Some Elements in the Genesis of A Renaissance View of the Divine Comedy [Frank Fata]

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Autore: Frank Fata

Tratto da: Modern Language Notes

Numero: 87

Anno: 1972

Pagine: 20-36

The allegorical method of interpreting poetry spawned through the centuries vast families of practitioners-masters, students, disciples, and distant cousins; their genealogies have been traced in ponderous and, all too infrequently, engaging studies. One of the curious yet salient figures in the meandering currents of tropology is Fabius Planciades Fulgentius, called Fulgentius the Mythographer. This sixth century Christian writer of African orgin inaugrated, in his Expositio Virgilianae continentiae secundum philosophos moralis, the metaphoric and moral interpretation of the great Latin poet. Fulgentius uses a similar method of explication in his other work, Mythologiarum libri tres which is conducted along euhemeristic lines. In windy prose, with extravagant allusions to legends and etymologies real or counterfeit, he presents the wanderings of Aeneas as a paradigm for man's life, a process of purification and ascesis to a right understanding and grasp of the true ethical and spiritual meaning of existence.
If we risk a vault of many centuries, we may observe Christoforo Landino in 1480 applying similar leverage to the Aeneid in his Disputationes Camaldulensis. Landino, like Fulgentius, considers Vergil's Aeneid a moral example for leading a just life. The humanist repeats the performance one year later with Dante's journey poem, in his influential gloss which was destined to remain the standard for more than a century. Landino, in a preface to the Dante commentary, indicates that he wishes to elucidate the Florentine's poem in the same manner he followed for the Aeneid; thus, in a sense, reclaiming for Florence her lost citizen and raising to a noble level what tended to be considered a vulgar poem. The printing press brought the benefits of scientific progress, and its own popularity guaranteed a growing audience. Mambelli in his Gli annali delle edizioni dantesche lists the numerous times Landino's reading is reproduced through the sixteenth century. In short, it would seem that our leap across time has found a common tradition producing similar interpretations by two commentators, chronologically but not methodologically distant. Both Fulgentius and Landino elaborated congruous ethico-moral interpretations of the same voyage poem, the Aeneid of Vergil. Landino then extended that method to the modern poem of his fellow citizen.
One important fact, however, should not go unnoticed: Fulgentius professes concern only for the moral order of things, within the framework of moral philosophy. He reads a poet, and a pagan one at that, so therefore natural philosophy encompasses that particular order of knowledge. To paraphrase Dante, we do not go beyond the circle of the moon (Inf. II, 78). Fulgentius does not attempt to Christianize Vergil. In a fictitious dialog with the Latin poet himself, Fulgentius ascribes the weighty title vates to Vergil for having pronounced in the Bucolics the phrase that was to be so pregnant in meaning for the Middle Ages, " Iam redit et virgo…" When Fulgentius goes on to lament the fact that the Aeneid's author died before the Incarnation, Vergil counters straightforwardly:

If among so many Stoic verities I had not mingled elements of Epicurean error, I would not be a pagan. To know all Truth is given only to you Christians, for whom the Sun of Truth shown forth.

When Vergil comes to Fulgentius in a mystic vision, he has no desire to pass himself off anachronistically as a Christian. The commentary will simply stick to a kind of moral pedagogy; as Henri de Lubac has underlined, the title itself tells us that it is a question of Expositio secundum philosophos moralis.
Clement of Alexandria might exemplify the opposite tendency, which sets about molding profane allegory into a vessel for Christian doctrine, harmonizing as much as possible pagan and biblical viewpoints, with apologetic purpose. Toward the end of the second century and the beginning of the third, Clement applied a tropological method of interpretation to the Scriptures - not just as St. Paul had done previously, but as he knew it to be practiced by the pagans and their civilization.

