Autore: Giuseppe Mazzotta
Tratto da: Modern Language Notes
[This paper is an integral part of my doctoral dissertation, Dante’s Theology of History (Cornell University, 1969). All citations from Dante, unless otherwise indicated, are from Le Opere di Dante: Testo critico della Società Dantesca Italiana, ed. M. Barbi, et al., 2nd ed. (Florence, 1960).]
Although it is a long-standing interpretative crux, the dialogue between Dante and Bonagiunta (Purg. XXIV, II. 40-63) constitutes, when properly understood, the dramatic center of an uninterrupted sequence of poetic encounters ranging from canto XXI to canto XXVI of Purgatorio. Its centrality resides mainly in the fact that at this stage of his spiritual ascent, the pilgrim experiences a moment of esthetic self-consciousness culminating in the explicit and puzzling formulation of his own principles of poetic composition:
E io a lui: “I’ mi son un che, quando
Amor mi spira, noto, e a quel modo
ch'e’ ditta dentro vo significando.”
(Purg. XXIV, II. 51-54)
The general critical consensus that Dante is here propounding his own poetics has engendered little or no agreement on the specificity of Dante’s enunciation. On the one hand, some critics have discerned a proximate parallel to this poetical self-definition in a dictum of Richard of St. Victor: “He alone speaks of that subject worthily who composes his words according to the dictates of the heart.” On the basis of this potentially cogent parallel, these critics unanimously interpret Dante’s terzina as a rhetorical formula by which Dante paradoxically rejects the very rhetoric of formalization of experience and claims spontaneity for his fiction.
On the other hand, other critics have been interested in this pasage as a focus for extrinsic problems of historical classification. For them, the terzina contains the genesis of the stilnovistic school of poetry, the Dolce Stil Nuovo, and they proceed, consequently, to discuss the reasons for the legitimacy, or its limits, of this historiographic concept. The spectrum of critical intepretations would not be complete without reference to other critics who view the scene as a dramatization of a platonic duality: to them, Bonagiunta's poetry is the polarity of materiality; by contrast, Dante’s poetry is the highly spiritualized philosophical cosmos.
The primary aim of this paper, instead, is to propose a more persuasive interpretation of this esthetic self-confrontation: the poetical act, I believe, is described in the specific theological language of the Incarnation. Using this interpretation as a plastic center, the paper will analyze the terms which unify into a significant pattern the sequence of cantos to which we have alluded. The element which gives an actively thematic unity to these cantos is literature itself: the possibility for the extrapolation of this continuous literary nexus will be shown here by a quick synopsis.
In both canto XXI and canto XXII, Dante dramatizes the spiritual conversion of Statius in terms of a literary conversion through the mediation of Vergil's “prophetic” writings. In canto XXIII, the focus shifts to another poet, Dante's contemporary and friend, Forese Donati, with whom Dante exchanged in his youth a sequence of vituperative sonnets; but in this encounter there is an explicit revision of Forese’s literary mode. Canto XXV is an excursus on the process of creation of the human soul. Yet this apparently philosophical-scientific digression on the ontological quality of the shades will be shown to be vitally integrated into this singular inner structure: in effect, its function is to provide the theological coherence for the multiple spiritual problems dramatized over the six cantos. Finally, canto XXVI is once again populated with poets. In the presence of Vergil and Statius, Dante recognizes his own literary progenitor, Guido Guinizelli, who, in turn, points out to Dante their common literary ancestor, Arnaut Daniel.
Although there has been no attempt in the past to connect these cantos or to discern a rationale for this proposed inner structure, in no way do I wish to argue that this organic literary segment exhausts the particularized complexities of each of the cantos or that, in their concatenation, they constitute an isolated poetical interlude. We are confronted, I take it, with a complex literary tour-de-force on the sense of literary tradition and on how the poet’s inner world of experience tests his tradition. The cantos provide the dramatic context for the pilgrim’s attainment of spiritual self-mastery in canto XXVII of Purgatorio where the pilgrim’s rationality is re-ordered and Vergil, the poet-guide, will disappear.
