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Saturday, December 30, 2017

An Interview with Dante


I saw Dante in Florence just before the Ponte Vecchio bridge crossing the Arno river.

He has a rather small stature, with big eyes and a prominently hooked nose. He looks more like a common man, a man on the street. 
I hesitated for a moment whether I could greet him as he looked deeply in thought looking across the river. Surprisingly he is quite friendly person and didn’t mind to talk to a stranger.

Nervously and unprepared, I then arbitrarily asked him: 
“What does this city Florence mean to you?”

Dante then cited Canto 26 of Inferno:
“Rejoice, O Florence, since thou art so great,
That over sea and land thou beatest thy wings,
And throughout Hell thy name is spread abroad!
Among the thieves five citizens of thine
Like these I found, whence shame comes unto me,
And thou thereby to no great honour risest."

Then I asked him:
“Despite its greatness, why did you say that your beloved city, Florence, is famous in Hell?”

Dante said:

“There are many prominent people of Florence living in Hell because of their sins.

Filippo Argenteni has hid horse shod with silver and has iron fists. He has a violent temper, one time he slapped me, and his brother took possesion of of my conviscated property.

Farinata degli Uberti is a heretic, he believes that there is no soul and that everything dies with the body. He regarded the pleasures of life on earth as the highest goal for man.

Bocca degli Abati betrayed his guelph countrymen at a decisive moment in the battle -as German mercenary troops attacked in support of the Tuscan ghibellines- by cutting off the hand of the guelph standard-bearer. Demoralized by Bocca's treachery and the loss of their flag, the guelphs panicked and were roundly defeated.
Then there is my gluttonous friend Ciacco, the hog, spend his life gorging his appetites and living in excess.

There is also Francesca da Rimini, who was forced into a loveless political marriage with a guy called Gianciotto Malatesta.  However, she fell in love with her husband’s younger brother Paolo and had an affair with him. When Gianciotto discovered their adultery, he killed them both. Gianciotto is now in a deeper level of Hell, so did Francesca told me.”

I said:
“Some people think that you condemned people to be in Hell in your Inferno because you are bitter towards your enemies. You were once an influential and famous political figure and were then later exiled from Florence, with others from your political party, after you lost the political war. You were sentenced, together with four others, to a heavy fine and perpetual exclusion from office. Further, together with your two sons and others, you were condemned to be burned to death, should you ever come into the power of the Commune. You lost everything, your family, your properties, your way of life.”

Dante cited the opening of Inferno:
“Midway upon the journey of our life
  I found myself within a forest dark,
  For the straightforward pathway had been lost.
Ah me! how hard a thing it is to say
  What was this forest savage, rough, and stern,
  Which in the very thought renews the fear.
So bitter is it, death is little more;
  But of the good to treat, which there I found,
  Speak will I of the other things I saw there.”

I said:

“Following your path in Purgatory Canto 30 you kind of confessed that you were unfaithful to Beatrice, the one you adore and love so much. You said you fell in love with her the first time you met her, and in Vita Nuova you wrote about her and declared “Behold, a deity stronger than I; who coming, shall rule over me”. 
It seems you are completely captivated by her after the first meeting, however at that time you were just nine and she was eight“.

Dante cited a sonnet from the book Vita Nuova (which means New Life) dedicated to Beatrice:
“In that book which is
My memory . . .
On the first page
That is the chapter when
I first met you
Appear the words . . .
Here begins a new life” 

I said:
“Then the second meeting you met Betrice was 9 years later, and she got married to a banker 4 years later and died 3 years later at the young age of 24, in 1290. How do you view Beatrice after her death in later part of your life?”

Dante cited what Beatrice told him in Canto 30 of Purgatory:
“Himself from me he took and gave to others.
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.”

Then Dante cited Canto 31 of Purgatory:
"Turn, Beatrice, O turn thy holy eyes,"
Such was their song, "unto thy faithful one,
Who has to see thee ta'en so many steps.
In grace do us the grace that thou unveil
Thy face to him, so that he may discern
The second beauty which thou dost conceal."
O splendour of the living light eternal!”

I said:

“Back to Inferno Canto 26, you found Ulysses, the legendary Greek king of Ithaca and the hero of Homer's epic poem, you found him in Hell. Yet during his lifetime this man had the approval of heaven. The goddess Athena, the daughter of the highest god aided his journey, and even ushered the bloody slaughter. The windking Zeus the highest of gods is another reinforcement of his connection with heaven. On his journey, Ulysses also received favor from divine figures like Circe and Calypso, even as he received rancor from figures like Poseidon. 
Why is he now sufferring in Hell, the place you said Inferno Canto 3 "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here”, and where “Loathsome maggots and worms at the sinners' feet drink the putrid mixture of blood, pus, and tears that flows down their bodies.” Then why is this great hero condemed to Hell?”

Dante said citing Homer:
“Ulysses murdered all suitors of Penelope. Leodes pleaded for his life but was met with a sword blow, so that his head went down to mouth in dust. After murdering all suitors of Penelope, he directed the murder of Penelope’s handmaidens. But, before that the dead bodies of the suitors must be disposed first, and the handmaidens had to clean tables and chairs of blood of the suitors. He wanted to humiliate these handmaidens before he had them butchered,  let them see the dead body of their lovers with the full knowledge of their own impending doom. After the handmaidens cleaned the tables and chairs, scrubbed with sponges, rinsed and rinsed again the blood of the suitors, they were hacked with swordblades cutting the life out of them. Ulysses is undoubtly the ringleader of atrocity.”

I said:
“Ulysses is known as a great warrior king and startegist. He cleverly discovered Achilles disguise and convinced him to clutch a weapon to join the war against the Trojans. Ulysses has been viewed as Achilles' antithesis in the Homer’s Iliad, while Achilles is consumed by anger of a self-destructive nature, Ulysses is frequently viewed as a man of the mean, a voice of reason, renowned for his self-restraint and diplomatic skills. Ulysses is not only tactical warrior, as evidenced by his idea for the Trojan Horse, but also a good speaker.  He is considered the most clever greek hero, finding smart solutions to every problem. He is also a great warrior and very charismatic leader who often inspired his people.”

Dante said citing what Ulysses said to him in Inferno Canto 26:

‘Not tenderness for a son, nor filial duty
Toward my aged father, nor love I owed
Penelope that would have made her glad
Could overcome the fervor that was mine
To gain experience of the world
And learn about man’s vices, and his worth…
I and my shipmates had grown old and slow
By the time we reached the narrow strait
There Hercules marked off the limits,
Warning all men to go no farther.”

I said:
“It seems this way Ulysses is behaving like Adam, the first human on earth, whom despite his everlasting happiness living in paradise has the longing to search for more, for the forbidden knowledge. Likewise Ulysses whom despite his hapiness found back home in Ithaca island, living in peace with his family  has the longing for more adventure, to conquer the world where “no one has seen”, which ended in the dashing to pieces of Ulysses ship and his death which represents the final separation from any devine connections.”

As the evening was getting dark, Dante concluded the conversation by saying he had to go somewhere and turn his back following the path along side the Arno river.


This an imaginary interview in memory of Dante Alighieri