Cette dualité d’inspiration transparait dans la dualité de son vocabulaire technique, ou voisinent des mots propres au Nouveau Testament et des mots caractdristiques de l'allhgorisme grec profane…

For us, this is particularly interesting, since Landino's exegetical works also show a certain "dualité de vocabulaire technique," and a marked preference for illustrating a difficult passage with citations from pagan poets, the Scriptures and Christian poets. Landino's predilection for syncretism, his inclination toward reconciling the poet and the theologian, even to the point of equating the two, truths and Christian teaching at all levels, suggest that he was and his determination to demonstrate the compatibility of pagan perhaps unwittingly a pupil in the tradition of Clement.

Putting aside these distant echoes of Clement and Fulgentius, of a long and complex tradition, we hit upon what has the clear ring of imitation when we consider Landino's relationship to Boccaccio. The Esposizioni sopra la Commedia di Dante (otherwise known simply as Comento) certainly served as a seminal model for Landino's explication, particularly for the allegorical portions, as Michele Barbi has indicated: "Nel determinare il significato di molti luoghi allegorici del poema il Landino si giova del Boccaccio: valgano d'esempio le allegorie del Minotauro (Inf., XII) e del Gigante di Creta (Inf., XIV). Boccaccio's exposition of the Divine Comedy and Landino's, composed within an analogous tradition, impress us now with many striking resemblances. Both scholars are engaged in a defense of the vulgar language, while at the same time defending poetry by demonstrating that truth lies biblical references, to imply the continuity, oneness, and sacredness under the cortex of fiction. Both prefer interspersing classical with of the literary tradition and to elucidate the universal meaning hidden beneath the veil of literal sense. Boccaccio's commentary is Latin authors, and also copious adaptation of earlier works on a composite work, made up of paraphrases and translations from Dante: the Trattatello and the Compendio. He also draws abundantly from his own Latin works, primarily the De claris mulieribus and the De casibus virorum illustrium, but especially the Genealogie. The fourteenth and fifteenth books of the Genealogy of the Pagan Gods take up the challenge of defending poetry and poets. They subject the principal derogatory arguments to deflation or ridicule, effective weapons in the hands of Giovanni Boccaccio. Poetry is indeed a generous instrument, both beautiful and profitable, which besides pleasure and enjoyment gives man a sum of knowledge beneath the literal meaning, that he otherwise would not have or that might have been corupted in the hands of the common people. This ''poetic revelation" squares for the most part with the teachings of the Church, although at times it may go astray. The ones who consistently produced irreverent material were of course the comic poets, whom in any case Plato would have expelled from the well-governed republic. Ironically enough, the author whose elegant, pungent and audacious wit gave us the Decameron sees fit to deride such lesser artists. The true and authentic poets were most often in accord with Christian truth, despite the fact that they themselves were not aware of it.
At the same time, there is a certain dualism in Ser Giovanni, an uneasiness with poetry which crops up even as he defends it. This doubt appears already in the Genealogie, but takes most definite shape by the time we reach the commentary on Dante. Boccaccio certainly defends poetry in the Comento, and Dante's use of it above all, but he falters when he considers where poetry leads and what good can issue from it. In that work (III, 185) the once bold humanist regrets that in recent times earthly things had become even more caducous, not just in accordance with their nature, but also in measure with the decline of faith, which used to act as a link and bond, keeping the society of men united and close. The Comento is Boccaccio's last work, a product of his old age; he died before completing it. Moreover, there is reason to believe that he would not have continued in any case, given his lack of sympathy for the public. By that point in his life, the author of the Decameron is more and more preoccupied with orthodoxy, with Christian last things. It makes one think that Boccaccio would still wish to subscribe wholeheartedly to Aristotle's implication that poets are in fact theologues, and therefore worthy of our attention and even reverence. But in his heart he cannot answer why a man should spend more time reading profane poetry, the "theology" of pre-Christian man, than he spends meditating on the Gospels. His position in later life resembles that of the frequently Janus-like Augustine:

During the same time arose the poets, who were also called theologues, because they made hymns about the gods; yet about such gods as, although great men, were yet but men, or the elements of this world which the true God made, or creatures who were ordained as principalities and powers according to the will of the Creator and their own merit. And if, among much that is vain and false, they sang anything of the one true God, yet, by worshipping Him along with others who are not gods, and showing them the service which is due to Him alone, they did not serve Him at all rightly; and even such poets as Orpheus, Musaeus, and Linus were unable to abstain from dishonoring their gods by fables. But yet these theologues worshipped the gods.

