Autore: Julia Bolton Holloway
Tratto da: The pilgrim and the book. A study of Dante, Langland and Chaucer
Editore: Lang, New York - Bern - Frankfurt am Main
Dante refers to Luke's Gospel (24,13-15) in a simile, describing the encounter that Virgil and he have with Statius as being like that on the road to Emmaus by Cleopas and another disciple, who is not named («due ex illis») with the risen Christ.
«Ed ecco — sì come ne scrive Luca
che Cristo apparve ai due ch’erano in via,
già surto fuor de la sepulcral buca —
ci apparve un'ombra, e dietro a noi venìa,
dal piè guardando la turba che giace;
né ci addemmo di lei, sì parlò pria,
dicendo: “O frati miei, Dio vi déa pace”» .
In a fine sculpture on the road to Santiago di Compostela, in the cloister of San Domingo de Silos, we see Christ as a pilgrim, beside him Cleopas pointing to the sun and Luke as author/pilgrim who carries the book of his Gospel — which he does not yet understand (Lc, 24,16-27) . This scene reflects the liturgical dramas in Latin (and in the Florentine vernacular), in which the two disciples are recognised by name; there they are not just the aged Cleopas, but with him also is the young author of the Gospel of Luke . The poem’s paradigm sees the two poets, Virgil and Dante, as shadowily, typologically, representing the two disciples, Cleopas and Luke, and the Third, the poet Statius, as enacting the role of Christ. In this way Dante reconciles the Allegory of the Poets with the Allegory of the Theologians in a liturgical drama he embeds in his text, he himself becoming the paradigm of the Evangelist Luke, who initially does not understand, but who becomes the disciple who will proclaim Christ's Resurrection in our midst.
Vincenzo Placella and Enrico dal Covolo, writing on anagogy in Dante, discuss the use in Luke's Gospel where the risen Christ speaks to the disciples — Et incipiens a Moyse et omnibus prophetis interpretabatur illis in omnibus Scripturis, quae de ipso erant (Lc 24,27) — kindling their hearts with new hope, Christ himself being the true Magister of the fourfold exegesis of lectio divina, in Greek théia andgnosis, Divine Recognition . This essay will especially examine Dante’s use of Luke’s use of Emmaus and Exodus as the means for arriving at Dante's concept of anagogy as «Divine Recognition».
The medieval reading of the Scriptures (as distinct from the modern) was enriched by the fourfold exegesis, contemplating its literal, allegorical, tropological and anagogical aspects. Homer called his hero, politropon , many-turned, Dante finding the equivalent term with polisemos, many-meaninged. “Allegory” (allos + agora, agoreuo = other than + marketplace, speak), in classical Greek was abstracted, mythological, platonized, as conveying the ideal truth, separated from the market places’ mercenary logographers, its forensic speechwriters who could make the lie seem the truth, the worse seem the better part.
The Bible was read and interpreted according to the School of Antioch 1) literally (in black and white); but also according to the School of Alexandria: 2) with the typological allegory of Philo, Paul and Origen; 3) with the tropological allegory concerning morality, which is more attuned to our modern/classic sense of allegory; 4) and finally with anagogical allegory, in which one comes facie ad faciem with God («littera gesta docet, quid credas allegoria, moralis quid agat, quo tendas anagogia» ), all these united in a rainbow, a prism, of scintillating colours (Paradiso, XXX, 115-120).
These fourfold readings, Angus Fletcher suggests, correspond to the four Aristotelian causes; material, formal, efficient and final .
Frederic Jameson and Erich Auerbach (in Odysseus’ Scar in Mimeses and in the essay Figura ), explain that these modes of reading harmonized and compromised the different Mediterranean cultures: the Hebrew, which is left-brained, linear, literal; the Hellenic, which is right-brained, mental, which hallucinates figures of the gods of war and wisdom, and which abolishes and collapses time and space; the Christian, based on the literal sense, and which reconciles and assimilates the other two. Sigmund Freud glimpsed this when in Civilization and its Discontent he spoke of the city of Rome and of all its archeological layers being visible at once as a metaphor for the mind. Then, being left-brained, he dismissed the image as absurd and irrational .
