Autore: John A. Scott
Tratto da: Romance Philology
Professor Dragonetti tells us at the outset that his method of critical analysis "reste fidèle à une tradition grammaticale fort ancienne, devenue aujourd'hui lettre morte dans l'exégèse" (8). It is perhaps difficult for a modern reader to appreciate such an approach, which is hardly concerned with the remarkable interest shown in recent years for Dante's conception of allegory, though it shares in the vices of both worlds, ancient and modern: the gratuitous marriage of disparate elements served up, on the one hand, accompanied by psychoanalytical jargon, on the other. This is not to say that some readers of Dante pèlerin de la Sainte Face may not enjoy its four hundred pages; its author is an eminent scholar, and it is obvious that he has a great deal to offer. How relevant this is to an understanding of D.'s poem is something that can be decided only by the individual.
A basic element in R.D.'s critical armour is the belief he shares with D. that Nomina sunt consequentia rerum (VN, XIII). This is certainly part of "une tradition grammaticale fort ancienne", reaching back as far as Plato's Cratylus. The great example in Christian lore was Christ's renaming of Simon, while the lesson was clearly drawn by Augustine, Isidore of Seville, and Uguccione da Pisa, to whose writings D. was considerably indebted. The most striking illustration in the Comedy is probably Beatrice's name and the terzina from Par., XII (79-81). But such isolated and obvious examples are ignored by our critic, who seeks verbal and phonetic correspondances in not a few of the fourteen thousand lines of D.'s poem. An epidemic assails the reader at every turn. Thus, according to this type of allegorical interpretation, Virgil becomes the 'true lily' (Ver-giglio), because he is exiled from the truth whose flower he nevertheless bears in his name. If we will only scrutinize it closely enough, this same name will also yield "vir et virgo, virga, attributs essentiels de la figure de Béatrice" (221); and, a little later, "Ajoutons que le nom de Virgile, Vergilio, donne à peu près l'anagramme de Alighieri, Aligerio, nom dont la forme séparée se trouve représentée au cercle des schismatiques par le nom des personnages Ali et Geri" (254n1). So, too, Bonagiunta da Lucca (Purg., XXIV) signifies the 'belle jointure' that Beatrice will accomplish in the Earthly Paradise by linking the tree with the Gryphon's chariot, where "assise sur la racine, Béatrice figure le rejeton, cette virga, qui sonne dans le nom de Virgile..." (225). The notorious femmina mentioned by Bonagiunta in Purg., XXIV. 43 has little to do with Lucca or possible scandal in R.D.'s interpretation, whereby
a femina se rapporte au mode poétique dont elle figure la virginité, la naissance et le futur. La femme-enfant symbolise la parole vierge dont la contrée plaira à Dante. Cette contrée est le Paradis terrestre où la donna Gentile apparaîtra sous les traits de Béatrice. (231)
We seem to have entered Alice's world where, for all we know, the Donna Gentile may well appear "sous les traits de Béatrice" and Lucca is a préfiguration of the Earthly Paradise. In the world of the Comedy, however, it is difficult to accept such a cocktail.
We quickly descend to the level of puns. The rivers of Purg., XVI. 115 are now an example of the perversity and contradictions inherent in human nature: "In sul paese eh' A dice e Po riga" (331n1). Cacciaguida becomes the 'guide for the hunt'; Guido del Duca is obvious. More complex is the link between Purg., XIV. 20 and D.'s meeting with Arnaut Daniel in Purg., XXVI, for in this region of Purgatorio
les noms peuvent sonner avec plus de plénitude. Comment dès lors ne pas reconnaître, dans ces sonorités, la source maternelle de Dante, Y Arno: "leu sui Arnaut, que pior e vau cantan". Ainsi la source du lieu natal et la source du parlar materno, rassemblées en trobar clus, s'identifient dans les sonorités de leurs noms, malgré un déplacement d'accent assez significatif;
and the earlier line, "Dirvi ch'i' sia, saría parlare indarno", may now be seen to have a further meaning: 'Vous dire qui je suis ce serait vous parler d'Arnaut' (230). B.D. 's masterly study, La technique poétique des trouvères dans la chanson courtoise (Bruges, 1960), reminds us that our critic is indeed an expert on the trobar clus. When dealing with D., however, he can become so caught up in his own game that he leaves behind not only the text but the Italian language as well: e.g., his note to Par., XVIII. 113, where the notorious ingigliarsi cannot possibly be twisted into the French s'enliser: 'L'obscurité de la lettre M non seulement s'enlyse (s'ingiglia) mais s'enlise (s'enfonce) dans la claire et profonde substance de cette fleur nouvelle de la parole: le lys" (322).
The finest web of all is spun around Inf., iv.88-90, where we are asked to ponder on the fact that D. here places in Limbo three poets whose names begin with "O" (in Italian). It is truly remarkable that Homer can be read as Om'ero ('I was a man'), which is particularly fitting (v. 91, "Però che ciascun meco si convene") as a description of Virgil's state. And R.D. invites us to follow him in his belief that the reference to Horace evokes
l'image du creux de la bouche (os, oris) et celui de la parole: oratio. Mais ce nom qui signifie tout ensemble 'oraison' et 'discours' semble indiquer seulement la marche d'une parole qui suit le mouvement du satyre aux pieds de bouc.... (218)
Ovid is a tougher nut to crack:
Ovidio devrait, pour achever symétriquement le symbolisme littéral de la face des gourmands, suggérer l'organe olfactif. Or, aucun élément de son nom ne semble éveiller pareil écho. Tout ce qu'on peut entendre dans son nom, c'est ovus, io, Dio, Iddio.
Nevertheless, after an illuminating aside from Isidore, we may return to the first interpretation - O-viďio -, which is explained as "vision du cercle par le 'je'"; and we may well agree with R.D. when he assures us: "Seule une telle analyse permet de découvrir qu'il y a une analogie entre les noms des poètes précités et la face des gourmands" (220). Though we may still be at a loss to know why we should seek, let alone accept, such an analogy.
A. Pézard's idea that D. condemned Brunetto Latini not for sodomy but for a betrayal of his native tongue is accepted by B.D., who adds his own evidence to Pézard's complex argument, for the Florentine's name gives us an insight into the nature of his crime: he allowed his native language to be transformed, in French guise, into "une sorte de 'latin brunet'". Similarly Sordello - who also wrote in a foreign tongue - signifies 'une diminution de l'ouïe inapte encore à entendre la douceur authentique du nom de sa terre originelle', a fault evidently overcome in his rapturous welcome of his fellow-Mantuan, Virgil, in Purg., VI. By such devious reasoning, we may conclude that the Earthly Paradise is "le lieu de la rhétorique", for it symbolizes the motherland that gives to each poet his mother tongue (241).
These conclusions are the outcome of our critic's remarkable flair for excavat- ing hidden meanings from the names of the Comedy's personae. He assures us, however, that he has only scratched the surface in offering a sample of the "travail important qui reste à faire sur le traitement poétique des noms et des relations parentales ou autres qui déterminent un des aspects essentiels de la vision analogique de l'architecture de la Divine Comédie" (201). De gustibus et nominibus....
When a statement is made that can be checked against factual evidence, we may be dismayed to find apparent mistakes or a misunderstanding of D.'s text. Particularly worrying after the importance placed on a right grasp of language and its supposed rôle in the Earthly Paradise is the assertion: "La poésie provençale offrait aux langues vulgaires le modèle remarquable d'une langue grammaticale" (228). As proof, B.D. refers us to De Vulgari Eloquentia, II.VI-VII. In fact, DVE, II.VII offers a significant example of D.'s habit of making gramatica synonymous with Latin: "Quod duodena perficitur sillaba in vulgari et in gramatica tredena perficitur in duobus obliquis". Indeed, Provençal is by definition "une langue vulgaire" and, as such, diametrically opposed to Grammar, which was invented - according to DVE, I.IX.ll - in order to overcome the deficiencies of "natural" language: "Que quidem gramatica nichil aliud est quam quedam inalterabilis locutionis ydemptitas diversibus temporibus atque locis". DVE, I.I.3 points out that the Greeks "and others" possess this second- ary, artificial language, called gramatica by the Bomans; but only very few master it, "quia non nisi per spatium temporis et studii assiduitatem regulamur et doctrinamur in ilia". Regulamur is a pointer to the exhortation of DVE, II.VI.7 to imitate the regulatos…poetas ; but D. never included those who wrote in Provençal among the latter, who were regalati by the use of Grammar (Latin). A few poets who used the langue d'oc approached D.'s ideal vulgare illustre. But this language is of course the vernacular spoken by those who “meridionalis Europe tenent partem occidentalem, a Ianuensium finibus incipientes" (DVE, I.VIII. 6), and the vernacular is defined as that tongue "quam sine omni regula nutricem imitantes accipimus" (DVE, I.I.2; emphasis mine). R.D. is certainly familiar with these texts. Yet his assertion that Provençal poetry offered "le modèle remarquable d'une langue grammaticale" is made categorically and remains incomprehensible to anyone who has not read his essay on D. in Aux frontières du langage poétique (Ghent, 1961), where we learn: "La lingua gramatica... va signifier pour D. le moyen de faire resurgir l'idiome paradisiaque au sein de la déchéance" (29). Admittedly, such a statement must be taken on faith, but here at least the critic is clearly weaving his own interpretation round D.'s text, so that we understand though we may not agree: "Tout idiome maternel réinstauré dans l'intégrité de sa nature peut donc devenir langue grammaticale, c'est-à-dire modèle pour les autres..." (ibid., 35).