Accordingly, in this paper I will speak of “literary tradition,” “literary past,” “revisions,” “misreading of the authors of the past,” but it should be clear that these terms, in Dante’s poetic cosmos, do not merely imply a rhetorical mode. The underlying argument of the paper is to show how Dante in the Divine Comedy adopts and transposes the historiographic concept of figuralism from the more traditional domain of the historic process to the less usual region of the literary process. Figura, for the purposes of this paper, I take to be the prophetic structure of history which Dante identifies with the biblical pattern of Exodus and, typologically, with Christ. Dante’s formulation to Bonagiunta of the poetic process as an act analogous to the Incarnation will be seen to be relevant to this “figural” interpretation of the literary discourse. I speak of “literary typology,” then, precisely because it seems to me that Dante applies to the esthetic dimension the very techniques of figural intepretation adopted by the patristic exegetes of biblical history.
This is the general texture of problems and interpretative intents within which Dante’s pivotal encounter with Bonagiunta takes place. The episode is, structurally, a narrative center for two reasons. First, it completes a process, giving a structure of linear progression to the first four cantos under discussion. It summarizes the movement from the external scene of Vergil and Statius - an oblique emblem of Vergil and Dante - through the experience with a contemporary, to be resolved in the explicit esthetic selfconfrontation of Purgatorio XXIV. Secondly, like the Incarnation on which it is modelled, the encounter with Bonagiunta serves a proleptic function. In it, Dante claims a radical poetical novelty and dissociates himself from the literary tradition of Bonagiunta, Guittone and Iacopo da Lentini. The two questions of originality and tradition will be resolved later in canto XXVI of Purgatorio.
In Purgatorio XXIV, Dante actually does not give an explicit doctrinal configuration to the radical opposition between Bonagiunta’s poetry and Dante’s own poetry. Yet the logical structure of the discourse between the two poets hinges on a sequence of distinctions that serve to identify the lack of unity and continuity in Bonagiunta's poetic process. For there is a fundamental and emphatic admission of a temporal discontinuity between Bonagiunta’s present mode of perception and his mode of perception in the earthly life. As soon as Dante has formulated the mechanism of his poetic process, Bonagiunta replies:
“O frate, issa vegg'io” diss'elli” il nodo
che ’l Notaro e Guittone e me ritenne
di qua dal dolce stil novo ch' i’ odo!
Io veggio ben come le vostre penne
di retro al dittator sen vanno strette,
che delle nostre certo non avvenne;
e qual più a riguardare oltre si mette
non vede più dall’uno all’altro stilo.”
(Purg. XXIV, II. 55-62)
It is the perspective of Purgatorio, the “issa” of a unidirectional, irreversible process of redemption or, in terms of time, the present moment of redeemed temporality which gives Bonagiunta the vantage point for a detached self-interpretation. Because no such cognitive hiatus exists in the case of Dante’s own poetry, Bonagiunta’s present revision accords with Dante’s original self-exegesis. Bonagiunta’s discontinuity from his own past poetic practice, while it implies a spiritual and moral gap, is the exact parallel of the sharp distinction between Dante’s poetry and Bonagiunta's poetry. This epistemological discrepancy attests to the necessity both of rejecting the generic interpretation that Dante is formulating here a Crocean esthetics avant la lettre, the doctrine of the inseparable synthesis of the lyrical intuition of reality and its expression, and on the contrary, of seeking Dante’s poetic self-definition in a profound interior dimension.
From Bonagiunta's perspective, the first vague allusion to the nature of the difference of the two poetic modes occurs at line 55, where Bonagiunta describes his esthetic distance from the Sweet New Style as a “nodo.” There has been no specific critical explication of this “knot,” except for a generic, impressionistic gloss that it refers to “sensuality” or “difficulty,” probably technical, that hampered Bonagiunta's writings. Although my interpretation of the whole passage in no way depends on this term, I tentatively offer a reading which will make sense both in terms of the internal narrative coherence that I have postulated in the six cantos and in terms of the solution to the “puzzle” which I will shortly present. In a searing poetic exchange with Forese Donati, Dante uses the image of the knot in conjunction with Solomon: “Ben ti faranno il nodo Salamone,/Bicci novello [...].” Although the context in which the phrase appears is radically different from the experience of Purgatorio, it is of interest to point out that Dante was aware of the metaphoric extension of this familiar medieval figure. The knot of Solomon, which is synonymous with the endless pentangle, symbolizes natural perfection. Dante, in the Convivio, takes the pentangle to be the symbol of the condition of human existence sundered from the perception of God.