The poignancy of that last line will take full form of art in Inferno's fourth canto. For Boccaccio, however, neither the observation that the Bible itself is couched in poetry nor any insistence on the high spiritual qualities of pre-Christian theologues could dispel the taint of vanity or conquer the principle scruple concerning the advisability of reading pagan fiction, considered as the lies and sheer invention which make a good story. In such context, it strikes us that in the Comento, when it comes time to assign a title, Boccaccio hesitates and refuses to fit Dante within the tradition of poet-priest, allotting him only the name "philosopher ": "Certa cosa e che Dante non aveva spirito profetico, per lo quale egli potesse prevedere e scrivere" (Cor. II, 264). Which certainly is true enough, according to the letter; but according to the spirit, it does not square with what Boccaccio had implied many times before in various works. Here is an example from the Genealogie:

Qualis fuerit, inclitum cius testatur opus, quod sub titulo Comedie rithimis, florentino ydiomate, mirabili artificio scripsit. In quo profecto se non mythicum, quin imo catholicum atque divinum potius ostendit esse theologum...

It does not speak of prophesy but leaves no doubt with regard to the inspired nature of Dante's vision. Is it not this esteem which saddles the Comedy with the double-edged epithet, "divine"? So in this respect two positions live discordantly in Boccaccio: one explicit, a warm defense of poetry and poets; the other less and less implicit as time grows short, an attitude which is suspicious of writers and their inventions, which yearns for the solidity of theology and for the unique, exclusive truth of the Catholic religion, rather than for those truths attainable by men in general.
Two positions also coexist in Dante, but without strife between them; not, at least, once the writing of the Comedy is under way. For Dante, unlike Boccaccio or Landino, proceeded from a point of view which held each to be a separate order of human activity, Thomas Aquinas. Indeed, one may say that the Divine Comedy two realms held apart as reason and revelation are divided in attempts precisely to quiet forever, for the Christian writer and audience, the conflict between theology and poetry, between revelation and understanding, between the ancients who although benighted yet held the lamp and the moderns who followed its light. Dante spoke of the allegory of poets, who are not concerned with theological or divine truth, who work within the sphere of that which is connatural to man, who do what man, of himself, can do and nothing more: "Veramente li teologi questo senso [allegorico] prendono altrimenti che li poeti; ma però che mia intenzione e qui [in the Convivio] lo modo de li poeti sequitare, prendo lo senso allegorico secondo che per li poeti e usato" (Convivio II, i). Thus in the Convivio Dante thinks and writes differently, in a diverse intellectual order, just as the De Monarchia provides for a beatitude here and now, in via, in the well-governed state. Man aspires to heaven but his feet remain firmly on the ground. Grace perfects nature but does not supplant it. Dante therefore is not wrenched in an attempt to be both secular and religious by the light of man alone. Man's natural vision is short, but nonetheless noble; revelation supplements that vision, a fact of which man should be both conscious and content. Boccaccio's devotion to poetry, a form of human vision, placed a barrier in his own mind between him and theology. Was it not because he assumed that poetry was alien to theology, not just hierarchically different and distinct, therefore requiring a "defense"? His later inclinations to religion lead him to underplay poetry.
Dante also spoke, in the Epistle to Can Grande, of an allegory of theologians which places the poets in a position analoggous to the authors of the Gospels, since the poem will function as the Bible does. Thomas Aquinas defines it in the Summa Theologiae:

Auctor Sacrae Scripturae est Deus, in cuius potestate est ut non solum voces ad significandum accommodet, quod etiam homo facere potest, sed etiam res ipsas. Et ideo cum in omnibus scientiis voces significent, hoc habet proprium ista scientia, quod ipsae res significatae per voces, etiam significant aliquid. Illa ergo prima significatio, qua voces significant res, pertinet ad primum sensum qui est sensus historicus vel litteralis. Illa vero significatio qua res significatae per voces, iterum res alias significant, dicitur sensus spiritualis, qui super litteralem fundatur et eum supponit.

