da Montefeltro.
Purgatorio V.

While Dante, in company with Virgil, is clambering up the rocky heights of Ante-Purgatory, by a path so. exceedingly steep that it reminds him of the precipitous cliffs that overhang Noli on the Comiche Boad between Nice and G^noa, his attention is arrested by the exclamations of a group of spirits, who, at the sight of his shadow, are struck with wonder and amazement. Dante is by no means displeased at the notice he is attracting, but Yirgil reproves him for giving heed to such a light wind as the praises of the populace. How does he know that he merits it?

Dante neither resents Virgil's reproof, nor makes any endeavour to excuse his fault, but reverently amends it.

It is at this point that the Poets encounter another group of spirits who, as they advance, devoutly sing the Miserere. They come along the hill-side, on the level, but not ascending it, which their penance for the nonce forbids them to do. These are they who died violent I deaths, and deferred repentance till their last hour. Again, we have the same outspoken expression of wonder on the part of the spirits at the evidence, afforded by Dante's shadow, of his being alive; and two of them issuing from the band, rush forward to question him. One of these is Jacopo del Cassero (whose conversation with Dante we shall not discuss to-day), the other is Buonconte da Montefeltro. What so greatly excites their wonder is the fact that Dante alone, among all that are present, has not deferred his repentance either until his old age, or until his death. They ask Dante to make them cognizant of his condition. Virgil replies, and tells them that if from their having noticed Dante's shadow they stood still, they are correct in assuming that his body is very flesh. Let them do him honour, and it may be of value to them. The two messenger spirits, on hearing Virgil's words, dart away, and Dante compares the rapidity with which they return to him with the whole band, to the flash of a falling star. Virgil forbids Dante to stop, but tells him he may listen to the spirits as be walks on. He evidently wishes to put a cheek on any undue delay, as Dante had expended a good deal of time in his long interview with King Manfred. The spirits, however, are cruelly disappointed by Virgil's prohibiton, and having failed to detain Dante, they appeal to his sympathy by relating their violent deaths, and their tardy repentance at the last hour. They ask him to look and see if he recognises any of them, in order that he may bear tidings of them when he returns to the world. Dante confesses that their faces are all unknown, to him, but he solemnly assures them that on his return to the world he will comply with their petitions. The spirits are much moved by this assurance, and it would seem that at this point three of them step forth from the rest, and in turn make known their identity, and request Dante's good offices with their friends on earth. Of the first of these, Jacopo del Cassero of Fano, who had been Podesta of Bologna in 1296, it is beside our purpose to speak to-day. The other two are Buonconte da Monte- feltro and Pia (born of the Tolomei) of Siena.

Buonconte da Montefeltro was the eldest son of his famous father, Count Guido. He commanded the Ghibelline forces at the battle of Campaldino, in 1289, in which battle Dante, when 24 years of age, had been one of the combatants in the Guelph army, where be fought side by with Bernardino da Polenta, brother of Francesca da Rimini, and from him Dante probably first heard the story of his unhappy sister's fate. The Guelph army, under Amerigo da Narbona, consisted of the Guelph citizens, who, having been banished from Arezzo, had formed a league with the Guelph states of Florence, Bologna,, Lucca and Pistoja; while the army of Arezzo, under Buonconte da Montefeltro, represented the Ghibellines. Dr. Moore (Dante and his early Biographers) remarks that although the battle as a whole was a decisive victory for the Guelph forces, in the part of it where Dante was fighting on horseback in the very front rank, the Aretines were successful, the Florentine cavalry being disastrously routed, and Dante very narrowly escaped with his life. Benvenuto da Imola asserts that by this victory not only was the arrogance of the people of Arezzo subdued, but, besides that, the power of the whole Ghibelline party was greatly attenuated.

We will now read the text of Buonconte's conversation with Dante:—

Poi disse un altro; "Deh, se quel disio85
Si compia che ti tragge all'alto monte.
Con buona pïetate aiuta il mio.
Io sui di Montef eltro, io son Buonconte;
Giovanna, o altri non ha di me cura;
Perch'io vo tra costor con bassa fronte."90
Ed io a lui : Qual forza, o qual ventura
Ti traviò si fuor di Campaldino,
Che non si seppe mai tua sepoltura?"—
"Oh,—" rispos'egli,—"appiè del Casentino
Traversa un'acqua che ha nome Tarchiano,90
Che sopra TErmo nasce in Apennino.
Dove il vocabol suo diventa vano
Arriva'io forato nella gola,
Fuggendo a piede e sanguinando il piano.
Quivi perdei la vista, e la parola100
Nel nome di Maria finii, e quivi
Caddi, e rimase la mia carne sola.
Io dirò il vero, e tu il ridi' tra i vivi;
L' Angel di Dio mi prese, e quel d'infemo
Gridava: "tu del ciel, perche mi privi?105
Tu te ne porti di costui Teterno
Per una lagrimetta che il mi toglie;
Ma io farò dell'altro altro govemo."—
Ben sai come neiraere si raccoglie