The medieval allegorical and tropological modes become confused and misunderstood in the Renaissance and the modern era. The third, tropological, moral mode corresponds with the Greek, Roman and modern allegorical mode: «Allegoria est tropus quo aliud significant quiam dicitur» being personified allegories of vices and virtues (Brunetto Latino in the Tesoretto is precursor to Dante in the Commedia; he travels as a pilgrim within his poem, being taught by personification allegories of Nature, Justice and other qualities, as well as by Ovid and by Ptolemy, resulting in his moral correction and conversion, Christine de Pizan will do the same in her Chemin de Long Estudes); while the second, medieval “allegory”, derives from the incarnation of the Judeao-Christian Word into his World, in which Isaac is the typos and figura of Christ, both being flesh and blood historical figures, Isaac carrying the wood up the mountain for his holocaust, Christ climbing Calvary while carrying the Cross, who thus refract, echo, mirror each other. For Dante, Boethius' tropological personification of Philosophy and Brunetto's tropological personification of Nature are incarnated in the historical, literal, flesh and blood figure of Beatrice Portinari as Theology, as théia anagnosis, in Florence, where she is literal, tropological, allegorical, and anagogical, in a combining not only of the two modes but all the fourfold exegesis («Et Verbum caro factum est, et habitavit in nobis»). We will see that it is not possible, for Dante, for there to be an allegorical sense without a literal historical base or a literary one.
Similarly we are in error if we think of the anagogical mode in a modern linear way, as of the end of time, rather than in that eternity in which past, present and future co-exist at the centre of the circle, the paradox of the Kingdom of Heaven in our midst (Lc 17,20-21). It is possible to see an analogy of the fourfold exegesis of lectio divina with the four stages of the contemplative life, as in Guigo Ils Scala Paradisi: «lectio, meditatio, oratio, contemplatio», in St Gregory's description of St Benedict's vision, which is repeated in Julian of Norwich's vision, who in contemplation see the entire cosmos become a single ray of light, a hazelnut in the palm of the hand. The creation seems so because it is seen in the presence of the Creator («quia anima videnti Creatorem angusta est omnis creatura»), in a collapsing of time and space in the soul, already glimpsed in Auerbach on Odysseus’ Scar and in Freud on Rome as the mind, into the “centrum circuli” .
Another aspect can usefully explain this fourfold exegesis of the Bible and its application in Dante's Commedia. Recent research has come to understand how the two hemispheres of the brain work in parallel, while at the same time being distinct and specialized in their functions. The left hemisphere controls the right hand, that writes, and which is literal, logical and linear, is conscious of the past, plans the future, and is centred on itself. The right hemisphere collapses all time and space into the present moment, defies boundaries, joins with the energy of the cosmos, and universalizes. The left hemisphere is the literal, logical, rational, mind, while the right is the intuitive, imaginative, contemplative, anagogical soul .
The more ancient ways of reading sacred texts is through the simultaneous involvement of the two hemispheres, while the more modern procedure and training excludes and rejects that of the right hemisphere, as did Freud in discarding his brilliant metaphor for the mind. If we can come to understand this we can consciously return to Dante's mode of writing that permits the play of the differences of the two hemispheres, right and left, universal and particular («Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita, mi ritrovai per una selva oscura», Inferno, I, 1-2, «Mi parve pinta della nostra effige», Paradiso, XXXII, 131).
This can allow for the rich and varied readings in the four modes 1) literal, 2) typological, 3) moral, 4) anagogical, woven together in a reciprocal harmony, in a splendid polyphony that is polysemous and polytropic. Between the warp and the woof of its alternate tapestry in terza rima, in its fourfold exegesis, we can almost glimpse the entire, mirroring universe created of molecules, atoms, bosons, charms and quarks. Boethius' image, beloved by Dante, of the circle as of time, particularity, slavery, sin, of the centre as the collapsing into eternity, universality, freedom, God, permits all these multiple readings and perspectives . In Vita Nova XII Love said, «Ego tamquam centrum circuli, cui simili modi se habent circumferentiae partes: tu autem non sic». The vision of God and of the freedom of the soul in his presence as Love, the right-brain sovrasenso of the Vita Nova and the Commedia, comes after the renunciation and purging of all that is illusory, all that is idolatrous, all that is self-centred, all that is only left-brained, transcending even the poetry itself, «Fili mi, tempus est ut pretermictantur simulacra nostra».