Etiam homo, even man can do the first, utilizing words to communicate meaning. But to make things themselves — res ipsas — mean or signify, that we understand is the province only of Auctor Sacrae Scripturae. Yet Dante takes up the challenge in his polysemous Comedy, to write in such a way that often he will cause res ipsas to signify: the scriba Dei is also auctor, and that is humble Dante's conceit. He writes the Comedy in the allegory of theologians. His lyrics, however, show that he was more than ordinarily capable of that other allegory. Indeed, one might suggest that that is how he lost himself, or found himself lost, in the dark wood:

Guido, i’vorrei che tu e Lapo ed io
fossimo presi per incantamento
e messi in un vasel, ch’ad ogni vento
per mare andasse al voler vostro e mio;
sì che fortuna od altro tempo rio
non ci potesse dare impedimento,
anzi, vivendo sempre in un talento,
di stare insieme crescesse ’l disio

E monna Vanna e monna Lagia poi
con quella ch’è sul numer de le trenta
con noi ponesse il buono incantatore:
e quivi ragionar sempre d’amore,
e ciascuna di lor fosse contenta,
si come i’ credo che saremmo noi.

Imagination, fantasy and fiction are at the bottom of the allegory of poets. And in this particular case deep within lurks the desire to escape reality, not to know it. Not to make things signify in an imitatio Dei, but to alienate them, perhaps because existence and reality themselves are seen as alien. One cannot avoid juxtaposing “al voler vostro e mio” with the famous “com’altrui piacque”: man’s will and God's design at odds. So too is the Convivio written in the allegory of poets, but scholarship, fascinated by the lure of that tropological method which fuses the two modes, has been loath to acknoweldge it:

... è sul concetto di “pietà” che ha Virgilio, impersonandola nell'animo di Enea, che Dante specifica il valore di questa rara qualità cristiana; “E non è pietade quella che crede la volgar gente, cioè dolersi de l’altrui male, anzi è questo uno suo speziale effetto, che si chiama misericordia ed è passione; una pietade non è passione, anzi, è una nobile disposizione d’animo, apparecchiata di ricevere amore, misericordia e altre caritative passioni” (Conv. II, X, 6)

But since the Convivio follows the allegory of poets, as Dante stated it did, then “pietà” must be one of the natural moral virtues, and “rara qualità cristiana” does not enter in the question. For the qualities of pius Aeneas are the ones which any just pagan could have, precisely as some of them do indeed have in the Comedy — the tragedy there being that they possess nothing else, lacking that which comes through Faith alone. Dante’s language in the little poem we just read could not be more secular; that is, belonging below the circle of the moon. Ironically, we ourselves the readers, need not believe but only know, in order that we may allow our minds and imagination to follow the signs and guideposts that the poet so carefully laid out in his universal poem. The allegory of poets is not the final position of Dante; the Convivio is never finished. We have been invited to speculate on this matter, with the suggestion, “that Dante abandoned the Convivio because he came to see that in choosing to build this work according to the allegory of poets, he had ventured down a false way; that he came to realize that a poet could not be a poet of rectitude and work with an allegory whose first meaning was a disembodied fiction.”
We may hazard a further speculation as to what sort of poem Dante would have written following the allegory of poets and the line:

…“Un uom nasce alla riva
dell’Indo, e quivi non è chi ragioni
di Cristo né chi legga né chi scriva;
e tutti suoi voleri e atti boni
sono, quanto ragione umana vede,
sanza peccato in vita od in sermoni.
Muore non battezzato e sanza fede:
ov’è questa giustizia che ’l condanna?
ov'è la colpa sua, se ei non crede?’
(Parad. XIX, 68-78)