Ché, sì come dice lo Filosofo nel secondo de l’Anima, le potenze de l’anima stanno sopra sé come la figura de lo quadrangulo sta sopra lo triangulo, et lo pentangulo, cioè la figura che ha cinque canti, sta sopra la quadrangulo: e così la sensitiva sta sopra la vegetativa, e la intellettiva sta sopra la sensitiva. Dunque, come levando l’ultimo canto del pentangulo rimane quadrangulo e non più pentangulo, così levando l’ultima potenza de l’anima, cioè la ragione, non rimane più uomo, ma cosa con anima sensitiva solamente, cioè animale bruto.
In the foregoing passage the knot, further, is associated with the structure of the soul: in Purgatorio XXV, Dante gives the more profound spiritual reality of the “knot” that hampers Bonagiunta.
Our gloss is admittedly marginal and approximate; yet it reinforces the concept of a moral gap in Bonagiunta's poetic exercise. It further exemplifies the notion that Bonagiunta's poetry is rooted in a natural order, unable to transcend it and come to a knowl edge of God. That this is basically the focus of the distinction between the two esthetic modes, is manifest from an analysis of Dante’s description of his poetic activity to which we now turn.
Dante characterizes the mechanism of his poetic process in distinct terms of “spiration” of love and inner dictation which the pote supplements by externalizing these two aspects of the interior reality (“vo significando,” 1. 54). The connection between inspiration and the poet’s voice is provided by “a quel modo”: by this adverbial phrase Dante establishes a dialectical structure between the inner idea and its symbolic manifestation. St. Augustine in De Doctrina Christiana develops a conception of human speech as the immanent analogue of the Incarnation of the Logos:
How did he come except that “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt agong us”? (I Cor. 1:21). It is as when we speak. In order that what we are thinking may reach the mind of the listener through the fleshy ears, that which we have in mind is expressed in words and is called speech. But our thought is not transformed into sounds; it remains entirely in itself and assumes the form of words by means of which it may reach the ears without suffering any deterioration in itself. In the same way the Word of God was made flesh without change that he might dwell among us. (italics mine)
St. Augustine’s brillian gloss in reality discerns only a generic analogy between the physical utterance of the word and the manifestation of the Logos. But a closer analysis of Dante's synthetic definition of his poetry will reveal the existence of a coherent trinitarian system, and will also substantiate the intended primary reading: Dante’s creative word is the analogue of the Incarnation.
I shall now look at the trinitarian implications of the two verbs “spira” and “ditta” by which Dante formulates his esthetics. In Paradiso, Dante describles the circularity of the Trinity joined by the unifying “spiration” of love:
Guardando nel suo Figlio con l'Amore
che l'uno e l’altro etternalmente spira
lo primo ed ineffabile Valore
(Par. X, 11: 1-3 italics mine)
The primal divine activity is thus the spiration of love, but in this context of Paradiso, Dante gives the purely transcendent unity of the Trinity. It is Thomas Aquinas instead, who glosses this activity in a manner which directly provides the essential link between the Logos and spiration.
In one of his articles on the Trinity, The Procession of the Divine Person, Thomas affirms that there are two processions in God. The first is the procession of the Word.
[...] it must be known that in the divinity, as it was shown above, there are two processions, one by way of the intellect, and this is the procession of the word, the other way of the will, and this is the procession of lov.
The second procession—the procession of love—is called spiration:
While there are two processions in God, one of these, the procession of Love has no proper name of its own, as stated above. Hence, the relations also which follow from this procession are without a name: for which reason the Person proceeding in that manner has not a proper name. But as some names are accomodated by the usual mode of speaking to signify the aforesaid relations, as when we use the names of procession and spiration [...] so to signify the Divine Person who proceeds by way of love, this name Holy Ghost is by use of scriptural speech accomodated to him [...]. For the name spirit in things corporeal seems to signify impulse and motion; for we call the breath of the wind by the term “Spirit.”
So far, I have given a hopefully adequate elucidation of the theological framework of the doctrine of inspiration in relationship to the production of the word. Although there is no difficulty in exhuming relevant forms of tradition in order to examine and identify the inner “dittatore” with the Father, it should be pointed out that the ultimate synthesis of these fragmentary elements is Dante’s own individualized poetic formulation.
A symmetrical correspondence of the poet as a scribe and God as the dictator appears in Psalm XLIV:
Eructavit cor meum verbum bonum
dico ergo opera mea regi.
Lingua mea calamus scribae
In Monarchia III, Dante himself posits an incisive dialectical process between the Holy Ghost, the prophets-scribes and God the dictator.