Another shock is in store for the reader who arrives at p. 400n2, where he is told that Galeotto is destined for Caina. Once more, readers will find R.D.'s reasoning such that it is impossible to decide how many liberties he has taken with D.'s text. He begins by quoting a passage from Isidore, suggesting that it may throw light on Lucifer's cresta and the vele di mar (Inf., XXXIV.42 and 48): "Apex est quod in summa galea eminet, quo figitur crista...". R.D. blandly tells us: "Nous voulons simplement suggérer une relation possible entre la figure du Christ le Galiléen et, d'après l'imagerie de l'Enfer, celle de Lucifer ou du Galeotto destiné à la Caina (Inf., V, 107 et 137)". Clear enough: galea has sparked off the homo- phonic syndrome in our critic, who has come up with the association galea = Galilean = Christ ≠ Galeotto. The infernal galea (not mentioned in D.'s text) and galeotto are seen as a parody of the celestial Galilean. However, we come back to the "Galeotto destine à la Caina" with the references to Inf., V. 107 and 137. Now, in the latter verse Francesca tells us: "Galeotto fu 'l libro e chi lo scrisse", whereas in the former she implies that her husband, who had murdered his kin - an essential qualification -, will go down to Caina when he dies. I fail to see how R.D. can suggest that Gianciotto was a galeotto in any sense of the word: he is destined for Caina, but he is no pander. And, even if we were to accept some farfetched relationship between galeotto and galileo, and try to see in this infernal Galahault a type of Lucifer or anti-Christ, we still cannot make the two coincide as R.D. would have us do ("celle de Lucifer ou du Galeotto destine à la Caina"), for the simple reason that Lucifer is not to be found in Caina, but in Giudecca. Again, the reader, on turning to Aux frontières..., will find the gratuitous, though revealing, observation: "Le Lancelot et son auteur, d'autant plus responsable que son héros a l'autorité du modèle, rejoindront avec Gianciotto un des derniers cercles de l’Enfer, la Caina" (115). On the other hand, I can offer no explanation for the assertion: "Ce n'est pas tout à fait par hasard que le pape simoniaque qui s'entretient avec D. (Inf., XIX, 53 svv.) porte le nom de Silvestro” (subsequently linked with Statius' Silvae, inter alia, on p. 268 of the present volume). The pope in question is Nicholas III, never called Sylvester, though the latter was of course associated with Constantine, whose "donation" the poet denounces so vehemently in Inf., XIX.115-117.
As for the grand design of R.D.'s book, its title was suggested by the simile in Par., XXXI. 103-108. The sleep that had overtaken the pilgrim when he strayed from the path of righteousness is equated with the sleep of D.'s reason:
Refermée sur elle-même, dans l’oubli de son origine divine, la raison dort tout éveillée et "rêve" d'autant plus profondément qu'elle se croit plus lucide, plus suffisante pour saisir, par ses propres forces, la Vérité qui la dépasse. (17)
An example - Purg., XXVII. 91-93 - is hardly convincing, for D. is at pains to stress the truth of the dream offered by sleep ("il sonno che sovente, / anzi che 'l fatto sia, sa le novelle" - cf. Purg., IX. 13-18; Inf., XXVI. 7; and the proof of man's immortality afforded by dreams, Conv., II.VIII.13). However, we read that the pilgrim is prey to an all-devouring solipsism. This is evident in the encounter with the three beasts (Inf., I. 31-54), which are nothing but a reflexion of his innermost fears and delusions: "Le veritable obstacle, c'est D. lui-même, l'écran que l'ombre obscure de sa raison fait à la lumière" (40). His reason, in such a parlous state, makes him turn away from the Hill of Purgatory and attempt to climb "une colline imaginaire enfantée par le mirage du désert de la plage". His meeting with Virgil, however, makes him conscious of his "indigence radicale" and this in turn helps him to shatter "le solipsisme de l'orgueil en prenant conscience que le vide qui traverse son être pourrait devenir le passage vers l'Autre". But even this cannot overcome his all-pervading egotism, so that, while R.D. still sees Virgil in the traditional rôle of Reason devoid of Grace, he can also refer to him as D.'s "ombre narcissique" who is merely another reflexion of "D.-acteur, l'homo viator en quête de son salut" (56f.). This relatively simple thesis leads to the far more complex web of interpretation woven round Inf., IX. 25-27. The first verse ("Di poco era di me la carne nuda"), rather than signifying Virgil's death, "pourrait signifier 'un peu après le commencement de mon œuvre', c'est-à-dire 'peu après la mort d'Anchise'" (61) - for, as the reader will have guessed by now, the Aeneid begins "soon after" Anchises' death. The central part of Virgil's poem is essentially the story of a son who sets out "à la recherche du père dans le royaume des morts, comme le poète descend vers les racines de son œuvre". And yet the poet of the Comedy felt the need to exorcize the element of magic in Virgil, "l'expérience souterraine du VIe livre, dan- gereusement exposée aux contaminations des puissances du mal" (62). There is, however, a radical change in the Virgil of the Comedy. This occurs after the break in Purg., IX, when D. awakens from his dream. Virgil's rôle is now to show his ward "de quelle lumière s'investit la connaissance ontologique de l'obscurité propre à l'âme, lorsqu'elle prend forme dans un intériorisation progressive du corps propre et de cette nuit de la terre maternelle" (146) - and this formidable statement is backed up by a quotation from Meister Eckhart, "car mon corps est plus dans mon âme que mon âme n'est dans mon corps". The rediscovery of the essential union between body and soul is in fact the basic theme of Purgatorio.
If we find the association of D. and Meister Eckhart surprising, we may be even more puzzled by certain mystical flights offered to us as literary criticism: e.g., that inspired by the virginity of God the Father, which forms a novel trinity with emperor and poet in the solemn affirmation:
Seul le créateur authentique est entièrement vierge: tel est le Père... le Père porte en lui la virginité, ou l'archétype de la vierge... l'Empereur et le Poète, incarnent ce double attribut, fécondité et virginité du Père, dont la puissance créatrice opère selon la forme d'une altération de l'être. Cependant cette altération est ambiguë en ce sens qu'elle risque toujours, pour l'homme, de devenir narcissique... (233)
In his article, "Dante et Narcisse..." (RÉI, XI, 85-146), R.D. had already warned us: "D. nous apprend par son expérience exemplaire que tout homme, confronté à la Source, porte en lui un Narcisse, un faux-monnayeur des images de l'Absolu", while in his Preface to Aux frontières... he had stated his belief that poetry must free us, "captifs du miroir de Narcisse", and restore human language to its original integrity. This is a perfectly defensible position. On the other hand, it leads our critic to interpret Inf., XXXII.40 ("Quand'io m'ebbi dintorno alquanto visto") as a Narcissus-image with a reflexive pronoun that is surely as far removed from D.'s meaning as it would be from Italian usage. R.D. insists on attributing this same complex to the poets found on the last terrace of Purgatorio. He assures us that these "poètes luxurieux" were tempted by divine fire "dont ils n'avaient qu'une image", so that they strove to vie with God's creative (though virginal) act: "L'œuvre qu'ils ont produite, loin d'être une glorification de la parole fécondante du Père, n'était en réalité, de par son mode narcissique, que la célébration idolâtre de l'image féminine du poète lui-même" (236): if Guido Guinizelli and Arnaut Daniel may be credited with a feminine image, I suppose they may well be considered guilty of narcissism. And, having gone thus far, why not surmise that the allegorical procession in the Earthly Paradise "symbolise avant tout, dans son ensemble, l'histoire de la parole humaine" (247)? As we are not told how the details of D.'s account are supposed to fit the hypothesis, there is little we can do but suspend our disbelief and discover that the Chariot described in Purg., XXIX. 106-132 is a symbol of the human body "et, ici, du corps séparé". From here, we may perceive that "le char comme tel est le signe d'une virginité ambivalente, stérile ou féconde, selon qu'elle est portée ou non par l'espérance chrétienne" (249).
By now, the reader may wish that R.D. had taken an alternative route and developed his earlier insight that the serious eye-affliction mentioned in Convivio, III.IX gives us a key to the three main divisions in the Comedy:
Il nous semble de toute évidence que ces soins donnés aux yeux malades de D. correspondent aux trois étapes de la Divine Comédie: d'abord le séjour dans les lieux obscurs et froids de l'Enfer, puis, au paradis terrestre, l'immersion dans l'eau claire, chose qui permettra l'accès au Paradis où D. pourra récupérer dans la vision intègre de l'Empyrée les images rencontrées séparément au cours de son ascension. (30n2)
De toute évidence: however far-fetched the parallel may appear at first, we soon learn to forgo traditional evidence and feel that, by contrast with later developments in the book, this idea had the merits of simplicity and a certain relevance. Indeed, R.D. has chosen to join that illustrious band of Dante critics, headed by Gabriele Rossetti, who have fostered esoteric interpretations. As Aldo Vallone has remarked, French-speaking scholars seem particularly addicted to this approach, "che si combina con la sottigliezza e l'arguzia del loro carattere". Without sharing the political and religious extremism of certain of his companions, R.D. 's work proves him to be an illustrious supporter of a lost cause.
It is a pleasure to greet the work of a young American scholar, R. Hollander, whose study of allegory in the Comedu has provided much of the most stimulating reading on D. to have come my way for some time past. The Introduction gives us a rapid survey of the four major theories of allegory and ends with the conclusion:
Two predispositions - one toward personification allegory and one toward the belief that secular use of Christian exegesis was both impossible and would have been blasphemous - these two, in various permutations, lie at the root of six centuries of unenlightened criticism of the essential processes of D.'s poem. (14)
This type of claim has become somewhat too common in recent D. criticism, especially from the pens of Anglo-American scholars. It is surely counter-productive: however important the achievements of modern critics, we cannot seriously suppose that generations of readers have failed to appreciate "the essential processes of D.'s poem", which must have more to do with the poetic essence of the Comedy than with any of its accidents - including, if need be, the vexed question of D.'s allegory.
