Dante

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Dante

Post  eddie on Sat Jun 18, 2011 1:14 pm

Dante in Love by AN Wilson – review

Is an attempt to sell Italy's 'supreme poet' to a large audience successful?

Andrew Motion guardian.co.uk, Friday 17 June 2011 23.55 BST


Between heaven and hell ... Dante and his Divine Comedy, by Domenico di Michelino. Photograph: © Corbis

As a novelist, biographer and journalist, AN Wilson has so many manifest interests (37 previous titles are listed on the "Also by" page of his latest book) that it's surprising to find proof of a long-cherished passion. Dante, he says here, has been one of the writers whose work and ideas have most interested him since university days – thanks partly to the inspirational writings of Charles Williams, who might have lacked "Dante's wrath" but is close "at heart to his weird quasi-sexual women-mysticism".


Dante in Love by AN Wilson

This enthusiasm for the subject goes a long way towards explaining the weaknesses as well as the strengths of Dante in Love. Because Wilson loves the poet's writing and is fascinated by his ideas, the book always feels committed to its subject, driven by a powerful appetite to cover every possible angle of interpretation, every reference, every relevant historical context. For the same reasons, it also feels labyrinthine, liable to choke at any moment on the amount of information it tries to digest, and (rare for Wilson) balanced precariously on the edge of dullness.

Wilson appears to be aware of this, and occasionally looks up from the page to address us in a voice that is presumably meant to be friendly, but comes across as banal. When he's talking about family structures in 13th-century Florence, for instance, he takes the trouble to say quite unnecessarily that "For most people in the west, a family is a little nuclear group, consisting of one or two children and a couple, living together in a flat or house, isolated from the rest of the world"; and when he's discussing Dante's contribution to the Italian language, he insists that we "need to acknowledge there were other people in the peninsula between the Alps and Sicily before he existed, speaking and writing in a language which we can recognise as Italian".

These lapses are part of a failed strategy to sell Dante to a large audience, as are the title and the decision to publish the book in a large format with lots of colour plates. While these efforts don't exactly backfire – Dante's relationship with Beatrice is easily the best-known part of his story, and a handsome book is a handsome book – they don't solve the anxiety that Wilson seems to feel about his project. Which is essentially that a proper appreciation of all Dante's poetry, including the Divine Comedy, depends on knowledge of a remote period in European history that is complicated to untangle and difficult to make vivid.

Wilson makes life even harder for himself by declining to follow a clear chronological trajectory. Perhaps he felt licensed by the famous first line of the Inferno: Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita / mi ritrovai per una selva oscura / ché la diritta via era smarrita. (In Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's translation: "Midway upon the journey of our life / I found myself within a forest dark, / For the straightforward pathway had been lost.") In any event, the overall effect of the book is confusing at best and bewildering at worst. The disagreements between Dante and Boniface, the wars between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines, the struggle between competing European powers for domination of the Italian landmass, the formative friendships with Giotto and Corso and others, the flavour of his marriage with his "difficult" Gemma: Wilson gives attention to all these things and more, but in a way that heaps one on top of the other, and therefore lacks drama and definition.

Instead of carving a clear path through the wood of now-obscure historical actions and reactions, and placing Dante's poetry in the foreground with the context showing through, Wilson stalls his narrative in a series of mini-essays. If they are not digressions, their proliferation makes them feel as though they are. Mention of The Romance of the Rose triggers a disquisition on courtly love; some judgments about Dante's poetic idiom introduce several pages about Romance languages – and so on. In every case Wilson is dealing with ideas that are necessary to his book, but in every case they are handled in a way that tends to stifle it.

A simpler structure and a steadier tone would have helped to avoid these problems. So would more concentration on what the title implies – that Dante in the Comedy and elsewhere arranged for intensely personal feelings to transfigure a large amount of political, social and theological material. Admittedly the elusiveness of Beatrice makes this difficult: Dante barely knew her as a person, and her importance for him is much greater as an agent of transformation than as a living child or woman. But even so, the title Dante in Love gives a misleading impression of what the book intends and does. It might equally well be called Dante in Exile, or Dante in His Time.

Wilson is doubtful about the extent to which Dante can be widely enjoyed in our own time. At one point, during one of his periodic bursts of sympathy with "the confused reader", he proclaims that "the broad outlines of things you need to know to make the story intelligible are comparatively few" (one is "the cataclysm of Dante's wrecked political career", the other is "his relationship with the Pope and the Papacy").

If this assertion had been supported by a deeper sense of what the poem achieves, and a more detailed description of its effects (both in Italian, and in the several versions from which Wilson quotes), the book might have helped to recreate the taste by which it wants its subject to be judged. Instead, it rises eventually to a concluding tirade about "our cultural collapse", and baldly proposes that the Comedy can "offer a resolution" to the question of how to function as "a private person in a common culture".

