Monday, September 24, 2007

A song of Bernart de Ventadorn

Click to hear a song of Bernart's:

When I see the lark beat his wings

for joy against the sun's ray,

until he forgets to fly and plummets down,

for the sheer delight which goes to his heart,

alas, great envy comes to me

of those whom I see filled with happiness,

and I marvel that my heart

does not instantly melt from desire.

continue here

Dante's Third Dream

"If anyone should want to know my name,
I am called Leah. And I spend all my time
weaving garlands of flowers with my fair hands,
to please me when I stand before my mirror;
my sister Rachel sits all the day long
before her own and never moves away.
She loves to contemplate her lovely eyes;
I love to use my hands to adorn myself:
her joy is in reflection, mine in act."
(Purgatorio xxvii, 101-08, [Musa trans.])

The third prophetic dream of the Purgatorio offers Dante the pilgrim a vision of Leah and Rachel, coming in the pre-dawn at the moment Venus (here called Citerea, recalling the birth of Aphrodite) appears.

The motif of the wives of Jacob had long been a key figure of medieval interpreters of the Bible. Here is some background on four of them (Philo, Origen, Augustine, and Gregory). The comments of Augustine are seen as most relevant for Dante. As the author succinctly puts it,
the Leah/Rachel pair offers an image for the active and contemplative lives in which they are successive and necessary stages, the second of which is the superior, more beloved, and more divine.
Mussy has suggested we consider all three dreams of the Purgatorio together. It might well reward "contemplation" to do so. For ease of reference:
  • Canto 9: First Dream, of the eagle that caught up the sleeper, like Ganymede, nearly to perish in the sphere of fire (between earth and the moon). Set in Valley of the Princes; Lucy carries sleeping pilgrim to entrance to Purgatory proper.
  • Canto 19: Second dream - the "femmina balba" turns into the seductive siren who claims to lead all mariners astray. Set between 4th and 5th terrace (Sloth and Avarice).
  • Canto 27: Third dream -- Rachel and Leah. Set on steps after the wall of fire, before entrance to Garden of Eden.
There are linguistic echoes as well as some intriguing differences among not only the content of the dreams, but also in the relation of the poet to his dream. How does Virgil's role change?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Monday, September 17, 2007

Are the Humanities becoming unaffordable?

Rivisiting the Canon Wars, from the NYT:

Our nation, like most nations of the world, is devaluing the humanities vis-à-vis science and technology, so constant vigilance is required lest these disciplines be cut.” Louis Menand, a Harvard English professor and New Yorker staff writer who serves on Harvard’s curriculum reform committee, concurs: “The big question for humanists is, How do we explain why what we do is important for people who aren’t humanists? That’s been tough, really tough.”

Friday, September 14, 2007

Dartmouth Dante: The Commentaries

The Dartmouth Dante Project is one of the oldest online sites devoted to things Dantesque. Jutta recently pointed us to a vast resource now on the site: a means of searching a huge aggregate of commentaries on the Comedia.

The site has two remarkable elements:

1. You search commentators going back to Jacopo Alighieri - one of Dante's sons, which was published in 1322, a year after the poet's death - and forward to Robert and Jean Hollander, the final part of whose huge edition of the poem has just been published (and reviewed here). So if you're interested in, say, the use of the term corpo fittizio in Purgatorio 26 (you'll recall the shades on the terrace of Lust are struck by the physicality of Dante's shadow - the fact that his body is not fittizio) you enter those words, allow the search to default to "any," and get back the relevant text:

Questa fu la cagion che diede inizio
loro a parlar di me; e cominciarsi
a dir: “Colui non par corpo fittizio”

along with precise places in 17 commentaries where this term is noted and explicated.

2. The commentaries appear without translation; many of them are either in Italian or Latin. Also, there is no way to obtain the entire text of any one commentary - i.e., if you wanted to read through Jacopo's complete "key" to his father's Inferno, that's not readily available. It's unclear why, but probably has something to do with intellectual property rights and academic anality.