H., like most American critics, is concerned with the four senses of Scripture as they may be applied to D.'s poem; but he wisely leaves the history of Biblical exegesis to the expert, Henri de Lubac, to whose work the reader is referred (15). H. likewise acknowledges his debt to the pioneering work of Charles S. Singleton, "after Filippo Villani... the first to see the structure of the Divine Comedy", although he does not find in Singleton's practical criticism "the proof of the allegorical theory in the pure evidence of the text itself" (49). The younger critic therefore sets out to make good the omission and "show how radically and beautifully D. turns the techniques of theology to poetry" (50). On the same page, he points out the way in which the seventh and eighth paragraphs of D.'s Letter to Cangrande contain the substance of what the modern interpreter "needs to know of the plan of the poem in order to elucidate its essential techniques". The poem has an obvious literal sense; it has an allegorical or "figurai" sense which establishes a vital connexion between the action of the poem and the history of mankind in this world; it has a moral message to impart about our actions on earth, and another (anagogical) message informing us of the rewards and punishments for these actions and how they fit in with God's overall plan of creation. No one can take exception to this, yet H. claims that such a "simple formulation has not been made before, except in the Letter to Can Grande", while even its most ardent supporters have failed to apply it so straightforwardly.
We must return to this later. For the moment, I prefer to congratulate H. on showing us D. the pilgrim as a new Aeneas on a scale more extensive than hitherto supposed.
At the beginning of the Comedy, D. is utterly lost even as "Aeneas in medias res discovered that he had been blown off course by the storm which initiates the present action of the poem concerning his voyage" (83). There are in fact no less than five passages and situations in the first two cantos which reflect D.'s conscious imitation of Virgil: the image of the water, when the pilgrim gazes back at the dangers from which he has just escaped (cf. Aen. I.184f.); then Virgil appears to D. to hearten him with the promise of divine assistance, just as Venus had appeared to Aeneas; Virgil's prophecy of the Veltro, which corresponds to the forecast of Augustus's coming preceded by "words that are literally more applicable to the Pilgrim 'sublimemque feres ad sidera caeli/magnanimum Aenean'"; and, finally, Virgil's description of Beatrice's intercession in Limbo - Venus, as she pleaded with Jupiter for her son's safety, had also wept from compassion, with the result that Mercury had been sent to prepare the way for Aeneas: "In the Commedia Mary sends Lucy to Beatrice, who in turns comes to Virgil and then appears to D. in a desert place and leads the new Aeneas on his journey" (91). Here, something must have happened to H.'s syntax, because the details simply do not fit: it is of course Virgil who appears to D. in a desert place while Beatrice appears to him in the most un-desert place of all, the Garden of Eden at the top of Mount Purgatory. H. has, however, made his point that "a great deal of the action of Aeneid I, lines 157-386, is recapitulated in the action of Inferno I and n". And his case is made all the more convincing by the way in which he admits to the itch to find a "similar turn at the opening of Purgatorio ", but frankly acknowledges the meagre results obtained. This second chapter ends with a review of medieval interpretations of Virgil, accompanied by the belief that "D.'s sense of Virgil springs from his reading Virgil as Virgil 'read' himself; treating the literal sense as historical..." (103).
Chap, III on "The Figurai Density of Francesca, Ulysses, and Cato" is the most important. H. claims that beyond the figurai relationships that connect the poem to D.'s view of history (D. to Adam, to Aeneas, to Paul), there is another figurai dimension that is added as the poem begins to unfold, and gathers points of reference within itself, culminating in what our critic calls "verbal figuralism" - "the technique of repeating a word used earlier in the poem in such a way as to 'fulfill' its meaning" (105). One of the best examples is jpopjpa, the stern of a ship, which appears twice in the Ulysses episode (Inf., XXVI.124 and 140):
When the word reappears in the poem, it will be in conjunction with the voyage to the mountain which Ulysses failed to reach, a voyage which is the answer to Ulysses' voyage: "Da poppa stava il celestial nocchiero"... (Purg. II, 143). The ship of the thousand souls is the fulfillment of the voyage of which, within the poem, Ulysses' voyage was the figura, and here the very words tell us exactly that. (122)
Rather than figura, I would have a word suggesting the antithesis - otherwise, where can this stop? I suppose we may soon be asked to regard Lucifer's fall as a figura of Christ's descent into Hell. But what is more important than the terminology used or the abuses to which it may lend itself, is the result: H.'s analysis of the three episodes.
The most rewarding, for me, is his reading of D.'s encounter with Francesca (106ff.). He points out that in the brief space of Inf., V. 121-138 D. manages to weave references to no less than four books into Francesca's reply to the pil- grim's troubled question. The first literary source is Aen., II. 3-13 with its famous opening: "Infandum, regina, iubes renovare dolorem". Nothing new in this attribution. But H. points out that D. has compressed into six lines the eleven of the original and the parallel that may have prompted his choice:
"As Aeneas, questioned by Dido, has lost the realm of Troy to the Greeks, so Francesca, questioned by D., has lost the realm of God's kingdom to her lust" (111). He might have added that D. remained true to his method in the Comedy of drawing his leading actors from recent history, going so far as to show us a Virgil who acts completely out of character in virtually ignoring his celebrated tragic heroine (Inf., V. 61f.). Turning away from one of the greatest creations of ancient poetry, the spotlight is focused on a woman from 13th-c. Ravenna, guilty of incest. Yet, as H. shows, D. did not, could not, forget Aeneas and Dido, "the archetypal star-crossed lovers, one of whom was destroyed by lust" (110). Virgil's poetry remains in the background, a source of both inspiration and emulation. As many commentators have observed, Francesca's opening also seems to echo Boethius' "In omni adversitate fortunae infelicissimum est genus infortunii fuisse felicem". Then, there is the direct reference to the Galeotto of the 13th-c. French romance describing the adulterous love of Lancelot for Guinevere:
And now we notice that the entire second speech, with the exception of the last line, has come from other books, their language and their situations adapted to D.'s purpose, which is to reveal the misuse of literature that promotes the sin of lust in Francesca. Francesca herself says that, when she and Paolo read of that kiss in an orchard, she read for pleasure, and not - the medieval reader surely went on to consider - for instruction. (112)
What should strike us even more forcibly is the fact that D. the pilgrim now discovers his whole love-poetic credo used by this sinner to describe her tragic fate (vv. 100-102): another quotation, this time from D.'s own youthful work, the Vita Nuova (xx). Nevertheless, I am not wholly convinced that D.'s purpose was "to reveal the misuse of literature that promotes the sin of lust in Francesca" - though I would add that the poets who had delighted and inspired the youthful D. are to be found among the lustful in Purg., XXVI - so much for the "spiritualized" loves of the Dolce Stil Novo. On the other hand, I agree with Nicholas Perella who, in an illuminating analysis of this encounter, warns us: "It would be wrong to think that the reading episode was what caused the couple to fall in love" (The Kiss Sacred and Profane, Berkeley-L.A., 1969, p. 146), while emphasizing the point that "the kiss in the fiction serves as a model for their own kiss"; he then shows us with a telling example that "in the matter of loves and kisses being inspired by certain readings, D. was, in fact, working within a medieval tradition" (317n23). Francesca accuses the book, but I am not sure that the poet levels the same accusation - or that he would expect his readers to do so. Surely, the point is that the book acts as a catalyst, while its disiato riso remains the glamourized ideal of the physical kiss.
As Rajna and Perella have demonstrated, the creator of Francesca and Paolo must have had in mind the legend of Tristan and Iseult. The latter are engaged in playing chess, a fairly innocuous pastime for most people; but, of course, they drink a love-potion, a dangerous combination. It is idle to speculate whether D. would have denounced love-potions. What is relevant is that the love-potion in Tristan has been replaced by the reading of a book, according to an established medieval tradition. I am tempted to say the structure remains the same. But no: the formula love-potion + chess is reduced to the single element "reading" in D.'s account. Are we then justified in deducing from this that D. put all the blame on this one element and set out "to reveal the misuse of literature that promotes the sin of lust in Francesca"? Perhaps an ingenious critic will soon discover that in chess "to promote" means the raising of a pawn to the rank of queen, whereas Queen Iseult was in fact reduced to love's pawn. However, by refusing the magical element in the portrayal of love, D. was acting according to the inspiration that led him to depict real men and women with real passions instead of artificial exempla. A game of chess is not a common aphrodisiac, whereas reading was a far more dangerous sport (one of the few occasions when solitude and physical proximity were justifiable for an unmarried couple at a medieval court) - "dangerous", but so was solitude. Are we then to suppose that D. was descending to the level of platitudes served up in the confessional, warning us that a man and woman, however closely related, must never find themselves alone together? The idea immediately strikes us as absurd. Why? Because our attention is riveted on Francesca's tale and its climax, their kiss. It is the psychological motivations that monopolize our interest. The act of reading and the reading matter are indifferent. Admittedly, Tristan is also found in this part of Hell as an example of the immoral content of literature, if you will. But by the same token even D.'s tale of Francesca and Paolo is immoral; we may even imagine Frances and Paul reading of their lust and falling into the same sin. Would we then condemn D. (or absolve him for having got his moral topography right)? It was quite clear to the medieval reader that such love could only lead to repentance or death: Lancelot chose the former (according to Convivio), Tristan the latter (according to Inferno). The vicious circle of debate is obvious. It is surely important to understand that D., having got rid of the love-potion, chose the act of reading about another's love not as a warning against such tales but as an illustration of the way in which secret desires are brought to fulfilment. The act of reading was innocent: it could only be judged by the outcome. For Paolo and Francesca, it is evident that, had they not read of Guinevere's kiss, some other spark would have kindled their lust. To put it another way, "the misuse of literature" is not the point in such a situation; with such feelings, the lovers would have misused anything. The word "catalyst", as I have suggested, describes precisely the function of their reading matter. And Francesca's denunciation of the book and its author is entirely contained within her psychological framework. It must not be projected onto the author's intentions.
