"Love follows knowledge."
"Beauty above all beauty!"
– St. Catherine of Siena

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Literature in the News: Dante Alighieri’s 750th Birthday

In my last post I mentioned I wanted to celebrate the 750th anniversary of Dante Alighieri’s birth.    I also mentioned there that the exact day of Dante’s birth is unknown, but from a reference in The Divine Comedy we know he was born under the sign of Gemini, and therefore we can bracket from May 11th to June 11th

The celebrations in Italy for the occasion must have been stunning.  Both a the actor Robert Begnini and an emissary for the Pope spoke in honor of the great Italian poet in the Italian parliament.  From the English version of the Italian news, ANSA

(ANSA) - Rome, May 4 - Oscar-winning actor Roberto Benigni received a standing ovation Monday as he read from Dante in the Italian Senate and Pope Francis praised the medieval poet as a "prophet of hope" as the nation marked the 750th anniversary of his birth.
    Benigni received a standing ovation after his reading from Dante's Divine Comedy in the Upper House of parliament, which was attended by President Sergio Mattarella and broadcast live to the nation by state-run RAI radio.
    The program also included a new musical homage to the poet by renowned composer Nicola Piovani.
    The pope's message said that Dante's works announced the "possibility of redemption and liberation" for humanity with his works that affirmed the love of God and the hope for a new life.
    Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi delivered the pope's message that described Dante as "one of the most illustrious figures of all humanity".
    The pope's message added the Florentine was an "artist of the highest universal values who still has much to say and to give through his works (to those who are) willing to follow the way of true knowledge, the discovery of self and the world".
    Benigni, who read from the XXIII canto of Dante's Paradiso, said: "The Divine Comedy is a miracle, a work whose beauty takes your breath away".

The article goes on to say that 187 events will occur across Italy in commemoration of his birth, and another 173 outside of Italy by Italian cultural institutes.  I wonder if any will occur here in New York City since we have such a large Italian-American population. 

So how should I commemorate the occasion?  Let’s start with the first 39 lines of that Paradisio Canto XXIII that Benigni read.  This is the spectacular moment that Dante the character sees Christ, the light of the world.  I’ll copy over from the Princeton Dante Project  which includes the Hollander and Hollander translation.  I’ll post the Italian and the English side by side.

Come l'augello, intra l'amate fronde,  1          As the bird among the leafy branches that she loves,
posato al nido de' suoi dolci nati        2          perched on the nest with her sweet brood
la notte che le cose ci nasconde,         3          all through the night, which keeps things veiled from us,
    che, per veder li aspetti disïati        4          who in her longing to look upon their eyes and beaks
e per trovar lo cibo onde li pasca,       5          and to find the food to nourish them --
in che gravi labor li sono aggrati,        6          a task, though difficult, that gives her joy --
    previene il tempo in su aperta frasca,          7          now, on an open bough, anticipates that time
e con ardente affetto il sole aspetta,   8          and, in her ardent expectation of the sun,
fiso guardando pur che l'alba nasca;   9          watches intently for the dawn to break,
    così la donna mïa stava eretta         10        so was my lady, erect and vigilant,
e attenta, rivolta inver' la plaga           11        seeking out the region of the sky
sotto la quale il sol mostra men fretta:            12        in which the sun reveals less haste.
    sì che, veggendola io sospesa e vaga,         13        I, therefore, seeing her suspended, wistful,
fecimi qual è quei che disïando           14        became as one who, filled with longing,
altro vorria, e sperando s'appaga.        15        finds satisfaction in his hope.
    Ma poco fu tra uno e altro quando, 16        But time was short between one moment and the next,
del mio attender, dico, e del vedere   17        I mean between my expectation and the sight
lo ciel venir più e più rischiarando;     18        of the sky turned more and more resplendent.
    e Bëatrice disse: "Ecco le schiere    19        And Beatrice said: 'Behold the hosts
del trïunfo di Cristo e tutto 'l frutto    20        of Christ in triumph and all the fruit
ricolto del girar di queste spere!"        21        gathered from the wheeling of these spheres!'
    Pariemi che 'l suo viso ardesse tutto,          22        It seemed to me her face was all aflame,
e li occhi avea di letizia sì pieni,          23        her eyes so full of gladness
che passarmen convien sanza costrutto.          24        that I must leave that moment undescribed.
    Quale ne' plenilunïi sereni   25        As, on clear nights when the moon is full,
Trivïa ride tra le ninfe etterne 26        Trivia smiles among the eternal nymphs
che dipingon lo ciel per tutti i seni,     27        that deck the sky through all its depths,
    vid' i' sopra migliaia di lucerne        28        I saw, above the many thousand lamps,
un sol che tutte quante l'accendea,     29        a Sun that kindled each and every one
come fa 'l nostro le viste superne;       30        as ours lights up the sights we see above us,
    e per la viva luce trasparea  31        and through that living light poured down
la lucente sustanza tanto chiara           32        a shining substance. It blazed so bright
nel viso mio, che non la sostenea.       33        into my eyes that I could not sustain it.
    Oh Bëatrice, dolce guida e cara!     34        O Beatrice, my sweet belovèd guide!
Ella mi disse: "Quel che ti sobranza    35        To me she said: 'What overwhelms you
è virtù da cui nulla si ripara.    36        is a force against which there is no defense.
    Quivi è la sapïenza e la possanza    37        'Here is the Wisdom and the Power that repaired
ch'aprì le strade tra 'l cielo e la terra,   38        the roads connecting Heaven and the earth
onde fu già sì lunga disïanza."            39        that had so long been yearned for and desired.'

How about a post some statues of Dante from across the world.  Here is the most famous I think, from the UffiziMuseum in Florence, Italy, the city that banished Dante during his lifetime.

This also in Florence at the wonderful Santa Croce Basilica.  

I’ve been there but I can’t remember the statue.  I do remember the one at the Uffizi.

Here is one in Verona, Italy.

And then one in Naples, Italy. 

I wonder if every city in Italy has a statue of Dante.  Let’s come over to the United States and there is this one in Washington, DC.

And then there is this one in New York City.  This is off my personal camera.  I took it on Memorial Day when Matthew and I were on a bus.  Unfortunately I couldn’t get a good angle, and the bus was moving.

OK, that didn’t really capture it.  Sorry it was the best I could do from the bus.  Here’s an image of it off the internet.

Actually it looks exactly the same as the one in Washington.  So which do I like the best?  I’d go with the one at the Uffizi.

Happy Birthday Dante!


  1. One would need a rather large cake for all those candles....there would be a veritable inferno!

    1. Hahahaha! Excellent. You made my day. :)

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