Non enim peccatur in Moysen, non in David [...] sed in Spiritum Sanctum qui loquitur in illis. Nam quanquam scribe divini eloquii multi sint, unicus tamen dictator est Deus, qui bene placitum suum nobis per multorum calamos explicare dignatus est.
We have, thus, shown that the rhetorical structure for the description of Dante's formulation of his activity possesses trinitarian resonances. Before examining other elements which will definitely corroborate our proposed interpretation and will, implicitly, make our reading preferable to the somewhat generic critical views of the past, I would like to return to the tercet and deal with the problem I have alluded to: the fact that the poetic process is rooted in analogy.
In Dante’s context, the concept of analogy does not entail the doctrine of the artistic creation as an alter mundus, a reified and self-contained heterocosm analogous to the real world and yet discontinuous from it. This view of an autonomous poetic universe, without a vital nexus with the Creator and contracted in an order of nature, is precisely the view of Bonagiunta, but it is extraneous to Dante's poetics. For Dante, the mode of analogy dramatizes an extended trinitarian pattern internal in the mind. The creative process, because its inner life has a structural analogical to the Trinity, is a central cognitive act insofar as it reveals the immanence of the Trinity in the human mind.
Although Dante gives the philosophical basis for the immanence and participation of the Trinity in man in Purgatorio XXV, the analogy in Purgatorio XXIV reverses and complements the perspective because it shows the opposite movement of the word of man participating by analogy in the creative activity of God. This esthetic theory in no way implies that the absolute self-sufficiency of God is less real: it bespeaks, rather, the vital function of the human word as the link with the divine. It is within this context that we have to see the poetical acts as fundamentally analogous to the Incarnation. Like the Incarnate Word, which is its model, this human word is the vehicle to God. Dante, in effect, characteristically expands the metaphor of his journey as Exodus into a verbal cosmos. Critics in the past have agreed that Exodus is the declared figural structure of the Divine Comedy; while this is certainly true, it is not the whole truth because it is a definition that fails to see that Dante's principle of poetic construction is the dramatization of the typological equation postulated by St. Paul in I Corinthians: “Christ our Exodus.” The Divine Comedy is, consequently, patterned on the figural experience of Exodus, but at the same time, it is a dramatic reenactment, at its precise liturgical time, of the descent of Christ to Hell on Good Friday and His resurrection on Easter Sunday. Since the poem is the record of the journey toward salvation, it has a structure analogical both to Exodus and to Christ. This thematic relationship of the poetic voice to both Exodus and the Logos is extended throughout the poem, and I will return to it later on.
To summarize our discussion so far: I have analyzed the elements which point to a distinction between Dante's esthetic self-awareness as a dramatic extension of the Exodus-Christ typology, the controlling metaphor of the poem. The focus of discussion will now shift to canto XXV of Purgatorio where we shall find both a corroboration for our reading of the crux in Purgatorio XXIV and the distinctively philosophical structure underlying the problems of continuity and discontinuity exemplified by Dante’s poetic selfexegesis and Bonagiunta's admission of a mode of vision, partial and coerced within temporality.
Canto XXV of Purgatorio, structurally, exerts a centripetal pull on the two adjacent cantos. Its philosophical and abstract quality has led literary critics to dismiss it as a scholastic exercise, a ratiocinative interpolation, so much so that only historians of medieval philosophy such as Bruno Nardi and Etienne Gilson have attempted to unravel its complex technical fabric. From our point of view, the canto subsumes the intellectual problems from the preceding canto and telescopes them towards Purgatorio XXVI.
A rudimentary summary of Purgatorio XXV, focusing on the thematic links with Purgatorio XXIV, is in order here. Dante's first concern is to reject the averroistic doctrine of the possible intellect as a separate spiritual substance. While he rejects the notion of a metaphysical discontinuity between the vegetative-sensitive potencies of the soul and the intellective faculty, Dante expresses his belief in the unity and continuity of the soul. He gives prominence to this theory by describing the simultaneous threefold activity within the soul, the coexistence of unity and trinity:
che ciò che trova attivo quivi, tira
in sua sustanzia, e fassi un’alma sola,
che vive e sente e sè in sè rigira.
(Purg. XXV, II. 73-75)
The last line is, in effect, a graphic representation of the unity and continuity of the vegetative, sensitive and intellective faculties of the soul. The “sè in sè rigira” is the formulaic description of the rational activity indicated by the traditional platonic emblem of the circular movement of the intellectual act.