Dante describes this allegorical mode twice. The first in Convivio:
«Lo quarto senso si chiama anagogico, cioè sovrasenso; e questo è quando spiritualmente si spone una scrittura, la quale ancora [che sia vera] eziandio nel senso litterale, per le cose significate significa delle superne cose dell’etternal gloria: sì come vedere si può in quello canto del Profeta che dice che nell’uscita del popolo d’Israel d'Egitto Giudea è fatta santa e libera: Chè avegna essere vera secondo la lettera sia manifesto, non meno è vero quello che spiritualmente s'intende, cioè che nell’uscita dell'anima dal peccato, essa sia fatta santa e libera in sua potestate. E in dimostrare questo, sempre lo litterale dee andare innanzi, sì come quello nella cui sentenza li altri sono inchiusi, e sanza lo quale sarebbe impossibile ed inrazionale intendere alli altri, e massimamente allo allegorico» .
The second in the Epistula XIII a Can Grande della Scala VII:
«Ad evidentiam itaque dicendorum, sciendum est quod istius operis non est simplex sensus, ymo dici potest polisemos, hoc est plurium sensuum; nam primus sensus est qui habetur per litteram, alius est qui habetur per significata per litteram. Et primus dicitur litteralis, secundus vero allegoricus sive moralis sive anagogicus. Qui modus tractandi, ut melius pateat, potest considerari in hiis versibus: “In exitu Israel de Egypto, domus Iacob de populo barbaro, facta est Iudea sanctificatio eius, Israel potestas eius”. Nam si ad litteram solam inspiciamus, significatur nobis exitus filiorum Israel de Egypto, tempore Moysis; si ad allegoriam, significatur nobis nostra redemptio facta per Christum; si ad moralem sensum, significatur nobis conversio anime de luctu et miseria peccati ad statum gratie; si ad anagogicum, significatur exitus anime sancte ab huius corruptionis servitute ad eternam glorie libertatem. Et quomodo isti sensus mistici variis appellantur nominibus, generaliter omnes dici possunt allegorici, cum sint a litterali sive historiali diversi. Nam allegoria dicitur ab alleon grece, quod in latinum dicitur “alienum”, sive “diversum”» .
Dante’s use of the Exodus and Emmaus paradigms justifies, we will see, the combination of the Allegory of the Poets and the Allegory of the Theologians in his poetry. We recall Luke's reporting of Paul's combining pagan poetry with his Christian sermon on the Areopagus, Acts 17, 22-31. In the Vita Nova the Forty-Two Stations of Exodus of Numbers 33 are used as a memory system for its forty-two chapters. In Purgatorio, II, 46-48, the Exodus allegory - after having been scattered throughout the pages of the Inferno as the ten Plagues of Egypt and the seven Plagues of the Apocalypse - is crystallized with the singing of Psalm 113, «In exitu Israel de Aegypto», sung to its unique tonus peregrinus by a hundred-fold choir, and then again in Paradiso, XXV, 55-56, «che d'Egitto vegna in Ierusalemme».
The Vita Nova is the Commedia's apprenticeship. In both works, the author/protagonist, who sins, who betrays, who at first fails to understand, comes to the théia andgnosis, the «Divine Recognition», the knowledge of himself, and in each instance and by way of Beatrice (whom Pietro Alighieri affirms is Theology ), of God. Three times Dante uses the figura, the typos of the Emmaus paradigm, twice in the Vita Nova (IX e XL), then once, explicitly, in Purgatorio, XXI, 7-13, where he explains that each encounter of two pilgrims with a Third is drawn from Luke’s writing, from his Gospel. The other encounters, often with other authors and poets, are shadows, typoi, from Luke 24, at the same time that they are typoi hemon, shadows of ourselves (I Cor 10,6-11), as readers of this book - which shadows forth as well his profane / sacred library .
In the Commedia's miniatures and also in his portraits, Dante is often shown with a book. In Andrea del Castagno's fresco, now in Florence’s Uffizi, he carries it under his arm, in Domenico di Michelino's painting in Florence's Duomo he reads from its opening page, in Luca Signorelli's fresco in Orvieto’s Duomo he writes it while consulting other books in his library. In manuscript miniatures to the Commedia this book appears to be at first Virgil’s Aeneid, the tragic poem of the «degli dèi falsi e bugiardi» (Inferno, I, 72), that «alta mia tragedia» (Inferno, XX, 112-113) over which Dante has fallen asleep while reading — if we take as his model the Roman de la Rose. In Virgil's classical world and in Dante's medieval one, authors and their books are conjoined as performative acts, as the word which is flesh, body, voice, filled with humanity, filled with music, filled with art. They lacked modernism's abstraction of our silent pages printed in black and white. Even when books were read silently in a study there was still the sense of a conversation, of voices across centuries, of time being contracted, collapsed into eternity.