Nevertheless, the fact remains that D. has woven an extraordinary number of literary allusions and echoes into these few verses. And H. agrees with T. K. Swing that v. 138 ("quel giorno più non vi leggemmo avante") is a parallel to Augustine's Confessions, VIII.XII. Augustine is here sitting alone in a garden, when he picks up the New Testament and reads Komans, 13:13f., where Paul warns against the weaknesses of the flesh. It is a crucial moment in Augustine's life and book: he is converted to the Christian ideal of spiritual love and does not waver again. Having read the passage, he tells the reader: "Nec ultra volui legere", a nice parallel to Francesca's: "quel giorno più non vi leggemmo avante". Moreover, as H. points out,
Francesca has undergone an experience precisely opposite to that of Augustine. ... For in this passage, united in its bookishness, one Book stands out implicitly from all others, the one that has the power to lead to Grace, the Bible. The Bible performed the ultimate instruction of Augustine; the Lancelot story, by giving delight rather than instruction, helped to perform the ultimate destruction of Francesca, who read about the wrong garden and who loved the wrong Paul. (113)
I find that H. has enriched my reading of the episode (although much may disappear on surrendering oneself again to the poetry, the undercurrent remains in the reader's mind and deepens his overall experience of the poem); and I would agree with him that, call it what you will, "Figurai analysis does not, it seems to me, deaden the poem; it helps to open up its inner life" (114). Having seen all this, it is surprising that H. does not mention the importance of the pietà- motif in the canto, that compassion which is mentioned three times in Inf., V (72, 93, 140) and which overwhelms the pilgrim at the very end: compassion in its etymological sense, the pilgrim's participation in the lovers' pietà or suffering (VI. 2), partly through fear at seeing his own reflexion in the distorting mirror of Hell. Again, we remember that Augustine had shed tears of pity for Dido's unhappy fate (Conf, I.XIII), so that his antithetical presence in v. 138 reflects the situation of BOTH SINNER AND PILGRIM.
The rest of the book holds many good things, including a detailed examination of "The Women of Purgatorio " (Chap, IV) and the dreams, voyages, and prophecies woven into the texture of the second cantica. Purg., XIX - with its dream vision of the "femmina balba" - is particularly significant for a basic "figurai pattern" in the poem: if we look back to
the voyage and voyager of Inf. XXVI, Ulysses..., one of the common elements is a man on a ship and the woman who attracts him to her island. The moral choice that is revealed can be expressed in terms of which woman, and therefore which island, one sails for. (136)
Lastly, we find a stimulating discussion of Jason's rôle in Paradiso; for, according to H., Jason is "the pivotal figurai presence of Paradiso, the voyager who replaces Ulysses as the archetypal homo viator" (220). The reference to him in Par., II may contain an unnoticed correspondence between the Ovidian "Per mare non notum prima petiere carina" (Met., VI. 721) and D.'s proud boast: "L'acqua ch'io prendo già mai non si corse" (Par., II.7). Jason set out to discover the Golden Fleece; so D. longs for his return to Florence "con altra voce ornai, con altro vello" (Par., XXV.7) - the poet "shall return from haven with a new Fleece, not the Golden Fleece of Jason, but the true vello, granted by the Grace of God" (224). Indeed, "The last human reference in the Commedia is to Jason". This may strike some as blasphemy, but what inspired it "is the figurai appropriateness of Jason's voyage for the Fleece" to the poet's own voyage to God. The reference is of course concealed in the terzina describing Neptune's wonder at the shadow cast by the Argo (Par., XXXIII. 82-99). Yet, for H., it has Ovidian echoes that lead us back to the fundamental myth of Glaucus (Par., I. 67-72):
The cleansing of Glaucus... the nine (Beatrice's number and that of the spheres D. has passed through before his vision); the one hundred (God's and the poem's number); the being immersed deep under water and seeing memorable things which the mind/memory (Ovid and D. share the word mente) cannot hold; and the insistence on the transhumanation at the conclusion of Ovid's passage which D. adverts to… all of these elements are present in both places, and I think it is not too much to believe that Ovid's lines stand as a sort of locus classicus for all of D.'s images of the sea god's miraculous experience and vision which are central to Paradiso. (228f.)
Both Glaucus and Neptune prefigure D.'s vision, while in this last figurai moment of the poem, D. takes on "two figurai identities: he is Jason and Neptune. The Pilgrim is Jason, on the way to getting the Fleece; the Poet is Neptune, watching him do so" (230f.). Even the chronology is perfectly balanced:
The voyage of 1223 b.c. and that of 1300 a.d. … The midpoint of the sector of the arc of this history, thirteen centuries from either terminus, is the Incarnation, the terminus ad quern and a quo for the poem and for all human life. (231f.)
Se non è vero… . The reader may not accept all this, but he is certainly given food for thought - and any rethinking about a much-read author is to be welcomed. Also, I doubt whether the critic's enthusiasm can fail to communicate itself to the reader; e.g., H.'s obvious delight in his discovery:
And, what is especially pleasant for me to conclude with, these lines also make their focus felt with that word which for the Biblical exegete is so cogent: ombra. Neptune saw the ombra of the Argo. That is ... he saw in it, or at any rate we do, th e figura of the voyages which were to follow. ... As Neptune's eyes moved from the shadow to the substance of the ship, so now D.'s eyes have moved from the shadows he first saw in the blessed kingdom, those umbriferi prefazii, to the triune substantia of all things. (232)
It is certainly a pleasure to greet so much that is ben trovato and put in an interesting manner.
On the debit side, we find some asides that would be more at home in the classroom (74nl9), the inevitable temptation to seek out symmetrical correspondences (145: VN visions and Purgatorial dreams), an ex cathedra statement such as: "D. shares with Augus- tine the same besetting sins as he sets out on his journey toward redemption, namely, lust and Neo-platonism" (165n36). We may even wonder at times what has happened to our critic's sensibility, if he can assure us that D. expresses no pity for Brunetto Latini or Ugolino (305, 306). I would not agree that "in Italian the verb segnare often means 'to mark with the sign of the Cross'" (201). Nor can I accept his more serious assertion that "Charlemagne was the last true Emperor, figuring the next true Emperor in the line of the great Augustus" (189). H. is, I suppose, thinking of Justinian's speech in Par., vi. Nevertheless, there is nothing to cancel out the claim made in Conv., iv.iii.6 that Frederick II was "ultimo imperadore de li Romani", particularly when we see him referred to as Cesare and Augusto, "che fu d'onor sí degno" (Inf., XIII.65, 68, 75; cf. Purg., XVI. 117). And the subtleties of figural relationships strike me as excessive, when they lead to:
Virgil is Virgil, and Virgil is figurally related to John the Baptist, whose desert voice leads to Christ, and who performs the first baptism... Virgil is a fountain which pours forth a river of speech... [D.'s] last words to Virgil give him the highest function any one less than Christ may perform, and that is to bring another to Christ.
I refer the reader to p. 261, where he will find the evidence, culminating in the line: "Virgilio a cui per mia salute die'mi" (Purg., XXX. 51). Now figuralism is merely an invitation to let our imaginations run riot, if we are to see John the Baptist figured by Virgil - and even then, it would surely need the parallel Virgil-Beatrice, John-Christ, whereas here we are told that Virgil brings D. to Christ. He does not. He brings D. to Beatrice. As the inspired poet of Rome's providential mission, he brings D. to an understanding of God's plan for world order, he leads D. to the Earthly Paradise, the "beatitudo huius vite", where Beatrice - figura Christi, but not Christ - must take over to lead D. to Christ. It is in fact the ignoring of D.'s political message in the Comedy which is the most serious fault in H.'s presentation of the poem. Even a cursory glance at the Index will disclose that his work virtually ignores all the great "political" cantos (Inf., VI; Purg., VI, XVI; Par., VI, XIX, etc.), while only three footnotes give the scantest reference to Monarchia. Admittedly, the subject is Allegory in Dante's " Commedia"; but then, a long section is devoted to Cato, and Ulysses is one of the central figures in H.'s interpretation. If D.'s allegory was concerned with life on earth (tropology) and if D. was so involved in political problems and the right ordering of human society (Par., XVIII. 115-1 17; Epist., X. 15f., Toynbee's ed.), I think we are entitled to question H.'s approach and to remind him that Ulysses is not just an archetypal voyager reflecting pagan hybris: he is also a king, as D. well knew, one who had deserted his subjects in pursuit of vain knowledge. That this simple fact should have escaped our critic is one of the evident results of the emphasis placed on allegorical interpretation; for, whereas in principle the fourfold method must encompass the whole gamut of man's activity, in practice the critic tends to focus on the anagogical or figurai inter- pretations which he feels have been neglected.
For H., an acceptance of the Epistle to Cangrande and its message leads to a fundamental conflict between Convivio, where D. was supposedly following the "allegory of the poets", and the Comedy, where he employed the "allegory of the theologians". H. goes so far as to suggest that Convivio itself may be found represented in the dark wood at the beginning of D.'s poem, where the lost way would also indicate the ''shadowy personification allegory of the previous work", which is used once more in Inf., I "to establish the point of departure for the new true poetry that is fully initiated when the poem turns to actualistic mimesis in Canto in" (166). Such a radical conflict between the two works appears to me to stem from a prejudgement of the case, the critic's mistaken need to "elevate" the Comedy to what it already is: a unique literary creation - and even to go beyond. This, at present, seems to lie at the root of the vexed question of D.’s allegory.