A poem similar to the Aeneid of Vergil, one suspects, a tragedy ultimately not in harmony with Christian eschatology, but very much in accord with what we readers of today find most “modern” in Dante. Vergil, writing in the only mode available to him, in the allegory of poets, could only produce a tragedy. Whereas, for Dante the true scheme of life is comedy, as it must be for the Christian pilgrim — otherwise absurdity mars existence and indeed, pace Thomas, there is something frustra in natura. As Augustine before him, Dante had read the pagan poets, knew and respected and admired them, but ultimately could not find there that the Word was made Flesh.
Boccaccio, despite his heartfelt defense of poetry and his love of poets as artists and men, had, as he grew old, a turn of spirit or change of conscience, a growing concern for those things upon which the Christian must fix his attention: the heart cannot grow quiet in poetry and its fictions. The Casella episode of Purgatorio II demonstrates just how preemptive this teleological outlook could be. At that point in the journey, Cato comes to urge on the pilgrims, ‘ whose desires were all quiet in the song of love,” with these words:

…Che è ciò, spiriti lenti?
qual negligenza, quale stare è questo?
correte al monte a spogliarvi lo scoglio
ch’esser non lascia a voi Dio manifesto.

Thoughts of full human passion and the absorbing delight of accompanying music are not timely there in Purgatory. To recall Augustine once again, “…this world must be used, not enjoyed, so that the invisible things of God may be clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made.” The things that are not made, the aery fictions of the poets, had begun to lose their savor for the author of the Decameron.
When we take up Landino’s commentary on the Divine Comedy, written as the fires of the new humanism spread through Italy, we find no tension between secular learning and Christian doctrine, the theology of poets and the theology of the saints. He has no concern for Dante’s scholastic distinctio, nor an inclination for Boccaccio's scruples. The polarity has been eliminated, not by a separation or a removal of one of the elements, but by equation: the two are fused into one. Landino does certainly make an apology for poetry and a defense of poets, in support of what they do and produce. But no urgency and sincerity radiate from that defense, because for Landino it was form and not substance, conformance to the long tradition of rallying to the cause of the Muses. In his time, given the cult of pagan learning within a Christian matrix, Landino felt no compulsion to marshal solid arguments against a Christian exclusionist mentality. His commentary, even in summary perusal, furnishes ample testimony that Landino attaches no real importance to the polarity inherent in the two positions, because he assigns no importance to the notion that poets might be constructing an edifice which stood outside the Christian faith. ‘The problem simply had lost its urgency and the humanist has no desire to restore it. Landino feels the need neither to distinguish, as did Fulgentius the Mythographer, nor to make apology, as did Clement of Alexandria, although in distant and sinuous recall of a tradition, he may adopt the technique of both. In his view, poets--saints and pagans alike — all approached basic truth, the fundamental meaning of life and the universe. Implicitly in Landino's exegetic system, the Sommo Bene or man's ultimate goal, can be discerned and achieved through both the pagan and the Christian poets, in equal measure. The assumption that Landino makes when he undertakes his gloss on the Divine Comedy amply demonstrates the fusion:

E verisimile adunque che Dante si proponesse il medesimo fine il quale appresso de greci Homero, e appresso de latini Virgilio s'havevano proposto. Et come quelli l’uno per Ulisse, l’altro per Enea dimostrano in che modo, venendosi nella cognitione de vitij, e conosciutogli, purgandosi da quegli s’arriva finalmente alla contemplatione delle cose divine, così Dante sotto questo figmento per la peregrinatione che ci finge di haver fatto con Virgilio in persona di se, dimostra quel modesimo. (Commentary [1564] Inf. I)

