صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني
[blocks in formation]

The Purgatorio represents the state of the Church under more hopeful aspects. The poet has imagined a place like a lofty mountain, in the form of a cone rising out of the sea ; seven circles, or ledges, gradually diminishing in circumference, run round it, each of which is the plane of a particular purgation for a particular crime, commencing with the greater. Outside the gate Dante and Virgil meet with the indolent spirits who are doomed to wander there for a term thirty times the length of their procrastination, and make the acquaintance of Cato of Utica, who amuses them with incidents extending over eight cantos before they are admitted within the gate. These scenes are remarkable for their beauty, and the reader feels that he is introduced to quite a new class of subjects, calculated rather to inspire pleasure than terror. Mr. Longfellow seems to feel the influence, for his verse runs more smoothly and freely than it could in the “Inferno.' And now, admitted within the gate, the first circle is reached, where Pride is punished, the sides of the marble rock and the foot-path being sculptured with examples of Humility, which Dante describes with all the skill ofan artist. The principal incidents, however, of all the circles are the meetings of friends who had known one another on earth, and yet continue to take an interest in mundane affairs, and in the prayers of the faithful. To these is added the music and the ministry of angels in bright robes, with golden hair, star-bright eyes, and wings as white as snow. There is also much philosophical discussion. In all this, however, there cannot be the same amount of excitement as is caused by the episodes of the 'Inferno;' but there is much sweet sentiment, much profound thought, much picturesque decsription, and everywhere wonderful harmony of language and rhythm, and wealth of poetic diction. The theme is pensive, but gentle ; a divine melancholy and sacred loveliness pervade almost every tercette. The Church, in her purgatorial aspect, though dark in her general character, is still comely-hope irradiates her countenance, and penitence in her heart bas commenced the restoration of her purity. But while on his upward way Dante is seeking the true Christian's celestial city, he is not unmindful of the land of his birth, and under figure of the Val d'Arno laments its degeneracy in language borrowed from Boëthius. We have here an example of Dante's method of composition. He tells us that the dwellers in that miserable valley,' meaning thereby, symbolically, all Italians, are subject to Circe—that they have been by her transformed into swine, curs, wolves, foxes; and prophesies that a hunter of those wolves shall sell their flesh alive. Boëthius had supplied him with these symbols. Those, says Boëthius, who degenerate into wickedness cease to be men; for what difference,' asks the venerable sage, is there

betwixt a wolf who lives by rapine, and a robber, whom the • desire of another's wealth stimulates to commit all manner of

violence? Is there anything that bears a stronger resemblance • to a wrathful dog who barks at passengers than a

man whose dangerous tongue attacks the world?' The fox, the lion, the deer, the ass, the birds, and the hoy, are in the like interrogative manner next mentioned; the paragraph concluding with the repeated affirmation that it is an unquestionable truth that ' a man who forsakes virtue ceases to be a man; and, as it is impossible that he can ascend in the scale of beings, he must

of necessity degenerate, and sink into a beast.'* Dante set himself to oppose this degeneracy of his countrymen, and led them, therefore, to the upward ways which were supplied in purgatory for those who by reason of their repentance were able to re-ascend—nay, to become fit companions for heavenly beings. And when at last the poets have attained the last circle, they are met by an angel, singing, 'Beati mundo corde;' still Dantë hesitates to enter the flames which must be passed before Paradise can be reached; but when told that this fiery wall divides him from Beatrice, he throws off all caution, and ardently follows his conductors. Once in Paradise, he meets with Matilda and Beatrice (attired like the Virgin Mary), in the midst of scenic accessories, which do credit to Dante as an artist; the latter Beatrice rebukes, on account of his inconstancy to herself, and the worldliness into which his later life had fallen. When, says she-addressing her ladies :

• When from the flesh to spirit I ascended,

And beauty and virtue were in me increased,

I was to him less dear, and less delightful;
And into ways untrue he turned his steps,

Pursuing the false images of good,
That never any promises fulfil ;
Nor prayer for inspiration me availed,

By means of which in dreams and otherwise

I called him back, so little did he heed them.
So low he fell, that all appliances

For his salvation were already short ;
Save showing him the people of perdition.'

--Longfellow, p. 348. And thus the motive for the poem is declared in Dante's own fall- his need of restoration, by means of the voyage through

Cons. Phil. iv. Pros. 3, Ridpath's Tr.

[blocks in formation]

the three kingdoms of departed souls. Here manifestly Dante sets himself forth symbolically, as what Victor Hugo would call the Adam, or man--but doubtless, also, he partly intends it for his own autobiography, and to stand as a confession of his own individual need of redemption. He does, indeed, make that confession formally, before he passes Lethe. The whole scene is charmingly described ; for gentleness and tenderness it is unparalleled in all poetry. It is intended to represent the march of the Church Militant, through the schisms and corruptions induced by the unholy conduct of political pontiffs.