We know that the young orphaned Dante Alighieri had Brunetto Latino as his guardian. Brunetto at the beginning of his encyclopaedic Tresor/Tesoro in French and in Italian is shown as Magister and dressed in authoritative red. Similarly Virgil, Dante’s guardian and pedagogue in his poem, is dressed in magisterial, doctoral red. A text much used in the Middle Ages for teaching Latin was Terence's Comedies, which, Pietro Alighieri tells us, Dante used for the title also of his Commedia. In Terence’s Comedies, instead of only one reciter we hear a polyphony of voices, a rack of masks, women, boys, slaves, masters, parents, an agora, a city come alive, an entire world. Among them the voices of the humble, the “sermo humilis”, like the voices in Luke's Gospel, the Magnificat voices of young and old, women and men (De vulgari eloquentia, I, 1; Paradiso, XV, 121-126). In his portraits outside of his text Dante is shown in the red toga, symbol of authority, as a teacher. But within the pages of the Commedia, under first Virgil’s tutelage, then Beatrice's, he is instead like the young pilgrim Luke of the liturgical dramas, Domenico Comparetti’s Virgil as medieval magician necromancer being an aging Cleopas, on the road to Emmaus, leading him astray from Jerusalem. Within these smiling pages Dante is always shown in the long blue gown of apprenticeship, a student. He is thus like Augustine who weeps for Dido in Virgil’s Aeneid at Carthage and who frequents the theatre where he becomes familiar with Terence’s Comedies. Dante is both himself, the particular Florentine, Dante Alighieri, and the universalized persona for Everyman, echoing Terence’s «Homo sum: humani nichil a me alienum puto» (Heautontimorumenos 77), mirroring us.
We need to study the different levels of reality, his use of different realities, the inside and outside of Dante’s text, which reflects God's Book, written intus et foris. First of all, outside of the text which he writes, in the world of the marketplace, of reality, is Dante Alighieri, the author, in flesh and blood, who then at times intrudes upon the text, breaking its frame, attested to in the manuscript miniatures. Thomas G. Bergin in a letter to Theodore Bogdanos mentioned Erich Auerbach asking him if in the Commedia when Dante referred to ‘qui’ whether it indicated ‘here on earth’, rather than to the dream landscape of Dante as sorcerer’s apprentice / pilgrim. These interruptions, this breaking the frame, these rents in the veil, include his addresses to the reader, beyond his text, yet still embedded within his text — and also his dreams within his dreams .
Dante interlaces his poem with material drawn from the lying poetry of the pagans — and also with his own vainglorious compositions — alongside parallels to Sacred Scripture, in this way combining the Allegory of the Poets with the Allegory of the Theologians. To these he even brings very literal interruptions from the agora, from the law courts, where he encounters characters of his Commedia, characters who were persons of flesh and blood, who figured in the notarial acts penned by Brunetto Latino into the Capitoli of the Republic of Florence, and for whom Dante now constructs lying, real-seeming logographic speeches in a fictive landscape filled with chimaera. Similarly the fabric seems filled with holes through which we glimpse, in epic similes, scenes of daily life, of lowly people, rather than nobles and heroes, again of the market place and the countryside and at sea, of craftsmen and peasants and sailors. Both Dante and Pietro Alighieri affirm that this poem is a Comedy, and that its style is lowly, the style of the Gospel. These literal levels thus often intrude upon the poetic level and force the Allegory of the Poets, whose literal level is textual only, not carnal, into the incarnational Allegory of the Theologians.