One ought not leave a discussion of the commentaries without noting that Dante from early on was prone to offer commentary on his own poems. So, for example, from the Convivio we have his discussion of allegory and his explications of several of his canzoni. In his Letter to Can Grande we have the poet, as noted earlier, laying out his view of theological allegory and fourfold interpretation. And even Vita Nuova, with its alternation of lyric and narrative elements, to some extent offers the poet's narrative as gloss upon his poems, and vice versa.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

A review of the Hollander Dante

. . . the emotional world of the Purgatorio is one that we understand. The souls in Purgatory are sorry for their sins, and they are in pain—they have to walk through flames and the like—but they are also happy, because they are on their way to Heaven and their companions are coming with them. The emotion, basically, is Christian fellowship, or, to put it in secular terms, a cross between love and wisdom. Such mellow climes of feeling were not Dante’s home territory—he was more interested in the agony and the ecstasy—but he makes them present to us, and moving.
From The New Yorker of 9.03.07

Cloud Nine

A new translation of the Paradiso.

by Joan Acocella

Monday, September 10, 2007

Purgatorio 26: Guido Guinizelli

Al cor gentil rempaira sempre amore

come l'ausello in selva a la verdura;

né fe' amor anti che gentil core,

né gentil core anti ch'amor, natura:

ch'adesso con' fu 'l sole',

sì tosto lo splendore fu lucente,

né fu davanti 'l sole;

e prende amore in gentilezza loco

così propiamente

-come calore in clarità di foco.

Foco d'amore in gentil cor s'aprende
come vertute in petra prezïosa:
che de la stella valor no i discende
anti che 'l sol la faccia gentil cosa;
poi che n'ha tratto fòre
per sua forza lo sol ciò che li è vile,
stella li dà valore:
così lo cor, ch'è fatto da natura
asletto, pur, gentile
donna, a guisa di stella, lo 'nnamora.

Love returns always to a noble heart,
Like a bird to the green in the forest.
Nature did not make love before the noble heart,
Nor the noble heart before love.
As soon as the sun appeared,
Brightness shone forth,
But it did not exist before the sun.
And love takes its place in true nobility
As rightly
As heat in the brightness of fire.

Love's fire catches in the noble heart,
Like the power of a precious stone
Whose potency does not descend from the star
Until the sun makes it a noble object:
After the sun has drawn out
Everything base with its own force,
The star confers power on it.
In such a way, lady,
Like the star, transforms the heart
Chosen by Nature and made pure and noble.

Purgatorio 26: Arnaut Daniel

I see scarlet, green, blue, white, yellow
gardens, bushes, plains, hills and valleys;
and the birds' voices sound and echo
with sweet chords, morning and evening:
this puts in my heart that I colour my song
with a flower such that its fruit will be love
and joy the seed and the scent a shield against sadness.

Thinking, Love's fire takes me
and sweet, deep desire;
and it's tasty, the pain that I feel
and the more it burns me the more pleasant the flame is,
since Love asks his subjects to be so:
true, earnest, faithful and prone to pleading
since in its court pride harms, and flattery's prized.

But I'm not changed by place or by time,
advice, chance (good nor ill);
and if I lie to you by purpose,
may she never look upon me, the fair one
that I hold in my heart while sleeping and waking,
since I don't want at all (my affairs being pretended)
to be, without her, where most flared Alexander.

Many times my merriment is boring,
without her, and of her I will at least
tell now the fourth or fifth part
since to no other side I turn my heart,
since of nothing else I have longing or wish
since she's the greatest of all my pleasures
and I see her in my heart, even if I'm in Flandres or in Puglia.

I crave to be but her cook
so as to get such an income
that'd make me live well for more than twenty years,
so much she keeps my heart merry and happy:
I'm such a fool! what am I looking for?
since I don't want, there where riches are,
to behold what Tigris and Meander enclose.

Among the others often I pretend to play,
and the day looks like a spleen,
and it grieves me that God doesn't let me
shorten time at will,
since a long wait make the lover languish:
Moon and Sun, too long you run your course!
It grieves me that your light doesn't dim more often.

Now go, song to the one I belong to,
of which Arnaut cannot show the virtues
since for that he would have display a higher wit.

More Arnaut Daniel here.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

A summary life of the poet

The "Purgatorio", perhaps the most artistically perfect of the three canticles, owes less to the beauty of the separate episodes. Dante's conception of purgatory as a lofty mountain, rising out of the ocean in the southern hemisphere, and leading up to the Garden of Eden, the necessary preparation for winning back the earthly paradise, and with it all the prerogatives lost by man at the fall of Adam, seems peculiar to him; nor do we find elsewhere the purifying process carried on beneath the sun and stars, with the beauty of transfigured nature only eclipsed by the splendour of the angelic custodians of the seven terraces. The meeting with Beatrice on the banks of Lethe, with Dante's personal confession of an unworthy past, completes the story of the "Vita Nuova" after the bitter experiences and disillusions of a lifetime.

The above is from a brief vita taken from the Catholic Encyclopedia on the New Advent site. The entire text is riddled with hyperlinks which go to richly hyperlinked articles in turn (like this one on Purgatory). One could easily get lost in this selva oscura for quite some time.