Christian poets, Christian theologians, pagan poets, pagan theologians, all provide man with a similar enlightenment, one leading to the nontranscendent truth of the Sommo Bene. That is to say, a philosopher’s truth, for the knowing of which Revelation and the Scriptures, although quoted to balance and round out a textual illustration, are not logically necessary.
Therefore, as Landino continues the task of commentary, there is no need to set the frame of reference in order to distinguish between the Christian and the pagan sphere of action, for the humanist's gloss depends upon a fundamental equation of the Christian and the pagan views of man's life and his destiny, stemming from a basic and confirmed faith in poetry. Grace, divine assistance and a proper attention to the Christian concept of life remain realities: no need to insist that Landino was a Christian. But by the late fifteenth century he and many others had forgotten something that was foremost to Dante and the epoch he closed— the notion of the plight of postlapsarian man. Unlike the previous age, the Quattrocento could banish to an inactive compartmerit of the mind the consequences of Adam’s sin. As we recall, Dante cannot possess Matelda, although poet and protagonist desire her mightily, because she represents a condition that obtained before the Fall. In Landino's gloss, however, desire need not necessarily go unrequited. Matelda, he tells us, signifies the active life in which civic virtues and Christian religion unite, within a secular matrix. The gloss blunts that superb moment when Dante strains toward Matelda, whom he cannot (alas, should not) reach. That man could yearn so intensely for the prelapsarian state does not strike a responsive chord in our fifteenth century allegorizer. Grace and the supernatural having been put aside for the purposes of elucidating the work, they assume for Landino a purely formalistic character, and never determine what a poem, poet, or character within the poem can or cannot achieve. Hercules becomes an acceptable stand-in for Christ, as the Christian and the pagan take on equal stature. Neatly mixed or alternately applied, both Christian revelation and pagan philosophy induce a similar spiritual progress. Our fifteenth century commentator at times makes distinction between what is Christian and what is pagan, but only by way of what we might term catechistic definition. Consequently, it is void of any motivating or ontological force. The spiritual potential of a Christian is not greater than that of a pagan, simply because the importance of grace and its renovating effect are no longer a central theme and an informing element either in life or in fiction. Of course, it marks the currents of the moment to have a commentary of the Quattrocento focusing on man's potential on his own, without divine assistance and with loose regard for certain traditional religious considerations. Man's ascesis and ascent without grace is, in the final analysis, one way of defining humanism. The exceptions to general procedure occur in the Commentary when Landino must confront a Christian problem: a theological point, a specific reference to grace, some note on the saints, and like material. In which case he summarily repeats orthodox doctrine with elegant and sometimes unctuous reverence. Otherwise, he subordinates the Christian scheme to the pagan, dwelling upon man's purgation and “beatification” sibi relictus. Such a wedding of two orders —the philosophical and the theological, natural and supernatural, reason and revelation, knowledge and belief (these are the dialectical terms) — which for Thomas and Dante were quite separate, is rendered possible by the implicit axiom that Christian poet, Christian theologian, equal pagan poet, pagan theologian. Poetry and art are of one kind, a monad which leads to truth. Not two truths, not a limited one by the light of reason alone valid in itself and a complete one by the light of grace, but one single truth, arcane but attainable by certain elevated human means: the tropological reading of poetry. What the poet-priest writes will sound the depths of truth. ‘The initiate, with his moral interpretation, rips aside the veil of fiction and penetrates to the wonderful mysteries beyond. The faith of a poet, or lack of it, is not germane. Would it not seem, then, that Vergil can attain to Paradise?
For Dante, at least in his last word which is the Comedy, man's art, “... a Dio quasi è nepote” (Inf. XI, 105). The principle is one of imitation, based upon a correct and just vision of the things that are made, made and evident in God's Two Books, if we are disposed to proper perception. Dante calls himself scribe and glossarist because he scrutinizes with the eyes of faith and copies down, takes note of what is already there, in view, in God's creation. That which the things and persons around man truly signify is manifest (manifesto) because he has been granted the light by which to throw off the slough and discern: the illumination of grace. Otherwise man attempts to overreach his powers:

Or tu chi se’, che vuo’ sedere a scranna,
Per giudicar di lungi mille miglia,
Con la veduta corta d’una spanna?
(Parad., XIX, 79-81)