In the great spate of works dealing with D.’s allegory , an inordinate amount of thought and energy seems to have been devoted to a sterile debate concerning the literal sense of the Comedy. I use "sterile" somewhat loosely, as the debate has fathered so many children; on the other hand, the worth of each child would not seem to depend on which side of the methodological blanket it was born. I am not even sure that identical twins have not been produced, as when Singleton is forced to conclude: "The fiction of the Comedy is that it is not fiction" (art. cit., 129), while his opponent maintains: "But this illusion of historical reality is his fiction" (R.H. Green, art. cit., 128): a naïve reader, faced with these statements on consecutive pages, might well wonder what all the fuss is about. Are the two positions really so hostile? A quick glance at the debate would of course disillusion him.
Unfortunately, D. gave us his views on allegory in the unfinished Convivio and in the controversial Epistle to Cangrande To make matters worse, the passage in Conv., II.I where D. makes his distinction between the two types of allegory is defective and we must rely on editorial conjecture. Briefly, D. tells us that he will give a literal and an allegorical exposition of his canzoni: "E a ciò dare a intendere, si vuol sapere che le scritture si possono intendere e deonsi esponere massimamente per quattro sensi". This is the first point that seems to have become confused in the general debate. It is quite clear that D. is doing something that many of his critics have overlooked: already in Convivio, he claims for his own work that fourfold interpretation which St Thomas reserved as a monopoly of Scripture (S.Th., I.I.10; Quodlib., VII.VI.16: "Unde in nulla scientia humana industria inventa, proprie loquendo, potest inveniri nisi litteralis sensus; sed solum in ipsa Scriptura...") - and we note the ambiguous scritture used by D. At the end of the chapter, D. reasserts his intention of expounding the four possible senses of his poems: first and in every case, the literal; second, "la sua allegoria, cioè la nascosa veritade; e talvolta de li altri sensi toccherò incidentemente, come a luogo e a tempi si converrà" (e.g., II.XV.6). Fortunately, thanks to Lubac's diligence, we now have examples of other writers who applied the technique of Biblical exegesis to secular works. allegorice, quasdam moraliter, et quasdam historice" (Lubac, II.II, 212). He was Arnoul d'Orléans set out to explain Ovid's Metamorphoses "modo quasdam followed by Pierre de Bersuire, who claimed that Ovid's text could be inter- preted "multis modis longe aliis, litteraliter, naturaliter, historialiter et spiritualiter". A well-known example is that of Alain de Lille, who announced that he had fused three meanings in his Anticlaudianus (PL, CCX.487). Regarding such attempts, Lubac comments: "Cela ne met d'ailleurs pas une différence essentielle avec l'herméneutique sacrée, qui se constituait souvent elle aussi, comme on l'a vu, avec trois sens" (II.II, 211). What is even more significant, however, is Alain's claim that his subject is really twofold - "una historialis, alia mystica" -, although it is quite clear that his poem does not deal with history or real events: "L'épopée d'Alain présente même un caractère tout à fait an-historique et, en ce sens, non biblique..." (ibid., 206).
Such, then, is the viewpoint of modern scholars: for us, the greatest difference between the two types of allegory, the secular and the Biblical, lies in the claims made for the Bible, that the literal sense is always true. Hence, it is argued, when D. establishes a direct parallel between his poem and a Biblical text in the Epistle to Cangrande, he was obviously claiming that the Comedy was to be judged as the true narration of real events, as opposed to the literal sense of Convivio, which is no more than a bella menzogna (Conv., II.I.3). So, much has been made of Epist., X.7, where we first learn that there are two senses: "Et primus dicitur literalis, secundus vero allegoricus, si ve mysticus"; and then, after the exposition of the opening verses of Ps. 113 according to the literal, allegorical, tropological, and anagogical senses, we are reminded: "Et quamvis isti sensus mystici variis appellentur nominibus, generaliter omnes dici possunt allegorici, quum sint a literali sive historiali diversi". Some have concluded that D. only uses the label literalis when discussing his own poem (X. 8: "ad literám... literaliter"), while historialis is reserved for the Biblical text. Pagliaro, e.g., tells us:
Ci limitiamo qui ad aggiungere che nell’Epistola è usato il termine historialis, accanto a litteralis, mentre il Convivio ha soltanto litterale. Il termine historialis sembra appartenere all'uso teologico. (Ulisse, II, 479f.)
As we have just seen in Alain de Lille, the terms were in fact synonymous - or could be -, already in the 12th c. Moreover, they have nothing to do with D.'s distinction between the "allegory of the poets" and the "allegory of the theo- logians" in Conv., II.
The emphasis placed by critics on the literal sense has, I feel, been disastrous for an understanding of D.'s text. When discussing the two types of allegory, Singleton claims: "The radical difference lies in the nature of the literal sense in the one and in the other". It is therefore essential to return to Conv., n.i.3f., where D. states that, of the various senses, "L'uno si chiama letterale"; then comes a gap in the MS tradition, followed by "e questo è quello che si nasconde sotto 'l manto di queste favole, ed è una veritade ascosa sotto bella menzogna: si come quando dice Ovidio che Orfeo facea con la cetera mansuete le fiere, e li arbori e le pietre a sé muovere...". This second sense is the allegorical strido sensu , followed by the tropological and anagogical (II.I.5-8). Although the latter are illustrated by Biblical texts, D. has just made it clear that "le scritture si possono intendere e deonsi esponere massimamente per quattro sensi", and he was to repeat his intention of applying the fourfold interpretation - intermittently - to his own text, at the end of the chapter. He also declares his intention of showing why "questo nascondimento fosse trovato per li savi" in the fourteenth of the fifteen sections planned, but never completed. We are therefore faced with a gap in the Second Book and another where D. was sup- posed to discuss the origins and raison d’étre of poetic allegory. (N.B.: li savi may be referred to poets: see VN, XX – “si come il saggio in suo pone”; Inf., IV. 110; VII. 3; Purg., XXIII. 8; XXVII. 69.) However, what we have is clear enough, and when D. adds: "Veramente li teologi questo senso prendono altrimenti che li poeti" (II.I.4), questo senso is the second of the four possible senses a text can hold. The usual stress on the importance of the literal sense is misleading; thus, when Singleton applies the following test:
Does the reader, in the act of reading, take the literal sense to be real, that is, take the events narrated as real, and does it happen that this literal line of events discloses along its way the shape of other events, also real? If so, this is the reading focus of the allegory of theologians. (131)
- by the same standard, the Aeneid (not to speak of the Pharsalia) would have contained for D. the allegory of theologians. Everyone seems bemused by the literal sense - obviously because the Comedy seems to merit more credence than Ovid's tale of Orpheus. But this is not the point. In discussing the literal sense, Singleton and others are confusing allegory as a generic term and the particular sense it held for D. in Convivio. According to this work, the "allegory of the theologians" is different from the "allegory of the poets" for reasons that had been repeated down the ages and were contained in St Gregory's assertion: "Allegoria fidem aedificat" (PL, LXXVI. 1302), echoed by Isidore, Guibert de Nogent, St Bernard, Hugh of St Victor, Johannes Scotus, and others, including the text D. quoted in Ep., X. 28 - Richard of St Victor's Benjamin major, PL, CXCVI.200:
Allegoria maxime circa fidei nostrae sacramenta versatur, et qualia creduntur magis quam intelliguntur… quid allegoria nisi mystica mysteriorum doctrina?... sola Scriptura sacra allegorico et anagogico sensu mystice utitur, sola inter omnes hac gemina supereminentia coronatur… de ea fide et spe quae in nobis est.
As Lubac puts it: "L'allégorie, sens de la foi" (I.II, Chap. 8). This is, clearly, the essential reason why "li teologi questo senso prendono altrimenti che li poeti". Pagan poets - especially Virgil and Ovid - had been subjected to allegorical interpretation, the need to discover "una veritade ascosa sotto bella menzogna". This type of allegory could have little to do with the "allegory of the theolo- gians", defined most succinctly by Honorius of Autun as 'Allegoria, cum de Christo et Ecclesia res exponitur' (PL, CLXXII. 359). The author of the Epistle to Cangrande was perfectly aware of this meaning when he wrote that the second, allegorical sense signifies ' 'nostra redemptio facta per Christum" (X. 7), whereas he takes care to remind us that allegory can also have a generic sense: "Omnes dici possunt allegorici, quum sint a literali sive historiali diversi". Here, we are warned to keep apart the two possible meanings of the term: the generic and the specific, technical term used by theologians for the construction of "doctrinae aedificium" (Gregory, PL, LXXVI. 249). In Convivio, the reader had been reminded of the obvious distinction between the lessons to be drawn from poetic allegory –
che vuol dire che lo savio uomo con lo strumento de la sua voce fa[r]ia mansuescere e umiliare li crudeli cuori, e fa[r]ia muovere a la sua volontade coloro che non hanno vita di scienza e d'arte: e coloro che non hanno vita ragionevole alcuna sono quasi come pietre...
- and the religious interpretation, cum de Christo et Ecclesia res exponitur. Such a distinction is in fact typical of D. 's somewhat pedantic attitude in Convivio, his wish to pack in as much dottrina as possible - even though the glancing reference to the way in which theologians understood the allegorical sense clearly takes it for granted that the distinction would at once strike his readers, who may well have been familiar with the distich: "Littera gesta docet, QUID CREDAS ALLEGORIA, Moralis quid agas, quo tendas anagogia".