Why does Wilson think this might be possible? Because he feels that Dante, in the way that he addresses questions about the inner life, faith, and politics, "not only speaks of them more articulately than any modern poet, but actually is a modern poet". Maybe so. But it's not a claim that this muddled and overloaded book is able to substantiate.

Andrew Motion's The Cinder Path is published by Faber.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2011

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Re: Dante

Post  eddie on Sun Jul 17, 2011 3:21 am

Dante in Love by AN Wilson – review

Any merit in AN Wilson's study of Dante is lost as he pushes his own fuddy-duddy agenda

Peter Conrad guardian.co.uk, Friday 15 July 2011 09.00 BST


Dante’s statue on the Piazza dei Signori, Verona, Italy. Photograph: Wilfried Krecichwost/ Corbis

The title, I must warn you, is misleading: this is less a book about Dante in love than an excuse for AN Wilson to vent his own ideological hatreds. In place of Dante's almost entirely conceptual veneration of the elusive Beatrice, whom he promoted after her early death to a muse and a radiant symbol of virtue, we have Wilson grousing about contemporary shibboleths that are closer to earth and vexingly nearer home; the cosmological map elaborated by Dante in The Divine Comedy serves as a model for Wilson's fuddy-duddy project to re-medievalise the world.


Dante in Love by A. N. Wilson

Wilson briskly disposes of what he calls Dante's "crush" on the juvenile Beatrice – medieval writers, he says, were all obsessed "with sex in general, girls in particular; ditto with God" – in order to establish that "the self-proclaimed poet of love" was also "the poet of hate, of vengeance, of implacable resentment and everlasting feuds", who dispatched personal enemies to the inferno to be mired in shit or nibbled by fiends. Such vendettas continue, with journalists pitching those who irk them into the flames: Wilson was once sacked by the Spectator for rewriting a review by Bel Mooney to turn the compliments she paid Clive James into slurs, after which he intercepted and binned a letter of protest Mooney sent to the magazine's editor. No wonder he enjoys Dante's "blazes of anger" and "impenetrable hatreds". Even so, Wilson hopes to be installed in paradise, where he says he expects to encounter the friends and colleagues who are thanked in the book's acknowledgements; the Archbishop of Canterbury, to whom Dante in Love is dedicated, will presumably be of the party. Debarring the profane, Wilson remarks that heavenly bliss is "an acquired taste" – perhaps like Marmite? Ah well, let the godly enjoy their sanctimonious love-in: I'm glad to think that I will be somewhere else, or (even better) nowhere at all.

Meanwhile, in the Dantesque dark wood that we call our mortal lives, Wilson has prescriptions for rectifying society, extrapolated from his conservative reading of The Divine Comedy. It does him credit that he castigates Dante for being tough on sodomites, and he laments "restrictive laws for women which would seem familiar in modern Pakistan, Afghanistan or Iran". But the moral that Wilson finds in Dante's poem is hardly humanitarian: he has a vision of what he calls "the Just Society", which sounds like David Cameron's "big society" expanded to the stratosphere and given a religious blessing. Hell, in Wilson's view, is where we choose to go, and his disquisition on dogma becomes a predictable rant about freedom and personal responsibility, railing against the contemporary assumption that "we are no more than the sum of our DNA" or "the product of our social environment". Thus when Ugolino in the Inferno eats his own children, Wilson imagines "social workers and psychiatrists" pleading "extenuating circumstances". Dante's reverence for the imperial papacy made Ezra Pound and TS Eliot think of him as a proto-fascist; for Wilson he bracingly refutes the milky commiseration that sustains our expensive welfare state.

Wilson makes repeated claims for Dante's relevance. "The Vita Nuova is in some senses a very modern, even very modernist book," he says, and he concludes by declaring that Dante not only deals with eternal verities "more articulately than any modern poet, but actually is a modern poet". These are meaningless assertions, exposing the relativity of the adjective on which they depend. What they cover up is Wilson's own rejection of a modernity that has replaced Dante's "common culture" with a jarring, jabbering diversity of tribal cults and personal belief systems. In the Thatcher era, fogeys preached "Victorian values". Now Utopia has receded to the 14th century, with its plots and plagues and feudal iniquities. Though I don't much like the present day, I'm not ready to undertake any such retrogressive time‑travelling.