A second concern of Dante which definitely reinforces our interpretation that Dante’s poetry is couched ni trinitarian rhetoric is the explicit consciousness of a literal immanence of the Trinity in the human soul:
l’altre potenze tutte quante mute,
memoria, intelligenza e volontade
in atto molto più che prima agute.
(Purg. XXV, ll. 82-84)
Although this tercet refers to the structure of the soul in an eschatological dimension, it is of particular interest to our discussion for several reasons. First, Dante is illustrating the continuity between the temporal contingency (represented by the life of the body) and the eternal life of the resurrection. Secondly, Dante is giving a literal translation of St. Augustine’s De Trinitate. St. Augustine’s quest for analogies and vestiges of the Divine Trinity in the human soul is assimilated by Dante precisely to dramatize the existence of a participation of the Divine in the human.
It should be clear at this point how this philosophical canto illuminates retrospectively the problems debated in Purgatorio XXIV. Canto XXV provides the philosophical profundities for a critique of Bonagiunta’s poetics confined to a vision of this worldliness and contingency, unable to attain intellectual truth. But an objection might be raised at this point: why would a problem of literary practice, judged autonomous from an order of grace as Bonagiunta’s is, be connected with a doctrine of spiritual discontinuity? Dante, it seems to me, anticipates this question when in Purgatorio XXV he describes the transition from the sensitive to the rational faculty of the soul in terms of language.
Ma come d’animal divenga fante,
non vedi tu ancor: quest'è tal punto
che più savio di te fè già errante.
(Purg. XXV, Il. 61-63; italics mine)
The allusion to the error of Averroes in the last line stresses the metaphysical origin of language as indissolubly connected to the creation of the soul. In De Vulgari Eloquentia, which in a real sense is Dante’s essay on the origin of language, he sees both language and the soul as part of a primordial unity:
Dicimus certam formam locutionis a Deo cum anima prima concreatam fuisse. [. . .] Hac forma locutionis locutus est Adam; hac forma locutionis locuti sunt omnes posteri eius usque ad hedificationem turris Babel, que turris confusionis interpretator; hanc formam locutionis hereditati sunt filii Heber, qui ab eo dicti sunt Hebrei. Hiis solis post confusionem remansit, ut Redemptor noster, qui ex illis oriturus erat secundum humanitatem, non lingua confusionis, sed gratia frueretur.
Apart from the indissoluble connection postulated between language and the soul, the passage shows also how language is always related to a spiritual condition. ‘The primal language was preserved in an ordered state of grace because the Incarnation could not take place in a context of spiritual chaos. Here lies, then, the basis for Dante’s rejection of the literary tradition represented by Bonagiunta, Guittone and Iacopo da Lentini. Thus Dante claims that his poetry, unlike the poetry of Bonagiunta, is of a redeemed order because it is modelled on the Incarnation.
In Purgatorio XXVI, however, Dante comes to a recognition of a literary tradition with which he identifies. Canto XXVI is, therefore, in a sharp thematic contrast to canto XXIV., Between these two cantos, as we have said, canto XXV acts as a theological center of convergence for this dramatic antinomy. Its function is to show that the discussion in canto XXIV and canto XXVI is not concerned with purely formal principles.
In canto XXV, from the point of view of its relevant links with canto XXVI, Dante accounts for the origin of the soul: its genetic process is extensively described from the sperm of the father to its incarnation; its life is later viewed in the eschatological context of the Resurrection. In Purgatorio XXVI, Dante transposes the doctrine of continuity in the structure of the soul from the dimension of metaphysics to the symbolic region of literacy continuities. Furthermore, just as in canto XXV Dante illustrates the process of the creation of the soul from its point of origin, the father’s blood, so he will also use this genetic perspective to describe the question of literary generation in Purgatorio XXVI. In contrast with the dramatization of literary and spiritual discontinuities of Purgatorio XXIV and XXV, Dante describes the notion of continuities in a spiritual and historical sense in Purgatorio XXV and XXVI.