If we now turn to the literal sense, the lacuna occurs after the words: "L'uno si chiama littérale…”. The rest must be guess-work. D.'s definition of the second sense does, however, give us an important clue when he calls the latter "una veritade ascosa sotto bella menzogna" (II.I.3), illustrated by Ovid's fable of Orpheus (Met., XI). By a strange quirk, D. later placed Orpheus in Limbo (Inf., IV. 140): by the time he came to write the Comedy, at least, he seems to have accepted his historical existence. However, the words bella menzogna certainly serve in Convivio to refer to a poem's literal sense, though the gap in the text does not oblige us to assume that D. believed all poems to be mere menzogne: What about his own lyrics for Beatrice in the VN? The text of Convivio returns with the significant reference to "queste favole", followed by an example taken from Ovid's Metamorphoses. And it is precisely D.'s attitude towards the Latin poets that seems to have undergone a radical change during the compo- sition of Convivio.
It is likely that D. re-read the Aeneid before writing Conv., IV. In this book, he refers to Virgil as "lo maggiore nostro poeta"; he begins to adopt, towards the Roman poet, an attitude of reverence which was eventually to lead to Virgil's rôle in the Comedy and the epithet divinus in Mon., II.III.6. The Aeneid, moreover, ranks as a historical source and Aeneas' descent to the underworld constitutes historical fact in Conv., IV.XXVI.9:
Quanto spronare fu quello, quando esso Enea sostenette solo con Sibilla a intrare ne lo Inferno a cercare de l'anima di suo padre Anchise, contra tanti pericoli, come nel sesto de la detta istoria si dimostra!
This new attitude was mainly due to D.'s change of heart regarding the institu- tion of the Roman Empire and its providential mission in history - directly referred to in Mon., II. 2f. and for which evidence is first found in Conv., IV. IV-V. Admittedly, Lucan, Ovid, and "other poets" constitute reliable witnesses, as early as Conv., III.III.7f. It seems most likely, however, that this sprang from D.'s new political ideology, which created a completely new dimension for Virgil's epic and a fresh approach towards classical poetry in general.
Before stressing any differences between Convivio and the Comedy, we should first realize that D.'s standpoint altered radically between Conv., n and iv, with evidence of the transition apparent in the passage quoted from Book III. In the Fourth Book, D. is concerned with the historical reality described by Virgil and Lucan; in the second, he is eager to explain away the literal sense of his own poems, which he claims had been misunderstood and taken at face value as expressions of love for a lady other than Beatrice. He began the Convivio, all too conscious of the attacks made on his reputation, and his dual purpose is well put in I.II.15: "Movemi timore d'infamia, e movemi desiderio di dottrina dare...". Only too ready to think the worst of a man accused of political mal- practice and reduced to a humiliating state of poverty, D.'s critics had added the charge of inconstancy in love. We recall that a similar situation had arisen when Beatrice, deluded by the poems written for the screen ladies (VN, V-XII), had punished D. for his apparent infidelity by denying him her greeting. Far from learning his lesson, however, D. continued to be accident-prone: towards the end of the VN (XXXV-IX), he recounts the episode of the Donna Gentile when, a year or so after Beatrice's death, he had begun to delight in the beauty and con- solation offered him by this compassionate lady. The poems in the VN describing his infatuation with the Donna Gentile are sonnets and seem to bear no allegorical content. When we turn to Convivio, everything has changed: the love poems are canzoni, allegory is introduced, the love which had been referred to as "questo avversario della ragione" (VN, XXIX) is now declared to be the love of Lady Philosophy (Conv., II.XV.12), and D. confesses that one of his motives in providing an allegorical commentary to his poems was to refute the charge of "levezza d'animo" (Conv., III.I.11).
It is clear that part of D.'s purpose in writing the Convivio was to convince his readers that their interpretation of his poems was false: they had been led astray by the apparent message of love. It was therefore the literal sense that must be explained away, and the whole discussion of allegory is biased towards the need to reduce the literal meaning to a bella menzogna and to create another, allegorical meaning in order to reveal the veritade ascosa. Turning to a prejudice fully shared by him in the VN (XXV) - to the effect that poets writing in the vernacular should treat only of love -, D. announces that he had been led to cloak la sentenza vera under fittizie parole (Conv., II.XII.8). He had therefore described his fervent study of philosophy in terms of love for a noble lady. But now, the time has come to proceed to "la esposizione allegorica e vera" (II.XII.1) and to put an end to slander: "La quale infamia si cessa, per lo presente di me parlare, interamente, lo quale mostra che non passione ma vertú sia stata la movente cagione" (I.II.16).
In the Comedy, D.'s purpose could not have been more different. Whereas the author of Convivio wished to undeceive his readers who had been misled by the literal meaning of certain of his compositions, the poet of the Comedy is bent on gaining his readers' total belief. Even at the least credible moments, the writer guarantees the truth of his account, as when he describes the monster Gerione rising up from the depths of the circle of Fraud:
Sempre a quel ver ch'a faccia di menzogna
de' l'uom chiuder le labbra fin ch'el puote,
però che sanza colpa fa vergogna;
ma qui tacer noi posso; e per le note
di questa comedía, lettor, ti giuro,
s'elle non sien di lunga grazia vòte,
ch'i' vidi per quell' aere grosso e scuro
venir notando una figura in suso,
maravigliosa ad ogne cor sicuro...
(Inf., XVI. 124-132)
Gerione is obviously an allegorical figure introduced by the poet according to the age-old technique of "personification allegory", and D.'s oaths do nothing to diminish the lack of credibility that such a method holds for the modern reader. Interestingly enough, the poet's reference to "quel ver c'ha faccia di menzogna" echoes his definition of poetic allegory in Conv., II.I.3 as "una veritade ascosa sotto bella menzogna". But the reader of the Comedy may well jib at any formula that refuses to distinguish between Gerione and Farinata, reducing them both to the level of a poetic lie. It is at this point that modern critics part company, according to the intensity of their reaction. On the one hand, the traditional reserve of a critic writing in the face of Croce 's condemnation of the Comedy's allegorical ballast, who nevertheless maintained with masterly authority:
Non può esser menzogna, per il poeta credente, quello che è il soggetto stesso dell'opera nel senso letterale, e cioè, secondo che egli medesimo lo definì nell'epistola a Cangrande, lo 'status animarum post mortem simpliciter sumptus'". (Barbi, 118)
On the other, we have Singleton's "irreducible dove" and his happy discovery that in the Comedy D. set out to imitate God's way of writing. Unfortunately, Singleton and others also insist on the historical reality of the literal sense in the "allegory of theologians", as opposed to the fables or lies used by poets. Since D.'s poem is not a lie for the poet, it must be removed from the realm of fiction and placed on a level of Biblical reality.
May I respectfully remind my colleagues that "fiction" need not be a dirty word in the vocabulary of literary criticism? Certainly, D. did not hesitate to use it in defining poetry in DVE, II.IV.2: "Si poesim recte consideremus : quenichil aliud est quam fictio rethorica musicaque poita" - a definition which has been most authoritatively interpreted as 'La poesia è una finzione (allegorica), ossia fictio, elaborata (o strutturata) in versi, ossia poita, secondo l'arte retorica e musicale'. And I would agree with G. Messori that
il termine "fingo"... è l'esatto equivalente del greco 'poiéo'; al limite, quindi... possiamo sempre dire che un poeta, proprio in quanto tale, "fingit", cioè crea. È stata, in fondo, una categoria trasvalutante della critica moderna quella di contrapporre "fictio" a "visio": nell'esegesi trecentesca la consapevolezza precisa di questa contrapposizione non pare esserci mai.
It is a mistake to reduce the problem to a simple and anachronistic aut - aut. Even St Thomas's notorious distrust of poetry did not lead him to deny that it could point to the truth: "Non omne quod fingimus mendacium est... cum autem fictio nostra refertur in aliquam significationem, non est mendacium [cf. D.'s bella menzogna], SED ALIQUA FIGURA VERITATIS" (S.Th., III.LV.iv.1), while he referred to the belief that the poet's rôle was to create a fictio that should bear witness to the ťíveritatem rerum aliquibus similitudinibus" (Quodlibet, VII.XVI.2). And Gilson quotes Aquinas' conception of the rôle of Biblical poetry ("Veritas autem, quam sacra Scriptura per figuras rerum tradit, ad duo ordinatur: scilicet ad recte credendum, et ad recte operandum"), adding: "Comment Dante pouvait-il lire ce texte, ou un semblable, sans penser que la Divina Commedia remplissait les deux mêmes fonctions par les moyens poétiques dont elle dispose, à commencer par les figures?" ("Poésie et théologie...", 222n17). Unlike G. Padoan, I do not deem it possible to decide whether D.
intendeva render conto di una visione... realmente goduta per grazia divina... oppure si limitava a prospettare un viaggio avvenuto PER PHANTASIAM, cioè di mera invenzione poetica, e mentaliter, cioè intellettuale, filosofico.
Every critic is tempted to idolize his favourite author, and some recent D. scholars seem to have felt the need to make extravagant claims of supernatural revelation for the Comedy - as though its poetic greatness were not enough to ensure the admiration, respect, and enjoyment wished upon its readers. And let us make no mistake: "poetic greatness" does not exclude the religious beliefs, possible mystical experiences, and other raw materials that were transformed into poetry by D.'s genius.