All the while these levels serve a moral, tropological purpose, reforming both Dante persona, the young sorcerer’s apprentice/ pilgrim, and with him, beyond the text, his reader. To do so Dante will even betray his reader and perjure himself, as does the double agent Sinon in the Acneid («accipe nunc Danaum insidias et crimine ab uno / disce omnis» II, 65-66; Sinon next swearing by his now unmanacled hands, by the stars, when it is daylight, by the altar, the sword, the sacrifical garlands, that are untrue, 152-160), while in sin’s realm of lies, as for example when Dante swears by this, his Comedy, that fraudulent Geryon ‘rescues’ them by flying them down further into Hell's chasm (Inferno, XVI, 127-128). In Hell sinners blame others for the sins they themselves commit, and immature Dante, taken in, concurs. Then the text turns itself inside out, Inferno, XXXIV, 76-139, Paradiso, XXX, 62-132 (we recall the angels in Giotto's Arena Chapel who roll the scroll of heaven up and inside out) to show us its opposite and, ultimately, inexpressible, aspect, its anagogy, the end for which it was created.
Dante, for the third, tropological, moral, mode of allegory, as does Brunetto in the Tresor/Tesoro, turns to Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, which he knows well from his Masters teachings. Other sections of the encyclopaedic Tresor/Tesoro text are also primary sources Dante quarries, sources his Master largely gained from embassy in 1260 to King Alfonso el Sabio in Spain, on history, geography, the Bestiary, astronomy, to shape his parallel fictional world of the Commedia, his «alta fantasia» (Paradiso, XXXIII, 142), whose shadow is Virgil’s «alta mia tragedia» (Inferno, XX, 113), his alternate, virtual world, now meshed with that of the Bible .
We participate, with Dante, with Augustine, ourselves also as sorcerer’s apprentices/students amongst their Faustian books in their libraries, in this training that leads us from lies to truth, teaching us to understand and choose between evil and good. At Carthage Augustine, with his reading of Virgil’s Aeneid, his attendance at the theatre to see Terence’s Comedies, fell into sin. At Milan, with the Pauline Epistle, he opened his soul to God and to his conversion, his metdnoia. We see Dante’s encounter with Paolo and Francesca in this same light. The story of their adultery from how they read together the chivalric Arthurian romance («ambages pulcerrime», Eneide, VI, 98; De Vulgari eloquentia, I, 10, 2), makes use of Andreas Capellanus’ De arte honeste amandi that he wrote for his friend Walter; a book which we find from Pietro Alighieri was in his father's library . Dante then meets Cato from Lucan's Pharsalia who parallels, in figural allegory, Moses of the Exodus . Next we observe the meeting with Statius, the Thebaid's author, who becomes the Christ of Luke's Gospel. Virgil’s Aeneid, Lucan's Pharsalia, Statius’ Thebaid, Dante’s Inferno, are pagan tragedies, tragedies that make us weep (“lacrimarum rerum”); but in the Purgatorio and the Paradiso Dante tumns his pagan tragic poem inside out truly into Christian comedy.
Let us call to mind the Provengal songbooks, rich with miniatures of troubador portraits, their vidas, their razos, their music, recalling as well Sicilian and Tuscan collections. Among these is the Canzoniere Palatino, a collection of the lyrics of poets such as Messer Piero della Vigna, Bonagiunta da Lucca, Guido Guinizzelli da Bologna, Fra Guidone d'Arezzo, Rex Fredericus, Saladino, and even, from an erroneous attribution, Dante Alighieri, given as author for a lyric by Guido Cavalcanti, who was also a student to Brunetto . The songs which Dante has be sung by pilgrim souls are, in reality, his own compositions. «He do the police in different voices». In Purgatorio Virgil and Dante first encounter Cato (I, 22-208), then Casella (II, 76-119). Casella sings Dante's canzone from Convivio, III, and De Vulgari eloquentia, IL, 6, 6, «L'amor che ne la mente mi ragiona», immediately after the hundredfold pilgrims had sung in unison Psalm 113.
Dante has told us that the anagogical sense of this psalm is of the liberation of the souls from sin, being made holy and free in its power, «ne l'uscita de l’anima dal peccato, essa sia fatta santa e libera in sua potestate». Psalm 113 is thus like the Ark of the Law of Moses, echoed by the just figure of Cato in the African desert. Casella/Dante’s «amoroso canto» is instead permitted by Virgil, the type of Aaron, who had permitted the making and worshiping of the Golden Calf as idol. It is the Vita Nova XII’s canto of the “simulacra nostra”, of illusions, and idols which need to be abandoned, “pretermictantur”, rather than indulged. Thus the allegory even functions musically, and we find ourselves in a Bakhtinian motet, where the contrafactum plays against the sacred Latin chant with profane poetry in the vernacular, juxtaposing allegory and ‘agora’ ; the same game that we find in the Picardan miniatures of the Brunetto Latino manuscripts of Li Livres dou Tresor produced around Arras, this shifting of registers, from one level to another, the juxtaposition of opposites.