Quell'umido vapor che in acqua riede,
Tosto che sale dove il freddo il coglie.110
Giunse quel mal voler, che pur mal chiede,
Con l'intelletto, e mosse il fummo e il vento
Per la virtù che sua natura diede.
Indi la valle, come il di fu spento,115
Da Pratomagno al gran giogo coperse
Di nebbia, e il ciel di sopra fece intento
Si, che il pregno aere in acqua si converse:
La pioggia cadde, ed ai fossati venne
Di lei ciò che la terra non sofferse:120
E come a'rivi grandi si convenne,
Vêr lo fiume real tanto veloce
Si ruinò, che nulla la ritenne.
Lo corpo mio gelato in sulla foce
Trovo l'Archian rubesto; e quel sospinse135
Nell'Arno, e sciolse al mio petto la croce
Ch'io fei di me quando il dolor mi vinse:
Voltommi per le ripe e per lo fondo,
Poi di sua preda mi coperse e cinse."

Buonconte tells Dante his name, at the same time complaining of the apathy of his wife and his kindred, who seemingly had as yet done nothing to extricate him from his detention in Ante-Purgatory. His desire is that Dante should go to Urbino, and get prayers and masses offered up for his soul, in order that thereby he may be allowed to enter the gates of Purgatory, and after due purgation obtain further permission to win his way up to Paradise, It was by such intercessions that Dante's great personal friend, Forese de 'Donati (in Purgatario XXIII., 85, et seq.) tells Dante that his wife Nella "with her-overflowing tearw, brought him to drink the sweet wormwood of these torments."

Buonconte continues:—

"I was a Montefeltro, I am Buonconte: Neither Giovanna nor others give heed to me; therefore must I go among these spirits with downcast brow."

It was known that Buonconte had fallen in the battle of Campaldino, but as his body had never been identified among the slain, Dante, anxious to ascertain the true facts, represents himself as seeking the information from Buonconte himself.

And I to him: " What force or what chance caused thee to stray so far from Campaldino, that thy place of sepulture never was known?"

Buonconte, in reply, gives Dante circumstantial details as to the manner and place of his death, and how his soul was saved at the last moment by the powers of good prevailing over the powers of evil; and it is at this special point that we see, strongly accentuated, the contrast between the fate of two members of the same family. The father. Count &uido, as we have read above, was carried away by a Devil out of the very hands of St. Francis himself for a single speech of evil counsel which annulled all the fruits of his penitence. We now hear of a similar contest between the Angel and the Devil for the spirit of the son, where a single sigh uttered to the Virgin Mary, and the arms folded into the sign of the Cross upon the dying warrior's breast decides the contest in favour of the Angel, leaving the Devil to wreak his disappointment and wrath upon the dead body.

"Oh," answered he, " at the foot of the Casentino there takes its course a stream that is named the Archiano, which rises above the Hermitage (i.e., Camaldoli) in the Apennines. There, where its name comes to an end (i.e., at the point, two miles from Campaldino, where the Archiano flows into the Amo) I arrived, pierced through the throat, fleeing away on foot, and staining the plain with my blood. There my sight failed me, and I ended my power of utterance with the name of Mary, and there I sank down, and my flesh alone was left. I will speak the truth, and do thou report it again among the living; the Angel of God took me, and the one from Hell exclaimed: 'O thou from Heaven, why dost thou rob me? Thou bearest away the eternal portion of him for one small tear that snatches him from me? I will, however, deal in another fashion with the other (i.e., with the mortal portion) .'"

And now Dante, in order to relate how the Devil raised a tempest which filled the livers to overflowing, bo that they should sweep away and conceal the body of Buonconte, gives a description of the formation of rain, and makes Buonconte show how the Fiend used his diabolical intelligence to adapt the elements to his evil purposes.

Thou knowest well how there gets collected in the atmosphere that humid vapour which is re-converted into water, ao soon as it rises up to where the cold condenses into rain. He (the Devil) joined that malign will, which desires naught but ill, to his demoniacal intelligence, and stirred np the smoky mist and the wind, by that power which his (angelic) nature imparted to him. Then as soon as the day was spent, he covered with mist the (whole) valley from Pratomagno to the great mountain chain (i.e., the Apennines), and made the sky above to be so compressed, that the charged air was converted into water: down poured the rain, and what of it the earth could not absorb ran into the watercourses; and as it joined with the mighty torrents, it rushed headlong towards the kingly river (the Amo) with such impetuosity that nothing could check its course. The impetuous Archiano found my frozen body near its outfall, and swept it into the Amo, and loosened from my breast the Cross that I had made of myself (by folding my arms across my breast) when the deathagony overcame me: it (the Amo) rolled me along its banks, and over its bottom, after which it covered and entangled me with its spoils (i.e., with the mud, gravel, weeds and branches which were being swept along by the swollen current).