The Epistle to Cangrande is a doubtful blessing. Its authenticity is now generally accepted, but highly unsatisfactory MS evidence is no guide as to which parts, if any, were added by later scribes or interpreters. The Epistle certainly makes a high claim for the author's mystical rapture, although this section (§28) is missing from 15th-c. MSS and one of the four 16th-c. copies. It may be the work of a later apologist, as keen as some of D.'s present-day readers to fill any credibility gap. I would merely point out that the author of Paradiso makes no attempt in the poem to convert the sceptics. He appears sublimely unaware of their existence, preoccupied as he is with the difficulty of his task and the limitations of human language. D. the poet is certainly oblivious of his readers' possible refusal to accept his claim that he was granted the experiences described in Paradiso. On the other hand, the Epistle should help us to focus on Paradiso in its own right and the ways in which it may differ from the rest of the poem (see esp. §11). We may then consider, though not necessarily accept, the possibility that D.'s final experience in the poem - the Beatific Vision - corresponded mutatis mutandis to a spiritual reality that served as the spark for the description of the Comedy's whole complex drama. Even more interesting for our present purpose is the fact that, according to the poet himself, most of Paradiso is allegory or extended metaphor: for, in Par., IV. 28-60, Beatrice reveals the truth of Paradise to D., that truth which he will not see before the end of the poem. The souls that appear to him in the various heavens do not really reside there - all are united with God:
Qui si mostraro, non perché sortita
sia questa spera lor, ma per far segno
de la celestial c'ha men salita,
The reason why D. sees them first in this celestial gradation is the frailty of man's intellect in this life, which justifies the use of metaphor in the Bible:
Così parlar conviensi al vostro ingegno,
però che solo da sensato apprende
ciò che fa poscia d'intelletto degno.
Per questo la Scrittura condescende
a vostra facultate, e piedi e mano
attribuisce a Dio e altro intende;
The reality becomes visible only in Par., XXX. 91-96, where D. finally sees "ambo le corti del ciel manifeste" and is gradually prepared for the supreme reality of the Beatific Vision.
To return to the Epistle, it is not essential to know who wrote it: "Authentique ou non... l’Epistola a Can Grande offre l'intérêt majeur de poser explicite- ment le problème de la manière correcte d'interpréter le poème sacré", though as far as the actual commentary is concerned Gilson reminds us: "C'est de l'excel- lent travail, mais sans rapport nécessaire au sens poétique de l’oevre”. This is a salutary caution after H.'s claim that "the seventh and eighth paragraphs of the Letter to Can Grande.. contain in germ all that the critic needs to know of the plan of the poem in order to elucidate its essential techniques" (50): it may of course serve as a basis, but the conflicting claims for which it has been used show that we must heed the warning and pursue our investigation. Gilson also points out:
En énumérant les modi tractandi qui caractérisent la Comédie, D. cite en premier le modus 'posticus et le modus fictivus. Cela suffirait à introduire entre le poème sacré et la théologie une différence initiale qui ne se laissera plus réduire désormais,
concluding: "Avec toutes les distinctions que l'on voudra, la Divina Commedia est vraie du même genre de vérité que l’Énéide, et non point du tout de celui que saint Thomas revendique pour l'Écriture Sainte". Another expert, Lubac, judges the Epistle's performance thus: "L'application ne paraît pas très claire. C'est qu'en effet, si théologique qu'en soit le dessein, un poème humain n'est pas l'Écriture" (II.II.323). Padoan comments: "Il de Lubac, naturalmente, ha pensato alla Commedia come ad un 'poème humain', senza pensare che per D. invece potesse essere un 'poema sacro', ove si narrano cose conosciute per rivelazione..." ("La mirabile visione...", 302). I would answer that Lubac has done precisely this: he has taken into account all the claims that can be made for the poema sacro, both by its author and by its interpreters, and has judged D.'s practice after examining the theory in the context of medieval Biblical exegesis and rhetoric. Padoan reminds us that such critics are not D. scholars. Is it, however, the D. scholars who are best qualified to judge this particular point? Another theologian, G.G. Meersseman, is even more reluctant to accept "la qualifica di mistico, conferita a D. da parecchi studiosi moderni... Io non posso che esprimere il mio scetticismo totale su questa tesi". Meersseman's hostility is perhaps too pervasive. Significantly, Lubac accepts the views put forward in the opening section of the Epistle:
L'entreprise de Dante n'avait rien d'inouï. Comment un poème chrétien, tout pétri de substance dogmatique, et dont l'intention symbolique était affirmée par son auteur, n'aurait-il pu être traité selon les lois d'une exégèse que l'on avait depuis longtemps déjà tenté d'appliquer tant bien que mal aux écrits païens pour les christianiser? (II.II.324)
It is in §9 of the Epistle that we find the statement which is an obvious stumbling-block for those who wish to set up D.'s poem as a divinely inspired appendix to the Bible, for the author uses a whole spate of adjectives to specify: "Forma sive modus tractandi est poeticus, fictivus, descriptivus, transumptivus; et cum hoc definitivus, divisivus, probativus, improbativus, et exemplorum positivus". As Curtius concludes, D. here tells us: "'My work affords poetry, but at the same time philosophy, too'. With this D. claims for his poetry the cognitional function which Scholasticism denied to poetry in general", while, in the German scholar's view, Albert the Great, in his Summa Theologiae, "has to take precautions lest the Bible be classified as belonging to the modus poeticus " (223). Certainly, these modes need not exclude a basis of historical reality; we have already drawn the parallel with Virgil's Aeneid, and D.'s Comedy was obviously aimed at an even higher level, as a Christian Aeneid, written by a poet fully conscious of the revealed truths of Christianity which he wove into his poem. As St Isidore taught him: "Officium autem poetae in eo est ut ea, quae vere gesta sunt, in alias species obliquis figura- tionibus cum decore aliquo conversa transducat" (Etym., VIII.VII.10). Nevertheless, Schiaffimi speaks of the natural association of ideas: "Circa la fictio , pensiamo al concetto medievale della poesia come bella finzione che cela una verità" ("Dante, Retorica...", 164). This was certainly the most immediate connexion for anyone in the 13th and 14th cc., as Boccaccio shows: "il qual fingo ha più significazioni, per ciò che egli sta per 'comporre', per 'ornare', per 'mentire' e per altri significati", although he takes care to point out: "Ma i poeti cristiani, de' quali sono stati assai, non ascosero sotto il loro fabuloso parlare alcuna cosa non vera, e massimamente dove fingessero cose spettanti alla divinità e alla fede cristiana" - a transparent reference to D. At first sight, then, it is strange to find that the Epistle completely ignores the essential problem of the distinction between the literal sense in the Bible and its counterpart in literature. I must repeat that the latter was not necessarily untrue, as we learn from Isidore's (and D.'s) attitude towards Virgil and epic poetry in general. But nowhere does the author of the Epistle tackle the problem, nowhere does he clarify the confusion that could exist in the reader's mind. The reason for this omission is surely that D. made his claims patent by his comparison with the fourfold interpretation of the Bible, his claim that his poem "non est simplex sensus, immo dici potest poly sernos, hoc est plurium sensuum; nam primus sensus est qui habetur per literám, alius est qui habetur per significata per literám". In the face of such a claim, whereby the poet attributes to his work something that many considered a monopoly of Holy Scripture, D. must count on his readers' common sense to realize that the parallel is to be applied by analogy, mutatis mutandis, especially as he goes on to use the epithet fictivus in §9 (significantly, absent from H.'s list of "what the critic needs to know of the plan of the poem"). The Epistle, moreover, fails to give examples of the four senses applied to the Comedy.
The significance of the adj. poéticus is apparent when we remember the distrust with which poetry was regarded by the leading philosopher of D.'s age. Aquinas had dismissed it as the least of all sciences, and had denied that poetry could hold any allegorical meaning at all: "Unde in nulla scientia humana industria inventa, proprie loquendo, potest inveniri nisi litteralis sensus" (Quodlibet, VII.VI.16). St Thomas also had to face up to the problem posed by the veracity of the Biblical text. Origen had tackled it head-on by admitting that the Bible at times encased spiritual truth in a false frame (In Johan., X.V.20), while, nearer to D.'s times, Hugh of St Victor agreed that the literal sense occasionally seemed absurd or impossible (PL, CLXXVI, 802). Jerome, Augustine, and others looked to allegory as a way out, revealing the veritade ascosa. St Thomas decided to cut the Gordian knot by declaring that all metaphors and parables must be regarded as part of the literal sense of any text by virtue of their hidden but true meaning, which constitutes the author's real or primary intention. This led to the denial of any possible allegorical sense in secular poetry, for the "allegoria dei poeti" was thus placed in the orbit of the literal sense.
In a recent stimulating study Jean Pépin espies the influence of St Thomas's interpretation in the Epistle. He takes as his point of departure Nardi's objection that the literal sense of the Comedy is not the status animarum post mortem (Epist., X.8), but D.'s journey through the three kingdoms of the afterlife (Nel mondo..., 61f.). Pépin doubts that Nardi was wholly wrong; what he did not grasp was "la doctrine thomiste", which holds the key to an understanding of the Epistle and according to which
le sens le plus manifestement figuré d'un poème est réputé littéral; dans cette perspective, le sens littéral propre perd tout intérêt sous le nom de 'fiction'; ainsi comprend-on que, dans l'Épître XIII, 9, 27, la forme de la Comédie soit dite 'poétique et fictive’. (79)
This is a challenging hypothesis, although I do not see why the "subiectum totius operis, literaliter tantum accepti" should not be understood as the "status animarum post mortem". As Nardi argues, it does not mention D.'s own journey through the other world; however, this would seem to be a sin of omission rather than mistaking an allegorical sense for the literal. What D. the pilgrim sees during his journey and what he relates as the literal subject of his poem is surely the state of the souls after death: Farinata in his burning tomb among the heretics in Hell, Forese and the starving gluttons in Purgatory - this is clearly the literal subject matter of Inf., X and Purg., XXIII-XXIV. Of course, there are, in addition, frequent references to contemporary events on earth, and this too would be included among the literal sense, just as D.'s own journey must come under this head. But is it really so strange that D. should have omitted to mention the latter? The Epistle tells us: "Status animarum post mortem simpliciter sumptus. Nam de ilio et circa ilium totius operis versatur processus" (X. 8); and this is the immediate result of D.'s journey, as Cacciaguida makes plain in Par., XVII. It is the stuff of D.'s vision. And does not Nardi's objection imply a modern subjective attitude which was foreign to D.'s times and the laws of medieval rhetoric? The poet's reluctance to mention himself directly is well enough documented, not only in Conv., I.II.1-15, but in the immediate context of the Comedy, where he apologizes to the reader for having to mention his own name (Purg., XXX. 55, 62f.). Are we then to imagine that D., if he wrote the Epistle, would have claimed that the literal subject of his poem was a journey undertaken through the other world by a certain Dante Alighieri? Surely, the very idea is excluded - not by D.'s modesty, which is hardly conspicuous - but by the conventions he was unwilling to break.