Nor is this the only time that Dante plays with sacred music in Latin as the Ark of the Law and the profane music of the Golden Calf, in each case placing his own compositions in the mouths of other singers. In Purgatorio, XXIV, 19-63, Bonagiunta Orbiciani da Lucca sings “Donne che avete intelletto d'amore” from the Vita Nova, XIX, 2-3; in Purgatorio, XXVI, 136-148, Arnaut Daniel sings in Provencal and not in Tuscan dialect, «Tan m'abellis vostre cortes deman»; in Paradiso, VII, 31 - IX, 9, Carlo Martello sings «Voi che ‘ntendendo il terzo ciel movete» from Convivio I, 6. Thus Dante is both logographer and troubador. Along with these love song books in the vernacular, in Florence in this era were also the beautiful Laudari of the Compagnie dei Laudesi, devotional songs in the vernacular inspired by St Francis’s Laude. A splendid Lauda is Dante's translation of the Pater Noster in Purgatorio, XI, 1- 24, «laudato sia ‘1 tuo nome... da ogne creatura, com'è degno».
Ultimately all this tension is resolved. The sacred anagogical theology is scripted in the vernacular — the Florentine spoken in Tuscany, understood even by women and children, the language sung by St Francis in Umbria - in St Bernard’s Invocation to the Virgin in Paradiso, XXXIII, 1-39 «Vergine madre, figlia del tuo figlio». Dante becomes subsumed in St Bernard, his Commedia of three canticles of a hundred cantos, the Song of Songs of St Bernard's lectio divina sermons. But this hymn is not amongst Bernard's writings on the Canticum Canticorum Salomonis, (Pietro Alighieri tell us «Et ideo fingit Bernardum pro ea orantem ita ed illam, quae est gratiarum nostrarum imperatrix, scilicet Virgo Maria»), for it is Dante who humbly composes it — no longer proudly and idolatrously vaunting his narcissistic talent — in an act of veneration and adoration (dulia e latria) to Mary carrying in her womb Christ: «Et Verbum caro factum est, et habitavit in nobis» (Gv 1,14), or to the animicula of Mary as sculpted by Arnolfo di Cambio, who shows her as an anatomically perfectly observed baby girl whom her Son carries with great tenderness in his arms: «Figlia del tuo Figlio, umile ed alta...».
In Purgatorio, XXIX, 82-134, we see twenty-four Elders who are joined by another four, and then more, who altogether are the entire Bible, before us in a sacred procession. These authors, crowned first with lilies, of the Old Testament, then with roses, of the New, are symbols for their books. Botticelli's drawings show these figures with each of them holding their own book. John, the last of the figures, sleeping, who dreams his Revelation, the Apocalypse. The embedding of Beatrice amongst them in a quadriga, a carroccio, drawn by the four Beasts of Ezechiel and John (whom the Griffon unites in himself) is accompanied by the three Theological virtues, Fairth, Hope and Charity and the four Cardinal, pagan virtues, Prudence, Justice, Fortitude and Temperance (which are the seven stars, the seven planets), is her appearance as théia anagnosis. The Four Beasts represent the four Gospels, the four Evangelists , and at the same time may be the fourfold modes of reading the Bible, of lectio divina, combining this with the personification allegories of the virtues of the pagan philosophers and poets. (The liturgical procession echoes that of the “Cena Domini” in Santa Reparata in Florence, still carried out on Maundy Thursday now in the Duomo di Santa Maria del Fiore, with the candelabra and the great flag surmounted by olive branches). Later in Paradiso we meet also the Church Fathers and their books commenting on the Scriptures, the Bible, the Verbum. Previous encounters have been with authors of pagan literature, composers of profane lying poetry. But even these come to be written into the Book God holds in his hand. Towards the end of the third Canticle (Paradiso, XXXI, 7-12), we find Virgil’s simile of the building of Carthage of Augustine’s Dido likened to bees gathering nectar, Eneide I, 430-437 («Qualis apes aestate nova per florea rura / exercet sub sole labor, cum gentis adultos / educunt fetus, aut cum liquentia mella / stipant et dulcis distendunt nectare cellas, / aut onera accipiunt venientum, aut agmine facto / ignavum fucos pecus a praesepibus arcent / fervet opus redolentque thymo fragrantia mella»), paradoxically inseminating the celestial rose («sì come schiera d’ape che s’infiora / una fiata e una si ritorna / là dove suo laboro s’insapora, / nel gran fior discendeva che s’adorna / di tante foglie, e quindi risaliva / là dove ‘l suo amor sempre soggiorna», then XXXIII, 9, «così è germinato questo fiore»), palimpsested upon the Eternal City of Rome, the Celestial City of Jerusalem. The anagogy is the revelation of inclusion, even of enemy cities, it is the Gospel’s Love, of the right hemisphere, the synchronicity of time and space. No longer the Guelf/Ghibelline separation, the division between the powerful and the poor, the separation of Pharisees, Puritans, Nationalists, of the left hemisphere, against Christ's teachings and Christendom.