The old Commentator Benvenuto da Imola launches out into a burst of admiration at the beauty of the above passage, in which Dante represents himself as having been ignorant of the place where Buonconte was buried, but puts the revelation of the mystery into that warrior's own mouth, and begs his readers to consider with what art the Poet has elevated a subject which was, in itself, humble and of no great importance.

We have now brought to a conclusion the striking contrast between the death-scene of Guide, the father, and Buonconte, the son, noticing the dissimilarity in the subsequent fate of each ; and here my Lecture would end, were it not that the last seven lines of the Canto contain an episode which, some think, surpasses in beauty any in the Commedia, and I have ventured to include it in our subject.

We mentioned above that seemingly three spirits had stepped forward out of the band. The narrative of Jacopo del Cassero we omitted; we have given full consideration to that of Buonconte da Montefeltro; and now we find that the third spirit of the three makes her petition to Dante. This is Pia, generally reported to have been of the Tolomei family of Siena, a statement which is supported by Benvenuto and the Anonimo Fiorentino. This Pia must not be confused with Pia Guastelloni, widow of Baldo Tolomei, who was still living in 1318. The name of her husband was Paganello (shortened into Nello) deTannocchieschi, lord of the Castle of la Pietra, nine miles to the east of Massa Marittima. He was Podesta of Volterra in 1277 and of Lucca in 1313. He was alive, and made a will, in 1318. It is said that Nello wanted to get rid of Pia in order that he might be free to marry the beautiful Margherita degli Aldobrandeschi, the widow of Guy de Montfort. According to some, he caused his retainers to hurl her out of a window of his castle in the Maremma down the tremendous precipice below. Another account says that Nello simply waited until the pestilential air of the district, so fatal to life, should destroy her. But Dante has not chosen, in her case to lift the veil that hangs over her mysterious fate, as he has done in the case of Buonconte da Montefeltro.

Pia tells her sad story in a few simple sentences, hut so clearly and so tersely, that the passage has always been reputed to be one of those that demonstrates to the fullest extent Dante's marvellous power of condensed narrative.

"Deh, quando tu sarai tomato al mondo,130
     E riposato della lunga via,
     Seguito il terzo apirito al secondo,
"Ricorditi di me, che son la Pia:
     Siena mi fe', disfecemi Maremma :
     Salsi colui che innanellata, pria135
Disposanda, m'avea con la sua gemma."

"Ah, when thou shalt have returned to the world, and rested thyself from the long journey," the third spirit followed on to the second, " Remember me who am Pia: Siena made me, Maremma unmade me; that man, my husband, knows it, who, first plighting troth, had wedded me with his ring."

Some read disposata, but whichever reading be adopted, the passage is an exceedingly difficult one to translate correctly. Construe it thus: "Salsi colui, he knows it, che who pria disposando first plighting troth, innanellata m'avea had wedded me con la sua gemma with his ring." Jacopo del Caasero wishes to be remembered by the people of Fano; Buonconte by his wife, the Countess Giovanna; but Pia has no name in her domestic sanctuary, and can only rely on the compassionate feelings of Dante. Observe, too, the womanly tenderness as well as the high-bred politeness of Pia, who only begs Dante to think of her on earth, after that he shall be able to do ao without inconvenience to himself. Neither of the male spirits had made any such reservation in their eager requests that Dante would urge their friends to pray for them.

I am anxious to add to this lecture an expression of my deep sense of the honour which the Council of the Manchester Dante Society have done me by inviting me to deliver the first lecture out of the many which I trust that they will listen to in the future.

In a conversation which I was privileged to have this morning with the Dean of Manchester, the Right Rev. Bishop Welldon, he cordially agreed with me in the strong conviction that in the cultured city of Manchester,—which I may be permitted to term the Athens of North England, as Edinburgh is said to be of North Britain,—there ought not only to be a Dante Society, but also a good and a permanent one—one that should be attended by those who really study Dante, and not only by audiences assembled to listen to an interesting discourse. Really to know Dante is to love him—but the study of him without such love is but an arid pursuit, and one doomed to disappointment.

  1. furo : Compare furto in Inf. xxxvi 41, where furto signifies the thing "stolen away from sight "hidden"; as in Racine's Athalie, Act 1. sc. 2. where the High Priest Jehoiada (Joad) tells Princess Jehosheba (Josabet) that the time is come to reveal existence of the young King Josah, whom she has so fortunately hidden away from the vengeance of Athaliah. He speaks of the King as her "happy theft:"

    "Les temps sont accomplis, Princesse, il Faut parler,
    Et votre heureux larcin ne peut plus ne cacher."

This work was published before January 1, 1925, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.