In Purgatorio XXVI, the literary continuity is aptly expressed through organic metaphors of father-son relationship. When Dante encounters Guido Guinizelli, he speaks to him in terms of poetic filiation:
quand’io odo nomar sè stesso il padre
mio e delli altri miei miglior che mai
rime d’amore usar dolci e leggiadre
(Purg. XXVI, II. 97-99)
I shall deal with the problem of Dante’s expression of the literary activity in genetic terms further on. For the time being, I would like to point out another thematic nexus between cantos XXIV and XXVI of Purgatorio which makes clear the necessity of seeing the two cantos as intimately related. In canto XXIV, Bonagiunta speaks of the stilnovistic poetry from which he, Guittone and Iacopo da Lentini are excluded. In canto XXVI, inseead, Guinizelli refers again to Guittone’s poetry and sanctions, in a sense, his inferiority. Canto XXVI is, thus, a dramatic account of a new poetry, a consciously different perspective on a literary tradition which both father and son have repudiated.
The metaphor of fatherhood, which gives an internal unity to the six cantos, is systematically pursued by Dante to give symbolic coherence to his own literary mission. In a very real sense, the poem may be defined as a prolonged quest for a spiritual father the interior source of being, the tradition with which the individual poet has to harmonize himself. I have dealt with this problem elsewhere and will merely give a brief summary of the argument here. In Paradiso XV, Dante encounters his natural progenitor, Cacciaguida: the encounter is introduced by a comparison to Anchises and Aneas and, furthermore, is described in Virgilian language:
si pia l’ombra d’Anchise si porse,
se fede merta nostra maggior musa,
quando in Eliso del figlio s’accorse.
“O sanguis meus, o superinfusa
gratia Dei, sicut tibi cui
bis unquam coeli, ianua reclusa?”
(Par. XV, II. 25-30)
By the Virgilian rhetoric, Dante brings about a convergence of natural and literary fathers. The internal distinction of the two fathers, however, clearly implies that the organic process of literary generation is not analogous to the spontaneous reproduction of the natural model. In the literary universe, it is the son who chooses the father. Dante recognizes Guinizelli as his father; Guinizelli, in turn, recognizes Arnaut Daniel as their common point of origin:
“O frate,” disse “questi ch’ io ti cerno
col dito,” e additò un spirto innanzi,
“fu miglior fabbro del parlar materno.
(Purg. XXVI, II. 115-117)
In the light of the repudiation of Bonagiunta in canto XXIV, we cannot dismiss this extended paradigm of literary generation as a simplified myth of a unified culture. What is emphasized in Dante’s interpretation of literary tradition is the absolute centrality of the present. Each poet shapes his past and, in a sense, fathers his own tradition. Dante will reject the claim to paternity of Brunetto Latini, and he chooses as his father, on the contrary, Guinizelli; Guinizelli chooses Arnaut; Statius in Purgatorio XXI chooses Vergil. ‘The point is a crucial one for the conclusions at which I hope to arrive in this paper. Each poet appears to be fulfilling a spiritual predecesssor and at the same time recognizes that he belongs to a universe of discourse to be fulfilled and interpreted by subsequent readers. If the tradition becomes a prophecy that the exegete in the present interprets, rejects or assimilates, we must then examine the prophetic mechanism of literary tradition.
The focus of our discussion will be cantos XXI and XXII of Purgatorio: in Purgatorio XXIV and XXVI we have been confronted respectively with the repudiation of a tradition and the recognition of another; in cantos XXI and XXII, Dante dramatizes the modalities of the choice of a literary past. Statius assimilates the tradition of Vergil from his own point of view not because the present is a center of consciousness—as moderns would say— but because he has crossed a metaphoric river of grace.
The primary focus of the two cantos is the idea of seminality of literature. The text displays a rhetoric of natural fecundity and “paideia” to describe the Vergil-Statius relationship. The discourse between the two poets centers on the creative process: the Aeneid is “mamma” and “nutrice” for Statius who, because of Vergil’s fourth eclogue, experiences a spiritual conversion to Christianity. The literary statement, in this context, is not a selfenclosed, isolated heterocosm but, on the contrary, is productive in both spiritual and literary terms. Accordingly, Statius can fulfill the prophecy of Vergil; the account of their literary relationship is precisely in terms of prophecy and its fulfillment:
Facesti come quei che va di notte
che porta il lume dietro e sè non giova,
ma dopo sè fa le persone dotte.
(Purg. XXII, II. 67-69)
The image is clearly apt to describe Vergil’s obscure prophecy, but from our point of view it is important to stress that Dante is applying to Vergil’s role an image which, originally, St. Augustine applied to describe the Jew's own spiritual condition:
O Jews, you carried in your hands the lamp of the law in order to show the way to others while you remained in the darkness.