Wilson describes himself as "a jobbing man of letters", and this particular job is part of an eight-book contract he signed last year with his publisher. I fear he is overworking: the book's structure is wayward, its writing sloppy – a phrase such as "scandal was caused in many human breasts" doesn't sound like English, and when Wilson explains Dante's abandonment of his loyalty to Florence he mixes unmatched cliches by observing that he "backed the wrong horse" and consequently "went off the rails". His scholarly asides are sometimes bizarre, as when he calculates that "only 3.5% of the voluminous works" of St Bernard of Clairvaux – best remembered as the namesake of those elephantine shaggy dogs – deal with the cult of the Virgin Mary: is he disappointed by the low tally? I chuckled over his tactfully hesitant effort to gain a following for a sixth-century tract called The Consolation of Philosophy. "It is certainly to be recommended," he says, "if you are to become a real Dante reader, that you read Boethius" – though who will relish being told that Boethius demonstrated "how a rational person, and it must be added, a gentleman, faces up to adversity"? If gentility is a prerequisite for reading medieval literature, Wilson has admitted defeat.

When it comes to God I am an atheist, though with regard to Dante I'm an agnostic. Perhaps because I've chosen the wrong translations, I've never been able to share the rapture WB Yeats felt when reading him. I await enlightenment and remain anxious to be converted, but Wilson's pious polemic did not bring me to my knees.

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Re: Dante

Post  eddie on Sun Jan 22, 2012 10:49 pm

bump

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Re: Dante

Post  Guest on Sun Jan 22, 2012 10:52 pm

Very Happy study

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Re: Dante

Post  eddie on Wed Feb 01, 2012 1:07 am

Poem of the week: Francesca of Rimini by Lord Byron

This fascinating translation of Dante was intended to be faithful, but presents its English reading in a distinctly Byronic fashion

Carol Rumens

guardian.co.uk, Monday 30 January 2012 12.32 GMT


Lord Byron, as pictured in a copy of a portrait by by Thomas Phillips. Photograph: Bettmann/Corbis

Lord Byron, described by EH Coleridge as "de facto if not de jure a naturalised Italian", was at pains to produce a faithful translation ("word for word and line for line") in his excerpt from Canto five of Dante's Inferno. The translation, "Francesca of Rimini", is this week's poem, but if it leads you back to the magnificent original, all the better.

Byron's work on Canto five, and his other Italian literary projects, were inspired by his young mistress, the Countess Teresa Guiccioli. Like Francesca, Teresa was a native of Ravenna, bound in a marriage of convenience to an undesirable husband, and illicitly in love. As for Paolo and Francesca, shared reading was an erotic spur to the relationship between Byron and Guiccioli.

Matthew Reynolds, in his recent fascinating study, The Poetry of Translation: From Chaucer and Petrarch to Homer and Logue, points out the connection between Byron's desire to be faithful to his girlfriend and to Dante. It's one of several intriguing connections. Dante's text (one Byron had, of course, previously visited in the first Canto of Don Juan) now offered to embody a far more personal and un-ironical story. It would permit impassioned self-disclosure, not only through the persona of Francesca, but through Dante's own ambivalent commentary.

For all his aspiration to fidelity, Byron cuts Dante's exposition altogether, so we lose the stunning imagery of the second circle of hell, with its whirling, lightless storm-winds buffeting like helpless birds the souls of those who, in life, could not control their lust. He even omits the first stanzas of Francesca's speech. The rhyming is usually deft, but the syntax often pays the price in convolution. The sentence in lines 7/8 (more simply translated as "Love, that excepts no one beloved from loving") is painfully inverted and suffers an awkward line-break. The repetitions of "yet" (line nine) suggest metrical padding as much as rhetorical intensity.

The tougher, sharper sounds of Byron's translation are not simply the result of the different sonorities of English, or the scarcity of feminine endings. They are related to interpretation. Byron, for example, hardens Dante's "doloroso passo" to "evil fortune": Dante's "desio" becomes the more emphatic "strong ecstacies" (the adjective "strong" occurs twice in a fairly short space of time). In Dante's text, Francesca names dispassionately the author/book responsible for the lovers' fall: "Galeotto was the book and he who wrote it." Byron omits Galeotto and substitutes, "Accurséd was the book and he who wrote it." Later, in the penultimate line, "smote" seems needlessly fierce. Even when Francesca talks, the poem has a forceful and slightly masculine tone.

Byron is an immense poet, combining the best of Augustan wit and intellect with the best of sensuously and politically charged Romanticism. For me, he is by far the outstanding Romantic, and he is as readable and relevant today as ever. The flaws in "Francesca of Rimini" do not diminish him. This is an occasional poem, as well as a translation, and it's foolish to demand that it be comparable with his original poetry, lyric or epic. However, the work is extremely interesting for the light it throws on poetry-translation itself, and the complexity of the relationships involved. A translation is never less than a transformation – and it may be, for the translator, self-revelation.