The Commedia is a book about books and about the Book. Dante’s library, the books of the Commedia, the Commedia itself, are both profane and sacred, are the Allegory of the Poets and the Allegory of the Theologians, which collapse and centre on one Book, the Bible, the Creation (Paradiso, XXXIII, 85-87).
«Nel suo profondo vidi ch'è s'interna,
legato con amore in un volume,
ciò che per l'universo si squaderna».
It is a Book which also includes all genres: epic, lyric, simile, fable, prophecy, history, gospel, epistle, drama, philosophy, theology, epithalamium, tragedy, comedy, satire, treaty, speech, oath, sculpture, motet, psalm, and all the Seven Arts. It includes the pages of Aristotle, Cicero, Virgil, Terence, Lucan, Statius, Sallust, Seneca, Aesop, Ovid, Claudian, Horace, Macrobius, Alfraganus, at the service of its christological text. It even includes archives, the Registers of the city government of Florence compiled by Brunetto Latini, which name the historical persons of flesh and blood: Charles of Anjou, Alfonso el Sabio, Frederic II, Manfredi, Pier delle Vigne, Cavalcante Cavalcanti, Guido Guerra, Tegghaio Aldobrandi, Iacopo Rusticucci, Ugolino della Gherardesca, l'Arcivescovo Ruggiero, Tesauro di Vallombrosa, Bocca degli Alberti, Farinata degli Uberti, Cardinale Latino Orsini, Andrea Spigliati de’ Mozzi, Gianni di Procita, Vanni Fucci, Rinieri de’ Pazzi .
Pietro Alighieri tells us that Dante's meeting with Brunetto Latino, who is real, in the poem is a fiction («Fingendo auctor se ibi invenire inter sodomitas Ser Brunettum Latinum de Florentia»), similarly with these others. It includes a florilegium of the Provencal, Sicilian, Tuscan and ‘dolce stil nuovo’ poets’ songs, as if they were Egyptian gold used first to fashion the Golden Calf, then being the gold of psalms and laude used to adorn the Ark, which together conserve the Bible. It includes the similes of the humble and poor folk of the Magnificat, drawn from the agora, the field, the sea. It is a hybrid of lie and truth, a muddling and unifying of the “Allegory of the Poets” and the “Allegory of the Theologians”, yoking lectio profana with lectio divina, weaving them into a unity with the Trinity's terza rima. The Bible speaks of the two disciples in the road who meet with the Third, telling of the Exodus, dum fabularentur (Lc 24,15, “fabling”), and Christ's sermons (17, “hi sermons”) at Emmaus. With the vision of God's Book, Dante mirrors that of the Creation, in the encyclopaedia which he writes and which we now hold in ours hands. The Commedia becomes the Bible, the Word in Italian, that he situates in a precise moment in time, «Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita», playing with «In principio erat Verbum» (Gv 1,1), and thus Florence in the year 1300 becomes at the centre of the circle, as does our time and space, today in 2012, when we read his work.