There may well have been another reason for D.'s reticence - one which will hardly be welcomed by those who insist on the historical reality of the poem's literal sense -: it is D.'s unwillingness to make the contention: "as seen by Dante Alighieri" in the critical exposition. In §28, D. seems to have claimed the reality of the mystical experience described in the closing section of Paradiso - but we should remember that this is limited to a specific area of the poem. I am glad that Nardi was surprised by the Epistle's description of the literal sense. It should surprise us and make us see the limits of D.'s claims. No one may underestimate the power of D.'s inspiration, his conviction that it originated in truth, and therefore in God. His journey is a fatal andare. His poem is the "poema sacro/ al quale ha posto mano e cielo e terra". The poet is called upon to reveal every detail of his vision, however harsh the consequences.
But let us not distract attention from the poet's achievement by extravagant claims of para-Biblical status. D. was concerned to convince his readers of the Comedy's credibility: “Nel ciel che più de la sua luce prende/ fu' io…”. How else should the author sway the reader and convey the urgency and truth of his message, truly inspired by God? And how else should the reader respond, if not by suspending his disbelief? To go further is to invite the reaction of a Pietro Alighieri, the poet's own son: Who but a madman could claim such things? Nam quis sani intellectus crederei ipsum ita descendisse, et talia vidisse, nisi cum distinc- tion dictorum modorum loquendi ad figuram?
Nam quis sani intellectus crederet ipsum ita descendisse, et talia vidisse, nisi cum distinctione dictorum modorum loquendi ad figuram? Nam non est ipse literalis sensus ipsa figura, sed id quod est figuratum... (Commentarium, Firenze, 1845, p. 8)
Here we are back to Aquinas's definition of the sensus parabólicas contained within the literal sense; quite obviously, Pietro is copying St Thomas, for both go on to discuss Scripture's mention of God's arm and the only reality behind this metaphor, the Creator's virtus operativa. This, I believe, is what Pépin claims for the Epistle: a way out suggested by Aquinas, whereby the literal sense is vindicated by "id quod est figuratum" and the fiction is best forgotten. It is not, however, what the Epistle claims (X.7): "Primus sensus est qui habetur per literám, alius est qui habetur per significata per literám". Just as D. did not wish to overstate his case, so he did not wish to reduce it to a bella- menzogna or permanent metaphor.
If, then, we look at the Epistle as a whole, we should note that the allegorical subject is stated in exemplary terms after the literal, in §8: "allegorice, subiectum est homo prout merendo et demerendo per arbitrii libertatem iustitiae praemiandi et puniendi obnoxius est". This is followed in §9 by the definition of the poem's "forma sive modus tractandi" as "poëticus, fictivus, descriptivus, digressivus, transumptivus..." - a reminder all too often played down or ignored. Again, in §15 we are told that the purpose of the whole work is "removere viventes in hac vita de statu miseriae, et perducere ad statum felicitatis", so that the branch of philosophy to which it belongs "est morale negotium, sive ethica" (§16). And here the message is repeated once more, that the poet had an essentially practical purpose in mind: "Quia non ad speculandum, sed ad opus inventum est totum et pars".
As far as the fourfold method of Biblical exegesis is concerned, we note that the Epistle applies it only to a Biblical text: the opening verses of Ps.113. These are quoted to give a "better" illustration of the allegorical senses (X. 7). It was not mere chance that led D. to choose these verses both in Convivio (II.I.6f), where the literal and anagogical senses alone are mentioned, and in the Epistle. The Exodus had been a favourite subject for allegorical treatment ever since St Paul had affirmed: "Haec autem omnia in figura contingebant illis" (Pépin, 85f.). The author of the Epistle proceeds: "His visis, manifestum est quod duplex oportet esse subiectum, circa quod currant alterni sensus" (X. 8). It is surely significant that not the slightest attempt is made to apply the fourfold method to any part of D.'s poem, although the latter "immo dici potest poly- semos, hoc est plurium sensuum" (X. 7). The only terms used, when referring to the Comedy, are sensus literalis and sensus allegoricus, sive mysticus (X. 7). True, allegoricus does not exclude the possibility of subdivision; and, according to the fourfold scheme, the "allegorical" sense given in x.8 is nearest to the tropologica. This is also in accord with the later insistence on the Comedy's essentially practical purpose, "quia non ad speculandum, sed ad opus inventum est". We need only remember our distich to realize that the purpose of the tropo- logica! sense is the same: "moralis quid agas".
H. probably believes that D. applied the same Biblical interpretations to his Comedy:
Take Ciacco the glutton (Inf., VI), for instance. ... The literal sense shows us, as D. says, the state of this man's soul after his death. The allegorical sense makes evident the connection between his present life in the Circle of Gluttony and its past causes in Florence. The moral sense warns us against this particular sin. The anagogical sense asserts God's divine plan, which includes punishment for sinners. (51)
His own comment is accurate enough: "It is, I'm afraid, as simple as that", while admitting: "As the mathematicians say, this is a true but not an interest- ing result". It is, to say the least, an anticlimax: parturiunt montes (allegoriae)... .
It is surely time to end the passionate arguments regarding the reality of D.'s literal sense. Let us agree, with H., to call it a menzogna vera (61). Let us leave it at that, let us give unto D.'s poem what is due to a poetic masterpiece: a suspen- sion of disbelief, willingly granted. And let us acknowledge that many of the most exciting discoveries have been made by application of the method of figurai or typological interpretation to the Comedy. D. was the first poet to "imitate God's way of writing" (Singleton) in this respect: he used history, the stuff of life, real men and women, to point the way towards the reality of Christian revelation and eternity. Auerbach's studies have provided us with the seminal principles for such an interpretation. The Scriptural basis is to be found in Luke 24:27 ("Et incipiens a Moyse, et omnibus prophetis, interpretabatur illis in omnibus scripturis quae de ipso erant"), followed by St Paul's exhortation to read the Scriptures and see the truth hidden by the veil that surrounds the figura (II Cor. 3:15). As St Augustine affirmed, "hoc unum venturum [Christ] multiplici varietate figurabant" (PL, XLVI, 827). The Epistle repeats the idea that the Exodus prefigures our redemption through Christ "si ad allegoriam, nobis significatur nostra redemptio facta per Christum" (X. 7). Singleton and others have illustrated Beatrice's rôle in the Comedy as a figura Christi. As Auerbach reminds us:
Both entities in the figurative or typological relationship are equally real and equally concrete; the figurative sense does not destroy the literal, nor does the literal deprive the figured fact of its status as a real historical event.
This leads us away from the artificiality of "conventional" allegory to the glorious complexity of D.'s poem, where, as in the Christian view of history, both the sign and what it signifies retain their full individual reality. Beatrice is a figura Christi existing on the same analogical level as Adam, Moses, or Jonah, each of whom prefigured Christ in his own way, peculiar to himself and his historical reality. Such a view adds a vertical dimension to our horizontal view of history - hardly a "realistic" approach for a modern historian. In the Comedy, however, it helped D. to create a new
powerful realism ... based on D.'s conception that God's judgment develops and fixes the complete and ultimate form of the individual - a conception which is in concordance with Thomistic anthropology - and which at the same time is figuralistic: in that God's judg- ment endows an earthly figure with its own final and absolute perfection. (Auerbach, 113)
The result is unique. It enables H. to claim that Cato in ante-Purgatory is a figura who looks back to Moses and forward to Christ:
Moses is present here, for this is the place which is to be figurally understood as the place where the Exodus of each Christian soul is accomplished. Surely Moses is figurally present in the next canto when the souls of the angel ship sing "In exitu Israel de Aegypto". And, taking our clue from that typology, we realize that if Moses is figurally present here, Christ must be also, for Christ ... is figured by Moses, leading us out of bondage to salvation. (124f.)
As Auerbach perceived, the political freedom for which Cato had given up his life is a prefiguration of true Christian freedom. Such insight adds a new dimension to the poem, for it allows us to comprehend D.'s poetic universe, the Comedy's fiction, whereby a pagan suicide is not necessarily rejected and where this world retains the complexity of human existence, which the fiction of a journey through the other world might otherwise have destroyed in the name of a "superior reality". Instead, we have the rich canvas of the "poema sacro/ al quale ha posto mano e ciel e terra", the interaction of heaven and earth in the mind and creation of the poet who declares his intention of revealing "l'ombra del beato regno / segnata nel mio capo" (Par., I. 23f.), th e figura of the reality he has perceived, together with its fulfilment. This is the miracle of D.'s literary allegory: for the first time, a Christian poet illustrated his religious beliefs and teleological view of history by using characters drawn from reality. With the exception of such figures as the three beasts, Gerione, the giant, and the whore (Purg., XXXII.148-160), D.'s allegorical method in the Comedy modelled itself on the work of the Creator. It could therefore claim the four senses of God's book. In the poem, the most obvious are the tropological and anagogical; not infrequently the most interesting is the typological. Let us not confuse the issue: D.'s raw material was provided by life itself, a reality created by God but modified by man, just as the poet in turn modifies this reality and creates his "literal sense". And let us leave the last word to D.: "Circa sensum misticum dupliciter errare contingit: aut querendo ipsum ubi non est, aut accipiendo aliter quam accipi debeat" (Mon., III.IV.6).