Taking the rough with the smooth, the reader can enjoy "Francesca of Rimini" as a poem in its own right. The personal touches – the infidelities, if you like – are not slips, but planned insurgencies, and part of the poem's tough vitality. And when Byron risks using feminine endings (surely associated in his mind with comedy and irony) there is pleasure for the ear, as well as a little humour ("the long-sighed-for smile of her"). The concluding lines have a sense of dramatic fatality that is hard to resist. Even the harsh "smote" earns its place by contributing to the rich alliterative music.


Francesca of Rimini

"The Land where I was born sits by the Seas
Upon that shore to which the Po descends,
With all his followers, in search of peace.
Love, which the gentle heart soon apprehends,
Seized him for the fair person which was ta'en
From me, and me even yet the mode offends.
Love, who to none beloved to love again
Remits, seized me with wish to please, so strong,
That, as thou see'st, yet, yet it doth remain.
Love to one death conducted us along,
But Caina waits for him our life who ended:"
These were the accents uttered by her tongue.—
Since I first listened to these Souls offended,
I bowed my visage, and so kept it till—
'What think'st thou?' said the bard; when I unbended,
And recommenced: 'Alas! unto such ill
How many sweet thoughts, what strong ecstacies,
Led these their evil fortune to fulfill!'
And then I turned unto their side my eyes,
And said, 'Francesca, thy sad destinies
Have made me sorrow till the tears arise.
But tell me, in the Season of sweet sighs,
By what and how thy Love to Passion rose,
So as his dim desires to recognize?'
Then she to me: 'The greatest of all woes
Is to remind us of our happy days
In misery, and that thy teacher knows.
But if to learn our Passion's first root preys
Upon thy spirit with such Sympathy,
I will do even as he who weeps and says.
We read one day for pastime, seated nigh,
Of Lancilot, how Love enchained him too.
We were alone, quite unsuspiciously.
But oft our eyes met, and our Cheeks in hue
All o'er discoloured by that reading were;
But one point only wholly us o'erthrew;
When we read the long-sighed-for smile of her,
To be thus kissed by such devoted lover,
He, who from me can be divided ne'er,
Kissed my mouth, trembling in the act all over:
Accurséd was the book and he who wrote!
That day no further leaf we did uncover.'
While thus one Spirit told us of their lot,
The other wept, so that with Pity's thralls
I swooned, as if by Death I had been smote,
And fell down even as a dead body falls."


March 20, 1820.

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Re: Dante

Post  eddie on Fri Feb 03, 2012 6:26 am

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b6fFJX4OkDw&feature=related
Turkish Song of the Damned- The Pogues.

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Re: Dante

Post  eddie on Sat Mar 17, 2012 7:06 am

Divine Comedy is 'offensive and discriminatory', says Italian NGO

Human-rights organisation calls for Dante's 'racist, Islamophobic and antisemitic' epic poem to be removed from classrooms

Alison Flood

guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 14 March 2012 16.07 GMT


Hell bent … a Gustave Doré engraving for Canto 19 of Dante's Divine Comedy. Photograph: Bettmann/Corbis

Abandon all hope, ye who enter here: Dante's medieval classic the Divine Comedy has been condemned as racist, antisemitic and Islamophobic by a group calling for it to be removed from classrooms.


The Divine Comedy (Oxford World's Classics)
by Dante Alighieri

The epic poem, written in the 14th century, is split into three parts, tracing the poet's journey through Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso. It is seen as one of the cornerstones of world literature. But the Italian human rights organisation Gherush92, which advises UN bodies on human rights issues, wants it to be removed from school curriculums, or at least used with more caution, because it is "offensive and discriminatory" and young people lack the "filters" to understand it in context.

Gherush92 singled out some particular cantos from Dante's masterwork for criticism: Inferno's 34th, which tells of Judas, endlessly chewed in the teeth of Lucifer, and 28th, in which Mohammed is depicted torn "from the chin down to the part that gives out the foulest sound", as well as Purgatorio's 26th, which shows homosexuals under a rain of fire in purgatory. The work, it says, slanders the Jewish people, depicts Islam as a heresy and is homophobic.

"We do not advocate censorship or burning but we would like it acknowledged, clearly and unambiguously, that in the Divine Comedy there is racist, Islamophobic and antisemitic content," said Valentina Sereni, president of Gherush92, to the Adnkronos news agency. "Art cannot be above criticism."

But Italy's cultural scene has been quick to come to the defence of one the country's most famous works. "The benefits to be gained from reading and studying the Divine Comedy are so many that statements of this kind are just ridiculous," the poet and literary critic Maurizio Cucchi told the news agency. Literary historian, critic and author Giulio Ferroni called the comments "another frenzy of political correctness, combined with an utter lack of historical sense", and said that the Divine Comedy needed to be read in its historical context. "You could also include a few more notes, but it would be folly to abandon the study of a masterpiece that has helped build the image of humanity."

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