One can at this point think of the historical Dante Alighieri, in flesh and blood, an exile from Florence, as incarnated in the literal sense, like Adam exiled from Eden, who in his poem evolves into a Christian Luke, a contemplative Bernard, in a Pilgrim's Progress. The fourfold theological allegory is not entirely within the Commedia, which is the Allegory of the Poets. The literal and the anagogical senses, we discover, lie outside of its pages. These are the pages God writes, not Dante, but which Dante weaves into his text for the Allegory of the Theologians 1) «Nam si ad litteram solam inspiciamus, significatur nobis exitus filiorum Israel de Egypto, tempore Moysis», for Dante is his exile in flesh and blood from Florence in 1302; 2) «si ad allegoriam, nobis significatur nostra redemptio facta per Christum», is present in the poem in each instance where two encounter a third (first Dante with pagan Virgil, then with Christian Beatrice, encountering countless others, sinners and saints), where the Third is figura, typos, of the meeting of the two disciples with Christ on the road to Emmaus, thus helping Dante (and with him, his readers, ourselves) become those «che ne l'uscita de l’anima dal peccato, essa sia fatta santa e libera in sua potestate» (Convivio, II; Rm, 8,21); 3) «si ad moralem sensum, significatur nobis conversio anime de luctu et miseria peccati ad statum gratie», in which the poem has us participate in confession (Inferno), contrition (Purgatorio), satisfaction (Paradiso) with the help of pagan Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, joined with Christian Boethius' Consolation, the Magnificat (Lc 1,46-55), and the Beatitudes (Mt 5,3-12, Lc 8,20-45); 4) «si ad anagogicum, significatur exitus anime sancte ab huius corruptionis servitute ad eterne glorie libertatem» being outside of the text, beyond the text, but reached through the text, and through these means attaining the centre of the circle, becoming facie ad faciem with God .
It is a felix culpa that «Dante Aligheri» was written and condemned in the Libro del Chiodo . The high pagan tragedy, Virgil’s «alta mia tragedia» (Inferno, XX, 113), is rewritten, revised and reversed by God and the Holy Spirit into a lowly and joyous Christian comedy. Dante’s poem journeys from slavery to freedom to become the lectio divina of the Bible for the salvation of his readers. We see this in the manuscript miniatures to the Commedia — which copy those of the Consolatione of Philosophy and the Roman de la Rose — in which we see the literal author, Dante in flesh and blood, who in exile writes his poem. With him we then enter into his profane and infernal nightmare, a fictional dream which he pretende is real, in the realm of the false and lying gods, but which is deeply untrue. Then all is turned inside out in the lying poem, which, in a paradox, becomes true and salvific, the theologians’ allegory, when he confesses at its end that it is «alta fantasia» (Paradiso, XXXIII, 143), that it is the poets’ allegory, that it is fiction. Therefore the manuscripts open at the literal level with the image of the author, Dante Alighieri writing his book, then close at the anagogical level with the image of the Author — God — and his Book.
We have already noted that in the Middle Ages authors and their books were analogous, authors and their books being identified one with the other. Gerhart Ladner showed that the portraits of authors in art are refractions of the image of God and of his Book, the Bible, the Creation, his Word . Amongst the sculptures at Chartres Cathedral is the statue showing God /Christ creating Adam with tenderness and love in his own image and likeness. Adam has the same face as has the face of Christ. Dante, when he comes to the anagogical vision of God, exclaims:
«Mi parve pinta della nostra effige» (Paradiso XXXII, 131).
Horia-Roman Patapievici, Professor of Physics at Bucharest University, shows that at the moment in which Dante drinks with his eyes from the river of stars gleaming like jewels, he enters past these «umbriferi prefazi» into the true Paradise (XXX, 61-130) . In that instant the whole cosmos, the Creation, is turned inside out, or right way round. No longer is the little temporal earth at the centre, but at the centre is God in the eternity of all times, past, present and future, collapsed into one instant, St Benedict's single ray of light, Julian of Norwich's hazelnut in the palm of her hand, Abbot Suger of St Denis's gems . The pagan god, Neptune from the depths of the sea marvels at this (Paradiso, XXXII, 93-96). Or perhaps the cosmos oscillates between the two, and the meeting with Christ takes place not at the Jerusalem Temple but on the road to Emmaus, with the one who blesses and breaks our daily bread in a tavern, in the agora (Lc 24,30), as the moment when we become citizens of the kingdom of heaven (Lc 17,20-21), as the moment when the Word becomes flesh in our midst (Gv 1,14), as the moment of the Eucharist, the théia andgnosis. Because when we see God, Emmanuel (as in the mosaics at Cefalù and Monreale, where one half of God's face is merciful, the other the God of justice), it is the face in which we, as pilgrims, readers, contemplatives, created in his image and likeness, with our two hemispheres, are reflected. It is the face we encounter in the pilgrim Everyman on the road.