The car-borne Beatrice here stands for the Principle of Divine Beatitude, or that which confers it, and bears a resemblance to the figure of the New Jerusalem seen by St. John, descending from Heaven 'as a bride adorned for her husband.' In fact the whole of this conclusion, and the succeeding poem of the * Paradiso,' can be properly studied only in connection with the Apocalypse. Many, too, are the references to Italian works of Pictorial Art, forming a complex picture which it would take a considerable treatise to describe and illustrate. Surely no other poem of equal importance was ever written. The number of its references and allusions is nearly infinite-all pervaded with mystical meanings, each having its place in a triumphal procession, where all is symbolic of the Church Catholic, in the past, present, and the future, as they appeared to the minds of theologians in the Middle Ages. Strangely enough, Dante acknowledges, as head of the Church, the divine Henry in Italy' – namely, the famous Henry of Luxemburg, in whom the poet placed his hopes of Imperial power, and to whom he wrote those remarkable words: 'We believe and hope in thee, asserting thee to be the · minister of God, and the son of the Church, and the promoter

of the Roman glory. And I who write as well for myself as • for others, when my hands touched thy feet, and my lips per' formed their office, saw thee most benignant, as becometh the • Imperial Majesty, and heard thee most clement. Then my • spirit exulted within me, and I silently said to myself, “Behold 'the Lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world.” )

Dante, we must suppose, recognised in the Church on earth what also corresponded with Paradise as well as with Purgatory and Hell, and now proceeds in his third part, the ‘Paradiso,' to set forth what the particulars are in which the resemblance consists. Curiously enough, Dante, before venturing on this part of his task, invokes Apollo. The interest of the action now centres entirely in Dante. "Beatrice is described as being able to fix her eyes upon the sun, whereby they gain so much of brightness that Dante's are dazzled by them. The heavens of



which Paradise is composed are in number ten, of which Dante has given an account in the • Convito.' The first is that of the Moon, the second Mercury, the third Venus, the fourth the Sun, the fifth Mars, the sixth Jupiter, the seventh Saturn, and the eighth the stars; the ninth is not visible, except by its motion round the earth; and the tenth is called the Crystalline. Beyond these Catholics in general place the Empyrean Heaven, or the lIeaven of flame, or luminous, which they suppose to be immovable. To the first seven, according to the Convito,' correspond the seven sciences of the Trivium and Quadrivium—that is, Grammar, Dialectics, Rhetoric, Arithmetic, Music, Geometry, and Astrology; to the eighth belong Physics, or Natural Science, and Metaphysics ; to the ninth Moral Science; and to the tenth, or the Heaven of Rest the Divine Science, which is called Theology. It is this arbitrary arrangement, and this analogy of subjects, which set Dante's treatment at so great a distance from our modern apprehensions. As to his imagery, it is all made out of the elements. Light, Fire, and Air are quickened for us, and invested with life and character. In the first heaven are visible those who having taken monastic vows were forced to violate them;

in the second, the spirits of those who for the love of fame achieved great deeds; in the third, the spirits of lovers; in the fourth, the spirits of theologians and fathers of the Church ; in the fifth, the spirits of martyrs and crusaders; in the sixth, the spirits of righteous kings and rulers ; in the seventh, the spirits of the contemplative ; in the ninth, God and the Celestial Hierarchies; and in the tenth, the River of Light. This flows through the centre, bordered with flowers, and gives forth sparks which, when Dante's eyes are properly opened prove to be angels; the flowers are human beings. He likewise beholds in a vast circle of light more than a million of thrones, disposed like the leaves of a rose. Beatrice, having conducted him thus far, and entertained him with discourse containing a complete system of theology, now leaves him, and resumes her throne of light, Saint Bernard taking her place. The saint prays to the Virgin, and is so far answered that Dante receives a glimpse—no more-of the Great Mystery, which he declares to be indescribable. And thus the whole series of visions closes in the Ineffable.

Dante, like Homer, had his predecessors, in whom the religious and political feelings advocated by him were equally strong, but who were content with the short ballad-form in which to give them utterance, not having power perchance for more sustained efforts. Their genius was rather lyrical than epic. We are indebted to Mr. D. G. Rossetti for having arranged and translated many of these. In the very earliest of these poems, we perceive a growing dislike of sacerdotal authority.

[blocks in formation]

We perceive this in a ballad-dialogue by Ciullo D'Alcamo, in which, after a long wooing, the ecclesiastical form of the marriage rite being objected to, the lady is content with her lover taking his Bible-oath to perform the contract,

Till thou upon the Holy Book

Give me thy bounden faith,
God is my witness that I will not yield :
For with thy sword 'twere better to be kill’d.'
«Then on Christ's Book borne with me still,

To read from and to pray,
(I took it, fairest, in a church,

The priest being gone away)
I swear that my whole self shall be

Thine always from this day.' One of the greatest poets of the thirteenth century is mentioned by Dante in the Commedia,' named Guido Guinicelli, and Dante is in many places indebted to him for inspiration. Mr. Rossetti gives several of his sonnets and canzones. Of these and others the subject is invariably Love, whatever may be meant by the term. Their chief value, however, consists in their showing how far the art of versification had proceeded, and the variety of metres that had been invented for Iyrical composition. Some of them are very primitive in the treatment of their themes, a comic vein being frequently perceptible in some odd image or simile. They serve, moreover, to illustrate the time when they were written. Some, as might have been expected, are out of heart with it; so was Guerzo di Montecanti, who we find exclaiming

*I hourly have beheld how good withdraws

To nothing, and how evil mounts the while,

Until my heart is gnawed as with a file,
Nor aught of this world's worth is what it was.
At last there is no other remedy
But to behold the universal end ;

And so upon this hope my thoughts are urged :
To whom, since truth is sunk and dead at sea,
There has no other part or prayer remained,

Except of seeing the world's self submerged !'
Others, fortunately, were not sunk into such utter despair.
On this head Inghilfredi Siciliano speaks more wisely :

· Wherefore let him whom Hope

Puts off, remember time is not gone by.
Let him say calmly : “Thus far on this road
A foolish trust buoy'd up

My soul, and made it like the butterfly

Burned in the flame it seeks: even so was I :
But now I'll aid myself.'

« السابقةمتابعة »