Man must recognize that his perspicacity originates in God's elucidation. So too, does a poet's vision: Dante, writing in what he would convince us is a non-fictional mode, communicates his experience in its truth and in its immediacy. ‘Time and again he signals to his reader the historical or literal significance of incidents or persons; perhaps he also underlines another meaning. Vergil îs Vergil, and cannot always be interpreted as Natural Reason. The reader of Dante’s Comedy, when he considers Vergil, must not miss the repeated invitations to ponder the profound and sombre truth that, despite Vergil’s fame and the prophetic nature of his poetry, the Christian is greater than he, because the Christian has faith.
Brunetto Latini, too, will help us wrestle with the perspectives of Dante and of Landino. Brunetto taught, we are told, “come l’uom s'etterna” (Inf. XV, 85). This question of eternity, of fame and glory, lies close to the heart of all writers, but in a particularly strong manner to both Landino and Boccaccio. They underlined poetry's role in making men glorious and remembered in future generations. In their eyes this was one of the prime purposes of poetry and a desired reward for its practitioners. But then we must ask ourselves the ineluctable question when confronted with a Brunetto, a Vergil, a Ulysses, in Dante’s Christian poem: where are they, where are they located in the system of rewards and punishments? No amount of sympathy for these souls (and we must remember that Dante sees to it that we favor them intensely as we do) or “modernization” in the manner of Quattrocento humanism will eradicate the raw and powerful pathos of the fact that each of them, Brunetto, Vergil, Ulysses, is condemned to hell and is in that measure eternally ignominious. Brunetto’s reputation may endure on earth, but eternally he is damned. These are glorious men, and Dante causes us to admire them and share their grief. Nevertheless, they are glorious by the measure of men, not of God. Dante tells of the true yet shocking vision he has had, lecturing his reader on the subject of human glory, not through worn sermons, but by the sight of the pathetic figure of his beloved teacher. Landino is doomed to slight a large portion of the drama which makes the fabric of the Comedy, precisely because this drama springs from a tension between what man can do on his own and what man can do once he becomes more than man, once trasumanar (Parad. 1, 70), going beyond the human, takes place and the effects of grace are felt and adhered to. Landino, and perhaps also the modern reader who inherits in a general yet permeating way his tropological method, suffers from such critical myopia because the humanist has equated what Dante considered two separate orders. The tragedy of Vergil, of Ulysses, of Brunetto, must escape Landino. Human glory, conquered step by step in artistic or intellectual heroism, remains as tantalizing a possibility as it did before the Word was made Flesh.
For Landino art went beyond what nature presents and what our senses perceive, to probe the heart of truth. Landino's concept of allegory maintains that the literal meaning is not truth but fiction. Fingere is a verb he uses most often to characterize a poet’s activity. Moreover, we can often substitute “nature” for “literal meaning,” since for the platonizing Landino, the world is a deception and the body a prison. What the poet says he sees of itself has no consequence. Allegory and poetic insight are a pushing through to some intellectual or spiritual concept that lies beyond the deceits of literal meaning and of devious reality. Dante’s view would be contrary, for according to him the literal sense has enormous importance, since upon it the spiritual is based (fundatur Thomas had said). Sometimes the literal, or historical, meaning is all we have. With Landino the literal sense is most expendable, serving either to protect the spiritual meaning as bark does the tree, or to ornament the hard and recondite sentenzia at the center. Beyond an outer husk which is fictitious waits another, ethereal, significance which is true in man's sight, but which does not necessarily square with the Creation acknowledged by Christians and the division in time effected by the Advent. Ironically, it would seem that the more his major work became part of the classical canon and thus subjected to the reading devices of the allegorical tradition, the more did the reconciliation of Reason and Revelation created by Dante crumble. And I would here suggest that, in view of this “disintegration,” it is no wonder that the modern reader prefers “bits and pieces,” certain passages from the Comedy, given our debt to Quattrocento humanism and our inheritance as its children. We elect fragmentary lives and demand reflections of them in our books. The reader prefers man's artifact to God's, and man's prowess to His Grace. Landino’s Commento will be prized by the movement, called a Renaissance, which will often have it so.

Date: 2021-12-25