What is involved here is how Dante brings secular history and salvation history into one focus, and more particularly, the process of transposition of the methods of patristic hermeneutics from the Bible into secular literature. From the perspective of the Revelation, the Fathers of the Church could subvert whatever literal affirmation the Old Testament made: the ultimate irrelevance of everything literal found its authoritative maxim in St. Paul's formula, “littera enim occidit, spiritus autem vivificat.” The common practice of moralizing pagan texts is dramatized by Dante in the canto of Statius, where Statius is shown subverting the literal statement of the Virgilian text in favor of a spiritual sense which accords with his own inner world. Statius, who is now in an order of grace, accounts for his conversion, attributing it to Vergil:
E se non fosse ch’ io drizzai mia cura,
quand’ io intesi là dove tu chiame,
crucciato quasi all’umana natura:
“per che non reggi tu, a sacra fame
dell'oro, l'appetito de’ mortali?”
voltando sentirei le giostre grame.
(Purg. XXII, II. 37-42)
But Statius is also doing violence to the Virgilian text which, in the original, asserts precisely the opposite: “quid non mortalia pectora cogis, auri sacra fames?” “There is a delibelate alteration, in other words, of the original text to fit the reader. The act of interpretation is an important dialectical polarity in the literary universe: Vergil’s text, spiritually understood, is glossed by Statius as instrumental to his salvation. Statius’ protestation to Vergil, “per te poeta fui, per te cristiano,” dramatizes both the perfect continuity and process of a literary tradition from the perspective of grace and the inner transformation of the reader by virtue of the literary ‘ interpretation.”
Precisely because of this dependency on a reader, it seems to me that Dante sees every literary structure as necessarily openended, in the sense that it cannot be an intransitive esthetic experience, independent of the thought of God; on the contrary, as Dante's encounter with Bonagiunta demonstrates, the literary text must be a vehicle to God, joining the two worlds of man and God together. In Purgatorio II, Dante will explicitly explore this problem when he comes upon Casella who sings for him. “Amor che nella mente mi ragiona.” The souls interrupt their purification in order to listen to the song till Cato inexorably reminds them that they are in the desert of exile and their journey to God cannot be held back by nostalgia for the earth. Furthermore, what is most important is the fact that Dante juxtaposes to Casella’s erotic, earthbound song in Purgatorio II, its precise opposite, the psalm of Exodus, “In exitu Israel de Aegypto,” the controlling metaphor of his journey to God. The literary act is prophetic, therefore, in that it is not an esthetic enclosure, but a veritable re-enactment of Exodus.
I will bring this paper to a close by a brief reference to the ending of St. Augustine’s Confessions because he exemplifies in the very last words of his autobiography the problem of the figural structure of literature. After a series of reflections on the books ot the Platonists, Vergil and the Bible, he ends the Confessions by a scriptural citation: “pulsate et aperietur vobis” (italics mine). Through the citation, Augustine dramatizes the prophetic ambivalence of literature: the Confessions is, literally, an open-ended books, both because it ends with the word “open” and because it explicitly defers the reader to the Word of God. In a profound sense, then, the function of an ordered literary statement is to be a dramatic vehicle, an Exodus, to the Book of God.
Dante’s Divine Comedy presents a symmetrical duplication of this notion of literary typology. 'The poem, which is structured as we have seen on the Pauline formula, “Christ our Exodus” ends with the vision of the Incarnation. This vision fulfills and transcends the ultimate precariousness and finitude of the poetic act which attempts to approximate it. Furthermore, the synchronic vision of the totality of creation as a book held together by the love of God brings into sharp focus the relationship between history and literature. As we have seen, literature is a prolongation of the concept of figural history in the sense that it provides a metaphor for history: the single literary text, as Dante's own poetic self-definition has shown, is modelled on the paradigm of Exodus - Christ; the succession of literary texts, the literary tradition, constitutes a typology because each text acts as prophecy which is to be fulfilled by the reader’s own spiritual experience. But the relationship between literature and history, goes beyond such structural analogies. The analysis of the six cantos of Purgatorio has revealed the presence of a dramatic strategy that could hardly have been more deliberate: the process of the pilgrim'’s selfunification is acted out within a landscape of literary history. Aptly enough, Dante in his literary autobiography employs literary history as the dramatic vehicle to define his process of askesis and situate his experience within history. Finally, the vital historicity of the literary act is exemplified by its figural structure and by the fact that a Christian universe is, ultimately, a verbal universe of which the Logos made flesh is the divine center.